Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Toronto to Vancouver: 4 169 Kms, 4.5 Days

My train to Vancouver was scheduled to leave at 10:00 PM on the 27th of May, and for once I arrived early enough at the station to be at the front of the line. While waiting in line I met a German man briefly who was travelling to Winnipeg as part of his "lifelong dream to travel on The Canadian" (the train from Toronto to Vancouver). He told me that he was travelling from Halifax to Vancouver, Vancouver to San Francisco, San Francisco to Denver, then to Chicago and eventually all the way to New York, all on trains.

At 10:00 PM, the attendant came to open the gate and let us on the train, but as I bent down to pick up my bags everyone passed me, and so my 45 minute wait in line was for naught. Fortunately, there were so few people in coach it was possible to take up four seats to myself, had I wished (one jerk took up six).

(Our shiny, probably not so new, lead engine.)

(After taking the picture of the engine above, literally every other person on the train decided to walk up and take a picture as well.)

While lunches on The Ocean were rather expensive, on The Canadian the cost is surprisingly reasonable. For $12 I was given my main course of salmon/salad/bread, etc., plus a bowl of soup for an appetizer, a pot of tea, and a large slice of butter tart cake for dessert. I was genuinely stuffed after eating it all, and even while writing this I can't help but think VIA Rail is just waiting to charge my credit card with a secret fee after its accountants figure out that I hadn't been gouged enough.

At one of the lunches I brought up the topic of what makes Canadians unique. I explained that out uniqueness is how much we say "sorry." When I travel the world most people are polite, but in my experience Canadians say sorry more often than any other nation's people.

This became incredibly obvious when I was in Toronto, and I had to push myself to the back of a cramped, crowded street car in rush hour. As I knocked everyone out of the way with my large bag, I tried to say sorry, but before I could get the word out of my mouth everyone had already apologized to me first for hitting my bag.

The waiter for our table overheard me telling this story and added that one time she was walking in a store, and when she turned she bumped a box with her bag. She turned around and said "sorry" to the box like a good Canadian, and the woman behind her (also a Canadian) started laughing and told her "that just made my day; I did the same thing before."

We pulled into Winnipeg at 7:30 AM on the 29th (half an hour ahead of schedule), but the train had to be cleaned, and the crew changed, so I had four and a half hours to kill before the 12:00 PM scheduled departure. Unlike other passengers who sat in coffee shops for four hours, I knew exactly where I needed to go.

It just so happens that in Winnipeg I was a young man, although not really down on my dough due to my excellent budgeting. I had also heard that as a young man there was a place where I could go, and that if I went there I was was sure to find many ways to have a good time. So, I asked the first homeless person I met to direct me to the nearest YMCA, and once there I had an excellent workout and a refreshing shower afterwards.

(The Nutty Club building in Winnipeg, Manitoba.)

Back on the train, with a new crew and some different passengers, I was asked by one of the train attendants if I would be willing to learn how to operate the train door in case of an emergency evacuation. Since the joy of responsibility comes with the burden of obligation, I agreed to be certified, and in exchange I had an extra orange piece of paper hung over my seat in recognition of my new VIP status.

(Some artefacts from a "vintage car" heap in Melville, Saskatchewan.)

Up until reaching Saskatoon, the weather had been lovely, save for a brief rain storm in Winnipeg. I went to sleep shortly after leaving Saskatoon, and when I woke up in Alberta I found snow everywhere. Since the snow disappeared as we entered the lovely Jasper National Park (which is run by the Federal Government, and is therefore not really a part of Alberta), I found this a fitting metaphor for why I am leaving Alberta in the first place.

(A beautiful sight: Dodge Sprinter vans coming to save Albertans from the tyranny of the pick-up truck.)

(More beautiful sights.)

Eventually I went back to sleep after crossing into Mt. Robson Provincial Park (the BC version of Jasper National Park), and slept through most of BC. When I woke up I was only two hours away from Vancouver. I made it! Four nights on a train - 데이빗 strong man.

(Bonus Question: In which province was this picture taken? Write your answer in the comments section.)