Getting Started and the Blue Train


March 15, 2014.  Getting started. Karel and I have started our long talked about and finally planned trip to South Africa (SA). Actually, Melba and her friends, Tere and Mavis, also from Australia and whom we met in 2012 in the other SA , South America, began to plan a year ago with the aid of Melba’s neighbors who have lived and traveled in South Africa and their trip planner, Hans. Karel and I were invited to join them. We thought about it and about when we began to decide, Karel was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer and it took several more months to resolve that issue before we could commit. We thank Hans and the Australians who did most of the planning work.

We are just now on a flight over the South Atlantic 4.5 hours away from Johannesburg (Joburg).  We have already been on this flight for 10 hours. Our total time in transit will be about 34 hours with 23 hours in the air. The trip to the airport, with the help of a kind neighbor, began in Anchorage in a snow storm. After 4 hours of sudden and serious snowfall, incoming flights had rotten visibility and were diverted... So outbound flights had no aircraft. We expected to depart at 9:30 pm but we spent about two hours arranging for an alternate itinerary. The Delta reservations agent was very patient and helpful.  Thanks to that agent, we will not miss any part of our itinerary. (We cannot say that about other parts of our Delta experience.) 

Things begin in earnest already this evening. Hans has arranged lodging in an upscale hotel and an elegant supper. First thing in the  morning, we will board a luxury railroad, the Blue Train, for a 900 mile trip to the south to Cape Town for about a week of touring in that area. We will fly north for eight days in Kruger National Park. Finally, we will fly to Zambia four 4 days at Livingstone and Victoria Falls.

Looking forward to having this flight over with and to meet up with Melba, Mavis, and Tere.

March 17.  A lot can happen in a day. (We crossed the international dateline.) The plane landed on schedule and we expected to find the others soon. But instead, we found a hand held sign, "Hausers". "Check with baggage. Your luggage is in Atlanta."

Actually, Bill’s luggage came through all right but Karel's did not. Baggage confirmed that her bag would arrive on the next day’s flight and be delivered to our hotel in Cape Town a day later. Then we found the Australians. The ladies immediately volunteered use of their items and Karel quickly did some shopping for basic stuff.

Last night we stayed at a small but ostentatious and ambitious hotel in Pretoria. Supper was delicious. The beds were soft and welcome.  Breakfast was a simple but elegant buffet. Plain but very tasty and adequate. And abruptly we were off to board the Blue Train, 

March 17. The Blue Train. At the station, we gathered and we met our assigned butler who led us through the terminal and onto the train. Wow. It is incredible. Everything is themed. Walls are rich, brown, shiny wood panels. Lots of glass for viewing. Dining car. Lounge. Brunch, high tea, and dinner. (All is included except French Champagne and caviar.)

We are on our way, southbound (actually, to the southwest), to Cape Town. Nearly a thousand miles. The terrain is mostly flattish. Mostly grassland with scattered trees and brush. Some cacti. Occasional small villages. Some farming, and some cattle.

Late in the evening, we made a stop to tour the Kimberly diamond mine. It was interesting despite the rain and there was a huge display of copies of historic great finds.

Suppertime! There has been much discussion about this event. "Gentlemen are expected to wear jackets and ties. Ladies, elegant dresses." Under intense pressure from Karel, I finally obtained a sport jacket and slacks. Karel picked out a favorite. But suddenly, missing luggage. Fortunately, I did not have to deal with the problem. Karel dashed upstairs in the airport to a shopping area and found some bare essentials. The Australian ladies stepped up and offered loaners. All meals on the Blue Train were excellent in preparation and presentation and flavor. This meal was no exception.

Karel had a fillet. It was not large (in diameter).  But at least 3 inches high. I started with salmon tartare wrapped in smoked salmon. My lamb shank was well done, tender and tasty and... Huge. Served over mashed potatoes. With a vegetarian cup. I skipped a desert of a cheesecake or chocolate "cigar" with ice cream but accepted a dash of Cognac instead.

After we returned from supper, some furniture had been removed. Other materials were rearranged and the couch had morphed into a double bed. What a night. Sometimes we were moving. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow. Sometimes we were rocking and sometimes we were rolling. Sometimes, we rolled one way, sometimes the other. Mostly it did not matter. We slept on a soft comfortable bed because we were exhausted. 

Day 5, Mar 20 I don’t know if I am getting ahead...   or behind.

Two days ago, we awoke to more bright sun and a gourmet breakfast and we chugged into Cape Town rail terminal. First we had a late arrival then a delay getting to the offload dock. But eventually we got to our hotel/condo but it is getting late and we are hungry. Wrong apartment. Wait. More delays. The Australians went off on a foray to hunt for food for breakfast and Karel and I were to arrange for supper. We all encountered one snag after another and ended up with a late supper. But we were up the next morning and ready to hit the road. The only good news. Karel’s luggage had caught up with us.