Riding South Africa’s Premier Classe Train, Part 1

Back in the days of Imperialism, where Africa was carved up and occupied by various European nations, there was a man by the name of Cecil Rhodes that had a dream. And it wasn’t exactly tricking the world into thinking diamonds are incredibly rare (though as the founder of the diamond company DeBeers – he had a significant role in that), it was the dream of a railway stretching across Africa. Rhodes’ dream – the Cape to Cairo Railway – was never realized. Though portions of it were built, the British colonies never achieved a direct line from Egypt down to South Africa. Today, some tourist agencies offer Cape to Cairo rail tours, taking the train on the pieces of rail that do exist, and either flying or busing over the parts that don’t. I think this is what first captured my interest about Africa, and I decided I would love to go ride the trains there. The only difficulty was that these train tours (specifically Cape to Cairo) were extravagantly expensive – some of them costing more than my yearly salary. Sticking to one country, South Africa, was probably my best bet. Enter the Premier Classe train.

The rail route between Cape Town and Johannesburg for tourists is serviced by a few different companies. Both the Blue Train and Rovos Rail are quite fancy – and with their one way ticket price of around two to three-thousand dollars, well out of my price range. The Premier Classe, however, is still a bit fancy with with five-course dinners and such, but has a ticket price of around three-hundred dollars. I pretty much booked my trip entirely around the Premier Classe train, which has two departures weekly, and it was supposed to be the highlight of my trip. Instead, it was a massive frustration.

I have a bit of difficulty in retelling my experiences on the Premier Classe. Did I enjoy it? Was the food good? How were the accomodations? Well yes, the train was enjoyable, the food was amazing, and the accommodations were pretty good. If the train wasn’t about eight hours late, it probably would have been a spectacular journey! I never got to see anything in Johannesburg (beyond the airport) – as the train was so late we missed our tour. I thought I’d at least be able to walk around the train station and take photos while waiting for the train, but I was told that first of all, it probably wasn’t safe, and secondly, my camera would be quickly confiscated by the rifle-carrying police officers roaming around the station.


In Cape Town began the game of people attempting to determine how my friend and I were related. Though friends and coworkers were never suggested, there were a few people that thought we were either sisters, lesbians, or even mother and daughter. In the case of the Premier Classe, they just thought my friend was actually a guy.

Cape Town station wasn’t exceptionally beautiful – probably a bit too sterile white for my taste – but there were some gorgeous tile mosaics on the floor and walls. The outside had a few mosaics of early trains, horsecars and omnibuses, one of which I did manage to get a photo of. Since I have so many photos of the journey, I’ll be doing two parts. This first part appropriately shows the first part of the journey from Cape Town.

  
 
  
 
 
   
  
 
  

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