Back from SA


Mar 20th, 2006, 04:55 AM
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Join Date: Mar 2006
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Back from SA

Twelve days went by in a flash--seems like yesterday that i was wondering whether to pack a fleece for the game drives!We flew into jo'burg, and took a connecting flight into Cape Town--flying Emirates-- decent enough flight. We were met at the airport by Windhoek Taxi services and were driven to Franschhoek, where we were spending the night at LQF. The hotel is pretty, roses and hydrangeas in full bloom, but the furnishings are a little tired, particularly the carpets. Had a memorable meal at Ici and realized we had eaten there eight years ago, and while the restaraunt has had an overhaul and is all spiffied up, the food is as great as we remembered. We are NOT foodies, and remembering a meal 8 years on is saying something!Wandered through the shops--every building is either a restraunt or a curio shop--and IMO, most of the stuff was of a better quality than any I saw elsewhere in C Town and Joburg. Left the next evening for Cape Town, staying at the Cape Grace hotel. Lovely hotel, very good service and again, fabulous food at One, Waterfront, the restraunt at the Grace. Particularly memorable (and repeated several times) was an African fig and cream cheese 'brule'. This being our third trip, there was no pressure to 'see' places so we basically just hung around, enjoying the street bands that were preparing for the jazz festival later in March. Took the Rovos Rail after two days, doing the journey from Cape Town to Pretoria.This and later the safari were probably the highlights of the trip. Rovos has an elegant, genteely edwardian lounge in the station, where we assembled. They were doling out champagne and wines and indeed this trend continued throughout the journey. It seemed to me that I was asked if I wanted a little wine/champagne everytime I was glimpsed by a member of the staff--all of whom were amazingly friendly and eager to please.A violinist played while we waited and no one quite knew whether to applaud or look blase--in the end most applauded weakly, in a 'don't want to seem over-impressed' manner! The train itself is made up of vintage carriages, but the engine is not steam powered till the last hour before reaching Joburg, when the change is made to a lovely old vintage one. There is an immense lot of jogging and jostling when the train is in motion but I thought it added to the old world appeal of the trip. The coach was exquistely done and panelled in rich, dark wood and roomy enough for us not to feel hemmed in. The service was very good without being pompous or over-whelming and they went out of their way to accomodate our vegetarian needs. The food was almost as good as the food we had at LQF, but three meals a day was way beyond us. Several of the staff noticed we skipped lunch and commented on it, the train manager Bester telling us he was honour bound to fatten us up to the point where we would 'roll off' at Joburg, and that we were foiling his intentions! Our coach was next to the smoking car (as we had mentioned being smokers) and therefore next to the observation car. This proved to be wonderful as it is quite a trek from one carriage to another. (Yes, I realize that sounds incredibly spoilt, but it was wonderful being able to step out to the ob. car whenever the scenery got particularly exciting, without having to lurch jerkily on the moving train). The others on the train were all probably in thier late 60's--so not a much fun for one honeymooning couple, who looked dazed at the sight of so many geriatrics! They looked hopefully at us--closest to them in age, being in our late 40's, but we were too stupified by food and drink to scintillate.There was a group of doctors who called themselves 'Doctors for Wine' and I was comforted by the fact that if either of us keeled over from excessive food/wine, there were at least 10 doctors on board! The scenery on the first day was spectacular---amazing rock formations and mountains; we spotted the Afrikaans language monument in Praal and other sights we remembered from the wine route.There are two lounges, so it dosent feel over crowded. Dinner I knew was a 'dress-up' occasion, but I found no one was in sequins or beaded ball-gowns as the brochure seemed to suggest. Most of the ladies wore black trousers with a pretty top or a jacket and that was about the extent of it. Men were in suits, though one guest wore a jacket and no tie but there were no horrified gasps. The first excursion was to a mining village ,Matjiesfontein, more an oppurtunity to stretch our legs than anything else.It is an old mining village with a dusty old museum--not worth hunting out, but certainly picturesque. It was sweet though, as a Cape Town couple were getting married in the church, so we gawked and waved and generally had a nosy time. The scenery the next day was flat and not too thrilling, but I did see some impala and ostrich and flamingo. It was also interesting to see little hamlets and farms along the way and as I was reading a book about the Great Karoo, it was thrilling to be hurtling down it (in a manner of speaking--the train actually travels at a very modest speed). A stop was made at Kimberley--again more to stretch our legs than anything else as much of the old mine is being remodelled into what appears to be a highly touristy, disney-land kind of affair. The thrilling thing (for my husband at any rate) was the fact that our guide there had a son who was playing cricket for SA--thrilling even more when he discovered two days later that the match they were playing during our tour turned out to be a history making one.On the whole it was an ex. restful, luxurious time--was it 'African'--not particularly, except in a 'colonial' way; would I do it again?---yes,like a shot,after a few years and on a different route. The cost included all meals and drinks and included 10 items of laundry, which actually was good value for money. We were a little less than half way into our vacation when we reached Joburg and while we had had a great, relaxed time, we were really holding our breath for what we knew from experience would be the best part of any african trip--the safari.I will write about that in greater detail, but in a while...
vr is offline  
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Mar 20th, 2006, 05:15 AM
Join Date: May 2004
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Thanks so much for the great description of the train trip.
bat is offline  
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Mar 20th, 2006, 03:44 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 14,440
Don't recall a train report in quite some time. I'm a train fan too. Rovos Rail is one of those famous train journeys. Looking forward to the safari part.
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Mar 20th, 2006, 06:06 PM
Join Date: Jul 2003
Posts: 230
vr - we too are train fans, and this one sounds great! Thanks for the report.
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