Monday, May 15, 2006

Train 14: farewell to the Chaleur: Matapédia, QC

Needless to say, I am not a happy camper when I wake up for the last time. I might have managed four or five interupted hours of sleep through the night, and I give up trying when I left the window blind to see that we are slipping quietly into Matapédia. It's here that three times a week the 'Chaleur' and the 'Ocean' part company. There's a short pause in the station, while train 16 to Gaspé is unhooked from the front of our train, and pushed back into the platform besides us. For a few moments, I look enviously across the platform to the coach cars of the other train, which is made up of older stainless steel cars. Every person in coach class seems to be deep in sleep.

Outside, however, it's a beautiful early morning. It's just after quarter past five in the morning, but I change my watch forward onto Atlantic Time now to make sure I don't forget. It also makes it easier to justify being awake so early. Our train pulls away from Matapédia about half an hour late. The 'Chaleur' will leave a few minutes later, and ply the scenic rail line around the Gaspésie peninsular that now appears across the Baie de Chaleurs to our left. The bay is calm, and across the blue water I can see the thick forests that coat the undualting landscape of the remote Gaspé countryside. I think of a distant friend and mentor who is somewhere along that coast, and watch the water between us slowly widen.

I consider my bag of food for this morning's breakfast. I have one remaining bagel, and some odds and ends, but nothing that really inspires me to start the day. I decide to save them for later, and go back to see what the service car offers. As you can see from the photo, the service car is pretty well named. It isn't a lounge, it's a car when passengers are serviced with drinks and snacks. There are two flat screen televisions for movies, and during last night two or three films were shown to entertain the children and families who were on board. However, the lack of seating was a big problem, and when I came through at one point last night, I found most people standing to watch the films. As originally designed, this bistro was much smaller, but an office for customs officials (for the train's original use, travelling from England to European cities via the Channel Tunnel) was removed to make a bit more room.

The counter is open, and I ask what they have for breakfast snacks. I notice a man from coach class sitting down with a coffee, a pre-packed bowl of corn flakes and a horrific looking microwaved 'English' muffin (note to all Canadians: THEY'RE NOT ENGLISH). Nothing much grabs me. The attendant points out that I can go back to the restaurant car, if I like, which is just behind this carriage. This is the first time anyone has mentioned the restaurant car; all the announcements up to this point emphasised the service car and at seat service for coach passengers. So I decide to wait until we have left Campbellton, and will splash out one last time.

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