Garrison Keillor’s “The Writers’ Almanac” describes the history of the Orient Express:

This date marks the first formal run of the Orient Express in 1883. The train was the brainchild of Georges Nagelmackers, a Belgian banker’s son. He had been impressed by railway innovations he’d seen in America in the 1860s — particularly George Pullman’s “sleeper cars” — and envisioned a richly appointed train running on a continuous 1,500-mile stretch of track from Paris to Constantinople (now Istanbul). For its formal launch from the Gare de Strasbourg, Nagelmackers arranged battered, rusty Pullman cars on adjacent tracks to show his luxurious conveyance to its best advantage. Many of its first passengers on the 80-hour journey were journalists, and they spread the word of its paneled interiors, leather armchairs, silk sheets, and wool blankets. They also dubbed the train “the Orient Express” with Nagelmackers’ blessing. The train later earned another nickname, “the Spies’ Express,” due to its popularity in the espionage community.

One particular car played a role in both world wars. On November 11, 1918, German officers signed their surrender documents in an Allied commander’s private car. The car was a museum piece in Paris until 1940, when Hitler commandeered it and used it as the setting to dictate the terms of the French surrender. Later, when his defeat was imminent, he blew the car up so that it wouldn’t become an Allied trophy again.

The original Orient Express stopped serving Istanbul in 1977, and its new route ran from Paris to Vienna until 2007, when the train departed from Strasbourg instead of Paris. Finally, in 2009, the Orient Express ceased operation, citing competition from high-speed trains and discount airlines. It has spawned several offspring that have adopted the name for promotional purposes, including the Direct Orient Express and the Nostalgic Orient Express. Only the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, which runs from London to a variety of European destinations and charges $2,300 U.S. to ride in the restored original cars, approaches the original “King of Trains and Train of Kings.”