Riding the Rails, Canadian-style Friends insist that I have an unnatural obsession with trains. I prefer to call it my wallet-friendly transport-of-choice. But it's about more than money. Trains offer the traveller an entirely different worldview. In my early 20s, I hopped what was then CP Rail at the long-gone Allandale Train Station on the outskirts of Barrie, Ontario and embarked on a three-day train ride all the way to Calgary - sitting up. (What cash-strapped university student could afford a sleeper car?) In my mid-30s, I chucked a good job, sold my TV set and vamoosed to Europe for six months, three of which were spent mostly on trains. (I'll never forget the disgruntled, rifle-toting Czech border guard who barged into my train car insisting that my Canadian passport wasn't my own. But that's another story.) Exactly one year ago, I took a 26-hour train ride from Varkala, in the south of India, all the way up to Mumbai. I shared a cabin for most of the journey with the Deepak family, a very hospital clan who took turns sharing their respective versions of various family sagas long gone by. It was entertaining. It was heaven. I don't get the opportunity to hit the rails very often, so I leapt at the chance two weeks ago to take VIA Rail to a travel conference in Ottawa. This time a week ago I booked onto VIA Rail No. 42 heading out of Toronto bound for our nation's capital. I sprung for business class (formerly known as VIA 1), although I felt a bit guilty. Yeah, I'm still stingy with my coin 30 years later. However, we'd just pulled out of Union Station in downtown Toronto and already I knew the extra bucks were worth it. [caption id="attachment_3374" align="aligncenter" width="344" caption="Via Rail heads out of Union Station, Toronto (Photo: VIA Rail Canada)"] [/caption] 5 Things You'll Love About Travelling Canada by VIA Rail:
- The Scenery: I've travelled by planes, trains, automobiles - not to mention buses and the back seats of friends' cars, but I've got to say that the views from trains are by far the best. Much of this Eastern Ontario route hugs the shores of Lake Ontario for kilometre after picturesque kilometre. You get to kick back, enjoy the ride - not to mention the views of thrashing waves and dramatic skylines. Beats an in-flight B-movie any day. [caption id="attachment_3525" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Picture-window views all for the price of a train ticket. (Courtesy: Via Rail)"][/caption]
- Give it up for Wireless! Maybe this speaks to my lifelong thriftiness, but I don't like paying for wireless. If Starbucks and mom-and-pop shops across Canada can provide free wireless, then certainly trains and hotels can jump on the wagon. Kudos to VIA. [caption id="attachment_3527" align="aligncenter" width="195" caption="Wireless trains are the only way to go when work calls. (Photo: Courtesy Via Rail)"][/caption]
- Top-of-the-line Grub Say good-bye to shrink-wrapped sandwiches stuffed with cheese of questionable origins. [caption id="attachment_3530" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Please your palate and take the taste test on VIA Rail. (Photo: Courtesy of VIA RAIL)"][/caption] I paid a bit extra for my Business Class fare but it was worth it. Vino included. Can it get any better?
- Front Seat Views of Small Town Canada Taking the train across Canada all those years ago was a bonafide geography lesson. Ditto for my recent jaunt from Toronto to Ottawa, which took me by way of Port Hope, Cobourg, Gananoque, Smith Falls and other Ontario towns I normally wouldn't have passed through. [caption id="attachment_3532" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="VIA Rail chugs through picturesque Port Hope, Ontario (Courtesy: VIA RAIL)"][/caption] I remember my first long-distance train journey across Canada back in 1980. I was mesmerized by the place names of White River, Ontario, Humboldt, Saskatchewan and Hinton Alberta. Next time I hope to get off the train and stay awhile. I hear the annual Fohn Festival in Hinton is a must-attend.
- Stress-free Travel Experience Short train jaunts can be just as thrilling as long-haul train journeys. You don't have to trek across the country to enjoy a great rail experience. You can head from Edmonton to Jasper, Quebec City to Montreal, Toronto to Niagara Falls. (Let's not forget, travelling en masse is eco-friendly as well.) [caption id="attachment_3534" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Stress-free trip to Canada\'s biggest tourist destinations (Photo: courtesy of VIA Rail)"][/caption] A call to train travellers: Win a Canadian Living cookbook by sending us a photo taken on one of your train journeys anywhere in Canada. Send to: DougCanLiving@canadianliving.com.