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Travelogue Canadian Rockies
Sep 11 2011 (7:54AM)
News Entry# 37877 Rocky serenade
Posted by: rdb*^ Added by: rdb*^ Sep 11 2011 (7:56AM)
Ploughing through craggy cliffs, slopes draped in thick pine forests and blue lakes while savouring champagne and oven-fresh cookies, Gustasp and Jeroo Irani narrate their memorable journey on Rocky Mountaineer, one of the legendary trains in the world.It stood gleaming blue and gold with stylised white stripes at Whistler station in British Colombia, Canada. We felt a sense of immense satisfaction knowing that we were guests on one of the most legendary trains in the world — the Rocky Mountaineer.
The welcome aboard was a red carpet and roses affair, spiked with the cheery wit of chirpy hostesses. We smiled back at passengers as we walked down the isle of a glass-domed compartment to claim our seats. Yes, we had established a...
sense of camaraderie that comes with knowing that we were going to share a very special journey with total strangers.With a great-to-have-you aboard message from our cabin attendants and a ceremonial toot, the Rocky Mountaineer chugged off on its epic three-and-a-half-hour (120 km) sea to sky odyssey. This run, of course, was the sky to sea route since we would be travelling from sky-high mountains down to the sea that washed the shores of Vancouver, our final destination.
As the resort town of Whistler swept past our window, we were swamped by a flood of memories — the exhilaration of zip lining over silvery mountain streams and across a rainforest canopy, mountain biking down rugged trails, soaring across valleys in a glass bottom cable car that was attached to the world’s longest suspension cable, breaking local bread and dipping into aboriginal culture with new found friends at the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre, fine dining in restaurants with spectacular views and a black bear feeding on a green traffic island.
“Champagne?” We were jolted out of our musings as a cabin attendant leaned across with a tray of bubbly. We accepted a flute and savoured the sensation of it sparkling on our taste buds even as the scenery unravelling outside our window lit up our senses.
The Rocky Mountaineer was well into its journey by now, ploughing through wild terrain — craggy cliffs baring their teeth at a blue sky; slopes draped in thick pine forests; the blue glacier-fed Alpha Lake, which fielded the reflection of snowy peaks in its ripple-free surface.
There were great photo opportunities around every twist and turn in the track and they were too pure and crisp to risk sacrificing with window glass distortions. So we hurried down the train to join other camera-toting passengers in the window-free observation car to capture the landscape as it un-spooled outside.
Shutters tripped in chorus as the train negotiated steep bends and trundled over bridges that straddled deep ravines. Since the journey was the destination and there was no urgency to reach the final port of call, the train would slow down at strategic points — be it the foaming Brandywine Falls, a 195 ft cascade or an angry Cheakamus River venting its frustration on rocks and outcrops that impeded its impatient journey towards the sea.
At times, the train would pose self-consciously for portrait shots, its sleek body stretched over tracks that threaded folds of mountains that surged almost vertically over canyons, carved by surging glacier-fed rivers. The train tooted at an average speed of around 40-50 km; the pace was unhurried, allowing the heady fragrance of wild flowers to waft in from time to time.
We got back to our seats in time for a proper English high tea service of fresh baked cookies, chocolate-dipped strawberries, profiteroles, watercress sandwiches and scones with jam and clotted cream. Our seat-back tables were elegantly draped with white napery and cutlery and the service enabled us to sip tea even as we enjoyed ringside views of the Canadian wilderness.
By then we had come to the cusp of the sky and sea journey and the Pacific Ocean soon started to fill the frame of our picture windows. We steamed past the picturesque little mountain village of Squamish which, in the native tongue, means ‘birthplace of the wind’.
This is because the heavier cold air above the glaciers across the bay drops down to the warmer waters of the sea and then rises in a rush, sweeping across the mountain slopes like a fresh breath. Aptly enough, this resort of mysterious beauty was one of the locales where the Twilight films were shot.
The brooding mood in these parts spawned eerie legends too. The witch of Kaukale, with a pointed hat and flying robe, was swept off her broom when riding the winds and slammed into a rocky cliff, leaving her impression (the result of erosion) against the black rock. Native fable has it that when kids are particularly naughty, the witch takes to the sky once more to check out if there is enough evil around to brew a spell.
Indeed, we were regaled with stories, legends and jokes right through the journey. An attendant drew our attention to a glacier-polished granite monolith (the second largest in the world) called the Stawamus Chief clawing at the sky and the Britannia Mines, which in the mid 1930s, were the largest copper mines in the British Empire (a total of 200 km of tunnels burrow into the surrounding hills). The mines have been closed permanently and now house the Museum of Mining.
As the track descended towards the ocean, we sailed past a few caravan and tented camp resorts and charming little villages where children, who probably see the train go by their garden homes twice every day, smiled and waved at us. Kayakers and wind surfers dotted the waters of Porteau Cove with brilliant colours as a magnificent bald eagle rode the thermals overhead.
Soon the steel and glass skyline of Vancouver defined the horizon. First impressions, however, were deceptive for nature’s paintbrush sweeps right through the capital city of British Colombia — down 35 km of waterfront walkways; at Stanley Park which contains a thriving temperate rain forest; at Grouse Mountain (accessible by cable car) where grizzly bears roam.
The Rocky Mountaineer finally pulled into Vancouver station and as we stepped out of our coach, we realised that even as one amazing journey had come to an end, we were about to embark on another unforgettable one.
* The Rocky Mountaineer offers over 45 train vacation packages ranging from 25 days to day trips; the most popular being the overnight trip between Vancouver and Jasper; the two nights journey between Vancouver and Banff and the three-and-a-half-hours run between Vancouver and Whistler, and vice versa.
* The luxurious train travels by daylight and passengers spend the night in boutique hotels en route. It is one of the finest ways to experience the Canadian Rockies as well as the stunning Banff and Jasper National Parks (UNESCO World Heritage Sites) in the province of Alberta.
* The train operates from April to October and every season has its advantages. June is springtime in the Rockies; July and August are delightfully warm while April, May and October offer savings.
Aug 31 2011 (8:27AM)
News Entry# 36283 The Canadian Rockies by Train
Posted by: rdb*^ Added by: rdb*^ Aug 31 2011 (10:54AM)
It has all the markings of a five-star hotel – impeccable service, remarkable attention to detail, gourmet food and presentation, incomparable views – but this vacation getaway is hurtling across the Canadian Rockies on train tracks. Welcome aboard the Rocky Mountaineer, traveling from Vancouver to Banff/Calgary and trying very hard to live up to its self-proclaimed designation as “the most spectacular train trip in the world.” I'll go with certainly one of.There I was, comfortably seated, head back, Bloody Mary in hand, staring through dome-high windows at scenery changing from farmland to lake country, bountiful forests to semi-arid land, deep ravines to towering mountains. I knew then that the books I had brought along for entertainment would never be opened.The two attendants servicing our car, one of about 20 snaking through the countryside, start the first morning off with Champagne and OJ, setting the bar (so to speak) for the rest...
of the journey. As we toast to scenic vistas and making new friends, attendant Ron proffers Nicorette gum to smokers to ease the trauma of having to do without all day. First impressive attention to detail.The attendants on board provide colorful and informative commentary during the two-day daylight journey (there’s an overnight stay midway through in Kamloops) on the history, ecology, wildlife and significance of what you’re seeing, most of which, according to Ron, is actually factual. Interpersonal bantering and occasional bad jokes add to the local color.Lisa Wood and John Bailey from Worcester, England were “very impressed with the knowledge of the attendants. We tried to stump the commentators, but haven’t been able to.” Added Lisa: “There’s something so romantic about the railway -- it held the country together.” Which was literally true of the Canadian Pacific Railroad, upon whose tracks the Rocky Mountaineer rode. CPR, Canada’s first transcontinental railroad, was completed in late 1885. But the motivation to build it impacted our country as well. When Canada became independent in 1867, it consisted of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. To ensure that what remained of the territory did not become part of the U.S., then Prime Minister John Macdonald proposed a railroad connecting the continent. That persuaded potentially fickle British Columbia to join the confederation in 1871 – thereby “holding” the country together.Let’s be very clear. Meals are important on the Rocky Mountaineer, especially if you’re in the upgraded GoldLeaf service (more on that later). Hot breakfast and lunch, served in the first-level dining room, are accompanied by fine linens and fresh flowers.The choice of gourmet offerings, as appealing to the eye as the scenery out the window, might include a Wild British Columbia Sockeye Salmon served over a bed of warm local vegetables and tender nugget potatoes, finished with fennel slaw, smoked sea salt and old-fashioned mustard vinaigrette. Or perhaps a slow-cooked Alberta short ribs served with garlic whipped potatoes and seasonal vegetables. A selection of fine wines to accompany the palate-pleasing menu are a given.“I’ve traveled all over and never encountered this level of service before,” gushed Carl Ricketts from New Orleans. “From the pre-planning to all the explanations to the transport at Kamloops – all so smoothly maneuvered from beginning to end. Not to mention the quality of the food and its presentation. ”During periodic “photo ops,” the train slows to “Kodak speed” – although, I suspect, digital cameras are making that particular reference more and more obsolete. With a wildlife spotting, the word travels the length of the train, and you hope the bison, bear, elk, big-horn sheep or eagle is still there by the time your car arrives at the area of sighting.The most spectacular scenery reveals itself during the second day. In the middle of lunch, the loudspeaker announced “photo op on the right”; conversation and chewing stopped as everyone lurched to one side to catch a glimpse of your everyday rushing rivulet prancing over rocks though a valley of wildflowers beneath a backdrop of mountains. Oh, that again. A chorus of oohs and ahhs ensued before chomping commenced once again.Be sure to visit the vestibule between railcars to get a much more exquisite -– and personal -- view of the scenic drama unfolding in front of you. The rumbling of the train, the crispness of the air, the immediacy of the mountains make for a far more tangible immersion in the experience.As Alison Michaelson, from the Channel Islands in England, observed from her vestibule vantage point: “All the senses come together. I can feel the train moving below, listen to the rush of movement and feel the wind against my cheek. It is so much more exciting than sitting at my seat.”The on-board newspaper -– printed in English, French, Japanese and German –- provides a fascinating alternative should the views outside the windows start seeming redundant. Full of maps, routes, history, anecdotes, photo suggestions and more, it’s like a Rocky Mountaineer primer that parallels the trip – and the history of the railways – mile by mile.Whether you’re reading – or talking or watching – if it’s more than two hours since you last ate, chances are good you’ll be offered some wine and cheese, or perhaps some home-made cookies to tide you over until the next meal. Attention-to-detail option #327.Such is one of the differences between the GoldLeaf Service and the less-pricey RedLeaf version: there, the cookies are packaged. But there are other more significant differences. The visual expanse of the dome car is replaced with large side windows that stop short of reaching overhead.
The gourmet meals `a table are relegated instead to continental breakfast and a pair of luncheon entrée choices served at your seat. And the open bar now costs $6 a drink. However, the on-going commentary stays the same, and the views outside the windows remain constant for both tiers of service.
And attention-to-detail #328? When stopping at a hotel in Kamloops for the night, passengers receive their keys to the rooms before disembarking so they don’t have to wait on line to check in. And the luggage awaits them in their room. Would that be #328 AND 329?
“The usual expectations of a train is that it takes you from Point A to Point B,” says Guest Services Manager, Shauna Hetherington, who’s been traveling the rails for 6 years. “What happens in between is the adventure. It’s not only the constantly changing views that bring excitement.”
And then she proceeds to tell the story of the past summer when the train all of a sudden slowed down, “because of all things” there was a bull on the tracks, slowly making its way westward. Given little choice, the train followed for 20 minutes. “The crew used Super Soakers to try to move it out of the way, and then we chased it with mops and brooms.”
Apparently, the bull protested but it remained unmoved -- literally. When the trainsfolk got too pushy, the bull reared up –- causing the employees to drop everything and make a quick retreat. The bull finally wearied of toying with the train, and wandered away under its own steam, so to speak. Nine-hundred passengers waved goodbye. Not too many of them are going to forget their trip aboard the Rocky Mountaineer!
Photo courtesy of Victor Block
Okay, I didn’t see any bulls along the way -– or any other wildlife, for that matter -– but I did see turquoise glacial waters, waterfalls tumbling down mountainsides, snow-capped peaks rising overhead, my head straining skyward to view them, towering trees in greens and reds and yellows, and rivers and ravines and ravishing vistas.
And I dined as well as at a Michelin 3-Star restaurant, conversed with interesting co-travelers from around the world, and was entertained and educated for two-days as if attending something between a history seminar and a comedy club.
Photo courtesy of Rocky Mountaineer
New for 2012, Rocky Mountaineer has launched their SilverLeaf service, a single-level glass-domed coach offering hot breakfasts and lunches served seat-side. It’s a panoramic-viewing middle ground between Gold- and Red-Leaf options.
Prices for the 2-day train trip from Vancouver to Banff or Jasper, which runs mid-April to mid-October, including overnight accommodations in Kamloops are $789-$979, per person, RedLeaf Service and $1589-$1769, GoldLeaf Service, depending upon time of year; Vancouver to Calgary, $899-$1089, RedLeaf Service and $1739-$1919, GoldLeaf Service. Options for sightseeing at both ends are also available. Prices for the SilverLeaf Service have yet to be announced.
As I said, welcome aboard the Rocky Mountaineer. For more information contact Rocky Mountaineer Vacations (www.rockymountaineer.com) at 800/665-7245.