Thursday, May 11, 2006

Train 692: into Winnipeg

I wake up to the familiar sights of Manitoba. We’re back on the mainline, heading towards the town of Portage la Prairie. It’s home, amongst other things, to the world’s largest can of Coca-Cola (click on the photo and see if you can find it!) Next time I’m in town I’ll have to do my own tour of Manitoban big things to compensate for my earlier Albertan tour. I had toyed with the idea of getting off here and joining the ‘Canadian’ here before it reached Winnipeg so as to spread my layovers over a wider variety of cities, but the ticket agent at Winnipeg station had advised against risking it. It is actually better to have more time in the morning on the train – I am less rushed to get packed and off

I take a shower and have a shave to start the day. Although we’re scheduled to arrive in Winnipeg just after eight o’clock, this train always runs slightly late, so there’s no rush this morning. I know for certain that I will make my connection with the eastbound Canadian later today, so I’m not fretting. Refreshed from my shower, I re-pack my bags for the short interval between trains. Breakfast is still being served, so I go forward and have one last meal in the ‘Annapolis’ dining car. I have a hot coffee, and get teased by Carmel for asking if I can have some jam to put on one of my own bagels. Sorry VIA Rail, we Rail Pass passengers aren’t going to help you turn a profit this year.

Tara is in the process of converting our berths back into seats when I return. I shift my bags out of the way while she finishes, and settle down with my book as we race towards Winnipeg. ‘Race’ may not be the most appropriate verb, but it feels like we’re sprinting in after the crawl we moved at for most of the journey.

The suburbs of Winnipeg soon appear beside the tracks. Modern family homes are being construction in faux-communities further and further out from the downtown district. We pass underneath the outer circular highway, and begin to slow as we enter the broad sets of tracks around Winnipeg’s busy railroad freight yards. Passing the VIA Rail maintenance facility, I catch a brief glimpse of the obsolete ‘Northern Spirit’ trains that worked this service for a few years. They’re easy to spot because of the bizarre oversized decals of Manitoban animals that are applied to the sides of the stainless steel carriages. Interesting, but probably of limited interest to the actual Manitoban wildlife who get to see the train pass by every three days.

We arrive in Winnipeg’s station just before 11.00. Tara helps Vera and me down from the sleeper car, and wishes us both a pleasant trip. I’ve been travelling with a small stock of CD compilations that I have been giving to those who have hosted me during my trip – both friends and the volunteer hosts of the Hospitality Club. Since I spent four nights in her company, and she’d been such a good attendant, I apologised for not being able to leave a gratuity, but gave Tara one of the discs. Few recipients are likely to enjoy the whole album, but given my sporadic taste in music there should be something in there somewhere that she’ll enjoy. We bid each other farewell, and I complete my 3,394km round trip by heading downstairs to the ticket hall.

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