as promised this week I am going to share with you our wonderful train journey – if you live in South Africa or are planning to visit I highly recommend it as a great way to see some of the countryside. The train trip would normally be out of our budget but they had a special on in September half price so we were able to take up the opportunity of a lifetime! Katie, my youngest daughter and I flew to Johannesburg to catch the train in Pretoria and make our way back over the 1600km journey, for two nights to Cape town.
Rovos Rail has its own little railway station, complete with museum in Pretoria. Here we were met by the staff and shown to a waiting room where we were given a talk on the history of the train and told what to expect. We had a beautiful spacious cabin (in terms of train cabins) with en suite shower – I don’t recommend trying to stand in a shower or put your make up on whilst the train is moving, the eyeliner effects were particularly interesting!
I soon got chatting to people on the train (much to my daughter’s embarrassment who said I talked to much) and got to know people from all over the world, including Switzerland, Netherlands, Brazil, Nigeria, UK, USA, Australia, Singapore and of course different parts of South Africa. The atmosphere was friendly and charged with excitement as we set off on our journey.
We travelled overnight to Kimberley Diamond mine where we were taken by bus from the train and given a tour. As you probably know it is the world’s largest man-made excavation, the Big Hole. We got to see some of the largest diamonds in the world, about 50 times the size of the one on my finger (:) and were able to walk through a re-creation of the streets of the original 18th century town. It was hot and dusty so was a relief to get back to our nice cool cabins where we were given drinks in the observation car. The observation car is where all the socialising takes place and there is an open deck at the back which is particularly exciting. One of the unusual features of the train was that it had windows that opened fully so you could hang out – they even provided goggles so you did not get dust in your eyes.
Meals are served in the dining car and I was surprised that the plates, glasses etc did not rattle or move around, but remained perfect still – it’s great to be eating good food whilst looking out the window at passing scenery. It was another story trying to move our way through 7 carriages down the narrow little passageways to dinner in high heeled shoes with the train jerking and swaying from side to side! In the end I took them off. Each time your cross a carriage you have to leap across an opening where the carriages are joined, you can imagine what an adventure this was for an eleven year old girl – not to mention a 50 something young lady!
We travelled on overnight through the Karoo desert and next morning arrived at the historic village of Matjiesfontein; this authentic perfectly preserved Victorian Village – founded by Mr Logan as a refreshment stop in 1890. A funny little story attached to this – the founder realised that this was the only stop en-route from Cape town to the diamond mines and there were no refreshments available so he decided to start up a refreshment stand. He would sell a cup of soup to the train passengers, but as the train only stopped for 15 mins they were unable to eat it as it was too hot, so they would hand it back. He would then re-heat the soup and sell it on to the next lot of train passengers that came through!
One of the highlights of our stop in Matjiesfontein was the museum – it was jam packed full of artefacts and amongst them I found two beautiful pieces of very old needle painting embroidery worked by one of the ladies resident in the town at that time, about 1895. Unfortunately I had to take the photo through glass and could not get close enough but I think you will be able to see a bit of it. They were badly worn and in need of restoration, worked on quite a coarse linen fabric with fine silk. I examined them closely and was surprised to find that the technique differed very little from our technique today – they seemed to use long and short stitch, satin and split stitch for outlines. The long and short stitches were quite short and staggered – well blended into each other with one strand of silk thread. I also saw a lovely silk fan worked in surface embroidery and a Chinese piece of clothing worked in satin and chain stitches.
That afternoon we passed through some stunning scenery in the Eastern and Western Cape before arriving back in Cape town that night. It felt as though we had been away for a week, Katie loved it and it was like nothing I had ever experienced before or probably will again.
Next week I hope to give you a sneak preview into the new book, meanwhile wherever you are be it winter, spring, summer or autumn have a wonderful week and many happy stitching hours. Trish