Day 258: We’re On The Train

Sun. 28th April 2013

No room in Tourist class for usHopefully by the end of the day we will be well on the way to Port Elizabeth (PE), we have paid for the train and have a receipt but no tickets, so we will not relax until we are on the train and heading south. The day starts well as we feast on the excellent spread laid out in the Executive lounge at the Hilton in Sandton, Johannesburg courtesy of Dave’s Gold Hilton card and a free night on points gained.

Mandela statueReplete, we needed a walk to work off some of the good food and headed to Nelson Mandela Square, which is the main attraction within walking distance. This turned out to be a huge indoor shopping mall, with restaurants outside around a courtyard housing an enormous statue of the man himself. Being Sunday morning we were surprised that most of the shops were open, and it was not yet 10am.

View from hotel windowOn our return to the hotel we found that the Executive lounge was still serving breakfast so we stopped off for morning coffee and Danish pastries. Then it was time to head into town and see about our train. Luckily the free shuttle bus from the hotel to Sandton station was just leaving. The driver was sure we were mad as he saw us arriving on foot yesterday from the station carrying backpacks. He could not believe we were not going to the airport, but were going to catch a train. We certainly are not their regular type of customers and we did cause great amusement with our walking poles strapped to our backpacks!

Locked alone  in the Premier LoungeWe also caused havoc when we reached Park Station as the Premier Class lounge was locked and the lady on the information desk let us in. However the hostess for Premier Class was nowhere to be seen so we had to wait for her. More worryingly we were locked in the lounge, “in case thugs came in”! The station clientele were predominantly coloured, but we felt quite safe and thought this was a bit too extreme. It turned out we were the only Premier Class customers today and so were alone in the lounge, with locked doors and fingers crossed that we hadn’t been forgotten about.

How many Premier class coaches just for us?Through the other door exiting the lounge we heard the other passengers heading along the corridor to the train, but were helpless to do anything as we could not get out! After what seemed to be an eternity a lady appeared to escort us to the train and we set off being followed by a porter with an enormous trolley carrying our backpacks. By this time everyone else had boarded the train so we felt like royalty walking the whole length of the train to the Premier carriages, of which there seemed to be many.

Champagne?Our hostess showed us to our cabin, with our name on the door, which was quite cosy and had two single berths. We then made our way to the next carriage, which was the lounge,  for our welcome drink. With a choice of juice or champagne there was no decision. Our waitress then came to explain meal times and we nodded hello at the chef as he passed through.

Just like home - no we haven't slipped in a photo of Didcot!It was then revealed how we became to be the only Premier passengers. Apparently this is a new service being introduced on the J’burg to PE route and if we had not had the mix up over our tickets they would have travelled empty! They are just making a presence and are showing tourist class guests around in the hope they will change class next time. At three times the price I think it is quite a big ask, but apparently the routes to Durban and Cape Town are always full.

Flat for milesSo we came to have a whole sleeping carriage to ourselves, along with the hostess in case we need anything in the night, as well as the lounge carriage and the dining car. We had missed lunch as we had intended buying something at the station but could not get out of the locked lounge. At 3pm we were served hot snacks, which was a plateful of samosas, toasted sandwiches, and sausages and there was a plate each. This was washed down with a fruit juice and the rest of the bottle of champagne as it would have been a shame to waste it, with no other passengers to help us. It was so peaceful having the carriage to ourselves to enjoy the scenery and catch up with the ever demanding blog.

So many dwellings crammed inAs the train left Johannesburg it passed though some of the townships with corrugated iron shacks crammed together in small spaces. Further out there were larger spaces with purpose built individual toilets where dwellings were being constructed for more housing. This made us feel even more conscious of the class/race divide between us in our luxury and the locals of the areas we passed through.

Dinner timeAs we investigated our home for the next 20 hours, we found that there is even a shower on board, which was warmer and bigger than some hotel ones we have had in our travels, so I had to try it out before changing for dinner. We were escorted by our personal waitress to the dining car and had a choice of tables. The meal was of traditional courses starting with soup, then fish, followed by steak and veggies but no potatoes. Dessert was cheesecake but we had no room for the cheese and cracker course, so we retired to the lounge for coffee.

The day endsIt was not long before we called it a night as we are still jetlagged from our six hour time difference from Taiwan. As we retired we received the sad news that the train had stopped due to a fatality on the track and was waiting for the police to come and take statements. It was some time before we moved off but we were already asleep in the knowledge that we were locked in the carriage and that there were numerous security guards on the train. Safety had been stressed to us, which actually made me more concerned about the dangers outside, even though we have not felt threatened at all since we arrived in South Africa.

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