The Via Rail Experience

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015 | Posted under Canada

Americans tend to have a superiority complex about many things, but our rail system is not one of them nor should it be. Most countries, including our northern neighbor Canada, surely have us beat on how to do rail travel and how to do it right. Since I live in the Northeast United States, I’m lucky to have great access to Amtrak. It’s a easy and comfortable way to get between many Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC. Even with the comfort and ease, Amtrak just doesn’t feel worth it. The seats are old; the wifi can be spotty; and the cafe car offers food that should be in a (bad) vending machine  After taking Canada’s Via Rail, I think I feel like I’m being taken for my money by our expensive, amenity-lacking rail system here in the U.S.!

First, if you’re traveling between Toronto and Montreal, consider taking the train. While the flight is about an hour, and there is a domestic airport right in downtown Toronto, I found the five hour train ride to be comfortable and quite fun. DISCLAIMER: This was my experience in business class. I can’t vouch for the second class train experience.

In Toronto’s Union Station, there is a separate lounge for business class passengers. Just flash your business class tickets to the attendants, and walk right in.

P1090308Yes, it’s fancy; and, yes, there’s wifi. 

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Free drinks. I wish I drank soda because I would have (or should have) totally taken one.

The waiting room in Toronto was a big enough perk to me, but getting to board early as a business class passenger was also helpful, especially since were were traveling with Baby C.

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Baby C is so tiny here! I don’t remember her being so small…

The conductors on the train were a mix of ticket agent and waiter (yes, waiter. I’ll get to that). They were kind enough to let us switch our assigned seats. Assigned seats aren’t as common on Amtrak trains, particularly in the Northeast U.S., so we needed to make sure that we were in the right spot.

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Now to my favorite part of this experiene: the food! Via Rail’s business class includes breakfast, lunch, or dinner depending on the time of day you travel. Did I mention that there is more than more than one course? Yep, that too. When I first read about this I was shocked. A multi-course meal on a train just can’t be good…but it was good, and pretty tasty. Before we had barely left Toronto, we had already been served soft drinks and cookies. A couple of hours in, lunch was served by our double duty agents:

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Goat Cheese with cucumber and tomato, plus bread. Also a sneak peek of dessert is included on this plate. 

There were choices for the main entree but I chose the mango chicken that came with smooth and savory mashed potatoes and crispy steamed veggies. My kind of meal.

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Not the  best picture, I know.

 Dessert should never been too far away. This was a hazelnut mousse cake (I think).  I finished it. Of course….

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One thing that I didn’t get to document was the rich truffles that came at the end of the meal. Apparently these are so popular that they’re actually sold separately. Check them out here (there are also other shots of fabulous Via Rail meals).

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 Baby C was sleeping underneath that nursing cover, and I was quite happy about that. 

To summarize:

1. Take Via Rail Business Class while in Canada.

2. Enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner.

3. Watch some scenery while eating said dinner.

Sounds like a plan to me. Do you get why I think Amtrak is not making the grade?

What has been one of the best rail experiences you’ve had? This was definitely one of mine.

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A Family Day at the CN Tower

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 | Posted under Canada

**Hi….my name is Terri, and apparently I write a blog…..**

The CN Tower will always be pretty special to me as it’s technicallly the first sightseeing that Baby C has ever done.

When you go to Toronto, you can’t say that you don’t know what the CN Tower looks like. It dominates Toronto’s skyline, and it’s striking.

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Baby C and I ready to take in the tower.

Downtown Toronto is super clean (a New Yorker would notice this, of course), and the CN Tower lies in a entertainment district close to Lake Ontario. It’s right next to the Rogers Centre (love that British spelling), where the Toronto Blue Jays play; the Air Canada Centre, where the Raptors play, and it’s not too far from its rail station, Union Station. In other words, the CN Tower is in the heart of Toronto’s Entertainment District.

I will say that we were a little confused even getting ot the entrance. Just know that you’ll need to get through some doors, hallways, and what not just to get a ticket and to get to the elevator that takes you to the to see the tower’s views.
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About that ticket….it’s NOT cheap.  It’s about $32 for adults, if you don’t buy it online before hand (FAMILY NOTE: For kids under four years old, there is free admission). Plus ,there is a line and a fair amount of waiting, so for those of you who lack patience or travel with children who may wig out after awhile, just build that into your expectations.

So, was it worth the price and the wait? Well, somewhat…. 🙂

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Baby C and I taking in the view

The views are spectacular, and there is ample space to see all of Toronto from all areas of the observation deck. Stepping outside, you will get whipped by the wind, so hold onto your hats. What are you supposed to expect being 1,200 feet in the air? Even on a very warm summer day, it was cold out there. Beware if you’re there in the fall or winter (gulp! Canada is cool, but I don’t think I could take it in the winter).

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There are more than enough reminders that you way up high.

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 Luckily, Baby C has no fear of heights.

CN Tower View

Did you know that Toronto has an airport downtown? Why yes, it does. You can fly to other parts of Canada and select cities in the U.S. We thought about flying to Montreal, but we took the train instead (for another post).

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In all, this was a nice way to orient ourselves in Toronto. We didn’t get to see as much of the city as I would have liked, but at least we can say that we saw it from above.

Do you remember your first trip with your family as a child or with your own family that you’ve formed?

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Food Porn Friday – Schwartz’s Delicatessen

Friday, January 3rd, 2014 | Posted under Canada

While we didn’t get to take full advantage of Montreal’s happening food scene, Husband J, Baby C and I did manage to taste some of Montreal’s greatest hits. I didn’t realize it at first, but a few of Montreal’s celebrated food institutions are in the Jewish Deli genre of food. As a New Yorker, I feel like I know my way around a good knish, bagel and a pastrami sandwich. No one does Jewish deli food like New York does. With French being Montreal’s primary language, shouldn’t this city’s food be about croissants and chocolate? I am here to say that Montreal can definitely keep up with my home in at least one respect: a smoked meat sandwich.

My friends, people come from all over to taste the savory goodness that is the Smoked Meat Sandwich from Schwartz’s Delicatessen.

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Smoked Meat at its best

Look, I know it doesn’t look like much, but the devil, or should I say taste, is in the details. As I’ve said before, often it’s about the simplicity of the cooking that can make the most ordinary food into something you can’t resist. Often basic food is really the best because those cooking it take the time to hone their technique. This meat is so moist and beyond tender that yes, it does in fact does actually melt in your mouth. You get so much meat that you actually get three spongy pieces of bread instead of two in order to eat it correctly. Quite frankly, the multiple pieces of bread confused me as to how I should even eat this sandwich, but I was happy to have that extra piece of bread as I finished.

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A worker turning and basting all that good meat.

Schwartz’s smoked meat recipe is over 80years old and was brought from Romania with the founder of Schwartz’s. The meat is smoked every day, and you can see the cooks making sure that the meat is fresh and properly cooked.

Now with such a good and popular sandwich, it isn’t going to be easy to get. There is a line at Schwartz’s even during a weekday lunch. If you’re going there for this sandwich, and you don’t care about ambiance, don’t stand on the line for the main restaurant. There is a Schwartz’s To Go (I think that’s the name) next door. This add-on is really for take out orders, and there is seating. It’s not super comfortable, but if you’re okay with just enjoying the sandwich and moving on, it’s so much better than standing in line. Trust me.

This wasn’t the only Montreal gem we’d have. Dressed up french fries (frites?) were in our future….

 

Schwartz’s Charcuterie Hebraique de Montreal (Montreal Hebrew Delicatessen)
3895 Saint-Laurent Boulevard
Montreal, Quebec

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Oh, Canada!

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013 | Posted under Canada

Our first family trip to Canada is now in the record books. I can safely say that it was nice to get a break from New York. We got to renew connections with family, and Husband J got a chance to add another country to his list of countries visited.

After visiting Toronto and Montreal,  I think that our neighbors to the North have got it pretty good. I was particularly loving Montreal with its quaint and historic downtown and its leafy neighborhoods.

In Toronto, there was a lot of disconnect for Husband J and me. I mean everyone was speaking English, and it didn’t feel like we were in a foreign country. Yet at the same time, something felt just a little bit….off. We knew we weren’t in Europe, but we also knew we weren’t home in the U.S. either. Toronto felt like a smaller U.S city with the mix of local shops and chains, but the differences were super subtle. The style of dress was just a touch different from what I see on the streets of New York City and what seem to be popular in the U.S. Also most people sounded similar to folks from the U.S.A. until they said certain words…yes, “Eh…” was one of them. 🙂

I thought I’d give you some snippets of our trip in pictures.  Here’s a little taste of our trip…

 

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Notre Dame Cathedral – Montreal

Smoked Meat Schwartz's Montreal

Smoked Meat Sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli – Montreal

CN Tower

 The CN Tower – Toronto

Montreal Park View

The view of downtown Montreal from Mont Royal Park

St. Viateur Bagel Montreal

Bagel from St. Viateur Bagels – Montreal

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Hanging out with Baby C in Montreal. (This was a bonus) 🙂

 

Stay tuned for more about our first family adventure!

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Ambition vs. Practicality – Our First Family Trip

Friday, August 23rd, 2013 | Posted under Canada

Later this month, we’re taking our first trip as a family. I am FREAKED OUT! At the same time, it’s been too long since Husband J and I have really ventured anywhere new. In fact, it’s been over a year. I will say that we’ve been busy, so I’m not going to hold it against us. Besides, Husband J and I have got a new travel partner in Baby C, and it’s take awhile to get her up to speed. So where are we off to?

This time we’ll be headed north to:

CANADA!

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We’ll essentially be hanging out in Toronto and Montreal, with the majority of our time in the latter city.

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Toronto Skyline at night

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Montreal

I’m very excited to see family in Toronto that I have not seen in years. Years, I tell you. Let’s put it this way: One of my teenage cousins wasn’t alive when I visited last. It’s unfortunate, but I’m hoping to rekindle some family bonds and to see a city that so many people seem to love.

Deciding to go to Canada was easy but not easy at the same time. It’s hard to realize that the way you used to travel just won’t cut it anymore or at least for the near future. There will be no hot air balloon rides over pretty terrain, or traipsing through cities all day long until our feet are sore, or travel to REALLY far off places.

Many people told us that this 5 month old baby stage was a pretty good time to travel. Baby C is still not mobile. She’s still living off of breastmilk completely (although that may change soon). Plus, she’s not a picky or tantrum-y toddler/pre-schooler. This should be easy, right?

I’m still not convinced. While Baby C is pretty portable, she does have her idiosyncracies. She’s still not the best sleeper or napper. She’s got a short awake window before she get uncomfortable, which could cramp our sightseeing. She’s got an early bedtime, so I guess it will be the early bird special at restaurants, if we can even get to any. Husband J and I already know that we have to temper our expectations of what travel will be for us.

As scared sh**less first time parents, why did we specifically choose Canada? Here are just a few reasons:

English speaking country with good healthcare system. God forbid anything should happen on this trip to Baby C. At least we know that there won’t be a communication issue should we need to seek out medical care for any of us.

No timezone changes. Baby C’s sleep is a little jacked up anywway, so this might not have been such an important reason. I’m glad we’re not dealing with major changes to her body clock though.

Short flight. I think Baby C has naps about the same length as the flights to these cities, which is about an hour to an hour and a half.

No shots or immunizations needed. Baby C is still in the process of getting many of her immunizations for the first time. I’m glad we didn’t have to seek any special ones for her.

In the end, Canada won out versus our other possibility, England. It would have been pretty ambitious for us to do what we wanted, which was to drive around the English countryside. I’ll get my trip to Downton Abbey some day. In the end, being practical won out against a trip across the ocean. I’m excited for our first family trip even with our minature travel buddy. Sometimes you just need a change of scenery. It will be also be nice for Husband J to FINALLY get to Canada.

 

What factors have you used to decide where to travel? Did you go somewhere because it was ultimately an “easier” place to visit?

 

Canadian Flag

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