Jasper and the Rocky Mountains
The next morning, I woke up about 7:30 and made my way to the dining car for breakfast, which was served on a first-come, first-served basis. Since space in the dining area is limited, passengers are seated wherever there is room, providing a fantastic opportunity to connect with new people. I sat with a middle-aged Indian couple and their young daughter, who spoke with me at length about their cultural background and travels throughout North America. After breakfast, guests typically schedule their time slots for lunch and dinner.
Afterward, I spent a large portion of the day exploring the train. Beyond the dining car, the best window seats could be found in the panorama car and the dome car. The dome car featured a second-level observation dome where guests could look out over the top of the train. While guests sat and read or observed the passing landscape, a train staff member announced any upcoming scenic highlights, such as a waterfall or a bison herd. Though I failed to spy any moose, I did manage to spot some elk and coyotes.
Throughout the day, passengers could also take advantage of scheduled events in the activity car, such as beer tasting, wine tasting, chair yoga, nightly movies and trivia. The movie choices were all tasteful, award-winning films, such as “Jackie,” starring Natalie Portman as Jackie Kennedy, and “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” a thought-provoking comedy featuring Blythe Danner and Sam Elliott. In the afternoon, we often enjoyed small concerts from a local folk singer. Via Rail offers a special travel package for Canadian musicians, which allows them to travel free of charge in exchange for daily performances.
The most significant stop along the trip was the charming, alpine town of Jasper, nestled amid the Canadian Rockies. Many travelers choose to get off the train in Jasper, where they can tour nearby attractions like Lake Louise and Banff National Park along the scenic Icefield Parkway. Other passengers, like me, made the most of their brief time in town by exploring the quaint shops and boutiques, with local favorites such as the Jasper Brewing Company, the Candy Bear Lair and the Bear Paws Bakery.
Following our departure from Jasper, the train passed through the most scenic portion of the journey: the Canadian Rockies. The dome car was the prime location to appreciate this breathtaking sight, and I nearly exhausted my phone’s memory taking photos, though not a single shot did it justice.
Canadian Prairies and Lake Country
On the second morning of the trip, I raised my window shade to an entirely different view: flat, sweeping grassland with dark-tempered clouds overhead.
Mealtimes continued to be a highlight of the day. I met all kinds of travelers, from a New Zealand couple to an Australian man traveling solo and several French-speaking Canadians from Quebec. In addition, the cuisine was world class, and there was no such thing as a poor choice on the menu. A couple of my favorite meals were roasted duck with Saskatoon berry chutney and a colorful fusion salad of corn, black beans and edamame.
That night, the train crew switched out in Winnipeg. Though it had only been two and a half days since the journey began, I had become well accustomed to the familiar faces of the staff, so it was strange to wake up to new ones.
The third day was by far the most relaxing point on the trip, my having fully adjusted to the daily routine on the train. I spent several hours in the dome car watching thick pine forests and pockets of lakes slide past the windows, taking occasional trips down to the activity car for refills of hot tea. Long stretches on the rails made me wish I had brought more reading material, though I was able to acquire a thriller novel from the Australian traveler I had met.
Robutka had suggested that I ask the attendant to leave my bed down during the day in case I wanted to come back and nap, or just sit in bed, and I took his advice for the duration of the trip, leaving a “Do not disturb” sign outside my door, which served as a convenient marker for my room. Since most of the cars look the same, it is surprisingly easy to pass your cabin on the way back from a meal or activity.
By this point, it became clear that the train was running nearly eight hours late. Since freight trains take priority on the track, the Canadian must stop and wait for each one to pass, thus falling increasingly behind schedule. Though this clearly created a setback for anyone trying to catch a connecting train or flight, most people were good-natured about the delay. After all, we were not just trying to reach a destination; we were there for the experience.
Arrival in Toronto
Though I had not expected another full day on the train on Saturday, I made the most of it by lounging in the dome car throughout the afternoon, watching sun-glossed lakes glide past under thick white clouds.
Around 5 p.m., we finally arrived in Toronto, the largest city in Canada and the provincial capital of Ontario. After spending four days virtually removed from the world, the chaos of Union Station was startling at first, especially since the city was flooded with visitors for Pride Weekend.
I spent my final evening in Canada down by the waterfront observing the boats and throngs of people, and then closed out the night with a trip to the summit of the CN Tower, the highest observation deck in North America.
For more information on this trip contact Anderson Vacations or VIA Rail using the information below: