Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Train 2: Sunset in British Columbia

It pains me to disappoint any proud Americans who are reading, but frankly, VIA Rail kicks Amtrak when it comes to traveling in coach class. As I settle into my comfy reclining seat, my friendly coach attendant comes through the car handing out the night time kit. If I had known they were so generous, I would have started my trip in Canada and saved money on all those sleeping accessories I bought in Montréal. I receive a pillow (about three times the size and density of the Amtrak one), a thick blanket, an eye mask, a flannel and ear plugs. Since I'll be traveling overnight on VIA several more times I'm going to be able to start a small collection of eye masks.

We're rolling through the flat countryside north-east of Vancouver. Our train's schedule lists several request stops before Kamloops, but since no-one is getting on or off, we're heading straight to Kamloops, where we'll pick up a handful of passengers in the early hours.

I buy a hot chocolate from the small take out counter that is undernearth the Skyline dome, and chat with the attendant there. Maybe it's just because we're still in the first twenty-four hours of the trip, but the crew on board this train are exceptionally chatty and friendly. On this train they're mostly from Winnipeg, and will be getting off there when the crew changes for the last leg of the trip. The cafe attendant lets me know he'll be showing a film at 21.00, and thank the lord I finally have a chance to see a decent film on a train: tonight's showing will be The Corpse Bride. I pass two friendly English women from Yorkshire (near to my university, which I'll be returning to do my masters degree at in October). We chat about our journeys, and I'm reminded of my fondness for the accents and voices of Sheffield.

I return to the dome and, along with about a dozen other passengers, watch the mountains approach. We pass small farms and villages, one by one being cast into shadow by the hills and mountains around them. I imagine the outside temperature is beginning to drop, and soon dew will be forming on the green fields. I don't yet perceive that we have gained any height... we are still bowling along level track in the wide flat valley floor. Soon the thinly-snow-capped mountains turn in colour from ice white to pink, reflecting the unseen sunset in the west. The sun is setting on another new landscape for me - a halfway point between rural farmland and majestic mountains.

From time to time we pass a farm that has a flag pole. Seeing the Canadian flag flying is an odd experience for me. Living in Québec I don't see the red maple leaf that often. After almost two weeks seeing the stars and stripes flying proud, it's strange to be back in a country where the flag has nothing more than a leaf on it. Maybe we build associations with these symbols over time, and attach personal meaning based on the experiences we have been through. Forgive me for being an naïve Canada-phile when I say this, but being an born and bred British man, this flag somehow means a lot more to me than any other.

Read that as you will... I head downstairs at 21.00 to watch the film. Despite the amazing animation used in the film, my eyelids are drooping. I can't tell if I dozed off during the film, but when it finished I was ready to sleep. I returned to my coach, wishing good night to the attendants and the group of passengers who had started up a heated conversation in the lounge.

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