- · Kms from Cape Town to Pretoria – 1,600
- · Calories from Cape Town to Pretoria – 8,000
We’re packing up and moving out today. Taking the train for three days and two nights to Pretoria. We felt that marching to Pretoria was going to take too long. It is after all, 1,600 kms, and will take us two nights and three days to travel.
At breakfast, we spoke with a couple of departing guests from New York. They were supposed to be going home that day, flying first to Johannesburg and then to New York. However, this was the day that hurricane Sandy was going to hit the east coast and all flights were cancelled. This couple was now on their way to Johannesburg airport to camp out for probably the next few days. We were happier about our plans.
Rovos Rail. They bill themselves as the most luxurious train in the world. And it very well could be. The whole three day trip will be a single blog because basically the cycle goes like this: eat, rest, eat & drink, rest, eat & drink, sleep. Repeat as long as stomach and liver can tolerate. Joined our fellow train mates in a sumptuous waiting area. A duet playing chamber music with a staff of 20 or do serving champagne, drinks and food gave us our first hint of what was to follow. (Social commentary: Kind of uncomfortable to tell you the truth; all around us people of colour are hoisting suit cases, cleaning streets and eking out (or not) a living and here is a room full of white people drinking champagne and eating cucumber sandwiches (yechh!) at 10:00 in the morning. Feels kind of colonialist.) @ 10:45 it’s all aboard and we’re escorted to our room. Nice train. 11 passenger cars each having three to four staterooms, two dining cars, a lounge car, a couple of viewing cars and various and sundry other elements such as an engine. Lunch is at 1:00. Here’s the menu: (keep in mind this trip is all inclusive; you don’t choose between the courses, you get all
the courses including drinks.)
· Traditional South African Bobotie – a gently spiced beef mince dish over-baked with a layer of savoury egg custard – served warm with fruit chutney and an apricot, julienne pepper & kiwi fruit salad topped with almonds. Accompanied by a Thomas Sutherland 2009 Riesling followed by;
· Garlic & Lemon grilled prawn skewer on a green salad with a julienne of peppers, mange tout and cucumber (double yech) rizzled with coriander & ginger dressing. Accompanied by a Southern Right 2011 Sauvignon Blanc followed by;
· Drunken Pecorino with a salad of wild leaves and thin slivers of apple garnished with chives & dressed with a lemon & olive oil vinaigrette. Served with a salad roll. Accompanied by a Pecan Stream Chenin Blanc followed by;
· South African Melktert – a sweet pastry crust with a creamy milk filling & a dusting of cinnamon served with a small syrup-coated doughnut known locally as a Koeksister. Accompanied by Amarula followed by;
· A selection of Teas & Kenyan Coffee.
And that’s lunch, finishing up just before 3:00. Since, naturally, we’ll be starving by 7:30 dinner, high tea will be served at 4:30. The good news is that at breakfast we’re not required to drink wine. Anyway, all very nice, service and food were outstanding but we found it all a little excessive; even by the second day we were wondering if we really had to go down for dinner. Troopers that we are, we do it but it wasn’t a treat anymore. Two hours for lunch, two hours for dinner. Add in a leisurely breakfast and tea and you’re spending 5 – 6 hours eating and drinking. This was a two night trip. Rovos also has 14 day and 28 day trips and the agenda is exactly the same. Can you say conspicuous consumption? OK, big deal; can you say it 5 times fast? Service levels are remarkable though. Example: When we checked in we id’d Claire as gluten free on a sign-in register. Thereafter, when any meals were served, and the bread baskets were distributed, a gluten free roll magically appeared on her plate. There were no id tags, no pre-assigned seating. We or they had no idea who would be waiting on us or even which dining car we’d decide to sit in, but somehow they figured it out. Impressive!
On the way we saw lots of the country, and a handful of town railway yards. Two side trips:
- · Stopped at Matjiesfontein (Pronounced matjiesfontein) for a couple of hours. Strangest little place in the middle of nowhere I’ve ever seen. A functional 2 ½ star hotel and a bunch of buildings including a couple of “museums” all of which are only open by appointment.
- · Stopped at Kimberly, where huge diamond deposits were discovered in 1866, now pretty much dominated by DeBeers. Did a tour of the mine and learned about the process of separating the gem from the rock. Kind of interesting. Apparently, in its day there was so much money around, that it was a happening place, world wise. The good news here, is that we had no time left for diamond buying.( Claire L, Alan J)
We arrived in Pretoria mid-day at Rovos privately owned terminal, where porters we’re gathering schlepping suitcases and delivering them to the various guides and drivers gathered to meet everyone. Busy busy. The scene reminded me of another era and inspired me to send a telegram to someone but I couldn’t find the telegraph office. Oh and the Chairman of Rovos had flown in to welcome us to Pretoria. Classy. Are we glad we did the rail trip? Yes. It was “an experience”. Would we do it again? No. Way too over the top. And more significantly we only had a sense of the train experience, never really getting a sense of place in Africa.
I’ve been getting pressure to resurrect the question of the blog contest. The problem is that Google has kind of ruined that concept. So instead, I’m going to pose some kind of philosophical or moral/ethical question. You can comment on it, just think about it or you can simply wonder how much longer he’s going to be on his anti-malaria pills. We’ll reward the most thoughtful or insightful comment from each post with a postcard or a souvenir.
(You may think it unrelated to an African trip but note how cleverly I tie them together.) In this blog alone, that cucumber is referenced twice. And cucumber is a common ingredient in African cooking. What kind of cosmic joke do you think that God had in mind when he invented cucumbers? And do you think he’s amused or aghast that people actually eat them. And what do you think possessed the British who think they’re soooo smart with their accent and all, to put cucumber between two slices of white bread and call it food? My biographers can refer to this as Alan’s Cucumber Conundrum. OK Got that off my chest. I’ll try to lighten up on the questions in the future.
Next stop Pretoria and Jo’Burg.