Well, it turns out a million Canadians aren’t wrong, this does indeed seem to be one of the world’s best rail journeys. Today is day 2, we spent all day on the train yesterday and have just reboarded this morning and had our breakfast.
A few facts to begin. The Rocky Mountaineer isn’t just one train. There are four routes and the one we are on started in Vancouver, stops for the night at Kamloops (don’t worry, we hadn’t heard of either) and finishes in Jasper. There are no beds on the train so we were bussed the four blocks to the Hilton.
The journey starts at the dedicated Rocky Mountaineer Station in Vancouver. There’s a vast number of people milling around and drinking free tea and coffee before a bagpiper starts playing and they have a short welcome speech.
The train is quite huge when you first see it. About 13 carriages, half of which are ‘silver leaf’ single-storey and the other half are ‘gold leaf’ double storey. Gold leaf is the way to go! We have a glass-roofed car and the dining area is on the bottom level. The seats upstairs are lovely and wide with nearly a metre of leg room. It’s lovely!
Our whole tour group is in one carriage and the other people in the carriage are almost as rowdy as us so it’s a great atmosphere. We can see into the cabin behind and they all look like they’re asleep so we feel a bit sorry for them;-). One of the other people in our group just came by and said that people at the front of our carriage complained yesterday that we were too noisy which has made us all determined to be even noisier today.
The food on the train has been lovely and our tour director, Carmen, said the staff on the train will ‘hug and kiss and slobber all over you’, which was something of an exaggeration, but they are all very lovely. Breakfast is two courses and lunch is three. There is a menu and a nice range to choose from. The carriage goes down to eat in two groups, which gives the other half of the carriage a rest from all the cackling that our group does. On the first day we were in the second sitting and today we ate first.
The view from the train begins with green fields of corn, blueberries and gigantic blackberry thickets. The route follows rivers most of the way and eventually the scenery dries out until the mountains become quite bare. The colours of the rock faces change from grey to sulphur yellows, purples and pinks in places. We passed a place where The X Files did filming and a few other movie locations. We’ve seen about a dozen eagles, some beaver dams, osprey nests on dummy telegraph poles (the nests can last for hundreds of years and grow to the size of small cars but ospreys prefer to build on man made structures because… they’re jerks? No one really explained the reason. What they did before people built telegraph poles I do not know) and big horn sheep and a few deer.
They can never tell you, at the beginning of the day, how long the journey will take because there are an enormous number of enormous goods trains using the lines and, as a tourist vehicle, we need to stop and wait when those trains go past. I counted 150 containers on one.
As we go along the crew give us interesting facts about the places we pass. One little town we just went through is home to a helicopter-skiing business with a lodge that could be hired for $100,000 a week. It provides chefs, cleaners and unlimited helicopter drop-offs to remote snow fields for up to 12 people. Bargain!
We are lucky to be travelling in the first of the gold leaf carriages, which means we get a view out over the front of the train, so we can take photos that make it look like we’re standing on the roof.
Unfortunately all the smoke from the forest fires has reduced visibility and we didn’t get to see anything of Mt Robson, Canada’s highest peak. Still, all the trees and rivers were very pretty.
Next: I win a poetry competition that I suggested and was the only entrant in!