It seems like the only thing I ever use this blog for is to document travel. At some point I hope to return to posting other things, but this will have to do for now.

I’m writing this as I sit in my lower berth accommodations aboard VIA Rail’s The Canadian, bound for Vancouver. It’s the end of a very long day which began about 18 hours ago. A cab ride at 6 am to the VIA station, an uneventful boarding, and an introduction to our car’s porter, Kevin (not his real name). This part of the car is very quiet, only a couple of other passengers and me. I’m booked for the upper berth, but Kevin tells me if no one takes the seat across from mine at Jasper, then the lower berth is mine. His words prove prophetic.

My home for the next 24 hours.

The new renter.

The train trundles along at varying speeds throughout the trip, sometimes slowing or stopping for a freight, sometimes a fully scheduled stop for passengers at a station. In Spruce Grove we’re delayed for a full hour to allow runners in a marathon to cross the track. Considering the number of times I’ve waited for trains at railway crossings, I wonder whether this was a CN sponsored event.

The dining hall.

The meals are exceptional. For brunch, I opted for something unusual: a duck confit Benedict. The poached egg and Hollandaise, both far better than most Benedicts I’ve had, were joined by duck meat and a cake made of shredded potato and bacon.

First breakfast – duck confit benedict.

There wasn’t a lunch to speak of, but considering the quality of the brunch I didn’t miss it. The stop in Jasper, originally planned to be 90 minutes, was cut in half to make up for the time lost in Spruce Grove. I managed to get a snack and a few photos of the train before we had to board again.

Most of the Jasper break was taken up by an unplanned trip to a camera store in Jasper. I had packed everything I needed for my camera – except the spare battery and charger. While they had a large variety of batteries and chargers, none were made for my camera. I would have to ration the battery usage, and lean more heavily on the iPhone’s camera. I managed to get one last photo before the camera’s battery died – a shot of Pyramid Falls, visible only from the train (highway travellers never see it).

Speaking of charging, thereby hangs another tale. The train was greatly lacking in AC outlets, so as devices required charging, it turned out to be a bit of a struggle to find places to plug in. I have a portable battery that I use to charge my devices, so fortunately I don’t need an outlet that often, but when that too ran down, I resorted to plugging it into the electric razor plugin in the bathroom.
As it turned out, the devices saw pretty limited use anyway. There’s no WiFi on the train, which I thought was a universal service across VIA, but turns out is only available in high traffic areas like Ontario and Quebec, or when in a station. Plus, in the Rockies, cellular signals are spotty at best along the railway line.

It turned out to be for the best. Any time I would have spent checking email or Facebook was now taken up with wandering up and down the train or long stints of staring at the passing scenery.

Pyramid Falls. Sadly, this was the last picture my camera took before the battery died.

Which, when it comes right down to it, is what train travel should be all about. The mind drops into a lower gear, one cares less and less about the outside world, and all that matters is pleasant travel, good scenery and good food.
Rail travel is a far more social mode of transportation than air or road. This is mainly felt at meals, where to in order to use limited table space efficiently, you are seated at a table of four with three other people from other parties. At brunch I met Frank from Winnipeg, Dieter and Greta from Kiel in northern Germany; dinner was with a pharmacist from California and a couple originally from Iowa who now sell real estate in Florida. While I’m not a naturally gregarious person, I can muster what’s needed to get me by, and this time I found that I enjoyed and learned from my table-mates.

The twilight is deepening outside my window. The steady low rumble of wheels on rails is lulling me to sleep. I think it’s time to succumb to the lull.

Shortly before bed.

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