Ray Burns' Canadian Journey
VIA Rail's Special "Romance by Rail" Package
Coast-to-Coast Halifax to Vancouver
Travelogue & Photos
Note: If you wish to take this trip yourself, be sure to ask about the VIA "Romance By Rail" Special Package. We have not seen much information about it in VIA's literature and there does not seem to be any information about it on VIA's website yet. However, it is available for travel in either direction between Halifax and Vancouver and for segments in-between. In addition to the special amenities provided, the "Romance By Rail" package features an extra large room with a large bed that is the result of combining two adjacent rooms.
Today is a big event. My wife Maria and I are going on our first long vacation. What makes it great is that it's the first time that she's been to Canada, the first time that she's flown with me, and the first time that she's going to be on VIA Rail. I am originally from Ottawa, so it will be nice to be back for a visit. Like everywhere else, time does not stand still, so I am pretty sure that my old haunts have changed significantly. Maria is originally from Mexico so the snow is an exciting feature to her.
We flew on United Airlines from Los Angeles to Chicago, leaving southern California around 7 AM Friday, February 18, 2000. It took the airplane a half hour before it could leave the ground (you train riders take note of that statement). My camera bag was 1/4" too large for the security baggage check (it is hard plastic so it does not flex) so I had to go back in line to check it on the airline.
The flight itself was fine, but awfully crowded and Maria & I were sitting in the center row. My, but those seats are awfully close to each other!
We got to Chicago just fine at 12:05 PM and after a little walk to switch airlines to Air Canada we were in for our first surprise. Our flight, like many others, was cancelled. It seems that a snow storm was working its way down to Toronto and it was also going to possibly hit Ottawa and Montreal. Well now, our reserved Air Canada flight was to leave Chicago at 2:40 PM but now our option was for standby status for 8:30 tonight. If we cannot get on that flight then our next option is for standby, again, tomorrow morning at 8:15. If we cannot get on that one then we (hopefully) get on our regular flight except it is 24 hours later. If we get stuck here for a few days then it would have been faster if we would have taken the train.
Flash! They just announced over the speakers that all flights into Canada today are cancelled because of the storm. It looks like the hotel tonight. This trip is getting more expensive already! We ended up staying at the Holiday Inn near the airport and had delivered pizza.
The alarm was set for 5 AM but we got up at 3. We just couldn't sleep. When we got to the airport at 6 a crowd was already there to meet us. It took a half hour in line before we got to the counter. Boris at the Air Canada counter was very gracious and helpful. So off we went to the boarding area to be ready as standby for the 9:15 departure flight on a smaller aircraft. If we don't get out on this one then we are regularly booked on the 2:40 PM flight, 24 hours after our original scheduled departure flight. Fortunately we did not have to deal with any of the luggage that was not "carry on". This jet carried something like 56 people so it was nice getting on a small plane again. The flight was nice and Ottawa was very lovely. It was cold outside but the sun was out and the view was very clear. We eventually got through customs and then it was just a matter for my brother Robert to pick us up at the airport.
The next day we went to the present Ottawa Train Station The original was large and a beautiful structure that was in downtown Ottawa, across from the famous Chateau Laurier Hotel, kitty corner from the Parliament Buildings. For some time now the powers to be built a new train station further away from downtown Ottawa that is a lovely structure in itself, but certainly lacks the grandeur lustre of a bygone era. Photographs of the Ottawa Train Station can be seen by using the links below. 360 x 360 immersion photos will be posted at a later date.
When I had finished, my brother Robert took me and my wife, Maria, and my two nieces, Catherine and Genevieve, to our 1 PM appointment at the Parliament Buildings. Maria and the kids went on a tour of the tower while we went to the library. Photographs of the majestic room as well as other location shots of the Parliament building can be seen by using the links below. 360 x 360 immersion photos will be posted at a later date. The Parliament library would be the Canadian version of the Library of Congress. It obviously is very lovely with its detailed woodwork, marble and stained glass. For those who are just dying to go to England to see the lovely stoneworks and castle like structures, go no further. Just come north to your northern neighbors and visit the Canadian Parliament Buildings and other impressive sites that await you. The Canadian populace has a strong history of being very friendly to their southern neighbors. I might ad that the Canadian $1.40 to the US $1.00 helps you go a lot further on your expenses. By all means, make sure that you take the Parliament tour. The cost is free, so what can I say.
That evening my brother, Robert, took me to my sister's house in Algonquin. This is a hamlet of over 120 people that is around 10 miles north east of Brockville, Ontario. Brockville is a nice little city of 22,000 people southwest of Ottawa on the banks of the great St. Lawrence River that separates our two great nations. While "stationed" at Algonquin for 5 days I went to the VIA train station in Brockville to take pictures, and also went to the The Brockville Tunnel, built between 1854 - 1860, which actually runs 1/3 mile under the city. It is the oldest railway tunnel in Canada. Built by the Brockville and Ottawa Railway Company to provide riverfront access, the tunnel proved to be a source of controversy. Some felt that it was unnecessary since a railway line could be built in the west end of the city, "at half the price in half the time."
For over a century the tunnel served countless passenger and freight trains. Regular service ceased in the 1950's but it was used by the waterfront industries until the late 1960's. In 1983, the tunnel was purchased by the city of Brockville. Both the north and south entrances were designated as historic sites in 1992. During the summer months visitors may enter the south portal to view the Brockville Museum exhibit which highlights the history of the tunnel.
Also in Brockville I took some pictures of the Fulford Place, a magnificent turn-of-the-century residence built for then Senator George T. Fulford, a patent-medicine magnate and successful marketer of "Pink Pills for Pale People". Don't laugh, this guy made millions with his pink pills. Who knows, maybe they actually worked to what was claimed. This is a restored 20,000 square foot mansion which is eclectic and elegant, featuring the ornate architectural details and internationally styled interiors so popular at the time.
Later I went to the Smith Falls Rail Museum of Eastern Ontario which is around 30 miles north of Algonquin. The station building housing the museum was built by the Canadian Northern Railway in 1914. As part of their transcontinental expansion they built the shortest direct line from Ottawa to Toronto, passing through Smith Falls. The CNoR became part of the Canadian National Railway and the line, and the station continued to be used until 1979. David Strong, president of the museum, said that their 400 foot platform has the distinction of being the longest wooden station platform in Canada. Smith Falls has a population in the 7 to 8 thousand area. They also have a few original cars for sale.
If you want to give yourself a little treat while in this area, also go to the Algonquin General Store in Algonquin on the corner of Algonquin Road and County Road 15. If you like going to quaint little country stores you will enjoy yourself here. Lorraine and Doug Symons are extremely hospitable, and the free coffee is there for your pleasure. Everyone likes coming in here to "the chat room," getting in from the cold. Doug is great at getting people that are lost going in the right direction to their destination. These people have a great sense of humor, so be prepared. You can fill up the car and the appetite as well. His wife Lorraine is a fun person to deal with but will counter your "dumb blonde" jokes. If you drop in here please tell them that "Ray Burns" sent you and say "Hi" for me!
Friday, February 25, 2000
I went over to the city of Prescott to see the VIA train station there. Prescott is much smaller than Brockville with a population of probably around 10,000 people. The small one story stone structure was closed but I took a few pictures of it. I am told that the train does stop there periodically.
It rained today but nothing like the "dump" that California got. A lot of snow has melted causing slush, which I have never liked. I hope the weather gets a little cooler so I can enjoy the snow a little longer. Remember, I don't have to work in it, just enjoy looking at it. I don't get to see much of it in southern California.
The nice thing about this area, like so many other quaint areas in the USA and Canada, is that you can always find great antiques and also that special item in the little stores that you just never seemed to find in the big city. Also, country folk, as a whole, have that country charm of friendliness, that great sense of humor that makes communication enjoyable. Maybe that's why so many of the locals come into the store and spread their local news to each other and have a few laughs in the process. Visitors are always welcome!
Sunday, February 27, 2000
I left Brockville for Ottawa February 27, Sunday night. Monday, the next day, my wife and I went to Montreal to see my aunt Thelma and her daughter Linda (my cousin), who in turn introduced me to her beau, Allen. We all had a great time. Most of us enjoy those fun family get togethers'. This was one of those times. Maria and I came back to Ottawa late that night.
Tuesday, February 29, 2000
Today we went to the Museum of Science and Technology. They also have a few large beautiful large steam trains there. There was a bunch of school kids there when we went in and they were having a ball. They had everything there from an elaborate space exhibition to original products from many years gone by. The entrance fee is $6 per adult but we were allowed in free. A nice present!
We then went to the Parliament Buildings and I took some more virtual pictures of the place. It was a great day for picture taking. This time I took them in the front, back, and side of Parliament. I then went across the street from the Chateau Laurier Hotel which is owned by Canadian Pacific Railways and took a few virtual reality pictures there as well. The structure that is across the street from the hotel was originally the Ottawa Union Train Station, and what a grand station it was. That grand place is now called the Congress Centre. This is the place where the Canadian Government holds conferences and large group meetings. Beside it is the Rideau Canal, and if the weather wouldn't have warmed up so much you would have seen many skaters skating on the ice of the canal in the picture that I took. It makes for a very colorful scene.
I then went to the Canadian War Museum where I visit every time that I come to Ottawa. The entrance fee here is $4 per adult. They have some great history here! In fact, you can see Hitlers' automobile there. Yes, it really does exist! There is four floors of history ranging from the Indians and the settlers to the present day. I once went in there and saw a Messerchmit ME 262, the first jet fighter ever used. Pretty neat looking at the real thing.
The next thing that we did was go to the Canadian Museum of Nature. This is another one of my favorite old haunts. This museum costs $5 per adult to enter. I remember when I was a young lad standing by a stuffed walrus. I was dwarfed by it! Lots of dinosaur remains, live animals as well as stuffed. A great display of mineral collection. This museum as well as the Canadian War Museum is in a stone structure that looks like a fort from England. Very different from what most of us are used to seeing in the local neighborhood. Another very educational place to see.
Years ago all of the museums in Ottawa had free entrance to the public but now it costs money to get into what the taxpayer's money paid for. That's like double taxation! I think that it's too bad that it's necessary (I assume) to do so now. I wonder how many kids that would enjoy going to these museums on a regular or even an irregular basis would like to visit these different museums, but cannot, because of the cost. These are wonderful places to educate the general public and I think that they can truly inspire the young minds of those who are fortunate enough to enter their halls.
Wednesday, March 1, 2000
Today my wife and I just took it easy. We stayed at the Gloucester home of my good friend Manuel and Marie Ledoux. We prepared everything for our VIA train ride from Ottawa, Ontario, to Montreal, Quebec, to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Tomorrow is the big day. I phoned my good friend Guy Faulkner at VIA in Montreal and he said that he will meet me at the Montreal train station tomorrow morning and we'll "go from there." I am looking forward to this adventure!
My brother Robert took me to the Ottawa
train station this morning and Mr. Ledoux came to see me off as
well. We checked into the first class lounge which is very lovely
and comfortable. We started to board the train before 9 AM as
the train leaves at 9:15. With my "adieu" to Mr. Ledoux,
my brother helped Maria and me to the train. We went to the first
class car and I must say that I am very impressed with it. There
is ample room to put your luggage away, a spacious rack to hang
your overcoats and a table at the first seat set as soon as you
enter. The seats do swing around to face forward or rearward on
the cars and the windows are huge. Each seat has a 110 volt electrical
outlet between the seats around calf level. It was the last place
that I looked trying to find it. A good place for it though. More
than ample space for leg room and of course the seats look great
and are very comfortable. The overhead bins have ample space and
the bin doors are easy to open and latch securely. A nice little
touch is that when you open a bin door it swings up securely out
of the way and a light comes on so you can see inside the bin
compartment. My great brother bid "adieu" to us both,
and we were off!
I might have seemed like a pest to the two staff people for the car as I was all over the place taking pictures of the interior of the train. Everyone must have thought that it was the first time that I was on a train, and they were right. On a VIA train! It was exciting for me and I did want to take pictures of every nook and cranny so I can pass it on to others who also have never been on VIA Rail. The passengers didn't seem to have a problem with me going to and fro snapping pictures but the car stewards didn't seem to appreciate my moving about. They seemed rather "rigid" to me. I think that they should change their attitude, as a happy customer is a repeat customer! In fact, the first car attendant that I met at a coach car prior to getting to my car gave a wise crack remark rather than answering my question. I told him to forget it and I walked on. However, another car attendant was more than gracious and genuinely friendly so he made up for the "laxy daisy" attitude of a few that forget why they are there in the first place. In fact he was an avid user of the Internet. Other than that, the trip was great. We all have "our days."
We were served cereal, fruit, yogurt and juice and the way that it was laid out was well done. The wide armrest between the seats swing-up and back and lo and behold two table trays pull straight up and swing down to open up for your food tray that slides in and locks on to your table tray. This prevents your food tray from slipping around. Very ingenious! I might also add that the restrooms are roomy. You shouldn't feel claustrophobic in them.
We got into Montreal before 11 AM and one of the friendly VIA porters helped us with our luggage and guided us upstairs to the baggage check in for our trip tonight to Halifax. It costs $2 for each baggage that they check in for you and of course it would be nice to give a little tip to the person that helps you upstairs with your luggage. He will put our luggage in our car room to Halifax while the luggage that was put in the luggage room would be put in the baggage car. After the baggage was taken care of I called Guy Faulkner, my main contact at VIA Rail. Guy is the webmaster for this company. He has a banner that rotates throughout theTrainWeb website. Click on his VIA banner or go to www.VIARAIL.com.
Guy was down to pick us up very shortly from his office and he
took us to lunch. Guy, like most French Canadians that I've met
are very friendly and hospitable. We traded information and in
general, had a good get together. He has good marketing ideas
for VIA. We will all benefit from that. It was Guy who set it
up for me to take pictures at the Ottawa, Montreal, and Halifax
train stations. A nice touch that I saw of the security personnel
in Montreal is that they wear great looking blazers with an impressive
crest sewn on to their outside breast pocket that signifies that
they are security. They look sharp! They blend into the crowd,
not stand out in it, but yet you can find them if you are looking
for them. It's refreshing not having to look at another black
I took a few virtual films at the Montreal Central Station as well as many regular pictures. One set of pictures that I took was a mock up of the dining car and a bar area. They leave it in the train station for people to see how pleasant it is inside the VIA cars. They also dismantle it to bring it to shows and then they bring it back when they are finished. It costs them $12,000 every time they dismantle it and also put it together again. I think that it's a great marketing tool as a lot of people get to see it. The public must constantly be educated as to what is available. This station is large and there is a lot to phototgraph. If I remember right, there are more than 52,000 people going through that station area daily. It doesn't mean that they are all taking the train, but rather is a thoroughfare for people that are in the tall building above as well as the surrounding area. Don't worry about getting jostled about as there is more than ample room to walk about. There is an ABUNDANT number of shops and restaurants linking to the station itself through the different tunnels and entrance ways. These are all first class establishments. No sloppy joints here. Everything is bright and tasteful. You'll enjoy going through these colorful areas, but be forewarned, there's an army of people down there at lunch time and during the rush hour.
After Guy had left and I was finished taking my pictures of the station, I checked in the baggage that I had in my possession and Maria and I went sightseeing for a few hours. I knew about where St. Catherine Street was as that is the "main drag" downtown Montreal. Colossal buildings have been built around the area but that particular street seemed to be pretty well the same as when I last saw it in the '60's. It was fairly cold out. I almost felt that I was in Hong Kong, meaning that it is an area that is very saturated with people. I'm glad that we didn't have too much time as my feet were getting to me. Women can manage to shop and continue to look around for long periods, but I, for one, am somewhat limited.
We managed to work our way back to the train station and pick up our luggage from the baggage room that we were initially carrying with us before. I didn't hear anything over the loudspeaker but I knew that it was getting close to my time to leave and I knew where to go so off I went to gate 14. A VIA staff member confirmed that you came from the lounge area (first class) and then greeted us by. Those people taking coach waited until "their turn" came and then they walked down the stairs to the train. We took the escalator down to the lower floor where the trains are located and other VIA staff are there to direct us to our cars. Fortunately my car was right there! Greg Dunphy the Service Attendant for my car (#23) was right there to welcome me aboard and direct us to our attached rooms "C" and "D". Greg later came in and explained everything about the room to us and was there for our beckoning call. What can I say? He showed up a little later and introduced me to M. Gordon LaRusic, Manager of Customer Services. Everyone here was out to make the journey as pleasant as possible.
Now I want everyone to understand that this is not just any trip.
This is a very special trip. It is called "Romance By Rail!"
It runs between Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Vancouver, British Columbia.
That's a 4,000 mile journey, my friends! However, this was the
first time that they ever set it up from Montreal to Halifax.
Maria and I get to go on the inaugural run on this "short
overnighter trip." We left Montreal around 3:44 PM on Thursday
and got into Halifax on Friday the next day around 4:00 PM. What
a lovely trip!
The "Ocean" run is 6 days a week (not on Tuesdays). The two classes of service is Economy and Easterly (First Class). There is a Maritimes "look and feel" to the bed and breakfast of the "Easterly" class, and the "Romance By Rail" fits into the "Easterly" class as beautifully as with the "Canadian" that runs between Toronto and Vancouver.
We had two full rooms and the center wall between the two rooms folded and slid away. So, we had a very large room with a king size bed in it and a lovely flower design on the blanket and great pillows and covers to match the blanket. Maria had a lovely bouquet of flowers waiting for her and a large bottle of Champagne was in a silver container with ice. That means that we each had our own private restroom on our own side of the bed as well as our own sink, mirrors, fans, lights and entrances. Two big picture windows with blinds gave us more than enough visibility to the outside world.
That evening Maria said "we never drink any kind of spirits but this is a special trip - like our second honeymoon, it's the real thing, and everything is here for us so let's go ahead and try the champagne for once." I thought about it for a few moments and then said "okay." Does it sound like the Adam and Eve story to you? I never popped a champagne cork before so it took a little thinking on my part to figure out how to "pop" the darn thing. When I did pop it I got that satisfaction of "I did it!" However, within moments some of the bubbly started to spill out of the bottle. That kind of freaked me out. Anyway, I only lost a small amount of liquid and then poured the cold bubbly into two champagne glasses that were provided to us for the occasion. It was giggling time from then on! We could only sip a little at a time because it made us sneeze. T'was strong for us, but made us laugh because of the fun of the occasion. We could only drink a glass of it at best so we gave the bottle to Greg, the car SA, and he said that "he'll find someone who will enjoy it. " I chuckled when I interpreted that to possibly have different meanings, but either way, it produced the results that I wanted. I didn't want that lovely bottle of bubbly going to waste! What a great marketing idea for VIA to come out with! I seriously suggest that you book your "Romance By Rail" early to reserve same.
Everything on these trains is heavy duty. Consequently one gets a sense of security knowing that you are surrounded by so much thick solid steel. I cannot help but feel the romance of bygone years being on these older cars. These are not imitation copies but are the real thing! Those Canadians that travel by train might take them for granted as that is what they have, but these are the cars that people purchase for their private use when they are fortunate enough to get a hold of one. Not only do you need the big bucks to afford one, but you need to cover the expense to have it pulled by an engine. Going by VIA is a great alternative if you want to go cheaper. However, you should also experience going by private railcar. It's great to experience every level of rail travel. They each have something different to offer. One thing that you can always give Canada credit for is that you never run out of great scenery. I love the backwoods and always enjoy its serenity.
VIA has the "Canadian" which runs from Toronto, Ontario to Vancouver, British Columbia. There is "Economy," and the "Silver and Blue" is a single berth and double berth respectively. There is one shower per car, and what a large shower it is. When you come out of the shower area itself, there is ample room to dry oneself and get dressed. People on the outside can tell if the door is securely locked or unlocked as the locking latch shows a different sign for each function. The shower is conveniently located just outside our large bedroom. They planned the "Romance By Rail" well!
There is a Skyline dome car with bar for every two Silver and
Blue sleeping cars that run between Toronto and Vancouver. On
my trainset, one dome car was forward of the dining car as well
as a smoking lounge and a card room. The other one was the last
car on the trainset. The corridor is on the right side of the
car as you are walking to the rear of the train. When you first
enter the car there are a few bedrooms that you pass and then you
will notice a room to your left that is a glass window encased
room from the waist up. This is a movie lounge with nice comfortable
leather seats exactly like they use in the first class lounges
in the VIA train stations. Their forest green color blends in
nicely with the decor, and a small manned bar is right there to
"wet your whistle." You then walk up a few steps to
a living room atmosphere and now you are at the very end of the
train. The end of the train is rounded but does have a door at
the very end. There are heavy duty chrome chairs all along the
wall on both sides of the car as well as large windows. There
is a table with large cookies in a large bowl for something to
chew on. Sometimes they have fruit and juice. When you turn around
and face towards the front of the car you are now looking at coffee
set up for your pleasure, the corridor is now to your left, and
in the center is a stairway that leads up into the dome
car. The side of the steps have lights on so you can see where
you're walking at night. The dome, by my guess, takes up about
1/3 of the top of the car. It is beautiful to look at and beautiful
to view the scenery from. The heavy chrome designed seats make
me think of the '50's era. There is so much to see in one trainset.
Like I said, it's like going back in time, and how sweet it is!
The snow melted while I was in Brockville and there was not much snow when I got back to Ottawa. Downtown Montreal didn't seem to have any snow, but when I went a few hours east of Montreal the snow started to come down. In fact, it was heavy snow everywhere and the cold was with it. Snow was coming down in large fluffs and the winter wonderland was back. Out here I saw the quaint little farms that I remember when I was a kid. This is the place of big hearty meals and long hard work. I'm sure many of you have been there and some still are. Now it's time to go out and enjoy a good long and relaxing train ride. Put your feet up, your seat back, relax, and enjoy the great scenery going by.
Thursday evening Maria had chicken noodle soup, roast beef with
small roasted potatoes and vegetables. I had fish chowder soup,
salmon, small roasted potatoes and vegetables and drank water.
We both had apple crisp and though I was to have yogurt with my
dessert, it sure tasted like ice cream. I also had a glass of great
tasting ginger ale and a glass of chocolate milk. The galley is
much smaller than the galley on AMTRAK but then again I think
that they don't serve as many people. The food was absolutely
excellent! I have had good food on trains before but this was
by far the best put together salmon meal that I have ever had.
By far! Maria is a very picky eater so I was surprised to hear
her say that she really liked her meal as well. So far they are
batting a 10 out of a 10. Stan Boudreau was the gentleman that
served me. I hope that the chefs on the other trains that I'm
going to be on will be as good as this one. There were 12 men
in the dining car and 9 of them were wearing a suit and tie. I
was one of the 3 "?". I really enjoy seeing that. It
puts "class" back into the art of travelling. Just like
it used to be. Of course the thing is to be comfortable so if
you'd rather wear sneakers and a t-shirt then do your thing.
Friday morning I had bacon and eggs, ginger ale and chocolate milk. I like the chocolate milk and their ginger ale, so bear with me. Maria also had bacon and eggs with low fat milk. Shawn Rebeck (spelling) served us for breakfast. For lunch we both had vegetable soup and I had a cucumber/tomato sandwich. Try it, you'll like it. Maria wasn't hungry so that was it for her. I had strawberry yogurt for dessert. By golly, it still tasted like ice cream. Stan Boudrea served us for lunch. The wonderful chef was Glen Hamilton.
We got into the Halifax station about 4:00 PM Friday about 20 minutes late. We had stopped outside of the city as snow buildup underneath the railcar sounds as if gravel is banging on the bottom of the car. That snow had to be removed, so that is what held us up for a few minutes longer. One doesn't normally think of snow building up on the bottom of a railcar like an automobile. When it's there then you kick it off. On a railcar I believe they use long wooden poles that have a large metal piece on the end of it that looks like a large hoe that has been leveled out. They use this tool to poke at the ice until it comes off. Interesting, eh?
Paul Beeswanger, the VIA Manager for Customer Services in Halifax stopped by our room and wanted to make sure that all was going well. We had a nice chat and enjoyed each other's company for a bit. He mentioned that they might put in a couple of ottomans (foot rest) with two chairs in our room instead of four chairs. These chairs, by the way, are heavy chrome like from the '50's and are very comfortable. What do I mean "like from the '50's," they are from the '50's."
Once stopped, Greg took our luggage off and got us a red cap. We said our goodbye and were then brought into the station with our luggage in tow. While waiting for the luggage from the baggage car I went around taking more pictures.
Gordon, our Service Manager happened to be walking by and we took a picture of each other. I really like that guy! Everyone turned out to be great on this trip. I'm looking forward to more of the same. All of the passengers picked up their luggage and pretty well dispersed from the station. I gathered my suitcases and put them together with the other luggage that Maria was watching and then put together our special camera and took some virtual pictures of the inside of the station. Of course I also took a number of regular digital pictures as well. Fortunately for us we did not have far to get to the hotel. At the inside entrance of the train station there is a walkway to the hotel. Of course you can go outside and walk to the front of the hotel and come in that way as well, but the shortcut looked good to us.
Prime Minister Diefenbaker as well as the Queen of England and her enterage have been to this hotel, as well as Prince Philip and his pretty wife Princess Diana and other "blue bloods." We checked in just fine but when we took the elevator to go up it went down a bit and stuck there. The buttons didn't take us anywhere and I hit the alarm button by mistake but I guess no one heard it, so I "grunted" and separated the two sliding doors apart until they were fully open and seeing as that we were only 18 inches or so lower than the main floor I had Maria get off and I took the luggage off and then closed the elevator doors so no one would fall in. I then tried the button again but the elevator didn't work. However, the other one did, so off we went to the third floor to room 317. I had a nice room, however I don't think that anyone had been in it for a while as it was pretty dusty. Like I said, we all have our days. We did have a room overlooking the bay and we were quite comfortable. The Westin is a lovely hotel and I would certainly recommend them to anyone. Maria was a little hungry but didn't want to go out so I ordered pizza. They don't put jalapenos on pizza up here.
Saturday we rested and took our time getting up. I got up at seven. What can I say? I'm trying to catch up on my travelogue. All work and no play is not the way. It was hard to stay on top of everything on the first run. Hotels are great for catching up on the writing part. By 11:00 AM we went downstairs and walked outside to the front of the train station and I took a virtual picture of that area. I notice that VIA has a large sign with their name prominently above the entrance way to the station. I wish that AMTRAK would do the same thing. Too many times I see a small sign squeakingly saying "Here I am." I think train companies should BLAZE it out like the horns on their engines. These are not meek little toys, this is the real thing so they should show that they are very proud of their services. Put the extra money in the budget. It is good marketing. You're worth it!!
We later walked around the area somewhat, looking at the old grand houses. We ate at an Indian restaurant and we ended up with two of the same thing even though we ordered different items. I hope that this is as bad as it gets. We came back to the hotel and rested for the rest of the day.
Today is Sunday and got up around 8:00 AM. We made sure that everything was ready for our trip out of Halifax. Our train out of Halifax to Montreal leaves at 1:15 PM so we checked out of the hotel at 12 noon. Remember, the hotel is right beside the train station. About a 20 second walk. I went to the baggage window and checked two suitcases to Vancouver. The agent was very friendly. Maria and I sat down to wait for the boarding call and lo and behold Gordon shows up. We had a nice little chat and it was good to see him again. His shift gets him off for four days so this is his "breathing" time. The call came for us to board and off we went. Our car, # 8226 was the third car from the very end.
The luggage carts are free for your use at the Halifax station and we did use one to get our luggage to and from the hotel and also to the train. I had Maria push it while I took some pictures of the last car which was facing the station. The consist from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Montreal, Quebec on this trip is:
8718 - last car/sleeper/dome
8203 - sleeper
8226 - sleeper (room C & D - for Maria and me)
8217 - sleeper
8219 - sleeper
8222 - sleeper
8401 - dining car
8505 - card room (6 tables)/smoking lounge/dome car
8134 - coach
8147 - coach
8138 - coach
8131 - coach
8623 - baggage car
? - engine
? - engine
Ms. Sandy Hache, our room attendant was outside to greet us as we got to our car. Ms. Stella-Marie Sirois, the Service Manager, touched base with us later and gave me some information that I needed. The room was just as beautiful as before with the exception of a different layout of flowers for Maria. We did go to lunch and split a vegetable cucumber/tomato/lettuce sandwich, just like I had before. We both had some yogurt for dessert, and I had a glass of chocolate milk. A good part of the day we both rested and looked at as much snow as we could because we figured we wouldn't be seeing any more once we get to Montreal and further west. We did have supper and Maria had Salmon which surprised me as she is not much of a fish eater. It turns out that she liked it! I had roast beef which was very tender and tasty. Yes, I did have chocolate milk again. Maria and I do not drink tea or coffee but we were offered it enough times. We actually prepared for bed early today as for some reason we were both tired. I did like raising the blind sometimes to look at all the beautiful snow outside. A winter wonderland!
Monday morning at 8:00 AM we were in Montreal. We followed the rest of "the herd" to the escalator and then we were inside the VIA train station. My cousin Karen was there to greet us and it was a lovely welcoming site. We first went to check our luggage in at the baggage room so they would put them in our room on the 11:30 PM Montreal, Quebec to Toronto, Ontario portion of our trip. Karen then drove us to her mother's house (my aunt Thelma who my brother Robert took me to visit the week before. Remember?) and after the happy greetings Maria and I washed our laundry and then sat down for a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs and all the other trimmings. After great conversation and some good laughs we were off again (with my clean laundry in the car trunk). This time Karen took me to old town Montreal. If you like old stone/brick/marble and wood architecture from the early 18th century then this is the place to come to. Quebec City, I am sure, is also a wealth of historic beauty.
Karen brought me to see her two sons, Julien and Maxim. They own and operate "Remstar". This is a company that makes movies. A few films that they have produced are "Grey Owl," starring Pierce Brosnan (the latest James Bond) - (Richard Attenborough's film), "The Patriot," starring Steven Seagal and "Resurrection," starring Christopher Lambert. After a bit, the two "boys" (who are like my nephews) with their mother, Karen, Maria and myself went down the street to one of those little French restaurants in a very historic French setting. I had barbequed shrimp and steak with my salad and fries and ginger ale. We all enjoyed each other's presence and had great conversation to go with it. After lunch the boys had to go to a meeting and Karen took us to a horse drawn carriage ride in old town, Montreal. The driver was very knowledgeable about the history of the different structures in the general vicinity. He was dressed in a long black cape, a tall black beaver hat, and had a great sense of humor to go along with his historical education. A fun trip well worth taking when in Montreal. The horse's name was "Candy," but I forgot his. Shame on me.
Later on we were shown some other nice areas and then Karen checked us in a hotel so we could rest. It was a nice surprise. She possibly had other things that she needed to do. Maria went straight to sleep and I took a shower and "hit the sack." That rest sure was great. With my 800 number I managed to get a few calls out of the way, including touching base with Steve back at TrainWeb to make sure all was in order. He managed to catch up on a lot of work so I guess I should get out of the office more often to give him more breathing room. Just joking, Steve! Karen and her husband Lucien came at 7:00 PM to pick us up and go to dinner. There is a great restaurant in a basement of an old former stable (maybe 100 years old) in Old Town Montreal that we went to and not only was the food great, but so was the service. A great salad, barbequed lobster, and a large baked potato with all the other goodies. Lovely candlelight to dance for you and solid original stone walls from the 18th century to give you a presence of past life. Chocolate ice cream topped it off. I then asked why we were given (a small portion) sherbert. I was told that it takes away garlic breath! Now if it works (we all had garlic, so I don't know) I think that I have just passed on a piece of very valuable information.
Lucien then took everyone over to his office and showed us his place. I won't say much other than that he has an extremely lovely place. The largest and most decorated office and boardroom that I've ever seen! If you would like to see a few pictures of his elaborate setup go and look at the photos that Steve put up for you readers.
Later they brought Maria and me to the train station. We said our "goodbyes" and one more great day had finished. Maria and I went into the station and went into the first class lounge area to wait for our 11:30 PM train. You get free tea and coffee and sodas and juices with French or English newspapers while you wait in a very comfortable and secure setting. We were then mustered to present our tickets and then walked over to our gate to take the escalator down one floor to where the train was waiting. Sure enough, the entrance to my car was right near the base of the escalator. I was told where my room was by Claire Lin, my room attendant, so off we went to the security of our room. The king size bed was all set up by no other than Bernard Aubin, Corridor Production Manager in Marketing, who is responsible for the corridor between Quebec City and Windsor, Ontario. His associate, Mr. Jean-Guy DuSablon, Service Designer, the person who designed everything in this special room, was also his accomplice in setting everything up for us. I must compliment the whole staff in Marketing who was responsible for putting this program together in such a first class setting. These people didn't miss a trick, and I am impressed! It looks to me like they are good team players. The beautiful flowers were in place as was the special special bottled water. Of course they always have the chocolates.
These people finish work at 5:PM so here they are near midnight making sure that the "Romance By Rail" is just SO! They also had a lovely card made up specifically for this service. Check the photo out on it. I really like it and I am sure that you will too. The inside of the card is blank so you can write whatever you want on it. We all had good conversation but in no time it was time for the train to leave. Like AMTRAK WEST, the marketing staff at VIA Rail is a fun bunch of people that really do care for your interests. VIA is dead earnest on making this program "Romance By Rail" work, so take advantage of their hospitality and climb aboard. These people will work hard for your business to make sure that you tell your friends and you come back again. Many of the train staff have never seen a king size bed set up on the train before and those that saw the room were very pleased. If they were impressed, can you imagine how the passengers relate?
Claire Lin came by to see us and asked if we'd like a little snack tray before we retired for the night, and we said "yes." Within moments she was back and our tray had Japanese "sushi," as well as an assortment of cheese and crackers and other goodies. A chocolate covered strawberry with other mouth watering sweets and fruit finished it off. I usually gave a tip to our room attendants when I start the trip as I worry that in the fray of leaving the train, I might forget! We then went to bed between the brand new sheets and had a good nights sleep and got up at 6:30 AM to be ready for the 8:00 AM arrival in Toronto. Good ol Claire helped us with our luggage to trainsfer same to the Toronto, Ontario train that goes to Vancouver, British Columbia.
When we arrived at the Toronto station some VIA gal on the platform between the cars said that I had to go downstairs to check in to get on the train. "Man!!" You mean to tell me that I am two feet away from my train, I have only 20 minutes to get my wife and all of my luggage on board before it leaves and I have to go downstairs and locate the place to have my ticket taken down there and make it back to the train before it leaves rather than the conductor taking my ticket from me in my room????? This is a big flaw I see in this system! Thanks to Claire, some of our luggage was put in our room in the "new" train, so that took a load off of me. I told my wife to stay with the train and keep the rest of the luggage with her so I could be more mobile and "move out." If I would have been alone I would have been forced to leave my luggage unatended on the platform as I had too much luggage to drag around. Remember, this is a 3 week jaunt for me. What happens when it's a senior that cannot move too fast and has a difficult time with stairs? A pregnant woman, and on and on. Need I say more? I really did not enjoy the next 15 minutes! The fear, the perspiring and the panting was not part of the program that I wanted to partake of. It is exactly because of situations like this that people do not like airports and in many cases they should take the train. I hope that VIA makes it more livable in tight squeezes like this in the future. I heard a few others on the train complain of the same thing - and they came in from a different direction.
Once on the train, one is safe. Everything goes into a leisurely pace and everything is at "room temperature" again. Jason Shoesmith is my SA (Service Attendant) and will be with me on this trip. He will be going to Winnipeg, Manitoba. There he will get off and another person will be replacing him. He is a fun person to associate with. He assisted me to the smoking lounge and in the bedroom area so I could take my virtual reality pictures undisturbed. It doesn't take long to take them but it sure helps if no one comes along when I'm taking the pictures. There's nothing like one or two halves of a person in a picture.
There was a nice bottle of Champagne and cans of Perrier drinking water and sure enough, there was a new bouquet of flowers for Maria all waiting for us in our large room. I noticed that the sheets were a hospital green rather than the soft yellow that was on the other runs east of Toronto. I like all colors, but diversity is nice. Each new bouquet was different, as was the champagne, and now the menu on this train is also different. I am very thankful for that, as a food change is always refreshing. One thing that I think would be very nice is if VIA would have all of their glasses etched with their name just like they have on their silverware and offer them for sale to the public. That includes plates and everything else they can think of. A lot of people would be into collecting these items and with the rail company's name on it, the value would be there as well as more nostalgic memories. A plain glass with no markings on it doesn't give me that "good memory thing" as much as something that signifies the journey. These items could also be sold through e-commerce.
I am always taking digital pictures but I did spend some time taking virtual reality pictures. I sure hope that they come out. Fortunately, Steve will be coming on this same route later on in the year so he'll more than likely cover what didn't come out and what I missed, and then some. So, between the pictures that I take and those that Steve will take, you should get a lot to see.
The "Canadian" which goes from Toronto to Vancouver has an economy class, Silver and Blue (First Class) which consists of single roomettes, double bedrooms, and even a stateroom in the dome car that has three berths. You will be able to see digital pictures of same as well as virtual reality shots. There is a Skyline car for every two sleeping cars.
The consist for Train 1, "The Canadian" is:
Robert McDaniels SM (Service Manager)
Engine - 6439
" - 6442
Baggage - 8609
Coach - 8110 Leroy Ross ASC
" - 8126 Marlene Prokopetz ASC
Skyline - 8517 Larry klassen SSA
Cabot MNR - 8313 Brian Norton SA (MNR stands for "Manor")
Diner - 8402 Tony Orestes SC "Alexandra"
Tony Tynes Chef
Ms. Deon McGuigan SA
Richard Lambert SA
Lorne MNR - 8333 Jason Shoesmith SA (we were in room A & B here)
Mackenzie MNR - 8335 "
Thompson MNR - 8341 Karl Wojciechowski SA
Kokonee PK - 8707 Gary Chomokovski SSA
A total of 68 sleeping car rooms on this trainset.
A large group of people who belong to the "Elder Hostel" were on their way to Winnipeg, then Edmonton, and then on to Vancouver. If you are 55 or older and want to be associated with this non profit organization then go to the library and you should be able to find information on them. You can travel in groups to different parts of the world and you learn the different subject matter (history, anthropology, basket weaving, you name it) that you are interested in. I believe it is a great organization to join. At breakfast I had a good talk with Peter Lieu, a Chinese Canadian from Toronto, who, with his wife, had enjoyed other great trips with this organization. By the way, breakfast was great. I had eggs benedict. I also noticed that Dick Erwin, the voice of "Hockey Night In Canada" for the last 40 years or so was also aboard. So for you hockey fans take note; this icon likes travelling by train as well. "He shoots, he scores!"
Did a bit more typing this morning. I got up around 5:AM and caught up on some of my typing. I then went to the dining car and the dome car attached to it and took some pictures of same. Also got some good shots in the galley (kitchen) and of Tony, the Chef, as well. When I had finished I then went to breakfast alone because Maria wanted to rest in bed a bit longer. When I came back to my suite I did some more typing and Maria got up. When she was ready we both went to the rear of the train and went up to the dome car and enjoyed the scenic view from there and of course took more pictures. After a bit we then went downstairs as it was empty then and we sat down at the very rear part of the train. We ate a couple of juicy oranges and took more pictures. Later we went back to the room and Jason, our room attendant, went and got Maria a raisin/bran muffin as she didn't have breakfast. This French/Irishman was watching out for us all the way. A great PR man!!
We went in to lunch around one-ish and met a very jovial couple that were dairy farmers based northwest of Toronto who were going to Vancouver as well. They are worried about the water levels as the wells are getting close to being dry because there hasn't been that much rain. If the farmers are short of water then we will all suffer. Hopefully everything will work out okay. About an hour later we were coming into Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Robert McDaniels, the Service Manager, had set it up ahead in Winnipeg for his boss to meet me and arrange for me to take some virtual reality pictures at the station as well as pass on possible other information of the "Romance By Rail" package. Once at the station, Robert brought onboard and introduced Mr. Hugh Moore, Manager Customer Services that covers from Toronto to the West Coast to our room to meet me. He brought a nice "bubbly" surprise to start things off so that makes him a real nice guy. In all earnest he is as great as the rest of the staff has been. We went down into the Winnipeg Station with Maria in tow. The front of the building is the old stone architecture that is so lovely to see and the building as well as the tall and beautiful dome inside the structure has been refurbished and is absolutely stunning to look at. Of course back in "those" days when these structures were built - everything was done beautifuly. The floors were no exception, as are these. Where there once was a pedestrain concourse leading to the tracks, they now have a waiting area for coach and "Silver and Blue" (First Class). The seating area gives the impression of a bygone era but yet stylish enough for you to realize that there is a light touch of modernism to it. The ticketing area and the luggage pickup area are very modern, so you get the best of both worlds.
Hugh went over the "Romance By Rail" program with me. Guy Faulkner in Montreal had done so also but there could always be something that I missed. One doesn't have to take the train from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Vancouver, British Columbia. You can purchase this plan for a segment of this journey. For example, you can take this package from Montreal to Halifax or vice versa, etc. Probably in the off season (winter) there could potentially be as much as many as five "Romance By Rail" setups in a full carset. It all depends on the availability of the rooms at the time. If you want this service, make sure that you ask for it!! Do not expect them to market it to you. Take the initiative and give yourself a real treat! All meals are included when you go "Silver and Blue" so with a king size bed in your room you better believe that your meals are included.
Hugh and I went out in front of the station to take a virtual reality picture of that area. My wife was no dummy! She went back inside where it was warm. Let me tell you something. If you are not dressed for that cold climate, it WILL knock you for a loop! I am so thankful that I only had that one picture to take outside. Hugh wasn't really dressed for going outside, but he stuck by me like a real trooper. Many thanks to him for his kindness and assistance. Fortunately one of the passengers that I was talking to assured me that a week or so before I came to Winnipeg, people were out with their skateboards wearing t-shirts and shorts and that this is just one of those cold spells coming through. I was glad to hear that as I couldn't figure out how these people could constantly live in this weather. I did take a few more pictures inside the train station while there.
The dome car that is up front is a smoking car. There is no way that I nor other non smokers will watch a movie in the rear dome car if there is smoking there. I am curious. Why do smokers get to smoke both cars up? Why can't smokers be confined to that one FULL car that is for smokers up front and the one in the rear be for those people who do not smoke? There are a lot more non smokers than there are smokers so one can't say that they have more smoking customers. There is a snack bar area in the front dome car a lounge area and also a large card playing area. There is no card playing area in the rear dome car as there are sleepers in the first section of that car. I don't have a problem with that, I just don't like breathing the stuff when I'm there and the smell sticking to me when I leave. I don't like to be a "party pooper" but one car for "each side" seems to be "fair." However, it is a relief for smokers to have a car to light up in, I am sure.
The train came in a little early so it made it much easier for me to accomplish my goals here. Soon enough the call came out to board the train, so after our goodbyes we were off again. We now had a new crew to take us to Edmonton, Alberta, and on to Vancouver, BC. I am looking forward to tomorrow morning as my very special friend Giao Nguyen and his wonderful wife Diana will be waiting for us in Edmonton. Our friendship goes back to the mid 1960's, so this will be a real treat for me.
Leon is our new SA now and has made himself known to us. He has a genuine smile so you know that you are in good hands. Now that the Elder Hostel group got off in Winnipeg that made for much more room on the train. A number of new people did get on here but not enough to compensate for those who got off. For those people in the US, remember, the exchange rate at this point is in the area of $1.40 CN for $1. US. That extra 40% can help you a long way. The off season means that more rooms are available so you won't be disappointed.
I went back to my typing and we both took pictures from our room at the passing scenery. The camera can never capture what the eye can see. We just saw a freight train hauling Canadian military cargo. So if you really want to see the grandeur, come on aboard! Sure, even a freight train is part of the unique experience. Come dinner time we both went to eat. We both had pork with mashed potatoes and vegetables. Chocolate milk was back in stock so I had some of that. I rarely drink it so I enjoy it here on the train. A lady from Chicago was going from Toronto to Vancouver and the gentleman sitting beside her also got on in Toronto and is getting off in Jasper. We finished and went back to our room and asked Leon if he would take care of the bed and we would go to the rear dome car to get out of his way. Needless to say he took care of it while we enjoyed the view from the rear car and took pictures. We later came back and Leon set up the bucket of ice for our bubbly. I thanked him for going out of his way like he did. He certainly aims to please. I later took a shower and I really enjoyed that. It is a very roomy shower and the water temperature was great. The water pressure was no problem either. Like Amtrak, you are given towels and the necessary toiletries for cleaning up. Back in my room I typed for a few hours and then off to bed as I am quite tired now. Time to turn my watch back an hour now. Goodnight!
During the night I peeked out the window and there was snow everywhere. Come morning when we went to the dining room it was already filled. Now this was around 7:00 AM. No problemo! We'll just go to the rear dome car and enjoy the lovely scenery and take more pictures for you good people. We picked up a little fruit and apple juice while in the rear parlour car and enjoyed our stay. We were soon into the Edmonton station which is now outside of the downtown city limit so we would not be able to have breakfast until we left Edmonton. As we slowly passed the train station our friends saw us in our room and everyone frantically waved to each other. The train stopped and Maria and I got off and walked over to the station to meet our very good friends. After exchanging greetings and gifts we all walked back to our car and went inside. I wanted them to see the room. They really liked it and said that they'd make plans to take the train soon to enjoy a nice trip also. Our 25 minute stay was soon over but it was prime time!
We took pictures, we said our goodbyes, and we were off. Maria and I went in for breakfast and she had scrambled eggs and bacon and I had eggs benedict again. They said that they were out of chocolate milk! Oh well, I guess I'll just have to survive like everyone else. So far all of the meals that we have taken on VIA are a ten. That's a first in any of my rail travels.
Consist Train #1 - March 08, 2000
Service Manager 6439 Chris Hardie
8110 Carmelle Maynard
8126 Gil Pouliot
Skyline 8517 Rob Miechkota
Cabot 8313 Leo Petrov
Alexandra 8402 M. Musaddiq
Lorne 8333 Lloyd Connell (our car, room A & B)
Kokanee PK 8707 Brian Ranger
I took a few more virtual reality pictures and got back to my digital pictures and typing. They called for lunch a little later but Maria didn't go to eat and I didn't either. One nice thing that I liked at Amtrak is where a staff member would walk through the sleepers and ask what time you would want to eat dinner. They would then tell you the times that are available and you would get to choose your preferred time (every 15 minutes or so). Some people like to eat early, others late, and the rest in between. So to control when you want to eat rather than a herd of people heading for the dining room at the same time and a number of them having to head back to wherever because the dining room is filled, is much more inviting to me. It is more organized then and one doesn't have to "gamble" that there's seating available. A couple of those negative experiences and I don't care to go to the dining car anymore.
Taking pictures of the Rocky Mountains heading into Jasper was fun. For those fortunate enough to see these beauties, you are blessed, indeed. We did see about six elk just before coming into Jasper and also an elk calf on the track beside our train near the station. In addition we also got a glimpse of some mountain sheep. By the time one gets to focus in and take the shot, it is usually too late for a really clear one. The train isn't waiting for anything.
We got off at Jasper as we had close to one and a half hours to look around. There are a number of tourist shops with pretty nice goods available. Pretty pricey, but what tourist place isn't? A very clean city and nowhere close to the cold that we experienced in Winnipeg. That surprised me. We came back to the train with ample time to spare. Now we are on our way to Vancouver and I am told that we will probably get there around an hour earlier as they take another route that normally gets them there faster. I notice a lot of animal tracks in the snow as we head west. We are certainly going through God's country.
Well tonight will be the last night on the train and we will be into Vancouver early so I better get everything ready tonight to make it easy for us tomorrow morning. Tonight we both had sea bass for dinner. I assured Maria that it was fried. Boy, was I ever wrong. I believe it was poached, so it did taste "fishy" to us. We picked out our vegetables around the fish and that was that! Our dining companions were Mr. and Mrs. Jack Matheson. A very friendly couple on their way to visit one of their sons who lives in the Vancouver area. He and his charming wife Diane have a business in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, called "Ted Matheson Men's Wear Ltd." Ted was Jack's father so you know that his business has been around for quite awhile. In fact, this is a third generation family-run business. They are a first class clothier so if you are in their neck of the woods drop in on them and pick up some quality threads for yourself. Greg Chadwick who works with TrainWeb and lives in the Vancouver area will be at the station tomorrow morning to meet us. Time to change the watch back an hour.
We're up bright and early around 5:30 AM and after getting everything organized properly we head off to the dining car which is just the next car forward. It is more of a light fare of cold cereal, toast and juice, but that suits me just fine. We all deserve the best once in a while. The particular waiter that we had that day was a barrel of laughs, and has been since he went on his shift in Winnipeg. That makes for a fun trip!
Now we can see the skyline of Vancouver. I take a few pictures (as always) and we head back to our room. Our room attendant takes our luggage out to the train exit so as to make it easy for everyone. The train comes to a halt, we exit, say our goodbyes and depart. Fortunately there were a couple of luggage carts placed there that we could use so our short stroll to the train station was much easier. We did get in early, so we waited for Greg. A short while later the luggage that I had checked in at Halifax came through the luggage pickup area.
"Whew," I was a little concerned about that. I have
had some miserable experiences with airlines with my luggage.
Greg came in before 8:AM to receive us. It was good to see him
again. This time he brought his Mustang. Last time he brought
his van. I like the van better! I needed to go upstairs to see
someone at the "Rocky Mountaineer Railtour"
so Greg and Maria waited for me. It was good to see some of the
people that I have been dealing with for awhile, again. They are
also a good customer of TrainWeb. After finishing my business
with "Rocky" (as I affectionally call them) I went downstairs
and Greg went and drove his car in the front of the station. We
loaded up and off we went.
We didn't have far to go to the hotel. It is the "Holiday Inn Crowne Plaza Vancouver." This is an old hotel that has been refurbished very nicely. It is right downtown in the middle of the business center. There was a "little" confusion at the desk but the gal came out with a decent alternative. Greg had parked his car so by the time he came back Maria and I had lugged all of our luggage inside the hotel. I guess the bellboy was at the other entrance of the hotel. Anyway he did put everything on his cart and brought it to our rooms. The three of us went out to eat and I guess the closest thing to us is a place called the "White Spot." I liked it as did the rest of us. We all had the typical bacon and eggs breakfast and Greg and I got to talk business
We later went to the hotel and talked and watched TV. Greg left about an hour later and Maria and I eventually got up and went out to "look at the neighborhood." We went in a mall across the street that went under the streets just like in Seattle. The weather was very nice today. Later on in the day we went back to the same restaurant. We both had meatloaf which turned out pretty good.
We got up early the next morning. Our alarm clock woke us up and the wake-up call rang a few minutes later, just on time. After everything was done we went downstairs and asked the bellboy to bring down our luggage. Remember, we had quite a bit. The taxis were waiting outside so that worked out okay. It only took a few minutes to get to the train station. At one rear corner of the station is the area that Greyhound Bus Lines Canada is stationed. The bus for Amtrak actually is out front at the opposite side of the building. A lovely, very modern bus showed up and the driver allowed us to put our luggage on board. There is a MacDonalds hamburger shop in the station and they do give you the 40% exchange rate. The problem is that they only give you Canadian change. We had an apple and an orange, and seeing as that you cannot bring fruit or vegetables into the US, that was our incentive to eat it for our breakfast. Both countries also ask if you had been on a farm while out of the country as well.
There were only five passengers on the bus. It was a great ride as we were sitting directly up and behind the bus driver. The bus was very modern with lots of glass. The ride was scenic and smooth. When we arrived at the border the bus driver not only helped to carry my luggage in to customs, but also out. He also helped me carry our luggage into the train station at Bellingham, Washington. I forced a tip on him as he didn't want to accept it. Now this is what I call "above and beyond the call of duty!" It went pretty smoothly at customs. I was worried that they were going to do everything but strip search us but other than a stern look, it went rather well.
The ride to Bellingham, Washington by bus was pleasant. I always enjoy watching the countryside "go by" as I go through the farmlands. With just a few people on board we were soon talking with one another. One lady was telling me about a community in Washington State that pooled together their resources and moved an old train depot a number of miles so where it would be better suited for everyone to use for passenger fare. Then they totally renovated the structure and then manned same. In other words, a lot of people from the community donated their time to rebuild and reman that train station with no outside help at all. Not only is it a cracker box to look at, it is a very jovial place to get your ticket. What better service are you going to get if it is totally volunteer? In no time at all we were at our destination and disembarked at same.
The ticket agent helped us with our luggage on to the train. They had us go to the last car as there were less people there and it would be easier and more room inside for our luggage. The trip as always was very beautiful and enjoyable. The Amtrak Cascades glides very smoothly when it is on welded tracks. The coastline is always beautiful. I showed Maria around on the train so she would know that there are different looking cars on this trainset. I know that she was very relaxed in this atmosphere. I did not notice that we had first class tickets. Seeing as that it was only a few hours away I thought they would be coach tickets. I would have appreciated if the conductor would have taken notice seeing as that he was collecting the tickets and mentioned it to me. I have to admit though that coach is very comfortable as well. A couple of hours later we were in Seattle.
We took a $3. cab ride to the "Best Western Pioneer Square Hotel." They had a smoking room available for us rather than a non smoking. The gal said that they would have a non smoking room for us by 2:30 PM. We checked our luggage in and went across the street to an Italian restaurant. Our pizza was pretty good and the service was great!
We came back to the hotel around 2:15, two hours after we "checked in." Check out time is at 11:00 AM. What we'll do is check our luggage in storage with the hotel tomorrow morning and take a few virtual pictures and then bring that equipment back and then go out again and then be back by 4:PM so we can leave for the airport. "Whew!" Maria shortly went to bed and fell asleep and I watched TV. I did want to take the virtual picture of the tunnel today but I don't want to repeat myself with her tomorrow so I'll do everything then.
Sunday morning I got up around 7:00 AM, took my shower, organized our luggage and started typing. I kept it up until around 10: AM and then we went downstairs and checked out and asked them to put our bags in storage for a few hours. We then went to the room where the hotel has the continental breakfast. I had cold cereal with milk and two bagels with cream cheese and butter with a glass of apple juice. I'm on a diet! Can't you tell? I think I better get on a better one. Maria didn't want to eat or drink anything.
After finishing my breakfast we headed up the hill to the bus depot that is underground to take the virtual pictures. After walking the two + blocks that get us there I came to find out that the bus runs six days a week, but not on Sundays. I tried not to let this incident ruin part of my day. This was something that I was looking forward to. "Oh well!" Back to the hotel we went and put the camera equipment in storage with the rest of our luggage.
We then left the hotel again and went to the corner and made a left. We were now on First Street. We were going to work our way a good six blocks up that street and then make a right about five blocks to get on the monorail to go to the Space Needle. Well now, by the time we got to go around six blocks on First Street "Lo and behold" we were at the Seattle Market place. Man, this place is huge. They had king salmon, Alaska king crab, giant octopus, fruits, vegetables, foods of different countries, products from different countries, and on and on. I was quite surprised how clean this place was. For an open market it was pretty good! Many booths were filled with goods made by the local artisans. I really enjoyed the place. I suggested to Maria to take her tennies before we left home but she couldn't see the use of them on this trip. I knew better but I let it alone. Sure enough, when she was in the market place her feet were really hurting her. These shoes that she had on were not meant for long walking periods. Now she was hurting pretty bad. We did walk back to the hotel at a slow pace.
On the way back we stopped at an Indian restaurant near the hotel. They had a buffet, so we took our time. With her shoes off she got her temporary reprieve. The food was fine and eventually we left. A little further down the street we went to a toy store on the corner very close to our hotel. Maria seemed to enjoy it and bought a few small odds and ends while there. I noticed that there was a downstairs to this place, so this shop did have a lot of goods to offer. We eventually left that place and walked to the hotel. We sat on one of the sofas while I read the newspaper and Maria rested.
About 4:00 PM we had the bellboy get our luggage and a taxi was called for. In ten minutes we had our luggage and everything was being packed into the yellow cab. The driver was a very nice chap from Africa. He had certainly gone through his tribulations in the past but now that he was in the "good ol" US of A, anything can happen. This is the land of opportunity, if you make it happen. Remember? Steve and I are trying our hand at that with TrainWeb and we hope that you good people out there will continue to give us your support by spreading the word and continue to visit us frequently. Bear with us for our shortcomings, whatever they are. We can never be perfect, but we will attempt to do as much as possible to make TrainWeb an enjoyable site to visit. Hopefully you will become one of our "regular visitors."
The cab ride went without a hitch and when we got to United Airlines at the airport we had the baggage person outside take care of our luggage. Then, off to "N1" which was the area to board our plane. We then found a place in the corner that had an outlet and no one was around. It is now around 5:00 PM and our plane doesn't leave until 7:45 PM so laptop here I come. It is almost 6:30 PM now and I am all caught up to this point with my travelogue. Maria is relaxed now and I only have one final chapter to go through which I can finish tomorrow. We are looking forward to being in our own bed tonight and tomorrow sharing with others our experience and adventures.
Our plane was on time and we left on time. Everyone shouted for glee when the captain said over the intercom that we would bypass San Francisco and go directly to Los Angeles International Airport. The plane had seating 3 abreast on each side. I was in the middle! If you are claustrophobic, this is not the place for you! Our snack was fine but I enjoyed my soda as I was pretty thirsty. I think that everyone was happy to get to LA and get off the plane. I took a picture of the baggage area from outside the terminal and that wraps up this chapter of a very special honeymoon trip in style. I am sure that you will not soon forget this land voyage by rail. It is a trip many dream about and is as good as the dream.
Click here for photos and travelogue of Saylor and Anna M. Runyon travel on VIA Rail's Romance By Rail from Vancouver, British Columbia to Toronto, Ontario, Canada!