Since the pandemic and in the face of declining international tourism, a trip on South Africa’s legendary Blue Train is now being offered at a reduced price. Aboard its 19 plush carriages lined with wood and polished brass panels, passengers, mostly South Africans, can enjoy a luxurious 2-night ride.
The service resumed last November and offers a ticket for 23,000 rand ($1,544), about four times the minimum monthly wage for a South African. For this price, passengers get a 1,600-kilometre journey across the Karoo desert, as well as through the centre of the country to the capital Pretoria. The ochre landscapes that gradually turn into rolling hills and lush green pastures are also on display throughout the journey.
“Customers only make the trip once in their lives,” confided Simon Moteka, a 43-year-old bartender. “Returning customers are rare, it’s often a once in a lifetime experience for them.”
“I grew up knowing there was a blue train, it was unaffordable,” said Cape Town doctor Mashiko Setshedi, accompanied by his 67-year-old mother. “Thanks to Covid, it has become possible.”
“Normally we would be in the United States. But with the Covid, we find ourselves exploring our own country. The Blue Train was tempting, my grandparents took it and told me about it,” said Bennie Christoff, a 54-year-old financial advisor, standing with his wife.
Before the pandemic, “99% of the passengers were foreigners”, led by Australians, British and Japanese. After a few months of stoppage, the line, which has been running for over 70 years, resumed in November with “99% South African passengers”.
After a test at the express screening centre set up at Cape Town station, coronavirus-negative passengers are treated to a sumptuous aperitif lunch on soft canapés while a ballet of waiters hands out snacks and drinks, before boarding the plane for the escape.
A classic evening on board the rolling palace
As dinner approaches a loudspeaker announcement politely reminds men to put on a coat or waistcoat and “women to be as elegant as possible”. Perfumes, suits and dark dresses adorned the outfits of passengers heading for the dining car.
“The sun was setting as guests were shown to their tables, casting a golden glow over the sheep-strewn Karoo that hissed outside the windows,” according to AFP reporters.
The menu offers various options, with wine served by the glass to accompany each course. For dessert, a sweet South African wine from Constantia or a grappa.
“Nelson Mandela’s favourite,” said restaurant manager Sydney Masenyani, a straight, impeccably dressed baguette.
“Some satisfied guests retired to their freshly made cabin beds. Others headed to the observation car with its large windows, the lounge or the club for a nightcap. Once on board, everything from the first coffee in the morning to the midnight cigar is included in the ticket price.”
From breakfast to the late night cigar, everything is included. Cash is banished, travellers have put away their wallets as soon as they board to “surrender to the luxury of slowness”.
“Time becomes fluid. Between meals and naps, the day is spent reading, playing cards and making new friends. Each evening, invisible fairies on tiptoe enter the cabins while dinner is being served. They bring firm mattresses from the recesses of the walls and stretch fresh smelling duvets. From the soft pillows, one can turn to the window and admire the moonlit landscape unfolding under a starry sky. Hidden under the blankets, a hot shower or bath awaits in the morning, passengers lulled to sleep by the gentle movement.”
Featured photo: © Prada[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]
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