Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Rocky Mountaineer Journey Through Canada

Vancouver, British Columbia - A cast of colorful characters from around the world, boarded the Rocky Mountaineer luxury train in Vancouver, British Columbia. Together we would ride the rails on the award winning train awarded the title "World's Leading Travel Experience by Train." It's reputation of providing exceptional service, elegant dining and an opportunity to see unspoiled natural areas of the Canadian Rockies and Canadian National Park, was upheld.

What the brochures didn't highlight was the added opportunity to see the backyards and junkyards of the cities and towns we passed through on our way to the incomparable beauty of Western Canada. These views added an interesting contrast to the entire experience, and showed that graffiti artists know no bounds. We traveled at a leisurely pace, most of the time, and were witness to sites that ranged from rusted cars and refrigerators to the majesty of glacier fed lakes and the tallest mountain in the Rockies. As we klickity-klacked along the rails we enjoyed the company of fellow travelers with toasts of champagne and gourmet dishes for breakfast and lunch. The ride in the multi-million dollar, two story glass domed car, was quiet and smooth. Two attendants kept us informed of upcoming areas of interest while delivering drinks, and snacks, until breakfast or lunch was served. On the dining level, located down the spiral staircase from the observation car, were two additional attendants and a chief who prepared meals that would be at home in any five star restaurant.

There are a number of Rocky Mountaineer train routes and daylight tours, ranging from 3 nights and four days to eleven nights. We chose the classic circle tour of 6 nights, seven days that took us full circle from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Kamloops, then on to Jasper, Alberta, Quesnel, Whistler, and back to Vancouver. We learned a little history and enjoyed the varying climates as we made the circle from city to high desert, into the rocky mountains and back down the Frasier Valley.

There is something very relaxing about train travel that must be experienced to understand. This trip was an all daylight tour which meant we stopped at a different city or town each night. The nightly accommodations, which are part of the vacation package, ranged from the best I have ever stayed in to a quaint no frills hotel. The Tower Hotel, located in Quesnel was the most modest of our stays, but had friendly service and clean rooms that rivaled the best places we enjoyed. There were two standouts as far as rooms, the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, in Jasper, Alberta, surrounded by the Rocky Mountains and crystal clear lakes and the Nita Lake Lodge in Whistler, British Columbia. Both had quality restaurants, top service and amenities that included an in room fireplace, heated bathroom floors, and natural views of mountains and lakes with plenty of natural wildlife.

Go for the scenery, if nothing else. The views along the way are breathtaking. Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies at 12,972 feet, loomed above the tracks and surrounding peaks for several miles as we entered Jasper. Most of the year the peak is obscured by the weather, but we were fortunate to have a clear day to see the entire mountain. The following day, as we left Jasper we saw the mountain from the rear of the train and were treated to a very different view as the top of the snow covered mountain was covered in clouds.

Along the journey we spent a lot of time on the observation deck, where we could feel the wind and hear the sounds of the train as we passed a variety of wildlife that included black bears, moose, mountain goats and eagles. As far as scenery goes there are some areas that, to me, where the most beautiful places I have seen on my travels. The looming Mount Baker in Washington State was visible in the distance as we traveled out of Vancouver and was quite a majestic sight. However the most enchanting location was Seton Lake, a crystal clear, green lake, surrounded by sheer cliffs and large mountains. As we entered this valley I felt we were entering one of the enchanted lands from the Lord of the Rings.

I couldn't help but compare the trip to the many songs, sayings and quotes about life being a journey and not a destination. A train vacation really is about the journey, who you meet and what you see as life passes by at 25 to 35 miles an hour. As in life, you can't see everything and the trip is much better with friends.

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