I have a bit of a thing for train journeys so had wanted to work in a ride on the Reunification Express. Planning determined that this would be just the short stint from Hue to Da Nang which didn’t seem long enough but was better than nothing. Read more
Posts tagged ‘train travel’
Mid morning I got ready for the big 200m walk to the Kings Cross station.
At a ticket kiosk I picked up my prepaid ticket. This was all so efficient I had half an hour to kill. I opted for a first class ticket since it was discounted and provided extra legroom for the four-ish hour journey. It was then a matter of waiting for the platform number to be announced so that we could go and board.
We got underway. The seat in first class was so worthwhile. As well as loads of space and a window seat, unbeknownst to me the price also included food and drinks, plus wireless.
The table meant I could spread out gadgets, juggling laptop activities (i.e. blog prep) with monitoring the landscape, cameras at the ready. Not that we were dawdling so you only had a split second to make photography decisions.
Crops with bright yellow flowers started to appear. They were such a stunning colour that I became a bit obsessed with them.
I’ve established that these crops are oilseed rape, also known as rapeseed. The reason there’s so much of it is probably because this is commonly used as the vegetable oil in the food industry.
By the time we got to Manchester the blue skies had disappeared.
Tiredness was again setting in. Taking photos and notes helped achieve a certain level of alertness.
I didn’t know where the England-Scotland border was though I since see that it was only a couple of miles north of B-upon-T. The border crossing could have been about the time the overcast weather seemed to take on another level of gloom. It really did feel quite grim.
And then we arrived into Edinburgh. Glimpses of buildings from the train suggested this was going to be unlike any other city I’d been to. I left the warm cocoon of the train and set foot on Scottish soil. Or concrete as the case was. Pretty sure I either pulled a face or swore (or both): it was freezing! Had to stop and fish out scarf and jacket.
Wrestling bags up flights of steps to the station not only jumped the queue of people waiting for the lift, it also helped warm me up. I trundled out onto the street and endeavoured to navigate myself to the hotel.
In planning my trip I was determined to see a game of NHL ice hockey. Along with drag racing, speedway tracks and polar bears, it was one of those North American experiences I really wanted to notch up. I stalked websites waiting for the draw to be released. I saw a game was scheduled in Ottawa that would tie in nicely with the end of my trip. I planned an overnight excursion especially for that, on the basis that I would sort a ticket later when they were released.
What I didn’t count on was a lockout which resulted in the cancellation of the entire 2004-2005 NHL season. It was to be the first time since 1919 that the Stanley Cup wasn’t awarded. Awesome.
While I couldn’t believe my bad timing, I decided to go up to Ottawa anyway.
After my final Greyhound ordeal from Winnipeg to Toronto I overnighted in the same hostel where I began my trip, and caught a train north the following morning. The trip took around 5 hours. It was mostly wet and I had an obscured view – and when I did wander to the rear of the train for a look I wasn’t exactly overwhelmed by the scenery.
I had booked into a hostel which used to be the city’s main jail for more than a century until its closure in 1972. Such history was an irresistible pull.
Clearly such a building would not have elevators so had to hump the bags up four flights of stairs to get to my six bed jail cell dorm, which had retained a lot of its charm from its former life. That evening I went on their daily tour of other parts of the building. It was a prison where hangings took place, three apparently, and the hangman’s noose remains today. Though well fenced off!
With less than 24 hours in Ottawa, I got out on foot to see as much as possible.
And so this was about as close as I got to ice hockey.
Despite the hockey disappointment it was still a worthwhile trip. I even won $5 in the Canadian lottery. But with only a couple of nights left on North American soil it was time to scoot back down to Toronto.
I went on a big northerly deviation a couple of weeks prior and it was time for another big journey north here in central Canada.
The town of Churchill on the Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba can only be reached by train or plane. Or ship. Flying is quite expensive so I opted for the train experience – a daunting 40 hour, 1700km journey. I also opted for no sleeper cabin.
Why would you put yourself through this? Pretty straight forward really. Churchill is known as the ‘polar bear capital of the world’ and is a fantastic place to visit if you want to see these animals in the wild.
But for the meantime there was nothing else for it but to get comfortable (lots of legroom, yay) and alternate scenery watching with photo taking and book reading. Lots of book reading.
The sunsets were amazing and in the night skies I was fortunate to see some northern lights. They proved a little elusive on the remainder of the trip and I’ll definitely be seeking them out on another trip one day.
We neared the end of our journey on a fantastic clear and crisp day. I guess I expected there to be a bit of snow around which there wasn’t, although some of the lakes were iced over.
When finally we reached Churchill one of my b&b hosts was there to meet me.
I looked around Vancouver for a couple of days, again just a bief stop but it was long enough to get a taste. Then it was an early morning departure from my hostel over to the train station. I regarded this as my spluge of the trip: two days on the Rocky Mountaineer.
Primarily the domain of the somewhat older traveller, this train journey did seem to put me in the minority demographic. However, I sat opposite a young-ish couple on their honeymoon which made me feel not so out of place.
Like the previous train trip, much of the time was spent perched in reasonably comfy seats, camera at the ready. Commentary was provided and our meals were brought to us so there was plenty to be happy about.
The only downer was the weather. I’d seen some stunning photos of snowy mountains and beautiful landscapes… unfortunately I wasn’t to get any of my own on account of rain and low cloud.
Never mind, there was still plenty of great views. This trip stops overnight at a town along the way, rather than waste scenery by sleeping through it.
The end of the trip was only just the beginning of my brush with the Rockies: I was in Banff!
From Milwaukee I needed to get to Seattle to catch the ferry across to Vancouver Island. For some welcome relief from the bus, I decided to take the train – and being a 2,100 mile trip over two nights, I booked a sleeper.
I was really really looking forward to just sitting back and watching the world go by. With a good book on standby though, as 40-ish hours could challenge even my stamina for passive sightseeing.
This was during one of the stops along the ‘Empire Builder’ route which runs between Chicago and Seattle.
The sleeper was teeny – it would be very cosy for two people but was perfect for me. I left it to have meals up in the dining car, otherwise I was happy just taking in the stunning scenery.
Most photos were pretty rubbish and blurred. This one has a lot of reflection, but buffalos wandering across the landscape is not something you see every day. It was neat.
Derelict houses aren’t uncommon by any means but they always have a certain charm. I find them fascinating.
This was my first experience of long haul train travel and I loved it. Two further journeys were planned a little later in the trip.