Oct 042014


The Orient Express was the name of a long-distance passenger train service created in 1883 by Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits (CIWL). On this date in 1883 the original Orient Express began its first official run. There had been some previous trials but this was the beginning of the scheduled service.

There is a certain amount of confusion in the popular mind about the Orient Express because it is often thought of as a particular train with a particular route. But the route and rolling stock of the Orient Express changed many times. Several routes in the past concurrently used the Orient Express name, or slight variants thereof. Although the original Orient Express was simply a normal international railway service, the name has become synonymous with intrigue and luxury travel. The two city names most prominently associated with the Orient Express are Paris and Istanbul, the original endpoints of the timetabled service.


The Orient Express was a showcase of luxury and comfort at a time when traveling was still rough and dangerous. CIWL soon developed a dense network of luxury trains all over Europe, whose names are still remembered today and associated with luxury travel. Such as the Blue Train, the Golden Arrow, North Express and many more. CIWL became the first and most important modern multinational dedicated to transport, travel agency, hospitality with activities spreading from Europe to Asia and Africa.

In 1977, the Orient Express stopped serving Istanbul. Its immediate successor, a through overnight service from Paris to Vienna, ran for the last time from Paris on Friday, June 8, 2007. After this, the route, still called the “Orient Express”, was shortened to start from Strasbourg instead, occasioned by the inauguration of the LGV Est which affords much shorter travel times from Paris to Strasbourg. The new curtailed service left Strasbourg at 22.20 daily, shortly after the arrival of a TGV from Paris, and was attached at Karlsruhe to the overnight sleeper service from Amsterdam to Vienna.

On 14 December 2009, the Orient Express ceased to operate and the route disappeared from European railway timetables, reportedly a “victim of high-speed trains and cut-rate airlines”. The Venice-Simplon Orient Express train, a private venture by Orient-Express Hotels Ltd. using original CIWL carriages from the 1920s and 30s, continues to run from London to Venice and to other destinations in Europe, including the original route from Paris to Istanbul.

As a trial, in 1882, Georges Nagelmackers, a Belgian banker’s son, invited guests to a railway trip of 2,000 km (1,243 mi) on his ‘Train Eclair de luxe’ (lightning luxury train). The train left Paris Gare de l’Est on Tuesday, October 10, 1882, just after 18:30 and arrived in Vienna the next day at 23:20. The return trip left Vienna on Friday, October 13, 1882, at 16:40 and, as planned, re-entered the Gare de Strasbourg at 20:00 on Saturday October 14, 1882. Georges Nagelmackers was the founder of Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, which expanded its luxury trains, travel agencies and hotels all over Europe, Asia and North Africa. Its most famous train remains the Orient-Express.


The train consisted of:

Baggage car
Sleeping coach with 16 beds (with bogies)
Sleeping coach with 14 beds (3 axles)
Restaurant coach
Sleeping coach with 14 beds (3 axles)
Sleeping coach with 14 beds (3 axles)
Baggage car

The first menu on board (October 10, 1882): oysters, soup with Italian pasta, turbot with green sauce, chicken ‘à la chasseur,’ fillet of beef with ‘château’ potatoes, ‘chaud-froid’ of game animals, lettuce, chocolate pudding, buffet of desserts.


The original scheduled route of the Orient Express, which first ran on October 4, 1883, was from Paris, Gare de l’Est, to Giurgiu in Romania via Munich and Vienna. At Giurgiu, passengers were ferried across the Danube to Ruse, Bulgaria, to pick up another train to Varna. They then completed their journey to Istanbul by ferry. In 1885, another route began operations, this time reaching Istanbul via rail from Vienna to Belgrade and Niš, carriage to Plovdiv and rail again to Istanbul.

In 1889, the train’s eastern terminus became Varna in Bulgaria, where passengers could take a ship to Istanbul. On June 1, 1889, the first non-stop train to Istanbul left Paris (Gare de l’Est). Istanbul remained its easternmost stop until May 19, 1977. The eastern terminus was the Sirkeci Terminal by the Golden Horn. Ferry service from piers next to the terminal would take passengers across the Bosphorus to Haydarpaşa Terminal, the terminus of the Asian lines of the Ottoman Railways.

The onset of World War I in 1914 saw Orient Express services suspended. They resumed at the end of hostilities in 1918, and in 1919 the opening of the Simplon Tunnel allowed the introduction of a more southerly route via Milan, Venice and Trieste. The service on this route was known as the Simplon Orient Express, and it ran in addition to continuing services on the old route. The Treaty of Saint-Germain contained a clause requiring Austria to accept this train: formerly, Austria allowed international services to pass through Austrian territory (which included Trieste at the time) only if they ran via Vienna. The Simplon Orient Express soon became the most important rail route between Paris and Istanbul.

The 1930s saw the zenith of Orient Express services, with three parallel services running: the Orient Express, the Simplon Orient Express, and also the Arlberg Orient Express, which ran via Zürich and Innsbruck to Budapest, with sleeper cars running onwards from there to Bucharest and Athens. During this time, the Orient Express acquired its reputation for comfort and luxury, carrying sleeping-cars with permanent service and restaurant cars known for the quality of their cuisine. Royalty, nobles, diplomats, business people and the bourgeoisie in general patronized it. Each of the Orient Express services also incorporated sleeping cars which had run from Calais to Paris, thus extending the service right from one edge of continental Europe to the other.


The start of the Second World War in 1939 again interrupted the service, which did not resume until 1945. During the war, the German Mitropa company had run some services on the route through the Balkans, but Yugoslav Partisans frequently sabotaged the track, forcing a stop to this service. Following the end of the war, normal services resumed except on the Athens leg, where the closure of the border between Yugoslavia and Greece prevented services from running. That border re-opened in 1951, but the closure of the Bulgarian–Turkish border from 1951 to 1952 prevented services running to Istanbul during that time. As the Iron Curtain fell across Europe, the service continued to run, but the Communist nations increasingly replaced the Wagon-Lits cars with carriages run by their own railway services.

By 1962, the Orient Express and Arlberg Orient Express had stopped running, leaving only the Simplon Orient Express. This was replaced in 1962 by a slower service called the Direct Orient Express, which ran daily cars from Paris to Belgrade, and twice weekly services from Paris to Istanbul and Athens.

In 1971, the Wagon-Lits company stopped running carriages itself and making revenues from a ticket supplement. Instead, it sold or leased all its carriages to the various national railway companies, but continued to provide staff for the carriages. 1976 saw the withdrawal of the Paris–Athens direct service, and in 1977, the Direct Orient Express was withdrawn completely, with the last Paris–Istanbul service running on May 19 of that year.

The withdrawal of the Direct Orient Express was thought by many to signal the end of Orient Express as a whole, but in fact a service under this name continued to run from Paris to Budapest and Bucharest as before (via Strasbourg, Munich, and Budapest). This continued until 2001, when the service was cut back to just Paris–Vienna, the coaches for which were attached to the Paris–Strasbourg express. This service continued daily, listed in the timetables under the name Orient Express, until June 8, 2007.


However, with the opening of the LGV Est Paris–Strasbourg high speed rail line on June 10, 2007, the Orient Express service was further cut back to Strasbourg–Vienna, departing nightly at 22:20 from Strasbourg, and still bearing the name.


The Orient Express features in a number of books and films sometimes as a major character. Perhaps the most famous is Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, both a book and several films. I am very fond of the 1974 film adaptation with Albert Finney as Poirot. Christie had not been happy with previous film versions of her books and only grudgingly agreed to sell the rights. After viewing the film, Christie’s biographer Gwen Robyns quoted her as saying, “It was well made except for one mistake. It was Albert Finney, as my detective Hercule Poirot. I wrote that he had the finest moustache in England — and he didn’t in the film. I thought that a pity — why shouldn’t he?”

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Dracula escapes from England to Varna by sea, but the cabal sworn to destroy him travels to Paris and takes the Orient Express, arriving in Varna ahead of him. In Flashman and the Tiger by George MacDonald Fraser: Sir Harry Paget Flashman travels on the train’s first journey as a guest of the journalist Henri Blowitz. In the film, From Russia with Love (1963) James Bond (Sean Connery) fights with a rival spy aboard the train.


There have also been numerous television shows and made for television movies that feature the Orient Express such as, Istanbul Express (1968), a thriller, made for television, starring Gene Barry, Travels with My Aunt (1972), in which Henry Pulling accompanies his aunt, Augusta Bertram, on a trip from London to Turkey, and Minder on the Orient Express (1985), a comedy/thriller television film made as a spin-off from the successful television series Minder. In Mystery on the Orient Express, a television special featuring illusionist David Copperfield, Copperfield rode aboard the train and, at its conclusion, made the dining car seemingly disappear. There was also a syndicated TV series, Orient Express, in the early-to-mid-1950s. Filmed in Europe, its half-hour dramas featured such stars as Paul Lukas, Jean-Pierre Aumont, Geraldine Brooks, and Erich von Stroheim.


There are several games and animations featuring the train. The role-playing game Call of Cthulhu RPG uses the train for one of its more famous campaigns, Horror on the Orient Express. The Last Express is a murder mystery game set around the last ride of the Orient Express before it suspended operations at the start of World War I. Robert Cath, an American doctor wanted by French police as he is suspected of the murder of an Irish police officer, and becomes involved in a maelstrom of treachery, lies, political conspiracies, personal interests, romance and murder. The game has 30 characters representing a cross-section of European forces at the time.


Given the time that the Orient Express was in service probably just about any fine dish would have been served in dining cars at some point. But the menu from the first trial run seems the most appropriate from which to choose. The chaud-froid of game meats would be wonderful to recreate. A chaud-froid is essentially meat in an aspic jelly to which cream is added. But I have picked poulet chasseur because it is a favorite of mine. “Chasseur” is French for hunter, and the lyrical folklore is that this is a dish that hunters could make on the way home using wild mushrooms as the main flavoring ingredient (ditto the Italian chicken cacciatore).

Sauce chasseur can be used for a variety of meats including game. It is a simple or compound brown sauce used in French cuisine made using demi-glace or an espagnole sauce as a base, and often includes mushrooms and shallots. It may also include tomatoes and a finishing of fines herbes. Sauce chasseur is thought to have been invented by Philippe de Mornay, who is also credited with inventing Mornay sauce, Béchamel, sauce Lyonnaise, and sauce Porto.

Poulet chasseur is not hard to make and you can find hundreds of recipes online. Unfortunately for simplicity the great bulk use plain chicken stock or bouillon rather than demi-glace. This is a great shame because demi-glace adds a special richness. You will find my recipe for this intensely flavored kitchen essential here:


Or you can buy it.  It’s usually as good as homemade (if you buy the right stuff) and saves an awful lot of time.

This recipe is an adaptation of Jacques Pepin’s from La Technique


Poulet Chasseur


1 tbsp. butter
1 2 1/2 -3 lb pound chicken, quartered
2 tbsp chopped shallots
1 clove garlic, peeled, crushed and chopped fine
½ cup dry white wine
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 tsp tomato paste
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
6 to 8 mushrooms, sliced
½ cup demi-glace
1 tbsp each fresh parsley and tarragon chopped fine
salt and pepper


Heat the butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat and brown the chicken thoroughly on both sides.

Add the chopped shallots and sauté until transluscent.

Add the garlic, white wine, tomato, tomato paste, bay leaf, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the mushrooms.

Cover and simmer another 5 minutes. DO NOT overcook the chicken.

Using a spoon, transfer the chicken and solids to a heated serving dish and keep warm.

Add ½ cup demi-glace to the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce to 1 cup. Season with parsley and tarragon and pour the sauce on top of the chicken.

Serve at once with boiled new potatoes.

Serves 4

Aug 052013



Today is Independence Day in Burkina Faso. Burkina Faso, also known by its short-form name, Burkina, is a landlocked country in West Africa. Its capital is Ouagadougou. Formerly called the Republic of Upper Volta, the country was renamed “Burkina Faso” on 4 August (eve of Independence Day) 1984 by then-President Thomas Sankara, using a word from each of the country’s two major native languages, Mòoré and Dioula.  “Burkina”, from Mòoré, may be translated as “people of integrity”, while “Faso” means “fatherland” in Dioula. “Burkino Faso” is thus meant to be understood as “Land of upright people” or “Land of honest people.” Inhabitants of Burkina Faso are known as Burkinabè

The territory of today’s Burkina Faso was peopled originally (some time between 14,000 and 5000 BCE), by hunter-gatherers in the northwestern part of the country, whose tools, such as scrapers, chisels and arrowheads, were discovered in 1973 by Simran Nijjar. Farming settlements  appeared between 3600 and 2600 BCE. On the basis of traces of the farmers’ structures, the settlements appear to have been permanent. The use of iron, ceramics and polished stone developed between 1500 and 1000 BCE, as did a preoccupation with spiritual matters, as shown by burial remains.

Relics of the Dogon people are found in Burkina Faso’s north and northwest regions. Some time between the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Dogon left the area to settle in the cliffs of Bandiagara (now in Mali). Elsewhere, the remains of high walls are localized in the southwest of Burkina Faso (as well as in the Côte d’Ivoire), but the people who built them have not yet been identified. Loropeni is a pre-European stone ruin which has been linked to the gold trade. It has been declared as Burkina Faso’s first World Heritage site.

Dogon in Mali

Dogon in Mali

The central region of Burkina Faso included a number of Mossi kingdoms, the most powerful of which were those of Wagadogo (Ouagadougou) and Yatenga. These kingdoms emerged probably in the early sixteenth century from obscure origins veiled in legend featuring a heterogeneous set of warrior heroes.

Mossi town

Mossi town

After a decade of intense rivalry and competition between the British and the French, waged through treaty-making expeditions under military or civilian explorers, French colonial forces defeated the Mossi kingdom of Ouagadougou which became a French protectorate in 1896. The eastern region and the western region, where a standoff against the forces of the powerful ruler Samori Ture complicated the situation, came under French occupation in 1897. By 1898, the bulk of the territory corresponding to Burkina Faso today was nominally conquered; however, control of many parts remained uncertain.

The French and British convention of 14 June 1898 ended the scramble between the two colonial powers and drew the borders between the countries’ colonies. On the French side, a war of conquest against local communities and political powers continued for about five years. In 1904, the largely pacified territories of the Volta basin were integrated into the Upper Senegal and Niger colony of French West Africa as part of the reorganization of the French West African colonial empire. The colony had its capital in Bamako.

Draftees from the territory participated in the European fronts of World War I in the battalions of the Senegalese Rifles. Between 1915 and 1916, the districts in the western part of what is now Burkina Faso and the bordering eastern fringe of Mali became the stage of one of the most important armed oppositions to colonial government, known as the Volta-Bani War. The French government finally suppressed the movement, but only after suffering defeats and being forced to gather the largest expeditionary force of its colonial history up to that point. Armed opposition also wracked the Sahelian north when the Tuareg and allied groups of the Dori region ended their truce with the government.

French Upper Volta was established on 1 March 1919. This move was a result of French fears of the recurrence of armed uprising along with economic considerations, and to bolster its administration, the colonial government separated the present territory of Burkina Faso from Upper Senegal and Niger. The new colony was named Haute Volta and François Charles Alexis Édouard Hesling became its first governor. Hesling initiated an ambitious road-making program and promoted the growth of cotton for export. The cotton policy – based on coercion – failed, and revenue stagnated. The colony was later dismantled on 5 September 1932, being split up between Côte d’Ivoire, French Sudan, and Niger. Côte d’Ivoire received the largest share, which contained most of the population as well as the cities of Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso.


The decision to split the colony was reversed during the intense anti-colonial agitation that followed the end of World War II. On 4 September 1947 the colony was revived as a part of the French Union, with its previous boundaries. On 11 December 1958 it achieved self-government and became the Republic of Upper Volta. Full independence from France was granted on 5 August 1960.

burkina3  burkina1

If you take nothing else from this rather bald recitation of the facts, it should be abundantly evident that colonialism in all its forms was, and is, a great blight. What we should celebrate today, therefore, is the ability of the people of Burkina Faso to resist oppression without ceasing, and to emerge as a nation with a distinctive and compelling voice.

Literature in Burkina Faso is based on the oral tradition, which remains important. In 1934, during French occupation, Dim-Dolobsom Ouedraogo published his Maximes, pensées et devinettes mossi (Maxims, Thoughts and Riddles of the Mossi), a record of the oral history of the Mossi people. The oral tradition continued to have an influence on Burkinabè writers in the post-independence Burkina Faso of the 1960s, such as Nazi Boni and Roger Nikiema. The 1960s saw a growth in the number of playwrights being published.  Since the 1970s, literature has blossomed in Burkina Faso with many more writers being published, although few are known outside of Africa. Noted writers of recent times include novelist and journalist Norbert Zongo (The Parachute Drop), poet Angèle Bassolé-Ouédraogo (Avec tes mots), and Titinga Frédéric Pacéré (pictured), lawyer, writer, poet and griot (storyteller), author of over 60 published volumes and winner in 1982 of the 1982 Grand Prix Littéraire d’Afrique Noire for two of his works, Poèmes pour l’Angola (1982) and La Poésie des griots (1982). Since the 1980’s a significant number of women novelists and poets has emerged: Pierrette Sandra Kanzié, Bernadette Dao, Gaël Koné, Monique Ilboudo, Suzy Henrique Nikiéma, Sarah Bouyain and Adiza Sanoussi.


The theatre of Burkina Faso combines traditional Burkinabè performance with the colonial influences and post-colonial efforts to educate rural people to produce a distinctive national theatre. Traditional ritual ceremonies of the many ethnic groups in Burkina Faso have long involved dancing with masks. Western-style theatre became common during colonial times, heavily influenced by French theatre. With independence came a new style of theatre blending old and new, and aimed at educating and entertaining Burkina Faso’s rural people.

The cuisine of Burkina Faso, is similar to the cuisines in many parts of West Africa, and is based on the staples, sorghum, millet, rice, maize, peanuts, potatoes, beans, yams and okra. Grilled meat is common, particularly mutton, goat, beef, chicken, and fish. Poulet bicyclette (bicycle chicken) is common throughout the region, named for chicken sellers who at one time carried enormous numbers of chickens to market on bicycles, but now use motorbikes.  Poulet bicyclette is a simple dish of chicken pieces marinated in lemon juice for 24 hours to tenderize them before grilling.


Here is another favorite of mine, riz gras (fat rice), which can be made with any meat.  Mutton is common, but I have never found it in the West. Lamb works as a substitute although it does not have the richness of mutton. Maggi seasoning is the common broth cube used in West Africa.  It can be found online, or you can substitute chicken bouillon cubes.

Riz Gras (Fat Rice)


1 ½ lb (750g) lamb cubed
2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
4 tomatoes, coarsely chopped
½  cabbage, shredded
6 carrots, scraped and chopped
12 oz (350g) rice
1 Maggi chicken cube
2 tbsp tomato purée
salt and powdered garlic to taste
vegetable oil, for frying


Wash the rice well, drain in a colander and set aside.

Heat about 4 tablespoons of oil in a large cooking pot over high heat.

Add the onions and lamb, and brown.

Add 4 cups (1 liter) of water, the Maggi cube, and the tomato purée. Bring to a boil and simmer for about an hour, or until the meat is tender.

Check the amount of broth in the pot. Add or subtract liquid to make 3 cups (750 ml).

Add the tomato pieces, carrot, cabbage, and rice.  Bring back to the boil, and simmer covered for about 25 minutes or until the rice is cooked and the liquid is absorbed.

Stir to distribute the ingredients and serve garnished with fresh onion rings.

Serves 6