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Home is a funny idea. What is it exactly? A place? A sensation? Possibly a complete narration of the mind.

When I left the country where I was born, being in unfamiliar surroundings meant rebirth over and over again. You walk through a ring of fire and arrive to the other side, blemished a tiny bit, but doused in the baptist waters of renewal.

Tackling that foreign pronunciation on your tongue, while the native food stings your taste buds. Oh, the smells! That always get me, those competing odours of a country that sometimes seem familiar but then don’t.

So coming home (again, that word) was a doorway to old, yet new discoveries for me.

I keep forgetting to wash my hands after using the restroom because with public toilets in China, there is no soap. Anywhere. Don’t panic! I do remember more often than not now.

I keep forgetting to tip, so I seem like a jerk when I don’t.

I started talking to myself out in the open the other day. It was a habit I fell into because nobody could understand me and I could get away with it in China. Not anymore, crazy bag lady.

The cure I mentioned a while ago was Via Rail Canada. Lots of people don’t know what this train trip is about.

Some people mistake it for a commuter trip or a waste of time. They’d rather take the bullet train in Japan.

A Via Rail experience is a journey. It’s slow, considered. Meditative. On top of it, the journey continually offers some of the best views of Canada.

I didn’t think it was going to be a life changing experience, but it kind of was. It was better than I expected and allowed me to acclimatize to this country I once called home and still do.

My Route

Via Rail has several routes one could choose, but my desire was to absorb the landscape from east to west, so I chose The Canadian, a train built for service since 1954 and is forever captured on the Canadian ten dollar bill!

But don’t assume, it ain’t some rickety train, 22 million dollars went into remodelling the interiors.

My starting point was Toronto and the end was my adopted hometown of Vancouver. Oh, the fun to be had!

I already showed a map, but here it is again (the red line):

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Can’t wait to reveal these spots with visuals. I can tell you my favorites had to be Manitoba (surprise!) and Jasper.

The total length of the trip: approximately 4 days and 4,466 kilometres.

The Classes of Cars

Surrrre, there are several classes of sleeping arrangements available. The typical economy class where one can spread out their legs a bit, to the Chateau Sleeping car where beds are pulled down like a Murphy Bed to the Manor sleeping cars, which are full cabins with a washbasin and toilet. Though even smaller sleepers have enclosed spaces with a toilet.

I was happily set up in a Manor car, even given toiletries and shower facilities that were shared, with steaming, hot water without fail. It was essentially a mini hotel room.

No worries on smelling bad, there are shower facilities for all classes.

I’d say there are classes for a wide range of budgets and although train travel may not be as quick as flying, who cares with scenes to take your breath away?

Sneak peek: Jasper!

Sneak peek: Jasper!

Food

I saw some promo photos of the food and didn’t set any expectations, maybe that was a positive on my part. The dining car service was available to all sleeper classes and the best part was the set up.

The tables are set for 4 diners each and as a single lady, my dining partners changed frequently. You might think this is awful. I have to talk to people? Ewww.

I personally loved it.

Being a writer is about collecting stories and I have so many in my travel treasure trove, too many to recount here. It redefined eating and enjoyment into bold new terms.

As for the quality of food? I ate duck twice in one day, in 2 very different dishes and fell into a well oiled food coma.

Don’t fret about timing as the dining car has 3 seatings available for any type of eating schedule.

Breakfast one morning - Poached eggs with hollandaise & bits of duck

Breakfast one morning – duck comfit, poached eggs & hashbrowns

Special Events

Another unexpected aspect were various events the bar had onboard, like wine tasting and beer tasting, always sampling Canadian wines or beers. Let’s just say I did my part.

The Staff

I’ll admit it, I had visions of disgruntled Air Canada employees, but the staff were phenomenal.

They didn’t treat me with special gloves because I am the “blogger” but they appeared to be happy with their work, many were long term employees and they were keen to assist or chat with any passenger.

Certainly they were doing their job, yet overall the staff set an easygoing, comfortable atmosphere.

Dining Steward chatting up with passengers

Dining Steward chatting up with passengers

The Views

On The Canadian, there are 2 observation cars on either end, one that serves economy class, near the front of the train and the other at the back, for the Sleeper Plus class.

These cars are shaped like domes and have glass installed on the sides and ceilings.

Don’t get mad about the teaser, you’ll get to see the actual views later, promise.

Observation car at Sleeper Plus side of the train

Observation car at Sleeper Plus side of the train

The Onboard Entertainment

Total surprise, but Via Rail runs an Artist on Board program where a performer will either sing, perform magic or recite gorgeous poetry at both observation cars.

On my run, the blues stylings of Richard Carr entertained us several times a day and at train stations for stops that were more than 1 hour.

Richard Carr banging out some hot tunes

Richard Carr banging out some hot tunes

The Vibe

With the staff’s laid back attitude and the communal dining, I felt very at ease. It was the perfect setting to meet people without worry that you were bothering someone.

I met families, retired couples, couples that were former Via Rail employees, who had met at the company, fell in love and married. So cute!

I also chattered to younger people, Via Rail isn’t just for the twilight years, but anyone interested in capturing a bit of Canadian nationality.

Staff serving up champagne - departing party

Staff serving up champagne – departing party

paraseparatorSo, my country? It’s profoundly beautiful. A rediscovery I hadn’t anticipated. I use to describe Canada as boring to strangers, but now I’m ashamed of my admonition. It’s a rich land with vistas, variety and gentle, friendly people.

My forthcoming posts will show you just how much.

There’s nothing like falling in love with your own country all over again. The second time around is sweeter than the first.

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If you want more information on the various travel packages from Via Rail, you can contact them through many channels.

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Website: www.viarail.ca.

Facebook: Via Rail Facebook.

Twitter: @Via_Rail.