Friday, 15 October 2010

Carfree in Canada

Canada is a big country, especially when you have relatives to visit there. Relatives in British Columbia. Which is on the Pacific Coast. And relatives in Nova Scotia. Which is on the Atlantic coast. Seeing them on one trip was going to be a challenge. Or an opportunity, as ghastly management-speak has it. So we decided to really see Canada, on one of the world’s great rail journeys, rather than just fly over it. First on The Canadian, which runs three times a week from Vancouver to Toronto, and vice versa, a journey of around 2,775 miles or 4,446 km. And then on The Ocean from Toronto to Halifax, a mere 836 miles, or 1,346 km. Around 6,000 km in total. We decided to get out along the way and explore some of Canada’s cities, and were glad that we did. But you could stay on The Canadian and not set foot on terra firm for around 90 hours spending 4 nights on the train – either in your own sleeping cabin (as we did), or in the kind of bunk beds that featured in Some Like It Hot, taking a chance on whether you end up above or below Marilyn Monroe, Jerry Lewis or Jack Lemmon. article-0-0625A4FC0000044D-432_468x321 If you don’t want to risk the Marilyn/Jerry scenario, or don’t want/can’t afford to pay for a bed, you can hunker down in a reclining seat. Despite the fact that the service is run by ViaRail, Canada’s state-owned rail passenger company, The Canadian is less a mode of transport, more a land cruise: no speed records are endangered as the 20+ stainless steel carriages dating from the 1950s make their stately progress through the Rockies, across the plains of Alberta and Saskatchawen, and on to Toronto past the lakes and forests of Ontario. P1030230 res c (2) (We clocked it at around 40mph through most of the Rockies, but it did get to 80mph across the prairies). Travelling on The Canadian is unlike any other train I’ve been on, certainly in Europe. There are many things that you can’t do on most trains. But The Canadian is not like most trains. Just to prove it, here are some things that you can do on The Canadian:

1 Take a shower R

2 Go to the lavatory in your own private bathroom, should you choose to do so (assuming that you booked a “room”)

3 Wait for ages on a side track while a succession of 2 mile long freight trains pass by, since they always take priority over the few passenger trains

4 Go for a 20 minute walk - from one end of the train to the otherP1030343 res c

5 Eat pecan-crusted pacific halibut in the dining car

6 Spot an enormous black bear sniffing the air, not 5 metres from the tracks as the train approaches a station (Jasper in the Rockies)

7 Move your art-deco stainless steel armchair around the cabin (it folds down when the beds are made up)

8 Get on or off the train using steps provided by a member of train crew

9 Pass through four time zones

10 Listen to a winsome singer serenading en routeP1030219 res c

11 Occasionally, and disconcertingly, go backwards, sometimes for several miles…

But, despite the stops, the reverses and the generally stately progress, we really enjoyed riding the Canadian rails. Once in a lifetime? Probably.

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