“Champagne?” asks the steward. I hesitate because it is 9:30 a.m.
Then, I recall being up before daybreak for departure from our hotel.
There was barely enough light to see the honour guard of elk lounging along the hotel driveway. So it is “Yes, please!” and he pours a glass with a smiling flourish.
Hubby and I clink glasses in a toast as we settle into our dome car seats. To celebrate a significant anniversary, we have chosen the slowed pace of a three-day Rocky Mountaineer train trip from Jasper to Vancouver. We ride the rails in daylight and overnight at hotels in Quesnel and Whistler.
The bright, second-level dome car has glass curving from the window ledges to overhead and plush, adjustable seats.
Half of the patrons shuffle down narrow stairs to the lower-level dining room for breakfast. The rest of us remain to sip our tea, nibble on scones and watch the trees blur as the train picks up speed.
Young, enthusiastic hosts punctuate their service with anecdotes and skits, wildlife alerts and occasional sports score updates.
We soon leave Jasper National Park, cross the Continental Divide and pass Moose Lake, the headwater for the Fraser River. Mount Robson, tallest peak in the Rockies, looms massively; so tall, its summit is shrouded in massive grey clouds.
Before long, we proceed downstairs for the second breakfast seating and a constant parade of food and drink on offer continues.
The dining car is elegant with white linen and flower decked tables. Breakfast features fruit, freshly baked bread and pastries, and hearty mains.
Lunches start with a soup or salad and I am impressed with my main course of impeccably cooked salmon.
Desserts are prettily presented and appropriately decadent. Late afternoons bring a wine and cheese service. We are so well-fed, we hardly need an evening meal at either hotel.
Having rumbled through forests, over trestles, past small towns, vibrant lakes and piles of logged timber, we reach Quesnel.
Room keys are handed out on the train, which eliminates check-in at our hotel. Our luggage will be in our room when we arrive; the only suitcase wrangling needed is setting it outside our door for collection in the morning.
As we disembark, local ladies from Rotary Club greet us and young girls wave a hand-drawn welcome sign. On a walk around town, we are warmly welcomed by a number of Quesnelites.
Departing Quesnel, we head for the ranches and gold rush areas of the Cariboo.
The view from our seats is second only to that from the rear facing open platform at the back of the lower level.
We have left the mountains behind and cross a wide plateau. The hills are a dusty brown and far below, I glimpse the Fraser River.
When on curving trestles, I can look forward for views of all the cars in our train and downward into the gorges below.
Rolling hills in the vast landscape are dotted with cattle. Some of these ranches are the oldest in B.C. and this is the countryside thousands of gold seekers traversed in the 1860s. A dramatic 50-kilometre zigzag descent brings us closer to Lillooet.
On the back deck, my American companion enthuses, “I am filled with awe and wonder every moment.”
A British fellow relates that while he found the Grand Canyon amazing, it is nothing compared to what he has seen on this trip. People have come from all over the world to marvel at the scenery of our proverbial “backyard.”
It makes me appreciate living in B.C. all that much more.
We leave the Fraser River behind at Lillooet and are bound for the Coastal Mountains. The tracks hug steep cliffs, dotted with moulting mountain sheep, on a narrow shelf along lakes coloured silty green from glacial run-off.
After the agricultural valley surrounding Pemberton, we arrive in Whistler.
Walking around the village is welcome exercise but we happily retake our seats for a late afternoon departure.
To the delectable aroma of cookies baking, we enjoy the passing panoramas: moody, dark lakes, a rushing waterfall, a steep canyon, the towering rock face of the Stawamus Chief and glacier-capped mountains along Howe Sound.
As we approach the terminus in North Vancouver, people wave at the train from their yards or balconies.
Apparently there are regular greeters who hardly ever miss welcoming a train.
Our hosts bid us a heartfelt farewell and our luxurious, slow travel adventure ends as it began, with a glass of bubbly raised in a toast.
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