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Riding the Canadian 2017, getting to the Canadian


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#1 willem

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 11:30 AM

This part of the trip report has nothing to do with the Canadian, other than getting to it. It's also longer than I expect the actual report of the Canadian to be. You have been warned.

 

My traveling companion and I booked our first ever trip on the Canadian. Since one AU member expressed interest in a trip report, here is part of one, discussing getting to Toronto (where the west-bound Canadian originates) by way of the Empire Builder, Lake Shore Limited, Adirondack, and Via corridor trains.

It is so much easier to complain I mean note opportunities for improvement than to note jobs well done. When was the last time you saw a headline or newspaper or magazine story saying that everything had gone according to plan and nothing was out of the ordinary? This has been a good trip, although there have been opportunities for improvement.

Empire Builder

The menu on the Empire Builder was a photocopy on letter paper rather than a stiff, glossy document. (The regular menu stock was in use on our return trip, and new looking. Maybe the crew threw out the old menus in anticipation of new menus that didn't arrive in time.) Biscuits were no longer an option at breakfast (croissant only, and it is square in plan rather than a crescent), and the continental breakfast no longer had strawberries, raisins, or grapefruit, but it had walnuts now.

Chicago Union Station

The staff at the Metropolitan Lounge checked us in based on a tablet display ("electronic is just as good as paper"), but shortly thereafter announced that everyone reentering the lounge needed to show a marked paper ticket. At check-in, I asked about the showers and was told just return to the front desk to get access, but when my companion went to shower, she was told she needed an ID (which she had left with me). She retrieved her ID, returned to the front desk, and then was told she needed her ticket. It turned out that she needed either her ticket (which, as noted, was electronic, and not with her) or some impatience with having cascading requirements imposed on her. After demonstrating that she had the impatience, the agent decided that she didn't need a ticket and he could verify her eligibility at his computer display.

Having been warned by her experience and the announcement saying to present a marked ticket to reenter the lounge, I approached the desk better prepared. I asked the agent to print a paper ticket and mark it, which the agent cheerfully and almost competently printed. I then presented my ID and just-printed paper ticket and obtained access to the shower.

The shower itself was nice, and much nicer than a train shower. (No surprise there.) The room was a bit chilly, but there was a bench and lots of space. It's a roll-in shower, but with no grab bars in the shower nor a seat in the shower, so it seems rather peculiar to have the roll-in capability. On the plus side, the water stayed in the shower (unlike other roll-in showers I have used) without an obvious slope to the floor. Liquid soap, shampoo, and conditioner were provided from bulk dispensers. The shower had no hair dryer or body lotion. The agent provided a sealed plastic bag with a washcloth and one or two towels (I don't remember which).

Amtrak Connect wi-fi in the new Metropolitan Lounge has never (that's in three visits) allowed me to pick up email on my Macintosh laptop or iPad (using the mail programs that come with respective operating systems, not a web browser), although each can browse the web with no problem. Also, Amtrak Connect on trains allows both the laptop and tablet to pick up mail, and picking up email in the old lounge was not a problem (at least at those times that wi-fi was working). As before, I reported the problem to the staff; as before, I hold little hope that anything will change.

As already reported on AU, the gift shop in Chicago Union Station is closed. There are still some posters on display, but I saw no merchandise anywhere. Interestingly, the gate across the front was unlocked, and I saw someone exit the area. Immediately afterward, someone else entered what had been the retail area from the rear of the former store. It is not a store, but it's still in use for something.

Lake Shore Limited

Often I do not sleep well on trains. Full disclosure: I do not sleep well off trains, either. The night on the Lake Shore Limited, I kept waking up and finding the train was stopped. (Digression with a short story here. A lighthouse keeper, as part of his responsibilities, was required to fire a cannon at midnight so ships could set their chronometers. He devised a timer to fire the cannon so he would not need to stay up. For twenty years, the cannon went off at midnight, and the keeper became so accustomed to it that he would sleep right through the sound of the cannon. But one night, there was a violent storm and rain reached and soaked the fuse. At midnight, the cannon did not fire and the keeper sat up in bed and exclaimed, "What was that?") Maybe I have become accustomed to the train, and when it stops, I wake up.

At breakfast, we met a couple from Oklahoma on their way to Albany by train and then Vermont by rental car. (They catch the Texas Eagle in Little Rock because even that middle-of-the-night connection beats taking the Heartland Flyer. I don't know what part of Oklahoma they call home.) They were delightful, in some measure because we shared the world view that train travel beats flying, one meets interesting people at meals, and they thought we were delightful.

The Lake Shore Limited has wi-fi, and as noted above, I was able to retrieve my email and catch up electronically.

The Boston section has a half café and half business class car. It appears that one cannot take business class between Albany and New York on the LSL.

Sleeping car passengers going on the New York section are offered some snack just after the train is split at Albany. We did not take advantage of this opportunity, so I have no report on the offerings. We got off the train at Rhinecliff.

The Rhinecliff Hotel

We stayed in Rhinecliff because one cannot make a same-day connection from the eastbound Lake Shore Limited to the northbound Adirondack, and it appeared that Rhinecliff offered the easiest access to a hotel at any common station (other than the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York). In spite of its quirks, I would not hesitate to stay again if making the same connection.

We walked from the station to the hotel via the station, about two blocks. We could have walked to the south end of the platform and used a pedestrian overpass to leave the platform; that would have deposited us just outside the hotel, but with many more stair steps.

The hotel is an older structure, and has free snacks in the lobby. Dry snacks were trail mix, jalapeño chips, and pretzel packets. Refrigerated snacks were grape, grapefruit, pineapple, tomato, and apple juices, as well as half-and-half for coffee and tea. Not being a coffee drinker, I didn't notice the coffee offerings (but I think there was something labeled as a french press device). There were multiple types of teas, including the too often missing caffeinated black tea. There is a bar and restaurant in the basement.

We had chosen a top (third) floor room at reservation time to avoid having anyone above us and to put us further from the terrace in case there was a party there. Also, the room description said there was a double bed in addition to the king bed, and we thought that would be a good place to unpack. Every room, I believe, has a balcony with a view of the Hudson River and the train tracks.

Our room was large, but not laid out to take advantage of the space. There were many oddities, as if management was working from a checklist of items that needed to be ticked off rather than looking for a functional space for a couple to stay. There was no desk, and what came closest to being a desk was a narrow slab of wood mounted to a wall at a height about four inches higher than a desk would be, making it useless for typing these notes. There were several electrical outlets, including four between the toilet and the bathroom door (which is within reach of someone sitting on the toilet) for no apparent reason and at least two at elevations above my head. The shower had the shower head mounted in the ceiling, so it could not be aimed, and one could rinse from any location in the shower. Unfortunately, if one wanted to wash, one needed to do so under the flow of water. This is also a problem while waiting for the hot water. The shower head drops water directly between the shower door and the shower faucet; there is no way to start the shower without getting wet immediately. The rustic table, made from four inch thick cut of a tree trunk about 20 inches in diameter, is polished to a slippery and convex (rather than flat) surface, so things tend to slide off. Oh, and no hair dryer. What hotel doesn't have a hair dryer? Perhaps taking the prize in the peculiar feature department is the placement of two light switches for the same set of lights almost next to each other. I can stand in front of one switch and reach the other without stretching, or put one hand on each switch and let the hands battle each other for control of the lights. There was a personalized welcome letter in the room; among other things, it said there was free, no-password wi-fi, but didn't give a network name, and there were three networks that might reasonably have been the hotel network. (The next morning, one of them was gone, making me wonder if it had been a rogue network set up by a bad actor.)

However, the location could not be beat for the purposes of our transfer, and a good breakfast is included in the room rate. If we make this transfer again, I would not hesitate to stay at the Rhinecliff hotel.

Adirondack

We boarded at the front of the train and had to walk to the rear-most car to find a pair of seats together. Fortunately, the seats were on the Lake Champlain side. Unfortunately, the view didn't amount to much on this gray, mostly leafless, November day. The train was predicted into Montréal almost a half-hour early, but Canadian Customs held the train for a long time and we arrived about a half-hour late. We bought sandwiches from the café car and decided it would have been almost as good to go hungry.

Holiday Inn Centre-Ville Ouest, Montréal

As with the Lake Shore Limited to Adirondack connection, an Adirondack to Canadian connection requires an overnight somewhere (and Via corridor service as well). We chose this hotel because it is six blocks from the train station. It sounds like a joke, but we did walk into the wind both ways.

We repacked for the Canadian, where we would need to check a bag, and received notifications that the Canadian would depart at midnight or later due to a late arrival of the incoming train.

Via corridor services

We were in business class on Via, which includes meal service. The food was good, the service was good, and overall it's an expensive way to buy food. We received email from Via with an update to the Canadian's departure time, now scheduled to leave Toronto at 0900, or 11 hours late at the start of the trip.

In Québec, announcement are made in French and English. In Ontario (and west), announcements are in English and French.

The Royal York

We arrived in Toronto Union Station and went to the Business Lounge, where the attendant redirected us to "Wicket 7" for handling. The nice lady at the unlabelled Wicket 7 gave us a voucher for a room at the Royal York, a Fairmont hotel right across the street. We crossed the street at a convenient spot where it was not clear if we were jaywalking or not, but it was on a fairly direct line from the door of Union Station to the door of the Royal York and others were crossing there. This entrance to the Royal York requires people to climb stairs to get to the lobby; it seems like an odd layout. (The hotel is also accessible via the Subway, Toronto's underground pedestrian walkway, but it requires knowing how to get there.)

Our room had a view of another wing of the Royal York rather than a view of Union Station, but it was much better than staying in the station. I later heard that Via bought 50 rooms at the Royal York for passengers booked on the Canadian.
 

We used an ATM to get Canadian money to tip on the Canadian. (Did you realize that ATM machine means Automatic Teller Machine machine? And that a PIN number is a Personal Identification Number number? The Department of Redundancy Department encourages those usages.) The ATM offered to sell us C$120 for about US$104. We declined and said proceed with the transaction without knowing what it would cost. Our bank debited our account less than US$96 for the transaction; that included international transaction fees that might or might not have been included in the US$104. The moral of the story is to decline paying in US dollars while overseas. YMMV, but I expect it won't.

 

As I said, the report on the actual ride on the Canadian is quite likely to be shorter, if my attention span lasts long enough to post it at all.

 



#2 caravanman

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 11:44 AM

Brilliant!  Loved reading this, with all the humo(u)r liberally sprinkled throughout!

 

Ed.



#3 OBS

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 12:35 PM

Thanks for sharing!



#4 willem

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 02:53 PM

Brilliant!  Loved reading this, with all the humo(u)r liberally sprinkled throughout!

 

Thanks for that comment. As the Rocky Bleier character said, "You never get over the adulation of the crowd."



#5 Bob Dylan

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 04:04 PM

Good stuff,Thanks for sharing I look forward to the next Chapter of y'alls adventure!
"There's Something About a Train! It's Magic!"-- 1970s Amtrak Ad
 "..My heart is warm with the friends I make,and better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,No matter where its going!.." -Edna St. Vincent Millay

#6 Railroad Bill

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 08:28 PM

Enjoyed your trip report and hope you have a great trip on the Canadian. :)


Amtrak Trains Ridden So Far:    86,889 miles and counting
Lake Shore Ltd, Capitol Ltd, Pennsylvanian, NE Corridors, Crescent, City of New Orleans, Empire Builder, California Zephyr, Hoosier, SW Chief, Surfliners, California Capitol Corridors, Coast Starlight, Cascades. Texas Eagle, San Joaquins, Missouri River Runner,Cardinal, Downeaster, Silver Meteor, Keystones, Auto Train, Adirondack, Lincoln Service, Illinois Zephyr, Carl Sandburg, Texas Eagle Detour Rt, 2013 Autumn Express Tour PHL, Silver Star, Sunset Limited -Acela Express-  2015 Autumn Express ALB - Empire Service Via Rail Corridor Trains Cobourg-Ottawa-Montreal,(round trip)  The Ocean (round trip)--   2,250 miles


#7 gaspeamtrak

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 09:50 PM

Excellent trip report ! Thank you for sharing ... Looking forward to your trip report on the "Canadian ".



#8 fixj

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Posted 01 December 2017 - 04:40 PM

Just getting to this. Great Stuff! Many thanks for posting this. Now on the the main report!






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