Saturday 3 September 2016

Beautiful Bloemfontein - said no-one, ever

With thanks to Adventure World for this tailor-made holiday.
We awoke in Bloemfontein, an alternative to Rovos Rail's usual Kimberley stop occasioned by track issues. So instead of drooling over diamonds, we concentrated on concentration camps. Did you know the British invented the concept? And exercised it enthusiastically during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902? With the consequent deaths of 26,000 women and children? No, me neither.
I learned quite a lot from guide Dr Johan today (understandably proud of receiving his PhD yesterday). Like, le Creuset originally made siege guns, Mausers had the advantage of not producing smoke when fired, and when digging a trench you should put the spoil behind you, not in front, so your head isn’t silhouetted when you’re trying to fire your gun. Handy to know…
Apart from the Women’s National Memorial with its sad statues, and the historical background, Bloemfontein isn’t much of a tourist destination, despite its unexpected title of City of Roses. There’s an avenue of stately governmental buildings, a game reserve in the centre complete with ostriches and antelope, a statue of Mandela on top of the hill that's just a bit smaller than the one in Pretoria and it’s the birthplace of JRR Tolkien – but otherwise, it’s the usual (so far) agglomeration of unattractive commercial enterprises liberally littered and full of poor people. It’s making me wonder if the much-vaunted beauty of Cape Town will turn out to be purely a comparative thing. [Spoiler alert: not!]
And then we were back on the train, trundling steadily across open pastureland dotted with sheep and cattle, first evoking Outback orange, and then Otago gold, with added termite mounds. There were conical hills and flat mesas, a road alongside periodically marked with ‘Beware Potholes’ signs, and not much else to distract us from the moist and tender ostrich at lunch.

The afternoon passed in a pleasant blur of reading (the on-board library included Wuthering Heights, Candide and Macbeth), napping in the suite, and drinks on the button-backed leather sofas in the lounge car before a dinner of lobster tails. Joe the train manager encouraged us to go to the bar afterwards: “We need to get rid of this sub-standard alcohol so we can restock with the good stuff for the A-class passengers on the next run.” Some did their best, we learned later, well into the wee small hours.

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