La Serenissima

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ten thousand K’s across Canada and the USA

Welcome to the first edition of Adventures in the world!! 

We start our journey in Vancouver, where on 19 December 2007, we began a four and a half week trip into winter wonderland scenery and fabulous cities in Canada and the US. In short, the trip was MARVELOUS - possibly the best trip we've ever had - and that's saying something. 

Well … let's get this show on the road!

Vancouver, British Columbia

We stayed in Vancouver for 4 nights at a terrific Holiday Inn in downtown. It is centrally located between the waterfront, the main shopping areas and False Creek, a harbour area spanned by the large Granville Bridge that takes you across to Granville Island and beyond. Vancouver is a pretty city and we explored it on a “hop on/hop off” bus for a couple of days. 

We visited Granville Island; traveled through downtown, including the Waterfront and Gastown where Water Street is powered by gas lamps and paved in cobblestones. We stopped in Stanley Park, a 400 hectare, lush wilderness with beautiful trees, Haida Indian totems, beaches and walking tracks and from where we saw views of Grouse Mountain.  Essentially we just chilled out in Vancouver as we wanted to get ourselves into the zone for our 3 night trans Canadian train trip from Vancouver to Toronto.

Le Canadien: trans Canada rail, Vancouver to Toronto

We boarded Le Canadien (Canada’s ViaRail flagship train) on December 23rd at 5.30pm and began the first leg of a journey of a lifetime, traveling over 10,000 kilometers by rail across Canada (from Vancouver to Toronto) and then to New York, Chicago and finally San Francisco. We hired a car in San Francisco, and began a road trip from there down to Los Angeles covering a distance of some 600 kilometres.

 Le Canadien is a great train with restored stainless steel carriages from the 1950s. We had a sleeper (which presented it’s own hazards which I'll discuss later!) but entitled us to a lovely restaurant (great meals), use of the sky domes (spectacular glass domed observatories offering unbroken views from the top of the carriage) and the bullet shaped lounge in the Park car (last carriage), which gave you a 180 degree view of the scenery disappearing behind the train. 

The train journey crosses five states, starting in British Columbia, then Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario and covers 4,500 kilometres.

The hazards I spoke of included amusing diversions like inadvertently pressing the emergency call button instead of the flush button in our toilet (Sue); leaning on the emergency call button behind the headrest in our couch (Julian); bumping into the emergency call button in the shower (Julian) and generally causing our cabin attendant, Lawrie, no end of exercise!! Everything seems extremely funny in such a small space and you have to learn to be very methodical in your toilet and dressing preparations, otherwise you are constantly wanting to get your bag down from the overhead shelves. This can really wear out a friendship!!

We had Christmas dinner with all the trimmings. Candy canes and a present were left in our sleeper by Lawrie at bed turn down time. We got into the spirit too, donning our Santa hats (rather than breathing apparatus) on Christmas day and decorating our very own red felt Christmas tree (!) in our sleeper. And Santa came to Christmas breakfast too!

For the first part of the journey we followed the Thompson and North Thompson Rivers, past Kamloops, Mount Robson, the tallest mountain in the Canadian Rockies, with its sheer rock sides and a cap of snow, to Jasper. The scenery was spectacular and never ending. We saw literally millions of snow laden Christmas trees, mountains covered in snow, frozen birch forests that looked like crystal sculptures and frozen rivers, lakes and icicles. Yep, you guessed it; it was cold, but gorgeous. Moving through the enclosed doorways and platforms between the carriages was always a giggle and a challenge. They were generally encased in snow and sometimes ice, necessitating regular sweeping by the porters.

 We stopped in Jasper, the highest point in the Canadian Rockies and spent a freezing hour roaming about near the station building. Some elk, about 6 in all, appeared on cue and strolled nonchalantly about some train carriages off to the side from where our train was parked. 

From Jasper we travelled beside the Athabasca and Fraser Rivers, the sides of which were frozen and frosty white. 

We also stopped in Edmonton on Christmas Eve where we were looking forward to catching up with my cousin Jan and her husband. Sadly, the train was 3 hours late and the stop time was shortened. Jan had waited 2 and a half hours and decided to pack it in (wisely). But she very kindly left us a bottle of champagne which we drank slowly on Christmas Day.

From here the train took us through the Prairies of Saskatchewan (through Saskatoon, no less!) through the lake filled landscape of Manitoba where we stopped briefly at Winnipeg, which lies at the junction of 3 rivers. The Cree called it “Winni-nipi” – muddy water. We continued on through many towns that owe their early development to the railroads, including Hudson, Sioux Lookout , Hornepayne and Sudbury.

Toronto, Ontario

Toronto got its name centuries ago from the Huron trbes, and is interpreted to mean “a place of meetings”. The Huron people would be in their element in any modern workplace!. After discovery by the French explorer Etienne Brule, it was a French trading post, then a British fort. Toronto was cold but pleasant enough, if rugged up, to stroll about. 

Again we were well located, with some good restaurants nearby, including a great family run Japanese place that had a great menu and saw us flourishing chopsticks on two nights. We ambled about and saw the St Lawrence Market (not as big or comprehensive as Victoria Market in Melbourne, but nice nevertheless); several historic buildings including the law courts; the CN Tower (just looked at it from the ground as it disappeared in a layer of cloud! You can just see it in the photo to the left, above). We also went to the Eaton Centre where the highlight was a huge Christmas tree (some 3 stories high) covered in more than 10,000 Swarowski crystals. It shimmered beautifully.

Our last word on Le Canadien – it's a fabulous train and we found the service very good. It is worth traveling Silver and Blue class if you can. We enjoyed the flexibility of choosing between our cabin (converted into 2 couches during the day and 2 bunks at night) and the various panoramic viewing lounges. The Bullet lounge had tea, coffee, cookies etc available continuously and the dining car offered gourmet meals and a good wine list.

Next stop … the Big Apple!

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