If you are as sick of air travel as I am, you might want to consider taking a train the next time you plan a vacation. The last time I took a train anywhere was in 1963, and that was a very long time ago. We traveled economy class at the time but the fact that we were on the famous Orient Express made it a memory to cherish. A few weeks ago we reacquainted ourselves with the pleasures of train travel. We made the decision to take the train from Vancouver to Montreal instead of flying. It was quite an experience. It was as fun as I remembered, and I can’t wait to do it again. Time constraints made it necessary to return by air and believe me, there was no comparison.
My husband and I shared a small cabin. Crawling into the upper bunk was a little dicey but the ladder was sturdy and we managed without calling for help. A small sink and toilet area completed the amenities and we didn’t mind going down the hall to share a shower. Some seniors opted for smaller curtained sleeping quarters where seats converted into beds. You could book a lower berth so no climbing necessary. If you have ever camped in a tent or traveled in an RV you know about convertible furniture, and you know how to brush your teeth or put on make-up while sitting on the bed. It doesn’t take too long to develop sea legs. The footing is a little unsteady but the main corridor is so narrow that there really isn’t any way that you could fall down. There are railings and grab bars everywhere. If you aren’t in a huge rush you won’t mind carefully squeezing by fellow passengers to get from one car to the next. There is much less milling around than in air travel.
Canadian trains call train travel the “human way to travel” and I think that I understand what that means now. Airlines check-ins have become so automated that you have to do all of the work yourself. The only human interaction seems to be from security personnel as they herd you from one check point to another. In an airplane the scenery consists of looking down at the top side of the clouds, which is rather cool, but tiresome after awhile. I no longer enjoy being packed in like a sardine and hate it that just going to the bathroom is a major inconvenience. You don’t see many smiling faces up there.
The pace is slower on a train, but nobody complained or seemed to mind the occasional delays. Passenger trains politely wait their turns as fright trains are giving precedence when it comes to shared tracks. The time was made up in the end and we learned to relax and not worry about it. Despite the uncertain footing and casual time schedule a good many of the travelers were seniors and many of them were repeat travelers. It is the service I think. The porters care for their charges and seem to remember everyone’s likes and dislikes. When we would get on and off the train at the various stops our porter would be waiting at the entrance to his/her car to lend a hand. One of the young ladies even took my husbands jacket back inside and hung it up in our compartment when it proved to be warmer outside than he had anticipated.
Besides the scenery and good company I suppose the food is the real highlight. The food was excellent and the dining cars were outfitted like five star restaurants. You know white cloth tablecloths, cloth napkins, fancy china and an outstanding menu. The observation cars were wonderful and there were lounges where fruit, muffins, cookies, juices, tea and coffee were available 24 hours a day.
The narrow corridors and well as unsteady footing would make it hard for wheelchair users, but I have read of accessible train travel on some lines so don’t rule that out entirely. It is something that should be scoped out in advance for those who are a little less self sufficient. I have seen people with canes, walkers and portable oxygen tanks manage quite nicely and staff is more than obliging. An actual person would come by to give last call for dinner reminders. The intercom was used for reminders about entertainment (yes, there was a singer and an activity director who offered everything from beer and wine tasting to bingo), and to point out particularly beautiful scenery. The only thing missing, and I pointed it out on the exit survey, was someone to lead an exercise class. I felt quite exercise deprived after three days but thankfully the small cabin was just big enough for me to oxycize (www.oxycise.com) and do an abbreviated version of a Leslie Sansone walking video. All-in-all the trip was a huge success.