Continuing the tale of my train journey on The Canadian from Vancouver to Toronto. Latest installment delayed by lack of cell service.
Even though I am not doing much, the time is flying by. I boarded Via Rail's The Canadian on Tuesday night in Vancouver and it's now Thursday afternoon, with the train a little east of Saskatoon. We are over an hour behind schedule. But the passengers do not seem to mind.
Time is flying by because I am enjoying doing very little and do not want the journey to end. Several fellow passengers have told me they feel the same way.
These are the major components of train life. Sleeping. Waiting for calls for meals. Eating. Looking out the window. Taking photos. Talking to strangers. Reading. Playing cards. Figuring out the shared shower (one per sleeper car.) Walking the length of the train a few times. Thinking. Hanging around in the dome car. Hanging around the bar. Wondering when we will get moving as we wait for a freight train to get out of the way.
In areas with a single track, those freights can force our train to wait on a siding for up to half an hour. We have had to wait a lot on the prairies.
My room can accommodate two people, though on this trip I have noticed that many of them are being used by one person. A queen-size bed would fill the room. There are two swing-down single beds, with one sitting above the other. When the beds are in the stored position, there is a good bit of space. Two comfortable, heavy chairs are set up when the beds are out of the way. The chairs fold down and sit under the bottom bed at night.
A toilet is in a very small separate space with a door. How you flush it is not immediately apparent. There is a white button behind the bowl labelled WC with three vertical lines of tiny squares representing a water stream. You press the button and nothing happens, though on closer inspection a little green light comes on. About five seconds later, there is a mighty whoosh and the bowl is cleared with air and the rush of very little water.
A little higher up in the toilet stall, there is a second white button that looks the same but is labelled Attendant. You press it to call the attendant. On the first night, I think my neighbour pressed the attendant button when he meant to press flush. I suspect this because of a brief conversation heard through a not-sound-proof door at 2 am. And the sound of a subsequent flush.
Apart from that, the room has many well thought out fittings designed for a small space. There is a tiny sink with a flip up cover that doubles as a table. The faucet has big levers that need to be held for water to flow, a guard against flooding and reckless water use. A three-sided mirror is above the sink. When the bed is down, there is a night light and a three-section pouch on the wall that holds eyeglasses, watch and wallet. There are glow-in-the- dark safety instructions. Several small recesses and shelves to store things. Two three-prong power outlets. A fan. A mirror light. At least four flip-down coat hooks. A tissue container. A magazine pouch. A framed landscape print. A very narrow closet with hangars. And a hammer to break the window in case of emergency.
The sleeping compartment is in good condition. So is the entire rail car, even though it has been in service for about 60 years. The car has a name, Cameron Manor, and a number, 8314. A plaque says it was named after David Cameron, who was, among many other things, a chief justice on Vancouver Island.
Via’s cross-country fleet was built in the 1950s. Many of the sleeper cars, including the Cameron, have been refurbished, most recently in 2010. They are not ratty, considering their age, a fellow passenger observed.
The Cameron has two other types of accommodation.
A cabin for one, also known as a roomette, is completely filled by the swing-down single bed. There is a toilet, covered by an upholstered seat, that is hidden by the bed when it is down, and a small sink. There’s a power outlet. The Cameron has four roomettes.
A section or berth is two bench seats facing each other during the day. They are converted into upper and lower beds at night. A thick curtain provides privacy. Sinks and toilets are down the hall. There is no power outlet. The Cameron has six berth beds.
The Cameron has five bedrooms like mine, plus a sixth that is used by the train manager.
The meals, included in the sleeper fare, have been good. They are served in the dining car. A fellow passenger, who has been on many, many trains, says the meals are among the best on a North American train — a cut above Amtrak in the U.S. Not everything is cooked on board The Canadian, but much of it is.
White table cloths are on the tables at every meal, including breakfast. That seems to make the food taste even better. So does the china and metal cutlery.
I have had an omelette, shrimp and scallops, roast duck breast, and crab Benedict with avocado. They were all well prepared, though the duck skin was a little unpleasant because it was not crispy.
Breakfast is between 6:30 and 9, no reservation needed. The dining car manager hands out reservation slips for lunch and dinner, for first or second sitting. And perhaps third in high season.
The dining car has 12 tables for four. You will likely be seated with strangers, unless you are a group of four. That arrangement fills the tables efficiently and forces strangers to talk to each other.
A bulletin, called out by our car’s attendant. The shower is out of order because the drain is frozen. Mixing a 120 km/h speed with -30 temperatures can lead to this kind of thing. But showers in the two other sleeper cars are still working.
Another installment of life on a train is coming up, when I find a cell or Wi-Fi signal.
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