Canada by train

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With the end goal in mind of reaching San Francisco by mid-May, my housemate Ida and I debated for a long time over just how to get there and, most pressing, how to get across Canada. The sensible idea would be to fly, either all the way to Vancouver on the Pacific Ocean, or at least as far as Calgary, within spitting distance of the Rockies. But flying’s too easy, right. In a fit of genius/idiocy we decided we’d travel the xxx miles across the entire span of Canada by train.

Next we had to decide where to stop; four days and nights in no more than a reclining seat was even too much for us young, intrepid explorers! The train from Toronto to Vancouver only leaves twice a week, so wherever we chose we’d be stuck there for 3 nights. Helpfully, when it came to our decision-making ability, Canada’s kind of empty! Essentially, our options were Winnipeg, Edmonton or Jasper. We’d never heard of Edmonton, so that was pretty easy to exclude. Winnipeg was exactly half way, but potentially pretty lifeless. Jasper was going to be infinitely more interesting and beautiful, at the heart of the Rockies, but required that we still do 3 days and nights on the train before getting there. Meh, we’re young and resilient, we chose Jasper. 

And so at the start of May we left Kingston for Toronto. In a fitting view of things to come, the train departed 1.5 hours late from its origin in Toronto. So finally getting aboard around midnight, we settled into our economy seats for the night. Actually, the train is really efficiently set up for economy passengers. Yes the seat reclined, but each seat also had two pull out leg rest options. The seats were wide and spacious and, actually, I slept pretty well each of the three nights! In the economy car you also get access to a ‘snack car’ with booth seats and a dome car for 360 panoramic views. We made plenty of use of the dome car, but didn’t buy any food, having carted to Toronto around 2 tonnes of bagels and apples each.

I woke up around 6am on our first morning on the train, the sun was just rising over misty Ontario lakes and forests. This was just the beginning, too! Through Ontario we saw more vast forested areas and even frozen lakes. Then we reaches the plains, one full afternoon and night of perfectly flat, uneventful Canadian wilderness. We were numerously warned of this by Canadian friends back in Kingston, so we were prepared with music, books, podcasts and films. But, actually, travelling for hours through un changing countryside forces you to realise the unappreciated vastness of Canada. The train runs through roads perpendicular to the track which stretch straight out into the horizon for tens of kilometres. It’s actually pretty awe inspiring, you develop huge admiration for the first Canadian settlers to cross the country, they must have thought it would never end, traversing it on foot. 

 

Sunrise over one of Ontario’s lakes

 

The days didn’t actually drag, after a year of studying, socialising and travelling every single day, it was really nice to sit back and read and doze, listen to music and doze, essentially just to catch up on sleep. 

 

 

After chasing the sun for hours, the sun finally went down in the west and we woke up ready to see the Rockies. Alas, our trains was running 6 hours late. We finally reached the Rockies mid-afternoon, and rolled into Jasper at dinner time. It was easily worth enduring the plains for. The Rockies are breathtaking. We spent all three days hiking around the alpine lakes and up the smaller mountains where the snow had already melted. The train helps you appreciate the vastness that North America has to offer travellers, and that Europe can’t compete with. 

 

After 3 days in Jasper we hopped back on the train over to Vancouver, just one night involved this time! This was easily the most amazing train ride you’ll ever take. For the 20 hours from Jasper to Vancouver you’re surrounded on all sides by beautiful snow capped mountains, crystal clear blue lakes and BEARS – 3 of them to be precise, 2 black bears, 1 grizzly. Waving goodbye to the most beautiful views either of us had ever seen, we rolled into Vancouver EARLY. Even the train staff were amazed, maybe it was the first time it had ever arrived on time. Vancouver is also phenomenal. It has it all; ocean, beaches, mountains and even rainforest. 

To the subject matter of this blog though; the train. We were pretty nervous about the journey, 10% of people we told about the journey were in awe, the other 90% thought we were mad. But we weren’t! I would recommend this journey to anyone keen to see literally ALL of Canada. I can’t speak for the sleeper cabins or the food, but in economy you’re perfectly comfortable and meet lots of interesting people with very different stories. We were joined in economy by plenty of 50+ year olds, it’s essentially just a journey for anyone who wants to really see Canada, not to just fly over it. Plus you could see bears. 

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