The Blue Train – To A Blind Friend

Do they serve pudding after dinner?
I looked at the lady, not sure how to react. Was this a joke, a trick question? Even so, I responded: “Either side.”
The Blue Train is where everything is included, it oozes with luxurious opulence. To even think that there won’t be dessert is, err, unthinkable.
People ask questions about The Blue Train when they learn that my wife and I had the privilege to travel on arguably the world’s best train.  Let us investigate further, taking a blind friend with me.

 

A Tour of The Blue Train

Taking a blind friend on a short walking tour of The Blue Train, awarded the title of World’s Best Train eight times consecutively.

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Magic Carpet Ride on The Blue Train

Our reservations were confirmed via email and we were also sent Guest Information Forms to complete and return to the friendly bookings officer. They ensure that they can contact your next-of-kin or anticipate medical conditions, food allergies, etc. Special dietary requirements are taken care of individually. Impressive efficiency.

A few days later, we made our way to The Blue Train Lounge where butlers awaited is, greeting us friendly, welcoming us to The Blue Train, while taking care of our luggage. A soft carpet bearing The Blue Train’s logo led us into the lounge, where we were registered at the Concierge Desk, by two very friendly and helpful ladies. We then were invited to take our seats in the plush lounge area, tastefully decorated.

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A gentleman called Collen appeared and offered us coffee or juice, or we could have had some sparkling wine if we so desired. Soon, the ever friendly F&B Manager Leon came to greet us; we have met before as this wasn’t our first journey on The Blue Train. Also, Financial Manager of The Blue Train, Mr Francois Geldenhuys, came to greet us as also he was no stranger. Friendly faces, a hearty welcome. Africa is renowned for its hospitality; The Blue Train certainly is a window to the soul of Africa.

We were the first to arrive and had a second coffee while guests trickled in – our own group consisted of six guests including my wife and I. Our journey would be short as we were here to expose stakeholders from the tourism industry to the superlative service on board The Blue Train. Next to arrive was Siphelo Guwa, a videographer who agreed to film our journey – this also wasn’t his first experience of The Blue Train, having been part of a film production team on board this magnificent train some time prior. The social media marketing guru’s arrived next. They are Marinda Holtzhausen and Marius De Vos of Cape Town Bookings, who also own the contracts to market various regions of the Western Cape. Finally, Richard Valentine of the Fish Hoek Valley Museum joined our group. He is involved in promoting tourism in the South Peninsula and is an accredited tour guide as well.

By the time that all guests had arrived, we were formally welcomed to The Blue Train, by Train Manager Lethabo Vilikazi. She explained the “house rules” and then we were taken in groups by our assigned butlers to our suites. Our butler was Angela; she was our butler on our first journey as well and there was a good reunion with this impressive lady.

I made my way to the Observation Car at the rear, hoping to take video footage of our departure from Cape Town Station. Great was my surprise when I noticed that we were already under way. The movement of the train only became perceptible as speed gradually increased. Table Mountain, followed by Devil’s Peak, sailed past like silent ships on the ocean.

Of course, our group are all active on social media and we took to Instagram, Facebook and Twitter almost right away – and a little frenzy ensued. Before long, the shock and surprise of friends elsewhere made room for their inquiries: “How do we book to travel on The Blue Train?”

She gracefully wafted through the northern suburbs of greater Cape Town, found her way through the vineyards, orchards and dairy farms until we slipped past Simonsberg to the right, Paarl rock to our left, where wider spaces welcomed us with open arms as we skirted the edges of the Swartland, home to wheat and sheep farms. We passed a few Anglo-Boer War blockhouses and the wind turbines at Gouda, from where the train made her spectacular passage through the Nuwekloof en route to the Wamakers Valley and the Witzenberg range of Tulbagh, on to Wolseley where we soon crossed the Breede River, flanked by two more of the historical British blockhouses.

Guests indulged in an array of snacks and treats, to suite even the most discerning palate. Even so, it soon was time for brunch, something we sincerely enjoyed as Master Chef Bobbie Wessels and his team are renowned for performing magic in the kitchen. Already, a less opulent cousin of The Blue Train goes by the hashtag #GoodFoodTrain. What shall we call this delightful dining experience, progressing almost imperceptibly yet at 56 MPH across the southern reaches of Africa. I have thought of the title #GlamTrain but, then again, the timeless class of this train is more of an understated thoroughbred.

I will rather show you photos of our meals as words won’t do justice. My crumbed Camembert with Cranberry Sauce was followed by a hearty soup and then the main course arrived, beef sirloin hiding a little blue rock cheese surprise to tantalise the taste buds. During all this time, our eyes feasted on the beautiful Boland mountains, vineyards, we passed Sedgwicks, home of the famous Old Brown Sherry as well as no less than five different brandies. Wine cellars, horses, farmsteads passed us silently as we enjoyed our dessert – mine was a sticky toffee pudding with ice cream. All too soon, our journey came to and end at Worcester, where we were given lovely certificates of remembrance and a rather nice ballpoint pen each, with The Blue Train’s logo inscribed on it. We thanked and greeted Lethabo and David – he is the manager in charge of the bedroom suites.

Our magic carpet ride was over and we made our way back to #LoveCapeTown

Holiday On Track

Freshly out of high school, now entering the adult world, I stood on the platform of the neat railway station in my home town. The Brandwacht mountains, Audensberg blue in the distance, the evening heat thick in the air.  By my side is a bed roll and my luggage.

Padkos.  South Africans don’t travel without padkos. Travel food, that is.

The train arrives from Cape Town. Trans-Karoo. Anticipation grows as she comes to a halt. A few hugs and kisses to the loved ones staying behind.

I board and find my seat in a compartment where two others show me where I can choose my sleeping bunk and store my luggage. I travel the cheaper second class.  The benches are clad in blue leather, walls neatly paneled and the wash basin is of durable stainless steel.

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A hint of a slight jerk, hardly noticeable and we are on our way. The two electric units at the front raising their voices as they urge their burden along. My first “real” train journey has begun!  A few years before, we went to Cape Town where we took the suburban train to Simon’s Town on a day’s adventurous outing. Once, I traveled to Goodwood to visit a cousin. But, this time, I will sleep on a journey taking two days almost, to faraway Pretoria!

Surprises await me.  The conductor comes to check if I am settled in.  He realises I am a first time traveler and looks at my ticket. He advises me to opt for the third sitting in the dining car.

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Dining car?  But I do have padkos, I tell him. “It is included in the price”, he advises me, discreetly enjoying my astonishment. I would later dine with fine porcelain and silver, enjoying freshly prepared cuisine fit for a Sunday lunch. Few five star hotels have served me better food, ever since that day, 37 years ago.

Back in the compartment, satisfied after a scrumptious meal, at least four courses at that, another surprise awaits me. Our beds are made!  Someone brought fresh linen and blankets, prepared our room-on-rails for the night. My bunk is at the window.

Many hours later, I woke to new sounds. The train is stationary.  The powerful puffing of steam engines can be heard. Hissing, blowing, they approach and connects with our now engine-less train. We are at Beaufort-West ad I wonder if my uncle will be our driver.  The Class 25 NC connects with our train so softly that water won’t ripple in my glass. Amazing how these guys marry hundreds of tonnes without us feeling it.

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The locomotives speak out in their thunderous voices, commanding the follower to obey. We move out in the darkness of night en route to De Aar and Kimberley. I lie awake, enthralled by the sounds and smells coming from the shiny black steam engines up front. I am deeply in love with fire and water, with Natal nuggets and steam.  A fine mist of ash softly sifts down onto the train’s roof. I fall asleep, bewitched by the black monsters dragging us so effortlessly across the arid plains of the Karoo.  Every now and then, blowing its whistles to warn traffic at level crossings, to give us a wide berth.

I wake up in Kimberly. Dang! The steam engines slowly crawl past us while we are being connected ever so gently to two electric engines. Consolation is that I will experience this in less than three weeks again upon my return and again two weeks after that, when reporting for my two year compulsory national service in the army. This trip is the first of many to come.

We are served a scrumptious breakfast, once again the waiters are dressed smartly, wearing bow ties. The food is excellent and the scenery a new experience.  I have traveled by road before, many times, but this is different. The thorn trees, animals on farms and game ranches, little villages, eventually mine dumps increase in numbers and we finally arrive at Johannesburg Park Station, or maybe Germiston, where the train is split., I think. Some people travel to Durban while we go to Pretoria.

All too soon, we arrive at the beautiful old Pretoria station building where an uncle and a cousin come to collect me. There is much padkos left and my bed roll is still fresh.

The first of many pleasurable train travels had culminated where others were already waiting for their next adventure to begin.

It is your turn to venture out – here are a few suggestions.  Rail travel is fashionable again. It is comfortable, there are no overturned trucks or potholes to deal with at night. Just a relaxed environment and time to take in the scenery as South Africa slowly rolls by.