Experiencing Technical Difficulties (resonant) wrote,
Experiencing Technical Difficulties
resonant

Train Trip

A month ago, I took the train from Toronto to Nova Scotia to visit relatives over Christmas. I took a few photos, so those of you who haven't taken an overnight Canadian train ride can compare with your own systems. Just for reference, the trip was about 1700 kilometers each way.



I took a taxi to Toronto's Union Station. I had a big suitcase, a big duffel bag, and a backpack - about 50 kg (110 lbs) in total, but I didn't have to pay any luggage fees, unlike on an airline. I dropped off everything but the backpack at the luggage counter, and boarded the train.

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I was traveling to Montreal in the cheap cars, but the seats were still wide and comfortable, with enough room to stretch my legs out. Really, no different from traveling business class by air. The crew came by frequently with snacks and beverages for sale. I had brought sandwiches, but bought hot coffee. There was free wireless internet, and an electrical outlet at each seat (even in the cheap cars). Video streaming was blocked (no YouTube!), but they made up for it by having a wide selection of videos available on the local server. The welcome page on the wireless sign-in page directs passengers to lots of movies, TV shows, and news programs, all with blazing-fast streaming from the on-train system. I napped, ate, watched, and browsed until we arrived in Montreal.

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In Montreal, I wandered around the station with its interesting art deco carvings, and bought some snacks and electronics in the endless underground mall connected to the station. I also made use of the free cappuchino machine in the passenger lounge while the Via Rail crew transferred my luggage to the sleeper train.

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When it was time to depart, I went down an escalator to the platform. On my trip to Nova Scotia, I would be riding in a Renaissance sleeper car (a relatively new model purchased from Europe). You can see through the window what the inside of a cabin looks like.

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I walked down a hallway to my cabin. There are ten cabins to each car.

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My cabin had a couch big enough for three (if you fold up the centre tray). The key card for the door lock was waiting for me, along with bottled water, a magazine, cups, napkins, and so on. I had two fluffy pillows, too. The back of the couch folds down to reveal a bunk with a fluffy duvet and a proper mattress - much nicer than the pads laid on seat cushions that Amtrak uses. A second bunk is folded against the wall above the seatback. The bulge above the headrests contains the ladder used to get to the upper bunk. Above that you can see a folding shelf - it is there to hold a waterglass for the person using the upper bunk.

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Towels, soap, shampoo, and lotion are in the private bathroom connected to my cabin. Normally I get a cabin with a bathroom and shower, but they were all booked. The shower is just a nozzle on a hose, anyway - it's not a separate stall, as you find in the private bathrooms of some European trains.

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The cabin has switches for its various lights, plus controls for the air conditioning and heater. The cabins with showers also have a telephone for calling room service. The finishes are all fancy wood burl veneer - I never really liked the look, but it is more pleasant than just plastic. Facing the couch is a closet (just big enough to hang your coat and clothes for the next day so they don't wrinkle), and cabinets for storing things you'll use on the trip. I unpacked my things while the train got under way, plugged in my various electronic devices to charge, and then walked to the restaurant for dinner.

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It was a bit of a hike. I was in car 38, and the restaurant was in car 17. Even though they skipped a few numbers in sequence, I had still worked up an appetite by the time I got to the lounge car, #18. Outside of mealtimes, the lounge car is where you can buy snacks and souvenirs, and beverages. Free tea and coffee are always available in the Park car, of course (car #40), but the strongest wireless internet signal is in the lounge, and not everyone wants to go that far when they get thirsty while surfing. Movies are also shown on the TV screens in the lounge.

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The train crew had put up Christmas decorations, which was a nice touch.

The lounge only runs half the length of the train car. The other half contains the train's only wheelchair-accessible sleeper cabin with wheelchair-accessible washroom and shower.

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The restaurant car has seats that fold up, like those in a movie theatre. Heavy tablecloths, china, and metal cutlery are much nicer than what used to be available on aircraft.

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Fresh-baked rolls, still hot from the oven in the train's kitchen, chowder, and cod cakes (to reflect the train's final destination of the Maritime Provinces).

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Followed by dessert, while leisurely sipping coffee and looking out at the passing lights in the dark night.

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After dinner, I went to visit the antique stainless-steel Park car at the tail end of the train. The newer Renaissance cars don't mate properly with the 1950-vintage observation car, so there is an interface car connecting the two. It contains refrigerators, storage cabinets, and framed flags of the provinces that the train passes through (plus the Acadian flag). The train crew said that they used to have a mini-golf course, but Transport Canada made them take it out.

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The old Park car has narrower hallways, and the walls are lined with blue-grey cloth. It does a good job of keeping the noise down. There are several passenger cabins, and then the hallway opens up into the various lounges.

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The lower lounge doesn't have much of a view. The train crew often hangs out here when on break. The illuminated stained-glass panel is original; the leather seats have been replaced, but have been carefully treated to look like early vinyl. There's also a little kitchen and bar area.

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Up a few steps is the lounge at the very end of the train. The car curves to form a nicely streamlined end, the pinnacle of 1950s styling. The seats have been reupholstered to the original colour palette. The ceiling has been painted with clouds to match the mood set by the glass-domed observation deck just up the set of spiral stairs. The railing of the stairs is a carefully-bent Plexiglas rod (the original was Lucite), illuminated by hidden lightbulbs so it glows.

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This shot gives a better view of the stairway to the observation dome. Free coffee, tea, and cookies are on the table to the left. Clocks to the right of the stairway show the time zones that the train could pass through (although only two are covered on the route currently taken).

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OK, one more shot of the stairs!

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I sat for a bit in the observation dome, then went back to my cabin. For fun, I slept in the upper bunk. Perhaps not the best idea - the air hose from my CPAP machine barely reached that high.

Morning came, so folded my bunk back into the wall, and went to get breakfast. We were going through the snow-covered woods of northern New Brunswick.

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For breakfast, the chef made me an omelette with bacon and potatoes, along with toast, jam, and coffee.

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It was cold and snowy outside, so I was glad to just sit and have hot coffee, and be glad that I wasn't outdoors. After lingering, I went back to my cabin, and then to the Park car at the end of the train.

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In the observation dome of the Park car, you can look forward along the length of the train.

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Then I got hungry, and decided to head back down the stairs and trek to the restaurant for lunch.

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They were serving some fancy seafood specialty, but I wasn't in the mood for more fish, so I just had pasta.

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The pie wasn't home-made, but it was fresh from the train's oven, so that was good.

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I then sat and watched scenery for a bit, until we finally arrived in Nova Scotia.

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I spent over a day on the train to get to Nova Scotia (although I slept or ate for much of that). Flying would have been a few stressful hours. However, the train station is only 15 minutes from my parents' house. If I had taken a plane, it would have been an hour to the airport, and an hour back. The train was far more pleasant than flying, and I arrived relaxed and refreshed. And, even without taking luggage fees into account, it was cheaper. I much prefer taking the train.
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