Wife and I have not taken a real “vacation” since we were in Nepal in 1983. I figured time to celebrate her burgeoning career as chief nurse anesthetist at one of the UPMC hospitals, basically the boss, running the operating rooms. A big, tough job. Then sort of making note of my semi-retirement, cut back to teaching only. More time on my hands.
We’re taking the reconstituted Orient Express train from Paris to Istanbul. 36 sleeper, restaurant and Pullman cars, the styles originating from the 1920s. The original Orient Express ran from 1983 through 1977. At it’s peak, it was the lap of luxury and really the only way to get anywhere quickly in Europe in the late 1800s. It’s a six-day trip, Travel through seven countries with day/overnight stays in Budapest and Bucharest.
The Orient Express name became synonymous with old-world luxury train travel – as well as with international glamour and intrigue, culminating in the film “Murder on the Orient Express”, that’s a classic.
This is a much bigger deal than I realized when I signed up. There IS a strict dress code, something I have eschewed in the past. No jeans, t-shirts, tennis shoes. All clothing must be “smart business attire”. That means “slacks” and shirts with collars. I own nothing like that. Dinner at the hotel stops, gentlemen will wear jacket & tie. Dinner aboard the train will be “black tie” for gentlemen and appropriate female attire (long dresses), sending me out to rent a Tux and my wife out to purchase female finery, including “heels”, none of which she owns.
Why this trip?
Some of you might remember a film a while back, “Somewhere in Time” (1980)
Christopher Reeves becomes obsessed with a portrait on the wall of a woman from the early 1900s and desires to go back there for her so desperately that he is able to accomplish that goal by dressing in impeccable 1900s garb and self hypnotizing himself physically into that era. They fall in love and plan a life. But (no spoilers) this is not his time and there are ripples in that time that unpredictably and suddenly return him to his correct time. He sinks into a deep depression, sits in place at his original departure place and dies of starvations, whereupon his young woman greets him and they are re-united. It’s a really, really interesting film.
I have no plans to follow Christopher. I do, however, have an interest in returning to sites where I existed much earlier in my life to feel any faint vibrations of that time. I returned to Vietnam over 40 years on to feel those vibrations and I wrote a book about it. Much of it was disappointing. I return to various homes and places where I have lived and sit for a while just looking at them, feeling what I can of the past. I got off my bike and sat in the middle of a Route 66 leg in New Mexico for a while feeling the faint vibrations of my childhood and my father riding on that road in the 50s.
I do feel the vibrations of my past in some of these places and I savor that. They were “better” times for me. I would go back if it were possible to accomplish it Chris Reeves-style. I would build another full life there, then I would hide paintings and photos of me living my life again and dying there for any of you to find behind some boards in the attic as my house is eventually torn down to make way for progress.
I think the train is a throwback to the past that a lot of those on it want to return to. The trip is done exactly as it did in the late 1800s, no WiFi, no TV or other modern amenities. I guess it’s the kind of throwback I like to think about.