At the end of May I embarked on a Vancouver to Toronto train journey across Canada with VIA Rail.
In Vancouver, I was taken to a chicken wing throw-down in Gastown. Ten chefs from around the city competing to barbeque the best wings – as people drank beer or Caesar cocktails, ate and voted on their favourites.
I walked around East Van with a friend, checking out the pop-up street corner gardens and kitsch shops. Mexican Day of the Dead figures, cards drawn by Canadian artists. We went to a vegan café for lunch before strolling along the beach. It’s almost what I imagined Vancouver to be.
But there were a lot of homeless people in the city. That I wasn’t expecting, I felt cheated. I’d always read Vancouver was the cleanest most progressive city in the world and here was a huge social problem needing to be addressed staring visitors in the face on every street corner. Why had nobody mentioned it?
We left Vancouver and the train curved past the Rocky Mountains. The middle of the train had a panoramic viewing car with glass walls and a glass ceiling. Sometimes you might see elk, bald eagles mountain sheep and bears as the mountains rose up and the lakes and trees surrounded you.
In Jasper I ate the most delicious meal at Tekara Lodge. A real work of art with smoked salmon under smoke filled glass, a burning hot coal next to a perfectly cooked venison steak. We went rafting on the Fraser River, water spilling everywhere. I jumped in and descended far beneath the water before collapsing back into the raft. We rode out onto an ice field in a huge glacier-traversing vehicle. We saw two bears, one moose and numerous elk, heavily pregnant.
Sad to be leaving the mountains and cold glacial water behind, we boarded the train to Winnipeg. Winnipeg surprised us. I visited the railway museum with its shuffling volunteers, rain from the roof falling lightly in places on the old carriages below. We took a tour of the Manitoba Legislative Building, which had more hidden Masonic symbols than Dan Brown’s wet dreams.
We walked the city at night and I filmed the trains passing by from up close.
And then it was time to go again. Boarding the train. Flirting with a young customer service man over Stephen King novels and learning about how his house burned down so he came to work on the trains to earn additional cash.
And then we were in Toronto; out on a harbour tour past The Toronto Daily star that Hemingway once worked in but has now sadly closed its travel desk.
Down open streets and past second hand bookshops and tattoo parlours. The heat much stronger than what had been felt the rest of the trip. Shorts and Tim Horton’s coffee all the way. It was my first time in North America. It won’t be my last.
My trip was hosted by the Canadian Tourism Commission and VIA Rail. There’s more on the CTC blog. If you book far enough in advance, Vancouver to Toronto will cost £285 if you travel in economy or £1,280 in a cabin for two. The price varies if you stop off along the way.
From the UK, you can book seats through International Rail by phone on: (0)781 231 0790.
Sophie Collard on Google+