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Our Canadian Adventure


Peggy's Cove Lighthouse, N.S. The Park Car on the Ocean Train, Halifax CN Tower, Toronto
Public Gardens, Halifax


3D maple leaf


Lobby, Royal George, Toronto We get into “training” immediately with a 12½-hour ride, in coach, from Chicago to Toronto, Ontario. The Amtrak coach is new and relatively comfortable for so long a trip, but the ride is generally acceptable. Doubtless the excitement of beginning our adventure helps to compensate for the tedium of the prolonged train trip and the lack of privacy that must be accepted when travelling publicly. Cross into Canada at Port Huron, MI/Sarnia, ON via a tunnel. Could clearly see the entrance to the late 19th century tunnel that was the engineering marvel of its time according to displays at Sarnia station. The train is stopped for some time due to Customs checks, but these are fairly cursory. There’s several Amish families travelling on the train and they’re a big hit with Marcy who marvels at their appearance and beliefs. The families themselves seem interested in the train’s engine, a technology they are permitted to embrace.

This is a very long trip. We made a friend! A three-year old Pakistani girl who can’t get enough of me. But I’ve already had enough of people’s children and crying babies and the like on this trip. Canadian cities like London and Kitchener are larger in appearance than expected, however you don’t tend to see the best parts of towns from the train tracks. Finally we arrive in Toronto just a little late. These non-smoking trains are a real pain.

Underground passageway to hotel from train station is a nightmare corridor of stairs and inclines not friendly to the baggage-carrier. Turns out simply crossing the street would have been much easier. The Royal York Hotel is a sumptious, 1st class accomodation and the ornate lobby is still bustling at this hour. Our room, on the special “Entree Gold” floor, is beautifully appointed. It’s so nice in fact that we decide to add an extra night here on our return to Toronto so Marcy can enjoy the hotel and see the city. Next train’s at 9:30 tomorrow morning so that’s it for now...

The Park Car on the Ocean Train, Halifax Nice room service continental breakfast and then out the door to our train to Montreal and the Ocean Train to Halifax, NS. Try to doze through most of this five-hour plus ride, also in a coach section featuring many children. I am now thoroughly sick of other people’s kids on these trains-yikes! Montreal looked OK on this bleak and rainy day. Things do look a bit run down in places. It’s clear the economy’s not great for everybody. We have three hours to kill before the Ocean Train departs and so decide to explore the Eaton Centre, which turned out to be an impressive four-story mall connected to others and to the train station by underground pedways. With all the French language signs and mostly French being spoken, it really gave us the feel that we had indeed left our country. The mall’s having a sidewalk sale and the place is packed. This must be the place to be in Montreal on a late Sunday afternoon. I use an ATM and it was strange to receive the colorful assortment of Canadian bills. We have a late lunch at the mall’s huge food court-more kids!

Boarding the Ocean Train was confused and involved waiting in a long line to confirm our 1st class bedroom tickets, but we finally do board, late. The two-person sleeper on VIARail is a much smaller and older accommodation than on an Amtrak Superliner. Very cozy quarters, but privacy at last. The train left 35 mins. late and crawled out of the Montreal metro area. The weather is still lousy, but after a fast-food dinner, we get a cocktail and go up into the dome of the exclusive rear “Park Car.” As it gets dark, the terrain becomes hillier, the train’s course more winding. We have the dome essentially to ourselves for romance. Eventually the train stopped at an unknown town for a prolonged period and we retired to our cozy beds for some train semi-slumbers.

Harborfront with Citadel Hill backdrop, Halifax Rain! And plenty of it as the Ocean Train crosses New Brunswick into Nova Scotia. We retain the bedroom until we reach Moncton, NB around 11:30 when we must move forward into a “1st class coach” seat for the final five hours to Halifax. We note that only some sleeping cars are removed at this stop, others will retain their privacy all the way to Halifax and we dearly we wish we were among them. The coach car is mostly empty though and the seating comfortable enough. We spend a lot of this time in the Park Car dome looking at rain and fog-enshrouded highlands and valleys heavily forested with pines. No big spruces here, however, unlike the Pacific Northwest. This harsher climate will not allow for such gargantuan growth, though the forests are nonetheless lush and green. We do see several beaver lodges, or “maison du gascon” as we overheard some French-Canadian little kids call them. Later, as we finally enter Nova Scotia, we even catch occasional glimpses of ocean from the Ocean Train.

Our arrival in Halifax is unceremonious. The passengers have been left essentially to deduce on their own that they’ve actually arrived at the station. Quick cab across the MacDonald Bridge from Halifax to Dartmouth on the other side of the harbor puts us at the Harbourview Holiday Inn. The bridge charges a 75¢ toll to cross and I suspect I’ll be paying more than a few of those. We booked this location in hopes of having a view of the harbor and Halifax cityfront (and because it was significantly cheaper than the downtown Halifax hotels) and we were not disappointed. Not only did our room have an awesome view of both, but it also provided a balcony from which to enjoy it. Sadly, the late-night view I’m enjoying now is mostly obscured by the foggy weather which periodically thickens then lifts only to descend again. Regular checking of Halifax weather conditions on the Net forewarned of foggy nights.

We crossed from Dartmouth back to Halifax by ferry. The terminal was a fairly steep downhill 1K walk from the hotel. Once in Halifax we confined ourselves to the central waterfront area known as the Historic Properties. Though the hour was getting late, there was still appreciable daylight. Nova Scotia sunset could be as much as an hour later than Chicago. The Historic Properties were offices and warehouses dating back to the 18th and early 19th centuries, now fully restored as a tourist area and to our tastes very nicely done. There is also a system of elevated pedways connecting the area with nearby office towers, some built over the water with massive pilings going into the seabed, and to a hotel where the casino was once located, and eventually leading to the new Casino Nova Scotia also situated on the waterfront. We are able to dine directly on the waterfront with full view of the harbor at a large food court in a small mall known as the Warehouse, one of the Historic Properties. Good selection of freshly prepared foods, not like in US. After dinner we walked to the casino where Marcy got us started on our winning streak for Casinos Scotia. The facility was brand new, large, and relatively nice for a gambling casino. Cab back very late and very tired.

Peggy's Cove, N.S. We sleep in ‘till nine--exhausted by the train ride and the initial excitement. Also, we’re still feeling the effects of the train motion all last evening. It’s a weird sensation. Picked up our rental car after breakfast and drove it to Peggy’s Cove, Mahone Bay, and Lunenburg on the coast south-southeast of the city. Peggy’s Cove is a spectacular place and rightly a tourist Mecca. On the approach the land is strewn with large boulders left behind by the Ice Age glaciers on this now hilly and rugged landscape. The famous post office lighthouse sits on huge rocks smoothed by wave-action and now the feet of the hundred or so tourists clambering over them. The surf pounds and splashes ceaselessly--wow! And the weather’s become beautiful too. It’s the exact opposite of the day before and our whole train trip. Great! The town of Peggy’s Cove sits perched among the rocks and slopes. It’s small harbor contained the colorful boats and fishing sheds of many a jigsaw puzzle.

The drive to Mahone Bay and Lunenberg takes far longer than had been expected, but was highly scenic. There are more harbors and bays than can be imagined. Beautiful pine-covered islands, rocky shores, deep blue ocean water, and much is in pristine condition. Just west of Peggy’s Cove we stopped at a memorial for the SwissAir flight which went down near this location in 1998, a solemn and tasteful small park has been built. The road uncoiled its way first to the touristy town of Mahone Bay, known for its three churches in a row right on the bay, and eventually to Lunenberg, a UN designated historic area and home of Nova Scotia’s pride and joy, the Bluenose clipper ship which appears on the back of Canadian dimes. We have a late lunch on a second story patio deck overlooking Lunenberg’s harbor. People have been very friendly and helpful so far, a compliment to the beauty of their natural surroundings. So far we’re very impressed with the area. Our day trip was long, but worth the drive.

We rested up and then drove into the city. Back to the Historic Properties and the food court for a late and light dinner on the waterfront. Marcy tries a cold, dark one from the onsite microbrewery. Then back to Casino Scotia where I can’t get on a table and Marcy ends her evening ahead again. Have a clear view of the city skyline tonight from my hotel room chair, but it’s very late and I must retire.

The corporal was a good sport for the tourists. Very busy day. First we march up the steep hill from the waterfront to the Halifax Citadel, an 18th/19th century fortress with a commanding view of the city and harbor. It’s a tough hike, but we’re going to see the firing of the noon-day gun, by which all of Halifax supposedly sets their watches. At the base of Citadel Hill, facing the city below, we passed the Old Town Clock from 1803. Once up the hill and inside the fortress, we enjoyed the period-uniformed troops and observing their drills and the firing of the cannon. That was followed by a small pipe and drum parade in front of the barracks. We also visited the interesting museum located inside the barracks.

Then it was time for Marcy to do some shopping in local malls. I left her at Scotia Square and went to Province House, which I had read was the smallest and oldest continuous use capitol in North America. A drab, formal exterior hid a beautiful Georgian interior. Tour guide did a good job of explaining the connection between the Crown and the Canadian federal government, as well as the relationship between that government and those of the Canadian provinces, one of who’s seats I was currently visiting. After, I knock around the downtown streets up from the waterfront. Argyle St. in particular offered quaint shops, cafes, and pubs with colorful names and exteriors. Finally meet back up with Marcy, who was disappointed in the quality of the shopping so far, and ferry back to Dartmouth. Another steep hike uphill back to the hotel. No more steep hikes for awhile.

We catch our breaths and then jump in the car to visit the shopping district at Spring Garden Road. This is located west of the Citadel and while it looked promising, Marcy again found few good shopping opportunities. Adjacent at one end of the trendy strip was Halifax’s renowned Public Gardens. This was a beautiful Victorian strolling park with ponds, waterfalls, streams, bridges, etc. Great colorful flowerbeds, some commemorating important events. Also lots of wildlife present, especially ducks, geese, swans, etc. Now we’re going to have a nice dinner and do some more gaming. We’ll eat before 9:30!

Dinner at MacAskill’s at the Dartmouth ferry terminal doesn’t sound fancy but it was and was the nicest meal we’ve had so far, though Marcy’s become a big fan of the food court. Our seating only permits me to have a great view of the city. Marcy makes the sacrifice for her husband and wins his gratitude. Later we have a yummy dessert on the other side back at the food court, eating right by the water’s edge. Then back to the casino where I lose big time! Marcy loses too (though we’re still up for Scotia), then we put a couple dollars in a Jumbo machine and on the second pull Marcy hits three red 7’s for a $50 winner! Unbelievable! Excellent way to end the day.

Harbor at Sydney, Cape Breton Island, N.S. We leave Halifax at 10:00, a little later than I’d have liked. Today we headed northeast along the coast on a scenic route called the Marine Drive to Cape Breton Island, the northern third of Nova Scotia. Once there, our route followed the Bras D’or Lakes scenic highway to Sydney at the island’s northern end. This is just one beautiful harbor after another sun-splashed rocky cove with crashing surf and a few piney islands thrown in for good measure. The road is a twisting, rise and fall ride, more Tilt-a-Whirl than roller coaster, and a lot of fun to drive. We stop first at Clam Beach and have a romantic surfside morning stroll--just a great spot on another beautiful weather day. It takes longer than expected to reach Cape Breton, but we finally cross the Canso causeway and begin to follow the Bras D’or Lakes Route along the southern shores of that huge salt-water lake. Stopped to enjoy some superiors lookoffs along the way, but spot no bald eagles, which are supposedly plentiful here. The lake is a shimmering deep blue, sharply framed by the surrounding highlands. Finally roll into Sydney well past 7. We’re tired, hungry, and excited by the day’s drive and the day we’ll have tomorrow as we circle Cape Breton Highlands National Park, our main reason for traveling to the Cape.

Delta Sydney Hotel and Sydney itself somewhat of a pleasant surprise. Sydney is not the industrial town with limited scenery I had imagined, the harbor was lovely with little industry visible on any shore of the wide bay. Our hotel was one of several joined by a harborfront boardwalk with the modern Sydney city hall. It was busy with tourists enjoying street musicians, etc., like a mini-Halifax. But poor Sydney is only a place to stay for the night. Overall, it looks like the town is hurting. Main retail strip had many closed stores, homes not quite in the state of repair which seems to have typified Nova Scotia so far. The Maritimes are known as Canada’s poorest provinces. However, our two-room suite at the Delta is plenty sumptuous enough for us, even if it was well-worn. It also had great views of the harbor and bay from its angled, protruding windows. So far, so good with our accommodations.

The food’s been pretty good too, everything’s been fresh and served hot, generous portions, etc. Service has been another story, friendly but slow. Tonight we eat at the only major downtown restaurant, Joe’s. Not a bad place, but our meal took forever to come; our order must have been forgotten. Another really late dinner. Then over to the Casino Nova Scotia Sydney, another prime reason to have chosen this town for our overnight stay. Both the restaurant and the casino are within a few blocks walking distance of the hotel strip making everything nice and convenient. The casino is a smaller sister operation to the one in Halifax, has a sports theme, is new as well and relatively friendly. I lose yet again at the card table, but Marcy still holds her own at the machines. They pay out real quarters here, not tokens, and I have fun searching through Marcy’s stake for all the different-backed quarters the Canadian government has been issuing in recent years. Overall losses are minimal; we’re still way up for Scotia! I can’t wait to get to the Cabot Trail around the national park tomorrow and experience what is supposed to be one of the world’s great scenic drives.

St. Lawrence Bay, Cape Breton Island, N.S. Another late start. We aren’t getting a lot of sleep either, too much excitement and too much hotel. The suite at the Delta was great; Marcy really liked it. Head off for the Cabot Trail about 40K NW of town. It runs a circle around the northeastern half of the island and Cape Breton Highlands National Park. We will drive north along the eastern part of the park and then west across to the western side and then head south to our eventual destination of Chéticamp. The drive is almost immediately impressive without even having reached north to the park. Very hilly to Appalachian-style mountains with some steep grades, lots of sharp turns and spectacular coastal scenery. This place is unbelievably beautiful!

We stop first at Cape Smokey, still south of the park. A peninsula, we driving a winding road to its tip. Overlook more than 200 feet above the crashing waves. Great weather again, the expanse of ocean the deepest blue. Wonderful views here and more lay off a nature trail that we decide to walk. Plant life here is plentiful, but stunted. It’s obvious that weather conditions are tough here when it’s not the middle of July. This is a rugged and beautiful wilderness, accent on rugged. Marcy chooses not to follow down a side trail lookoff. A steep downhill walk took me to another great view and there was even a nice bench provided, just back from the edge of the cliff.

Back on the Trail, we finally enter the park at Ingonish and go out on the peninsular point known as Middle Head to the Keltic Lodge Resort, built in the 40’s literally on the edge of the cliffs. It’s very narrow here, the Lodge, which we learned about from the Net, was an awesome place. We have lunch on the outside deck of their casual restaurant, enjoy a wonderful view of Ingonish Bay, and make a new friend--a big old seagull. Had to hit the fancy gift shop and pick up a cool “T” before heading back north on the Trail. Soon after we take a gravel side road 6K up to Mary Ann Falls. It’s a fairly gentle tumble of water and a lovely spot, though crowded with other tourists at this time. You leave and reenter the park as the road runs the coast. The scenery becomes more spectacular with each passing K. We round the coast and come west across the mountains. They’ve become taller, steeper, and covered in virgin forest--wow!

We go off-Trail and head north to the island’s tip. Our first destination is the Cabot Landing Beach. I miss the turn-off but quickly recover. This was a beautiful red-sand beach with few visitors present. There was a little memorial to John Cabot. Behind, the beach was surrounded by steep-peaked mountains which stood like great piles of green sugar. The contrast between green mountain and blue ocean is breathtaking. Super place for another romantic sea-side stroll. We headed further north and reached Bay St. Lawrence, yet another picturesque fishing village. There the road bent northwest and turned to rough gravel as it wound to Cape Breton’s northernmost accessible point at Meat Cove. What a road: very steep grades, plenty of switchbacks, lots of sky/sea curves--great! Marcy gripped her door handle tightly, sure sign of a superior driving road. Finally reach the end and more sky/sea/cliffs/mountains, it never stops! Return to the trail westbound but not for long as we take a gravel side road to Buelach Ban Falls. This falls is much higher than the other and much more steeply stepped. The water was spread thin and came down in shimmering sheets of water. Here was a truly serene and beautiful spot which Marcy and I had all to ourselves, a wonderful experience.

At Pleasant Bay the road bends south along the island’s western coast. The scenery became even more spectacular as the mountains descended straight into the ocean. At MacKenzie Mt. we stop at two NW-facing lookoffs over the Bay of St. Lawrence. Pods of whales are clearly visible breaking the surface just off the coast. The sight of the huge animals, even from such a distance, is incredible. Marcy watches through binoculars for half an hour as small fishing vessels trail after the pods on whalewatching tours. It’s really a wonderful experience. Sadly, we can’t linger any longer. It’s past 7 and we’re still a ways from our destination.

We descend MacKenzie Mt. only to climb French Mt. at well over 1,000 feet above sea level. The car’s really gotten a workout today. Descending French Mt. is really where mountain, cliff, sea, and road all come together like you see in the travel promo pictures. It was stunning in its appearance as the sun set to our right at the ocean’s rim. The ribbon of highway clings to the mountainsides atop cliffs with incessantly crashing surf below--again, wow! But we’ve no time for lookoffs now. It’s getting later, though not yet all that dark. The sun doesn’t set till after 9:30 this far north. We’re tired, hungry, and exhausted by the day’s adventures. Finally, we descend to sea level and exit the park into the harbor village of Chéticamp.

Chéticamp is Acadian French all the way. At the hour of our arrival, the town is bustling with Friday night activity which seems to consist mostly of cruising up and down the Trail, the main street through town, as it runs alongside the harbor. This is the most traffic and people we’ve seen all day and seems out of proportion to what’s really a pretty small village. We’re unable to find our B & B and must call for directions to it’s location which is actually several K’s south of town. It’s a really nice home and guest house on a hilltop overlooking a valley and the ocean. The proprietress who greets us is warm and friendly and has good news. We’ll be the first guests to stay in a newly constructed room in the guest house. The room’s a little unfinished, but is nicely appointed. Everything is brand-new. The husband constructed the room and built the cabinetry and some of the furniture, it’s great. We eat in town at 9:30 and then take a stroll on their harbor boardwalk and have ice creams. We’re exhausted as we drive back to the B & B. Sleep is what we need!

Acadian French Cheticamp, Cape Breton Island, N.S. Start with a good, home-cooked breakfast where we join some other guests, French-Canadians like the family that runs the B & B. Our breakfast choice was simple, french toast, of course. We’ve heard a lot of French on this adventure and it really enhances that “out of the country” feeling we hoped Canada would provide. We’re not in Kansas any more, and loving it. Chéticamp is a very nice, bustling, small town. We pass through again as we’ve decide to repeat the last leg of the Cabot Trail in CBHNP. This time we’ll do all the lookoffs we skipped after MacKenzie Mt. We start there--no whales at this time today, oh well. The full scope of the wild spectacular beauty of this place is brought home by the lookoffs on this western side of the park. The weather is again beautiful as we repeated take in the breathtaking views this special roadway had to offer. Stopped at the bogwalk, a boardwalk nature trail around a bog at the top of French Mt. Said to be a place where moose are frequently seen, we see none unfortunately. Did see many very cool insectivorous pitcher plants. The landscape in general revealed again the harshness of the weather conditions typical in this wilderness region. We also see a large brown owl.

Redoing the Cabot Trail was definitely the thing to do. The spectacular scenery afforded many opportunities to take what I hope will be great pictures. Pass through Chéticamp a final time and stop for some souvenirs at a few shops before continuing south on the Trail along the now level coastline. With the mountains now set back a distance from the highway, the scenery became more reminiscent of the Oregon coast. In the early afternoon the road took an eastward turn as it completes its loop and cuts back across the island. The road follows the lovely, broad-planed Margaree Valley, the very definition of rustic. We emerge from the valley to complete the Cabot Trail loop. Heading north again, we pass through the resort town of Baddeck on the northwestern edge of the Bras D’or Lakes. The town is packed with nice hotels, inns, etc., and tourists to match. The lake setting is so gorgeous, it’s no wonder the town is bustling with activity. Marcy is especially impressed with this upscale retreat.

I got a little lost trying to return to Sydney on the main highways but recover eventually and return to the Delta. No suite this time, but the new room has great views nonetheless and hot, hot sun pouring in through the windows. So ironically, we’re forced to draw the curtains in order to cool the room. Have a nice, relatively early 8:00 dinner in the hotel restaurant and then go for a harborfront boardwalk stroll before returning to the Casino Nova Scotia Sydney. This was my night to hit it fairly big at Let It Ride as winning hands were consistent throughout the evening. Marcy lost and then recovered at the slots. It’s amazing--we are way up for Casino Scotia in both locations! Very late as I write and I really must go to bed.

Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Highlands National Park, N.S. We leave the Delta relatively early and stop for yummy donuts. We are leaving Cape Breton Island with much regret. This will be a day of mainly driving as we return to Halifax. The first half of our journey is on limited-access highways with limited scenery (which still means quite beautiful). Blew right past the Castle Moffit (Profit), an expensive B & B in a castle straddling a stream that we’d seen on the web and in a lot of the tourist stuff and had wanted to check out, without even realizing it. Traffic backed up at the Canso Causeway due to the bridge, which was not up, but aside. The unusual rotating bridge at this location made the traffic wait much more interesting. Continue west to Route 7 south from Antigonish, the “Heart of the Highlands,” but never actually see the town.

Route 7 is a pretty drive, frequently alongside lengthy glacial finger-lakes. We stop for awhile at one such lake, Lochiel Lake. It’s a pleasant spot with nice lakeside benches provided. Nova Scotia truly is a place designed for the tourist and sightseer. All the facilities we visited in the various parks all over the province have been extremely well-maintained and functional. As we continue south toward our reconnection to the Marine Drive to retrace our steps back to Dartmouth, the skies become cloudier and the breezes cooler. In some coves now banks of fog roll in, driven by what’s become a 20-30mph wind. We’ve been lucky with weather so far. Each day has been gorgeous. Unfortunately, our only intended stop of the day’s adventure was to be for another surfside stroll along the beach. In this case our choice was Martinique Beach, Nova Scotia’s longest, about 45 min. east of Dartmouth. The beach still made a great scene, even on what had become a gray and blustery afternoon. The wind whipped spray from the tops of the 3-4 foot waves being driven onshore all up and down the beach. There were still plenty of beachgoers too, some sail and surfboarding, others splashing in the chilly surf--hearty souls! We stroll and sit among the other visitors and then find a beach lookoff and enjoy the surf of a cove beach from the car for awhile before heading back into town.

Our room at the Holiday Inn is a bit closer to the harbor side than the previous one, but as the fog lurks just offshore, Halifax looks much like our very first view of it. We’re back at the Warehouse at the Historic Properties for dinner. Time to pick up some souvenirs first. I get my flags and look for a sweatshirt--see one, maybe tomorrow. I also pick out a nice Nova Scotia cap while Marcy scopes out souvenirs for friends and family, looks like scenic calendars this time. Having trouble finding something decent for Al. As for dinner, I finally get my lobster. To Marcy’s horror it’s plucked live from a tank and is moving around while being weighed. That was it for her, I’m a murderer. Delicious, though! This tourist food court, with its microbrewery and all, in the wood-beamed old warehouse has been a favorite of Marcy’s. We never had a problem getting a table right next to the huge windows facing the dock and harbor. More casino after, but this time we lose. But our losses are kept to a minimum, we’re still way up for Casino Scotia! That should come in pretty handy when we hit Toronto. We’re leaving on the 1:00pm Ocean Train tomorrow.

What can I write? Nova Scotia was even more breathtakingly beautiful and scenic than advertised. The people were very friendly, Canadians have told us that’s just the way it is in the Maritimes. It would be very easy to get used to that level of civility. We will never forget the special beauty and charm of this place, and some pretty special moments we’ve shared here. But the Tall Ships are coming and we are going. Final farewells tomorrow.

Entry recorded on the evening of 7-17.

These remaining entries were recorded on 7-21,22.

The Park Car on the Ocean Train, Halifax Yesterday’s entry made onboard the Ocean Train while lying in my upper berth. This morning was gray and cool again and our time passed very quickly. A final breakfast (they finished the pool in our absence) and then we headed across the bridge a final time. We finished up on the souvenir hunting and got Al a WWII action picture of the HMCS Sackville, now an exhibit at the Maritime Museum. I finally decide on a green sweatshirt with red maple leaf, “Halifax,” and “Canada.” It was on sale at least. Marcy will miss the little Warehouse Mall with its food court and brewery and easy to get dockside seating. Before you know it, it’s time to drop off the car. We have a nice goodbye walk along the harborfront. We’re in for a real shock at the Budget office. They charged us 25¢ p/K for every K over 1400, a piddling distance! Extortionate charge! And nothing we can really do. Tax alone was $79.

Quick cab to the train station and wait to board--late. We must sit in the 1st class coach until our bedroom car is attached at Moncton around 5:00. Dinner in the Dining Car was great, tasty fish chowder! When the waiter cried out “Moose! Moose!”, he meant not dessert, but the sighting of a live moose at last as it bounded through a clearing. Definitely helped to make our dinner special. North central Nova Scotia and New Brunswick look remote and economically depressed. This impression is heightened by the persistent gray, foggy, rainy weather. We again enjoy cocktails in the dome at dusk, but must retire early despite the gaining of an hour as we move west back into eastern time. The train is due in Montreal at 8:10am.

I write the July 16th entry in bed with the headphones on. I’m pretty sure the train has entered the St. Lawrence Valley and is obviously going up and down some fairly steep grades and rounding several series of tight turns. This is probably the most scenic part of the entire Ocean Train route and we pass through it in the middle of the night, just like the Empire Builder’s ride through the Rockies. The train is really rocking as we go. I can feel the g-forces tugging at me from all directions. This should be a cool sleeper sleeping experience.

Not likely to be mistaken for Wrigley Field A day from hell: no more coach seating on trains for me! Rise quite early and have tasty scones for our Ocean Train B & B breakfast. Then we learn that the train is over an hour late due to a medical emergency in the night. We are assured by our steward, Pierre, that our 57 train to Toronto is being held and that our baggage will be automatically transferred. He also tells us that my berth will not return to its stowed position, but luckily there’s an unoccupied bedroom that we quickly move into.

Upon our arrival at the Montreal station, we hustle immediately to the 57 train. About 15 or 20 of us from the Ocean, many toting hefty carry-ons, are herded onto the rear car--only it’s already full! Told to move a car forward, we watch as that car fills before we can even gain entry. There’s a minimum of two empty coaches in front, but the conductors are extremely reluctant to permit our seating there (have to think about those passengers still to board at future stops!). However, circumstances dictated to these considerate conductors that they had no choice, there was simply no room. Finally, after ten minutes of VIARail’s clinic on disorganization, we are allowed into an unoccupied car that also fills quickly. Train 57 is over 20 minutes late by now. I try to retrieve our carry-ons, which I had left in the first car we boarded, but may way is blocked by some recently lowered gates. After we finally leave, the conductor informs me the gates are now raised. Why were they lowered? To organize the loading of the passengers! We can only imagine how chaotic it would have been without those gates. Luggage retrieved.

It soon becomes clear that the 57 train is a rolling day care center on rails. Small children are overrunning the car. All manner of cries and shouts. Adults are encouraging the use of the aisle as playground and conduct loud games with the children. It’s a nightmare ride, we’re completely unable to get any rest. An hour and a half late, we arrive in Toronto. We’re so glad to get off that train! But where’s our luggage from the Ocean Train that $10-tipped Pierre promised would be automatically transferred to the 57 to Toronto? Marcy sees others from the Ocean retrieving their suitcases, but ours never comes off the carousel. I, having previously cracked on the Kiddie Kar, remain surprisingly serene. Marcy cracks now, close to tears, can’t blame her after that ride. We are assured that our bags are in Montreal, and they were, and are delivered to our hotel across the street from the Toronto train station by 10 that evening.

The Royal York is a splendid, almost formal place to stay--class all the way and not excessively expensive. Our new room off the Entree Gold floor is just as nice and a welcome haven after the day’s ordeal. Marcy graciously consents to attend the Blue Jays game at the nearby SkyDome. We’ve only a couple hours to rest and clean up. The “five-minute” walk to the SkyDome/CN Tower complex was more on the order of 15. Many attractions and facilities are concentrated in this central lakefront area. The Tower is impressive rising above the Dome. We get tickets in the upper deck, a real hike. The SkyDome is very cool with its hotel rooms and restaurants that face the interior of the stadium. The retractable dome is open tonight and the breeze is quite chilly. We definitely escaped the heat on this trip. We are sitting in the drunken loudmouths who ignore the game section (eh?) but soon move. The Dome is an impressive sight like its Tower partner, but somehow cold and remote for baseball. Jays lose as Piazza hits a grand slam for the Mets. We leave a little early and window shop souvenir joints lining the walk back. The sidewalks have fiberglass moose festively painted like the cows in Chicago last year. We’re very tired and grateful to have added an extra day in Toronto in order to break up the intense train travel. The Ocean Train was wonderful, but these others are proving to be a torture-test. We’ll sleep well tonight.

It's easy to make friends in Canada Marcy’s day! That means shopping on Queen St. Take a fun trolley car to the destination and hike up and down this trendy strip for several blocks, in and out of vintage clothing store, CD shops, and the like. We have an early dinner reservation for the restaurant atop the CN Tower and eventually must move on a few blocks north to Toronto’s thriving Chinatown, where Marcy fails to find the buckled slip-ons she loves so much. The sidewalks are crowded with shoppers and vendors giving the impression of an active ethnic community. We try for the Royal Ontario Museum, but get confused by the bus/trolley routes and don’t have time left for it. Instead we return to the harborfront for a while before returning to the hotel.

We’re as dressed up as we’ve been this whole trip as we cab over to the Tower. Dinner guests avoid long lines and basically get to go straight up. The glass-walled elevator ride is awesome as it ascends to over 1,000ft. at 15mph. An obligatory glass-walled circular dining room with rotating floor awaits us, as does highly efficient and courteous service. But we’re then seated next to a screaming infant! For the price of this meal, there’s no way that can be tolerated. We protest and our reseated in a raised and cozy booth--perfect seats. Dinner was wonderful, you’re never rushed in any way, and can enjoy the slowly rotating and spectacular view at your leisure. We could see across Lake Ontario to Rochester, NY despite hazy conditions. This day started gray but really improved in the later afternoon and evening. We have the waiter take what we hope will be a nice picture. Then we go one floor down to the cocktail lounge for a final drink and a view and where I’m actually allowed to smoke. This is when we learn that there’s one more level below us, one with a glass floor over a thousand feet above the street. This glass is supposedly inches thick. Now we have to check that out. It is a trip. The ball game was clearly visible in the Dome down below. I walk out on the glass and it’s a creepy, scary feeling. I sit for some photos, but am grateful when off the glass. Only a small portion of the floor is actually glass and it’s covered with tourists from all over, more than a few tempting fate by jumping heavily on the glass--quite an attraction. We wind up our visit with much shopping and no buying in Tower gift shop. No salt and peppers for Marcy.

Hit some souvenir shops on the walk back for T-shirts, lighter, and shot glasses for Kevin and John--sorry, no Cubans. Cocktails in the somewhat stuffy hotel lounge. It’s been another full day and the very last of our wonderful Canadian Adventure. People in general have been super nice to us, like the couple tonight who took our picture with one of the sidewalk moose. Nova Scotia was stunningly beautiful, Halifax interesting and historical, Toronto cosmopolitan and trendy; we could have so easily spent so much more time in all these places. But time is something we don’t have. We need to rise at 5am, breakfast at 5:30, and catch 6:35 International train back to Chicago. That’s 12½ hours I’m not looking forward to.

Spruce Cottage Up before the chickens to eat that full breakfast that comes with the room. Could easily get used to Royal York service. Hustle across the street to the train station by 6. The train boards 20 minutes late. Again, they’re packing everyone into the rear cars. These aren’t the modern, relatively comfortable new coaches we road in on, but some of older vintage. The seats are quite uncomfortable. Worse, the toilets clog and become unusable in the first two hours--nasty!

Marcy and others raise cries of protest. There are new coaches, unoccupied, at the front of the train. We hear a familiar tale as the conductors tell us it’s up to the Amtrak conductors at the border as to whether or not we can move into the newer, comfortable coaches with their functioning toilets. Those cars are being saved for those yet to board, people riding the full way have to sit in the lousier coach now stinking like an outhouse (though not a Scotia outhouse). At the border after a hellish 6 hour plus ride, Marcy and others do not ask, but rather tell the Amtrak conductors that some full ride passengers will now be moving into the unused coaches. This causes the conductors some consternation. Where will all the passengers getting on in Michigan go? Who cares?!! They’re not the ones riding this train for 12½ hours!

And now it’s way over 12 as the train is held at a red light in a cornfield for half and hour, a reminder that freight takes precedence over people on America’s railways. Then came U.S. Customs at Port Huron. Ten times as tough as Canadian Customs. At least a dozen people are pulled off the train, most, but not all, return. The delay is lengthy, well over the half-hour allotted. Finally underway, now projected at 1½ to 2 hours late, we experienced more of the train ride from hell, but at least missed the rush hour traffic of our original 6pm arrival time. At last we arrive around 8pm, get a good cabbie, and return to home and cat.

Eno the cat What a trip, it’s been a whirlwind. Pretty tired of hotels and suitcases despite having such a wonderful and special time. It’s a little good to be home. Our Canadian Adventure certainly ranks with the other great trips we’ve taken to Colorado, the Northwest, and our honeymoon in Britain. Very much hoping the five rolls of pictures taken will help to recapture the memories we have of the beauty and unique feel of the places we’ve been. Neither of us would hesitate to return to Nova Scotia on the Ocean Train, but no more riding in coach. It’s too insane and too much time is lost riding trains. Nova Scotia was much better than could have been imagined even with all our beforehand research. We’re so glad we went and will never forget the special beauty of the scenery or the special times that we shared together.


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