Canada By Rail
Puts the sizzle back in train travel
When I was first invited to participate in a week of Canadian train travel, I rolled my eyes and thought, “ugh.” Train travel. Wasn’t that for backpackers sweeping across the broad European continent? Did train travel have any place in North America as a tourist attraction?
I’d done my time on trains, I thought. I was younger then. I remember not being able to sleep in my cramped quarters heading to Prague. I also recall not understanding the schedule in Antwerp. So, the idea of spending a week traversing from Vancouver to Jasper aboard VIA RAIL (Amtrak in Canada) didn’t appeal to my travel sensibilities.
I enjoyed vacations with great food, and more importantly, a good night’s sleep.
You can imagine my surprise when I discovered the enchanting Canadian countryside … best seen via train.
VIA RAIL tours originate in Vancouver, and I recommend spending at least a day shopping at the public market, taking in the views of the mountains, and tasting the cuisine of this enterprising Canadian city.
For lunch try Nu Naked + Casual Cuisine, one of Canada’s buzz-worthy new restaurants. The runaway favorite on this quaint restaurant’s menu is the bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich – popular due to its simplicity. If you’re an oyster lover, you must try the fried oyster shooter, – the plastic syringe accompanying this dish is filled with locally brewed beer. For dinner, Italian Kitchen is one of the hottest tickets in town.
The Silver and Blue class, the luxury class, has a private waiting area with coffee and free Internet access just inside the Pacific Central Building. Once on board the train, the champagne toast sets a celebratory tone. The glass-roof car offers a serene way to see the Canadian Rockies as the mountains loom overhead. I could spend hours here. After all, the train travels on high mountain rails and affords the types of sights not seen by passing motorists.
Here the food is good. Darn good. The stuffed filet was so tasty, I toured the kitchen. Imagine my surprise to find the chef prepping the next meal. Nothing frozen here.
Rock yourself to sleep
The sleeper room has plenty of space and a private toilet – quite an upgrade from my college days. Once you adjourn to your quarters, the lull of the train puts you right to sleep as you head to Jasper.
Enjoy the Charm of Jasper
The steam rises up from the pool to slightly mask my view of Lake Mildred and the Canadian Rockies in the Athabasca Valley. The outdoor heated pool is 90 degrees at the Jasper Park Lodge and I’m the only person in it.
This is just one of many ways to feel close to nature on these sprawling hotel grounds. Everyone hangs out in the lobby, which is decorated with wrought iron chandeliers, plush couches, and a fireplace and full bar. The understated rooms resemble log cabins and are connected by a scenic walkway surrounding the lake. Each suite has plush beds and panoramic windows facing the mountains. Talk about a room with a view.
From après ski in the lobby to dinner in Moose’s Nook Northern Grill, the lodge offers something for everyone. A local delicacy, bison tenderloin wrapped with boar bacon is served with horseradish mash, wild mushrooms and a tarragon merlot jus. And, if you can stand more red meat, the lamb chops are delectable.
You feel so at home at the lodge, you won’t want to leave; but you’re in the Jasper National Park, so venture you must.
This national park is uniquely Canadian. A Maligne Canyon hike is a special treat you must see with your own eyes to truly appreciate. I ventured out in nineteen below for this canyon crawling adventure. As you hike into the canyon, the guide takes you through geology 101 attempting to give some explanation for the marvel before you. The water in the creek looks like ice but is not frozen. That’s right, it’s nineteen below, and I see flowing water. I find out the source is an active natural spring.
Ski Marmot Basin
Marmot basin offers 1500 acres of ski-able Rocky Mountain terrain. A new activity has been added to snowboarding and telemarking: ski biking. If you don’t want to commit to skiing, it offers a quick way to get up the mountain and see the sights.
My first ski bike lesson went well. You sit on a bike with your feet on the ground where pedals would normally be. This gives you instant balance because the mini-skis attached to your ski boots act like training wheels. Your next mission: head up the lift. If you have a bad knee, this is the way to go as little pressure is applied. On the other hand, you are not working as hard as you do while skiing, and purists may miss the exhilaration.
Look out for deer, elk and moose, as they wander through town on a regular basis. This remote sleepy mountain town doesn’t have an airport, so hop the train to Edmonton for international connections. The ride out of Jasper provides you with another captivating view of the Canadian Rockies.
www.viarail.ca, www.viarail.ca Nu Naked + Casual Cuisine, Jasper Park Lodge; www.fairmont.com