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Steven explores Canada and The USA

Staff member: Steven // Trip date: Apr 2011

Vancouver - Jasper (The Canadian)

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This was my first real train journey overseas and I was excited to experience what many say is on their "to do" list, a trip through the Rockies of Canada. To start, a few days seeing the sights of the amazing town of Vancouver, it may have lulled me into a false sense of security with the mild weather I experienced while in the winter of the north but I found this city beautiful. Loads of parks and very easy to get around to see all the sights like the Granville markets, the 2010 winter Olympic sites and Stanley park. From downtown it was a 4min subway ride to the VIA Rail station, Pacific Central station. While I was roaming the city during the couple of days I had, I had my e-ticket ref with me so I had stopped into Pacific Central and within a few minutes of showing my ref number and chatting to the lovely staff I had all my tickets from Vancouver through to the east of Halifax.

The train departure was at 830 pm that night so I made my way a bit earlier to check in and to check my bag in, if you are in a sleeper class on the train your meals are included but not for the departure night. I checked my large bag in and wouldn't see it until I arrived in Jasper so in my carry on luggage I had to remember to pack clothes for the next day as well and toiletries. When checking in they assign your carriage and sleeper and they even offered to take my carry on luggage to my cabin before we boarded the train. I went and had a bite to eat and returned to find the lounge was open, inside for VIA Rail passengers was a tv, comfy seats, tea and coffee, biscuits and an outdoor patio (it was winter so nobody was out there but in summer it would be a lovely way to meet people before boarding the train), there was also free wifi to send a few emails to friends back home rubbing it in that you are about to have a trip of a lifetime. As 8 pm came they called for sleeper class to board the train, I was welcomed and directed onto the train and into my single berth cabin. The carriage attendant showed me around the cabin with the temperature controls, toiletries, towels , the power points and also brightened my night by saying I should go to the back of the train to the park car as we departed. I got settled into my cabin unpacking my bag and being amazed with the size of the room with a lot of storage for bags and even a few coat hooks. Looking around the room I also found the basin and toilet in the room and shower just across the hall from my room.

Down in the last carriage of the train was a lounge area with a bar, tv room, access to the dome seats and also was host to bon voyage drinks, a toast to a great trip!. This was a time for everyone to meet each other, some were doing the whole trip right through to Toronto and some like me were getting off along the way. There was a mix of nationalities as well as some locals who either had never been on the train or ones who found it the best way to travel across Canada.

By the time I had returned to my room the carriage attendant had made my cabin into a bed and I was fast alsept with my legs not even touching the end and in a very comfy bed!

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It was hard to get up in the morning but the temptation of breakfast got me out of bed, I opened the blinds on the window which took up the whole side of the cabin and was greeted with snow and mountains! In the dining car I sat with a couple from the night before and sat down to a menu filled with choices, they had the salmon omelets and I the bacon and scrambled eggs. After sitting down and watching frozen lakes and trickling streams go by it was back to my room where my bed had been put away! I grabbed my camera and went to the back for some postcard shots. In the parked car was tea and coffee, biscuits, muffins and fruit if you were still hungry from breakfast or maybe if you over slept! Up to the observation dome car every corner we turned produced a new view of a mountain or a new mountain all together, it was such a surreal feeling travelling through the rockies with snow covered pines hugging the train tracks but it felt like that maybe a white Christmas was around the corner or a few reindeer and Santa? All day there was something new to see along the way with everyone trying to spot the wildlife and pointing out good photo ops in between chatting about where we all had come from and are going. After another amazing meal for lunch I sat in my cabin staring out over the mountains and lakes and before I knew it, it was time to start packing my carry on as it was around 3pm and we arrived in Jasper at 4pm. Time to say goodbye to the people that we had meet in only a day.

Arriving in the small town of Jasper the train stops into the center of town, even if your hotel looks on a map to be on the outskirts most likely after a short taxi with bags you can walk everywhere for the rest of your stay.

During my stay here I had pre booked two things through our office, one was a transfer from Jasper to Banff and the other was the best thing I did all trip, a half day dog sledding. I received my vouchers before leaving the country and all I had to do was ring the day before to confirm, the next day I was greeted at my hotel by a driver who was taking me an hour down the road to the dog sledding, the driver who happened to turn into a guide along the way pointed out sights and told us stories about Canada, the wild salmon which swim upstream, the wolf packs, the weather and he also stopped along the way for photos. He dropped us off to an awaiting herd of dogs just getting ready for the big day ahead. The dogs seem so excited and rearing to was I. So once all the dogs had been tied up there was a short instruction on how to handle the sled and dogs and away we went. If you can imagine a small track through snow-covered pines, light snow floating down around us and the track winding up through backcountry in Jasper. It was just us (a guide as well) and the dogs cruising through a snow covered winter was amazing!!

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The next day was my transfer to Banff and an early start, once again there was a driver waiting for me at the hotel who then picked up a few more from around town and headed along the ice fields parkway, I was a bit disappointed that the weather had turned and I couldn't see what I have heard to be an amazing drive.

Edmonton - Toronto (Continuation of the Canadian)

Arriving into Edmonton via bus I took a taxi out to the VIA rail station as it was just out of town. The departure time for the train was 11pm so once I arrived around 6pm my plan was to check my bag in then head back into the city for some dinner. Once at the station the gentleman informed me of a delay to the train, it was fine to check my bag in. Once back out at the station later that night everyone else had arrived and were waiting for the train. The staff did really well in informing us on what was happening, provided snacks, drinks and even a movie. Once onboard I was in a lower berth sleeper and was directed to my carriage and bed, which was already made. Curtains are fitted to each bunk for privacy during the night or once your seats are converted into the beds. The next morning the attendants informed us on lunch and dinner times and the activities that were planned for the coming few days in the 'park' car. Once the first call for lunch sounded, I was so hungry everything on the menu looked so good and I was not disappointed. There a tempting few choices and I decided on a hamburger, not just any old hamburger it was a delicious lamb burger that was really tasty with salad and some hot country style soup for entree. The day of watching the snow cover prairies, the wide open fields just covered with snow as far as the eye can see, made me wonder about life up north, it was surreal to think that people actually live out here especially during winter. I could only imagine this in summer would be filled with crops and so many colors. During the afternoon everyone in the scenic dome car was chatting away and I was very surprised that a band had started up in the lounge playing jazz folk songs with a few requests thrown in for other passengers, this was pleasant way to travel!!

The next morning after a good nights sleep I awoke for a nice hot shower. It was un-expectantly spacious with a changing area, hot water, good pressure and a big shower area. With one per car and only around 10 people or so using them no waiting around for a shower. The staff packed away our beds and I was surprised by the room I had with the two seats facing each other, the lower bunk chooses whether to leave the beds down or pack them away and has the seat facing forward for the trip. Back in the park car one staff member started talking about the flood every year Manitoba and Winnipeg has, it was amazing and with a informative quiz to get everyone involved and fun facts about the area it was a relaxing afternoon. Lunch was another tough choice with the roast in a massive Yorkshire pudding looking pretty good but the wrap took my fancy again with the temping choice of avocado with roast chicken! I really could of got use to the meals on board with it felt like I was going out to a 5 star restaurant evey time I ate. Dinner again was a couple of good choices where the local fish sounded interesting but couldn't go past a rack of lamb!

Another morning on the train and it was our last meal before disembarking at Toronto Union Sation. During the morning we went through a lovely lake district with amazing looking lakes and beautiful lake houses with their own little jetty's onto the lake, and before I could take another postcode picture we were packing up and arriving at the beautiful Union Station.

Day Trip to Niagara Falls from Toronto

Arriving back into old and beautiful Union Station, I had a separate return e-ticket from there to Niagara. At the station they had a line for the ticket counter so just to the left of the counters I spotted the e-ticket kiosk. They had two e ticket computer screens there and it was very easy with thebarcode getting scanned or if you didn't have a barcode on the paper all you need is your booking name and the passenger ref number. In a couple of easy steps my tickets were printed from the computer. From Toronto station VIA Rail and Amtrak are combine and I had booked through VIA Rail but you actually get on an Amtrak train, this later I found out was the train which goes right through to New York, with the VIA rail staff swapping with Amtrak at the border just after Niagara Falls. I was in economy, which you don't have an allocated seat so just get on and grab a spare seat, heaps of leg room with a tray table and power point for every seat. Also the space made it very comfortable with loads of room to store your bag at the front of the carriage or plenty of over head space even for a large traveler's backpack, so no cramming your bag under your legs. It was very easy to do a day trip from Toronto to Niagara Falls, in winter there were 2 trains going a day, one in the morning (dep 8.30 am) and one returning that evening (arrives around 7pm), perfect for a full day at the Falls, which is only a 2 hour trip away. Niagara Falls are in Clifton Hill, a city just outside of the old town where the station is located. As you get out of the station there were taxis waiting or local buses. After sitting on the train and having all day to spare I decided to walk to the falls, I walked along the river and saw the boarder crossing with the USA, then up the river the American falls then the horse shoe falls. All up it only took around 30 min to walk there which was a nice walk along the river. After this I went to a 4D show on the formation of the falls where you watch a movie about the falls then go into a room filled with water. Everyone gets a poncho and you stand on a platform. There is a light and sound show around you with the platform moving as if you were flowing along the river towards the falls. A thunder storm hits and rain and snow comes from the roof onto you, the platform shook more and we got splashed as if going off the falls. It was an amazing experience and to learn about the creation of the falls!!

Toronto - Montreal

After being amazed at the city of Toronto, this city was such a relaxed place and any tastes for culture you may be looking for you will be able to find it in this city!

I already had my ticket for this train so just arrived into Union station and found a very big and prominent display, this was in the middle of the main VIA rail part of Union Station which showed all the trains departures/arrivals and which platform they were going from or coming into. Once directed to board we all made our way up to the platform, as everyone waits downstairs and not on the platform, and onto the train. Getting on they had a lot of luggage storage above the seats and at the end of all the seats for all the larger bags. The economy seats reclined and had ample legroom, even a power point to charge a phone/computer and a tray table to eat at or rest the computer on. Also the train had free wifi, which was handy even if to look up where to go when arriving into Montreal which I had forgot to do. A café car with lots of snacks and even more filling meals like a ham and cheese sandwich with some carrot sticks which kept me going until lunch was on board, and a trolley came by the seats a couple of times. Another point I did note which may apply to others is that if you are travelling in a group of 3-4 in the carriages there is a space where all 4 seats are facing each other and are reserved for groups not singles. As nobody gets a specific seat number when boarding the train it is first in best dressed.

Montreal - Halifax (The Ocean)

Bon Voyage from Montreal, but not before you experience France in Canada. Everywhere you turn it reminded me of France, from the buildings even down to the main train station where you can grab a bite to eat sitting in a street side Paris café but inside the station. I checked my bags as was directed by the staff to a VIA rail lounge for 1st class and sleeper class passengers. The lounge area had plenty of seating with access to wifi and complementary tea coffee, juice and soft drink for sleeping car passengers. The sleeper cars on the ocean were very comfy, I had a 2 berth cabin by myself and I thought even with 2 people you would still have a lot of room sitting during the day and even when the beds were folded out. We left at 6.30pm from the station and the staff member showed me the ropes in the room and pointed out dining car and lounges. The cabin had power points, a large window, a big bench seat ,also room for hanging jackets in a wardrobe. In the bathroom was a toilet, basin with mirror and a shower in the corner of the bathroom. The shower wasn't enclosed but very good pressure and hot water. The bathroom was also a very good size not like you have to step over the toilet to shut the door. You are provided with a shower pack that includes a couple of towels, face towel, shampoo/conditioner and soap. The meals weren't included in the trip over winter but over the summer trips they are included with the touring sleeper class. The meals I saw looked like a descent size and even though they weren't included they were reasonably priced with the dinner $12 and breakfast only $8.

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During the next day there were newspapers and magazines to read in the lounge area of the train and if you didn't have breakfast there was a café on board with bagels, sandwiches, hotdogs and all kinds of goodies to get you through your journey.

Toronto - New York (Maple Leaf)

My final train of the trip and I was looking forward to arriving into the big apple even though I had a full day on the train ahead. The previous day I had gone to collect my Amtrak tickets for the trip early the next day, there was one thing to note that there was only one ticket window in Union Station for Amtrak. I am not sure if this was just winter times or there might not be later Amtrak trains leaving but just note if you are going to collect your tickets the day before the opening times are 6.30am- 1pm. This wasn't a problem the next morning as the Amtrak train left early I wondered across and handed my ref number to the lady behind the counter and only a few minutes later I had my tickets for the train. I have previously been on this train earlier in the week to do a day trip to Niagara Falls, but this time I was in business class. I was expecting a bit more in service, comfortable seats, more leg room and business people, all of my expectations were met except for the business people. There was a row of three seats across the train with a pair and a single which made it a lot more spacious. Once on board the seats reclined so far back I felt like I was almost in a bed, with extra room all around I dozed off very quickly. I awoke to the train stopping at Niagara Falls on the Canadian side where everyone stayed on board who was crossing the border. The train crossed the border to the US side of Niagara Falls as customs get on board the train and check everything, it was good that we didn't have to get off and wait in lines or anything, but be warned it can take up to two hours!

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After leaving around 8.30am it was time for lunch on board in the café car and also just to let you know they only accepted USD from the border. They had a wide variety of snacks from muesli, choc bars even some filling lunch packs with crackers, cheese and a sandwich. The drink range was even better with local beers up to a small champagne flute! After a bit of a delay due to another train, we arrived into New York's Penn Station. We arrived around 11pm right into the centre of the big apple and found the taxi's a bit of a gamble with no real line anywhere to been seen so I just waved one down, very easy even at 11pm.

After all the train travels across Canada and down to New York I have to admit I will try and catch trains anywhere possible, just to sit and relax and the beautiful scenery travels by was amazing. Also the best thing I found out on this trip is I dislike airports...not worrying about checking in bags at different airports, catching taxis out to airports and not seeing anything while flying I will be looking forward to the next great train journey I take.

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