The Rhythm of the Ocean Route

August 6, 2013 17 Comments »

train view

Mom enjoying the view from the train.

“I think these are the nicest people I have ever seen working on a train.” My mom stated as the conductor poured us yet another glass of wine. I watched the wine in the glass rock back and forth with the rhythm of the train. The train is such a therapeutic way to travel. I find the whole process relaxing – the train stations, the boarding, and the rhythmic, rolling travel itself. In fact I often don’t want it to end.

Toronto train station

Toronto Train Station – the beginning.

business class via rail

Sushi lunch and cloth napkins in Via Rail’s Business Class

We were making our way to Nova Scotia – the slow scenic way on Via Rail – Canada’s passenger train service. However we were doing it in style. Whereas I rarely ever fly anything but economy on plane flights, somehow I tend to end up in Business Class on train trips. And trust me – as our car conductor brought out our sushi lunch – I wasn’t complaining.

My mother loves train travel so when we looked at how we could get from Toronto to Halifax the train was my first thought. Many people told me I was crazy as it would take over 24 hours via train, where a flight would only take a couple of hours max. However, where I find train travel relaxing and rhythmic, I find air travel the opposite. Lines, security, being there early, paperwork, waiting for luggage – there’s nothing very relaxing about flying. It’s great when you have to get somewhere in a hurry – however as a nomadic traveler, I seldom have to be anywhere in a hurry. It was an easy decision for us – we would embrace slow travel and  take the train to Nova Scotia.

We took a day train from Toronto to Montreal where we sat in Business Class and were treated to a whole new level of customer service. Mom could only say “wow” as the attendant brought us out sushi, pasta,dessert, wine and continuously refilled everything. She marveled at the cloth napkins and was already talking about wanting to come back and do a complete cross Canada trip with my father. Mission accomplished – I had already wowed her and it was on the first day – the rest of this two week trip should be easy.

via rail business class

Sushi on the train

This is also when I first realized that there are some benefits to traveling with a gray-haired senior. The train crew seemed to pay way more attention to her and they stopped and chatted with her often – they loved her. Gray hair is about as good as having big boobs. I have neither – so of course this is only speculation and a reminder that the ‘grass is always greener’ for people with big boobs and gray hair in my world. They offered us more help than usual with our bags organizing a porter to get our luggage and transfer it to the next train so that we – and by ‘we’ I mean my mom and her little old lady gray hair – didn’t have to lift a finger. We ate two lunches – and drank copious amounts of wine, coffee, soda, and juice. Quite honestly we were both a little tipsy AND sad to arrive in Montreal and have to get leave our rolling bar!

We had a 3 hour break before we got on the train to experience the Ocean Route. We took a walk around downtown Montreal so that we could say we’ve been there. I had to explain to mom that you can’t ‘count’ being in a city until you’ve left the train station or airport – plus it was a good chance to get a little exercise after our day of overindulging.

Train station via rail

Train station along the Ocean Route

The Ocean Route is the train from Montreal to Halifax. It’s a scenic ride traveling 836 miles through rural communities of the Lower Saint Lawrence down the Matapedia Valley, across New Brunswick and on to Nova Scotia. We were in a sleeper car, which provided us some privacy and comfort – and even our own bathroom. The train had a bar/lounge car and a formal dining car. Normally the Ocean Route trains have a panoramic car with ample windows to see the scenery – but our particular train didn’t have one. Not even my mom with her gray old lady hair could make that happen.

via rail sleeper car

Our sleeper car

Dining car via rail

Dining car

We watched the sun go down as we had dinner in the dining car and struck up conversations with the people sitting across from us. The dining car was nice and our waiter even let us drink the bottle of wine we had brought along – ahem – benefits of traveling with seniors again. The food was good, a bit expensive, but honestly it was hard to transition from the amazing food and attention we had on the last train!

We spent our time on the train following along on the route map and learning about each town we passed along the way in the route guide. We also poured over the Nova Scotia map and tried to plan out our next two week’s road trip at a high level. Nova Scotia might not be on many family travel hot spots, but it was perfect for this multi-generational mother daughter trip.  My mom looked at the map while I researched on my phone and laptop. Between the two of us we came up with a plan to satisfy both of our travel goals.

Train to nova scotia

Planning our Nova Scotia adventure!

After about 24 hours the rhythm of the Ocean Route came to an end and pulled into Halifax. It may take us a while to get used to ‘normal’ life again where we weren’t doted on – the rest of this trip we were on our own – no more conductors who treat us like royalty. However in true “nicest people working on a train” form, our car conductor offered to take our picture when we got off the train. Sad to leave the rails, but we were excited to get this Nova Scotia road trip started!

Train to Nova Scotia

We have arrived!

Disclosure: Via Rail provided me with my rail ticket for this trip. However all of the opinions expressed here are my own!


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