Last week we went on the train trip of a lifetime.
PRASA, the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa, invited us to experience a trip on the Premier Classe train from Johannesburg to Cape Town and back. It was part of an education session and a few other bloggers and personalities were also invited on the trip.
On arrival at Park Station in the centre of Johannesburg, we were pleasantly surprised. It was clean, organised and we felt very safe, but there was one big issue at the station. To simply go into and out of the drop off passengers costs R10. No half-hour free or anything. R10 to simply drive in, drop off passengers and then drive away again. This needs to be changed.
After a little walking around, we found a security guard who directed is to a porter who wanted to charge us R50 to move our bags about 100 metres. Another rip-off. Carry your own bags, it is not that far a walk.
After those couple of issues, we found the Premier Classe lounge. Tea and cake, cheese and biscuits and a warm welcome were on had. We were given our boarding tickets and our bags were whisked away to be found in the compartment when we boarded. The train manager introduced himself, explained the boarding procedure and we were shown to the train.
The “room” on the train is small, but not claustrophobic with two large windows allowing you to take in the vistas of the amazing South African scenery. The double room has two benches which fold down to form beds at night while the single room has only one bench with a working table. The larger four-berth has bunk beds to house children.
Once on board and moving west, we went to the dining car and were introduced to the staff on the train. Everyone from the security guards to the train manager were there and we were talked through the dining times, the menus as well as what the timing of the trip would be.
After a long drink in the lounge car, we dressed up and made our way back to the dining car for the five-course set menu dinner. Soup to start, roast lamb, chocolate mousse, cheese and biscuits and coffee. Okay, maybe that’s four courses, but it was amazing. One thing to note that if you are a vegetarian or have special mal options, call ahead when you book as it was a bit of a challenge for the chef to sort out the small changes.
When returning to the room, the beds had been made with a duvet and sheet, the toweling gowns and slippers were laid out and a quick shower before sleeping was called for. The toilets and showers are at the end of each railway car. The shower was hot and clean and the toilets were well looked after. Our nearest had a small leak, but there was another just across the walkway.
After a good night’s rest, breakfast was served with juice, eggs, bacon and toast. Only one type of juice, though, and we were ready for the rest of the journey. At 26 hours, the trip is long, but it gives you a time to unwind and see parts of South Africa that you might only have seen at 120km/h on the N1 highway.
Lunch was served as the train snaked through the Hex River Valley and soon Table Mountain appeared. A slow roll into Cape Town station and we were ready to explore the Mother City.
Would we go on the train again? For sure! Is it something that we would do every month? No. It’s a rare luxury that needs to be tried. The price is great value, the time is worth it and the service is excellent.