A Travellerspoint blog

Searching for Sculptures in Chicago

Almost Time for a Train


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

October 15, 2022

It was a quick flight to Chicago’s Midway Airport.

We had been asked to check our carry-on bags at the bridge as we boarded. That is usually not a problem with Porter. But today was different. Instead of being placed outside the airplane doors, the bags were sent to the baggage carousels. This still should not have been a problem since there were only two carousels, separated by the washrooms. We moved as a group back and forth between the two. The lights would flash along with the beeping. Each time we spent about 10 minutes waiting and then would go back to the other side. Finally, the monitor showed that the bags would be on carousel 2. We all moved back there and waited until the bags finally came out, at carousel 1, of course. It took about 45 minutes. So much for carry-on only. I waited almost half as long as the entire flying time to get my bag.
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I walked to the train that would take me downtown. I put in my credit card. The machine asked for a zip code. But as a Canadian resident, I have a postal code. I cancelled and put in cash. The machine informed me that I would not get change. I cancelled again and found the correct change in US money. I had my ticket.

There was a group next to me trying to buy four tickets. They were also lacking a zip code. They found a helper who bypassed that question and got their tickets. They had told the man that they were from Quebec. People from the rest of Canada would have said Canada. I asked the attendant what he did for people from Quebec. He told me to enter xo. It was too late for this time, but I will try to remember for future American purchases.

I walked with them to the train. The Quebecer asked me where I was from, having heard me asking the question in regards to someone from Quebec. He asked how long I was going to be in Chicago. He was not sure about my train trip plans but seemed less sure about someone actually living in Newfoundland.

I queried him about his trip. They were going to Green Bay, Wisconsin. I could only think of one reason why people from Quebec would be going to Green Bay. “Are you going to see a Green Bay Packers game?” Yes, they were. I was quite impressed. I got into the same car and sat beside them so that I could learn more.

A business connection had gotten the tickets. He is a life long Green Bay fan. We then talked about Newfoundland. I showed them a photograph of Zoe on our deck with the ocean in the background and invited them to stay at our vacation rental property. They seemed quite interested. That was the first of many Newfoundland tourism promotions that I carried out during my journey. I am not a Packers fan but did root for them the next day. Alas, my new friends came a long way to see a bad game. His team lost.

I got off the elevated train not far from my hotel, the Congress Plaza. I chose it because it is downtown and an easy walk to Chicago's Union Station. It is huge and seemed to be a big convention, big tour group hotel. There were lots of activities going on. One room was set up for East Asian dancing. Later the hotel would be full of young dancers. I was assigned to a smaller wing, perhaps where they put individual travellers. It seemed a bit quieter. There was a separate elevator which I never had to share.
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I did a quick WhatsApp with my ladies and then went out to see Chicago’s sculptures. Po is doing her doctorate on public sculptures. Downtown Chicago is full of public art. I had a couple of “must see” (as expressed by Po) sculptures in Grant Park which was right across the street from my hotel. I took some photographs as I walked to my first assignment including this sculpture of Civil War General and Illinois politician, John Logan.

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I first went south on my sculpture tour to see Agora by Magdalena Abakanowicz. It is a huge installation with 106 headless torsos made in cast-iron. They are 9 feet tall, although seemed even bigger to me.

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The sculptures were allowed to rust, giving them a reddish colour. There were no visitors other the man walking past and some dogs and their human companions.

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From there I went east across the rail tracks in order to walk inside the park as I headed back to the north.

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It was a beautiful fall day, sunny and a bit cool with a breeze from Lake Michigan. I passed a couple of what I assumed to be wedding shoots.

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I worked my way north, taking my time, enjoying the day and the people. There were probably some tourists, but most seemed to be Chicagoans out for a Saturday afternoon walk.
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There was another sculpture, Bernar Venet's Disorder: 9 Uneven Angles. It was not on my list, but I took advantage of a break in traffic to take a couple of photographs.

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My destination was Cloud Gate. That’s what my Google Maps told me. As I waited to cross the street a man asked, “Where is the Bean?” They were looking for a sculpture. I was amazed that people would be so excited about a sculpture. I thought there must be two sculptures up ahead. I could only see Cloud Gate on the map. I eventually figured out that the Bean and Cloud Gate were one and the same.

Some information on “The Bean”. It is 66 feet long and 33 feet high and weighs 110 tons. The sculpture was designed by British artist Anish Kapoor.

To me the official name seemed more appropriate as the reflections of the sky and skyline captured by the structure were so captivating. There was a big crowd around and under the sculpture, such a contrast from Agora.
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I am not into selfies, at least the kind where you hold your phone out in front of your face. The only selfies on my blog were taken by using the timer on my camera, the old fashioned type of selfie. I watched as a young East Asian man took a photo of his friend. I asked him to take mine. I also took a selfie of my reflection.
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From there I walked along Michigan towards my hotel. I thoroughly enjoyed the crowds and the energy. There was an Iranian protest on the park side competing for attention with street musicians on the west side.

I went back to my hotel for a quick rest, a mistake as it turned out, as the local restaurants had quickly filled up in the late afternoon. I wanted to find a place that was not packed, or at least had a place for a single diner, hopefully in a back corner. But all I saw were lines and packed establishments. My only choice would seem to be sitting at a bar. I considered a fast-food supper.

Earlier I had looked into the restaurant in the hotel. It seemed dark and dingy. Google gave a rather mediocre rating. But I was getting quite tired and hungry. I first went into the adjoining bar room and found an empty place at the bar. I sat for awhile thinking that the bartender might notice me. He seemed to be quite old and did not move quickly. I gave up after about 10 minutes and went to the restaurant side. The manager told me that they had a seafood chowder that evening and led me to an empty table. There were many empty tables. I think that all the empty tables on Michigan Avenue were at this restaurant.

My waitress came over to take my order. I asked for a beer. She came back a few minutes later with a bottle and then thought to ask me if I might like a glass. I told her I did. She came back with a frosted glass. That was better. Later when I ordered a second beer it came with a fresh frosted glass. When in doubt about an American restaurant, I usually order something basic, so I asked for a hamburger. When prompted with “Is that all?”, I decided to start with the chowder.

This is from my WhatsApp message to Po:

“Have ended in restaurant in hotel. Every place was packed. This place is so sad. That is why it is not busy. Love the sculptures. Still waiting for burger. Soup was barely warm. Weird place. It is all about the journey.”

I was almost laughing out loud at that point. This part of the journey cost me almost $50 US, a lot for a meal that featured a rather unexceptional burger. My journey could have used a memorable great meal, instead this would turn out to be my worst meal of the trip.

The hotel lobby was lively with lots of young people. The room with the East Asian dancers was busy. I walked back to the corner with my private elevator. I had it to myself. It had been a great day, but I was content to finish it in my room. The next day my real train adventure would begin.

October 16, 2022

I had a good sleep in my big hotel bed but woke to find an alarming WhatsApp message from Po. Zoe had chewed on two pairs of my underwear, or I should say, two more pairs.

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Zoe does not like to be left alone. A few months ago, she showed us her unhappiness when she went to the upstairs bathroom and knocked over our dirty clothes basket and picked out a couple pairs of my underpants for a bit of chewing. It took a second incident, but we learned to check that the door is shut before we leave her alone. This time Po had left the laundry basket next to the washer in our downstairs bathroom. Zoe can open the sliding door with her nose if the door is not completely shut. It is always my underwear, not Po’s, so I take it that Zoe loves me more.

Since I did not trust the place in my hotel, I went to the restaurant in the Travel Lodge around the corner for breakfast, a latte and omelette. I had a few hours until I would check out and walk to the train station. I carried on with my art tour. I began walking and photographing, lots of art, lots of sculptures and some buildings and EL trains.

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The first big piece on my morning tour was Alexander Calder’s 53-foot, red Flamingo. It was unveiled in 1974.

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My next stop was at The Four Seasons, a mosaic done by Marc Chagall.
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I was on my way to a giant sculpture by Picasso, officially untitled but known as The Picasso. It is over 50 feet tall and was given to Chicago in 1967.
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Across the street is a sculpture by Joan Miró, Chicago. It is made of steel, wire mesh, concrete, bronze, and ceramic tile and was unveiled in 1981.

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There were three women walking around the sculpture. I asked one what she thought about it. She said that it must have been done by a woman. I told her she was correct but that was all I knew about it. (I later found out that Joan Miró was actually a man.) She then told me that I had to do two things before I left Chicago. One was to go to the Chicago Cultural Center. Then I must go back to Cloud Gate because I had not gone underneath the sculpture. She was insistent. I had to promise.

Fortunately, I had the time, and neither was far away. I walked first to the Cultural Centre and arrived just as the doors were opening. The building was completed in 1897 and was Chicago’s first central public library. It was designed to impress, especially the world’s largest stained glass Tiffany dome. Yes, it is impressive.

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I then went back to The Bean. As the lady had said, it was really interesting from below.

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I had been a busy photographer that morning. It was time to get back to the hotel, pack my bag and check out. I passed the Crown Fountain on my way. I have since read that the tower shows video images of Chicagoans spouting jets of water from their "pouting lips". I knew nothing about it. It looked interesting so I did quick videos of both sides, but did not know that I should wait until water came out of his mouth. Would I have waited? Did I really want to see him spit? Probably not at that point, since I had a train to catch. It was almost time to get rolling to California.

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Posted by Bob Brink 14:03 Archived in USA Tagged trains sculptures chicago amtrak Comments (0)

Perhaps What We Remember is Not Real Anymore

Or Maybe This Blog Should be Called Searching for Lattes and Croissants?


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

October 14, 2022

It was still raining when I woke up. There would be no quick Montreal outing. I did a WhatsApp with my ladies. Zoe still ignores my face and voice on the little screen. But we keep trying.

I had a quick walk to breakfast, out the door, down the stairs and immediately up the stairs to the house next door. The breakfast was quite good, French Toast as a starter, eggs benedict as the main. I still kind of wished that I was at a little café having a latte (only coffee here) and a croissant. I hoped that I might pass a bakery or café before getting to the train station.

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I have to admit that I was scoping out the other guests to see if I could spot my neighbours. The couples at breakfast seemed a bit mature and none were acting like they have started a late life romance. I would have been impressed if one of the couples was them. I suspected that my neighbours were still sleeping.

The rain was over by the time I was ready to take the short walk to the train station. As I walked, I saw a nice smooth path next to the sidewalk. I moved into there but soon realized that I was in the bike lane. We do not have these things in Pouch Cove. Of course, we do not have sidewalks either.

Montreal Central Station or Gare Centrale de Montréal, is not a particularly historic station. It was designed in the 1920’s and not finished until 1943. The train between the cities is historic. It was run by the Grand Trunk Railway, once the largest railway system in the world. The first train from Montreal that made it as far as Brockville was in 1855. A bridge over the Don River allowed the train close to downtown Toronto in 1857.
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I arrived about 40 minutes before my departure time. I thought there would be a café. There was not. I went into a small store. They had croissants wrapped in cellophane. I bought one. It was not exactly the warm croissant in the basket experience that I had envisioned. Po texted, “Perhaps what we remember is not real anymore.” Maybe I need a trip to Paris.

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The line for boarding the train was quite long, so different from the Halifax boarding. And there were several Toronto bound trains that day. But then trains are a very competitive option on trips of this length. They are not just for train aficionados. There was a band playing (not sure why) but I was too far back to see them. They were gone by the time I got to the front.

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I had booked an economy seat for the trip. I had contemplated booking a first-class seat for old times sake like when I took the train for business 15 years ago, but really did not think that I needed a meal and free alcohol during the middle of the day. Then the price jumped, making the price almost double the $99 senior fare. Certainly a free meal, drinks, and a little extra space was not worth that much.

The economy seats were quite comfortable, with lots of leg room, like first or business class on airplanes. Seats are assigned. Mine was rear facing, not my preference, but I had no one next to me. Most seats appeared to be occupied.
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The train was on time and fast. This relatively short inter-city train between Montreal and Toronto, although still Via Rail, seemed like it was run by a different business than the Ocean. As I wrote yesterday, I am not optimistic about the Halifax to Montreal train. These trains on the corridor between Montreal and Windsor will likely continue and possibly thrive.

There are no dining or lounge cars on these trains. Food and drink were offered from carts, just like on planes. The seats were high so that you did not look at your fellow passengers. It was not a social experience.

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I was spending the night with Toronto friends, or actually Toronto-Pouch Cove friends. Mary Pat and Dennis spend several weeks each summer at their Pouch Cove house and then return for the rest of the year to Toronto. They live near the Danforth GO station. GO is the regional bus and train service in the Toronto urban area and shares train lines with Via, the lines which are owned by the rail freight companies. My Via train would go past the station but not stop. Mary Pat suggested that instead of going into Toronto’s Union station and doubling back to Danforth, that I get off at the Oshawa station, the first or last station, depending on your direction, of the GO Lakeshore line.

Since I had lots of time to fill on the five-hour trip, I bought my ticket online. The instructions stated that it would take five minutes for my e-ticket to activate. I assumed that meant up to five minutes. Instead, there was a timer which took five minutes. That was a lot of data and required me to wait instead of walking to a machine and simply buying a ticket. Buying an e-ticket might be advantageous at a busy time but was a waste at a slow time.

An advantage of getting the GO train in Oshawa was that the next train was waiting so I could get right on (after waiting for my ticket to activate, although I would have been okay to board right away since no one ever checked my ticket).

I was a Toronto resident for about 15 years and watched the trains go by on the Lakeshore West route but had never actually ridden in one. I was impressed. The cars are double deck. I lugged my suitcase up the stairs to sit on top for a better view.
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The rail line runs along Lake Ontario. It was a pleasant 45 minutes to the Danforth station. Mary Pat texted me exact instructions to get to their apartment. We all did a quick WhatsApp with Po and Zoe. Everyone wanted to see Zoe. Zoe visits Mary Pat and Dennis everyday when they are in Pouch Cove. Zoe has Po taking her out four times a day to the back yard. She wants to go down the road where I take her, but Po does not dare as she will likely encounter other dogs. Zoe is a big girl and does not like other dogs, too much for Po to handle.

We had a great Thai meal that night before I went to bed on their fold out couch. There was a great wall of Newfoundland art and photographs, including a photo of mine.

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October 15, 2022

After a better sleep on the foldout coach than I had on a moving train, I enjoyed a couple of croissants that May Pat had bought for me after hearing about my difficulties in acquiring croissants in Montreal. The coffee and an actual Globe and Mail newspaper made a great compliment, although I had little time to read.

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I had a plane to catch so we headed to the airport. My stay included a free limo ride (Toyota Matrix). We dropped Dennis off at the market (much bigger than St. John’s Farmers’ Market) and were quickly at Toronto’s downtown island airport, officially Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport. The ride would have been much different on a weekday, or on this weekend, the next day. The Toronto Marathon was scheduled for Sunday, October 16. Thousands of runners would have been running down the Lakeshore. It might have been difficult to get across to the airport.

I was let out at the entrance and had two options for getting across to the island. There is a ferry that crosses in a few minutes. I had used that one in the past, but there is also a tunnel which was added later. There is no wait, and it is a short walk going under the water. You can see how close the airport is to downtown.
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I passed through security into the international departures. I went looking for my customary latte before flying. But the coffee outlet did not serve lattes! Some of my many (?) readers (there must be a few of you) might wonder why I am always writing about lattes. Well, I like them. That is how I drink my coffee; the milk seems to help keep my stomach from getting upset from straight black coffee. Maybe I should rename my blog from “Searching for Magical Moments” to “Searching for Lattes” or even “Searching for Lattes and Croissants”? Except that I do not need to search for lattes at home. I just go to my kitchen and make my own. Come visit, I will serve you a latte. I would give you a croissant as well, but Costco switched from a few dozen in a box to a few hundred. Po did not let me buy a huge freezer just to store croissants. Also, do you know what people in Pouch Cove would think if my freezer was full of croissants rather than moose and cod?

Anyway, I could have had one at Pearson International, but that would have meant a lot longer trip to the airport and a lot more people. I was still happy that I had chosen Porter Airlines. It also would mean a smaller airport at the other end.

It was a full flight, so they encouraged us to check our carry-on bags at the end of the bridge rather than putting them into the overhead bins. It is usually quite quick to collect the bags at the end of Porter flights since the bags are always waiting at the bridge or beside the stairs. They did tell us that we would need to pick them up from a conveyor in Chicago. Later I learned that I should have carried my bag onto the plane.

I always enjoy the takeoff from Billy Bishop. It is such a different experience than taking off in a jet from Pearson.

Soon after landing in Chicago my train adventure would really be getting underway with seven nights on trains, starting with Amtrak's iconic Zephyr to the San Francisco area.

Posted by Bob Brink 11:37 Archived in Canada Tagged trains via_rail Comments (2)

Arrival in Montreal

No Reliving Happy Memories


View North American Train Trip 2022 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.

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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.

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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.
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Guillaume took my photo, so I then took one of him.
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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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 (1)

Night on the Ocean

Halifax to Montreal Train


View North American Train Trip 2022 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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.

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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 (1)

Off to Halifax

It is all about the journey.


View North American Train Trip 2022 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.

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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.

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It looked quite nice from the outside.

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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 (2)

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