A Ride on the Gautrain

The flight that would take Gareth and me to Zambia for our African Adventure holiday was scheduled to fly out late on a Monday morning, which made dropping us off at the airport a little inconvenient. So we decided to take the Gautrain instead. We had originally considered taking one of the shiny golden busses to the station, but my mother really wanted to drop us off, and as it turns out it was lucky she did, because the Gautrain bus drivers were on a strike that day and no busses were running.

Since the Gautrain is South Africa’s first high speed train, it is still a novelty to most people and we’d heard that it could get quite crowded. I later found out that this is still true over weekends, but on that Monday morning after rush hour, the station was all but deserted.

The first thing we had to do was buy a Gold Card and this is where we had our second hiccup with their service – their credit card machines were offline and they could only accept cash. There’s no ATM inside the station, so I was left with the luggage while Gareth went in search of a bank. After he had returned with the money, we made use of the self-service kiosk to buy two Gold Cards and load them up with enough credit to get us to the airport. A single trip from Hatfield to OR Tambo costs R125 per person, and my miserly self cringed at the expense, but I decided to make peace with it and think of it as part of the adventure.

 
 

We scanned our Gold Cards to enter the station, went down the escalator and found the train ready and waiting for us. There were only a handful of people sharing the compartment with us, so we managed to get good seats from which to enjoy the scenery. As we sat there waiting to depart, I recalled the daily train ride I used to take from Penarth to Cardiff while still living in Wales. I loved taking the train back then. Even though I did it every day, the novelty never wore off. I had twenty minutes every morning and every afternoon in which to read my book or watch the countryside pass by. If the Gautrain station was closer to home, I would jump at the chance to do it again, but as it is it would take me longer to get to Hatfield during rush hour than to drive all the way to Centurion.

And then we were off. As I gazed out the window, I realised for the first time that Pretoria is actually a beautiful city. One never gets to appreciate the old architecture and the Union Buildings and the jacaranda trees while driving. I had a good look at Unisa towering over the highway, and in the distance the Voortrekker Monument beckoned.

We zoomed past the cars on the N1 at 180km/h and before we knew it we had arrived at Malboro, where we had to swap trains to head to OR Tambo. The 30 minute wait between trains went by relatively quickly and when the train swooshed into the station Gareth and I tried to see who could get the best picture of it (he won). Ten minutes later we were at the airport.

Although we’d spent our morning commuting, we’d already forgotten about work and left the stress of driving in traffic behind. Our holiday was off to a good start.

Click here for more posts in the African Adventure 2011 series.

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