It has been too long overdue, friends, but I am finally back! Hahah. As most of you who have been following and reading this blog already know, I’ve spent the past week on an incredible trip to Montreal and Quebec. Further evidenced by the numerous photos and musings I’d been posting during my time there on my twitter (@manvsloneliness, please follow). I actually returned on Monday (absolutely rejuvenated and reenergized) but haven’t had a chance to share my adventures because well…I didn’t have a computer. I haven’t actually owned a computer since college. Hahah. Since then I’ve always had work-provided tech for personal use, and I was waiting for my new job to send me my laptop before I could finally start writing again (I’ve missed the sound and the fury of clicking and clacking keys).
But I’m back now baby and…better than ever? I mean, maybe. I definitely feel better. The wonders and freedoms and powers of travel. And with plenty to share. So I’m going to start a mini-series over the next few days highlighting the most memorable parts of my trip. Today I want to start with how any great trip starts. How to get there.
The Railcation of My Dreams
There is something immortally, eternally, and undeniably romantic about train travel. The gentle yet powerful ‘clack clack clack’ of the rails, the soothing almost imperceptible rocking of the train car, the seemingly endless panorama of scenery that speeds past your window with ceaseless variety. Romance, tragedy, murder, conspiracy, and comedy; all the great and wonderful and deep and dark emotions of life and humanity have been set on trains. The truth is, Newark runs daily non-stop flights to Montreal. I could have very well been in Canada within four hours. But let’s be honest here. Driving to the airport. Leaving the car in some uncovered shady parking lot. Or worse, stomaching an Uber ride. The TSA check-ins. Waiting in a stale lifeless airport waiting room trying to figure out a way to sleep on two chairs. Cramped seats, recycled air, limited food, and no room to walk. Not the least also is the price to consider for all of this ‘convenience’. And if I flew United well…maybe I should bring some boxing gloves too. Hahah. No, for all intents and purposes, my first love will always be rail. And I was more than happy to entrust all my travel needs to AmTrak and VIARail once I was in Canada.
Friday morning I left my home bright and early and took my express bus to Port Authority Bus terminal in Manhattan. From there it’s a quick five minute, two block walk to Penn Station to catch my AmTrak. Honestly, I was surprisingly pleased by how easy, convenient, and efficient the whole process was. There are two big screens constantly displaying arrival and departure information for trains within the hour and it refreshes, so if you arrive a bit early don’t fret if you don’t see your train info yet. If you’re still lost though, there are info courtesy desks stationed at various points with, get this, actually helpful and enthusiastic staff. I know, it’s crazy. Those taking trains across borders need to go to the ‘Canadian check in’ which is no more than a roaming desk where you present your ticket, passport, and have your luggage tagged. All in all, from getting off the bus to standing waiting in line to board my train, it took no more than fifteen minutes. A welcome reprieve from the two hour shuffle and kerfuffle at the airport.
And of course the benefit of your terminal being in the heart of New York is that you can literally have whatever you want on the train. (There is a menu on the train but let’s be real. $8 for a hot dog? That’s just poor planning and you know what, they can charge whatever they want if you’re not on top of your travel game. Seriously.) In this case I actually made myself a lunch to have on the train. I was inspired by the ekiben (railway boxed meals) of Japan. So in a bunch of tiny but still cute disposable containers I made myself a meal of potato salad, macaroni salad, some grilled eel and rice, tea egg, and a few fruits. (It’s a ten hour train ride. And I believe in many small meals.)
So I rode the Adirondack from Penn Station to Montreal, which I have to tell you, is oneof the most beautiful and scenic paths on AmTrak. In fact, if I plan on going back for a weekend (and I just might), I would want to do it in fall when AmTrak adds the luxurious and picturesque dome car for a full uninterrupted view from a viewing deck with a giant glass bubble to appreciate the changing colors of fall foliage. When you’re really into rail travel, you appreciate that ten hours to the destination is still part of the experience. You can look out the window and appreciate views of the Hudson Valley, New York’s wine country, and the Canadian countryside. Tuck into a good book. Snack at your seat or grab a booth in the dining car. The very least you can do is appreciate the opportunity to stretch your legs walking and feeling that raw exciting energy of the rails racing underneath your feet as you move between cars.
Seating is incredibly comfortable. You have plenty of leg room, and (for better or for worse) since the trains are often under capacity, there’s a good chance that like me, you’ll get both to yourself. The train cars run two sears across, an aisle, and then two more. Just be aware, there’s no arm rest in between, so if you are sitting next to someone, it’s great for couples and friends but strangers might be leaning a bit for a while. All the seats come with outlets, a reading light, and large windows. There is also a pull down footrest as well as a pull out leg rest. The seats themselves recline to about 140°. For about five hours of the journey I just slept rather restfully. This is like, domestic flight first class level amenities and comfort. It should be noted that AmTrak does offer actual first class amenities as well as sleeper cars on longer trails but the Adirondack offers neither so I wasn’t able to test them.
Pulling into Montreal for the very first time and hearing the conductor announce ‘ladies and gentlemen, we will be pulling into our last station, Montreal, in ten minutes’ filled me with excitement. It was around 9pm and the sun was beginning to set, casting a dramatic deep red highlight over the Montreal skyline. I had just finished the first leg of my first major railcation in extreme comfort and convenience.
My experience with VIARail, Canada’s major rail provider, was more or less the same. The trains are a bit older and oh my god, their AC is really REALLY weak, but overall just as enjoyable. (Side note, forgot to mention that you might want to bring a light jacket just for the AmTrak because unlike their Canadian counterparts, AmTrak loves to blast the AC.) The best part about VIARail is that I took it in Montreal from Montreal Central Station. Which means I had access to Montreal bakeries. So on my train to Quebec, and my train back home, I had the company of some of the finest baked goods I have EVER had. And I mean EVER. I am not a croissant fan. I’ve always found them to be underwhelming. All of the croissants I’ve had just couldn’t deliver on that promise of light flaky crispy layers with rich butter in between and an incredible crust. But let me tell you as I took that first bite of a Montreal croissant and I felt my mouth crunching through layer after layer and that rich creamy buttery flavor filling my nose and mouth, I was converted. In fact the saddest part of my trip home was biting into my last croissant.
Starting a morning rail trip with an iced coffee and some croissants is my idea of luxurious and smart travel. Honestly if you’ve never taken a rail trip, I highly recommend it. European rail seems to be even more steeped in that wonderful romantic nostalgia, and Japanese rail takes comfort and efficiency to a whole new level. Hell, I would want to ride the shinkansen if just to try all the unique regional rail boxed lunches that stations along the route have! For solo, couple, small group, and family travelers alike, I cannot recommend rail travel enough. There is just no better way to fall in love not just with the destination, but the journey as well.
Tomorrow I will be talking about my accommodations. I stayed at the Hotel Espresso in Montreal for four days the first part of my trip, the Hotel Clarendon in Quebec the second, and I ended my trip with one night at the Le Square Phillips Hotel in Montreal. I’ll share the highs, the lows, and the stories behind each one and share my recommendations and tips when booking a hotel in Montreal or Quebec. Feels good to be back y’all.
Man: 289 Loneliness: 33