Tag Archives: Cape Town

A Dad and his Daughter go on a Train Date

Rovos Rail Dad and daughter date

We recently received a lovely letter from a Dad who decided to treat his 11-year old daughter to a train trip. What fun and what a special Dad and and daughter date!

Mr Pflaum travelled our two-night Cape Town journey with his daughter, Léonie, and other than a glowing report they also sent us images and a video from their time on the train and in South Africa!

Dear Brenda,

I don’t have words to describe our journey a few days ago. It was just a blast! It was a dream of mine for several years to do that – but I had to wait, until my oldest daughter was old enough to realize all of it and enjoy it. Léonie (my daughter) is 11 years old and she never felt bored on the whole journey – she would like to extend for another 1 or 2 nights! I pick out one of my girls for some of my travels and this time Léonie was the one who could enjoy South Africa with me. I attached a few photos of us ;-D

We’ve expected a lot – but all our expectations were surpassed! From the Pretoria station, the train, the stops, the great crew on board (with Heinrich – our favorite in the restaurant ;-D) and the great welcome speech of your father. The most impressive part – beside of all the overwhelming rest – was, that your father even made it to Cape Town to say Good Bye with a handshake and some nice words. I was stunned and the journey was worth every Rand we spent – even much more! I can’t describe it with words…!

Thanks to the whole team – in the front and in the back to make something like that possible! Not only to invest with an “all-in” strategy in something new, to have a vision of something great and to realize the vision in an even better way – but to keep it up so many years and still be in the front, searching the contacts with the costumers directly and share the vision as a “once in a lifetime experience”!

I really hope that I can come back very very soon to show this to the rest of my family – my other two daughters and my wife. Thank you all so much and keep everything as it is! My English is limited, so I don’t have other superlatives for everything. But please hug your father from our side – as well from my daughter! Next time, if we see him, we will do it personally! THANK YOU!!!

Here you find a little trip report video from us, which I just created with my iPhone (together with a little soundtrack, which I created together with a good friend back in Kingston, Jamaica). If you have some time, feel free to watch it: https://youtu.be/krB0iYX6YE8

Ah yes: Did I say THANK YOU already? If not: THANK YOU for everything! I had and I will spread this great experience with many others!

And Dad of the month goes to you Mr Pflaum! Thank you for your kind words, they certainly brightened up our Monday and made us feel very content with the work we do here at Rovos Rail.

To all Dad’s out there – bring your daughters on a date with us! As you can see it’s a spoil that does wonders for what is a very special relationship.

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Rovos Rail Cape Town journey

The Luxury of the Slow Lane

We recently hosted journalist, Eugene Yiga, on board one of our Cape Town journeys and we’re still talking about what a lovely gentleman he is! Thank you for travelling with us Eugene and thank you too for the articles you’ve written, the most recent being for Business Day Live.

Rovos Rail bring back luxury of slow lane

The dinner gong sounds. Is it 7.30pm already? I can’t believe I’m going to be late because I can’t choose a tie. Why did I pack so many? And why can’t I remember how to make a knot?

I put on my jacket and head down the passage, unsure for a moment whether I’m going the right way. Then I arrive at the table, take a seat and sigh in relief. My rushing thoughts are forced to quiet when I find myself captivated by the scene.

This is the dining carriage of Rovos Rail, recently voted by Wired.com as one of the seven most luxurious train in the world. My first impulse is to reach for my phone — not to distract myself with a podcast or an e-book, but to take photographs of the crystal wine glasses, the silverware and the rest of the luxurious scene.

The same impulse strikes when the first course arrives. Given my work as a writer, the standard procedure would be to “compose” the plate, angle the camera, take the picture, crop, filter, tag, tweet and post. Then there’d be endless refreshing in the hopes of “likes” and retweets, all the while hoping the food would still be warm when I took my first bite.

But it’s different here. With no phones allowed at meals, all I can do is sit back and savour the highlights that never fail to impress. Balsamic and lemon-marinated slices of ostrich fillet served on a potato, beetroot, walnut, and watercress salad. Grilled Cape rock lobster tails with a haricot-flavoured bisque cream, Mediterranean vegetables, and lemon rice. Garlic and lemon grilled prawn skewer on a green salad, with a julienne of peppers, mange tout, and cucumber, drizzled with coriander and ginger dressing.

Alone with my thoughts, I wonder about our tendency to document every moment with our smartphones, instead of just experiencing them for what they are. Are we trying to make our Facebook friends jealous of what we remember or are we afraid of what we might forget? And are we, as Om Malik wrote in The New Yorker, a society that photographs everything, but looks at nothing?

At the end of the meal, as many jetlagged passengers retire to their suites with weary smiles and polite nods, I sip on mint tea, grateful that a single dinner seating on all Rovos Rail train trips means no rushing guests out to prepare for the next group. My thoughts turn to the nature of our journeys through life, which has been on my mind since my 30th birthday two days before.

I look out the window and see an airplane overhead, its lights flashing like a pulse against the night sky. I wonder about the passengers travelling the same distance in two hours that I’ll do in two days. And I reflect on the stress of my most recent flight: repacking bags at the counter, breathing artificial air that almost made one sick and experiencing turbulence so severe that all I could do was laugh.

Of course, road journeys are no better when you consider that a bus is like a smaller, slower plane and a car is like a smaller, faster bus. You might not be next to the understandably frazzled mother and her screaming twins or the overweight man and his overpowering cologne, hogging the armrest and disturbing your nap every time he opens another bag of chips.

You might even remember to pack your own food, lest you waste money on stale petrol station pies. But with traffic jams causing delays and the physical stress of driving, you end up just as tense.

But life is different on the train. With an average speed of just 45km/hour, there’s no rush to get from Point A to Point B. It doesn’t even matter that there are often delays outside the operator’s control — they share tracks, after all — because it’s easy to make up the time later. Besides, it’s not like anyone notices. All that matters to me and the 35 other passengers is using the journey as an opportunity to press pause.

And so, after leaving Pretoria on Friday afternoon, touring Kimberley on Saturday, and visiting Matjiesfontein on Sunday, we approach Cape Town. As we enjoy our final afternoon tea in the observation car, the international guests gasp and point, their cameras out to capture what they’ve been waiting for. It’s Table Mountain and their excited expressions are much like the one I had when I saw the Pyramids of Giza for the first time. But I can’t share in their joy because the moment I’ve been dreading is upon me. Cellular signal is back.

My phone spasms, tempting me to attend to it the way it always does. I take one look at the screen’s cluttered notifications and set the device to flight mode to enjoy a few more moments of peace. Even when we arrive at Cape Town station, and I’m taking a short Uber trip home, the city I’ve lived in for 12 years feels brand-new.

Journey over, I continue to wonder why we’re always rushing from one moment to the next; moving and chasing and striving instead of just slowing and stopping and being.

Why are we so afraid to be still, alone with nothing to distract us but our thoughts?

And why did this weekend journey, out of all the experiences I’ve been fortunate to have, leave me feeling so blissed out? Perhaps it’s because, as the modern world continues to yank us into the future at an ever faster pace, taking time out to slow down and relax is the greatest luxury of all.

To contact Eugene, visit his website or e-mail him on hello@eugeneyiga.com

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The Magic of Train Journeys!

We recently had the pleasure of welcoming Canadian author and travel writer, Margaret Deefholts, on board the Shongololo Express on the Good Hope-Golf tour. Margaret is the co-founder of Travel Writers Tales and shared her experience on the company’s website.

On and off the Rails in South Africa

By Margaret Deefholts

There is an enormous shudder, a loud clanking jolt…and wheee, we’re off! I peer out of my window as the sign “Cape Town” on the railway platform slides away into my past. We are moving…new horizons beckon.

Oh the magic of train journeys!

Sholongololo, the train I’m riding on, is aptly named after the Zulu or Xhosa word for millipede. It curves sinuously along the rails, through the African landscape –the sky bending like a blue bowl over the grassy veldt stretching to the distant horizon.

                              Shongololo Express Southern Cross  8aSholongololo-observation-deck

The last couple of days have been memorable ones. Although Cape Town is now folded into the past, it is nonetheless as sharply etched in my mind as its iconic Table Mountain that stands high and proud against the sky, the city’s buildings sprawling in its shadow, and the dark blue ocean prowling its beaches.

Along with a group of friends, I’ve sat entranced on the upper deck of a hop-on-hop-off Cape Town bus, watching the road curve and dip past beaches thronged with surfers, and sun-worshippers, the sands bleached blonde in the blaze of the afternoon sun and where the breaking surf shudders and roars. Palatial homes line the seafront, vivid bougainvillea creepers showering down their whitewashed walls but I notice that many are topped with snarls of barbed wire.

The dining car tables glitter with fine china and silver cutlery set out on crisp linen tablecloths. This first dinner, like the rest of the meals throughout our 13-day journey on the Sholongololo is five-star quality. Our breakfast buffets boast a variety of pastries, juices, cereals and fruit platters, riotous with color as a Cezanne still-life painting; our dinners consist of dainty appetizers, sumptuous veal, chicken or fish main courses, and rich desserts. All served by our gracious, smiling African waitresses. At the end of our journey the chief chef and his kitchen staff get a well-deserved standing ovation from appreciative guests.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

The Sholongololo experience is more than just a train ride. I am lulled to sleep each night by the roll and rhythm of the wheels, but after breakfast we spill out onto station platforms and board coaches to be whisked off into day-long excursions accompanied by our fun-loving and knowledgeable driver-guides.

And there is so much to see. South Africa’s natural beauty is on display as we stroll its lush tropical gardens, drive through rolling countryside, and over craggy mountain ranges, past vertiginous canyons and rushing streams. There are magnificent sunsets that set the sky is on fire, and fierce afternoons when the sun is at white heat.

At the Cape of Good Hope, the wind is a hysterical banshee, and we watch gigantic rollers as high as twenty to thirty feet rushing madly to the rocky shore, and breaking into enormous clouds of spray that blot out the skyline. The unending roar and hiss of the primordial ocean—its fathomless depths and its furious and intense energy is like staring at eternity. These waters are the haunt of the legendary phantom ship, The Flying Dutchman, the sight of which is regarded by sailors as a harbinger of doom.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

Leaving the heaving sea behind we visit Boulders, where a colony of hundreds of Cape Penguins waddle around on a beach some tending to their babies, others patiently sitting on eggs, or engaging in amorous couplings.

 5Penguin-Sanctuary

A couple of days later, a wetlands river cruise reveals a pod of impassive hippos, their droopy-lidded eyes and flaring nostrils floating just above the water; upstream, a crocodile suns itself among shoreline reeds.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

At Kruger National Park, we drive dusty trails past thorn bushes and trees with branches that twist into macabre silhouettes again the sky. Herds of antelopes, loping giraffes, Cape buffaloes, a lone leopard, and a group of rhinos wallowing gloriously in a mud hole are all subjects for our cameras. A baby Jumbo, ears flapping, breaks away from his group and makes a mock charge at us. But it’s only for show and fun over, he takes off after his Mum as she crashes through the trees.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

A visit to a Zulu settlement is a popular tourist attraction and we sit bemused at the closing item – an energetic and vastly entertaining Zulu warrior dance.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

And then, there are moments of sober reflection as we explore the now extant Kimberley’s DeBeer diamond mine, a place of sudden death and tragedy in 1914 after which the mine closed down.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

In Durban the beaches bordering the placid Indian Ocean are thronged with holiday crowds, as are the shopping arcades where we gleefully buy curry spices from Indian merchants who have lived in the city for generations.

Indian-spices-by-Sara-Marlowe

(Image via Eat Out)

Africa’s dark days of apartheid are on show as well. In Johannesburg, we tour Number 4 jail at Johannesburg’s Constitution Hill and are sickened, by the egregious prison brutality once meted out to blacks inmates. Later we walk the streets of Soweto, past Desmond Tutu’s home and linger to read emotional tributes carved on stones that are placed on the sidewalk in front of Nelson Mandela’s house.

Shongololo Express Southern Cross

 

All good things must come to an end, and we bid a reluctant farewell to the hard working, efficient and hospitable staff on board the Sholongololo and our driver-guides who have made this holiday such a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

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IF YOU GO:

Note: Having recently been acquired by Rovos Rail, the Sholongololo train carriages are to undergo a complete overhaul as many of the compartments are old and cramped and several fittings are in need of repair. The train will be back in service in August and details of dates and prices are available on their website.

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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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“Let’s Open Guesthouses!”

“Let’s open guesthouses”, he said. “Should be a piece of cake compared to the trains”, he added. We all closed our eyes and watched him jump into another business venture with arms and bank account wide open! The he we’re referring to is of course, Rohan Vos, our formidable owner and CEO.

In 2009, Rohan purchased two properties within walking distance from one another. The first was no. 94 Main Road, a house called ‘The Homestead’, and the second was no. 108 Main Road which we called St James Manor. Both homes are in a beautiful area of Cape Town called St James, which is in between Muizenberg and Kalk Bay on the southern peninsula. St James is historically known as ‘millionaire’s mile’ and this well-to-do little suburb is squeezed between the rocky shore and a steep mountain, and measures about 200m by 2 km. St James beach is well known for its trademark colourful Victorian bathing boxes and large tidal pool. 

In April of 2010, after an extensive renovation, Rovos Rail officially opened the door to its first guesthouse, St James Manor. Built over 100 years ago, the Manor has an aura of grandeur and old-world charm with a magnificent wood-panelled staircase leading up to five large suites and a standard twin, each of which bears the name of historic, local characters of St James.

St James Homestead, the second guesthouse, sat quietly for two years before Rohan began renovating this beautiful home. In fact, the work done almost constitutes a rebuild as the house was originally built in the 1800’s and needed a great deal of careful and meticulous craftsmanship to preserve its historic aesthetics.

The Homestead’s story is one of humour and drama, which is quite fascinating. Upon taking ownership of The Homestead in 1867, Heinrich Pieter Hablutzel made additions to the existing building, one of which — the “Wall of Hate” — was to gain him notoriety. This occurred after the owner of next door Seaforth House, William Farmer, built a home closer to the Main Road (despite agreeing not to) and blocked out the view from The Homestead across the bay to Simon’s Town. In response, Hablutzel built a high wall on the edge of his property closest to Seaforth, which cut out part of its view of False Bay and the Hottentots Holland mountains as well as some early morning sun which Farmer had enjoyed. A court case ensued where Farmer tried to compel Hablutzel to demolish the wall, but he lost the case. Hablutzel then raised the wall by another two metres (six feet). He owned The Homestead for 35 years and his estate sold it to Archbishop William West Jones, first Archbishop of Cape Town, in 1902.

Interestingly, Rohan purchased Seaforth House in December of 2010 and officially opened it as St James Seaforth in 2011.

And, so now, we’re in the business of guest houses. We think we might try ships next!

Rovos Rail Guest Houses  Rovos Rail Guest Houses

Rovos Rail Guest Houses  Rovos Rail Guest Houses
Together with Big House, a production company in Cape Town, we put together a video to showcase our lovely properties.

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Chasing Trains

Written by Brenda Vos

Chasing trains to make movies. What a way to kick off 2013! I had no idea how exhausting, hot or nerve-racking it would be. At one point we were driving through the Karoo, car doors open with our cameraman hanging out to “get the shot”.

But let me start at the beginning.

It was quite soon into my new role at Rovos Rail that I realised our video collateral needed some serious updating. These shoots cost a pretty penny and it’s easy to push them to bottom of the list because operating trains is a costly business. But the way of the world is video and I wanted to create movie magic.

I enlisted the assistance of a production company, Big House, along with our trusted photographer and videographer, Ross Hillier. We’ve known Ross a long time and his work is beautiful. Plus he’s always up for any adventure and chasing trains ranks high on a list of cool things to do!

So off we set on a hot Pretoria afternoon to follow the train to Cape Town. None of us really knew what to expect and, if I’m really honest, I still can’t believe that not one punch was thrown! The temperatures were fierce, the driving fast and tedious, the nights late with only about two hours sleep each evening and meals were sporadic and junky. We waited alongside the train tracks in De Aar, in the Karoo, for over an hour and the recorded temperature was 42°C. But even in these tough conditions the funny banter never stopped and there were times when we all cried from laughter. There is just something special about putting the right group of people together, magic happens, and that’s what we shared on our three-day 1 500km quest.

Now fairly addicted to the adrenalin of a film shoot, I decided we needed to capture our Durban Safari too. KwaZulu-Natal and its Midlands has some of the most spectacular scenery that South Africa has to offer. The vegetation is tropical, lush and so blindingly green that the contrast between the arid Karoo, I knew, would make for beautiful footage.

So off we set again and aside from an initial vehicle breakdown that resulted in a hilarious afternoon spent in a mechanic’s garage in Alberton, this trip was far easier. The travel distance was just much shorter so there was less driving and more sleeping! But wow, did we see South Africa’s raw beauty. The train passes through a tiny station called Balgowan at about 6am, which is right next to Michaelhouse in the Midlands, and the mist that morning was all the colours of the most beautiful sunrise which seemed to blanket the train as it meandered slowly and quietly passed us. It was a sight and a feeling I will never forget. Another special moment was filming a time lapse of the sunrise on Mount Alice. Rovos Rail guests enjoy a fascinating lecture on the Anglo-Boer War on Mount Alice so we snuck up a bit earlier to capture the valley at sunrise and to film the lecture given by raconteur, Ray Herron.

It was a few months later, at the beginning of winter, that I realised I didn’t have enough footage of guests on board so I sent the crew on another Cape Town journey but this time they got to travel on board. On the second evening, the train parks at a siding called Gemsbok, situated somewhere in the Karoo, and the crew braved the wintry temperatures to film a time-lapse of the beautiful night sky. Being city slickers, a sky on fire is not something often seen so it had to be captured and was a magical experience even in the sub-zero temperatures.


My only real job on all of these shoots was to ensure guests were happy, to keep the crew fed and to pay for fuel! But one thing I did do was film our adventures on my iPhone. The footage was used to make a behind-the-scenes video which, I admit, is mostly just for our memory banks and entertainment but if you would like to see the escapades then click here.

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