Monday, 15 September 2014

On Prairie rails

Rather than muck about with the settings on my iPhone, I decided to let it do the work of changing the from Eastern to Central time even though I wasn't in cell range when I went to bed. I did set the alarm to go off at 7:30. The worst case scenario was that I would be up at 6:30 local time. As it was, my scheme did work and I was gently awoken on a sunny morning a little before the edge of the woods.
I gather the Train made up a bit of time over night, as we arrived in Winnipeg only about an hour late as opposed to the three hour lag we'd had earlier. Our entry into Winnipeg seemed smooth and efficient, unlike our exit from Toronto (which seemed to happen late, and involved a surprising amount of stopping, starting and reversing for unexplained reasons.) And it was a bright clear day.
At Winnipeg, the Train undergoes a significant bit of upkeep, being refuelled, resupplied, emptied, cleaned and re-crewed. This takes a couple of hours so there was time to make use of Winnipeg. I had decided Sunday morning that my beard needed a trim so I set off up Main Street then up Portage in search of a barber to do the deed. Afterwards, I thankfully failed to find an interesting book at a used book store, before sauntering back to the station where I bought a DVD about trains in the gift shop of the railway museum.  I moseyed over to the Forks Marketplace for elevenses in the form of a Jamaican paty and a cinnamon bun.

By this time, it was time to re-board the Train. I climbed into my car behind a Mennonite woman who was a new addition to the company. The new cabin attendant noticed I would be getting off in Clearwater and asked if I had any checked luggage. We discussed the matter and have made appropriate arrangements.

The Train left Winnipeg a little before 11:45. Our progress seemed more deliberate and steady, without the stops and starts. The track was much straighter and may well give the illusion of faster progress. As well, it is such a relief to be out in the open Prairies. The sight-lines are so much farther, especially as it's a bright sunny day.

I had lunch with Laverne, a Jamaican-Canadian on her way to Edmonton. We were later joined by Raj, a taciturn East Indian. He inquired quite closely of the waiter to make sure the omelet didn't any ham or bacon in it. Something in the way he asked made me curious as to whether he was a Hindu or Muslim. It turned out he was a relatively devout Hindu and didn't eat mammals.

So far, the only fault in the day has been the dull Ontario couple from "near Niagara Falls" I had supper with. They weren't particularly interested in chatting and the few exchanges I overheard between them suggested dullness. I think I may try to avoid sitting with them again.
The afternoon found me sitting for a fair bit with Roger the retired computer programmer from Denver in the "A" dome car. We chatted as the Train descended into the dramatic Qu'Appelle River Valley. It acted to my scenery taste-buds as an hors d'oeuvre for the Rockies. At least, I assume it did.

My car, no 113, Bliss Manor, seems to be located midway between the "A" and "B" dome cars, meaning it is a bit of a hike to get to somewhere "fun" or back to my cabin. Late this afternoon, I was told they will adding a "Panorama" car between cars 112 and 113 in Edmonton. This is interesting not as it means I won't have quite the hike to a lounge after Edmonton, but also as if I am not mistaken, it is unlike the rest of the Train (minus the locomotives) wasn't first built sixty years ago. Instead, I think they date from the late nineties or so. I am curious to see the contrast between the eras of train travel.

By my count, there are currently twenty-one coaches on this train.  Of these, one is a baggage car, two are "day coaches", three are Skyline dome cars, one is the Park dome car at the end and two are restaurant cars. The remaining twelve cars are sleeping cars of two distinct varieties. Ten are "Manor" cars named after Anglo-Canadian figures viz Brock, MacDonald and MacKenzie. They have three sets of berths, four roomettes and a certain number of larger cabins that I can't remember. My impression is that they have been redo relatively recently. In contrast, the two remaining sleepers are "Château" cars named for French-Canadian figures such as Papineau. They have the same number of berths but have eight roomettes with a different layout. Some are a step up in order to allow a bed to slide out for the other berth. I poked my head into an unoccupied one and got the feeling that it hadn't been updated as recently as mine. In fact, the whole of the "Château" cars gave off that vibe. I wonder if there is any politico-linguistic implications in this.

My sister-in-law Dominique is envious of me and my chance to experience the Canadian. I don't blame her as it has been quite a wonderful experience so far despite a moose shortage. I have been pondering how she, Fil and Désirée would find the experience. There would likely be language issue as relatively few of the passengers appear to speak French, native-born Canadians being a distinct minority. Désirée might have an issue as of the sleeper class passengers, there are no kids at all on my train. Lots of grey hairs, but no bairns. Then again she might find herself happy at the centre of seniors' attention. Still, it would make an almost stereotypically memorable event if Désirée's first trip to her cousins were by train.

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