BC RAILJune 26/02
Arranged for a 5:00 a.m. wake up call. This proved to be a little bit earlier than we needed so we watched the end of the World Cup soccer game between Turkey and Brazil.
At 7:00 we went down to the front desk, checked out, and waited with one of the passengers from the Whistler Northwind train. Our bus picked us up at the hotel and we arrived at the train station a short time later. My first view of the train left me with a very positive impression. The colors are very attractive and the cars were very clean.
After receiving our tickets at the station, we boarded the train around 8:15. The car interiors are luxurious with large windows that extend to the ceiling along with classical music playing in the background. The dining car is first class with nice table cloths and fine china.
Shortly after our departure at 8:30, a brunch was served which consisted of pastry, frittata, Canadian bacon, and fresh fruit. For lunch I chose the north arm farm salad mix with chicken pot pie and for dessert I had a double chocolate truffle cake.
After dinner, the gentle ride and the soft background music had a soothing effect on the passengers.
At approximately 4:00 p.m. the train stopped at Exeter, where we disembarked to ride a tour bus to the hotel. There were different motels for different passengers depending on which type of tour they were on. Passengers could sign up for golfing, wagon rides etc., for the next morning if they wished.
We arrived at the 108 Motel around 6:00 p.m. and we relaxed for an hour before joining the others for supper. Due to the size of the group, the meal plan was changed from a BBQ to a sit-down dinner. We were served a combination of salmon, 4 oz. Steak with a baked potato and a cob of corn. This was followed by a piece of apple pie for dessert.
Since the temperature was pleasant at dusk, I decided to take a walk down to the nearby lake before retiring for the evening.
Received a wake up call at 6:15 and went for breakfast at 8:00. We were the last of the group as the rest of our traveling companions had finished. Breakfast was a buffet of bacon, sausages, potatoes, eggs, and pancakes. We were impressed by the size of the coffee cups, as they were larger than coffee mugs.
The bus picked us up at 11:00 a.m. and brought us to the train. After our departure, lunch was served on board. The train stopped at Pemberton where our bus took us to Whistler. Since Whistler does not have a siding, the train cannot stay overnight there.
The bus dropped different groups to their various hotels and my group was dropped off at the Westin Hotel. Ray and I had two rooms that shared a door between them. The rooms were very large and luxurious. Each room had a kitchenette and my room had a living room with a gas fireplace. A platter of fresh fruit and cheese was placed on the table for us by the hotel. Due to the proximity of the hotel to the forest, the hotel management take very seriously the possibility of guests accidentally meeting wildlife, such as bears, so they provide each guest with a small bear bell. While I had every intention of staying within the village, I arranged to get an additional bear bell for my daughters.
We spent the evening in front of the gas fireplace before retiring.
Since we wouldn't be leaving before noon, we didn't make an effort to get up early. At our leisure, we went down to the dining room for breakfast, which was a buffet. Ray and I were very impressed by the size and variety of what was presented to us. We had never seen a buffet this large before. We were later joined by Bob, the Project Manager for the Whistler Northwind.
After breakfast, we strolled around the village taking photos and purchasing souvenirs for home.
At noon we traveled to the train station ahead of the other passengers to allow Ray to take some virtual photos of the train interiors. While we were waiting for the arrival of the train, Ray found a couple of large snails that BC is known for. They are black and about 5 inches long.
Shortly after the arrival of the train, the other passengers came on board and we were on our way. Lunch was served shortly and I sat with a charming young couple from Ohio. The wife purchased the train ride as a birthday gift for her husband who is a rail enthusiast.
The train followed the Fraser River where the water has cut a deep channel for the fast flowing river. The closer we approached Vancouver, the more overcast the weather became until finally it was raining.
Our train finally rolled into the station around 5:00 p.m. We also noticed passengers arriving at the station in formal attire for the Pacific Starlight Dinner Train.
After Ray and I checked into our hotel in downtown Vancouver, I called an old friend of mine, Joe Kearney. I told Joe where we were staying and he came down and we went out to a restaurant to talk about my trip.
In our original plans, Ray and I were to take the Pacific Starlight dinner train on the next evening, but when we discovered that the train on Vancouver Island was slated to stop running in the next two weeks, it was decided that Ray would go by himself on the dinner train and Joe and I would take the Vancouver Island train that weekend.
Next morning Joe came to the hotel to pick up Ray and I to go on the Skytrain which took us across Vancouver and all the way down to Surrey. On the return trip from Surrey, we got off at the VIA train station where we purchased our train tickets for the Vancouver Island return trip from Victoria to Courtney, and also for Ray and I to go to Seattle on Tuesday.
After this we went to an Indian restaurant for lunch on behalf of Ray, it had been a couple of days since his last Indian meal. After the meal, we returned to the hotel to pick up the camera equipment, and Joe drove Ray to the North Vancouver train station to board the Pacific Starlight. After this, Joe and I went to his office where we loaded some boxes into his van and then went to the ferry to cross over to Victoria.
The plan was to stay overnight at Joe's place and then take the 8:00 a.m. train next morning. We took the last ferry at 9:00 p.m., with a crossing time of about 1.5 hours, arriving at his place around 10:00.
We got up at 6:00 a.m. to be ready for the 8:00 a.m. departure. Joe's partner Vicky was kind enough to drive us to the station. When we arrived, the bridge was being raised to allow a tug boat and barge to pass through.
At 8:00 exactly the two car train left Victoria. This train is unique in that there is no separate engine car, in fact the engine is located underneath the middle of each car. Except when accelerating, you can't hear the engines running. [VIA's Malahat utilizes self-propelled 1950s-era Budd Rail Diesel Cars. -Ed.]
Leaving Victoria, the trip is convoluted and it goes around several communities such as Esquimalt. In a short time the train was in the forest where one could see huge trees. During the four-hour trip to Courtney, the train made a 10 minute stop at Nanaimo, where passengers got off and a canteen truck provided refreshments.
From the train, it is possible to see the Vancouver Island mountain ranges as well as the mountain ranges on the mainland. We passed several impressive gorges and beautiful lakes and rivers, as well as attractive ocean bays. Along the way, Joe provided interesting commentary about the various locations and the places he had hiked in.
Around noon we arrived at Courtney, however, since we were late in arriving we only had about 20 minutes for lunch before departing once again.
On the return trip the train stopped on a bridge where beside us was a trestle bridge where people were bungee jumping. I took photos of a reluctant girl taking the plunge.
Along the way we saw two small steam engines on display that were used in the logging industry, and there was even a water tower still standing that was used by these engines. Arriving in Victoria, I saw an old rail car with "Ohio Central" on it. I later returned to take photos of it.
Upon our return Joe and Vicky took me on a tour of downtown Victoria on the eve of Canada Day. The waterfront was crowded with boats and the streets with people. They took me to a lovely park near the government buildings which have extremely large trees. In one corner of the park large Herons had built nests near the tops of these trees. These birds are very noisy when close together. The park also contains ponds with ducks and an outdoor stage where a musical group was performing.
All this fresh air generated a hearty appetite so after this tour we went to a Chinese restaurant for supper. After the meal, Joe decided to take me for a drive along the coast where there is always a cool breeze blowing. Along this route are many large expensive homes including the one that was once owned by the actor, Raymond Burr.
When we returned to his place, Joe showed me his backyard where he had toiled for several years to transform it from a plain grass yard into a wonderful retreat. A Shangri-La within the city limits of Victoria with flowers, shrubs, bamboo, water fountain and a Buddha. With a seating area sheltered from the sun, this tranquil area isolates you from the outside world.
July 1/02 (Canada Day)
Next morning we prepared for the 10:00 a.m. ferry crossing. We started by going to a restaurant to enjoy a hearty breakfast and then said our good-byes to Vicky before Joe and I left to take the ferry at Schwartz Bay.
At the ferry terminal, there is a restaurant and hand made crafts are sold in booths outside. I purchased a handsome print of a totem pole as well as two necklaces for my daughters.
Once on board the ferry, we bought our coffees and then went out on the deck to enjoy the cruise. Joe provided a dialogue about each of the islands we passed. Joe was also kind enough to warn me about how loud the ship's horn is before they blasted a warning. It is one of the loudest noises I have ever heard, not a pleasant experience. Along the passage we saw seals and bald eagles as well as dozens of small craft.
Once we docked on the Vancouver side, we went to get Ray so that he could get his daily sustenance of Indian cuisine. After this we went for a stroll along the same street to window shop to admire the jewelry and goods from the Indian subcontinent.
From here Joe took us to Stanley Park, where on this national holiday, there were many people enjoying the park. The park has a mixture of beaches, playgrounds for children, picnic areas, and of course the great variety of mature trees. Walking a short distance in the park makes you believe that you have stepped into a rainforest. These are the largest trees I have ever seen and the canopy it creates above develops and holds a high humidity level. There are many examples of young trees growing on top of fallen trees which provide the nutrients for the young trees to grow.
The park has several paths with a sufficient number of posted maps to guide you and prevent you from getting lost in this immense park.
Ray left early this morning for a meeting he had with a company that manufactures a unique type of rail engine, while I used this time to catch up on my paper work and clothes.
When Ray returned, we went to another Indian restaurant we had not been to before for lunch. On our return I purchased additional diskettes (used as film for the digtal camera) for my trip, in case I ran out of them.
Later we proceeded to the train station and waited until 4:30 p.m. when Amtrak started the boarding process for the Cascades. I quickly cleared U.S. Immigration, had the luggage x-rayed and then proceeded to our rail car.
The train to Seattle is a Talgo train with has a very modern appearance. The doors open with a slight pull and the cars have televisions installed overhead which played the movie "The Rookie" starring Dennis Quaid. This helped pass the time of the three hour trip.
As soon as we passed the American border at Blaine, WA, U.S. Customs agents came by for our declaration cards. The train arrived into Seattle around 9:30 p.m. and we took a taxi to the Holiday Inn at Pioneer Square.
This is Part 2 of a 3-part travelogue.