“There is a town in north Ontario,
With dream comfort memory to spare,
And in my mind
I still need a place to go,
All my changes were there.” Neil Young
In my twenties and thirties, my life was all about American movies, British books, Chinese food and Italian men (well, not really)….now at 41, I crave all things Canadian.
As I get older, I get more Canadian.
I like my maple syrup local, my artists using their favourite colours (not favorite colors), my radio programmed to the cbc and my men…..ok maybe that part hasn’t changed…
Unsurprisingly, I like my travel Canadian. So I was thrilled when last month, I had the pleasure of boarding the ViaRail Ocean to Halifax with my younger son. Our train ride was 22 hours and we got to enjoy a sleeper cabin for the voyage.
Packing was hard because cabin space was really (really!!) limited but I also knew that 22 hours is really (really!) long. I needn’t have worried. We packed cards, some magazines and a few electronic devices. But once we were settled in, we went exploring and that’s how we spent much of the train ride. Within minutes of hitting the observation dome car, my son made a new buddy and I was free to enjoy the ride and the wine & cheese lesson. As the train passed alongside the St.Lawrence river, I had a chance to relax and enjoy. Our meals had an emphasis on regional fish and seafood. Irresistible! Glad I have a kid who appreciates crab rolls as much as I do….The service on the train was more intimate than expected and our little cabin came with full shower supplies, bottled water and complimentary magazines. There was also a learning coordinator on hand, offering up local history and anecdotes.
We spent two nights total on the train and two at the lovely Four Points Sheraton. Neither of us could decide where we slept better – the train really does feel as if it’s gently rocking you to sleep….On the other hand, there is something to be said for the comfort and space (and really comfy pillows, btw!) of the hotel. Oh and a full bathtub. The location of the hotel was ideal (again, thanks Andrea at Destination Halifax!) and we were able to walk everywhere.
Here’s a quick summary of the highlights:
- The train ride itself. Except the shower. Even on a double dare, neither of us would try it. Essentially you shower and pee in the same floor space and my son has rotten aim, so we passed on that.
- The standout performance by the train musician with his original “The Queen of Poutine” It was as amazing as it sounds!
- In Halifax, the hotel had a sign that read, “Light up a smile not a cigarette” love that!
- Our first meal was at Q Smokehouse & Southern Barbeque. The food was lovely, the lemonade one of the best I’ve ever tried but it was the friendliness of the manager that we’ll remember. He literally said hi (and most often by name) to everyone walking by. It set the friendly city vibe we were already feeling.
- For lunch, we enjoyed Murphy’s Restaurant on the waterfront. Hungry, I ordered the one pound lobster but when it arrived, the waitress apologized, saying they prepared the 2 pound size instead and she hoped this would be ok? Um, yeaaahhhh…..when is that ever not ok?
- Freak Lunchbox - this is the wildest best candy store ever! My son now has an enormous fake moustache and goatee collection. This store truly blew our minds. I know that travel is all about culture (and that’s part of it) but we’d probably head back to Halifax, just for this!
- Maritime Museum of the Atlantic We only had a short time here but managed to make it to the Titanic exhibit (but really, there was tons more to explore. This building and its exhibits, spreads much further than you’d imagine.) I don’t know if it was because it was past closing time or my awful rendition of the final scene from the movie, but we ended up (politely) getting kicked out of here. Ideally, you need a few hours in here.
- The Harbour Hopper. This really was a perfect way to explore the city. It is a corny looking amphibious tour, taking us around town and on water, while the friendly guide gave us historical anecdotes and local legend. Yes, I am sure he gives the same spiel multiple times a day but his effort at making it seem fresh and earnest was really quite endearing (BTW, I learned it’s OK to tip the tour-guide, they will never ask but they sure do appreciate it.)
Oh – I have a bag of bacon inspired goodies to give way!!