Get on board the Orient-Express in Paris

FRANCE - exposition Orient Express IMAIn Paris a new exhibition brings back to life the mythical Orient-Express train. Born in the mind of a brilliant Belgian businessman Georges Nagelmakers, the Orient-Express gave an answer to the growing desire to travel east in luxury conditions and discover fantasized countries and towns such as Turkey, Syria, Bagdad, Beirut or Egypt…

The inaugural trip took place in October 1883 from Paris to Constantinople and back to Paris. It was an immediate success: all kinds of rich and famous people were eager to travel on the Orient-Express, living a unique experience in this “Palace on wheels” as it was then called. Marlene Dietrich, Lawrence of Arabia, King Ferdinand of Bulgaria, Leon Tolstoï, Mata Hari, Josephine Baker and of course Agatha Christie among many others were so happy to be part of this brand new fashion. Along the years success continued and the train took its passengers on new routes to Venice, Athens…Georges Nagelmakers dreamed of a train circling around the Mediterranean Sea going from Egypt to Morocco and back to Paris through Spain. But the Second World War put an end to his hope.

The out-side exhibition

FRANCE - exposition Orient Express IMAThe exhibition takes place in the Institut du Monde Arabe, also known as IMA, a Parisian museum on the left bank of the River Seine. On the square in front of the museum a platform and rails have been built to accommodate four original carriages and one locomotive. The decoration of the 3 carriages is the original one: hand-embossed leather ceilings, tapestries from the Gobelins Manufactory, curtains made of Genoa velvet, furniture and works of art made by famous artists of the time. You will be able to visit each carriage: the first one is a Pullman lounge called “Flèche d’Or” (Golden Arrow) originally decorated by René Lalique the well known jeweller and master glazier who created molten glass bas reliefs inlaid in mahogany wainscot.

FRANCE - exposition Orient Express IMAThe second carriage is Pullman Bar built in 1929 called “Train Bleu”. Here to René Lalique designed molten glass decoration: big bunches of flowers adorn the walls in Art Nouveau style. Leather sofas and armchairs create what French people call an “English Club” ambiance.

The third carriage is a sleeping car built in 1949. The compartments could hold 2 or 3 beds, each one having a small en-suite bathroom.
The steam engine was built in 1922 and is a kind of movie star: it was used on several shootings among which the 1974 “Murder on the Orient Express” featuring Albert Finney and Lauren Bacall.

FRANCE - exposition Orient Express IMAThe fourth carriage is a 1925 dining car called “Anatolie”. Forty-two people can have diner here seating on leather armchairs. Albert Dunn the famous British cabinetmaker designed the mahogany marquetry. During the exhibition the restaurant is open for diner, an opportunity to eat a delicious meal by Yannick Alleno a former 3 star chef at the Palace Hotel “Le Meurice” in Paris. E booking is essential to get a table. There is a set menu at 120€ without wines and a second one at 160€ with selected wines.

The exhibition inside the museum

In the museum building a vast space is dedicated to the history and the art of travelling aboard the mythical train: pictures of celebrities, documentaries, news bulletins, film clips, posters, menus, dishes, luggage, furniture… The last room of the exhibition has been turned into an Oriental Café nicely furnished in Middle-Eastern style where you can have a Turkish coffee or a mint tea with salted mezze or oriental pastries at very affordable prices. A lovely way to recover your strength!

FRANCE - ConfŽrence de Presse Orient Express Gare de LyonIf you were not able to get a table at “Anatolie” the luxurious dining car, or didn’t care to pay that much money for it, the right thing to do is to take the elevator to the 9th floor, the top level of the museum, where you will find a Lebanese restaurant called “Zyriab” set on the wonderful terrace from which you will get a spectacular view on Notre Dame and the River Seine. And get a picture that not so many tourists can show when they get back home. The access to the terrace is totally free, no need to have an entrance ticket for the museum or to be client of the Zyriab restaurant. Just after the security check-in at the entrance of the building, take one of the elevators to the 9th floor, that’s it!

The Orient Express exhibition will be on until August 31st
Institut du Monde Arabe IMA
1, rue des Fossés Saint-Bernard, Paris 5th
Métro : Line 7 , Jussieu station. Walk down Fossés-Saint-Bernard Street to the Seine, the museum will be on your right.
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny


About Annick Dournes & Frederic De Poligny

Annick Dournes and Frederic de Poligny are two French tourism journalists who travel the world for many years. They will share with you their very favourite experiences of worldwide travels. Those about France, their native country, will be found on a regular basis in their chronicle “Meanderings through France”. Web