Sunday, July 30, 2006

Faster than a speeding locomotive...


I recently mentioned my North American Rail Pass adventure on Amtrak that I took in April and May 2005. Posted are a few shots of the Canadian portion. I will state the obvious: anyone planning such a trip should take a camera and keep it handy at all times, day and night. I was intrigued with the idea of snapping photos from a speeding train but, you need to know, they don't allow you to open a window and lean out.

When you contact Amtrak about buying a rail pass, be aware there is an "on season" and an "off season." I'm a senior so I started off with a discount and from January to June 1, fares are lower than during the peak travel time. We are talking about stretching out in the wide, deep seats in coach with lots of leg room, your luggage stored overhead and they even allow you to bring a bag of snacks on board although the snack bar is great and the dining car serves filling meals.

During my month of travel, I usually spent no more than a day or a day and a half at a time riding the rails. About only 12 days total for the journey. The rest was at destinations.

My 30 day rail pass cost $450 and I could ride anywhere they went, get on and off, stay however long I wanted to visit my kids or sightsee and the only restriction was I had to be finished by the 30th day. Cinderella at midnight sort of thing.



Oh, as I said above, one other condition of using the North American rail pass - it has to include a portion of travel in Canada. No problem eh, as I wanted to stay a few days in Montreal so my trip took me from Charleston to Washington, DC, a nice dinner in the station, wait a few hours then continue up to Penn Station in New York City.


From there I switched to the Montreal Special that hugged the Hudson River Valley past West Point and Sing Sing and eventually we stopped in the middle of a field so customs officers could come aboard to check our credentials before letting us into their country. Sounded like a fair deal.

Of course Montreal in mid-April had just gone through a harsh winter and I arrived on the warmest, sunniest weekend so far so the "terraces" were open for the first time and filled with very pale people dressed in shorts and drinking vast amounts of beer. I stuck with the excellent domestic as a Budweiser would be a costly "import." It was about 60 or so degrees. Oh, and they also all spoke French.

They were polite and appreciated that I tried to say at least a few words in their language and most spoke English in this very international city. It had been quite a while since my college French. Did I mention they were polite? Not haughty or rude as I remembered from a long ago trip to Paris.


The Canadian portion meant riding on THEIR railroad and I chose a 3 1/2 day trip across country on The Canadian, a recently restored 1950s jewel of a train that was beautiful the way trains were 50 years ago!

I chose to pay an extra $500 US so I would have a private bedroom, a shower down the hall and all my gourmet meals included. I enjoyed meeting my fellow "first class" passengers - many of whom were on a 2nd and 3rd trip aboard this classic transcontinental. It was better than sitting up in coach across the Prairies, up and over the Canadian Rockies and down into Vancouver in British Columbia.




I took The train down to Toronto to board The Canadian and after getting off the train in Vancouver, I spent the day sighseeing and eating Chinese in an upstairs dim sum place before getting back on Amtrak to continue my journey down the west coast. More later.

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