How does one possibly provide an encore to a trip like the one I just wrote about in TASMANIA TO ALASKA via FINLAND? One doesn’t. Trips like that don’t happen often enough. I had a little time left til I had to begin work again, so I made plans to head for the desert with an intermediate stop in Newfoundland. Newfoundland?! Ya, sure! St. Johns, Newfoundland. Why? Because it’s the easternmost point in North America and I haven’t been there yet! That’s good enough for me.
I love routings like this! I cashed in a 25,000 mile Mileage Plus Saver Award and combined it with a great deal on a Montreal-Las Vegas round trip fare with Continental. Also in the mix is a 500 mile bus trip across Newfoundland, an overnight ferry ride to Nova Scotia and First Class sleeper accommodations aboard the Canadian ViaRail streamliner “The Ocean” through Nova Scotia and Quebec into Montreal.
The normal Fairbanks to Las Vegas routing via Seattle totals out to 2400 miles. This routing however involves traveling 8420 miles with Alaska, United, Air Canada and Continental and includes my first ever flight aboard Embraer’s RJ-145 with Continental Express.
Because the first three flights of this trip (FAI-ANC-SEA-YVR) involved two 40 minute segments and one midnight special that I slept through, I am going to begin coverage of this journey in Vancouver. Let’s head over to Gate 51 at YVR’s Terminal C.
YVR-YYZ Air Canada 116 Coach Class
767-375ER C-FCAE Seat 12H
1030a-555p Flight time: 3:50
The last time I flew with Air Canada was back in 1976. I remember that flight well as it was part of one of the finest trips I’ve ever taken. I had recently inherited $3000.00 and unlike most kids my age opted not to immediately blow it on a stereo, a car or a few pounds of Acapulco Gold. Those would come later. Instead, as soon as college let out, I bought a joint fare with Western and Air Canada from Denver to Vancouver. I spent all day aboard three different WA 737s from Denver to Calgary via Salt Lake City, Pocatello, Idaho Falls, Butte, Helena and Great Falls before boarding an Air Canada DC-8-61 in Calgary for the final leg into Vancouver. Total cost: $110.00 Economy Class. That trip continued in First Class aboard Qantas 747-238B VH-EBA “City of Canberra” from Vancouver to San Francisco to Honolulu. I spent a week in Hawaii before flying First Class up to Anchorage via Seattle aboard Pan Am 747 “Clipper Mayflower” into Seattle, connecting to an Alaska 727-100 up to Anchorage via Juneau. Western was celebrating their 50th anniversary in 1976. Their 737s were operated in a one class configuration but offered First Class legroom throughout and free champagne for everyone. The AC DC-8 had a large First Class section and all the seats, F and Y were red. The QF 747 didn’t have sleeper seats but did sport a beautiful upstairs lounge called “The Captain’s Club” complete with a wooden ship’s steering wheel, ropes and nautical maps. The PA 747 had an upstairs dining room but offered only average food. I still have all the menus! The AS 727 sported 12 well-padded First Class seats that were red with gold trim. On the tail was a miner with an axe, one of four different color schemes Alaska wore back then. What a fine trip report that journey would have made! The return was even more bizarre.
Meanwhile, back to the present, I was making my way zombie-like through Vancouver International Airport. I’d flown all night from Anchorage down to Seattle, then connected to a propjet up to Vancouver. I had slept perhaps 2 hours total on the ANC-SEA leg, the kind of quality sleep one gets while flying Economy Class in a non-reclining exit row seat. Now I sat at Gate 51 nodding off whilst awaiting the call to board. When it came, I lurched down the jetway onto the 767-300 and made my way to my bulkhead seat 12H.
Of course, I’d never flown aboard one of Air Canada’s 767s before and tired or not, I was still curious as to the interior layout and colors. We entered through door 1L and so had to pass through the Business Class cabin or, per Air Canada parlance – The Executive Class cabin. This 767 was an ex-Canadian machine and the predominantly blue interior reflected its heritage. In Executive Class, there were 25 seats in a 1-2-2 arrangement. Seat pitch was quite generous, in the 50-55” range. While the cabin certainly looked spacious enough, I thought the seats looked old and worn.
On to Economy, a.k.a. Hospitality Class. The same dark blue fabric adorned the seats, but in a 2-3-2 configuration. The legroom looked decent enough, perhaps 32”. Up in my bulkhead seat, it was even better and most importantly, the seat was actually pretty comfortable. Even so, the entire airplane looked old and worn inside. I was reminded of a flight I once took aboard an Ecuatoriana 720B back in 1983. Old. Dusty. Air Canada needs to refurbish this plane like yesterday. My seatmate was getting up there in age too though she wore her years far better. She was an elderly lady from Hope, BC on her way to The Big City to visit her daughter and her family. She was upholstered in matching – er… I mean, honestly, she looked and talked like the prototypical grandmother. She was very nice and I’ll bet she baked fantastic chocolate chip cookies!
The cabin was quite cold inside. I looked above and around my seat for a blanket but could find none. I asked a flight attendant for one and never heard from her again.
After nodding off sometime during the safety announcements, I slept fitfully through taxi, take off and climb out. Great seat recline! Better than some First Class seats I’ve sat in. I awoke to the commotion of the beverage cart being wheeled up to the Executive Class cabin. Brrrrrr! Still chilly. I pushed my Flight Attendant call button. No response. One thing I never do is sit there and push the button over and over again like some idiots do. Instead I got up and walked back to the galley and asked a different FA for a blanket. He said he’d see what he could do. I never saw him again, either. I returned to my seat and shivered for another ten minutes. Next to me, Grandma sat comfortably in a nice sweater, reading a women’s magazine. I took another walk back to the galley and found three FAs, including the two whom I’d previously asked about the blanket. The guy ignored me while the woman brusquely replied there were no blankets aboard the airplane. None? I asked incredulously? None, she said. Didn’t even look at me. She could care less. Something in her demeanor told me she’d probably never even bothered to look in the first place. Neither had her partner. I dug in. I was nice about it but I wasn’t about to be so easily dismissed. So, are you telling me that this airplane doesn’t have even a single blanket aboard or that Air Canada no longer stocks blankets in economy? I mean, with a few more flights coming up on Air Canada, I’ll be sure to dress more warmly if that’s the case. She then admitted that there were a few blankets aboard but that they’d all been passed out. I didn’t press the point that I’d first asked her for a blanket long before we’d ever pushed back from the gate. I returned to my seat and awaited lunch. Grandma commiserated with my plight. Poor boy… I wanted her sweater…
Lunch arrived with the time honored query of “Beef or Chicken?” I had just seen a beef entrée delivered across the aisle. It looked to have more gravy than meat so I decided to take my chances with the chicken. This entrée consisted of a large breaded chicken tender served with Spanish rice and peas. A good choice! The chicken was actually tender and the rice in particular was quite flavorful. The salad was small but had a lot of variety in it while for some odd reason I can’t seem to remember what the dessert was. Whatever it was I ate it I’m sure. It took a long time for trays to be cleared.
Aside from music, inflight entertainment consisted of the prior day’s CBC news, presented first in English, then all over again in French. This was followed by the film “Ali” which I’d seen earlier in the month. I dozed intermittently for the remainder of the flight until our approach into Toronto. We came in over Lake Ontario and were treated to a fantastic view of the downtown district, the Skydome and the CN Tower before touching down at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport and parking at Terminal 2.
As I exited through the Executive Class cabin, I looked for menus. Alas, there were none. As we stepped off the airplane and into the jetway, the same male flight attendant who had earlier ignored me and my blanket request jauntily bade everyone good bye and wished us a good weekend. A Customer Service Agent was standing by as we exited the jetway and informed me that my connecting flight to Halifax was only two gates down. Wonderful.
Here’s my rating for this flight:
Check in: N/A
Unfortunately, the surly and uncaring “service” from the two FAs was the most memorable aspect of this flight. Though the interior showed a lot more wear and tear than one would expect from a non-Third World airline, the seat was comfortable and the meal quite acceptable.
YYZ-YHZ Air Canada 634 Coach Class
A320-200 C-FKAJ Seat 15F
755p-1156p Flight time: 1:52
About a half hour before departure, I asked the gate agent if there was to be any meal service aboard this two hour flight into Halifax. I was informed that there’d be a snack but that I might want to get something more just in case. Just in case?
I wandered down the concourse to a bar/café and looked over the menu. The sandwiches looked expensive. The beer looked much more reasonable. I decided to pass on the sandwich and take my chances with whatever food AC was offering. Then I purchased a pint of some beer I’d never heard of before. It was nice and cold but tasted like spinal fluid. Blecch! I drank it anyway and watched as an Air Canada A330 was pushed back for departure. I’ve never flown an A330 or 340. Sure would like to though…
Upon boarding my A320, I was surprised at the size of the Executive Class cabin. There were 24 seats arranged 2-2. Unlike some airlines that offer only twelve seats up front, or worse go with 2-3 seating, this was proper layout. The seats were wide and deep and upholstered in a grayish green fabric of an indiscernible pattern. Unfortunately, my seat was back beyond the curtain. Back in coach.
Hey! That could be a great title for a thriller about a horrifying flight in Economy Class. Wes Craven presents: “Beyond The Curtain”.
The Economy Class seats were upholstered in the same dull colors as Executive Class. Air Canada and Canadian seem to have hired some old Communist Block interior decorators. Some dark green and/or some brown earth tones would’ve created a nicer impression but would’ve also cost more. Oh well. I proceeded to my exit row seat 15C. What’s this? Where’s the extra legroom? There might have been a couple of inches extra, no more. And, being the first of the exit rows, the seat didn’t recline either. Sigh…
Headphones were distributed for audio entertainment but I was well into my book and didn’t take advantage of them. We took off to the east and after making a slight correction to the north, headed straight for Halifax. This flight was amazingly free of turbulence. I remember thinking about half way through it how smooth the flight had been. Unfortunately, it was also amazingly free of food service. So that’s why the gate agent had said “Just in case.” Silly me, I thought he’d meant that it might be a very small snack! At least the Flight Attendants seemed friendlier and more attentive on this flight.
It was raining when we landed in Halifax and I was way tired after having slept little over the past 36 hours. Despite the late hour and my early departure the next morning, I gave serious consideration to purchasing a room for the night. Unfortunately, the airport in Halifax is a fair distance from the city and there was only one hotel located close enough to the airport to offer airport pick-up. That hotel was appropriately named the Halifax Airport Hotel and a call to their reservation desk revealed an available room at the discounted rate of only $109.00CAD plus the 15% tax. No thanks, not for only seven hours of use.
What a difference this day was from only seven days ago when I’d spent the day comfortably sat in a First Class suite aboard a British Airways 777, wining and dining my way across the Atlantic in true plutocratic style. After that flight, a comfortable room awaited me at the Dulles Hilton.
Never one to dwell on the past, I quickly found a nice dark corner, blew up my trusty Thermarest pad and stashed my daypack inside my backpack. Next I removed a pair of shoes from the pack’s bottom compartment and placed a folded fleece pullover atop it all for a pillow. I then lay down, doffed my BA eye shades and slept relatively soundly until about 7:00am the next morning.
YHZ-YYT Air Canada 3616 Coach Class
BAe-146 C-GRNZ Seat 5F
830a-10:28a Flight time: 1:19
This flight over to St. Johns, Newfoundland was scheduled to operate with a 737-200. If I’d thought that yesterday’s 767 seemed a bit tattered, I was really curious as to what kind of condition this assumedly ex-Canada 3000 737 would be in. When I arrived at the gate however, I was surprised and not at all unhappy to find the flight being operated with an ex-Air Nova BAe-146 freshly painted in the Air Canada Jazz livery.
Air Canada is trying to operate three different discount carriers in addition to the main brand. There’s Air Canada Tango, Jazz and Zip, the latter of which will start up early this summer and focus on western routes in an attempt to counter the success of Westjet. If recent history is any indicator however, these discount airlines within an airline are doomed to failure. Witness United Shuttle, Continental Lite, Metrojet and BA’s GO, all of which have ceased operations. They were never popular with the unions and most importantly were never the moneymakers they were envisioned to be.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The Bae-146/Avro RJ-85 is the most comfortable regional jet out there. Unlike the RJ-145 or CRJ-200 which are no wider or much more comfortable than the props they were built to replace, the BAe-146 offers a DC-9 width interior with 2-2 seating up front and roomy 3-2 seating in economy. Air Canada’s configuration seats 12 up front and 75 in the back.
The load was light into YYT this morning. 3 in Executive Class and 11 of us back in steerage. The three FAs encouraged us to spread out. I took the bulkhead window with the number 2 engine mounted right outside my window. The captain came on over the PA and announced our flight time at 1:17, cruising at 27,000 feet. Current conditions in St. Johns were light rain and 4 degrees. Centigrade.
I considered that a week from now I’d be driving through sunshine and Northern Arizona enroute to Durango Colorado. Still, I was excited to be headed to somewhere I’d never been before. Let it pour, but hope it shines – I was gonna have a good time regardless.
We taxied out to the runway past a Caribbean bound Air Transat A310 and, after a brief pause, farred up all four a them little turbofans and headed skyward. It was cloudy and windy in Halifax but within seconds we had broken above the clouds into bright morning sunshine.
The wonderful smell of eggs and bacon soon permeated the cabin. Unfortunately, they were for Executive Class passengers. I watched through a break in the curtain as the man in 3B was presented a tray bearing scrambled eggs and bacon, a croissant and a small bowl of fruit. That should be me up there! Reality check came when my view was blocked by the arrival of the flight attendant and a cart bearing coffee and large tasty chocolate muffins. Mmmm! This Economy Class ain’t so bad after all! More coffee? Ya sure, you betcha!
Before long we were descending through the clouds and rain to make an incredibly smooth and quiet landing at St. Johns. The engines on the 146 have no reverse thrust so slowing is accomplished via normal braking of the wheels and by two panels at the rear of the aircraft which pop out like spoilers.
The St. Johns airport is in the middle of a reconstruction project. I looked over an artist’s rendition of the new improved terminal while awaiting my backpack. This should be a very nice little airport when everything’s completed in a few months.
Port Aux Basques – N. Sydney
Atlantic Maritime Ferries M.V.
It’s an all day bus trip of about 500 miles along Highway 1 from St. Johns across Newfoundland to Port Aux Basques. I was reminded of the drive along the Alaska Highway through northern British Columbia and southern Yukon Territory. The land is very similar – low rolling hills covered in dense black spruce and birch forests interspersed with a multitude of lakes, tarns and bogs. Although the day started out with broken clouds, a good sized storm just south of us meant the afternoon and evening forecast called for winds and up to 15 cm. of new snow. One of my fellow passengers mentioned that if it were too windy over in Port Aux Basques, our ferry wouldn’t sail. Onn yoo dun wanna git stoock in Port Aux Basques! he cautioned. Well, I should hope not! With all my upcoming connections, that would prove a logistical nightmare!
There were two drivers, each of whom brought his wife or girlfriend along for the trip. I don’t think I have ever heard four people who weren’t drinking having a more enjoyable time. They were chatting and laughing it up all the way to Deer Lake whereupon we got a new driver who was positively stoic by comparison. We stopped for lunch at the International Airport in Gander, an odd choice I thought for a bus stop. Then again, from what I could see of Gander, it could be that the airport is the cultural center of town. 13 ½ hours later I and perhaps a dozen others were dropped at the door of the Marine Atlantic Terminal in Port Aux Basques.
The fare for basic passage from Port Aux Basques over to mainland Nova Scotia at North Sydney is $23.50CAD ($15.00US), not bad for a seven and a half hour crossing. For only $16.00 CAD more ($10.25US) you could have a bunk on dormitory style accommodations. That would be me, I reckoned as I handed over my Visa card and was charged accordingly, also adding 25 more miles to my Alaska Mileage Plan account.
Departure time was scheduled for 11:59pm but the first call for boarding went out at 10:15pm. I had been sitting in the lounge enjoying a Molson and watching the carnage as the New York Islanders dismantled the favored Toronto Maple Leafs 6-1. Although I had no particular affinity for the Islanders, I was rooting for them (The only person in the lounge doing so, I imagine) if only because this was their first playoff victory since back in 1993. Didn’t the Islanders win like 4 in a row back in the 80s? In any event, the game was well over regardless of the amount of time left on the clock so I downed my beer and headed out to the mini-van that would drive us out to the ferry.
Marine Atlantic has three ferries. Our boat tonight, the MV Joseph and Clara Smallwood, was described as a “Commercial Ice Class Super Ferry” Well, I don’t know if I’d call it “Super” exactly as the ferries in Helsinki were much larger. Still, the Smallwood was a nice boat of pretty decent size, about the same as the MV. Malaspina or Matanuska for those of you familiar with our Alaska Marine Highway. By the way, Joseph Smallwood was a former premier of Newfoundland and Clara was Mrs. Smallwood.
I’ve been on a few ferries in my time, from South America to Tahiti to Finland to Alaska and this one was pretty nice. My accommodations were located up on the sixth floor, one from the top. There were about 40 bunks in the room, sectioned into groups of four. Pillows and blankets were provided. I sure hope nobody near me was a snorer! After dropping my pack off at my bunk I took a stroll around my new home. It had a decent café/restaurant, lounge, theater, seating areas and even a covered sundeck, not that I’d be using it. It’s worth noting that the worst of the weather was to the east of us so all we had to contend with were light flurries. Were it a longer ride, I’d have wasted no time in checking out the lounge where a big 32” TV was showing the Avs-Kings game along with offering reasonably priced beer. Still, I value waking up alert and clearheaded a lot more than I used to so as soon as we got underway I headed back up to the Dorm where there were maybe 5 people sleeping this night, none of them snoring. Great!
Next thing I know, it’s almost 7:00am and I’m being waken up by the cleaning staff. C’mon! Git oop! We’re almoost in Sydney! I hurriedly got my gear together, dragged a brush through my hair and headed for the lower decks where once again a mini-bus met us aboard the boat and drove us to the terminal. This was particularly appreciated today as it ad evidently sleeted and then frozen overnight. Footing was way slick.
I grabbed a cup of coffee and a muffin in the terminal and awaited the next part of my journey, a six hour bus ride through the gently rolling hills of Nova Scotia to Truro, a mid-sized town of about 30,000. At Truro, I’d board Via Rail’s streamliner “The Ocean” for the 20 hour trip into Montreal.
Truro, N.S. – Montreal, QB
Via Rail “The Ocean”
First Class Sleeper
America and Canada have some wonderful old train stations, their architecture ranging from quaint to grand. Unfortunately, the current station at Truro, Nova Scotia does not qualify on either end of this spectrum nor anywhere in between. The station is located in the middle of a downtown strip mall, its entrance a plain double glass door amongst a variety of storefronts. Inside the station were some plastic chairs on a linolium floor. The ticket window and baggage check were along a far wall. This place had all the charm of a laundromat. Outside, mixed in amongst all the other signs indicating a coffee shop, an office supply store, a gift shop and a frame shop, the plain yellow and blue ViaRail sign hardly announced this as a place where great journeys began.
The bus from Sydney dropped us off an hour and a half before departure so I stored my pack in the baggage room and took a walk around town. Aside from the train station/mall, downtown Truro was a nice looking old country town. It was snowing lightly and I thought how with a little more snow on the ground and no mall, this place might have made a nice backdrop for a Currier and Ives print. I came across an Internet café so I checked my e-mail, then checked out the hockey scores from last night (Colorado 1, LA 0!!!!). Finally, with 9 minutes left, I checked out FlyerTalk where I read and responded to Eastwest’s excellent report of his Venezuelan adventure. I particularly related to why he went. I wandered on and came across a sandwich place that took care of my immediate sustenance needs. A used book store, an art gallery and a newstand later I stumbled upon the provincial liquor store at the opposite end of the same mall that the ViaRail station was located in. Hmm… Why pay $4.75 CAD for a beer on the train when I can get an 8 pack here for $1.50 a beer? Unable to come up with any reason why not, I bought an 8-Pack of Molson Canadians and then wandered across the street to a restaurant where I tipped a kid $2.00 for a bag of ice. Orson Welles will drink no wine before its time. I will drink no beer before it’s cold.
Back inside the station, perhaps twenty people were milling about awaiting the train. I grabbed my backpack and headed out onto the platform. Yes, it was cold and a bit snowy outside but I like the experience of a train arrival, from the first sound of that distant whistle to literally feeling the powerful vibrations from the engines as they roll by.
The waiting is the hard part. I’ve always enjoyed train travel and am especially excited about riding this particular train because it is one of the last trains in the world to be made up entirely of 1950s era stainless steel cars. After World War II, all the major American railroads totally replaced their aging heavyweight passenger cars with new lightweight, streamlined equipment featuring larger windows, more comfortable seating and something totally new to railroading: The dome car. My first ride in a dome car came as a kid riding up to Glenwood Springs aboard the California Zephyr, which sported no less than five domes. The dome was accessed via a small stairway and offered 24 seats, six rows of 2-2. The view was forward and above as well as to the sides, perfect for viewing the mountains above and around us as we climbed from Denver up into the Rockies. After crossing under the Continental Divide via the Moffat Tunnel, we then followed the Colorado River from its source at Grand lake through Gore and Glenwood Canyons. It was an unforgettable ride and I’ve had a penchant for dome cars and the trains that offer them (Domeliners) ever since.
Unlike Amtrak, ViaRail has not yet re-equipped its long distance fleet. Orders for new cars, to be known as the Renaissance Fleet, have been placed and those cars will arrive soon but until then ViaRail still operates the vintage 1950 cars on all of its long distance services.
My train for this trip is named “The Ocean” and runs daily from Halifax to Montreal, a distance of 835 miles. Like all of Canada’s long distance trains, “The Ocean” is a domeliner, featuring an economy dome lounge and highlighted by a tapered end dome observation lounge. These beautiful cars used to grace the ends of many a zephyr throughout the Fifties and Sixties but now can be found only amongst private collectors and on the Canadian railways. On ViaRail, they are called “Park Cars” as they are named after various national and provincial parks. They are for the exclusive use of First Class passengers, meaning those passengers holding sleeping accommodations. There are no First Class seats, only Economy. At only $40.00 more than the Economy Class ticket between Truro and Montreal, I found the expenditure to upgrade to a single room well worth it if only for the chance to hang out under the dome in the Park Car.
I heard the whistle first. There were six or seven of us out on the platform and the excitement was tangible. “Here it comes!” chirped an elderly lady. She was immediately echoed by three or four others. First we saw the headlights, then the engines and finally the cars as the train came around a corner and into view. Another toot from the whistle and the engines slowly powered past us followed by the baggage car, the coaches, the dome lounge “Acadia”, the dining car, five sleepers and finally the dome lounge-observation car named “Orso Park”.
I hefted my pack and walked down the line of sleepers until I reached Car 23, named “Chateau Rigaud”. At the doorway stood our car attendant, “Joey” who directed me to my roomette at the opposite end of the car. Each of ViaRail’s “Chateau” series sleepers offer three classes of accommodation: Berths, Roomettes and full Bedrooms which offer a sitting room by day and two to three beds by night. My roomette was #1 at the very end of the car and it was a bit of a struggle navigating the narrow hallways with my large backpack. Fortunately a storage rack for baggage was located just outside my door so I dropped off my pack and entered my home for the next twenty hours.
ViaRail calls these accommodations “Single Bedrooms” but I think the term “Bedroom” is a bit generous considering the overall size of the accommodations. To be sure, they are a monument to organization and efficient use of space. Each single compartment is 3’ 7” wide and features a 6’ 5” bed that’s almost 3’ wide. Very comfy. As I entered my compartment, to the left was a large well padded seat built into the wall. To my right was a toilet (with a padded seat cover that doubled as a fine Ottoman) and a wash basin that folded down out of the wall. There was also a push button water spigot for drinking water (As opposed to the sink water which may or may not have been potable) and a decent sized mirror and shelf for toiletries. Up near the ceiling was an electric fan and by the door was an electric outlet that was suitable not only for razors but also for laptops!
It wasn’t long before we felt the first jolt as the engines powered up and pulled us out of Truro. We took our time gliding through the Truro “suburbs” averaging maybe 30 mph before heading out into the country where our engineers really put the coals to her.
After I got everything sorted out, I be thirsty too and with three Molsons nicely chillin’ in an impromptu quadruple bagged “cooler” I wasted no time in poppin’ one, drinkin’ it, and then tossing the others in my day pack and headin’ out to check out the train and in particular the Park Car.
My car was called “Chateau Rigaud”. It was named after Francois-Pierre Rigaud, who from 1757-1760 was the last Governor or Montreal under the French regime. And no, I am not well read on my French Canadian history. In each car is a small plaque with a little background on its namesake. My favorite was a sleeper two cars back named “Chateau Closse” The plaque read as follows:
“Lambert Closse, for whom this car is named, was a companion of the Sieur de Maisonneuve, the First Governor of Montreal. His dog “Pilots” was trained to detect Indian attacks, during one of which, while in command of the garrison, Closse was killed.”
The lounge car was named “Yoho Park” after a beautiful provincial park in Western Canada. Truth be known, it’s not totally a lounge as there are three doubles and one triple bedroom before you reach the lounge. ViaRail advertises this car as offering three lounges: The Mural Lounge, located under the dome offered both tables and chairs and was where the actual bar was located. The bartender was a silver haired gentleman named Jack and it was obvious from the get go that this man enjoyed his job. I immediately ordered a local Nova Scotian beer and shelled out $4.75. Jack served it with a glass and I wandered into the “Bullet Lounge” located in the rounded end of the train. This lounge is my favorite as you are surrounded by windows that wrap gracefully around the rounded end of the train affording you not only a view of the passing scenery but also a view of where you’ve been. I think it’s neat to see the tracks and ties zipping by behind us. There were only three other folks in the lounge at the time and though conversation was minimal, we had a good time watching Nova Scotia roll by. As for the beer, well, I can’t remember its name and that’s perhaps just as well because Jack’s spirit of bon amie and salesmanship notwithstanding, this beer tasted like watered down bat urine. Right up there with Keystone Light. I drank it and then climbed the stairs to the “Dome Lounge” where I discreetly refilled my glass with Molson Canadians!
As the afternoon wore on, the clouds disappeared and the sun brought some life to an otherwise dull and grey looking countryside. Early spring is not the prettiest time of year to be in Nova Scotia and I most assuredly would love to come back in the autumn and do this trip then when, from the pictures I’ve seen at least, it is as pretty as any place on the continent.
People came and went in the lounge car and beer and conversation flowed freely. Such is the nature of train travel – a great pace to see the country at and a fine opportunity to meet and mingle with your fellow passengers, of whom many have some great stories to tell. Were I to repeat them I would need to be writing a book, not a trip report. All of you who are curious, go out there and get on a train yourselves! Meet those rail riders and add your story to the mix!
One of the great thrills of riding a train for me is dinner in the diner. Breakfast and lunch I could eat in the snack car but on a proper train, dinner really should be enjoyed in the diner. Here onboard the “Ocean” in the dining car “Acadia” the fare did not disappoint. Here is a transcript of the menu:
Your choice from one of the following:
Nova Scotia Fish Chowder
Soup Of The day
** ** **
The Cape Sable
Oven baked haddock loin topped with a white wine shrimp sauce, served with vegetable and creamy mashed potatoes with roasted red peppers or rice pilaf $18.00
The New Ross
Center cut pork chop served with escalloped apples, vegetable and creamy mashed potatoes with roasted red peppers or rice pilaf $16.00
The Wentworth Valley
Oven baked layers of pasta, meat sauce and Mozzarella cheese topped with marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese $14.00
Chick Pea Curry
An exotic dish for spicy food lovers. This tantalizing yellow curry includes a traditional blend of carrots, peas, potatoes and chick peas seasoned with garlic, spices, lemon juice and fresh coriander. Served on a bed of rice pilaf $12.00
** ** **
Apple Crisp with Frozen Yogurt $5.00
Chocolate Hot Fudge Cake $4.75
Vanilla Frozen Yogurt $2.75
All of the prices are in Canadian currency and inclusive of taxes
** ** **
The dining car was a real classic! It had an etched glass partition at one end and all the tables were set with double table cloths – one white topped diagonally with a smaller pink one. Real linen napkins were artistically folded and heavy silverware completed the setting. Oddly enough I had a table to myself so I began my dinner with a fish chowder (excellent) and chose the haddock with rice pilaf for my entrée. It was a good choice! A big plate of food was brought to me featuring a large portion of haddock (a light halibut-like fish in both flavor and texture) accompanied by plenty of rice and baby carrots. After eating all of that, I was stuffed and decidedly incapable of even thinking about dessert. I had an after dinner coffee and retired to the lounge car.
I spent the rest of the evening in “The Bullet” lounge car chatting with my fellow riders and enjoying the occasional Labatts Blue interspersed with my Molsons. Had it been a clear night I would have headed up to the dome lounge where one could easily enjoy the moon and stars through the clear glass overhead.
I returned to my roomette to find that Joey had already set up my bed. I looked for a chocolate under the pillow but found none. In lieu of a blanket, ViaRail had supplied a beautiful dark green down filled duvet along with a couple of well stuffed pillows. Any of you who have been fortunate to have slept in a bed aboard a train know how comforting the motion and the sound of the rails clicking by beneath you can be. I was asleep in minutes.
The next morning I showered in the single shower at the end of the car. ViaRail had provided a shower bag in my room containing a towel, soap and some shampoo. Every room in First Class was full on this train last night so I had to wait about half an hour before a shower became available but hey! It’s nice just to have a shower aboard a train! I thought the water flow was surprisingly good as train showers go. I remember riding the Indian Pacific across Australia and having just a trickle of water. In Chile, I got off the train during a long station stop in Temuco and poured a gallon bottle of water over my head. This was much nicer!
First Class passengers were offered a continental breakfast in the Park Lounge car so I headed back there to take part. Unfortunately, five sleeper cars worth of passengers trying to fit into one lounge car resulted in a hopelessly crowded and unpleasant situation so I grabbed a cup of coffee and headed back to my room for the last half hour of the trip.
In al, this was a great little train ride. The twenty hours I spent onboard just flew by and as we approached Montreal I found myself wishing I had a ticket all the way to Vancouver. ViaRail offers great value for you US dollar. Anyone planning to visit Atlantic Canada really should consider a ride aboard The Ocean or its sister trains The Chaleur or The Bras d’Or. For more information, check out www.viarail.com.
YUL-EWR Continental Express 4167 Coach Class
EMB-145 N13908 Seat 4A
150p-315p Flight time: 1:23
I was sitting in the Starbucks cafe enjoying a tall Sumatra when my Continental Express jet arrived. After cleaning up the spilled coffee and picking up the table…
Anytime I get to fly my first flight on a new jet is enough to raise my blood pressure some. This was to be my first flight aboard the Embraer RJ-145 or “Jungle Jet” as some call it and I was particularly curious to find out if it this little jet was any more or less comfortable than its larger brethren. The RJ-145 is a tiny as jets go, only three seats across, and it is starting to show up on some routes well over 500 miles in length. There is no First Class and so no upgrade potential. How would it be to sit in such an aircraft for an hour, much less two hours on one of CO’s longer routes into Mexico?
I languished over my coffee and paper until almost 1:15pm before heading over to the gate. There I discovered that this flight had been delayed due to poor management by both the airlines and the airport resulting in overcrowding made worse by thunderstorms passing through the area. The gate agent tactfully called it a weather delay and said the ATC had given us a take off time of 2:54pm. Boarding at 2:00pm.
It was raining in Montreal as we filed out to board the aircraft. Parked next door was an American Eagle RJ-135. Wow! It’s quite a bit smaller! Our –145 didn’t have a self-contained stairway so the ground staff had thoughtfully positioned a roll up version next to the doorway.
My first impression upon entering the aircraft was how nice and dry it was inside. It was nice to get out of the rain. Seating is of course one class, 19 rows of blue leather seats configured 1-2. My seat 4A was on the single seat side and I was disappointed to find there were no overhead storage bins along my side of the aircraft. I barely squeezed my daypack under the seat in front of me. The RJ-145 is definitely not an aircraft for those who like to drag those large carry-on bags along with them. Thankfully, legroom was reasonable.
We fired up the engines and taxied briskly out to a holding area near the runway. There an engine was shut down while we sat and watched a seemingly endless parade of Air Canada jets take off. The captain came on and informed us we’d been given a revised departure time of 3:11pm. Grrr… Times like these are why they put those Sky Mall magazines in the seatback pockets. There was nothing I wanted or at least nothing I could afford.
Finally, we fired up the engines, taxied onto the runway and immediately took off. No pause at the head of the runway, no revving up the engines and releasing the brakes, just Go For It! Let’s Get Outta Here!! We did, too, climbing quickly through the clouds and up into bright sunshine. Now this is more like it!
There was only one flight attendant aboard and she started her service by passing out peanuts and pretzels. This was followed by the drink cart. There is a galley aboard the –145 and I found myself wondering if CO serves meals on some of its longer runs like Houston to Manzanillo or Montrose, Colo.
Overall, I find most regional jets to be just as small and uncomfortable as the propeller aircraft they were designed to replace. So what if they’re a little bit faster! On the PHX-DRO run for example, a Dash 8 will take only about 15 minutes more than an RJ. Not a huge difference. I’d rather have some degree of comfort and a chance to upgrade. I have flown United Express’s CRJ-200s and now Continental Express’s RJ-145. From a passenger perspective I think the Avro RJ-85 is a far superior ride. Granted each airline comes up with their own seating arrangements, some more spacious than others, but I just think the RJ-85 is a nicer plane to fly in with its 2-3 seating arrangement. The seats on this RJ-145 and the CRJ-200 that I flew still looked and felt like the dinky little seats you get in props. Bring back the Convair 580s! Now there was a comfortable prop!
Because of our late departure time, we didn’t land at Newark until 4:30pm. My connecting flight to Las Vegas was scheduled to leave at 4:55pm out of gate 86. It was gonna be close. I watched as we taxied past my waiting 757 at Gate 86 and continued way down to the last CO Concourse, finally parking at the very end of that concourse. When it rains, it pours. I grabbed my gear and power walked my way over to Gate 86. The terminal was crowded and the TV monitors indicated an on time departure for the Vegas flight so walk fast and hope for the best. I had hoped to have a chance to visit the big Newark President’s Club but another time perhaps.
As I approached Gate 86 I was relieved to boarding was still in progress. The Concourse clock indicated 4:47pm. Lucky me.
EWR-LAS Continental 4167 Coach Class
757-224 N41135 Seat 14A
455p-720p Flight time: 5:23
I scooped up some leftover newspapers in the boarding area and headed down the jetway. Hey! This was Continental’s International version of the 757 with the Business First seats up front! Very nice! For rows and just look at all that legroom! Lucky stiffs! I scowled and trudged on through to join the great unwashed masses back in steerage.
Economy looked pretty full and when I arrived at row 14 I found seats 14B and C occupied by two guys. I said howdy or something to that effect and pointed at my seat. They looked at eachother. I looked at them. They looked back at me. We all looked at my seat. Still nothing happened. By now it was clear they didn’t speak English. Still, something needed to be said if only to lend a sense of urgency to the proceedings. Three or four people were coming through behind me.
“Somebody’s gotta sit there!” I said. “Might as well be me.” Perhaps it was evidenced by my rummaging about in the overhead storage bin trying to make room for my jacket but when it finally did become clear that my interest in the empty seat was more than just a passing fancy they both got up and cleared the row.
Man oh man! My seatmates notwithstanding, this was gonna be a loooong flight. The leg room was as bad as I’ve ever experienced on a modern day commercial jetliner. I’d flown a CO 757 once before but had enjoyed a bulkhead seat that time. This really was amazing. On seat pitch alone I will avoid flying CO in the future. Yes, I’ve heard great things about their First Class service but this was ridiculous!
Ah well, such is my lot in life for the next five and a half hours. Good thing I had plenty to read.
Despite the busy hour at a busier than usual airport, we wasted no time in taxiing right out to the runway and taking off. It took awhile to break through all the clouds but what a welcome relief it was when we did. I love sunshine!
Drinks and dinner were served without much fanfare. Indeed the dinner wasn’t worth much anyway. We each received a carton bearing a hot Barbecue sandwich, a small bag of Fritos, a tiny apple and a tasty dessert cookie. The sandwich actually tasted pretty good and after washing everything down with a can of Coke, I actually watched part of the movie, “Joe Somebody”. Had I purchased some headphones and listened to it as well it might have made more sense. Still, for a short time at least I felt at one with my seatmates who had purchased headphones and were looking up at the screen with rapt attention and furrowed brows but not laughing when others did.
Most of our journey was clouded over so I was unable to derive the full benefit of the window seat. There are some pretty views flying across Colorado and Utah before descending into Las Vegas that would have certainly offset the discomfort of my cramped confines but not today. Mercifully this flight was over after 5 hours and 23 minutes.
Without a doubt, the desert is not to be trifled with in a small car. A roomy landscape demands a roomy car, a large engine and a decent stereo. I always use Alamo in Las Vegas and have been the beneficiary of consistently excellent service from them over the years. They offer excellent rates and big cars that I like. Tonight, Mesquite. Tomorrow, on to Page and across the Navaho Reservation to Durango. Hope you enjoyed the report!