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The Orient Express Takes Its Final Trip

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The Orient Express Takes Its Final Trip


The Orient Express Takes Its Final Trip

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

The Orient Express - the very name carries an aura of glamour and mystery. Van Helsing rode it to his battle with Dracula. James Bond romanced a beautiful Russian aboard it. And Agatha Christie set one of the best-known murders in literary history aboard that train.

Now, the original Orient Express is itself about to become a part of history. On Monday, the route will disappear from European railway timetables, a victim of high-speed trains and cut-rate airlines.

Rick Steves joins now. He's the host of the popular PBS travel show that bears his name, and the author of dozens of books on European travel. He joins us from his office in Edmonds, Washington.

Rick, thanks for being with us.

Mr. RICK STEVES (Host, "Travel with Rick Steves"): Thanks, Scott. Good to be with you.

SIMON: And how did the Orient Express gain this mystique?

Mr. STEVES: Well, first of all, we should clarify. There's two Orient Expresses. Probably the one people think about is a sort of nostalgic tour company that renovates 1930s-era cars and takes people from London to Venice. But the historic Orient Express, that's the one that was established back in the 1880s that took you from Paris or London to Istanbul.

SIMON: And of course, it was always more kind of mysterious than luxurious, wasn't it?

Mr. STEVES: Oh, yeah. The luxury was probably back in the 1930s, when they had, you know, the train itself was four sleeper cars and then one luggage car. But in practice, the Orient Express is the practical way you get across the Balkans. And back in the Cold War, you were dealing with Yugoslavia and Bulgaria and barking dogs.

And I remember everybody with a briefcase looked mysterious to me, anybody with an overcoat. What's under that overcoat?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEVES: And of course, it was this mystique of going East.

SIMON: So you encountered a lot of beautiful Russian spies on the train?

Mr. STEVES: No, I encountered a lot of scruffy people that looked sleazy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. STEVES: I remember corrupt conductors. I mean, you'd have to bribe your way to get across a border or to get your seat. And I remember literally sleeping in the hallways of those trains, with peasants coming on and off. I mean, it was a vivid, ever-changing world. And it was the best, easy, accessible adventure, to get on that Orient Express. And after this month, that name, which has been there since 1883, will no longer be in the European train timetables.

SIMON: Any murders ever occur when you were there?

Mr. STEVES: Not when I was there. But in 1929, apparently the Orient Express was stuck in a snowstorm about 70 miles outside of Istanbul, and there was a murder. And that's what inspired Agatha Christie. And Agatha Christie actually went to Istanbul while she was writing that. But you know, I think the literature, I think the fact that it's in, you know, it's in "Dracula," in James Bond, in Agatha Christie books and movies, and the nostalgia that a lot of travelers have for the good old days of train travel, when you'd get on a two-day train ride - I mean, many people remember spending two days on the train to get from Paris to Turkey.

SIMON: Now you can make that same trip for under $40 on a budget European airline.

Mr. STEVES: Well, that's the amazing thing. I mean, kids are flying off to another country just to have lunch with their friends, and the glamour and class of train travel has changed quite a bit. And travel buffs and train buffs really lament the passing of the good old days of train travel. Every year, there are fewer overnight trains and fewer elegant overnight trains. And this is just one more loss in that way, as we morph into a more modern and affluent world.

SIMON: Rick Steves, author of the "Rick Steves Europe" books and host of "Travel with Rick Steves."

Thanks so much for joining us.

Mr. STEVES: Pleasure to be with you, Scott.

SIMON: And you can see the Orient Express chug elegantly through the years in a photo gallery on our Web site,

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