The sound of the word “Istanbul” conjures up a plethora of images, like mosques, palaces, sultans, culture, gold, luxury and of course, the Orient Express of Agatha Christie fame. When staying in Sultanahmed, I was delighted to discover, that Sirkeci Gare, the once upon a time last stop for the Orient Express was nearby. I set out on foot from the tram stop at Divan Yolu, simply following the rails in the direction of Eminono and the Galata Bridge. It’s a walk of about 1 mile until you reach the famous train station, but taking this route, you approach from a side entrance. I wanted of course to find out, if the station of today still conveys a feeling of times gone by, of bejewelled and fur-clad ladies, tripping along the ‘peron’ followed by an army of porters loaded down with luggage in a way the modern day traveler can never do.
The answer is: with enough fantasy and imagination, you can. It helps to walk around and enter via the beautifully maintained main entrance with it’s clock tower and art deco windows.
From 1889 to 1997, the Orient Express ran from Paris (with a connection from London) to Istanbul. Since then, the modern version of the Orient Express ends at Venice. The former First Class waiting room is now a quite nice restaurant with a plaque on the door and period furniture. Again, you can admire the stained glass windows.
Coming out of the restaurent and onto the platforms the illusion quickly disappears. Trains from Istanbul to Europe still run form here, but no elegant travelers are in sight, no porters either and not even that much hustle and bustle.
There is also a small museum next to the restaurant, but what’s more remarkable is that located between restaurant and museum you find a sort of community function room. On the day I visited, children were doing some gym class in there, but the next night, to my surprise, I found that this very room was the venue where the Istanbul lodge of the Sufi and their whirling dervishes were performing.
The wealthy travelers of the 1920s Orient Express were staying at the famous Pera Palace Hotel, and so did Agatha Christie who wrote her novel ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ there. The Hotel is located near Taksim Square, but at the moment undergoing extensive refurbishment and hence, closed and swathed in scaffolding. Can’t wait for it to reopen in November when I will revisit and indulge a little more in romantic nostalgia.