Skip to content

A Trip of a Lifetime on the Blue Train

July 17, 2015

20141009_161851Mid 2014 I was wandering down the aisle of our local grocery store and my eye spotted a colourful box of custard. Now….for me to buy custard is a rare event but the interesting wording that caught my eye made me reach out and lift the box of custard off the shelf and place it into my trolley amidst all the healthy LCHF and banting produce that I was purchasing that day! You see, it wan’t just any box of custard. It was a First Choice box of custard and it had blazoned across the front in bright cobalt blue a picture of the luxurious Blue Train and the words Pour Your Heart Out and win a romantic trip for two on the Blue Train! A bucket list item for my hubby and I if ever there was one and one which we knew that we would never be able to tick off the list under normal circumstances. But then….sometimes,in amongst the curveballs that wreak havoc, life gives you a wonderful opportunity! I brought that box of custard home and immediately sent off the sms as per the instructions on the box. After the box had been depleted of the delicious custard inside…served as treats to our grandsons when they visited, I washed and washed it until it was spotless,then dried it for a few days, giving strict instructions that it was not to be thrown into the garbage as I was going to win that trip and I needed the box as proof of purchase. It resided on the counter in the kitchen for almost 3 months while I dreamed about that trip on the magnificent moving 5 star hotel that is the Blue Train, the ultimate in luxurious accommodation and personal service to kings and presidents….and regular folk like us ūüôā Just dreaming about it and reading up about it introduced me to a world of grace, elegance and the romance of a bygone era but very modern and definitely of today’s world when you experience it. ¬†

And then it happened….one¬†Friday¬†morning early October I received a call that confirmed what I had known in my heart all along…..a call asking if I had entered the First Choice Pour Your Heart Out Competition. With my heart thumping out a tune in my chest and throat I answered in the affirmative and was asked to forward my contact details and certified copies of our identity documents to an email address. I spent the weekend in a tailspin, not sure if I had actually won or not. On the ¬†Monday I received another call cnfirming that my hubby and I were one of the very fortunate couples to have won a 27 hour ¬†trip on the Blue Train. We had to choose which journey we would prefer, either southbound from Pretoria to Cape Town with a short stopover in Kimberley which included an historical tour and visit to the Big Hole and open Mine Museum or the northbound trip from Cape Town to Pretoria with a stopover in Matjiesfontein with a similar historical tour. We decided on the southbound journey as I have never been to Kimberley and wanted to see the Big Hole. Included in the prize was an airflight to Johannesburg, transport to Pretoria and a nights accommodation at a luxury hotel!

winners

We chose our date and all the bookings and planning was done faultlessly by Carole, PA to the CEO of Woodlands Dairy and Club Travel Algoa Bay.The level of service and assistance we received was fantastic and Carole went way beyond the call of duty to accommodate us for the journey and date we requested. Early morning Nov 18th found us dropped off at Cape Town International Airport¬†by Care Transport and so our adventure began! ¬†We were flown via SAA to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg where we were picked up by our shuttle¬†and driven to¬†The Sheraton Hotel¬†in Pretoria. Yip! The Sheraton! The spoiling had begun! We were warmly welcomed and whisked into the hotel foyer and up to reception by the delightful Socrates. Our sign-in was flawless and we were given a delicious mango and granadilla cocktail to sip on and a hot towel to wipe and refresh our travel weary hands. We were handed our access card and escorted¬†into a lift by¬†Socrates, who was handling our baggage, and taken to the executive floor of the hotel and ushered into the Marula suite, a delightful space with lounge, bedroom, gorgeous bathroom with Bvlgari toiletries and a bed big enough to easily accommodate a family of 4! When we drew the curtains the view absolutely captivated us‚Ķ. the magnificent Union Buildings, perched atop Meintjies Kop and the terraced gardens with huge 9000 seat amphitheater dominated the skyline and filled our view up! The Union Buildings, designed by¬†Herbert Baker and built from light sandstone, overlooks the city. It is built in a mixture of architectural styles –¬†Italian Renaissance, Neoclassical, Cape Dutch and Edwardian architecture and is the official seat of the South African government and also houses the offices of the president of South Africa. After we had settled into our suite we took a walk through the beautiful terraced gardens where thousands of indigenous plants grow and gazed upon the magnificent¬†building and statues. After our walk we met up for a drink with lifelong friends Peter and Mary and then enjoyed a light meal and a delicious bottle of wine in the ¬†tea lounge relaxing and listening to the smooth crooning from a singer in the corner of the lounge.¬†We fell asleep that night, in that massive¬†¬†bed, watched over by the 9 meter high bronze statue of a benevolent looking, smiling Nelson Mandela, our Madiba with arms outstretched as if to embrace¬†and protect us.

ct_pretoria
After a good night’s sleep we were woken by a very early morning wake up call. Our shuttle arrived to pick us up promptly from the hotel and we were driven through the early morning commuters to the beautiful old Pretoria Station. We were greeted by Blue Train porters who tagged and whisked our luggage out of sight very efficiently and we were directed around the corner to the Blue Train entrance where the red carpet awaited. We felt like celebrities arriving at an important event ūüôā Once we had our photographs taken at the entrance we were ushered into the building where hubby registered us both and we sat down to wait in the lounge. We were served tea and coffee and rusks and while waiting we were met by the kitchen manager who explained about the two meal sittings and times of meals. Unfortunately there was a large group of foreign tourists on board and they had the first sitting which meant that we would always be the second sitting with dinner happening very late. Then we sat and waited some more….and we waited. Eventually we were told that the train was running late because there was a cable issue. And we waited some more. Finally we were told that the train had arrived at the station and the staff all filed in and were introduced to us. We were ushered out by suite number, met by our personal butler and hurried through and onto the train. We were shown to our suite which, on first impressions, certainly¬†lived up to its reputation of¬†luxury and comfort. During the first little while on board while everyone was settling in lots of staff came and introduced themselves to us, explained how everything worked, took care of all our initial needs and gave us all the literature to fill in etc. Very efficiently run. Our luxury suite was very comfy with lovely couches (which would turn into beds at night) and comfy cushions, a table set with a platter of fresh fruit and a vase of fresh flowers and bottles of water. The bathroom with it’s marble tiles and gold fittings spoke of opulence¬†while the¬†lovely deep bath offered¬†long luxurious soaking, with a shower over the bath, a basin and toilet. ¬†red_carpet_blue_train_lounge
There was a tv with dvds to watch and also a music player with music to listen to. We didn’t get a chance to do either. There was too much else to do and so much to see through the window. Don enjoyed having the tv on to watch where we were going as there is a camera mounted on the front of the locomotive¬†and a map of the route on the tv. It didn’t take long and finally we trundled slowly out of the station on our southbound journey to Cape Town. The first part of the journey we seemed to move¬†along slowly through heavily inhabited areas, mostly squatter camps, gold mines¬†and mine dumps all along the way. Some disused and some in use. We saw Caesars Palace in the distance and then eventually we were in the countryside. The one thing I wished was different was that the windows¬†were not¬†double glazed and sealed and the train climate controlled throughout. So there was no opening of windows and hanging out to take beautiful photos of the passing countryside. And we did travel through some magnificent countryside.

27 hours on the Blue Train is all about the eating and drinking it would seem….gosh every time we turned around it was time to eat again. All food and drinks on the Blue Train is included in the price of the ticket, excepting for French Champagne and Caviar,which is understandable. Dining on the Blue Train is a wonderful experience. The dining car is luxurious and comfortable with each table separated from the next one, booth style, offering some privacy to the diners. It was an absolute delight to savour the exquisite gourmet food, complimented beautifully by some of the best wines on offer in South Africa, while watching the ever changing, gorgeous South African scenery flashing by. The menu offers a selection of¬†entrees, soups, fish, meat dishes, desserts, coffee and cheese platters, all beautifully presented. All the food is prepared on board, using the freshest and best ingredients, by top chefs, the wine is served in cut-crystal glasses and the cutlery is classic silverware while the crockery is bone china. High tea was served in the Observation Lounge and what a sweet spread that was. I enjoyed watching everyone enjoy the sweet treats while I sipped on my cup of tea and enjoyed the scenery. There was never a chance to get to sit in the seats at the back of the Observation Lounge. Once they were occupied by guests it seemed they stayed there for hours, drinking and playing cards or just chatting away.¬†

eating_drinkingBeing a sunset chaser I was determined to find a good spot and watch the sunset so, as the afternoon shadows lengthened and the sun started sinking towards the horizon, we made our way forward along the lengthy 2km snaking corridor, hanging on every now and again as the train swayed as it turned a corner or rocked across the tracks, and found a window seat in the lounge where we remained until it was dark. We had hardly sat down when we were brought a couple of champagne and cherry cocktails which we sipped on and then after that we toasted the magnificent sunset taking in the stark beauty of the brown grasslands of the Free State. country_scenes

Not long after sunset¬†we crossed the border from the Free State into the Northern Cape, the largest and most sparsely populated province of South Africa. It is just a wee bit smaller than the American state of Montana and a bit larger than Germany. It includes the Kalahari Gemsbok National Park, part of the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, the Augrabies Falls and its most precious natural resource, the diamond mining regions in Kimberley and Alexander Bay. The Namaqualand region in the west is famous for its Namaqualand daisies which carpet the usually arid area with brilliant colour through the early spring months. It is an area I don‚Äôt know at all and would love to have witnessed some of it during the daylight hours and, in fact we should have if the train had not left so late that morning. The train finally arrived at¬†Kimberley station 2 hours later than expected and, as it was already night and too dark, the historical tour visit to the ¬†open mine Museum and theBig Hole was cancelled. What a major disappointment that was as I have always wanted to visit Kimberley, capital of the Northern Cape,¬†and the place where such stunning diamonds come from!¬†The first diamonds were found on¬†Colesberg¬†Kopje¬†on the farm¬†Vooruitzigt¬†belonging to the¬†De Beers¬†brothers in 1871. The ensuing scramble for claims led to the place being called New Rush, later renamed Kimberley.¬†From mid-July 1871¬†to 1914 up to 50,000 miners dug the hole with picks and shovels, by hand,¬†yielding 2,720 kilograms (6,000¬†lb) of¬†diamonds. The Big Hole has a surface of 17 hectares (42 acres) and is 463 metres (1,519¬†ft) wide. It was excavated to a depth of 240 metres (790¬†ft), but then partially infilled with debris reducing its depth to about 215 metres (705¬†ft). Since then it has accumulated about 40 metres (130¬†ft) of water, leaving 175 metres (574¬†ft) of the hole visible. Mining operations closed down in 1914 but the open pit became an attraction for visitors to the city and by the 1960’s relics of Kimberleys early days including buildings and memorabilia were being organized into a formal museum and tourist attraction. Over the years the Big Hole and Open Mine Museum have undergone various upgrades and between 2002 and 2005 the De Beers invested R50 million in developing the Big Hole into a world class tourism facility.¬†There is currently an effort in progress to register the Big Hole as a¬†World Heritage Site. (Historical info supplied by Wikipedia!)¬†

¬†We still had to endure the regular lengthy stopover at Kimberley, despite the late hour, and all had to exit the train as maintenance is done and water is changed etc. We were given a quick historical talk in the small museum inside the station building, enjoyed a glass of sherry and were given our little sherry mugs as mementos. Don and I took a long walk along the entire length of the train, yes it really is about 2km long, and a surprise awaited us. It was the first time we had seen the locomotive¬†pulling all those carriages and instead of it being the bright cobalt blue we were expecting it was an orangey red colour! So we kind of wondered if perhaps there had been an issue with the actual locomotive¬†and not with the cables that had held us up for that lengthy almost 2 hour¬†wait¬†at¬†Pretoria Station. Finally it was time to board the train and we went straight to our suite to begin the big dress up for the elegant dinner. It was a very late dinner seeing as we were ¬†2 hours late with everything and we finally finished dinner past midnight. Our grand plan was to enjoy a leisurely dinner and then take a walk over to the cigar bar and lounge, watch a bit of sport on the big tv screen and enjoy a nightcap. We certainly took the walk to the cigar lounge but it was almost empty, all the crowds had already left for bed so we enjoyed a quick night cap…an amarula on crushed ice, and then headed off to our suite. How lovely it looked when we arrived back. We had left it looking like a¬†lounge but on our return it was a beautiful bedroom with the finest bed linen and fluffy down duvets and pillows. On the pillow some delicious chocolate truffles awaited ūüôā My guilty pleasure!

-evening

As with the sunset I was determined to watch a sunrise from the train as well so I set my alarm on my cellphone and fell asleep to the gentle swaying of the train and the swishing of the wheels on the track. I woke up with a start during the early morning hours and the train was stopped somewhere for a very long time before it eventually started up again. I remember it was deathly silent and pitch dark. I lifted the blind over the window and couldn’t see a thing out there. I don’t remember where it was but I woke again before my alarm and before the dawn and saw the sky lightening in the east so got my camera ready to take photos of the sunrise. I woke Donald from his slumbers so that he could experience it with me too. Somewhere between De Aar and Victoria West in the Northern Cape the sun finally made a dramatic appearance with the most amazing cloud formations giving it a stunning look ‚Ķ‚Ķ.now wasn’t that worth it? 20141120_050625We both snuggled back under our down duvets once the spectacle was over and managed to get in another hour or two of sleep before waking in time to get ready for….you guessed it…..breakfast! When I got out of bed I was horrified to find that I was suffering from a severe attack of motion sickness, the train was swaying quite a bit at that stage as the tracks were obviously twisting and turning. I took a trusty anti nausea tablet that I never travel without and we headed for the dining car with me wondering if I would actually make breakfast before dying! But of course I did, and after eating a hearty breakfast I felt 100 percent better and we headed back to the observation car to observe the passing scenery. By now we were passing through the edges of the Karoo and into the Western Cape and the landscape was totally magnificent. The change as you enter the Western Cape is dramatic and soon we were surrounded by mountains,beautiful green vineyards and wheat farms. Such beauty for the eye to behold.¬†PicMonkey CollageWe swayed and rocked through the Winterhoek mountains and Nuwehoek Pass while we sat¬†at the window enjoying our last hours on the train. We passed at speed through Wolseley where our dear friends Kevin and Sybil stood on the side of the tracks and furiously waved us on our way to Cape Town. Wish we could have stopped for a cuppa with them. Soon we were heading into the magnificent Hex River Pass and a kindly Blue Train employee showed us where to stand to get the best view of the train up ahead as it went around a fantastically long corner! It really WAS 2km long and I cannot tell you how many times we walked the length of it during those 27 hours ūüėČ How I managed I will never know because my right knee had collapsed about 6 weeks before the trip and I was living on painkillers and anti inflammatories. BUT I managed and I loved it so much!¬†

10going_through_hex_river_pass

Once through the Hex River Pass it was full steam ahead to Cape Town and the end of our journey. And before long we observed our beautiful familiar Table Mountain as we slowly trundled through all the stations along the way towards our destination. What a wonderful tale we had to tell our grandsons Ty and Jay who met us, with their dad Damon, at Cape Town station on our arrival. 

11arrival_cape_twon_station

 

PicMonkey Collage

Winners with First Choice Custard. And yes, that box travelled all the way with us.¬†It is still sitting in my cupboard. Maybe one day I will pop it into the recycle bin but it is still a very fresh reminder of what a wonderful experience and trip we had on the Blue Train. We have another small reminder as well, sitting on the dressing table in our bedroom at home…..this beautiful little clock gifted to us on our departure¬†

11745950_10153472814246873_4811670458611137627_n

First Choice are currently running another amazing competition. Connect with them on Facebook and Twitter  buy your box of happy yellow custard and send that sms. You NEVER KNOW what might happen. It could be YOU next time enjoying a bucket list item and crossing it off your list. 

11143384_940760939299076_2221036241035624157_n

Thank you once again to First Choice Dairy and First Choice Custard. We have poured¬†our hearts out ūüôā We can never thank you enough for the amazing experience of this trip on the Blue Train. Thank you, thank you!¬†

Colleen (and Donald) xx 

6 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2015 7:07 AM

    What an amazing experience! I think I need to add “Luxury Train Trip” to my bucket list now.

    • Colleen permalink*
      July 17, 2015 2:23 PM

      It seriously was amazing Jess. The most opulent luxurious experience we have ever had ūüôā

  2. July 20, 2015 7:26 AM

    What a great read! It is as if I was travelling with you! Thank you for sharing your experiences!

    • Colleen permalink*
      July 20, 2015 10:23 AM

      Thank you so much Marilee, we had the most amazing experience. Writing about it and putting together the post made me relive it again which was wonderful ūüôā

  3. July 21, 2015 8:07 AM

    I entered the competition too as a Blue train trip is also on my bucket list and not in reach for regular folk like us haha. Thank you for sharing your story. I loved reading all about your experience on the trip of a lifetime. Congratulations on your win!!

    • Colleen permalink*
      July 21, 2015 10:08 AM

      Aaaaw thank you Yolanda, I am sorry you didn’t win the other ticket ūüėČ It was truly a wonderful experience and one that we could never have done without winning. We were truly blessed and loved every minute of it. Thank you for your lovely comment xx

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: