First launched in 1883, the Orient Express was a long-distance luxury passenger train service operated by French company CIWL (Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, or International Sleeping-Car Company in English).
The train service, which used to run between Paris and Istanbul (then Constantinople until 1930), ceased operation in 1977. But its legacy as the first long-distance luxury travel service at a time when travelling was a dangerous feat remains and it will be forever associated with the art of glamorous travel.
Orient Express has been a subject of fascination in fictions, from Agatha Christie’s whodunit novel Murder on the Orient Express, to Ian Fleming’s fifth James Bond book From Russia With Love. As the result, most of us probably only have a vague idea of the actual luxury train. But now, you’ll get to experience the historic train at Gardens by the Bay.
Following the 2014 exhibition in Paris that detailed the history of the Orient Express, Singapore has been chosen as the first destination outside of France to kick-start a series of showcases that unveil a glittering universe related to travel, culture and gastronomy.
Gardens by the Bay’s West Lawn is host to pop-up attraction Once Upon A Time On The Orient Express, which comprises a reconstituted train platform, and showrooms that showcase the Orient Express’ illustrious history in giant trunks.
The exhibits include two original carriages (the Pullman car and fourgon), menus, crockery, cutlery, suitcases, stained glass windows and furniture. From walking through its Pullman car with replicas of personal belongings to exquisite decor and actual artefacts of the train like Lalique glass plate inlays, René Prou marquetr posters, and historical Louis Vuitton trunks, you’ll be transported right back to a bygone era.
The fourgon (a wagon for cargo) has a special display dedicated to Agatha Christie, who was a frequent passenger.
“Designing and staging a display like the Orient Express in Singapore meant collecting around 300 precious items and documents, having to restore some of them and adapt many of the furniture and displays to its former glory. It involved shipping historic monuments – a locomotive built in France 158 years ago and a 1930s sleeper car, weighing close to 200 tonnes,” said exhibition curator Claude Mollard.
In fact, it took a total of six months for the legendary train to be brought back to life at the Gardens by the Bay.
“It is undoubtedly one of the heaviest to be shipped across the world. All these elements needed to be housed in a custom-built infrastructure with the right conditions to store, preserve, and protect the artworks and displays. This is especially due to the hot and humid climate in Singapore,” he added.
“Allegories of travel will be presented through large displays of trunks address social, cultural and technical themes linked to the adventures of the Orient Express, looking back on the art of living on-board as they evoke the scenic stopovers placed on its routes such as London, Paris, Venice, Istanbul, Aleppo, Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Luxor and Aswan. Visitors can also immerse in documentaries, newsreels and film clips that will elicit the rich literary and cinematographic heritage inspired by the Orient Express,” promises the exhibition.
For exhibition visitors who’d like to experience dining in one of the train carriages, make a reservation at the restaurant pop-up housed inside a replica Anatolia dining car. You’ll get to sample dishes by Three Michelin-starred Chef Yannick Alléno, with recipes created especially for this showcase, and which reflects the meals of the era.
The pop-up will open with high tea sessions from Dec 12, 2020. The full dining experience of lunch, brunch and dinner will be available before Christmas with more information to be revealed at a later date. Reservations for high tea can be booked online. Or head to the cafe (open to public) for authentic French pastries and light bites.
The Once Upon A Time On The Orient Express pop-up is open from now till Jun 14, 2021. Tickets are priced at $25 per person and $88 for the family bundle (two adults and two children), excluding the booking fee. Tickets are available for sale on SISTIC.
Text: Asih Jenie/Home & Decor Additional text: Michelle Lee