In From Russia With Love, the Simplon Tunnel is the planned killing ground for Red Grant/Captain Nash to do away with James Bond and Tatiana Romanova, completing the SMERSH plan to embarrass the British Secret Service and eliminate Bond, who has been a thorn in their side.
Nash took a quick glance at his wrist watch. ‘In about twenty minutes we go into the Simplon tunnel. That’s where they want it done. More drama for the papers. One bullet for you. As we go into the tunnel. Just one in the heart. The noise of the tunnel will help in case you’re a noisy dier – rattle and so forth. Then one in the back of the neck for here – with your gun- and out the window she goes.
A few moments later, Nash explains the appeal for the press:
Old man, the story’s got everything. Orient Express. Beautiful Russian spy murdered in Simplon tunnel.
Bond then knows that he’s walked right into the trap.
The Simplon Tunnel is 12 miles (20km) long and connects Italy with Switzerland through the Alps. The first tunnel was completed in 1905 and the second in 1921. This allowed the Orient Express to get through to Italy while avoiding pro-German territory.
The station on the Italian side of the tunnel is the Stazione di Iselle di Trasquera. After passing through the tunnel, the train arrives in the Brig Railway Station in Switzerland.
After meeting up with Captain Nash at Trieste, James Bond is relieved to have some help, and an opportunity to eat and spend some time with Tatiana.
After eating dinner in the restaurant car – tagliatelli verdi (Green, narrow ribbons of pasta) and an escalope (slice of meat pounded thin and breaded) they retire to their berth. It is just as they are pulling into Mestre – which is the mainland station of Venice.
After Mestre, they head to Venice, Bond asks Tatiana if she’d like to see the station, but she says it’s just another station, and she has something else she wants to do with Bond at the moment.
They then fall asleep, continuing to sleep as they pass through Padua (Padova):
And then Vicenza:
There was then a “fabulous sunset over Verona.”
After passing through Verona, Bond awakes as the sun is going down. He looks out over the Lombardy Plain. He’s feeling good.
After Poggioreale, the Orient Express is fully into Italy, and James Bond is feeling a bit better about things.
We’ve made it, thought Bond. I really think we’ve made it. He thrust the memory of the last three days away from him. Tatiana saw the tense lines in his face relax. She reached over and took his hand. He moved and sat close to her. They looked out at the gay villas on the Corniche* and at the sailing boats and the people water-skiing.
The train clanged across some points and slid quietly into the gleaming station of Trieste.
The station in Trieste opened in 1857, and was in its centennial year when the events of From Russia With Love took place. In the post-WWII years, Trieste was something of a political hotbed, with both Italy and Yugoslavia claiming territorial rights. from 1947-1954 the city was under UN protection, in two zones, one for each nation.
In Bond’s view, things may be looking up, but that will quickly change with the arrival of an unannounced agent.
*A “Corniche” is a cliff-side road, many times overlooking a body of water.
An interesting passage in From Russia With Love is as the Orient Express leaves the station of Sežana and heads into Italy.
Then Yugoslavia was gone and Poggioreale came and the first smell of the soft like with the happy jabbering of the Italian officials and the carefree upturned faces of the station crowd. The new diesel-electric engine game a slap-happy whistle, the meadow of brown hands fluttered, and they were loping easily down into Venezia, toward the distant sparkle of Trieste and the gay blue of the Adriatic.
When looking at the geography of the area, there is no city of Poggioreale in the area of Trieste. John Griswold makes the following comment in his outstanding book:
NOTE3: The city of Poggioreale, Italy, was mentioned as one of the cities that the Simplon-Orient Express traveled through on its way to Trieste. When researching the path of the Simplon-Orient Express, only two locations in Italy could be found for Poggioreale. One was located on the Italian island of Sicily and the other was in Naples. Neither of these is on the route of the Simplon-Orient Express going to Trieste, Italy.
I was prepared to accept that, and just write it off as creative license being exercised by Fleming, or perhaps even a mistake. But as I studied the route of the Orient Express, there was a station between when they left Yugoslavia in Sežana and before they arrived in Trieste. Nothing I could find however, attached the name of Poggioreale to it.
Then I stumbled across a 1950 article from the Chicago Tribune, in which the writer chronicled his efforts to travel from Rome to Belgrade, mostly via train.
The next afternoon, I rode the stub train 18 miles from Trieste to Poggioreale Campagna, on the border of the free zone.
Board Another Train
At Poggioreale, we left the train and boarded another for Sezana, five miles away, across the boundary in Yugoslavia. At Sezana, we hooked onto the Simplon-Orient Express.
The station that sits five miles across the border from Sezana is Villa Opicina. Further digging ensued. The original name of the town was Opcina – Slavic in origin. During WWII the name was changed to the more Italian Villa Opicina. But then the town was renamed by the Fascists to Poggioreale del Carso.
In 1966, the name was changed back to Villa Opicina. But in 1956 when Fleming was writing From Russia With Love, the town and station name was indeed Poggioreale!