The Blue Train

Tuesday, June 17

Aboard the Blue Train.

Wendy: ooohh la la!  We were dropped off at the train station and ushered into a special waiting area for Blue Train passengers only (complete with a spread of tasty treats).  Then we boarded for the 24-hour trip to Pretoria.

We had never experienced service like this..we felt pampered the whole time.  We made it easy for Dalton (our personal butler) because we really didn't have any special requests.  The food was fantastic; the dining car was on par with the Wine Train we took in Napa.  We had a multi-course lunch and dinner.  The lunch main course was a sautéed fillet of sole.  The other courses were a salad, tomato soup (for me), wonderful bread, and orange / lemon cheesecake.   Dinner started with ostrich carpaccio, then mushroom soup, then kingklip (an S.A. fish like halibut), then dessert.

About the bathroom: Elegant but challenging. There is a safety bar in the shower, but I didn't use it. You just have to get used to the rocking and rolling!  Also, we had to pack just what we needed...the rest was stowed in the baggage car. Sleeping for the most part was good; easier than on an airplane, but not the same as a stationary bed. We had twin beds (which were pulled down from the wall); comfortable but compact.  We had afternoon tea...sweet and savory.  Little tarts plus a chocolate cake, and cucumber and smoked salmon sandwiches. Quite dainty.  But how can you get such an appetite from just sitting around?  

Several times on the ride we saw wild ostriches grazing.  And this was the first time we saw "Africa" as we had envisioned it: grassy plains, dirt roads, little towns with many tin shacks.

Most of our fellow passengers were Brits; there was one family from Seattle. The mom said that this was a dream trip for her.  We'd never really thought of it that way.  Initially, we decided to come because of Em, and to add a few more days.  But it has become much much more...yes...a dream trip from Cape Town onward.

Wayne: Our driver dropped us off at the private waiting area for the Blue Train. Whoa!  Oh so fancy.  The men working there were all wearing zebra-striped jackets.  They offered us drinks and snacks - a sign of things to come.  They told us there would only be 16 passengers on the train (it has a max of 72) plus a staff of 30!  We were the only ones n our car.  Our suite was so neat.  A tiny closet, a tiny bathroom (with shower), a table, a chair, and two cushioned chairs. Plus our own personal butler - just dial 257 and he'll be there. He told us everything was free (as in "free") except if we wanted French champagne!  Then the train manager came in and gave the same speech.  Then Laurence, the dining car manager did the same.  So we pulled out at 11:30 am. There was also a TV built into the wall. it had 6 channels  Channel 1 was a camera located on the front of the engine so you could see where we were going. (more on that in a minute.)  Ch2 was a travelogue of the history of the Blue Train and of each area/town it went through on all of its routes.  CH3 - 6 were movie channels. 

Lunch was at 1:30, so we watched CH2 until it was time to eat. WoW!  A beautiful 4-course meal as we watched the mountains roll by. Our waiter's name tag said "Heinie". Then we went to the observation car (which was the last car, #18, right next to our car, #17). Big viewing windows; they offered us drinks.  Dinner was at 8 so we had a few hours to kill. Went back to our "suite" and read and looked out the window.  Even though I was sitting facing "forward" I was still getting a little queasy.  But, this was amazing!  In order to watch the TV, I had to sit backwards, but when I did so and watched CH1 (the engine-cam), my brain was fooled into thinking I was facing forward!  Even more so, as the engine went around a curve, I (my brain) registered it as such even though car #17 didn't actually get to that curve until a minute or more later!!! (Long train)  Truly amazing! 

At around 4:30 we stopped at a little town, Matjiesfontein. It used to have 10,000 people (so they said) but now only 200.  Anyway, we get off the train to stretch and this guy says "Everyone on the bus!".  It was this big red double-decker bus that looked like it had been in service for 100 years. So the driver gets on and he tells us he's going to give us the 10-minute tour (it did take 10 minutes, but we only went about 1/2 mile!). He drove us down the (one) main street and pinted out the museum, the bar, and the cemetery.  Every minute or so he'd say "Slowly but surely we'll go past the museum." "Slowly but surely we'll turn this corner." "This was the first building in Africa to have a telephone. They called the people in the second building."  Really funny!  Then, back on the train.

Eventually it was time for dinner.  We had to be in fancy clothes.  Another sumptuous 5-course meal.  We had the same waiter, but he too was dressed formally, and now his name tag said "Heinrich"!  I tried to skip a few courses (who could be hungry?), but our waiter wouldn't let me ("It's all included you know").  It was fun but we were stuffed. When we went back to our room, the table was folded down and the chair pushed aside and two twin beds )one on each side) had been pulled down from the wall. Not much room to move around now!  The only bad thing about the ride was that it got dark and we couldn't see all of the scenery in the Great Karoo, which we were passing through. But our butler said "Once you've seen a little of it you've seen it all". So we went to sleep. Don't believe that stuff about the gentle motion and the rhythmic clacking of the rails. The bed was comfy, but the train would stop and start and bump and rock. So we kind of slept off and on until around 4:30. Then we didn't wake up until 8:30! 

OHMYGOSH!  We almost missed breakfast! (Now it is Tuesday, June 17.)  The sun was up and now (finally!) the scenery was more Africa-like - wide open grassy plains (sort of like Texas) - including grazing herds of cows and sheep (the wild African kind.  Ha Ha!).  Well got ready quickly and made it to breakfast by 9:15.  A huge English breakfast (Just a croissant for me thanks). Then back to the room to tidy up.  The train was due into Pretoria at about 12:30, but it was running 30 minutes late.
At noon there was a knock on our door. Our butler wants to know if we want a snack! We just had breakfast at 10!!! I'm thinking "Are you crazy?"; Wendy says "Sure!".  The butler says "We have chicken salad and roast beef sandwiches."  She says "OK"!  So he came back in a minute with 2 plates and each has 2 sandwiches!  I nearly barfed.  How could you look at more food????  But I forced myself to taste it - and it was the best chicken salad I ever had!

Then, we got into Pretoria.  Our driver was waiting to take us back to Joburg (the train had passed though but did not stop), to catch our flight for the next leg: safari!!!!!

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