A Travellerspoint blog

Arrival in Montreal

No Reliving Happy Memories

View North America 2022 Train Trip on Bob Brink's travel map.

October 13, 2022

I woke after what I thought had been a great sleep, but then I looked at my phone. It was 3:00 a.m. I tried to get back to sleep but finally gave up at 4:30.

This was my view at that time in my little room with the bed down.


I enjoyed tracking our location during the ride, which is something to do when you wake up in the middle of the night. On the Via trains I had two options for that. I had my Google Maps set on Wi-Fi only, so it did not use my data, but could still use the GPS signal. There was also a Via Rail app that tracked all the moving trains. It gave a lot of information such as current speed and expected arrival and departure times at all the stops. It required data so only worked when I was in an area with cell phone coverage.


There was supposed to be Wi-Fi in the lounge. I went there at 5:30 but had no luck with getting online, not that I really needed to, I was just curious to see how well it worked. Linda came by just before 6:00, and we went into the dining room for breakfast. At home I eat a healthy breakfast of fruit and granola. But this was my first breakfast on my train trip, so I had to order the French Toast. It turned out to be a disappointment, more of a somewhat strange egg dish. Linda agreed.

Guillaume came by and asked if we wanted our beds to be put back up. We did. I would later appreciate doing that task myself on the train from Vancouver.

Back at my little room I used my fold down basin to shave and brush my teeth-my first shave on my train trip. I obviously do not have a lot to shave, but it does include my neck. It went well. The basin was kind of a miniature Murphy bed concept. It folded in and out of the wall. The water only drained when you put it back up.

In my last post I mentioned my videos and said that readers had to wait for the documentary version of my blog. But I have decided to share a few scenes from early in this ride to show what it was like. I am sure these scintillating scenes will have everyone excited for my future video series.

See, life on a train is always exciting.

I also want to show this photo of me sporting my Newfoundland Railway cap. The cap was a gift for this trip. I got a photo taken with it on every sleeper train. This is my Ocean shot.
Guillaume took my photo, so I then took one of him.

We were nearing the end our ride, so it was time to get my suitcase packed. As I was finishing, I looked over my shoulder and saw that we were going over the St. Lawrence River. I was disappointed since I did not have time to take a photo or video. We pulled into the station for Quebec City, Sainte-Foy. Guillaume asked if I wanted to get out. I took a few photographs of the train and station.


After getting back on-board, Guillaume told me that I still could photograph the river since we were going to reverse back across the bridge. Now I understood. We were travelling on the south side of the St. Lawrence. We crossed over for Quebec City, but there was no turn around. The train had to go back they way it came in. He suggested the lounge as the best place to see the river. I hurried there, but it was quite full. Guillaume told me that there was another lounge on other side of the dining car.

I got my video. I learned quickly that you do videos when crossing bridges. Otherwise, you end up with a lot of closeups of support structures.

I had sat down with an East Indian couple from Winnipeg. They had been in New Brunswick for their granddaughter’s soccer competition with the provincial team. The rest of the family were flying back, but they were going back by train. They have been taking trains for years, especially to Vancouver.

I stayed there to take a few photos and videos. The fall colours were nice.

I was still learning about train photos. You have to check for the sun first which is obvious when you are walking around, but then you are looking at a subject. On the train you have to check both sides of the train and quickly change sides if necessary.

It had been a beautiful morning. But the weather forecast for Montreal was not good. The rain started at our last stop before we crossed the bridge into Montreal.

We arrived in Montreal about an hour and a half late. I had thoroughly enjoyed the first sleeper train ride of my trip. The scenery was nice, although not as spectacular as I would see later in the Rockies. The staff were excellent, but the food was not, nor were the facilities. I believe that the state of the cars shows that Via is not committed to this service, so will probably end it in the not-too-distant future. I hope that I am wrong.

I wandered around the Montreal Station for a few minutes looking for the right exit. I chose wrong but a quick walk around had me going in the right direction. The rain was not that bad, so I decided to walk to my hotel as planned. The wind was gusting, and my hat blew off (just like Pouch Cove!). It flew under a car. I thought I might have to get down on the pavement, but luckily it stopped between two parked cars.

The Auberge Les Bons Matins comprises some converted Victorian houses. I was told that I would be staying in the house next door, but my room would not be ready for a few hours. I left my bag and headed out to find some lunch. The receptionist said go to the end of the road and turn left. That would Crescent Street.

It was prime downtown. I expected to find a nice little French café for a sandwich and a latte but through the rain all I could see were nightclubs and bars. Maybe it would have been easier on a nice day.


In a way I felt at home. Was it the Newfoundland type weather? Or memories of living in Montreal when I loved the city but not its weather. I had walked these streets on many days like this. I pulled my coat over my backpack to keep the contents from getting soaked.

A quick downpour convinced me that I had to find a place. I was outside a Mexican restaurant so decided that was my lunch. There were no menus. You had to use your phone. I could have asked for one, but dutifully aimed my phone at the code. Up came a menu. I ordered a taco and a beer. It was good, and I was out of the rain.

I still wanted a latte and found a café. It was quiet so I had a chance to talk to the manager. He was interested in my travel story and mentioned that he had never been out of Canada. It was all very pleasant for a few minutes until I said something about guns and Americans. I always consider myself safe in Canada to voice my opinions about Americans (such as the need for sane gun control laws), but my new friend jumped all over it. “They need their guns to protect themselves from the government!” This was not what I expected in a Montreal café. He then informed me that he had been in Ottawa at the trucker protests when convoys of truckers descended on our capital and held the city hostage for three weeks. I kept repeating that they lost me with the loud honking that disturbed the residents but did nothing to the politicians. He would not concede that the protestors had done anything wrong. I did not want to get into a real argument, nor I suspect did he. We just had a few minutes of disagreeing. I finished my latte and said a pleasant goodbye.

I passed a Korean restaurant on my way back to the hotel. It seemed like a good place for supper. I was able to check into my room. I was impressed.


I had a table which I used for working on my photos. I was leaning against the wall when suddenly I felt it moving. Or was it me? It was a strange sensation. Was something wrong with me? An earthquake? Some strange sensation from no longer being on the train? Then the moaning started. It was loud. Was he that good or she overdramatic? I moved away from the wall and put in my earbuds.

I went to the Korean restaurant for supper, a short walk in the drizzle. The other diners were all young, maybe students. I felt old, definitely the only old white guy, but I really enjoyed my ribs. Back at the room I was too sleepy to do much. I set my phone music on a timer so that I could not hear any noises from the next room and went to bed.

My time in Montreal had been a disappointment. I had planned to walk all over, up the mountain and down to old Montreal. I really loved my months of living in Montreal back in the 80’s and wanted to revisit my old haunts. I had a train to catch and the forecast was not good, so I was not likely to see much the next morning. But I was not feeling too upset. I had many trains to take and sights to see.

Posted by Bob Brink 17:20 Archived in Canada Tagged trains via_rail Comments (0)

Night on the Ocean

Halifax to Montreal Train

View North America 2022 Train Trip on Bob Brink's travel map.

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

I slept well. I might have been in a city, but it was quiet. Pouch Cove is not that quiet with all of our ATV’s racing up and down until late in the night.

Some travel alerts from Via Rail howled from my phone (Zoe “singing” is my notification sound). I was nervous as I started to read, worried that my train might be delayed. But they were only issues with their baggage arrangements. Passengers cannot access their bags during the trip. This also prevents people from bringing pets as they are kept in the baggage car and passengers go there to look in on their furry friends. Neither made a difference to me. There was also a general alert about possible delays due to work on the track but nothing specific. There was no change in the departure time. All was a go.

I had some cereal and yogurt at the hotel’s free continental breakfast and headed out for a few hours in the city. I wanted to get up high to take photographs of the city, so went back the way I had come the night before, up to Citadel Hill. The hill, a national historic site, sits above Halifax Harbour and was first fortified in 1749. But I only wanted a good place to take a photograph of Halifax Harbour. It appeared that I had to get inside the complex to get a good vantage point. The only way in was to buy a ticket which cost me $7. I wanted the photographs so paid the fee and walked inside only to find that the best places for photographs were still blocked.


I had a quick look at the Canadian military history exhibit and the grounds. I was not really in the mood for an extended visit. My mind was on the train station area.


I took a panorama of the harbour and downtown. I did not have enough time to go that way.


I took a few photos while I walked back to the hotel. After all these years, living in the same part of the world, I have yet to really visit Halifax. It is a very attractive and interesting city so I must rectify that in the future. But I did not have the time on this visit.


I decided that I would check out of my hotel, walk down to the station, leave my bag there and head to the Pier 21 museum. I handed my key to the morning receptionist. She said, “Your information says that you live in Newfoundland, but from your name I can see that you are not actually from there.” No, there are no outports or neighbourhoods in St. John’s full of Brinks. I might live in Newfoundland. The receptionist lives in Halifax. But she is the Newfoundlander. Yes, that is how it works.

I was now testing my suitcase. Would it roll? Yes, it did! The WD-40 did the trick. The train station was not far. I had been there the night before when I went shopping for the oil. The station was quiet, still a few hours until the one and only train was to leave. I found the baggage check and asked to leave my bag for a couple of hours. The woman told me to make sure I was back an hour before departure time.

I walked around the block to find Pier 21, the Canadian Museum of Immigration. I should have been interested in visiting the museum anyway, since I am an immigrant to Canada. But I had decided on my visit a few weeks earlier when reading the book, “Railway Nation: Tales of Canadian Pacific, the World's Greatest Travel System” by David Jones. He tells the story of the “last spike” when the tracks from the east met those coming from the west. Apparently, there were three spikes involved, a silver one which was made to commemorate the occasion but was not used, a steel spike that was bent when the first blow from the hammer was not on target, and the final one which was straight after being struck and then subsequently removed. The bent spike was kept, and pieces removed to make pins for the ladies connected to the ceremony. Jones continued, “The bent and chopped up spike was donated by Lord Strathcona, the great grandson of the CPR director who bore the same title, to Canada’s National Museum of Science & Technology (now Canada Science & Technology Museum) in 1985, one hundred years after the CPR’s completion. It is now on long-term loan to the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, as a tribute to immigrant railway workers.”

I read that and thought that since I was going to be catching a train across the street from the museum and taking Via Rail across the width of Canada, that I had to go visit the spike. It took only a few minutes to get around the block to the museum. I paid the admission and immediately told the nice lady that I really wanted to see the last spike. Unfortunately, maybe because there had been a silver spike, I misspoke and referred to a golden spike. I immediately tried to correct myself, only to have the woman say, “But you called it golden.” In any case, no one at the desk knew what I was talking about. One woman said that perhaps it had been moved a couple of years previously during renovations.

No spike, but I was in the museum with some time, so I checked out some exhibits. Train travel was a big part of the new immigrant introduction to Canada.


I went halfway through one hall and then went back the way I had come in. I looked into the last part of the exhibit and decided that it looked interesting, so went in that way. A friendly young staff member started to send me to the proper start of the exhibit, but I told her that I had already seen much of that. She let me stay. The interactive board showed the landing spots for all the immigrants and asked visitors to mark their spot. My spot of Victoria, B.C., was quite filled up, but I did take the chance to tell the young woman about my immigration story.

There are many heart-warming stories of immigrants leaving hard backgrounds to make their new lives in Canada. They travelled by sea and train to get to their new homes. My story is equally inspiring. Well, perhaps not. I filled in my paperwork back in 1987 in Gaborone, Botswana, where I was living with my wife, a Canadian citizen. We were leaving Botswana. She did not want to live in the States. I was fine with Canada. We visited the Canadian consulate where a bearded and flannel shirt wearing Canadian immigration official greeted us. I immediately felt relaxed, since I was bearded and wearing a flannel shirt (it was wintertime in Botswana). Yes, it was a white, bearded, flannel shirted privilege thing. Not only was I confident that my application would go through quickly, but I told him that Po and I were going to be leaving Botswana soon and embarking on a long trip before getting to North America. “Could the papers be sent to somewhere in the US so that I could pick them up there?” I really asked that. And it happened. My documents were waiting for me at the Canadian Consulate in Seattle. After collecting them, we took the Victoria Clipper ferry across to Victoria, B.C. where I presented myself as a landed immigrant. There were balloons and cake there since Canada was so excited to have me. Or, maybe it was all for the ceremony for the grand opening of the new ferry terminal. My documents were stamped. Nobody offered me cake.

After telling the young woman my immigration story, which she might have been interested in, but probably not, I asked her about the spike. She sent me to the only spike that she knew about, a commemorative spike from a 1985 ceremony commemorating the 100th anniversary of the completion of the railway. I took a photo of that.


I left the museum, making sure to take a photograph of a sculpture just outside the entrance. Po had told me to check it out. She can never understand why the artist insists on putting small and what seems to be unnecessary bases beneath the feet of his sculptures. You can decide what you think.


From there I walked along the waterfront for a few minutes. There were a couple of big cruise ships in port.

It was now time to report back to the station for the first train on my big journey, Via Rail’s Ocean, that would take me from Halifax to Montreal. There is a long history of rail travel between Halifax and Montreal. Canada’s first national infrastructure project was the Intercolonial Railway that operated from 1872 to 1918. The Ocean named route was launched in 1904 by the Intercolonial Railway which merged with Canadian National Railways in 1918. The Ocean is the oldest continuously operated named passenger train in North America. All passenger service was transferred to Via Rail in 1976-78.

The Via Rail Station in Halifax was originally the Canadian National Railways Station and was built in 1928-30 as part of a hotel and station complex. The adjoining hotel was the Hotel Nova Scotian. It is now the Westin Nova Scotian. I thought about staying there but chose to save my money. The photo of the hotel is from the water side.

I thought I could probably walk through the back of the hotel to the station on the other side but decided it was easier to just walk around. Once there I collected my little suitcase and inquired about a lounge for sleeping car passengers. A man overheard and told me that it was quite packed. I went to check it out. It was a short way into the hotel part of the complex. As the man said, it was quite busy and not that nice, so I went back into the less crowded main hall but had to sit on a hard bench. The lounge had soft seating.

About 30 minutes prior to our scheduled departure sleeping car passengers were asked to line up. It was a bit chaotic since there were two lines, somewhat merging at the end, with everyone having to talk to a man on left for checking of tickets and then a woman on the right to book your lunch sitting.

Shortly thereafter we were called to board. I stepped aside to take a few photographs of my home for the next 21 or so hours. I was surprised at how long it was.


I was directed to the front of the train where I met Guillaume, our attendant. He would be looking after a couple of adjoining sleeping cars. He directed me into my room. My first impression was not great. The first thing one sees on entering the one-person roomette area on this train, The Ocean, are the curtains over the doors. They seemed quite old. I then checked out my room. Every other roomette, such as mine, had a step-up entrance. The in between cars were floor level. Later I learned that the cars were built this way to allow more space as the roomettes interlock. The cars were originally built to go across the Chunnel from London to Paris. That business never happened. Instead, they were sold to Via Rail and converted to sleepers. That was in the 90’s. It looks like they have not been upgraded since. But everything was functional.

My little room had a comfortable seat facing forward for the daytime. There was a toilet in one corner with a fold out basin above it. Later my bed would fold down from the wall, a Murphy bed. I would ultimately conclude that this was my least favorite room on my four sleeper trains due to the step up which took away from the head room.

We were told to wait for Guillaume to visit us and give safety instructions as well as explain about our rooms and the rest of the train facilities. I was videoing our departure as Guillaume explained how I was to break the window in case of an emergency.

After that it was time for my lunch since I had booked the first sitting. It was a long walk to the dining car. I had to go through several cars to get there. As I would learn on my three sleeper trains to come, coach and sleeper passengers are usually kept separate. But on this train, we had to make our way through a variety of coach and sleeper cars plus a transition car to get to the lounge and dining cars. I did not realize it until we were almost in Montreal, but there was a second lounge and at least one more sleeper car behind that.

This was the transition car. These cars have different couplings to "transition" from one size or type of car to another. I found it a bit odd since there seemed to be a lot of wasted space being hauled around. Later I would actually sleep in a transition car on Amtrak. It had the separate couplings but was still outfitted with rooms. But it was a nice change on the walk to and from the dining car since it was wide open, so you did not have to bounce off the walls as happened in the narrow corridors of the other cars.
This configuration was due to the Halifax Harbour Authority taking away the land that Via Rail used for The Ocean’s turnaround. Three trains a week and then nothing for several months during Covid made the authority decide that shipping facilities were more important. The Ocean trains drive in going one way and then the locomotive and baggage car are detached from the front and a locomotive and baggage car are attached to the other end. The train then pulls out going the other way. I do not know how this is done, whether this is the same locomotive and baggage car or if they bring another pair.

A most unfortunate result of the loss of the turnaround was the fact that Via had to take away The Ocean’s special dome car. Five days later I would be told by the conductor on my train from Chicago that this was the nicest lounge car on any of the trains in North America.

But that day as I made my first trip through all those cars, I was excited, I was having fun. I was seated with a man on his way to Montreal to visit family. He always takes the train. In fact, he is part of a group lobbying for better mass transit, although he admits that they are not finding success. One of the reasons that my wife did not come with me was our dog, Zoe. My dining companion’s wife was left home to look after eight cats. They were rescues that his mother-in-law had originally adopted. He is allergic, so the cats live in an apartment on their own.

My first meal was clam chowder followed by shrimp alfredo. And I accepted a piece of carrot cake. I would eat as much desert on this trip as I normally consume in a year. The meal was pretty good. I will be basing my food ratings on airplane food. This was a bit above that. I would have much worse and much better food in the coming days.
Our attendant Guillaume was constantly asking if he could get us anything. He set up drinks (bottles of water) in the berth section which had windows on both sides which was possible since there were no passengers there. If occupied the bottom seats slide out, and a bed comes down from above. I asked Guillaume about it, and he promptly got up and showed me how it works. Words to describe Guillaume are friendly and helpful. I would use other words for Amtrak staff in the coming days.
Guillaume is from France and first moved to Vancouver where he got a job moving the locomotives in the rail yard. He now lives in Halifax and works on the train one way, spends a night, and then works it coming back. He, along with many of staff, will be laid off in the near future. I overhead many of the staff discussing this. The passenger load drops severely after the summer.

After lunch I spent the time between my sleeper car and the berth car watching the world go by and taking some photographs. I had to learn to take photos from moving trains. You have to monitor the glare and the sun all while everything is changing as the train moves down the tracks. I did not get many on this day although I did get some decent videos. Those will be shared later in my future award winning documentary.


I had booked for the early dinner sitting. I first went to the lounge car. It was quite crowded as many were trying to use the Wi-Fi. I did not stay long and moved on to the dining car. I had earlier met the woman staying in the room across from me in our sleeper car. She had arrived at supper just before me and was assigned to a two – person table with another woman. I was given a table behind them. Linda stood up and asked if I would like to join the two of them. She then asked for us to be given the four-person table across from us. She had heard me talking about my trip and previous travels with Guillaume and thought that her new friend who enjoy hearing about my travels. The ladies were both from Ottawa and had taken the train to Montreal and on to Halifax and were returning the same way.

I had an enjoyable time with the two ladies, dominating the conversation as I told stories of my travels. I do not listen well but do love to talk. My food was okay- ravioli. The pecan pie dessert made two desserts in one day, which is a lot for most people, but especially for me.

After supper I decided to check out the shower facilities. Even though I could easily skip a shower for one night, I wanted to try it out. I knew that I would be spending several nights on trains and would need to get used to on board showers. It was down the corridor in the next car and was surprisingly big, with a change area and the stall. The water was hot. I also learned that if the train was moving fast and rocking, that I needed to sit down to put my pants back on.


A note on the delicate topic of toilets. I had mentioned that we had one in our rooms. But as discussed with others, or at least with my new friend Linda, we were a bit squeamish about using our rooms as toilet facilities. We had access to toilets in both directions, which on this train were usually available since there were no berth passengers. Later in my journey I would learn to appreciate an in-room toilet.

After using the hall toilet before bed, I found Guillaume talking to the man in the room across from him. He had taken trains all over, for work in Canada, and the big Amtrak routes from Chicago. I asked him for how many years he had done that. He said at least 50. He then advised me that I should use Porter Airlines to get to Chicago. I was happy to reply that I was booked with them.

I got into my little room. The bed was down, but I could use the sink for brushing my teeth. It folded down to use. The water drained by putting it back up. I listened to some music and read my e-book, The National Dream, about building the cross Canada railway. I then attempted my first night of sleep on a moving train since I travelled across China in 1984.

This is my room with the bed made up.

Posted by Bob Brink 19:01 Archived in Canada Tagged trains canada halifax via_rail Comments (0)

Off to Halifax

It is all about the journey.

View North America 2022 Train Trip on Bob Brink's travel map.

Tuesday, October 11

The day of my trip had arrived. I was flying to Halifax in the afternoon.

I was feeling more nervous about this trip than when I went off to places like Madagascar or Central Asia. I expect to not sleep well the night before a flight, but this time it was two nights before. I got out of bed and went downstairs. Perhaps I had been doing too much research into what can go wrong on an Amtrak or Via Rail trip, which is a lot. Both Via and Amtrak trains are prone to delays, sometimes for many hours. Sometimes trains just get cancelled. Some of the travellers I followed suffered hours long delays or detours that caused them to miss the most scenic views. Then there is that thing still around called Covid.

Po came downstairs to find me. “Remember you are going for the adventure.” Yes, I needed that, a good reminder, that if things go a bit wrong, I will always have the story. It is all about the experience, not a particular view, a particular photo opportunity.

It is all about the journey.

As much as I love leaving on a trip, part of me never wants to go. It is so beautiful here in Pouch Cove. And I have to leave Po and Zoe. For those who don’t know, Po is my wife. Zoe is my dog. Po understands where I am going and when I will return. I can do WhatsApp with her. Zoe, of course, does neither, understand or do WhatsApp, although we will never stop from trying to get her to see us on the little screen.

It has been three years since I have gone on a big trip. The last time I had to leave a different dog, Bella. This time it is Zoe, our third senior rescue dog since we became full time residents of Newfoundland in 2013. We have had Zoe for about 15 months. She was 10 years old and quite chubby when she came to us, unable to walk for more than 10 minutes. Since then, her weight has gone from 91 to 75 pounds. We have our regular walk that passes by a great viewpoint as well as a few friends who are known to give treats.

Back to today, not related to my trip, we first had to take Zoe to the vet. Zoe is prone to infections and had a follow up appointment. Luckily, she loves going there. Back in Pouch Cove, we all went on a walk. The daily walk is usually just Zoe and me, but I asked Po to come along this morning.

Zoe’s daily routine after our walk is to settle down near her bowl and wait for her next meal, a meal that will not happen for three or four hours. She does not go far until after she is fed. But not today. She stayed next to me and then went into her act that tells me that it is time to go for a walk or to go wherever it is we are going, the do not leave me at home routine. I took her for an extra short walk in the backyard, but she was not fooled. She was soon next to me doing her thing.

But I had to leave. See you soon, Zoe. Talk to you on WhatsApp.

I had problems with my carry-on suitcase (all I am bringing) as I walked into the airport. It would not go straight when by my side and would not roll as I pulled it. I thought about it for a moment but was more concerned with getting my latte. I always get a latte once I am through airport security. It has been my routine for years. I did not have a lot of time today, but I still wanted one. There was one place to get it at our little airport. I will not name the company, but they make great chocolate. But my latte was far too hot to drink, and I did not have time for it to cool down before boarding. I make my own lattes. Use a thermometer people! 140 to 150 degrees! Then you can drink it right away. There is no need to let it cool. That is my rant, I hope I do not need many over the next couple of weeks.

The plane was mostly full, but Porter planes are nice, with comfortable seats. And it was a short 1.5 hours to Halifax in the small prop plane.

After landing I looked for a sign to the express bus that I was taking to downtown Halifax. I had three options for getting to my hotel-taxi, provincial bus, or city bus. (These days most travellers would add Uber, but I have yet to adopt that mode, since I live in an "Uberless" world in Pouch Cove.) Only the taxi would take me all the way to my hotel. It would cost about $60 to $70. The bus would get me within 10 minutes and cost me $3. I was opting for the cheap option.

I did not see a sign for the bus as I walked from the plane. Perhaps it was all the fighting I was doing with my suitcase. I walked out of the terminal and saw some people waiting for courtesy buses. I asked a man if the bus shelter a little further down was for the metro bus. He said yes. He lied. There were three people already standing at the shelter. A regional bus went past. One of the other hopeful passengers said she was waiting for that bus. Someone had told her to wait there. They had lied to her as well. She asked if I knew anything. I did not. I thought that since the other people were waiting there that it must be the bus stop. I am rather old to still be making that mistake. My bus number 320 passed by. It had picked up passengers someplace else. Obviously, we were all in the wrong place.

We all began walking back to the terminal. With all the grief that I was having with my suitcase I was thinking about hiring a taxi. The young lady was going to Dartmouth where she had to catch a connecting bus which she might now miss. I offered her a lift, but she wanted to check things again inside the terminal. She never came out. I suspect she found her bus stop. Or maybe she did not want to ride with me? Without the chance to do a good deed, I decided I still had time to find my bus and save my $60. I went into the terminal and was told to go the opposite way and then downstairs.

I found it. It was obviously the bus stop. It had all the proper signs. I had time to look at my reluctant wheels. They rolled but the key rear ones barely swiveled. I could see a lot of rust. This was not good with all the rolling in this bag’s future. I would have to do something before I left Halifax.

The bus arrived a few minutes later.


It was an express bus, so made it downtown almost as fast as a taxi. I knew that my hotel was easy walking distance from the downtown stop but had assumed a healthy bag. I considered a taxi for the last part of my journey. But I started walking once we arrived at the Scotia Centre. It was a lovely evening, not quite dark, and my trip was underway. I was having fun. I just had to stop now and again (and again and again) to straighten one wheel. Kicking did not work. I had to bend down to get the one wheel going in the right direction. That was bearable for this stroll, but I could not be walking though Chicago and San Francisco like this.

When I reached my hotel, I asked the clerk for a suggested place to eat and some oil. The first he had but not the second. He sent me to the Superstore (a large grocery store) which I found right next to the train station. There on the bottom shelf was my liquid gold, some cans of WD-40.

I walked up the street with my can in hand looking for my supper. Google Maps said there was a noodle place. I could not find it but saw a pizza restaurant across the street. As I was seated, I said that most customers do not bring their own WD-40. The waiter suggested that I could work on some squeaky hinges for them. The pizza was great.

I went to work on the wheels as soon as I got back to my room. I was careful to do the task in the bathroom and put down tissues to avoid leaving evidence of my industrial activities. I squirted lots of oil. There was no need to conserve since I was not going to bring the can with me. I would only know the next morning if the WD-40 had done its magic.

I moved the case to the room but was careful not to leave a stain on the carpet, although it looked like it had not been replaced for 20 years. A few upgrades might be order for the Garden Park South Inn, but it was quiet, convenient, and had an old fashioned charm.


It looked quite nice from the outside.


I went to bed feeling quite relaxed and especially happy. I was on the move again. I had a morning Halifax exploration ahead of me followed by the boarding of the first of six trains.

Posted by Bob Brink 19:13 Archived in Canada Tagged trains canada halifax via_rail Comments (1)

About a Train Trip

Why a train trip? Sure, I am avoiding airports, but then I am not really taking the trains to get anyplace. On my other trips my flights were just the way I was getting to the different places on my trips. This time I am taking trains to get to the next train. This time it is all about the journey.

The railroads played huge roles in the creation of the countries of Canada and the US. For close to a century rail was the way to travel across the continent. There were no long-distance roads. Most people could not afford an automobile. Air travel did not exist.

But once the big highways were built and air travel became affordable, long distance passenger trains almost disappeared. Government intervention saved them, but only spent enough to have them as a niche travel option, catering to those of us with time on our hands. A 2011 US study showed that 90% of long-distance trips were by automobile, 9% by air or bus, and only 1% by rail.

I am part of that niche market wanting to go for a train ride. It helps that I am retired. I expect that there will be several other seniors on my train. I will not be the only passenger taking multiple trains. It is quite likely that there will be a few fellow passengers doing a similar tour of North America. I am expecting to meet lots of people who share my interests. No one will be on the train because it was the fastest option, and in most cases (certainly for those travelling in sleeper cars) it will not be the cheapest. In previous blog posts I have admitted that I am that annoying passenger next to you on the plane who will try to make conversation. I am expecting that there will be talkative folks on the trains.

I have learned that there are different types of train fans. Some want to watch the trains pass by. They will travel (by road) to the best vantage points to see particular locomotives. I listened to a podcast dedicated to trains. The host expressed that he could not spend a couple of nights on a train. He seemed to find his guest’s Amtrak trip from Boston to Utah quite exotic.

There are those of us who want to sit inside the trains. I do not get excited about freight trains. I will not pay much attention to the type of locomotives that will be pulling my trains. But I love the inside of passenger trains. I will note the dining cars and will be eager to check out my sleeping compartments on each train. I will enjoy looking out the train window and watching the world go by. I especially look forward to enjoying a cold beer in the lounges and spoiling myself with the meals in the dining cars, the French toast for breakfast or that Amtrak signature flat iron steak.

When did I learn to love trains? Not when I was a child since I did not get on a train until I was 22. It was not on that first ride in 1975 either, an overnight Amtrak train to New York City that we boarded in Erie, Pennsylvania. We were in coach, and I could not sleep. It was not a memorable introduction to train travel. I preferred the return trip by jet.

It began the following year. In 1976 I joined the US Peace Corps and was posted to Botswana where I did a lot of work travel. I would often take Rhodesia Railways between Gaborone and Francistown. Those were the days when Rhodesia was still ruled by Ian Smith, or as Radio Botswana always called him “Rebel Leader Ian Smith”. The railway was part of Cecil Rhodes’ big plans.

There was one daily train that left Gaborone at about 7:30 pm and arrived in Francistown the next morning, so about 12 hours to go the 430 kilometres. The train spent a lot of time in sidings waiting for freight trains to pass. The trip back had the same timing, evening departures out of Francistown, arriving the next morning in Gaborone.


There were 4 classes on the train, from coach seating, hard bench sleepers in 3rd class, softer sleepers with up to 6 passengers in 2nd class and 4 maximum passengers in 1st class. With my job I took 2nd class.

The 2nd class cabins had two facing bench seats. For sleeping, the seat backs would be swivelled up to give a narrow middle bed between the bottom seat and the upper berth which was folded down. I liked the upper berth.


There were no reservations. We gathered around the white Rhodesian Conductor and shouted out our requests. He would then assign the passengers to their cabins. The train was generally not that crowded, so most of the time I shared with only 2 or 3 other passengers but did have full compartments on occasion.

The train had a small dining/bar car with a couple of tables where we could have a typical colonial style multi course meal of soup, fish, main course of chicken or roast beef, coffee, and desert (a custard or canned fruit). The South African Castle beers were always cold and went well with all the courses. I particularly enjoyed the company as I sat with a cross section of Southern African society-black, white, mixed, Asians. South Africa had full apartheid and Zimbabwe was in a brutal war but none of that was obvious as we sat together with our food and drinks, riding through Botswana.


I have memories of falling asleep with the rocking of the train, but mostly I remember the many times that I woke up in the middle of night with the train sitting idle while we waited for a freight train to pass. One time I boarded the train in Francistown at 7 pm and woke up the next morning to find that we had not left the station. We did make good time during the day to get to Gaborone. I found the trip quite enjoyable in the daytime.

As the south bound train would approach Gaborone, the stewards would slam the compartment doors open while shouting, “Coffee!”. They would serve coffee from a huge metal pot. It was sweet and milky, more sugar and milk than coffee, probably like our Tim Horton’s “double double” (2 milks, 2 sugars), but maybe even sweeter, a “triple, triple”? I still have my Rhodesia Railways cup.


With the railroad came hotels. All the towns along the line had them. They were a bit worse for wear by the 1970’s. Dining was the standard four courses-soup, fish, main, and dessert. The waiters would come by for your order between courses. Often just a yes or no, a choice with the main course. There were two hotels in Francistown, the Tati and the Grand. The joke was always that “The Tati that is and the Grand that isn’t”. It was quite common for the waiters to wear uniforms that included fezzes. It seemed like you had somehow ended up in Casablanca.

I did some longer rail trips that took me beyond Botswana. One weekend a Peace Corps friend and I took the train further up the line to Bulawayo, the second largest city in Rhodesia. Another friend and I took the train south to Johannesburg. There we switched to a train to Cape Town. I cannot remember if it was the famous Blue Train. It was nice, but I doubt that the two us would have splurged on the expensive option. At the end of the trip, we barely had enough money to get train tickets from Johannesburg to Gaborone.

I was able to take a few other trains during my travels. Twice I visited Kenya as part of extended trips, first in 1980 with my friend Ed and in 1987 with my wife, Po. Both times we took the overnight train from Nairobi to Mombasa. We woke up to the tropical landscape of the coast and felt the warm humid air, much different than the climate of Nairobi.


In 1984 I travelled through China with my wife and our mothers. This was very early days for foreign tourists, especially those like us not travelling with a group tour. We were also a mixed group with my wife and mother-in-law being overseas Chinese. There were three prices for everything-local Chinese, overseas Chinese, and the rest of us. We had to visit China Travel in each city to arrange for travel to and accommodation in our next city. There were very few foreigners on the train. There were few foreigners anywhere at that time.

We first took the day train from Hong Kong to Guangzhou. Our flight from there to Beijing made me happy that we were going by train the rest of the trip. Check in was chaotic. We were lucky that we had a China Travel helper to get our boarding passes out of the scrum. It was an old Russian plane with thin seats and a ridiculous lack of space between the rows. I could feel the back of the passenger in front of me as he tried to push his seat back. I was almost in a panic as I could not imagine sitting with no space for 3 hours. He never seemed to figure out why his seat would not go back, although he never stopped trying. Luckily, they had recently banned smoking on the planes after one burnt up (on the ground, no injuries) due to a smoldering cigarette butt.

From there our intercity travel was by train. We took three sleeper trains- Beijing to Xian, Xian to Shanghai, and Hangzhou to Guangzhou. We had a compartment for the four of us on all the trains. We sometimes ate in the dining cars, but much of the time we ate instant noodles. Hot water was always available. We drank endless cups of tea. The corridors were full of smoke, since the Chinese men were never without their cigarettes.

We were travelling during Chinese Spring Festival, so we were joined by what seemed to be the entire Chinese population. Beijing station was wall to wall with waiting passengers. I had to drag two suitcases, my own and my mother’s, through the masses. Those were the old kind of suitcases, no wheels. My dear mother had ignored my advice to bring “as much as you can carry”. She brought as much as I could carry.

At the Shanghai station we encountered a parking lot packed with waiting passengers sleeping on the ground. I do not know how our driver managed to manoeuvre through the people, especially since he did not use his headlights. For some reason the Chinese taxi drivers were only using their parking lights.

Those have been my overnight or sleeper trains. They took place a long time ago.

In later years I took many Via Rail trips from Toronto to various places along the Sarnia to Quebec City corridor. I did them for business and enjoyed treating myself to First Class tickets which did not cost significantly more than economy. I was fed on the way home, including wine and cognac. I especially enjoyed answering, “Yes”, to the questions of “First Class?” and “Cognac?” I felt quite fine as I made my way to the subway at Union Station. It was a nice way to travel but was nothing like taking overnight trains.

My last train travel was on two high speed trains in Uzbekistan. They were modern and of course very fast, so not at all like the sleeper trains that I will be taking on this trip. But they did remind me of how much I enjoy travelling by train. That had me booking my Trans-Siberian trip which has become my Trans North American trip.


Posted by Bob Brink 22:22 Tagged trains amtrak via_rail Comments (0)

My Big North American Train Adventure

Not Exactly the Trans Mongolian, But the Food Will Be Better

I started my latest travel escapade in August with a visit to the old St. John’s railway station. I would have loved to catch the train to Port aux Basques. But I was a little late. The last train left in 1969.

Every year I had been taking a big trip, an annual "trip of a lifetime". I did the Central Asian “5 Stans” in 2019, which had followed a trip to Namibia and Botswana in 2018 and Madagascar in 2016.

I was going to top those in 2020 with a 35-day trip to Russia and Mongolia. I was booked on trains from Helsinki, Finland to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. My big Trans Siberian train trip was scheduled for May 2020. Alas, my Russian visa arrived by courier the day that Canada shut down for Covid.

Now it is 2022, and people are travelling. I was ready to go someplace. I was holding out hope for Siberia but now doubt it will ever happen. There were crazy things happening in airports. I was feeling somewhat depressed. What could I do?

How about an adventure that would not require long plane rides? I decided that I will go by train, many trains, crossing the North American continent, covering the entire width of mainland Canada and the equivalent of the width of the United States.

My train odyssey begins with the overnight Halifax to Montreal train, “The Ocean”, a 22-hour ride with my own one-person sleeper compartment. I will have a bed on all my overnight trains and access to lounges and dining cars. All my meals will be included.

I will arrive late the next morning in Montréal, where I can walk up Mount Royal for the view and then down to Old Montreal. Le Vieux-Montréal? I lived in Montreal for a year back in 1981 and tried very hard to learn some French. Mais ça fait longtemps. It has been a long time. After my night there, a 5-hour train ride will take me to Toronto.

The next day I fly to Chicago, and after another one-night stay, will walk over to Chicago’s Union Station to board the historic California Zephyr. This train will take me all the way to Emeryville (across the bay from San Francisco). The ride is scheduled for 53 hours and among other highlights will pass through the Rocky Mountains. I will have Amtrak’s smallest sleeping compartment, a roomette, which can theoretically hold two passengers, but in close confines as it is virtually the same size as the Via one-person sleeper compartment.

I will be a busy tourist in San Francisco for two days and then will take Amtrak’s Coast Starlight to Seattle, a 23-hour ride in another roomette. Two days later I will be on the short 4-hour train to Vancouver.

At this point I will have spent at least 107 hours or 4.5 days on board. Considering that both Via and Amtrak are renowned for delays, it is likely that I will spend a few more hours on board, and maybe some hours waiting. I hope I am not too tired of trains at that point, because I will then board Via Rail’s Canadian for a 4-night trip across to Toronto. This time I will pass through the Canadian Rockies.


By the time I reach Toronto, I expect that I will have had enough train rides to last for a long time. And a lot of great memories.

Let me get back to the start of this post. What was I doing in the St. John’s train station, knowing that there would be no train to catch?

I thought that it was appropriate do a symbolic start to my rail journey at the most eastern point in North American rail history, the old St. John’s train station. Although it is long gone, the railway was an important economic and cultural institution for a people tied to the sea. For over 70 years Newfoundlanders travelled across the province by train to meet up with a ferry to take them across the Cabot Strait to Nova Scotia. From there they could take the train across Canada or to the US. The railway provided the only land link across the island. Branch lines took people to their outport homes, saving them trips by boat.

But when the Trans-Canada highway opened in late 1965, a large percentage of both passenger and freight traffic switched from the railway. The last passenger train for Port aux Basques left in 1969. The remaining freight operations were closed in 1988.

The old St. John’s train station is now the Railway Coastal Museum. In addition to visiting the exhibits, I got my picture taken with my new hat, the hat that my friends had just bought me to wear on my trip. I posed for a photograph while standing on the old diesel locomotive.


The train between St. John’s and Port aux Basques had official names. It was the Overland Limited and then the Caribou. But during WWII it was dubbed the “Newfie Bullet.”

It was never considered one of the world’s luxury trains. In fact, it was official policy that it “not be” built to such a standard, “The railway to be constructed shall not be what is deemed in England or the United States a first-class railway.” Apparently, it succeeded quite well in not being first class.

To save money the rails were built to the narrow (3'6") gauge, making the railway the longest such line in North America. Another way to save money was to forego tunnels. Instead, the line went around or up, often at the same time. There were sections where the train went around three curves at the same time. And the curves were 10% when 6% was considered maximum for the rest of North America. And the train went up and down at steeper gradients than most found in the Rocky Mountains.

The train took about 30 hours to cross the island, assuming that it did not meet with mechanical or weather delays. The train went through an area called The Gaff Topsails, made up of exposed rocks and bogs. In 1903 a train was stuck in a 15-foot snow drift for 17 days. And if the train made it past the Topsails, it still had to navigate the Wreckhouse, an area on the west coast where winds could blow trains off the tracks.

The train trundled along at 18 or 19 miles an hour, really slow, but most of the time it took the Newfoundlanders where they needed to go. A Pouch Cove neighbour remembers taking the train from Grand Falls to Corner Brook for curling competitions. Another friend recalled trips from Corner Brook to St. John’s. She also told me that her late father-in-law worked as one of the teachers on the school train, a railway car that was pulled to various stops to serve as a one room schoolhouse.

The best story I have heard is about the “Trouter’s Specials.” During fishing season special trains would be run from St. Johns. Passengers could disembark near their favourite fishing spots and then be picked up at the end of the day.


Posted by Bob Brink 18:51 Archived in Canada Tagged trains canada amtrak united_states via_rail Comments (5)

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