"Do they serve pudding after dinner?"
I looked at the lady, not sure how to react. Was this a joke, a trick question? Even so, I responded: "Either side."
The Blue Train is where everything is included, it oozes with luxurious opulence. To even think that there won't be dessert is, err, unthinkable. Polished brass and the choicest wood & marble, soft carpets underfoot, in a class of its own.
People ask questions about The Blue Train when they learn that my wife and I had the privilege to travel on arguably the world's best train. Let us investigate further, taking a blind friend with me.
Ever since our first journey on The Blue Train, people have bombarded us with questions about this memorable trip. It soon dawned upon me that the general public seems a tad mystified by this superlative, opulent luxury hotel on rails. The mysticism that shrouds the Blue Train, is almost incomprehensible.
To some extent, the many questions ranged from rational to simply crazy and, writing about our trip to tell readers about it, became a bit complicated. So it remained for a month, until I met up with a friend not burdened with sight. He has more beautiful gifts that shine through in so many areas, one of which is in the department of music. I would love to see him play on a Yamaha Clavinova and entertaining guests in the Observation Car.
While recording a radio interview, said friend asked me what The Blue Train looks like. As Quinten is my ears and I am his eyes, this introduction is written for you, my friend!
Applying some longitudinal dyslexia, let us meet The Blue Train back to front. There are two train sets, one taking 52 passengers, the other eighty. I have only met the latter and will tell you about what I have seen. The rear carriage, bearing the moniker of Observation Car, is endowed with a beautiful full glass window, affording guests full sight of the disappearing railway line and Africa fading into oblivion as The Blue Train almost imperceptibly progresses towards its final destination. This observation car is lavishly furnished with luxurious arm- and tub chairs, but also beautiful wooden tables, each with comfortable seating for four. Large glass areas also to the side lend credibility to the aptly named carriage. Fresh newspapers are at the guest's disposal, as is an abundance of snacks and drinks at no extra cost. I must say, the coffee on The Blue Train is top quality, as is everything else they serve - and even how they serve it.
In this carriage, there also is a display of memento's on sale and this includes a most beautifully crafted scale model of The Blue Train, consisting of an electrical unit and two carriages with some railway lines, in a presentable wooden chest. Collectors will love to learn that the price is reasonable in comparison with other model trains.
The Observation Car also is known as the Conference Car, as it is equipped for and well suited to corporate events. A white screen draws down from the rear window to facilitate a projector. This nineteenth car is a most pleasant environment to conduct transactions in, perhaps conclude your next oil contract or that mining acquisition you have been contemplating for a while.
This car, with its expansive views on three sides, affords the keen photographer with great views and, if luck holds, a few shots can be taken at wild game in its natural habitat as The Blue Train snakes across Africa, like a gigantic python, at fifty-six miles per hour. In fully air-conditioned comfort and securely behind double-glazed windows, there is no risk of having to endure the heat, dust or insects. I frequently travel by rail and have never been disappointed, as we usually see herds of red hartebeest, kudu, zebra, gnu, eland, springboks, impala, ostriches....and the rare sable antelope.
This concludes our enjoyable visit to the Conference Car, or Observation Car.
We no take a few steps forward towards the next three carriages, each of which house for De Luxe suites. The passage is over a polished brass step plate and along a passage with beautiful polished wood paneling on one side and wide windows on the other. As our own accommodation was in a De Luxe suite, I will now describe to you, as best as I can, what this looks like. each De Luxe car has three suites with single beds and showers plus one suite with a double bed and a three-quarter length bath.
As you enter at the polished wooden door, there is a wardrobe directly to the left. It is well lit and also contains an electronic safe, a few drawers and a mirror, over and above stowage space for footwear.
Above the wardrobe is a television set with access to various channels, including the Driver's Eye, a camera fitted to the front locomotive. It is fitted with a remote control, of course.
From the wardrobe, take one step deeper into the suite, turn left and you will find the very luxurious bathroom consisting of a shower compartment to the left, in reality this sits directly behind the wardrobe. More central is the marble hand basin with gilded faucets, same as the shower. Towards the right, against the outer wall of the train, is the fully flushing closet with a sealed window fitted with an electrically adjustable Venetian blind, fitted in between the inner- and outer window panes. The bathroom has its own lockable door to ensure privacy even within the suite.
Let us say we are standing in the passage again, looking into the suite through the door. On the opposite side, there is a very large double-glazed window with a Venetian blind same as the bathroom's. It is almost the length of the suite and affords expansive views towards the horizon. In the corner, next to the bathroom, there is a luxurious tub chair and a retractable table on which we had found freshly peeled fruit and a portfolio containing some complementary stationery as well as introduction manual. This table will be folded away at night when the butler comes to make the beds.
To the right, there are two sofas built into the forward wall of the suite, with a small space in between, accommodating a cadenza with a few drawers, a retractable tray and handy storage space on top. In a recess above this, there is a telephone from which calls can be made (at extra cost) and from where the butler or train manager can be summoned.
These sofas are converted into two single beds and made with luxurious bedding at night, while guests are having dinner. Top right from the sofa nearest to the inner wall and directly above the passage, there is ample stowage space for luggage. The butler will also attend to that. Air condition can be set according to personal preference by guests, but the butler will also assist with that, if so requested.
I have described the De Luxe suite my wife and I had traveled in, yet it is possible that similar suites may be mirror images with the bathroom to the right and the living area to the left, of course. Also, please note that lighting options are aplenty and one can set the mood in the suite in different ways.
Quinten, for now, this concludes our inspection of the typical De Luxe Suite.
We step back into the passage, turn left.
Next are the two cars, numbers 15 & 14, with the Luxury suites. These are fitted with full-length baths instead of shower units but also with sofas that convert into double beds. From these, we proceed toward the Carriage 12, which houses the Lounge Car. The cars with luxury suites have two suites with two single beds each, as well as one with a double bed. All luxury suites have full-length baths.
All suites accommodate up to two guests only.
Train Set 2 has a suite that is adapted for wheelchair users. A customised wheelchair on-board The Blue Train has been specifically designed to negotiate the train’s corridors. Even though a butler will be on hand to assist guests for the duration of the trip should they require, it is recommended that the wheelchair user be accompanied by a partner on their trip.
The Lounge Car is witted with lovely sofas, tub chairs and bar stools at the ample bar counter. As one enters the Lounge Car, there are a few neat upholstered chairs and a coffee table to the left, plus a few sets of two chairs and a coffee table each to the right. The passage is more or less central and the sofas are on the forward side of the car, but also with coffee tables and more upholstered chairs. The bar is more or less on third into this car, towards the left side of the train when perceived from the rear, as your little inspection tour goes. Fitted in the most beautiful dark red-brown polished wood, the imposing bar counter with its roof section reminds of pulpits in some churches dating back to the 1800's. This is where one can order drinks, enjoy snacks, socialise or just sit and relax, watching Africa drift by like a dream.
From the Lounge Car, we move forward again and into the luxuriously appointed Dining Car. Coming from the rear as we do, there are four-seater tables to the left, two-seater tables to the right. Dining tables are in a club seat configuration. Set for fine dining with lovely silver cutlery and rather unique hand-cut crystal glasses. The very best locally produced wines are on a display cabinet in the middle of the Dining Car, on the right.
Next is the Kitchen Car and then five more cars with De Luxe suites, typically four to a car and one butler per car. Our last car accessible to the public is the Club Car, which is a duplicate of the Lounge Car, but this is where people come to light up and smoke legitimate tobacco only. The Club Car also has a flat panel television monitor fitted to its most forward wall, from where various channels can be watched - and the Driver's Eye can lend a view to the railway track ahead. At the rear of this Club Car is a small library, also with the latest available newspapers and a small collection of books to read.
In front of the Club Car is a Personnel Car which also houses a laundry, where your butler can see to your limited laundry needs. That is preceded by the Power Car that houses the Diesel generators with redundant back-up, providing electrical power to the entire train. In front of this is the Baggage Van, which is the first carriage of the Blue Train and therefore the last of our inverted tour.
Of course, there are two electric locomotives, typically SAR Class 20E, but sometimes also 18E's may be employed.
Next time, we will tell you about the superb service, excellent food and our memorable first journey on The Blue Train, awarded the title of The World's Best Luxury Train eight times consecutively, also crowned as Africa's Best Luxury Train.
"Truly A Window Into The Soul Of Africa"