Monday, April 2, 2012

The Blue Train

Photo from The Blue Train site

The Blue Train that runs between Cape Town and Pretoria is a legend. The journey has been undertaken by wealthy lovers of luxury as well as kings and presidents, and the focus is on a level of personal service almost unheard of in the present era.

Each suite is served by a butler; to ensure availability, no butler is assigned to more than four suites at a time. Remember to dress for dinner: men are to wear jackets and ties and ladies are expected to appear in elegant evening wear.

The cost still excludes all but the well-heeled or the self-indulgent railroad buff. In 2011, the price per person sharing a De Luxe suite (one step down from the Luxury suite) in low season began at R 10,930. To travel alone in a luxury suite in high season cost R 21,830. In Canadian currency, that translates into a range of $1420 to $2840 at current rates of exchange.

The trip, however luxurious, is short-lived; the journey takes just over two days. It departs Cape Town or Pretoria before 9 am and arrives in the other city around noon. The itinerary includes a tour of the Railway Museum in Kimberley, of diamond fame, as well as to the Open Mine Museum.

This museum features the world's largest hole dug by hand -- at the cost of great suffering. While Cecil Rhodes made money from the de Beers Mining Company (est. 1880), black labourers dug up the diamonds that made him rich.

The history of the Blue Train began in 1923 as part of the Union Limited and Union Express, linking Johannesburg with Cape Town. Articulated saloons first made the 30-hour run in 1927, and ten years later, twelve all-steel air-conditioned sleeping coaches were ordered from Birmingham. During the war, service was suspended; it was re-started in 1947.

In 1997, a new train was put in service and routes were expanded. Now visitors could also enjoy seeing Victoria Falls, Kruger National Park, and South Africa's famous Garden Route.

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