Story and photos by Babbie De Derian
THE BLUE TRAIN
South Africa's Palace on Wheels
A relaxing elegant way to travel between Johannesburg and Cape Town, in either direction, is on the luxurious and legendary Blue Train. This “pampering palace on wheels” departs early in the morning and arrives at its destination the next day at noon.
We drive to the Pretoria Train Station. Baggage handlers in zebra stripe shirts greet us; then tag and pile our luggage on highly polished brass carts. At the concierge desk, I am assigned compartment 28. The train accommodates fifty-four passengers.
While waiting to board, we are served flutes of champagne and canapés. There are twelve personal butlers on the train and each services three compartments. Compartments have a private bath with shower or tub, panoramic windows, table and chairs, and a couch that converts to a bed at night. We sip Bloody Marys in the rear observation car after the train pulls out of the station, toasting the luxury of our hotel on wheels.
The lunch menu is creative, and I order the bobotie, (a mixture of minced meat, dried chopped fruits, curries and spices baked with a custard topping).
In the afternoon the train stops in Kimberly, an old mining town, and we disembark to tour a small diamond museum and an abandoned diamond mine. Here I have an opportunity to sift through trays of pebbles in search of my own diamond.
Back on the train, we reserve the second dinner seating. The menu of South African wines is extensive, and we drink an excellent pinot noir and a rich Chardonnay reserve. The price of our train ticket includes three meals, and unlimited wine and cocktails. Other passengers, from all over the world, are friendly, interesting and easy to meet. When I return to my compartment, the couch has been turned into a bed with feather comforter and down pillows. My sleep is deep as the train continues its journey throughout the night.
In the morning we pass lush vineyards, sun blushed valleys, a gold mine where gold dust rises like a mountain, and a pond of pink flamingos. We cross-mountains through dark tunnels, and wave at children in local townships; fields of mature sunflowers bend in the breeze.
At breakfast, scrambled eggs, surrounded by warm spinach, smoked salmon and caramelized onions are served with train baked hot corn muffins. I listen to the music of Abba as I sip my coffee, wishing my pampering palace on wheels would keep rolling. We are nearing Cape Town. The train reduces its speed. Before the train pulls into the station, I chat with executive chef Marque Brooks who has been on board for four years, preparing three meals for each leg of the overnight journey in a small but well equipped kitchen, changing the menu every six months.
Modern and beautifully appointed with Old World charm, the Blue Train reminds me of a traveling lodge. At journey’s end, I am given a personalized citation: “certifying graduation from the Blue Train in a class of its own, having traveled from Pretoria to Cape Town”.
For more info and reservations: www.bluetrain.co.za
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