With thanks to Adventure World for this tailor-made holiday.Shaun the steam engine was just for show – but seeing him (should be her?) puff into the station, all shiny brass and red and green paint, was a splendid sight and well worth the effort, even though the driver was so sad that he was travelling only a few hundred metres. Rovos Rail is required to rent state-owned electric engines these days, probably a lot more efficient and reliable [spoiler alert: uh, not] but nothing like as romantic.
Mind, they work hard at maintaining the ambience of hundred year-old train travel, the waiting room all chandeliers and clubby buttoned sofas, the luggage porters in gold braid and white gloves, morning tea served on tiered cake-stands. And then there’s the train!
It’s gorgeous. All varnished mahogany, plush furnishings, brass and leather, shutters and glass lamps. And surprisingly spacious, in our Deluxe suite where the bed fills the entire width and there is storage everywhere. It’s cosy and comfortable and full of thoughtful touches, like the goggles for eye protection when leaning out of an open window. The amenities kit even includes a couple of Rennies tablets in case of over-indulgence in the dining car.
That, it appeared almost at once, will be a theme. Lunch was four courses, wine-matched, and took almost two leisurely hours to consume, the crystal glassware tinkling as we trundled along. When we were moving, that was: we were stuck, stationary, in a station in Johannesburg for a quite unconscionable time, watched impassively by commuters and vendors on the platform outside as we indulged ourselves in olde-world splendour. Awkward.
The pattern appears to be eat, relax, repeat. So there was afternoon tea in the lounge car then drinks then dinner then bed. There’s a dress code for dinner: jacket and tie, and smart dress, which everyone stuck to. Bit of a nuisance, packing fancy outfits for just two nights of a whole holiday, but it certainly did add to the ambience in the dining car, everything, and everyone, sparkling and gleaming in the lamplight. And the food was excellent: scallops and lamb shanks. So we hardly needed the soothing rocking and rolling to send us to sleep in the artistically-arranged bed that our hostess Lebo had magicked for us while we ate.