The taxi arrived early. A relief. I settled up with my hostel and left in my cleanest shirt for the journey that awaited. The morning had two important stops.
My first was to meet a twitter friend, the explorateur, for coffee and to say thank you. She was the very reason I received a guest passage on the ‘Soul of South Africa.’ And then to my second stop, the Pretoria Train Station to board the Blue Train.
For me train travel in the States consisted of commuter rails such as the LIRR, MetroNorth and the NJT with the occasional Amtrak from Penn Station to Union Square. Nothing fancy. But this was different. Much different.
The elegant experience of the Blue Train began as soon as I exited the taxi. Porters and staff surround you and cater your every need. Suddenly after a “Mr Zabransky follow me” (they knew my name) I settled in to my first mimosa waiting to board. Immediately I was in good care. That became the constant theme.
Then suite seven (my suite) was asked to board and I climbed on to meet my butler. He introduced me to my room. Spacious, comfortable and comparable to a luxury hotel room on a train. (And much better than my prior night in the hostel.)
Afterwards, I decided to explore and walk down to the last rail car, the observation car. “Would I like something to drink?” Why, yes. Yes, I would. Bloody Mary time. Not my usual, but this called for a change, it was not a ‘usual’ train ride.
The city became countryside as I looked through the panoramic windows. My passage began. I lunched with fellow Americans and then dined with Englishman. Both meal delicious. Both conversations entertaining. And in between (and afterwards) we took leisure, socialized and listened to World Cup matches swapping stories from our African adventures.
Yes, we listened, the Blue Train doesn’t have live TV (nor would I want it to). But it’s the World Cup? Crisis averted. A butler shared his transistor radio. A perfect fit. It not only added charm, but allowed us a chance to travel mentally. A chance to time travel to a time when people gathered around to listen to a radio. A different era.
We listened in English, Afrikaans, and local tribal languages as stations came in and out across the countryside. At times, we even asked the bar tender to translate his language. Nearly perfect play by play. Nearly.
Even the afternoon high tea seemed oddly perfect with the World Cup broadcast in the setting. We enjoyed tastey delights, cocktails and camaraderie. It seemed to remind us all of simpler times and a simpler way. What train travel represents. And frankly, why I like it. Especially in Blue Train style.
The following morning, after a night capped off by a cuban cigar and a heated cognac the train descended on Cape Town. Through the mountains, we started our passage through the most scenic part of the trip. We entered the South African wine lands. And to our good fortune, a rare dusting of snow accented the mountain peaks which also accented the view. Not the typical scenery you think about when one considers Africa, but most don’t think of the Blue Train either. Yet both deserve mention.
Certainly, the Blue Train provides the elegance in the lounges, guest suites and culinary excellence. A true treat for the traveler. And yes, it provides transport from Pretoria to Cape Town. Yet the true journey joy is no different than any other journey; the people.
The new friends I shared the twenty-eight hours with included both the passengers and the staff. Passengers hungry for African adventure and staff sharing their homeland with us. In fact, that morning just before we pulled in, I took out my certificate stating “I traveled on the Blue Train” and asked everyone to leave a message and an email address. My favorite message came from the bar tender, a simple “Ayoba!”
He summed it up perfectly. Awesomeness indeed.
Stay luxurious, Craig
(I’d like to thank the Blue Train for providing passage.)