I’ve always found something strangely romantic about long distance train journeys, slowly meandering across continents in a classic form of mass public transport. Trains bring a touch of class, comfort, space and a social aspect long lost in the modern world of cheap, fast, anti-social cattle transport we call aviation.
I arrived on time at Toronto’s Union station only to find out my train had a 2-3 hour delay, strange as this was the start point of the journey, I would later find out delays are a permanent aspect of train journeys in Canada. Luckily I’d splashed out on a sleeper with all meals included($600 for 50hr journey), this meant I was allowed to use the flashy business lounge at the station. A lounge with free drinks and snacks felt very alien after years of budget travel.
Whilst checking in the catering manager couldn’t find me on his list, according to my bed number I was called Rebecca, I said “so long as you feed me three meals a day you can call me Rebecca…”. Naturally once we finally boarded it was obvious that there was a serious blunder in the booking as there where now two Rebecca’s in 3a. Rebecca 1, Rebecca 2 (myself), Mark (Rebecca 1’s husband) and Zazu (the other person in our carriage) all had a good giggle at the situation and thanks to a cancellation I was soon moved to 4a, and the ice was broken with my travel companions.
The train finally pulled out 3 hours late at 2am and by breakfast it was already running 8 hours late, which is quite impressive really, It was obvious I needed to cancel my next couple of hotel reservations. Veterans of the Canadian and other long distance Viarail journeys accept this as part of life. Most of Canada has a single rail line and freight has priority over passengers, therefore the passenger trains often get put on a sideline to wait. The train manager/purser also had a good sense of humor “Hope you enjoyed the chance to spend extra time in Toronto”, “Don’t worry we won’t charge you for the extra time on the train.” I later heard from other passengers that delays of 12-24 hours are not uncommon during the Christmas holidays.
The first morning was amusing to watch everyone (including myself) hunting around for a wifi signal or mobile internet. By lunch time everyone gave up this futile distraction and started to relax, and then something really strange started to happen. . . . People slowly rediscovered long lost skills of social interaction and actually started talking to each other. This was of course helped by the policy in the restaurant car to fill all tables as people arrive, therefore you end up sitting with three different people each meal rather than my usual trick of sitting alone in the corner. The champagne welcome drinks later that afternoon did the last bit to lubricate the cogs of social interaction, which would lead to two days laughing, joking, playing silly games and a couple of light hangovers (only light because at $6 a can, I took it easy on the beer).
Lacey was travelling with her great aunt, an amazing woman that had a travel lust to shame anyone despite her walking stick and her 92nd birthday just around the corner. Travelling by train in Canada in winter was a compromise made with her family as they found a trip to South Africa at her age a little too much. Lacey was friendly and a great laugh and did a great job of pretending to be stereotypical American, which gave us all something to laugh at until John turned up proving that even a village idiot can travel.
John obviously enjoyed his champagne more than his body could process it, he did a great job of playing the village idiot for our entertainment. “What do you do for work John? ” “I’m a jumper…” “What you keep people warm in winter? ” “No I jump out of airplanes, and yes I’ve landed on my head.” He reminded me of a younger version of myself.
Other amusing people included an Australian woman who dressed like a doll and a bush pilot from New Zealand.
Sleep, breakfast, 3 course lunch and dinner, drinking free coffee and hanging around in the bar in the evening only left a couple of hours a day to enjoy the view and occasionally stretch legs at the stations.
The previous weeks of cycling and camping at -40 seemed like a lifetime away while living this life of luxury.
Now socializing and relaxing rather than staying sharp and surviving, it started to feel like being on holiday or something. Sitting in the sky car enjoying the views as the countryside passed by at 100km/h surrounded by people who have taken the time to enjoy this relaxed journey rather than the 4-5 hour flight.
Mark and Rebecca 1 had taken the train because they were travelling with their dog. Both wouldn’t let me quiz them in detail about their work. Rebecca works in QA at a large food company, Mark as environmental officer at a large mine. When I asked him what exactly that was, he just said “Its all just smoke and mirrors my friend..”
The other person in our carriage was of course Zazu, a rather interesting lady that spends her time making custom flags or working on her various art projects. Which now also include a sketch of my handsome self.
Sadly I had to leave the train in Saskatoon where the delay meant I arrived at 6am rather than in the middle of the night…bonus. I think I’ll return some time for the Rockies leg of the trip or maybe even take the Rockies Mountaineer sometime.
This trip is certainly something to put on your bucket list if you :
- Can live without wifi for a couple of days (sadly this will probable change soon).
- Can remember how to socialized without a smart phone.
- Don’t get stressed by a 10-20 hour delay.
- Keep an eye on the viarail site if you plan to book, 50% discount offers are apparently quite common.
- If you can afford it then I think the sleeper including meals is well worth it, though I did get very lucky with the people around me who made the trip much more fun.
- If you have more than a 4 hour delay you can claim back part of your ticket, sadly for tourists you get credits for your next trip though.
- If you’re an alcoholic you might want to smuggle some of your own goodies on board to save money
- Check out Miss Zazu’s funky video from a couple of years ago…