The Orient Express, re-imagined

I wrote earlier of the Great Venice Simplon Orient Express (and its hefty price tag),  Now I’ll discuss how to attempt this journey for a fraction of the price.

I’m using different train companies to keep prices low, but the same route is there, as well as the train stations.  Think of it as an “Orient Express themed” trip, with more of an emphasis on the destinations… But ALL of the glamour.
Originally, The Orient wouldn’t have had layovers unless you chose to get off. It would have gone straight on to your destination quickly stopping for drop offs and passport control at borders. But where’s the fun in that? This itinerary stops at every destination allowing you to visit as long as you please.
I’ve also added a stop that wasn’t in the original  SVOE line up, but was a stop on the earlier Orient Express: Budapest.  This is because the countries that once existed, don’t anymore. With different rail laws and different points of access, you can no longer go from Venice to the capital of  former Yugoslavia directly. That being said, I really don’t think you’re going to mind the stop-over in Budapest. It fits right in. Trust me.
Since the train never crossed the Chunnel (probably because it hadn’t been built yet) the route technically started in France. However most people started the journey in London, just on a different carrier.
So let’s start there.

London to Paris

The route:
This is one of my favorite train trips. You can find great deals ahead time on Eurostar sometimes even for a first class ticket (definitely worth it if you can snag one). The trip is about 2 1/2 hours long and will start at $ 56 depending on the time and day of travel.
In London, try the Swiss lodge. A Hogwarts like hostel with a ton of antique character. Rates start at $40 a night.
In Paris, I love the Hotel Chopin. Hidden in the Passage Jouffroy (a gorgeous covered walkway from the 1800’s). This hotel starts at 155 euros a night for two people.

Grab a drink at the Lanesborough Library Bar in London before you start your Journey.


Paris to Milan

The route:
This overnight train starts at $40 (including a bed), in the morning you’ll be waking up to the Milanese sun rays. Buy your tickets here.
The original Orient route stopped in Lausanne, Switzerland before arriving in Milan. If you choose to do this, there’s no overnight, but two-day trains instead. Both trips are around 4 hours long and fares start at $40 a person, one way for each leg. Buy your tickets well in advance here.
The majestic Gare de Lyon, Paris:
In Milan, try the traditional Hotel Monopole starting at $58 a night for two people or rent this villa for $79:

Dine at Le Train Bleu inside the Gare de Lyon before your trip out. Translating to “the Blue train”, this dramatic restaurant is meant to mimic the inside of an old dinning cars. It’s a bit pricey, but really lovely.


Milan to Venice

The route:
This is a short trip, only lasting about 2 hours and 30 minutes. Fares start at $20, buy tickets here.
The Stazione Centrale , Milano:
This quaint little Bed and Breakfast is a great deal at $58 a room a night, but you can also splurge on this hotel room starting at $160 a night. I did promise you glamour after all:

Sip a Bellini in this 17th century cafe, rumored to be the oldest in Europe, where Casanova and Charles Dickens frequented:


Venice to Budapest

The route:
On overnight train from Venice will start at $50 one way and will actually drop you off in Vienna in the morning. From Vienna you can just jump onto the next train to Budapest. It’s on the same platform, only a couple of hours long, and it’ll cost you around $25. That being said, why not book a later train out of Vienna and sight-see for a couple of hours?
My version of sightseeing (at the Demel):
The Budapest Keleti railway station:
The Hotel Palazzo Zichy is a gorgeous hotel starting at $76 a night, but if you can’t get enough elegance, try renting out this apartment for a night (rates start at $155 for the whole place):
Breakfast at the New York Cafe is essential. Mostly because they have a bottomless champagne breakfast-buffet, but also because of this room:
I think it’s safe to say that any decent human being panachen’ it up on the Orient-Express would have to catch a show at the Budapest Opera house too. Prices are incredibly decent starting at $2 a seat (yes you read that right).

Budapest to Belgrade

The route:
Budapest to Belgrade is a long one, but at a really great price of $20 a person. It boards at 10:00 AM and arrives Belgrade at 6:00 PM. While you could book a night train, for only 9 euros more, it’s not recommended. Instead, grab a good book, pack a picnic, couple bottles of wine, and relax.
Old Snapshot of a Serbian station from the Orient Express:
Now home to poets, artists and intellectuals who frequent the lobby’s café, the Moskvo Hotel has had an intriguing life. Opened originally by the King of Serbia (with the help of Russia) it was later converted into the Bank of Yugoslavia and later the Gestapo headquarters by invading armies. Needless to say, entering this hotel is like stepping into a history book you’ve never read.
However, if you’re story chooses to take  a plot twist, this floating villain’s lair at $94 a night is just what you need:

Dine and drink brandy at the Question Mark Kafana. Belgrade’s oldest cafe and protected landmark.


Belgrade to Sofia

The route:
Well, this one will definitely be an adventure. An overnight train to Sofia will only cost you around $30! And will most likely come with a great story. I wrote about mine here. If you choose to have a little less adventure, stick with the day train.

L’Opera House is a nice little guest house sprinkled with antiques. Starting at $35 a night with breakfast.


Enjoy live music and folk dancing with your Bolyarska at Chevermeto. A vibrant eatery layered in sheepskin and tapestry. You’ll be in good company, as it’s also a hot spot for Bulgarian movie stars and chanteuse.


Sofia to Istanbul

The route:
This train is another “fun” one.
Luxury trains aside, this side of Europe is not known for its clean and fancy trains. But you can do it! You’re almost there! Fares start at $35 for a couchette. You don’t have to book online, just simply head to the station office in Sofia.

İstanbul Sirkeci Terminal, the famed “Last stop of the Orient Express”:

The Antea Palace Hotel & Spa is lovely, and at a starting rate of  $49, it’s perfect. You could also book a restored ancient apartment like this one for $147 a night:

Hafiz Mustafa makes for some great turkish deserts, and even better people watching.

So there you have it! Instead of spending several thousands of dollars on a dream train trip, we only spent a few hundred and I think, accomplished the same task. But who knows, you’ll have to try it out and let me know.

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