Rovos Rail Hollywood

Rovos Rail hits screens in Hollywood!

By Brenda Vos

Yes, you read that right and we couldn’t be more chuffed. Rovos Rail hit the screens in Hollywood thanks to local documentary maker, Deon van Zyl. This project evolved from one man’s quest to learn about film-making to creating a short movie that not only received an Official Selection at the Hollywood Independent Documentary Awards but was also a winner in the category, First Time Filmmakers! My Life on the Tracks – the Rohan Vos story is the tale of how Rovos Rail came to be and how Rohan has powered through monumental challenges to keep the business in operation.

Deon worked as a Project Manager in the engineering arena but was retrenched in 2015 which prompted him to follow is passion in film-making. He travelled with us in 2007 and it wasn’t until he met Rohan on the station platform that he first thought about the man behind Rovos Rail. It fascinated him that a man could be so bold to own and operate a luxury train in Southern Africa but also that Rohan’s story had not been told in full.

Deon contacted me last year to request permission to film the train at our private station. I must receive about 10 calls like this month so I didn’t really give it much thought but I did invite him to join us on a Friday afternoon as we can have two departures that day so there is a lot of action. Not too long after that Deon asked if he could interview my Dad (Rohan) and me to which we obliged and then off he went. Honestly thinking this was a hobbyist who was a bit train-obsessed I still didn’t really give it much thought. And I mean this in the most humble way possible because it is obviously flattering when people are excited about what we do but there are true train fanatics out there who border on the edge of lunacy and I thought Deon was one of them!

A month or two ago an e-mail dropped into my inbox, from Deon, which gave me the link to the trailer for his movie. Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather! It’s not often that these sort of things come to fruition and now here I was watching a trailer for a short film on my Dad. I got a few goosebumps and a bit teary listening to my Pops talk about the struggles over the years but there was also an immense feeling of pride.

Deon’s “disaster project”, as he affectionately calls it, has blossomed and the recognition he received in the States has spurred him on to have the film screened in South Africa. Not an easy process but we understand that negotiations are in the works with local television networks eTV and ED190. Deon has also entered a few African film festivals such as Africa in Motion, Rapid Lion and KleinKaap. Although Klein Kaap is a small festival, it might prove to be just the perfect fit.

Next on the agenda for Deon? He wants to make a documentary that looks at Pathogenic Parenting (Attachment Based Parental Alienation) and its prevalence not only in our society but also in a global context. Another idea manifesting is a short film on the consequential problems associated with the divergent perceptions of the rich and the poor groups in South Africa.

We have no doubt that both these documentaries will be made with the same determination and passion as My Life on the Tracks – the Rohan Vos story. Deon, thank you for all your passion in telling The Boss’s tale. We wish you all the very best with your next endeavours.

Click here to watch the trailer for My Life on the Tracks.

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St James Guest Houses

Kalk Bay Favourites

(Image: the gorgeous garden view at Casa Labia)

Written by @thebleugoose

We’re fortunate to have built up a loyal and enthusiastic membership for our Rovos Club over the years. One of our lovely guests, @thebleugoose, has travelled on the train and stayed at St James Manor a few times. She’s a lover of luxury, she has a discerning palette and when it comes to wines, she knows her stuff…sometimes more than we do!

A bagel, some art and a drink to end – a few of my favourite things to do in Kalk Bay ….

My husband I live in Cape Town but we try as often as we can to escape to the tranquility of Kalk Bay, an idyllic but eccentric sea side fishing village not too far from the beautiful wine estates of Constantia and the must-see Cape Point. We always stay at the St James Manor and as soon as we get out of the car and smell the crisp sea air and hear the ocean breaking on the rocks we know we have a relaxing few days ahead.

Now I am not a morning person, even with a toddler, so my husband regularly does the the breakfast run, but we always wake up early in St James and look forward to our first coffee of the day at Bob’s Bagels. A short walk from the Manor and up a narrow cobbled street is where you’ll find Bob’s, a hole-in-the -wall coffee roastery run by the man himself. Our search for a little French patisserie came to an abrupt end as soon as the delicious baked goods and fresh coffee smells had us walking into this delightful little café in a trance. The coffee is freshly roasted and served in pottery bowls and the bagels are mouth-watering. And if it gets too busy inside you can always perch on one of the benches outside and admire the sea view. To complement the cosy atmosphere, there is a little pottery studio and gallery next door which house beautiful pieces that are all locally made.

Another of my favourites is Casa Labia, a café and gallery set in a beautiful old home built in 1929 for the Count and Countess Natale Labia. It is a national monument and heritage site and my husband and I just love going there for lunch. The rooms are beautiful and look out over the Muizenberg coastline. Lunch is always a lovely affair as they often have a pianist or quartet playing in the background. The food is light and delicious and the wine list simple but perfectly suited. We often stay well into the afternoon enjoying the sounds of Bach and watching out for dolphins.

By now our tummies are full and after a much needed nap we venture out again where we always pop into the Octopus Garden. A quirky bar and restaurant in the St James Old Post Office Building. It is right on the railway track and although you cannot see the sea too well one can smell and hear the crashing of the waves on the rocks below.  It is filled with a menagerie of odd bits and pieces with beautiful and somewhat strange quotes written over all the walls. I always order my Campari and soda and my husband a beer and we chatter late into the night – we just love this place!

There is so much more to do in St James and Kalk Bay that it’s actually too much for one article! Trips to the world-famous Cape Winelands are easy and the staff at the guest houses are happy to arrange tours up Table Mountain or to the V&A Waterfront, golf and tennis games or send you on one of the breath-taking hikes in the area with your own personalised picnic!

Until next time, Lucie.

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From Cape Town to Victoria Falls with Rovos– Part 2

Ian Gill’s second part of his story about his Rovos trip to Victoria Falls. 

The beginning of an awesome adventure

We have started the second leg of our train journey. The train station in Pretoria was a step back in time. It was like being a kid again as I constantly ran around with some of my fellow traveRovos rail train on trackslling counterparts searching out the steam engines and reliving a boy’s lost memories.

 

A pleasant surprise for us was to get upgraded to a deluxe berth. Unexpected, but nevertheless much appreciated.

 

Crossing the border into Botswana

 

After departing Pretoria we back tracked to Johannesburg, then continued to head north. Somewhere (Mafikeng) in the middle of the night, we crossed the border into Botswana.

Diamonds and Agriculture

As we were enjoying our breakfast in the dining car, we passed through the capital city of Gaborone, which apparently is quite prosperous due to diamonds and agriculture. We continued north to the Zimbabwe border town of Bulawayo, which we should have reached sometime in the middle of the night.

 

We were running something like three hours late, but that was before the engine broke down and a variety of other reasons, but alas, this is the nature of train travel. It really didn’t affect us as we just sat back and watched the world go by.

 

Waving Hello at Happy Locals

One of the sights and activities I enjoy the most is waving to the locals who are crossing the tracks or tending their cattle by the wayside. Always smiling with an enthusiastic wave makes me feel quite welcome.

train trips

Guest by the train tracks

 

The countryside does vary now and then with hills, mountains and lush Acacia trees. This is in sharp contrast to the dry, brown, flat bushveld of South Africa, which we left the day before yesterday. And did I mention it is HOT!

train trips south africa

We are passing through a game reserve now and lots of wildlife to be seen! Jennifer says she saw a female lion this morning at breakfast. (I told her it looked like a large dog to me). Gazelles, wildebeest, impalas and zebras so far. This should be fun.

The other great thing about train travel and travel in general, is that you get to meet some great people. Thank you for your great companionship, conversation and laughs, Carl and Christina. You made a great trip even better!

Older couple and friend taking a picture

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From Cape Town to Victoria Falls – Ian Gill’s story: Part 1

Ian Gill from America, contacted us recently to tell us about the wonderful experience he had in Africa in 2013. Ian then decided to explore further than South Africa. His journey to the Mother Continent took him to Nairobi, where he enjoyed a two-week safari in Kenya and Tanzania. Thereafter, he journeyed aboard the Pride of Africa starting at Cape Town, winding through stunning South Africa via Pretoria, and finishing in Zimbabwe at the mighty Victoria Falls.  Ian took the Victoria Falls train safari.

It certainly sounds like he had a wonderful holiday!

 

Hi Brenda:

This year’s adventure trek takes us to the Dark Continent. Our trip will be broken up into three segments. Upon arrival in Nairobi, we will first embark on a two week safari encompassing Kenya and Tanzania. This will be followed by a week on the Rovos Train between Cape Town, South Africa and Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. We will finish off with a two week self-drive trip along the South African coast following the Wine Route and the Garden Route. We hope you will enjoy following our travels as we very much look forward to our exciting and adventurous six-week tour of the Dark Continent.

 

All aboard the Rovos train!

I love train travel and this is to be our second, long distance train trips. This however, will be slightly different than our trip across the Rockies last August as this time we will actually be sleeping on board, in our Pullman berth. Our five night and six day journey will take us from Cape Town to Victoria Falls via Pretoria.

Train trips

 

We have spent one night on board and there are two things that struck my attention. Firstly, the vastness of this country from the mountains and vineyards in the lowveldt to the vast open spaces and plains in central South Africa, which go on and on and on. Secondly, the service, amenities as well as food and drink are way beyond expectation.

 

The Rovos Dining Experience

Different South African wines served with each course let alone each meal is a real treat and experience as the pre-selected wine parings really know how to tempt and satisfy the palate. The food and its presentation is unparalleled.

Guest enjoying breakfast on train

 

Scenery to die for – no need for television! : 

Sitting in the exquisitely appointed dining car with white linens, silver cutlery and professional service is self-indulgence not often experienced. Oh, and did I mention the window views from both our dining room table and Pullman suite are wonderful. No need for HD television here.

African sunset Rovos Rail

I sit back and write this entry from the lounge car. With the bright sunlight streaming in, I am swallowed up by the huge lounge chair, trying to fight off the gentle roll of the train as it tries to lull me to sleep. I’ll be heading back to the observation car for a pre-dinner drink and a glowing sunset across the African plains. That will probably be followed by a short nap before dressing for dinner and once again over-indulging. Ah, train travel. It is the best!

 

Feeling like a kid again

I’ll have to admit, one of the highlights for me was when the old steam engine showed up and hitched on to all of the carriages. Being a kid again. Women just don’t feel the same about trains as men do.

Old couple next to industrial train

Read the rest of Ian’s journey in part 2.

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Beloved Memories of a Rovos Trip Recounted

We always feel so happy when one of our guests contacts us excitedly recounting the journey they enjoyed with us on the Pride of Africa. It brings us great joy when we read that their experience of Africa has left a lasting impression, and hopefully one day we’ll see them again for round two!

Not too long ago we received this letter from Lorre Lei who hails all the way from New Orleans. We would like to share her letter with our readers wherein she says that Rohan reminds her of Prince Charles. We couldn’t help but chuckle.   We hope you enjoy her description of the train trip she had with us!

 

Hi Brenda,

Just received Rovos Tribune today and I’m amazed that you still have my address from when my husband and I travelled from Pretoria to Cape Town in November of 1998.  That prompted me to pull out the photo album and the journal of the trip.

 

Here is what I wrote:

Boarding the Pride of Africa

Tea at Victoria Hotel with string trio.  Walked to train station by Mr.Vos, himself, who looks somewhat like Prince Charles.  Prince Charles look alike

Rovos Rail Station

Greeted by staff with champagne and red carpet.  18 cars including 2 dining cars, lounge and observation car pulled by 2 steam engines, but no grand piano! (Referencing one on the American Orient Express train from Chicago to DC).

 

Rovos Pride of Africa

Kimberley 

Arid landscape with lots of scrub trees and anthills.  Reminds me of the California foothills north of San Francisco.  Kimberly Diamond mine and the “big hole” not at all what I expected.  Recreated town around the mine very well done with shops, saloon, church, ballroom and undertaker’s parlor.  Afternoon landscapes giving way to old mountain ranges in distance on either side of train.  Some crops with irrigation, mostly cattle and sheep worked from horseback with sheep dogs. Lots of windmills.  Raced by the lake with the pink flamingos.

 

The Big Hole, Kimberley

 

The Karoo

The Karoo is a harsh, barren place to live with an oasis here and there.  Matjiesfontein is such a place.  It was developed as a resort and was a good place to cure asthma and TB.  The whole village was bought in the late 60’s and restored to its original Victorian state.  A local museum contains a huge eclectic collection of Victoriana.

Matjiesfontein - The Lord Milner Hotel

Ostrich farms remind me of the ostrich medallions for dinner last evening.  Mr. Peter Winterbottom (I believe a pseudo name), the train manager, said he never found food or drink he didn’t like.  When I asked him if that was the case, then how did he maintain his youthful figure, he quipped, “Hot women, Madam!”

Cape Town

Off the train and on to the Mount Nelson, the epitome of British chintz!

The Mount Nelson Hotel

 

Please feel free to use any of the above.  I thought Mr. Winterbottom’s response was priceless and showed such a wonderful quick wit!

 

Lorre Lei Jackson,

New Orleans, Louisiana

 

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The Rainbow Nation: exploring the colourful cultures of South Africa

South Africa is truly a unique country. Where else would one find such a melting pot of diverse cultures and languages thriving together in one beautiful Rainbow Nation? Journey with us as we explore some interesting traditional cultures of South Africa we feel everyone should witness when visiting our country.

Zulu

The Zulu tribe is the most recognised traditional tribe in South Africa. Originally from KwaZulu Natal, the Zulus have occupied the land since the late 18th century. Zulus are traditional hunter-gatherers but have relied on cattle for their primary subsistence for many years.

Wealth and status, for a Zulu man, lies in the number of cattle he owns. When a young man proposes to a Zulu man’s daughter, he will need to pay his future father-in-law before the wedding. The payment is known as lobola. Zulus wear different types of traditional dress depending on the occasion. Women dress according to their marital status while the men wear a leather belt made from hide.

Zulu huts are called iQukwane and are constructed from braided reeds and grass. Sturdy tree trunks reinforce the structure and doors are created especially low to prevent intruders from entering the hut. To enter the hut, one needs to crawl on hands and knees or bend low.

 

Traditional zulu woman

 

Ndebele

The Ndebele tribe are part of the Nguni tribes, which represent a large population of South Africa. The Ndebele are divided into two groups; the Central Nguni and the Southern Nguni tribes and are then divided further by differences in languages and culture.

Ndebele architecture is strikingly beautiful. Their homes are painted by the Ndebele women in patterns with bold colours ranging from purple, green, turquoise and yellow. Women express their status by adorning themselves with intricate beaded jewellery, blankets and ornaments. Once an Ndebele woman marries, she expresses her devotion to her husband by wearing brass rings around her neck, arms and legs. These brass rings can weigh up to a whopping 20kg. Visiting a Ndebele cultural village is highly recommended if you’d like to witness astounding architectural and artistic talent.

 

Traditional colourful hut

 

Xhosa

Xhosa people constitute approximately 7 million people in South Africa. The majority of Xhosas live in the peaceful, rural Eastern Cape. Xhosa language is easily recognised by the clicking sound the speaker makes, thus earning the nickname ‘click’ language.

In Xhosa culture, women decorate their faces with colourful dots and wear beautiful turbans and heavy dresses. You can tell if a woman’s marital status by the style of her turban.  It’s not unusual to see women sitting together and smoking their long-handled pipes.

Like the Ndebele, Xhosa women also create beautiful beadwork, which is an intergral part of their tradition. What one may often notice in summer, despite the incredible heat, is Xhosa men and women wearing blankets wrapped around their shoulders. This is part of their traditional dress. If you get the opportunity to admire one of these blankets, you’ll notice intricately sewn designs.

 

Traditional clothing

 

Cape Malay

The Cape Malay people originated mostly from Indonesia and came to the Cape many years ago aboard Dutch East India Trading Company ships. The Western Cape is home to many diverse ethnic groups but the Cape Malay people are the most distinguishable with their silky black hair and tanned skin.

The Bo-Kaap in Cape Town is the historical and cultural centre of the Cape Malay community, and a visit there will result in an encounter with brightly coloured homes, which are one of Cape Town’s famous landmarks which should be on your travel itinerary.

Colourful buildings

If you wish to experience South Africa and its unique cultures, go on a safari tour with Rovos Rail. Choose from different itineraries, such as the Durban safari where you’ll have the opportunity to visit Ardmore Ceramics, which is a celebration of Zulu culture and tradition.

 

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A Rovos Rail trip from Cape Town To Pretoria: John and Carolyn’s Story

We received this interesting description from John detailing his and his wife, Carolyn’s rail trip from Cape Town to Pretoria on the Rovos Rail. We enjoyed reading about their wonderful adventure so much that we simply had to share it with you.

Written by John

A mere month or so after our Chobe River and Victoria Falls adventure, we embarked on a rail trip from Cape Town to Pretoria on the Rovos Rail, the most luxurious train in the world. Ah, we can hear some of you already expressing doubt with comments like, “But I thought that the Orient Express was the most luxurious train in the world.” Au contraire, bru’s.The Orient Express most emphatically was the most
luxurious of its era, and the modern incarnation
certainly has been authentically restored exactly as
it was in its hey-day. However, while cool no doubt,this historic preservation means that, although the
accommodations are deluxe, there are no showers
or baths on the Orient Express nor is there air conditioning.

On the Rovos Rail, you not only travel on meticulously restored Victorian/Edwardian carriages, but you also have suites with air conditioning and en-suite baths with showers, and even a few “Royal” suites with both a tub and shower. What’s more, the communal spaces are absolutely incredible. Piqued your curiosity? All aboard! It’s time to choo-choo with our soon-to-be chuffed chinas.

Lucky Reservations

Carolyn had read about the Rovos Rail around the time that we arrived in South Africa. Early in 2015, we looked into reserving on the Pretoria to Victoria Falls route, the most popular; however, not surprisingly, this trip was fully booked for 2015 and part way into 2016.

Rats!

But some good came of the inquiry: Carolyn got on the mailing list of a travel consultant at Rovos, and he emailed her some special low season rates for South African residents. Carolyn was able to book two guests for the price of one on the Cape Town to Pretoria route.

So, we were in business.

A Warm Reception at the Departure Lounge

Rovos Rail has its own private departure lounge across the street from the Cape Town Train Station. We arrived, and were immediately met by liveried Rovos staff who tagged our luggage with custom-made luggage tags printed with our names and berth number. They checked us in and offered us cold beverages including some South African bubbly. As you can see, the departure lounge has an air of understated luxury. A harp and strings were playing classical music. We sat down and almost immediately met a fascinating South African couple, Ian and Sandy – more about them later.

Cool Rovos Traditions and a Class Act

Rovos Rail has many cool traditions, not the least of which is that Rohan Vos personally sees off nearly every train. He was there for our departure, and gave everyone a brief orientation. His dry sense of humor was very entertaining. After asking if there were any Aussies or Kiwis on the train, several hands went up. Rohan shook his head and said, “That’s unfortunate because if your rugby teams continue to beat South Africa, I think that I will no longer allow you to ride on the train.”

After Rohan finished, we were called by name into small groups to be led by our host or hostess across the street to the train and our suites. As we walked out of the departure lounge, Rohan shook everyone’s hand and treated the repeat guests as if they were old friends.

What a class act!

All on Board!

The Deluxe Suite

Our assigned host led us to our deluxe suite. As you can see, it was very roomy and inviting (3 deluxe suites take up an entire carriage). As we settled in, the restaurant manager and chef arrived to discuss Carolyn’s request that her food contain no garlic as it strongly disagrees with her. After a short discussion, the Rovos team assured Carolyn that her culinary requirements would pose no problem.

Wow, what service!

Observation Car

After unpacking in our suite, we headed to the Observation Car at the rear of the train. Check out this one, chinas.

There was a bar and plenty of comfortable seating plus an outdoor area for those wishing to take the air. We took a couple of wingback chairs and ordered some pre-lunch bubbly. Did we mention that all food and drinks (spirits, beer, wine, soft drinks) are included in the price?

“They’re going to lose money on you,” laughed Carolyn.

“Not sure what you mean,” I replied. “I’m eating a lot less since my big 30 lb. weight loss.”

Carolyn merely shook her head and smiled. About this time, our new friends from the departure lounge, Ian and Sandy, arrived. I waved at them, and they joined us at the back of the car. We spent the hour and a half before lunch getting to know each other and enjoying these amazing views as the train made its way through the Cape Winelands past Stellenbosch, Paarl, and Franschhoek, into the Slanghoek Valley, and then eventually onto the Groot Karoo.

First Day – Delicious Lunch

At 1 PM, we went to the dining car. Ian and Sandy had gone before us and were at a table for four, and insisted that we join them.

Turns out that the trip was in celebration of Sandy’s birthday, so we were flattered that they would want to hang out with us, rather than having some alone time. Over the course of our conversation, we learned that Ian is a lifelong entrepreneur who has started various companies.

Lunch, by the way, was delicious. Following lunch, we made a quick stop to check out the beautiful Lounge Car.

First Stop – Matjiesfontein and the Lord Milner Hotel

After lunch, we spent some time enjoying the scenery from our suite. At about 4:30 PM, the train made its first stop in the small town of Matjiesfontein.

One of the reasons that the town is so well preserved is that when its founder, James Logan, passed away in 1920, the town was shut down and boarded up until 1968 when hotelier David Rawdon bought the town and restored it, even buying a red double-decker bus to give the town some additional character (as if it needed it). Rawdon died in 2010, and we have heard that his heirs cannot agree on what to do with the place, so once again it has been partially shut down and its future is uncertain.

Another interesting feature of the town is that there are said to be ghosts that haunt the Lord Milner Hotel and surrounding grounds. For us, the only near such paranormal encounter when we stayed at the Lord Milner was when we heard scratching at our room door after check-in only to find the hotel cat outside in the hallway looking for attention. After a brisk walk around the town, we returned to the train for sundowners in the Observation Car.

Bliss!

First Day – Delectable Dinner

Dinner on the Rovos requires minimum jacket and tie for men and the equivalent for women. We went to the dining car and secured a table for two, as we were sure that our new friends, Ian and Sandy, would want a romantic dinner alone in celebration of Sandy’s birthday.

Dinner was a lovely, long and leisurely affair featuring fantastic foods and inspiring wine pairings. Following dinner, we retired to our suite, where our host had laid out tea, coffee, and after-dinner drinks should we so desire. We finally went to bed, the movement of the train lulling us to sleep.

Now some folks, we understand, find it difficult to sleep on a moving train. Rovos has found a solution. From about midnight until 6:00 AM, the train was pulled off on a siding, so everyone could enjoy a motionless rest.

Ah, that Rohan, he thinks of everything.

Second Day

After a great sleep and rather exciting shower on a moving train, we headed to the dining car for breakfast. Ian and Sandy were there already and insisted we join them. After a delightful breakfast and more scintillating conversation, we headed to the on-board store where I bought a Rovos Rail golf shirt. We then spent time in the Lounge Car, after which we returned to our room to read and relax. Cell phone reception on the train is poor at best, and the use of phones is prohibited in the public spaces, so it is a relaxing, retro experience.

Before lunch at 1:30 PM, we went to the Observation Car where we again enjoyed pre-lunch libations with Ian and Sandy, then off to another exquisite lunch in the dining car.

Our next stop and excursion was coming up after lunch – Kimberley.

Kimberley – The Diamond Town

Kimberley is the capital of the Northern Cape Province. It is located approximately 110 km east of the confluence of the Vaal and Orange Rivers. The city has considerable historical significance due to its diamond mining past and the siege during The Second Boer War. Notable personalities such as Cecil Rhodes and Barney Barnato made their fortunes here, and the roots of the De Beers Company can be traced to the early days of the mining town.

Kimberley’s station is well preserved. All it needed was some people in period costumes to provide the illusion of a bygone era. We boarded a bus and set off through the town to see the Diamond Museum, described by Rovos Rail Journeys magazine as “an intensely interesting and a carefully constructed display of historical memorabilia housed next to the ‘Big Hole,’ which is the largest man-made [i.e., hand-dug] excavation worldwide.

Second Day – Dinner

We returned to the train station where the Rovos staff was waiting with “welcome back” bubbly. We retired once again to the Observation Car and saw an amazing flamboyance of flamingoes, as a flock is sometimes called. We enjoyed the scenery and Ian and Sandy joined us for pre-dinner cocktails. Afterwards went to our suites to change for dinner.

Rovos Rail Station

The next morning after breakfast, we arrived at the Rovos Rail private station at Capital Park, Pretoria. This once bustling hub of steam locomotion in the old Transvaal is now the headquarters for Rovos Rail. The site was derelict when Rohan Vos purchased it but has been transformed and includes a gracious colonial-style railway station, a repair, maintenance, and provisioning facility, and a railroad museum.

Prior to entering the rail yard, the diesel locomotives were detached from the head of the train and a steam locomotive was attached to the rear of the train to bring us into the station. The train engineer even let me climb up into the engineer’s cab to see the controls up close, something that I’ve always wanted to do since childhood when he watched the 1950’s TV show Casey Jones.

Our train trip over, we bid farewell to Ian and Sandy after exchanging contact details and promising to get together in Cape Town, (which we did just a few weeks ago at the Durbanville Hills Wine Festival). On to Pretoria!

Pretoria Perambulation

The Tour

Carolyn arranged with Rovos Rail to have a tour guide meet us at the Capital Park station. We decided that having a guide would allow us to cover the ground more quickly and see the most important sites. Our guide, Geert, was a most agreeable Afrikaner whose knowledge can only be described as encyclopedic. He also had a very good sense of humor.

The Union Buildings

From Wikipedia: “These form the official seat of the South African government and also house the offices of the president. The imposing buildings are located atop Meintjieskop. Though not in the centre of Pretoria the Union Buildings occupy the highest point of Pretoria, and constitute a South African national heritage site. They were designed by the architect Sir Herbert Baker in the English monumental style, and are 285 meters (935 feet) long. They have a semi-circular shape, with the two wings at the sides; this serves to represent the union of a formerly divided people. The clock chimes are identical to those of Big Ben in London. The east and west wings, as well as the twin-domed towers, represent two languages, English and Afrikaans, and the inner court symbolises the Union of South Africa. These buildings are considered by many to be the architect’s greatest achievement and a South African architectural masterpiece.”

 

The buildings are most impressive. President Nelson Mandela gave his inaugural speech in front of these buildings. There is now a 9 metre (30 feet) high statue of Mandela in front of the buildings. If you saw the movie Invictus, you may recognize the buildings.

Melrose House

Melrose House was built in 1886 by George Jesse Heys, a prominent business mogul in Pretoria at the time, who made his fortune running a fleet of post (stage) coaches, among other things.

Lord Roberts, commander of the British Forces during the Second Anglo-Boer war, requisitioned Melrose House in June 1900 as the headquarters of the British forces, after Pretoria was invaded. Later in the war, Lord Kitchener, Roberts’ replacement, used it as well. The Peace Treaty of Vereeniging, the crucial document that ended the war, was signed in 1902 in the dining room. When George Heys died a decade or so later, his family closed the house and decamped to England.

The city of Pretoria acquired the property in the 1960’s and turned it into a museum. Because the house was shuttered, nearly all of the original furniture and furnishings are still there, including a little girl’s porcelain tea set and toys.

The grand interior of Melrose House includes beautiful stained glass windows, plush carpets in opulent colours, paintings by British artists, exquisitely ornate fireplaces and ceilings, and an array of gorgeous porcelain ornaments. We have never seen such a superbly preserved house. We almost did not get into the house, as we arrived on a Monday when the museum is normally closed. However, our guide spoke to a sympathetic museum employee who allowed us inside for a private tour. We took a few photos after which we realised there were signs forbidding photography. Oh well.

Kruger House

Kruger House is the historical Pretoria residence of the Boer leader and President of the South African Republic, Paul Kruger. It was built in 1884 by architect Tom Claridge and builder Charles

Clark. Milk was used, instead of water, for mixing the cement from which the house was constructed, as the cement available was of poor quality. The house contains either the original furnishings or items from the same historical period, some of the many gifts that were presented to Kruger, as well as other memorabilia including the presidential private rail carriage. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed here either, so we only have photos of the exterior and Kruger’s church across the street.

 Voortrekker Monument

The Voortrekker Monument stands over 40 meters tall (131 feet) on its hilltop home and is visible from a large part of Pretoria. It was built to commemorate the history of the Afrikaner pioneers who left the Cape Colony, where they had suffered under British rule, to travel to the interior of the country from 1835 to 1854 on what has come to be known as the Great Trek. Both within and around the monument, every aspect of the building has a historic or symbolic significance. The front gate is in the form of Zulu assegais (stabbing spears). The walls around the monument are in the form of a laager of the wagons used by the Voortrekkers. A unique marble Frieze circles the inside walls of the Monument. In bas-relief, 27 panels depict the story of the Great Trek from 1835 to 1852.

The Great Trek and the Zulus

The Frieze not only shows the history of the Great Trek but also shows how the Voortrekkers went about their everyday lives. Moreover, it provides an insight into the religious beliefs and work methods of the Voortrekkers, as well as important conflicts, such as the Zulu slaughter of Piet Retief and his party and the Battle of Blood River where 470 Voortrekkers led by Andries Pretorius (the city of Pretoria is named after him) defeated an estimated 15,000-20,000 Zulus, inflicting over 3000 casualties.

Interestingly, in our 2-1/2 years in South Africa, we have heard about Blood River from several points of view. The Zulus believe that they lost due to “bad medicine,” i.e., their gods turning against them. The Voortrekkers, on the other hand, recorded that they had the advantage of a very defensible position that made a perfect killing ground plus a dense fog that concealed them from the Zulus until it was too late. As the Voortrekkers were deeply religious and believed that God would manifest himself through nature (in this case, the fortuitous fog), they believed that God had shown his favor and that they were his chosen people.

Many English, on the other hand, seem absolutely certain that the Voortrekkers exaggerated both the total number of Zulus present as well as the number killed.

A Commemoration

Cenotaph Hall is located on the lower floor and houses the Cenotaph (empty tomb) and an amazing tapestry depicting The Great Trek. Every year on December 16, the date of the Battle of Blood River, the sun shines down through a small hole in the center of the Voortrekker Monument roof onto the Cenotaph, lighting up the inscribed words: “Ons vir jou, Suid Africa” (“We for thee, South Africa”)

Return to Cape Town

With that, we went off to spend the night in Sandton, a suburb of Johannesburg, and then back to Cape Town the next day.

So there you have it, china’s. We hope that you enjoyed our double feature. Do come to Africa – we’re always ready to rant and “rail” with all of our lekker bru’s.

See you next time,

John and Carolyn

 

 

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How One Man’s Love of Trains and Aeroplanes Left Us Speechless

Since its inception, Rovos Rail, with its striking steam engines and carriages, has puffed and whistled its way into the hearts of many people from all over the world. Lords and ladies, both rich and famous, have enjoyed the privilege of journeying in grand style on these much loved trains, and many of them hold the fondest memories of their journeys both in South Africa and further afield.

Some fortunate people have experienced the thrill of seeing these special trains, as they traverse the African landscape, and have felt inspired to take precious photographs or videos of the once-in-a-lifetime sightings. Similarly, all who take time to read this article to its end will have their hearts and minds inspired by the talent and perseverance of an exceedingly creative, visually impaired man who is passionate about Rovos Rail trains.

A Letter to Brenda Vos of Rovos Rail from Freddie Botha

In July 2015, Brenda Vos of Rovos Rail received a letter from Freddie Botha, the Executive Head of the Institute for the Blind in Worcester, which left her speechless. In the letter, Freddie told Brenda about Jacques Loftus, one of the partially sighted employees at the Institute who has an immense love for trains and aeroplanes. The previous week, Jacques had made an appointment to see Freddie, and when Jacques arrived at Freddie’s office carefully carrying what appeared to be a heap of pages, Freddie became curious.

A Heart-Warming Surprise!

Jacques laid down the pages on the ground and began joining them in a specific order. There were 54 A4 folios, which when joined, measured approximately 13m. When Freddie positioned himself to look at the sketches, he was thrilled at the surprise that lay before him. Jacques had sketched the magnificent Rovos train in such fine detail, a truly amazing achievement, which took him 3 months to complete. Freddie felt incredibly proud of Jacques, particularly knowing how he had to keep the pages very close to his eyes, owing to his extremely limited eyesight.

 

Man holding up sketches of the Rovos Train

 

13 meter train painting

Brenda’s Response to Freddie’s Letter about Jacques’s Sketches

Brenda’s heart was truly moved by Freddie’s inspiring letter about Jacques’s brilliant sketches of the Rovos train and carriages, admiring the huge effort he put into drawing them so perfectly over such a long time. Brenda shared this information with the management of Rovos Rail and they were delighted to host Jacques for lunch on board the train from Worcester to Cape Town and arranged for a complimentary transfer back to Worcester with a guest of his choice. He would board the train in Worcester on a Sunday afternoon and travel to Cape Town where he would be met by a transfer to take him and his guest back to Worcester.

 

Jacques’s Joyful Journey – A Dream Come True

Less than two weeks later, Jacques and his lovely girlfriend, Lelanie, boarded the Rovos train in Worcester for what was to be a joyful journey.

As Rovos Rail’s special guests, they were treated to a three-course meal, snacks, drinks and a tour of the train’s compartments. Jacques said it was an unbelievable experience and could not stop talking about how luxurious the train was and how delicious the food, snacks and drinks were. What really impressed Jacques and Lelanie was that the Rovos train is extremely well-equipped for people with visual or physical impairments.

We hope that Jacques, Freddie, Brenda and Rovos Rail will inspire you to achieve your special dream of train travel. Perhaps you too would love to journey across beautiful South Africa or Southern Africa on a Rovos train. Why wait?

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The Traditional Arts and Crafts of Swaziland

The Kingdom of Swaziland is a small, land-locked country within South Africa known for its impressive traditional Swazi arts and crafts. Aside from the allure of colourful beadwork, baobab batik cloths and delicate glass figurines, Swaziland has a wealth of natural and cultural attractions worth exploring too.

When touring Swaziland it is expected that you’ll find locals, both men and women, hand-crafting the loveliest woven baskets, soap figurines, jewellery and sculptures. Visitors can shop for these items either at shopping centres, established traders, or informal hawkers along the road. Swaziland’s creative industry has grown significantly over the years as local Swazi artists have started gaining recognition for their traditional arts and crafts in ethnic boutiques across the world.

Art

The art of Swaziland is colourful and vibrant, with there having been a rise in the contemporary art scene lately. The Yebo Gallery, which is located in Mantenga, promises art enthusiasts an extraordinary discovery of Swazi art where local fine artists, photographers and sculptors have their masterpieces proudly on display. Yebo Gallery has contributed largely to the development of the art scene and in doing so, has provided a platform for artists to be discovered by international art buyers and private art collectors. The gallery also assists new artists to establish their name in the art industry. Support the local talent by buying yourself some beautiful and truly unique artwork to hang on your wall at home.

Batiks

Baobab Batik specialises in batik work that celebrates Swazi design, colour and culture. Baobab Batik started as a small business in 1991 but today has a workforce of 35 employees that consists mainly of women. Baobab batik believes in offering sustainable work opportunities to empower and uplift the local women of Swaziland.

Shopping at Baobab Batik is an exciting experience as there are plenty of beautiful handmade products from which to choose. Anything from cushions, to dresses, tablecloths, wall hangings and scarves all have potential to end up in your shopping basket. If you’d love to learn the process behind creating the batiks, then the Baobab Batik workshop near the Mlilwane Game Sanctuary is a must-visit.

Displaying African Art

Sculptures and carvings

If you’re looking for a tall wooden giraffe, or a hippopotamus carved from soapstone, then you’ll be happy to know that Swaziland is renowned for their fine tradition of carving from both wood and stone. Wooden sculptures comprising ritual masks and religious figurines, which carry strong cultural significance, can be bought at craft markets, along with soapstone carvings. If you’re purchasing from an informal trader, stand still a few minutes and observe how the stone carvers work from large blocks of soapstone, carving out larger-than-life animal and human sculptures. Watching the locals perform their incredible craftsmanship is an interesting learning experience, and anyone who has an appreciation for the preservation of tradition and culture will find this an enlightening encounter.

The only downside to soapstone is that it’s heavy to transport, so consider purchasing one of the smaller figurines to take home with you.

Wooden African Sculpture

Glass blowing

Perhaps the most notable in the entirety of Swaziland’s art and craft scene is the Ngwenya Glass Factory. At Ngwenya, visitors are invited to watch the glass blowers hard at work creating anything from tableware to animal figurines, all created from 100% recycled soft drink glass bottles collected from across the country. Ngwenya and its artisans have garnered worldwide acclaim for their skilful production of delicate glassware, which they’re now exporting overseas. Ngwenya was started by a Swedish Aid and began operations in 1979. Since then, it has trained and up-skilled many locals in the antique art of glassblowing. If you’re unable to travel to Swaziland but would love to purchase Ngwenya’s glass products, you can find a boutique at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town, South Africa.

Ngwenya’s product range includes glasses, bowls, candle holders, decanters, paper weights, perfume bottles, figurines, stoppers, vases and many more.

Ngwenya Glass Work

Grass weaving

Grass weaving is a delicate and precise process, an art that takes time to master. Grass baskets are one of the prettiest items to buy and fulfil many uses around the home – you can add a patterned and dyed basket woven from grass or sisal as the main centrepiece on your kitchen table. Tintsaba, near Piggs Peak and Gone Rural at Malandelas, are two of the enterprises that produce and export these exquisite wares. These two companies employ hundreds of woman for their weaving skills, and have subsequently contributed to the upliftment of local communities in the area.

Weaving out of grass

Jewellery

Traditional Swazi jewellery typically embodies beadwork in the form of bracelets, anklets and necklaces. The patterns, colours and motifs usually have cultural and/or religious significance. If it interests you, you can ask the seller to give you some background on the jewellery you’re purchasing – they’ll be able to tell you the story behind the colours and patterns used. You’ll find many outlets in markets such as Manzini and Mbabane selling this beautiful beadwork jewellery.

Beaded Jewellery Work

If you think you’d enjoy travelling to Swaziland for its fascinating arts and culture, then join Rovos for either the Golf Safari or African Golf Collage railway tour. Alternatively, you could consider the Good Hope and Southern Cross journeys aboard the Shongololo Express.

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The Pride of Africa: Trade Haste for Scenery and History

With the modern stresses of life, it’s not surprising that travellers seek an escape from their daily routine and working lives. If you are among those who yearn for a change that encompasses new scenery, smells, and tastes, then let the Pride of Africa whisk you away gently on what may be your best adventure yet.

If you’ve never travelled through southern Africa, yet you’ve read or heard about its remarkable landscapes and wildlife, then touring by luxury train along snaking mountain passes past beautiful indigenous fauna and flora will present the perfect first encounter with the Mother continent.

Rovos Rail Station, Capital Park, Pretoria

Your journey will commence at Rovos Rail Station in Capital Park, Pretoria. Although Pretoria is not usually considered a “not to be missed” tourist city, it is still photo-worthy. During summer, Pretoria is awash with periwinkle and lavender as jacaranda trees reveal delicate blossoms – it can almost be compared to cherry-blossom season in Japan.

Walking onto the property, beautifully restored locomotives stand glistening in the sun, ready to transport guests on world-class adventures, while a resident peacock parades proudly in the background, showing off his striking plumage. As you glance at the station building, you’ll notice that Victorian and Edwardian architectural style is alive and well, and inside, the atmosphere is no different: elegance and romantic 1920s nostalgia is a key theme at Rovos.

Once guests have settled in at Rovos’ station lounge, they can look forward to hearing from Rovos Rail owner Mr Rohan Vos on what to expect during their chosen journey aboard the Pride of Africa. Drinks and snacks are served, while guests get acquainted with one another before boarding the train.

The Pride of Africa

The Pride of Africa’s carriages date back as far as the early 1900s. The décor inside is truly exquisite and guests can look forward to enjoying the luxuries of a modern lifestyle juxtaposed against dark wood panels, polished teak furniture, and soft emerald and gold carpets. Those who wish to read up on Africa during the journey are welcome to explore the small library. Smokers needn’t worry about when their next smoke break will be as there is a smoking room on board, as well as a gift shop for purchasing African souvenirs to take home for family and friends. The most exciting part has to be the observation deck from which passengers can admire the scenery as it rolls past, breathe in some fresh country air and snap wildlife. It doesn’t matter where on the train you sit as huge glass windows enable guests to peek out every so often and take in the dramatic landscapes. Depending on which journey you undertake, the landscapes change from rivers to vineyards, mountains, meadows and small towns.

Train cabins

The Royal Suite

The Pride of Africa has three cabin classes, all of which are en-suite. The Royal Suite, the size of half a carriage, has two plush armchairs, a soft double bed (or side-by-side twin beds), a writing desk, a fully stocked mini fridge, and a wardrobe with a built-in safe. The en-suite bathroom has a heater and heated towel rails, which is a necessity during cold mornings and evenings. The Royal Suite is the epitome of Victorian opulence with its handsome wood panelling and original light fittings which cast an inviting amber glow throughout the cabin. The spaciousness of the cabin allows for privacy, comfort and luxury.

Rovo Rail Royal Suit Layout

 

The Deluxe Suite

The Deluxe Suites are slightly smaller than the Royal Suites, although they too have a private lounge area and an en-suite bathroom with a shower. The suite also comes with a refurbished sleeper couch and a stocked mini fridge with a choice of beverages.

 

Rovos Rail Deluxe Suite Layout

The Pullman Suite

The Pullman Suites offer comfortable sleeper couches, which can be converted to double or twin beds in the evening. The Pullman’s are also en-suite but only have a shower. The room is equipped with a mini bar fridge too.

Rovos Rail Pullman Suite LayoutNo matter which room you choose, you can always expect to return to a clean room in the evening. While guests enjoy their dinner in the dining cart (dinner time is announced by a gong), beds get turned down and lights are dimmed. You’ll find out first-hand how incredible it feels to lie in a soft bed with fine linen, while the clickety-clack of the train lulls you to sleep.

 

Dining aboard the Pride of Africa

Dinners aboard the Pride of Africa are grand affairs: expect gentlemen in suits and ladies in elegant dresses. Here, only the finest threads with equally dazzling jewellery and cufflinks are on display. Guests are seated around tables with starched tablecloths and napkins, while food is served in fine china and drinks in crystal goblets. Rovos’ five-course cuisine celebrates South Africa’s local delicacies, so expect to see lobster, Cape bobotie, and slow-roasted Karoo lamb shank on your plate. For dessert you’ll enjoy jam-glazed sago pudding, dark chocolate fondant, milktart and koeksisters – a true feast for the palate. Experience aboard truly rivals that of any five-star hotel.

The Pride of Africa undoubtedly lives up to its name as the most luxurious train in the world. If you’d like to be a part of this phenomenal sightseeing journey, have a look at our selection of itineraries – the hardest decision will be choosing the one for you.

 

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