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TrainWeb Visitor Travelogue

Hi Steve,

This is my rail adventure so far. If you would like, feel free to put any of it in your trip report section.

I flew from New Orleans to Toronto. Since the flight landed so late at night, I had decided to book a hotel near the Lester B. Pearson International Airport in Toronto. It was fortunate that I did. The flight was scheduled to land at 10:45 PM. While the flight was making its final approach to the airport, the heavens opened up with a typical Toronto thunderstorm. There was hail and lightening. The lightening show was a spectacular sight to see, but eerie, flying around in it! Well, the Control Tower instructed the Pilot to abort the landing, and circle until further notice. We circled for approximately 45 minutes, and were finally cleared to land.

Once we were on the ground, the ground crew refused to guide the aircraft to the gate, as it was raining! After sitting on the runway for what appeared to be eternity, the aircraft was taken to the gate, and the pas sengers were allowed to disembark. By the time I arrived at the hotel where I was staying, it was 1:00 in the morning! I stayed at the Regal Constellation Hotel, which I found on the Internet. I was very impressed with the hotel, and the price was unbelievable, $79 Canadian for the night.

My VIA Rail Canada departure from Toronto was in the late afternoon, so I had a leisurely day to get from the hotel to Union Station. A non stop bus operates from the hotel to Union Station for $12 Canadian. I was holding a VIA 1 ticket, which is the First Class service on the Windsor-Quebec corridor trains. I went to the Panorama Lounge, which is for VIA 1 passengers. In the Panorama Lounge in Toronto, don't expect anything like the Amtrak Metropolitan Lounges. I was very disappointed in the Panorama Lounge. It is only a glorified waiting area, with a coffee machine, soda machine, and a refrigerator with juices. There are telephones available there.

I was quite fortunate that I had made my reservations with VIA Rail Canada, and purchased my ticket on their Internet website. As the result of the Air Canada strike, all of the trains between Toronto and Ottawa, and most of the VIA Rail trains during that period were completely sold out! The trains on the Corridor, in addition to having a train number, have a name.

In the VIA 1 class, a nice meal is served on the train. My train departed from Toronto on time. In the VIA 1 car, there are two car attendants. Both of the attendants were kept very busy during my trip from Toronto to Smiths Falls. First, I was offered a drink and some snacks. Then the passengers were given a menu. The menu for the food service had many choices. On this trip there was an Atlantic Salmon dish or Chicken Breast Santa Fe. After a time, the car attendant came through the car and took the meal orders, and asked which serving was preferred, 5 PM or 6PM. I opted for the 5 PM serving and ordered the Chicken Breast Santa Fe.

Shortly before my meal was served, I was provided with a hot towel. Then the appetizer was served. This consisted of smoked salmon on rye bread, spread with cream cheese and dill. It was a very tasty appetizer. All during the food service, from the time the appetizer was served, until the food service ended, there was always a choice of wines flowing. The Chicken Breast Santa Fe was served on a polenta. There were also green, red, and yellow sweet peppers served with the chicken. The food service was very efficient, and the food was served piping hot, which I like. I like my hot food hot, and my cold food cold!

During the meal service, a large selection if breads was also available. The dessert was a pecan tart, and it was sinfully rich. In Canada, a pecan tart is known by the name of butter tart. After the meal had been served, passengers were offered aperitif.

The service on my train from Toronto to Smiths Falls was nothing short of exceptionally outstanding. The one car attendant who did more than 100% to see that the passengers were well cared for was Mr. Lenny Hawkins. He is an outstanding example of what all railroad service employees should emulate.

Once the train arrived at my destination, Smiths Falls, I disembarked, and was met by my aunt and uncle. While I visited them, they had a full schedule for me.

One day, we visited a nice little town known as Merrickville. This town is on the Rideau Canal, and was once a large industrial area in the 1800's. There are also the Merrickville Locks there. The Rideau Canal is an interesting engineering accomplishment. It makes possible navigation between Ottawa and Kingston. The only craft I saw using the Rideau Canal are pleasure craft. All of the locks are still operated manually. The locks gates and water valves are all handled manually by employees of the Canadian Government. There is a charge to use the Rideau Canal system. One of the employees of the Merrickville Locks complex was most happy to provide me with information. I watched a lockage of two yachts, and the highway swing bridge was opened.

We had lunch in a quaint little place, Dickens Tavern. Merrickville is full of nice restaurants, and one will have trouble deciding which one to have a meal at. My aunt and uncle have been to Merrickville a few times, and they knew where to have lunch. The meal was very good, and the price reasonable.

After we visited Merrickville, we returned to Smiths Falls, and visited the Hershey chocolate factory there. The Hershey factory in Smiths Falls is very large. We took the self guided tour of the chocolate factory, and there was not much happening in the factory. After the tour, I went to the "Candy Shoppe" where I made some purchases. The prices there are a little more inexpensive than buying the same item at a supermarket.

Another day, we took a drive to Iroquois. It was a beautiful drive, as we drove from Brockville to Iroquois along Route 2. This is along the St. Lawrence River. Brockville is an interesting town of approximately 20,000 inhabitants. The oldest railway tunnel in North America is found in Brockville. The tunnel is no longer in use, but can be seen. It runs directly under the Brockville City Hall. There is plenty of history along the drive from Brockville to Iroquois.

Once we arrived in Iroquois, we went and found a place to have lunch. Iroquois is not much of a town, but we found a nice deli there to have lunch. The reason why we even went to Iroquois is that I wanted to see the Iroquois Lock, which is part of the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway system. After lunch we went to the Iroquois Lock, and saw a large sea going tanker go through the lock. This tanker was headed from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. The St. Lawrence Seaway system is a joint operation of both the United States and Canada. The St. Lawrence Seaway was opened in the late 1950's by President Dwight Eisenhower and Queen Elizabeth II. The St. Lawrence Seaway makes it possible for sea going vessels to call on the Great Lakes ports. To go around Niagara Falls, the ships use the Welland Canal. Which is a Canadian operated Canal.

After our visit to Iroquois, we drove to Gananoque. This is the region which is famous for the 1000 Islands in the St. Lawrence River. This area is absolutely beautiful. The Ivy Lea Bridge, which connects the United States and Canada near Gananoque is beautiful. The bridge has its footings on many islands across the St. Lawrence River. Some of the islands are in the United States, and some are in Canada. This bridge is one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever seen.

On my return trip from Smiths Falls to Toronto, I also experienced excellent service on VIA Rail Canada. The meal on this trip was a choice between a sirloin steak, chicken, or seafood cannelloni. I opted for the sirloin steak, and it was served with new potatoes and fresh green beans. Dessert on this trip was chocolate torte. We had an on time arrival at 8 PM in Toronto.

I then had porter assistance with my luggage to the Royal York Hotel. The Royal York Hotel in Toronto, is very convenient for passengers who are arriving or departing from Union Station. The VIA Rail porter will deliver your luggage to the Royal York Hotel, and when checking out, the Royal York Hotel porter will deliver your luggage to a VIA Rail porter.

On my rail travel in Canada, when not traveling first class or when traveling on Amtrak trains originating in Canada, I always use a porter. This is because when a porter takes your luggage to the train, he will also take the passenger to the train, before general boarding begins. For instance, I was the first one boarded on the Toronto-Chicago train.

While in Toronto, if one has time to take an interesting walk, the entire downtown area of Toronto is accessible underground from Union Station. It is interesting. The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), and the Government of Ontario GO trains all serve Union Station. When in Toronto, no visit is complete without visiting the Eaton Centre, a unique shopping center. Also, the Royal Ontario Museum is interesting. A restaurant to please anyone's taste will be found in Toronto. From Union Station there is also a Skywalk to the Sky Dome.

The trip from Toronto to the Canadian border at Sarnia is beautiful. Leaving the Toronto Metropolitan area, there are many interesting sights to see. On the left side of the train are the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. After seeing this on the left, the train passes through the usual downtown areas, then further on, there are nice golf courses, parks, and further along the route, the Toronto International Airport. Then out of Toronto and into open spaces. This area of Western Ontario is rich farmland. There were miles after miles of flat farmlands, and from time to time cities, like Guelph, Kitchener, and London. Along the route, there were also beautiful rivers to be seen.

The last station stop in Canada is Sarnia, Ontario. Prior to arriving in the United States, the train personnel make an announcement advising anyone who might have fruits and vegetables to dispose of these items. It is forbidden to bring these items into the United States. If the U.S. Customs officials have to dispose of these items, it will delay the clearance of the train.

Once the train departs from Sarnia, the train enters the CN International Tunnel. When the train emerges from the tunnel, the train is well past the Port Huron, Michigan train station! The train then backs into the station, and the U.S. Customs and Immigration officials come aboard the train. Once the train is cleared, and the Amtrak crew has taken over, the train is on its way again. There were no problems during the clearing of the train I was on, and the entire process required about 30 minutes.

As you know Steve, the VIA Rail-Amtrak "International" is a unique train. The engine for the entire trip from Toronto to Chicago was a VIA Rail Canada engine, number 6418. The three coaches on the train are superliner coaches, and is Amtrak equipment. As you noted before, all of the passengers which boarded in Toronto, and were going to Chicago, were loaded into the second coach on the train. I have no idea why this is done, because when the U.S. Customs and Immigrations officials board the train in Port Huron, Michigan, they go through the entire train. The operating crew from Toronto to Port Huron is VIA Rail Canada. In Port Huron, an Amtrak operating crew takes over the train, and the VIA Rail Canada remains on the train. The Cafe Car attendant for the entire trip was an employee of VIA Rail.

The trip across Michigan was interesting. By the time the train departed from Port Huron, the train was less than half full. This changed once the train arrived in East Lansing. Many college students boarded the train there. Departing East Lansing, the train was almost completely full. The train had an on time arrival in Chicago. I spoke to some people on the train, who boarded in Kalamazoo. They are frequent users of the train to Chicago, and they told me that "The International" is the best service on this route.

The food service in the Cafe Car is standard fare for this type of operation. I found the Beef Polish Sausage quite tasty. During the course of the trip, I ate two of these sausages.

After arriving in Chicago, it took an eternity to get a taxi cab from Union Station to my hotel. I am staying at the Executive Plaza Hotel on Wacker Drive. I found the hotel on the Internet, and the rate is an unbelievable $89 daily. The rooms are some of the nicest and largest I have seen in a hotel. The taxi fare from Union Station to the hotel is approximately $5.

After all of this travel, and after getting settled into the hotel, I decided I was hungry. I found a very nice restaurant on Wabash Avenue, about a six block walk from the hotel, Miller's Pub Restaurant. I had an outstanding meal of salad, a large cut of prime rib, baked potato, vegetables, a beer and a glass of wine, and the bill was under $25, which I consider reasonable for Chicago.

I have today to explore Chicago before my train, the "Cardinal" departs tonight at 7:40 PM. I will write more on the next segment of the trip tomorrow.

Take care Steve,
Jim Robertson

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