After Tempo leaves them at Belgrade, James Bond and Tatiana Romanova are back on the Orient Express. At nine o’clock the train pulls “out on its all-night run down the valley of the Sava.”
Bond examines the passports of the new passengers of the train, and then settles in “for another night with Tatiana’s head on his lap.”
That night, “Vincovci came and Brod and then, against a flaming dawn, the ugly sprawl of Zagreb.”
The stations of Vinkovci (note the “k’) and Brod (Slavonski Brod – which actually translates as “Liverpool”) were pass-throughs on the route of the Orient Express. Any stops during the overnight run would likely have been very brief.
At this frontier station, James Bond receives the bad news about his friend, Darko Kerim.
From the account, it is difficult to say if they even disembarked from the train at this station, thought the beginning of Chapter 24 would seem to indicate that Kerim was taken off here, and Bond is reflecting and looking out at the crowds as they are at Belgrade – the next stop.
It’s difficult to say exactly. Belgrade is where they meet up with Stefan Trempo, and if Kerim had been taken along across the border to Belgrade it would seem that Trempo would’ve insisted on seeing him, but that is not indicated in the text.
For their last stop in Greece aboard the Orient Express, James Bond, Tatiana Romanova and Darko Kerim stop in the historic city of Thessaloniki.
They finished their dinner as the train pulled into the hideous modern junction of Thessaloniki.
Ian Fleming wrote From Russia With Love in 1956. At that time, the train would still have pulled into the “old” station at Thessaloniki. However, the “new” railway station had been under construction since the 1930’s, though it didn’t go into service until 1961.
Fleming likely saw the building in a state similar to this and was not pleased with the future.
From Thessaloniki, the Orient Express crossed the border into Yugoslavia, where tragedy hits.
As James Bond, Darko Kerim and Tatiana Romanova continue their passage aboard the Orient Express in From Russia With Love, they pass through these two stations.
The names of both stations are spelled differently than how Fleming wrote them. Pythion station marks the border between Turkey and Greece and is the only rail connection between the two countries. The station sits in Greece. Alexandroupolis (or Alexandroupoli) station is about 70 miles south (109km) south, following the Greek/Turkish border fairly closely.
Chapter 23 opens with
Hot coffee from the meagre little buffet at Pithion, (there would be no restaurant car until midday), a painless visit from the Greek customs and passport control, and then the berths were folded away as the train hurried south towards the Gulf of Enez at the head of the Aegean.
The station is similar in appearance to the Uzunköprü station and to the Alexandroupolis station (further below).
The Alexandroupolis station is described thusly:
They were still arguing when the train ground to a halt in the sun-baked, fly-swarming station of Alexandropolis. Bond opened the door into the corridor and the sun poured in across a pale mirrored sea that married, almost without horizon into a sky the colour of the Greek flag.
The threesome has lunch in the restaurant car and see the enemy agent, out on the platform, buying sandwiches and beer from a buffet on wheels.
It’s fun to see so many places described by Ian Fleming in his novels still standing today and looking very much like when he (and James Bond) saw them.
After departing Sirkeci the night before, James Bond, Darko Kerim and Tatiana Romanova arrive at the last station in Turkey before entering Greece. Fleming writes that the train stops with a “sigh of hydraulic brakes” at Uzunköprü station. This was one of his few factual errors as he wrote in a letter that “I have also been severely reprimanded for having provided, in my last book, the Orient Express with hydraulic brakes instead of vacuum ones.”
As James Bond looks out at the station, this is what he sees.
It was a typical Balkan wayside station – a facade of dour buildings in over-pointed stone, a dusty expanse of platform, not raised, but level with the ground so that there was a long step down from the train, some chickens pecking about and a few drab officials standing idly, unshaven, not even trying to look important.
You can see how accurate Fleming’s description was in the picture above. At this station, two M.G.B. men are tossed off the train, the first one, unnamed after having his ticket swiped by Kerim, and the second, a Kurt Goldfarb is taken off after attempting to bribe the conductor after his ticket and passport could not be located. They are taken across the platform into the station through the door marked “Polis.”
James Bond and Tatiana Romanova agree to meet for the 9:00pm departure of the Orient Express, They would’ve met at Sirkeci station. Ian Fleming had been there, and clearly was not impressed.
The Orient Express was the only live train in the ugly, cheaply architectured burrow that is Istanbul’s main station. The trains on the other lines were engineless and unattended – waiting for tomorrow. Only Track No. 3 and its platform throbbed with the tragic poetry of departure.
Sirkeci station was in fact, a point of pride for all of Turkey. It had been designed by August Jachmund, a German trained Prussian architect who was heavily influenced by Ottoman architecture. He wanted to create a fusion of East and West, with Constantinople (Istanbul) being the gateway to the Orient. It was were the West ended and the East began. Sirkeci station also was the last stop on the route of the Orient Express.
Here are some further shots of the station, as it would’ve appeared to James Bond.
High above the guichet, near the ceiling of the station, the minute hand of the big illuminated clock jumped forward an inch and said ‘Nine’.
(A guichet is the pickup window.)
Fleming’s reference to the “cheaply architectured burrow” may have only referred to the platform, as the main terminal is impressive, inside and out.
The station still stands and there is a restaurant and a museum inside the old terminal.
For a fantastic look at the route of the Orient Express through Turkey in 1950, check this feature on the work by LIFE photographer Jack Birns. (including the previous two photos above)
Note: We will examine various aspects of the route of the Orient Express, stations, cars, tunnels, etc in future posts.
The Dénouement of From Russia With Love takes place aboard the famous Orient Express train. James Bond and Tatiana Romanova board this train in Istanbul, and take it all the way to Dijon. There were several actual trains operating on the route.
The historic and famous Orient Express was not a brand of train, but rather a route that stretched from Istanbul to Paris. It was famous for the great luxury put into many of the carriages in a time when railway travel was the most common method of covering great distances.
Even by the time of the events of From Russia With Love, rail travel was dying out, as Fleming even noted in the opening of the chapter. He says though that “three times a week” the Orient Express was still offering the service from Istanbul to Paris.
Through Bond’s eyes, Fleming gives us some detail of the train as the waits for Tatiania.
The heavy bronze cipher on the side of the dark blue coach said, COMPAGNIE INTERNATIONALE DES WAGON-LITS ET DES GRANDS EXPRESS EUROPEENS.
Translated, that is the International Sleeping-Car Company or literally, The International Company sleepers (and European Grands Express) This was the company with produced the sleeping cars used on many of the most luxurious trains around the world. Fleming notes another detail of the exterior of the train car.
Another details on the side of the car is the destination sign:
Above the cipher, fitted into metal slots, was a flat iron sign that announced, in black capitals on white, ORIENT EXPRESS, and underneath, in three lines:
James Bond gazed vaguely at one of the most romantic signs in the world.
I couldn’t find a match for the sign that Fleming describes ( you can see above that this sign says “Milano” not Milan.) but you get the idea of the format of the sign here.
For some more helpful information and photos, you can look at these links. We’ll have much more on the Orient Express in the coming weeks.
While in Istanbul during From Russia With Love, James Bond stays “at the Kristal Palas on the heights of Pera.”
He arrives, noting the “entrance hall with the fly-blown palms in copper pots, and the floor and walls of discoloured Moorish tiles.”
Bond admits that having a “perverse liking for the sleazy romance that clings to old-fashioned Continental hotels, had decided him to stay and he had signed in and followed the man up to the third floor in the old rope-and-gravity lift.”
As with many Fleming creations in the Bond novels, the Kristal Palas was based on a real hotel. According to Steve Turner:
This was a thin disguise for the Pera Palas Hotel, which did have a run-down air to it in the Fifties. Built in 1892 to accommodate passengers arriving on the Orient Express, it was Istanbul’s first top-class hotel and stood close to the British French, German, Russian and American consulates. Its bar became a natural watering hole for diplomats, and a hub of gossip, scandal and intrigue.
The Pera Palas still exists, and went through a recent renovation to restore it to its pre-James Bond glory.
While Bond is initially unhappy with the hotel, after waking up the next morning, his choice is rewarded when he opens the curtain and sees the view of the Golden Horn from his balcony.
Ultimately, Bond is moved to room 12, which is the Honeymoon Suite. That was part of the plan for the opposition, which wanted Bond where they could watch him. Literally.
The Palas is a solid base for Bond while on assignment here, and while he doesn’t actually spend much time there, it adds nicely to the atmosphere and setting of the book.
After his briefing with M in From Russia With Love, James Bond is sent to Istanbul aboard B.E.A. Flight 130 to Rome, Athens and Istanbul.
The four small, square-ended propellers turned slowly, one by one, and became four whizzing pools. The low hum of the turbo-jets rose to a shrill smooth whine. The quality of the noise, and the complete absence of vibration, were different from the stuttering roar and straining horsepower of all other aircraft Bond had flown in. As the Viscount wheeled easily out to the shimmering east-west runway of London Airport, Bond felt as if he was sitting in an expensive mechanical toy.
The Vickers Viscount by Vickers-Armstrongs was a very important plane in the history of passenger air travel. It was the first gas-powered turboprop airliner, and the short to medium range plane featured much improved cabin comforts such as pressurisation, and reductions in vibration and noise – as noted by Fleming above.
Most of the flight went smoothly, though there was a rough patch which had Bond slightly nervous.
Bond smelt the smell of danger. It is a real smell, something like the mixture of sweat and electricity you get in an amusement arcade. Again the lightning flung its hands across the windows. Crash! It felt as if they were the centre of the thunder clap. Suddenly the plane seemed incredibly small and frail. Thirteen passengers! Friday the Thirteenth! Bond thought of Loelia Ponsonby’s words and his hands on the arms of his chair felt wet. How old is this plane, he wondered? How many flying hours has it done? Had the deathwatch beetle of metal fatigue got into the wings? How much of their strength had it eaten away? Perhaps he wouldn’t get to Istanbul after all. Perhaps a plummeting crash into the Gulf of Corinth was going to be the destiny he had been scanning philosophically only an hour before.
Ironically, about a year after this was written, (Fleming’s author’s note is March, 1956) on March 14, 1957, a B.E.A. Viscount crashed at Wythenshawe on approach to Manchester, England, killing all 20 on board. It also killed two people on the ground. The aircraft had logged a total time of 6,900 hours and 4,553 landings, and part of the reason for the crash was cited as metal fatigue.
Among other routes, this aircraft had done the London>Rome>Athens>Istanbul one. Could this have been the very plane Bond was worried about?
While not as luxurious inside as some of the long-haul aircraft Bond has flown on, such as the Super-Constellation or the Stratocruiser, the Viscount was very comfortable for the shorter flights across Europe. It was certainly a step up from the Ilyushin 12 which Donovan Grant had flown to Moscow not many weeks before.
A few other shots of the B.E.A. Viscount in action:
And a look at B.E.A. introducing the new aircraft: