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A different way to travel: Across Canada on VIA Rail’s The Canadian

Approaching Jasper through the Rockies on VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comThose of you who follow me on Instagram or on Twitter will know that the last year was an insanely busy one, and on the heels of that, it’s been a busy summer too with a lot of travel involved. It’s how I like to spend my time off – I’m definitely not someone who could head to the beach for weeks on end just “relaxing” – I always feel I need to be busy and “doing things”.  For me, the simple fact of not teaching for 2 months (and often, being a student during my own holidays) is vacation enough. As they say, a change is as good as a holiday.  But every now and then, a special, once-in-a-lifetime experience comes along that makes you see things differently. My recent trip from Toronto to Vancouver aboard the VIA Rail Canadian train (3 days, 4 nights) as a guest of VIA Rail is one of those experiences and has made me rethink my definition of “relaxing”.

Cabin amenities abord VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comA trip on the Canadian isn’t just any old train trip though. Especially if you are fortunate enough to travel in a Sleeper Plus cabin (I had a double cabin all to myself – complete luxury!). You get a real (bunk) bed to stretch out in and watch the world go by (and the sun rise and set if you happen to be in your bed at those times)

Misty morning on VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comSunrise on the VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.com(this was my view the first morning… misty landscape whizzing by the window. It’s hard not to stay in bed and become completely mesmerized by this!)

In the cabins, you also have your own private toilet room and sink as well as access to a shower you only share with a handful of people. Three meals a day are also included in the cost of your ticket.

Menu on VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comOn board the Canadian you’re well taken care of. There is bar service (at an extra cost) every day from 11am in the lounge/ “Dome” cars (lounges on the lower level and panoramic sections on the upper level) and throughout the day, your “Activity Car” attendant will provide some commentary on the passing scenery/ places of note and sometimes even entertainment (that would be Walter, our “Activity Guy” from Toronto to Winnipeg!). At certain stations, upon departure, Canadian sparkling wine is served – a nice icebreaker, considering you will spend multiple days (and meal times) with your fellow passengers.

You basically don’t have a care in the world on board the Canadian and it’s interesting to be a “doer” in an environment like that. I was a little concerned to be honest that I might be bored (for a large part of the journey there is no cell phone signal and there is no Wifi on the train at all). What would I do? It’s been months since I read a book (“I don’t have time”) so even though I loaded up my Kindle, I was actually planning on spending my days editing photos and writing articles. Yay – three days’ uninterrupted “me time” and since I wasn’t travelling with anyone, I might even be able to just get on with my work. Right?

Wrong.

Views from VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comLake view on VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comI spent the first day exploring the train, lugging around my laptop and iPad as well as my camera and my phone. And my notebook and a ton of magazines. I had things to do, right?

Wrong.

Hay bales as seen from the VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.com

Sunflower fields speeding by on VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comHay bales on the Prairies on eatlivetravelwrite.comBy Day 2 after we’d stopped for a few hours in Winnipeg, I had ditched my laptop, magazines and iPad. Just carried my notebook, phone and camera. I stopped walking up and down the train multiple times a day. Instead, I sat in the Dome car and watched the world go by. And chatted with my fellow “Dining Car B” passengers – there are 2 dining cars on the train and you eat in the one closest to your cabin or berth. Hence, you spend a lot of time with the same people.  The majority of folks in my dining car were headed all the way to Vancouver, though a handful left us in Winnipeg, Edmonton or Jasper and a fair number of people joined the train for the last part of the trip from Jasper to Vancouver.

Views of the Prairies on VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comThe Prairies from VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comI’m not quite sure what I expected of the scenery but I know I wasn’t expecting it to be so captivating.  From the seemingly endless lakes and pine trees across the seemingly never-ending province of Ontario (we all kept checking the map on the first day to discover that we were, in fact, still in Ontario!) to the sunflowers and canola fields of the Prairies to the majestic beauty of the Rockies, the scenery was certainly diverse. And you couldn’t stop looking at it. That might sound obvious to some (i.e. you’re on a scenic train ride, of course you would look at the scenery) but for someone who tends to view travel as simply a way of getting from point A to point B, this was eye opening (literally and figuratively speaking). As I tell my students when we embark on projects (or even when we are making something in cooking club), “it’s the journey, not the destination that’s important.” And that couldn’t be more true on board the Canadian.

Prairies on eatlivetravelwrite.comAs someone who had completely no idea what time it was for 90% of the trip (suffering jetlag and travelling across three time zones, including one that doesn’t observe daylight savings doesn’t make for an ideal scenario in terms of knowing what time it is!), I relied on the position of the sun and the meal time announcements to plan my day.

Sunset aboard the VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comThere are three seatings at lunch and dinner and and I tried them all so I could experience the difference in both the crowd eating at each seating (people with kids tended to eat early, the “bar crowd” later) and for my troubles was variously treated to spectacular sunrise and gorgeous sunset views as well as convivial conversation once the sun had set and it was pitch black outside the train.

Sunrise turning orange on VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.com Fiery sunrise on VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.com Sunrise on VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comAt times I had to remind myself to take photos, it was that relaxing. Of course there’s the added challenge of being on a moving train (and there’s no camera setting to account for that!) and the fact that most of my pictures completely do not do the scenery justice at all.  More often than I thought I would, I set my camera down and just enjoyed the scenery in the moment. I mean, when is the last time I did that?

Approaching jasper on the VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.com Approaching Jasper on VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comApproaching Jasper the scenery was SO gorgeous that I wanted pictures but even the so-called “Panorama car” presented photographic challenges – reflective, curved glass and a band of darker glass across the top of the windows, presumably to provide some shade – and eventually I just set my camera down and sat down to preserve the memory in my head, not on my memory card.

The Rockies aboard VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comAlong the way, I read three (count ‘em!) trashy novels, and finished a pile of magazines I had been lugging around with me since the beginning of August in France. I chatted with my fellow passengers. I looked out the window. I sampled the wines and beers (all Canadian) on offer. I napped. I relaxed. All the while “doing nothing”. A first for me!

Moon setting aboard the VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comBeing on the train definitely feels like you’re suspended in time. The trains shuffles along on its own timetable – actually on the timetable dictated by CN, who own the rails, hence, each time a freight train is passing the Canadian has to stop. Which is a lot of times in a 3 day journey. This was frustrating at first but as the journey progressed, we all looked on those “stopped” times as chances to get that photo out the other side of the train. Or to simply sit and ponder what on earth could be in all those freight cars. You do a lot of thinking on the Canadian.

Approaching Vancouver on VIA Rail Canadian on eatlivetravelwrite.comIt was with a tinge of sadness that I arrived in Vancouver on the morning of the 4th day (early, even because it turns out VIA Rail pads out the schedule to account for all the lost time waiting for freight trains).  Back to real time. Back to cooking and cleaning up for myself. Back to not really being justified in taking a nap every afternoon. Definitely a case of “back to reality”.

For me, however, this journey opened my eyes to a few things. Firstly, I love long-haul train travel (in a cabin!). Secondly, I am capable of doing nothing for more days in a row than I realised. Thirdly, Canada is an insanely large and beautiful country. I know, it looks big on the map but until you’ve done this journey (and in fact, you could take VIA across the country all the way from Halifax if you so chose – now THAT’S a long trip!) you can’t imagine quite HOW big it is and how beautiful and diverse the landscape is.

The VIA Rail Canadian: it’s a different way to travel, focusing on the journey, not the destination, and I think I like it!

You might also enjoy:
Toronto to Vancouver on VIA Rail’s The Canadian: what to expect
A visit to The Forks Market in Winnipeg
A quick stop in Jasper

 

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Disclosure: My trip on the VIA Rail Canadian, including transportation, accommodation and all meals, was sponsored by VIA Rail. I was not required to write about this trip and was not compensated for doing so.  All opinions are my own.

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18 Responses to A different way to travel: Across Canada on VIA Rail’s The Canadian

  1. Coco in the Kitchen September 4, 2013 at 19:08 #

    I’ve always wanted to travel by sleeper-train.
    So cozy.
    Lovely pics. What a beautiful country Canada is.

  2. Mr. Neil September 4, 2013 at 19:15 #

    Mr. Neil = Mr. Envy

  3. Geoff September 4, 2013 at 22:26 #

    Fantastic post. It’s a reminder of a lot of things: things were quieter and calmer before we had to traipse into airport terminals; people thrown together on a journey can speak about interesting things to each other and train travel (on the basis you described it) is not dead. Perhaps the hardest thing to do is to drop off all the ‘stuff’ that constantly interrupts our lives (phones, iPads, computers, texts, tweets etc).
    Great post – and VIA Rail Canadian, take a bow.

    • Mardi Michels November 10, 2013 at 18:05 #

      It’s definitely a civilised way to travel!

  4. Pamela September 5, 2013 at 09:11 #

    Amazing trip. The views are gorgeous. We live in a beautiful country.

  5. Jools Stone September 5, 2013 at 13:50 #

    Yep, absolutely loved the Canadian too, more so than the Rocky Mountaineer TBH. Gives you a sense of just how big a country Canada is and as you say, surprisingly varied landscape-wise.
    Lovely pics and a fine account of this great train journey. :)

    • Mardi Michels September 5, 2013 at 16:01 #

      Interesting, before I came on the Canadian, I always thought I wanted to go on the Rocky Mountaineer but on the train I chatted with folks who have been and they said it’s quite the different experience (i.e. you don’t sleep on the train which for me was part of the charm of the VIA trip). I’d definitely like to head back to the Rockies and see more of them in daytime so perhaps next time I might see about the Rocky Mountaineer for a different type of trip!

  6. Michael Gray September 5, 2013 at 13:57 #

    Why did they give you this splendid and expensive trip – especially since you weren’t required to write about it???

    • Mardi Michels September 5, 2013 at 15:59 #

      Hi there!

      VIA has been working with food and travel bloggers here in Canada and internationally (i.e. the #BloggerTrain groups that came to TBEX in Toronto in June) over the last year or so and this was definitely of interest to my readers/ followers hence my (and their) interest.

      • Robert Francis Hudson September 8, 2013 at 15:14 #

        About three years ago, VIA Rail changed their schedule to 5 days, 4 nights. Now, their trains arrive in Vancouver or Toronto “on time or early”!

        • Mardi Michels September 8, 2013 at 15:36 #

          The journey (both ways) is currently 4 nights and 3 days. And yes, they do organise the schedule with some padding in there so that the trains arrive at destination on time or early.

  7. yummychunklet September 5, 2013 at 20:59 #

    A long train trip is one I have yet to try. Looks fun!

  8. Cakelaw September 5, 2013 at 22:54 #

    This would have been so much fun! Love the photos.

  9. Peggy Barrette September 6, 2013 at 07:59 #

    My husband and I would love to do this trip. He is in a powered wheelchair full-time and is it an accessible trip for him? He has ALS.
    Thanks for sharing this experience!

  10. raymond huneault September 7, 2013 at 07:51 #

    je m’informe pour prendre le train de Dorval a Vancouver en juillet 2014
    si les choses le permet .
    j’y pence depuis longtemps. Un réve a réaliser.

  11. Silvana October 31, 2013 at 13:10 #

    I’m looking to book a trip from UK to Canada, going to Vancouver, taking the Rocky Mountaineer to Calgary, renting a car ,and driving to Edmonton , then looking to pick up the train to Toronto.
    Your comments make it seem good, better than my trip with Amtrak from Chicago to Seattle, where I couldn’t turn in my cabin it was so small!
    Any help would be appreciated

    • Mardi Michels November 10, 2013 at 18:04 #

      Sorry I have just found this in my comments :O I think your plan sounds just fine!

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