Back home—a little late

Yes, I know I’m a little late getting to this post. As I was preparing to leave, I was told by some of my co-workers that I might just decide to stay in Toronto and never come back. If you’ve been following my process solely through this blog, I certainly can’t blame you if you’re beginning to speculate that this is what happened. Well, I did, in fact, go home the day following the Blue Jays game and returned to the grind of the work-a-day life the day after that. There are a number of reasons I have not written to put a finishing touch on this trip. The most mundane and obvious being that I’ve been busy having returned to a job that is not physically taxing but emotionally and creatively draining.

But it’s something more than that. After returning from a foreign country, it seems to be expected that I say something really insightful about the differences; either in the people, the landscapes, the food, the culture, whatever. That’s what’s been eluding me. I don’t want to say that there’s nothing different between Canadians and Americans—it’s just been very hard to find any sort of broad-brush generalizations, and while I was certainly perceiving that there were subtle differences, it’s been very hard to find the words to articulate exactly what it was I was noticing. Yes, I did meet a few people who ended practically every sentence with “eh?” but quite a few more who didn’t. Canada has big cities separated by vast swatches of big, empty country. There’s a lot going on in Toronto, and a lot to do, but I don’t feel rushed the way I would in a comparably sized city in America. These are the things I tell people when they ask about my trip, and they work perfectly fine to occupy the time in the elevator to get to the 6th floor, but they hardly make compelling writing, and that’s why this post is—most apologetically—tardy.

Maybe I need more time to reflect on it. Or maybe I just need to go back, eh?

Back on my feet

Well, I’m in Toronto. I came to the conclusion that the seats on the train were designed to be comfortable for 72 hours. I came to that conclusion at about hour 74 of the trip, with the destination definitely coming up but still achingly out of reach, an unfortunate side effect of such a big country. I don’t want to give the impression that I was just sitting around while I was on the train. We had chances to get off and stretch our legs at several stops, including extensive stops at Jasper and Winnipeg, but for the most part, physical activity was limited to a trip to the dining car or the observation bubble (the rest of the train being off limits to third-class passengers such as myself), so I was very glad to get a chance to move around again.

The train came in at 11 and I was able to check into my hotel room a little before three, so I did get some time to walk around and explore. I found restaurants in the “Entertainment District” offering any number of culinary options and eventually picked a place mainly because they had a gentleman outside happy to discuss the menu with passersby. After lunch, I continued exploring. It was pretty hazy and foggy, so I didn’t get very many pictures, but this view did present itself:

toronto

Days on the train 

When I first planned this trip, it was in the broad-brush way of thinking about it. I would somehow get to Toronto for a Blue Jays game. “Now, how to get to Toronto? Well, wasn’t I seeing all those ads a few years ago to see Canada by rail? Vancouver to Toronto, that sounds like fun.” I saw the 3 1/2 day duration of the trip without really thinking of the implications of that. And actually, a more accurate way of thinking about it is three days and four nights, we left Vancouver Sunday night and arrive Thursday morning.
Now, I find train travel to be extremely relaxing and have enjoyed many long trips in the past. But almost four days? The only thing I’ve done comparable to that would be that Baltimore-Albuquerque trip I took (and blogged about) back in 2011. And for that trip, I made stops in Washington, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Chicago. Aside from a few hour-long stops where we can get off and stretch our legs, this whole journey will be on the train. I spent some time wondering about whether that would be too much, but by then the pieces were in place (and paid for), I had a plane ticket to Vancouver and Blue Jays tickets five days later.

In all, I am still glad I chose this particular route, but some things—most notably the fact that it’s very difficult to get more than three or four hours of continuous sleep makes me think I should spring for a sleeping car or break up the trip in some way if I plan something similar in the future.

Something I’ve noticed about the three days so far. I don’t know how the Canadians have gotten their country so nicely organized, but we had all mountains on Monday, prairie and farmlands from sunrise to sunset yesterday, and so far today has been entirely lakes and forests:

   

 

The Canadian 

I want to say a little more about the train I’m on. I could tell simply from the VIA Rail website that it’s the crown jewel of their fleet (for lack of a better word). However, it wasn’t until the numismatist in me got curious before I discovered that it is a National icon. Check out what’s on the ten dollar bill: 
And that’s not any old train, it is specifically the one I’m on: The Canadian/Le Canadien (I feel like I’m picking up a lot of French because the farther east you go, the more of it you hear and see) I’m sure there’s a rich history and tradition behind the train and the line—I don’t imagine the passage through the Rockies we made yesterday was a small feat—but I don’t pretend to know that history, so I won’t claim to be an expert.

Here’s what I do know: this train is a monster. At one of the station stop we were given fifteen minutes to walk around. From the coach car in the very front where I am to the last sleeper and back took the entire time. As I’ve indicated, I’m used to traveling coach on Amtrak. Naturally, there are a few differences, but here’s the one I appreciate the most. Look at the size of this window:


Today I saw a lot of farmland out that window as we went across the prairies of Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Here’s a sight I saw so many times I’ve completely lost track of exactly where this particular farm was:  


 

A day in Vancouver 

I knew I’d be getting in late last night (and in fact, according to my internal clock, which is still on New Mexico time, it was really this morning), so I wasn’t really looking for more than four walls and a bed from my lodging. And that means I wasn’t disappointed:

  
I’ve been told many times by many people to take lots of pictures, but part of my upbringing with film cameras has given me an intuitive sense of when the lighting is unfavorable and I know I won’t get a good shot. Typically, I don’t even try to take a picture if it’s cloudy, and guess what the weather is like here. Nevertheless, there were a few breaks in the clouds, which allowed me to get these:

 

The dome of Science World

  

A panorama of downtown Vancouver


And I tried several times to get a picture that really captured the essence of those mountains off in the distance that are mostly shrouded in clouds but peeking out just enough for me to believe they must be truly spectacular on a clear day. Here’s the best picture I could get:

 

The science museum was near my room, but I decided I went to science museums in Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Phoenix and Baltimore already on the tour, and it seemed a bit pricey—even in Canadian currency—so I decided to do something else.

I think of a recent physics lecture I listened to recently where the speaker talks about the phenomenon of photons in the sun scattering every which way before escaping to potentially reach the earth, and gives a fairly weak example of a well-defined physical principle known as the “random walk.” A much better example would be my day in Vancouver. I went a little way in one direction, then I’d see something interesting somewhere else and scatter off that way for a while, not really looking for anything in particular, just taking it all in.

27,000 steps later (at least that’s what my pedometer tells me), I was pooped, but still had time and wanted to see more. Vancouver has this thing called SkyTrain, and I thought that would be an ideal way to see a lot. Well, I know for next time the idea was good, but two stops after I got on, the thing went into a tunnel and didn’t come out before I got to a stop where I’d have had to add to my fare. Oh well.

Taking off 

Today I leave for my grand Canadian adventure. For purposes of the ballpark tour, I’m “only” knocking one ballpark off my list—I will still need to make other plans, as yet undetermined—to get to Detroit and Cincinnati to finally finish this little obsession of mine.

But the importance of this trip is so much more than that, it’s the first time I’ve been at a job long enough to really need a vacation (and I cannot under-emphasize how badly I need this vacation). More than that, it’s the first time I’ve gotten to travel somewhere new since my weekend in Atlanta, over three years ago. I’ve been to San Francisco several times since then, but it almost feels like that doesn’t count. I’ve got family there and have been to visit so many times that it almost feels like a second home. So this is my first chance to cover completely new ground in quite some time.

I will keep the travelogue going with daily updates—as best I can. If you missed the details of the plan, I am flying to Vancouver and then spending the better part of four days on a train to Toronto where I will see a Blue Jays game before heading home to put nose back to grindstone. It seems coverage in western Ontario is rather spotty, and I might just be having too much fun to bother with the blog, but I will try to get a post every day.