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August 24th 2020
Published: August 25th 2020
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Finally! The last entry of our blog on our train trip across Canada.

Jasper to Prince Rupert (7/7/19)

From Jasper we took a side trip by train to Prince Rupert, British Columbia on the Pacific Coast. What was different about this leg of our train trip was that it was out and back - 2 days to Prince Rupert, and 2 days return to Jasper. Also different was the fact that the train had no sleeping cars, and so stopped overnight about half way in Prince George, where we had to find our own accommodations. With not a great food selection on board, we picked up some rolls, sandwich fillings and snacks to take with us. Luckily when we turned in our car we didn't get charged for the windshield scratches which existed when we rented it. The scenery was okay, but kind of the same scenery we've seen along the way - lots of trees blocking the view, and after the mountains in Jasper and Banff National Parks, just not as impressive.

The most interesting part was our conversation with an older gentleman and the lively conductor (the only staff on the train besides the engineer and mechanic) about train politics and the Canadian economy. It seems Prince Rupert is one of the largest container ports in the world and is about to get even larger. Ships from the Far East, especially China, feeding our need for cheap clothes and furnishings, unload their containers, which are then carried inland on guess what - the same tracks on which our train was traveling. Unfortunately freight trains in Canada are always given priority over passenger trains, so we spent quite a bit of time on sidings waiting for very very long freight trains to pass by. We've been told that we'll likely get into Prince Rupert tomorrow 4 hours late.

In Prince George we stayed in an Airbnb, which was pretty nice, but a long hot slog from the train station. Once again, Google Maps done us wrong. When we got within a block of the place, the quick walk across the park was instead a hike up a very steep hill with probably 75 stairs. As there was no way we were going to drag 2 suitcases up there, we took the long way around.

Unfortunately, the next day did not go very well. We got a text in the morning saying the train departure out of Prince George would be delayed by 4 hours, so at least we got to sleep a little later. On the way to the station Charlie’s suitcase wheel finally gave up the ghost. It had been losing “tread” throughout the trip, but is now totally gone, with just a metal core left. Then along the way there was another 3 ½ hours delay predicted. And finally we pulled into Prince Rupert at 6:00am – 9 ½ hours late! We did get to spend quite a bit of time in the Dome Car, unlike our previous legs where people would claim a seat in the morning and refuse to vacate it so someone else could have a turn. The scenery was quite nice – at least what we could see of it. It was misty and raining much of the time. I used the extra time to get another blog post out – amazingly we had good cell connection one of the times we were stopped at a siding waiting for the freight train to arrive and pass. And we spent more time chatting with the conductor and hearing more about “train politics.” The best part was getting a tip from a fellow traveler about a restored 1920’s hotel in Jasper called the Hotel Athabasca where we could get a very nice, but tiny room, sharing a bath, for $139 Canadian, saving some from the $175 we had booked at a private home. Best of all with a broken suitcase, it was right across the street from the train station.

Prince Rupert (7/9/19)

A 6:00 am arrival, then we shared a taxi into Prince Rupert (the train station is not close), arrived at our hotel in time for the included breakfast, slept a few hours, and then had breakfast again – just ½ day left in Prince Rupert. It is also the gateway to Gwaii Haanas National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with rainforest scenery, abandoned Haida villages and totem poles. I wish we’d have had time for that. As well as a cruise ship stop, Prince Rupert is on the ferry route along the inside passage from Vancouver to Alaska (a future trip!). The town itself is not that interesting, but there are lots of things to do in the area - like kayak tours, seaplanes, whale sighting, fishing - if you have the time and money. We had neither! We walked downtown – to the Museum of Northern British Columbia, which was interesting. There we saw a couple who had also come in on the train, and it turns out they’re from Round Rock. They’re taking the ferry down to Vancouver. That would have been a nice option if we’d known about it. Then we headed to Starbucks and Safeway to grab some things for tomorrow and our trip back to Jasper via Prince George. A much shorter time in Prince Rupert than we expected.

Back to Jasper (7/11/19)

We left Prince Rupert on time and then just a few miles out of town stopped and sat for 4 hours, and continued to be delayed all day. The weather was nicer and we spent quite a bit of time in the dome car and slept. We occasionally were able to get out and walk around while waiting for the freights to pass by. With the train running late again, the conductor called ahead to the next town and ordered boxes of pizza for everyone (well, we’re only 3 cars and half full at that)! We finally pulled into Prince George around 2:30 am. This time we’re in a hotel, not as far from the station at least.

The next day was more of the same, but much nicer scenery. We even got in at a decent time. The Hotel Athabasca is really nice, but our room is teeny tiny. The showers and bathroom down the hall are pretty nice too. We never saw anyone else in there. We splurged for dinner in the hotel, so in the end we probably didn’t save anything over the other place we had booked and then cancelled. It was nice to have some protein and vegetables for a change instead of sandwiches and pizza. And nice to be just across the street from the train station.

To Vancouver

The last leg of our train journey. We again splurged at the Hotel Athabasca dining room for breakfast. Sooo worth it. We’re again in a sleeper car – this time across from 2 grumpy old men from Israel. They were extremely upset (“I’ll never take this train again”) because they were not allowed to go straight to the Dome Car, but had to check in at their sleeper car seats with the attendant first. They very loudly went on and on mostly in Hebrew. At least I couldn’t understand them, but they kept trying to get us to sympathize with them. Fortunately they spent most of the day in the Dome Car. We too got to spend quite a bit of time in the “Prestige” Car, with some incredible scenery. Unfortunately, the most scenic part – Frazier Canyon – we passed during the night. We met some interesting people today at meals – couples from Texas, Switzerland and Australia.

Vancouver (7/13/19)

We actually got into Vancouver 80 minutes early. We had found a place to repair the wheel on Charlie’s suitcase which looked not too far from the station. The station is in kind of a dumpy part of town, and we needed to find a place to camp out until the store opened up at 10 – a Tim Horton’s, what else? Well, the repair shop wasn’t that close, especially half dragging/half carrying the suitcase. When we got there, they wouldn’t even look at it before declaring that it would take at least a week. Then more dragging, a metro, bus and a long walk to our Airbnb in an area called Kerrisdale. It’s actually very nice – a large room and private bathroom in a very large house that seems to be owned by an absentee landlord. The other rooms seem to be occupied by long-term folks rather than tourists like us. And most are Chinese, as it the house caretaker, who gave us a tour and showed us a faster way to catch the bus. We rested, washed clothes and looked forward to a nap. We had contacted our Marriage Encounter friends, Eric and Lupita Goodwin in hopes we could get together during our stay, and they emailed back to invite us to come along to a Marriage Encounter friend’s birthday party that night. Goodbye nap! But we had a great time at a lavish garden party with great food and fellowship.

On Sunday, as we like to do, we sought out the Cathedral for Mass rather than a closer church. The Mass at Holy Rosary Cathedral (as well as the church itself) was beautiful, with full choir singing quite a bit in Latin with the big organ. After that we took the Vancouver free walking tour that covered Gastown (Vancouver’s historic district) and Chinatown (North America’s largest). The tour was pretty good, but the guide took us to a local bar for a too-long break, and then seemed to cut out a bunch at the end – leaving us all at a shopping mall. Lunch at a local kebab place. Then we took the “Sea Bus” across the Bay to Lonsdale Quay Market and walked around checking out all the cute stores – all locally owned – and got some really good soup to take home for supper. But we enjoyed the ferry more than the market!

Another day in Vancouver. We toured Van Dusen Gardens, and got some good photos for my website, but I was disappointed that many of the plants were unlabeled. In the afternoon we went out to visit our friends the Goodwins in Richmond, a suburb south of Vancouver. They drove us around Richmond and Steveston, a historic fishing village and now a part of Richmond, where we walked along the dike for a bit and looked out across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island, where we are going tomorrow. We had a great time at their house, sitting out on their deck, with great food and wine, and then I got up to move to another chair (the sun was bothering me). As I walked behind Charlie I caught my foot on the deck and went down on my knee and leg. Ouch!! Amazingly I didn't even spill the wine in my glass (and, no, it was only my first glass). This doesn’t portent well for our trip to Victoria tomorrow.

With my gimpy leg, our friends the Goodwins drove us home and have offered for us to stay at their place the night before our flight, and then they will take us to the airport. We piled what we needed into my suitcase, and they took Charlie’s crippled suitcase home with them so we wouldn’t have to drag it around Victoria tomorrow.

Victoria on Vancouver Island 7/16/19

In trying to figure out how to get to Vancouver Island, from Google results you’d have thought the only way was on a quite expensive bus tour. That didn’t make sense to us, as many people must take the ferry every day. After all, Victoria is the capital of British Columbia. Eventually we found a great blog that explained how to take the bus and ferry like the locals. Despite the nice big bruise forming on my leg, the trip went smoothly. Victoria is larger than I thought. The photos seemed to show a quaint little town, but then it is the capital, with suburbs just like any. We took a walk along the harbor and stopped at Red Fish, Blue Fish, which is famous for its fish and chips. It did not disappoint! We walked to Chinatown, the oldest and most intact Chinatown in Canada, and I found a tiny little purse for pills I’ve been trying to find for months, then some really good ice cream down a little alley.

Vancouver Island is beautiful. We'd really like to come back and see the rest of the island – a future trip! We’re staying at a timeshare unit, which is probably the best we’ve ever stayed at. It is an older house (the Rosemont Inn) that used to be a bed and breakfast, and our room is gorgeous. Plus it’s walking distance to the harbor.

We just have one night in Victoria. I wish we had planned on staying longer. On the bus ride back to the ferry we stopped at Butchart Gardens. Built on the site of a former limestone quarry starting in 1912, and greatly expanded since, it is today a National Historic Site of Canada with hundreds of plants. But, alas, no labels again, although we thoroughly enjoyed walking the trails and seeing the gorgeous blooms despite the rain. We are back at Eric and Lupita’s for the night. Time to re-pack the suitcases again for our flight tomorrow. I’ll be glad to get home. It’s been a long trip, but well worth it. We certainly learned more about our northern neighbor than we expected, and we definitely plan to come back, especially to Newfoundland, Cape Breton and Vancouver Island – hopefully in smaller doses and at a more leisurely pace.

Back Home at Last (7/18/19)

An uneventful trip home, but arrived to find a water bill showing the 6/15-7/15 usage was 29,300 gallons! Sigh.

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