An exhibition dedicated to the Orient Express – the train that was the scene for many novels, including Agatha Christie’s – allows visitors to experience luxury, adventure and intrigue.
With “Orient Express”, which opened on Tuesday, national rail company SNCB’s museum Train World in Schaerbeek pays homage both to the legendary train and its spiritual father, Georges Nagelmackers from Liège, who helped put Belgium on the international railway map.
The first European transcontinental train made the 3,050 km voyage between Paris and Constantinople twice each week, completing the journey in 67 hours. It was operated by Nagelmackers’ Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL) until 1977.
In its original configuration, the Orient Express was short-lived as it relied on very specific economic, technical, industrial, political and cultural conditions. But despite not actually operating for very long, the legend of the luxurious locomotive was immortalised in art, including in cinemas and novels.
Most notably, the mystical train provided the setting for Agatha Christie’s celebrated Murder on the Orient Express, in which the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot follows clues to discover the killer. Christie herself found inspiration having travelled on the train.
Two carriages are showcased where visitors can discover the luxurious dining and sleeping cars in all their splendour. The exhibition also paints a picture of the society that created this train by displaying archival documents and behind-the-scenes images of the train and the landscapes it crossed as it connected eastern and western Europe.
For a few thousand euros, wealthy tourists can still travel in style on the Orient Express, via a company with ties to the French railway company SCNF.
The “Orient Express” exhibition is a part of the “Europalia Trains & Tracks” festival – taking place across Belgium between 14 October and 15 May 2022 – during which authentic coaches will be on display, such as the royal coach of Leopold II.
The timing of the festival and this exhibition coincides with various moves being made by rail companies and national governments (including Belgium’s) to make long-distance rail travel, which is becoming more popular, more accessible and attractive.
The festival’s programme also looks at the future of the train and its growing role in sustainable travel. Interactive workshops and debates will discuss with policymakers how Europe’s railways could or should develop.
The “Orient Express” exhibition runs until 17 April 2022; tickets are available here.