A Travellerspoint blog

Off On My Trip to Turkey and Georgia

Finally Going Overseas


View Turkey and Georgia 2023 on Bob Brink's travel map.

I left for my first big trip in four years on April 25.

Yes, I had done a train trip around North America in 2022. While that was a lot of fun, and had me moving again, it never was the type of “exotic”, or maybe better to say “different” trip, that I had been doing prior to that thing that hit us in 2020.

My trips over the past few years had included Madagascar, Namibia and Botswana, and the five Stans of Central Asia-Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan. So, visiting parts, however beautiful, of the country where I grew up and the other where I live, was just not going to have the same pizazz.

My “official” destination for this trip was Georgia, a country that had been on my radar since my visit to Kazakhstan on that 2019 trip. As I wrote about my day in Almaty, Kazakhstan:

“I have discovered a new favorite food. I love the Georgian spicy sauces and wonderful breads. I asked about the country and found out that Begaim had been there. She told me it was a marvelous place. Georgia is another former Soviet Republic. I must know more. Is Georgia a destination for my next trip?“

I was excited when a Georgian restaurant opened in the Toronto neighbourhood, The Beaches, where I stay with friends during my visits to the big city. The first time we did take out. I watched their travel video as I waited for the food. The scenery was as incredible as the food. Yes, I thought, I must visit this place. I was sure that Georgia would be my first place to visit when I could once again venture across the big pond.

In early 2023 I decided that I was going to do a big trip. It was going to be to Georgia. But I would need to get there, and the most direct way would take me through Turkey. I had spent a few days in Istanbul before that Central Asia tour and stayed at a small Istanbul hotel. My host had shown me a book about the various places I could visit in his country. I was impressed. I had added Turkey to my list of places to visit. It made sense to put the two countries together.

After my train trip of 2022, I had resolved that I would always try to include trains in my future travels. My first thought was to do a train trip from somewhere in Europe to Istanbul. But that was making the overall trip just too long. I shelved the European train travel. That would have to wait for another time. But I did decide to tour Turkey by train.

Every time I start planning a trip, I begin with group tours. Their itineraries provide lots of information about the places that I should visit. And I do seriously consider signing up for one of the options. Then I usually end up doing my own private tour with a local agency.

I did the same thing for this one. Any idea of a group tour for Turkey was quickly shelved. I wanted trains, lots of trains, especially the Dagu Express that goes across to the eastern border city of Kars. After playing with the Turkish Railways ticket site, I contacted Amber Travel. They had been mentioned on train sites and in travel vlogs as the agency to help with Turkish train tickets. I saw that they had some recommended train tours. I combined a couple of those to make my own trip and ended up with a trip that was all train and bus (no trains possible at the end) from Istanbul to the Georgian border.

The main things I wanted to see or do in Turkey was to take the Dagu Express, do some hiking and a balloon ride in Cappadocia, and finally see the eastern part of the country with visits to the ancient city of Ani and the mountain monastery at Sumela. And no one should visit the country without seeing the ancient Greek and Roman sites in western Turkey.

I spent less time with my planning for Georgia. I again considered a group tour but, as usual, gravitated to a private one. One agency took my talk of loving the food a bit too seriously as they would have had me doing at least three cooking classes. That sounded like it could be fun, but maybe it was one or two cooking classes too many. Their trip was quite expensive. I ultimately went with another agency.

Unlike Turkey, I had a full-time driver/guide for Georgia. He met me at the border and was with me to almost the very end when his wife substituted to get me to the airport. I went with the agency’s plan which had me making two trips into the Caucasus mountains and a visit to the Vardzia cave city before ending in the capital of Tbilisi. I added a day to the wine region which included the city of Sighnaghi.

Here is the map view of my trip:

I ended up with two very distinct type of tours. For Turkey I was booked on seven trains and two buses to get across the country to the border with Georgia. My transport was booked for me, but I was responsible for getting on and off the trains and buses and in most cases finding my hotels. I had a series of guides who helped me see the various attractions.

Georgia was the opposite. I had the driver/guide who met me at the border and saw that I made it to the airport on my departure day. I went everywhere with him during the daytime.

One thing I did for Turkey was to add a couple of “rest” days when I did layovers in cities rather than immediately connect to my next destinations. I thought they really were just for rest. But they helped in another way. I was totally on my own in both places. I think I can suffer from “guide fatigue” when I just do not want someone telling where to go, no matter how amazing a place might be. I should have done the same for Georgia.

Both companies gave me full itineraries, basically their boiler plates with a few small changes based on my comments. Both included some daily lists of activities that were impossible to achieve, considering the amount of necessary driving and the time needed at various sites. In the case of Georgia, some places were inaccessible due to washed out roads. I take some responsibility for not doing enough research, but I had no way of knowing if certain roads required 4-wheel drive or were closed since the winter. You will hear more in my daily posts.

The final part of my planning was booking flights to Istanbul and then home from Tbilisi, Georgia. I have complained often in this blog about our lack of an overseas flight out of Newfoundland. We must travel backwards to Toronto or Montreal before turning around and flying the “correct” direction. What had once been a six-hour flight became two flights and a layover. Instead of leaving at 10:30 pm for an overnight flight I have to leave at 4 or 5 pm.

I had no choice. I had to go west in order to go east. But I did have an option of one long flight from Toronto or two shorter ones. I decided against the direct flight from Toronto to Istanbul which would have taken ten hours. Instead, I booked through London to connect on to Istanbul, with the return from Georgia going back the same way. I booked a rest night in London in both directions.

All my bookings were done by the end of February. I bought a few things for the trip such as new shoes and a raincoat. But I was mainly concerned with getting into good walking shape so that I could enjoy climbing the various ruins, walking tours of the cities, and a few hikes. My excitement level kept building over the weeks as I got closer to April 25.

I had started packing my little carry-on bag a couple of days before my departure. Our weather had not been great as we were enduring what is known around here as RDF weather-rain, drizzle, and fog, but I did not think too much about it. I certainly did not think that it would have any effect on my travels. I was wrong. On Sunday I decided to check on how my various flights were performing and found out that my flight out of St. John’s was not performing at all. All of the flights on the weekend between Toronto and St. John’s had been cancelled. The only planes getting in and out of our airport were the small prop planes that did not go any further than Halifax.

I was surprised that there was nothing in the news about all the cancellations. It was obvious that the problem was the fog. But how could this happen with all the upgrades in the navigation system that the airport had purchased over the past few years?

The forecast looked better for Tuesday. On Monday I was checking FlightAware every fifteen minutes, and most of the flights did arrive. I was feeling quite relieved, but that changed just before I went to bed. The no news had by then become a news story which said that the weather system that was causing the problem was not going away for days or perhaps even weeks. The fact that the flights were okay on Monday did not mean they were going to be okay for Tuesday. And if not, they might not be good for several days.

Almost panic set in. I did not sleep well. I lay awake reviewing my not very good options. I live on an island. To get out of here without a plane would require a road trip of at least nine hours (if you have your own car) and a ferry ride of seven hours, followed by another road trip of over four hours. In other words, it was not really a viable option, and I should not have occupied my poor brain with such thoughts. The only thing I could consider was switching to a smaller plane to Halifax and then fly on from there. But I had no time to do that.

April 25

I woke up at 5 am, anxious to check the status at the airport. I saw that I had just received an email from Air Canada. They were allowing changes at no charge. Change to what? I had no idea. I decided I could only stay with my current booking and hope that things worked out. I just assumed that my flight would go as scheduled.

I always go on a walk with my ladies on the day of my departure. This time we did something a bit different and drove out to Cape St. Francis to see an iceberg that had been highlighted on Facebook over the past days. We were too late for the big tower shots that had been posted. It had fallen over and was now in two pieces. But at least it gave me a brief respite from checking the arrivals at St. John’s International Airport.

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As I got ready to head off to the airport, I was encouraged to see that flights were landing. My plane was in the air. Since I was doing my now routine carry-on only, I went straight into security. I had known that two friends were going to be on the same flight to Toronto. They were connecting to a flight to Portugal. We sat together in the lounge as the fog seemed to get worse. I had never watched an incoming flight so closely. It was in the air, but it could always turn around. I was never happier to see a plane land.

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I was so relieved to be on the plane after two stressful days, that I did not think much about the many hours of flying that I had ahead of me over the next two days. Our plane had to be de-iced before we took off. But we did take off. The flight was as pleasant as a packed plane could allow. I was on the way!

It was sunny in Toronto. I had not seen the sun for days.

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I walked with my friends to international departures. We wanted to get something to eat. This is when I remembered about the odd food options at Pearson. In the airport’s domestic departure lounge you can sit in a restaurant. In the international lounge there is only the strange combination of gates and eating establishments that consisted of electronic terminals for ordering food and drink. Most gates have no regular seats.

I knew that we were not going to find anything, but my friends did not. I went along with them as they looked for a regular restaurant. We finally gave up and sat at in an area that offered Indian food. I ordered mine. They struggled a bit but finally managed to order. Our food came within moments. It was edible.

After finishing our mediocre meals, we walked towards our gates. Theirs looked “normal” with just seats. I waited there for awhile before saying goodbye and wandering to my nearby gate. It was chaotic. They kept asking for volunteers to check their carry-ons. I finally volunteered and hoped that I would not regret it the next day when I arrived at Heathrow.
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As expected, (and announced again and again as they looked for carry-ons to check), the plane was full. I had an aisle seat on the side with a middle seat between myself and the window. In previous days I could have hoped that the seat would stay empty. But in 2023 it was not going to happen. I was left with my secondary wish as to what type of person would occupy that seat. My hopes for my seat mate go from a small woman, then to any woman, and finally, please make it a small man. I ended up with a big guy.

They offered us supper after we took off. It was about 2 am according to my body. I had eaten my Indian meal. I declined.

Once everyone settled in for the night, I lost about a third of my limited space to the big guy next to me. I did not blame him. He was asleep. I can not sleep on planes. This time it was really impossible while sharing my space with my large seat mate.

You can wish me a safe flight, but do not even think about wishing me a “good” flight.

April 26

We did not land until almost noon London time. I had thought that we would get a hot breakfast. Instead, we got a bag with a stale croissant and a yoghurt. I found the meal logic backwards. They gave a full hot meal after midnight eastern time and then hardly anything in the morning. The yoghurt was okay.

I had always dreaded the immigration at Heathrow. In the past I had always spent at least an hour or two in line. But this time it was quick. There is an automated system that reads your passport and takes your photo, and now with post-Brexit, Canadians are included with the UK citizens. Before we were outsiders, lumped in with the entire non-EU world.

I did not do the camera and scan thing right. Was it my hat? My glasses? Or just putting my passport in upside down? I had to see the man in the booth. But it only took a minute.

The luggage did not take long. My bag came out with the first ones, so the checking thing worked out okay.

I had planned that my hotel would be easily accessible by subway. I found my way down to the station below the terminal. I knew that I should buy an Oyster card from the machine. I then had a short wait of four minutes for my train headed to Cockfosters. I had made a note about that one. I was at Earls Court station in 30 minutes.
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My hotel was not far from the station, but I had forgotten to download or print a map, so I was a bit lost. All I had to have done was download the area on Google Maps. It would have worked with no data. Since I had no UK data with my cheap Canadian phone plan, I had nothing. I decided to get a latte and croissant and use the café’s Wi-Fi. After ordering I asked about Wi-Fi and found that they just use a free service. So, I did not need to have purchased anything, but I did enjoy my treats.

The free one got me the map. It took me five minutes to get to my hotel. After a shower, a chat with Po and an attempt at a nap, I decided to walk towards the restaurant in Kensington where I was meeting my friend, Sarah, her husband, and a friend.

I had met Sarah through Travellerspoint back in 2018. Sarah is an avid photographer and blogger. I seem to be the travelling star to many of my friends and family, but Sarah and her husband have travelled to many more places than me.

I arrived early, so I continued walking around the block. There were many restaurants and bakeries, including a Georgian restaurant. By the time I got back to the restaurant, my London hosts were waiting. We shared several great Lebanese dishes. I had some Turkish wine. Their friend does film work and told us about working with some trans-ocean rowers. It was their treat. Thank you so much, Sarah and Chris.

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I was quite happy that I had requested that our restaurant should be within walking distance of my hotel. I was able to stroll back to my spartan room.

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I had a mid-morning flight the next day, so was not concerned about getting to the airport early. Then my trip was really getting started.

Posted by Bob Brink 17:56 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged trains turkey georgia Comments (2)

My Big Train Adventure Videos


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

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In addition to the blog I always document my trips with videos.

This is a five-part series which should give you a feel for modern train travel. If you enjoy the videos please give a thumbs up, comment, and subscribe.

Posted by Bob Brink 01:06 Tagged trains canada amtrak united_states via_rail Comments (0)

Back Home

October 29, 2023

I had finished with my train travels, but I was not yet home in Pouch Cove. I still had a few days left to visit family and friends. This time in Toronto I would be staying at a house that is affectionately referred to as the Woodbine Inn. My friends have constant house guests.

After my night in Toronto, I was going to spend my weekend in the great state of Pennsylvania (as Americans, especially politicians like to refer to their states). My sister lives in a small town called Troy, Pennsylvania. There is no way to get close by plane. I have always driven, in my own car when I lived in Toronto, and rental cars since I moved to Newfoundland. It is a horrible drive to get out of Canada. I take the Gardener Expressway which becomes the QEW (Queen Elizabeth Highway), a multi-lane expressway. I hated it when I lived in Toronto and hate it more when I do my once-a-year or so visit.

On my last day on the train, it occurred to me that I might have other options. I was now an experienced Amtrak and Go Train traveller. What about taking the train to Niagara Falls or Buffalo and renting the car from there? It was a great idea. Unfortunately, I did not do that. Instead, I stayed with the rental car.

I picked up my car at a small Avis outlet on the east side of Toronto. I had booked an intermediate sized car. The manager made a big deal about offering me an upgrade, but from what I could see they only had two cars available. The first offer was a small Mitsubishi sport utility which I was happy to accept since I had once owned one. He then asked if I wanted the Challenger. It looked fast. I stayed with the Mitsubishi. I told him I was too old for that one.

I left the agency and Google Maps sent me to the Don Valley Expressway, tracing the some route that my train had taken the day before. It was better on the train. The expressway makes a big turn at the bottom and joins, or more accurately, becomes the Gardiner Expressway. It was a Saturday, but traffic was heavy. I once lived in Toronto, but it was all a bit overwhelming for a guy from a small town in Newfoundland. It got worse.

The downtown portion of the Gardiner is elevated, so has blocked off the south side of Toronto from Lake Ontario for many decades. It is old and crumbling. For many years, pieces of the structure have been falling off onto the road that runs beneath it. Those pieces are concrete, so not something you want to land on your car, or worse, on your head. The city has discussed a full dismantling of the elevated portions, but that is a rather large and expensive undertaking. They did remove the elevated portion east of downtown, along with a recent closing of some on and off ramps. Since I do not live there anymore, those changes always leave me a bit confused.

After about 18 km the highway merges with Highway 427 coming from the north and becomes the Queen Elizabeth Way. Traffic was moving quite fast which is to be expected on a weekend. However, the electronic signs were showing alerts that something bad was going to happen. It did. Everything stopped. We spent more than an hour in a huge multi lane parking lot. We crawled along with me cursing the whole time. We finally came to an exit where I thought that construction had closed down the entire highway. There were no signs nor helpful flag people.

I exited and followed my Google Maps lady. I thought she was going to show me a way around but instead guided me down the road and right back onto the QEW. I was angry at first, but this time was able to see that a police officer was directing cars into a small one lane opening in the construction. That was one lane for five expressway lanes. Once it was my turn I pushed through and suddenly had all five lanes to myself.

From there it was fine, although my nerves were not. I drove around the horseshoe where the highway follows the end of Lake Ontario. An especially uncomfortable part is driving over the Burlington Skyway. There are often warning signs about the wind as traffic races up and over the bridge.

From there it was a short time before I exited the QEW. There are three border posts in the Buffalo area to enter the United States. I have generally preferred the middle one which is right beside Niagara Falls. In fact, you get a great view of the falls as you drive across the bridge. The border was quick that day.

I had chosen a route to bypass toll roads so did not use the New York Turnpike. Instead, I followed two lane roads through upper New York state. It was quite pleasant as I passed through several small towns. It was a Saturday afternoon in the late fall. Families were out. I saw many children on bicycles. It felt like I was watching an old movie showing life in the US. My earlier troubles were forgotten.

I turned on to a bigger road that would take me south. I took a couple of photographs at the Pennsylvania Welcome Center.

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I arrived at my sister’s house in the early evening.

October 30, 2022

I was awake early and went out for breakfast and a walk. The café had lattes but no pastries. They did offer bowls that sounded healthy. My glasses were all fogged up so I had trouble reading the menu. I saw the word blueberries so ordered that one. I liked the blueberries but did not enjoy having the surprise of the frozen Nutella on the bottom.

From there I walked up the hill. It was a beautiful morning. I admired some of the old houses.
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I was wondering whether there was a short cut back to town, so asked a man walking his small dog. He wondered what I was doing in town and was surprised to hear about my trip. He asked if it was safe to be walking around San Francisco and Seattle. I assured him that everything seemed quite normal there. He then suggested that the media had blown safety issues out of proportion. I assume that the media he watched was Fox News.

I tried his suggestion and walked to the top of this hill. I did not find the path around but enjoyed the view. I was a bit late for the fall leaves.
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October 31, 2022

I left quite early so that I could get to Toronto before the evening rush hour. I made good time, and the border was fast. I am always happy to get back to my adopted home country.

Although it turned out okay in the end, I concluded that for my next visit I might take the Amtrak train to Rochester and drive a rental car from there. Actually I vowed that I am never driving in Toronto again.

Supper had already been planned; we were going for Georgian food. Here are a couple of comments that I posted from my trip to Central Asia:

From our day in Almaty, Kazakhstan:

“I have discovered a new favorite food. I love the Georgian spicy sauces and wonderful breads. I asked about the country and found out that Begaim had been there. She told me it was a marvelous place. Georgia is another former Soviet Republic. I must know more. Is Georgia a destination for my next trip? “

From our flight from Almaty to Dushanbe, Tajikistan

“I pulled out the Air Astana in-flight magazine. There was an article on Georgia! Coincidence? Or an omen? I found out that the cheese filled bread that I love so much is called Khachapuri and is registered as part of Georgia’s intangible cultural heritage. You have to love a country that would make a cheese filled bread part of its heritage.”

I had first visited this restaurant in 2021 when I made a quick trip to Toronto and Pennsylvania. I was quite excited to find this new Georgian restaurant called Tiflisi. That time we did take out. As I waited for my order I got to watch a Georgian travel video. The scenery was amazing.

The name of the restaurant had me a bit confused. I wanted to call it Tbilisi, which is the capital of Georgia. My latest research informed me that Tiflisi was a Georgian television show set in the years 1876 to 1910 when Georgia was occupied by Russia and seems to be related to Georgia’s fight for independence. It might also be a variation of the city name, although I only see the earlier name as Tiflis. Perhaps it is something for on site research.

We had some of that great bread.

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I was excited to talk to a Georgian so asked our charming waitress if she was from there. She was not. She is from the Ukraine. Our group was not sure how to respond to that other than give her our support. I later asked the young woman cleaning our table and found that she is from Kazakhstan which seemed appropriate since that is where I had fallen in love with Georgian cuisine.

November 1, 2022

I went out to find a latte since the Inn only provides coffee. I chose Bud’s. The woman told me that the large had four shots of espresso and asked if that was okay. I said that it would be fine.

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The plan for lunch was dim sum. I decided to walk and left about an hour earlier than my hostess who was driving. One of the great things about Toronto are the various ethnic neighbourhoods. I walked first through an area with East Indian stores and restaurants. That area changes to a small Chinatown. A few blocks north is a Greek area. There are other such areas throughout the GTA, especially out in the suburbs, but this is a nice compact area close to downtown.

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The Real Jerk is well known for Jamaican food. It was not in today's plans.
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I phoned a friend from our old neighbourhood and arranged to visit for coffee. It was on the other side of downtown, so I knew that I needed to take the subway and went across to my old station, Runnymede. I had taken the subway often during my time living in Toronto. I had enjoyed my work and the city so had good memories as the stations were announced.

I exited the station and walked along Bloor Street, checking out the changes. I was pleased that our old favorite bakery, Bread and Roses, was still there. We had our Saturday routine. I would buy muffins or croissants at the bakery and pick up a Globe & Mail newspaper. We would then settle down with a coffee. It was especially enjoyable during the warmer months when we could sit out on our porch and say hello to our neighbors.

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I walked down our old street. It is a very typical Toronto neighbourhood with lots of trees and the old houses. It is something that tourists might not experience.
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Our house looks the same.
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I was hoping I might come across one of our neighbours. I said hello to a woman who lived a few doors past our old house. It took a few moments and a mention of Po before she remembered me. It had been 15 years since we had lived there. I asked about her husband and was pleased when he joined us.

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I then visited my friend before taking the subway back across to my “Inn”.

November 2, 2022

After a quick breakfast, my hostess gave me a lift to the subway which would take me across the city to the Bloor GO Station where I would catch the train to Pearson International Airport. I arrived at the station at 8:45. After a brief delay as I tried to figure out which paper was my ticket among the many discarded receipts, I jumped on a west bound train. I wanted to catch the 9:40 airport train but did not think that I would make it. But even though this was still rush hour, the train was quite empty, like a late evening train. The TTC’s passenger levels had not recovered from the pandemic. With a virtually unoccupied train we flew across the city. Our stops were just seconds as no one was getting on or off. I made my airport train by four minutes. The train is a great way to get between downtown Toronto and the airport. It operates between Pearson and Union Station with a stop at Bloor.

With my carry-on only I went straight to departures but was stopped by an Air Canada employee. He made me put my bag into their carry-on measuring bin to see if it passed. I had to jiggle it a bit, but I succeeded. Security was not busy. Perhaps that is why I was asked to report to a secondary inspection window. I was carrying my liquids in my own clear plastic bag. That was not good enough, and the woman spent several minutes stuffing my liquids into an official bag. I was going home and would not have been concerned to give up my shampoo. She managed to get everything in.
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I had my last latte and early lunch of a croissant. It was also my last chance have a Starbucks which I had avoided until then. I chose to finish that way and bought from the café next door. Starbucks might have been better.

After an uneventful flight I was happy to look out the window and see Newfoundland.

Po and I did some shopping before leaving St. John’s including a visit to the pet store for some dog food. I picked up a toy for Zoe. Once we arrived in Pouch Cove, Po and I stopped at Shoe Cove Pond where Josh and his assistant were busy erecting his sculpture. Here is what it looked like that day.
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This is what it looked like several days later.
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For more info you get check out the Pouch Cove Public Art website. Pouch Cove Public Art

A few minutes later we were home. Zoe was happy to see me but also to get the toy. She likes new toys for a week or so, then mostly ignores them. We had to go out for a walk. She could run faster but her human can't.

The sky was marvelous. I was home. My big train adventure was definitely over.

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I could now start thinking about my next trip. Maybe some place where I can get some Khachapuri?

Posted by Bob Brink 18:08 Archived in Canada Tagged trains toronto canada pouch_cove via_rail Comments (2)

Final Two Days of My Train Journey

Finishing in Toronto


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

October 27, 2022

I had wondered how I would be feeling at this point in my trip, long past the mountains and the prairies, but still having one more night and over 1,000 km to go. Would I be counting the hours, just wanting to get off the train? Surely, I would be tired of trains by this point.

But this trip had been more about movement than anything I was going to see. I had craved, really needed, to be in motion. When I took the Zephyr from Chicago, I felt the vastness of the US and enjoyed the sensation of the train rolling along while I watched the country go past. I was now sensing the same going across Canada. And I gained a certain satisfaction from taking iconic trains from start to finish. I wanted to finish this train ride at the last stop, Toronto Union Station. Whether it was great mountain views, flat prairies, or as I would find on this day, lots of trees, I was happy to be onboard, still rolling along. Besides, I was being treated so well by the staff, the cars were comfortable, the food was outstanding, and I had great company. No, I was not tired of trains.

Although I had lived in Ontario, I never appreciated how big it was. I was interested to learn that we had entered the province relatively early in the night, only a couple of hours after Winnipeg, and would be rolling along all this day and then half of the next before we made it to Toronto.

I also learned that the province is in more than one time zone. The western part, on a line that runs just west of Thunder Bay, is in the central time zone. For air travel, once you leave the ground, the time zone of your destination is all that really matters. You arrive in a matter of hours and then have to adjust. With trains you must adjust to each zone. Your mealtimes are set according to the current location of the train. If you pass into a new zone at night, there are no announcements. I woke up in Colorado without noting the time change and arrived at breakfast an hour early. I woke up in western Ontario, assuming that it was eastern time, only to find out that we were still on central time. I had to wait for breakfast.

Breakfast time did arrive, and I was seated with a mother and daughter. The mother was probably in her 80’s. They travel a lot by train, including to Halifax. There was still no French toast, so I was good and had the cereal again.

A woman on the other side of the dining car heard me saying bad things about Amtrak. She said that she would soon be taking an Amtrak train. I told her that the trip would be fine, just not to expect the same level of service.

I reported to the dome car where I found some of the regulars but also a couple of new people. I found out that the people who left the train during the Winnipeg stopover ended up in bars as there was not much else to do. It did not sound like I missed much by staying on the train.

Our train was on the CN tracks which run well north of Lake Superior. The CP tracks are south and run along Lake Superior. I wanted to phone home, but we had no cell coverage. We were really in the wilds of Ontario or should I say the “sticks”. There were trees, so many trees. A pond or lake would appear and then be gone in an instant, plunging us back into the forest.

There were many stops listed, with names such as Savant Lake, Flindt Landing, and Allanwater Bridge, that were not regular towns. They provided access to recreational properties and lodges and were flag stops. Unless passengers had booked their ride in advance, the train just passes on by. We did not stop.

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One of our new dome car friends was a man who had worked as a CN telegraph operator in his younger days. Those poles were still standing, providing no current function except to mess up photographs.
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We were alerted that our train’s counterpart, Via Rail Number 1, was passing us on its way to Vancouver. We could not see into the windows on the dome cars, so there was no waving to each other.

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We were also informed about a beer tasting in our dome car in the evening, but this was going to be at 7 pm, the same time as the 2nd sitting for dinner, so I would have to miss it.

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The retired pilot pointed out the many beaver lodges in the ponds along the railway. I then struggled to both see them and even harder, take photographs. I think there is a blurry one in the corner of this photo, but I know very little about beavers.

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I was pleased to again be placed with my three young people at lunch. Back in my post about my day in Montreal I mentioned my discussion with the café manager who had been in Ottawa for the trucker protests. The two men are graduate students there, so I asked them to provide their viewpoint. They told me stories about the disruption that it caused the residents, many who had to move out of the area until it was over. The coffee guy had told me that the truckers stopped honking at night. The students said, "No, they never stopped honking".

The town of Hornepayne is a regular stop. We were early, so everyone had a chance to walk around. I now had a cell connection so was able to talk to Po as I walked. Hornepayne originated and continues to be a maintenance stop for the railway. Forestry and tourism are also important. It is not a big place.

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The town is proud to claim its place as the geographic center of Ontario.

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I saw a couple eating ice cream cones just before we boarded the train. I was only a little surprised. This is Canada. We eat ice cream on cold days. I then talked to them in the front lounge car. They had wandered into a store that was selling off its ice cream inventory, so they got a great deal on their cones. Cool weather or not, they could not pass up a bargain. They are from Alliston, Ontario. “Where they make the Honda CRV’s”, they told me. I had to show them photos of Pouch Cove. They actually took notes about our vacation rental property, so I might see them again.

Perhaps I had been talking too much about Amtrak. There was a man sitting beside them who told me that he was booked on Amtrak and wondered if he should still go. I assured him that he should and that I will likely take Amtrak in the future. It was a good thing that my last train was the best one.

I walked into the dining car for supper and on the left side saw two empty places across from the French couple. I did not want to sit there. The waitress seemed ready to put me there, but then pivoted and sent me to the right, back with my young people. I don’t know what they thought about it, but I was quite pleased. It was another enjoyable dinner. I had the pork tenderloin and a couple glasses of wine. At the end I left some cash, both for the wine but also for a tip which was meant for a few meals. One of my dining companions called out to ask if I had meant to leave the money. Tipping had been quite obvious on Amtrak, not so much on Via.

It was announced that because we were running early, we would have only the continental option for breakfast and then either a brunch or early lunch, the final decision to be made in the morning. I wondered if I would ever get my French toast.

I was feeling quite mellow after my meal and the wine. My train odyssey was almost over. I pulled down my bed for the last time.

October 28, 2022

I had a good sleep and headed in for breakfast. I was put with a couple from Kitchener, Ontario. She told some great stories about her trips on the trains as a young girl. Her family had moved to the west for a time and then moved back to the east, travelling by train each time, the CN train in one direction and the CP on the way back. They acquired a puppy which came with them on the return trip but had to stay in the baggage car. She would spend time in the car with the puppy where she had found a handy box to sit on, at least until she was told that it was not appropriate. The crate contained a coffin.

To briefly jump ahead a day, one of my hostesses in Toronto would tell me about a vacation trip her family took on CP Rail when she was a little girl. She remembered having the run of the train and the many activities for children. She still has the menus.

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It was announced that our last meal would be an early brunch. I had finished my breakfast about 8:00 am and could look forward to coming back at 11:00.

I went back to my usual spot, where I found some of the regulars. It was a much more interesting day than the previous one as we were passing through Ontario’s cottage country.

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I stopped at my room to finish packing and went on to the dining car for my brunch. There was no French toast, but there were waffles. I sat with a couple from the UK. They had been to Vancouver for a wedding and decided to return by train.

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From there I went up to the front lounge car. I had never gone up there, instead going every time to the back. I had been told at the start that “my” car had not been refurbished. I had been sitting on cloth for all these days, but this one had nice leather seats.

My young friends were there, so I enjoyed a last visit with them. I knew we were quite close to the end since we were going down the Don Valley, which brought back not so pleasant memories of drives down the Don Valley Expressway when I was returning from clients and about to hit the downtown traffic. I said goodbye to my friends and waited in my room until we arrived at Toronto Union Station. We were an hour and a half early.

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That was it. My big train journey was over. It had been 16 days since I boarded the train in Halifax, and I had no more “real” trains to catch.

However, I was not finished with trains that day. I was going to take another GO train, back to the Danforth Station, the same one I had used on my arrival from Montreal. I walked into the terminal and asked for directions to the GO trains. It took me away from the main hall, so I first went there to take some photos.

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I boarded my GO train and watched the Canadian roll away. I was a bit sad.

Posted by Bob Brink 02:45 Archived in Canada Tagged trains canada via_rail Comments (6)

Through the Prairies


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

October 26, 2022

I woke up from my best sleep of all my train rides. Maybe I was getting used to sleeping on trains, but it probably helped that the train was going straight, reducing the amount of squealing coming from the wheels. We had been crossing the prairies all night, and that is what we had to look forward to all this day. The conductor on the California Zephyr had told me that he enjoyed his trip on the Canadian as it rolled past the waving wheat fields of Saskatchewan. But he did his trip during the summer, and it was now late October. The wind might be blowing, but the wheat had been harvested.

I was still up early for breakfast. I vowed to eat healthier this morning but that only applied if there was no French toast. A quick look at the menu told me that it was going to be cereal. I was joined by a nice woman who told me she was originally from Lithuania. I told her the story of my missed Russian train trip. We discussed the present situation in the Ukraine and how it was impacting Lithuania.

We were allowed off the train in Saskatoon. Tyler said it was cold outside so I pulled my warmer coat from the bottom of my suitcase. I walked up and down and established that the train was 400 metres long. Tyler took my photo standing next to my car.
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After our brief stop, I went to the dome car. We had our now established regulars who came and went throughout the day. There were three ladies from San Francisco. They had come prepared with activities to keep them occupied during the long journey. On this day one was teaching the others some type of craft as we rolled along.

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It was a nice day at first. There were no more mountains. Instead, we saw farm fields, grain silos, tractor dealers and a potash mine. Potash is a big business in Saskatchewan.

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And we saw some deer.
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We came to Watrous, a town of about 2,000 people. It has a tourism business based on its hot mineral springs, including some restaurants. The town is a flag stop for the Canadian (the train only stops if there are passengers). You could plan a few days there as part of your big cross Canada trip.
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Just about the time that I thought that it was not so bad to be looking at the prairies, we rolled into the fog.

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I went to the front lounge to get a coffee. There was a notice board with the various activities of the day.
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I took my coffee back to my regular spot in the dome. It was cloudy. but at least the fog was gone.
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After this exciting morning it was time for lunch. I was seated with the San Francisco ladies. They often take trips together and will visit Quebec City after finishing our train ride in Toronto. But they were going to fly.

I had the kebabs with shrimp and scallops. It was as good as it sounds.
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We pulled into Melville during lunch. It is named after Charles Melville Hayes, once the president of the Grand Trunk Railway. He had plans to build a transcontinental train line from Moncton, New Brunswick to Prince Rupert, British Columbia. His struggles with that dream ended when he took a trip on the Titanic.

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With no great photography available, I decided to spend some time in my room. I chatted with Tyler, and he told me that many of the staff on the train would be laid off in the next days, a normal occurrence as demand dips during the late fall and winter. The Canadian and Ocean trains are like resort hotels that employ young people for part of the year. It is much different than Amtrak which had a much older work force. I do not know which is a better business model, and I do appreciate that the Amtrak staff were career employees, but from the passenger viewpoint I certainly preferred the young staff on Via.

I was comfortable in my room but could only sit still for awhile, so I returned to the dome car.
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I stayed until sunset.

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I texted with a Pouch Cove friend and found out that Po had just been at their house for supper. I then got a message from Po. While she was out Zoe had struck again, getting into the dirty clothes, but this time she had only pulled things out and had not done any damage. Maybe the girl only wants my underwear.

At dinner I was seated with our youngest passengers (not counting our one child, a little preschooler travelling with his mother). After the German tourist left us in Edmonton, they seemed to be the only under 30’s on the train. I think the average age of the rest of us was likely over 60. Two are roommates at Carleton University in Ottawa, both are doing their master’s in engineering. They were hanging out with a young woman on holiday from New Zealand. The three were travelling in berths and liked them.

The dining room was packed. The staff were working hard, both because of the number of diners but also because they were going to be leaving us soon, to be replaced by a new crew in Winnipeg that would take us to Toronto. We were running early, with an ETA of 8:15 compared to the 10:00 pm scheduled time. That meant that the staff had to have everything cleaned up and ready to be turned over before then. I was quite sad that we would be losing Amanda and Tyler.

I was impressed by the way the staff handled the dining car. There were always polite but fast. They had to keep everything moving, so the dishes were removed as soon as we finished each course. I had the prime rib, and again it was restaurant quality, well above my airplane food scale. The chef was invited out and everyone applauded. There were no bows from the chef on Amtrak. There was no chef.
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We were told that we could get off in Winnipeg, but that we would then have to wait until the regular departure time to get back on board. I got out for a couple of minutes and decided that I was okay with skipping a short walking tour of Winnipeg after dark and would instead stay on the warm train, take my shower when the train was not moving, and get ready for bed before the passengers got back on. Tyler suggested that I wait for awhile since the staff would be filling the water system. I said hello to our new room attendant, a young woman, and goodbye to Tyler.

I was thinking about my choice of booking a cabin. My companions at my two on board dinners so far, three each night, were all staying in berths and found them comfortable, as did another of my dome car friends. I had sat in some unoccupied berths at the back of train and found the seats quite pleasant in the daytime.

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At night they were set up for sleeping with the seat folded out to a bed, and the upper unit came down for another bed. Curtains provided some privacy. The bottom berths looked okay for sleeping, but I think that I would find the upper berths quite claustrophobic.

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The berth passengers had toilets close by and shared the same shower as the “cabin for one” folks. An important limitation of the berths was a lack of power outlets. I often found a phone being charged in the communal washrooms. And anyone sharing an area would have no choice as to when the beds would be made up, so you could not choose your own bedtime like a big boy or girl, which I was so happy about on this train. One of my dome car friends told me that he just had his bed left down since he was never there in the daytime.

When I arranged my trip, I actually changed the direction of my travels and took the train from Vancouver so that I could stay in a cabin. I also had a cabin on the Ocean. For that post I referred to the “delicate topic of toilets”. Both cabins had an ensuite toilet (nice way to put it). It was a foot stool in the daytime and then a support for the folded down bed at night.
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I had mentioned the in-room toilet to people before the trip and they went “ew”. On the Ocean I agreed with my neighbour, it was “ew”, so I used the communal toilets down the hall. They were next to the berth area, which happened to be unoccupied. On this train the toilets were further away and sometimes occupied because the berths were full. My decision was made the first night when I woke up and really needed to go. My options were to get dressed and walk down the long corridor on a moving train or use the facility sitting just underneath the foot of my bed. I used my new skills to let my bed go up into the wall. No more thinking about “ew”, it was just more convenient.

I could also have chosen a larger cabin, officially a “cabin for two”. These rooms had their own toilets and a shower. I found an empty one and took a couple of photos.

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There is a significant difference in price between the sleeping options. The least expensive option, the upper berths, generally cost about $1,300, depending on various discounts such as for old people like me. It is a couple hundred dollars more for the lower berth and a $1,000 more for a cabin. A single in a two-person cabin would be $2,000 more. And that fancy room in the back is almost $10,000.

So, what will I do if I get a chance to take another trip on the Canadian? Will I consider travelling in a berth? I might, especially on a shorter trip, such as Vancouver to Jasper. (Maybe as part of a round trip taking the train to Prince Rupert and then BC ferries back down? Just an idea.) The cabins appeared to be all booked going west, but it was not the same going east. I was surprised that my area of the car was so quiet. I never saw anyone in the cabin across from me. In fact the only people that I ever met in my cabin area were the attendants.

The main thing that I liked about my cabin was the ability to shut my door at the end of each long day, or even sometimes during the day, and have my privacy, such as this night in Winnipeg. I had taken my shower and folded down my bed by the time I heard people getting back on board. I watched Winnipeg pass by my window as we left town, about 1,500 kilometres and 36 hours to go.

Posted by Bob Brink 21:08 Archived in Canada Tagged trains canada via_rail Comments (0)

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