The building I live in is now, finally, finished (till the next thing). All its work (on the outside anyway) is done. Freshly painted, new gutters, new lights, new roof, new courtyard, new plants. We even have a new owner in the complex, though she hasn’t moved in yet. Vancouver is gorgeous in the summertime. So of course I went traveling. You just can’t time these things.
A friend in Stratford got married in July (second time round) and I went to the wedding. We’ve been friends for a long time (44 years!) so I got the honour of being the ‘oldest’ friend, and gave a speech. This was something for me, a challenge I wouldn’t have risen to back when she got married the first time. I didn’t make it to her first wedding though. It hurt me not to, but when I was younger, doing what I thought was the right thing was very confused. Years of therapy later…
It was a good event, worth the trip all on it’s own. But once in Ontario, I of course had to carry on, and see my daughter and her family, so I flew up to Ottawa, and spent a week there. Babies, so sweet. And such a challenge too, spending time with tiny people. I can hardly believe I managed to bring up three of them myself. My daughter has little room, so I stayed in a B&B, and in what is a strangely guilty fashion, slipped off each evening to a peaceful room all to myself. There’s no good reason for me to feel guilty, but I do. More therapy, eh?
From Ottawa I took the train home. All the way, something I’ve had on my mind to do for years and years, and this year finally had the good sense to buy a ticket. It’s a coach ride to Toronto, then I boarded The Canadian for the journey to Vancouver. It’s a strange sort of travel. A mix of quite utilitarian with a semblance of luxury. The train itself dates back to the sixties, so it’s not what you’d call modern. It runs all day, all night, so big stretches of the country go by while you sleep.
I stayed in a sleeper car, one of those ones that the bed pulls down and fills up your space. Cozy, but noisy. I only woke up about fifteen times the first night, with all the screeching of rails, jolting and rattling, other trains passing us in the night as well. The first night goes northwest, to get up and around Lake Superior. I slept with the blind open, so that each time I woke I could see what was going by. Trees mostly. And rock.
Traveling alone can be lonely, depending. I went on a cruise once by myself, and that was kind of brutal, something about being lost in a large crowd, with nothing to do. The funny thing on the train, was it was the same thing, nothing to do really, but the time went really easily. The difference is in the numbers. Many fewer people, and much more cramped quarters, so we all really have to acknowledge each others existence. I suppose it’s the same sort of thing with large cities/small cities. People hardly ever speak to you in Vancouver, except maybe to ask for spare change, but go to Victoria, and people are always saying hello.
On the train it also helps that there are several seatings for meals, and no room for empty tables in the dining car, so you are dropped in with whoever is there when you come in. It makes for a nice randomness, and everyone is on the same slowed down pace, not going anywhere fast. I spent some time in my private little corner, but mostly rode in the dome car, just watching the country go by. Better view all around. Rocks. Trees. Water. (Lots of beaver lodges.) Talk in the dome car is desultory, sometimes animated. Peaceful. It’s very meditative. For all of Ontario anyway, there was no cell phone reception, which works very well to jolt you free. Never any wifi the whole way. It’s good to find yourself cut off. Nothing to answer to, just watch the unfolding landscape.
I got the feeling, as we rattled along, that Canada is kind of like a place stuck together by scotch tape. An awful lot of landscape with no people in it, but wires, and roads, and train tracks stretched out between each habitation, keeping us loosely connected. It’s a very different kind of country than most. Only a few large cities, population strung out along the border, and space. Acres/kilometers/miles. Extraordinary distances.
I made friends with two women from Switzerland, and when I commented to them that they didn’t live far from my friend in France, they said that was a matter of perception. Seems like a long way to them. Canada has just shy of ten million square kilometers, which is only slightly less than the area of all of Europe. It’s staggering, really. Not too many of us here, either.
I thought of my grandparents, on that route, arriving in Canada sometime around 1928, 29, with two small children and not much else. What they must have thought looking out at that even emptier landscape, I can only imagine. Fear in my grandmother’s heart, I know, but was my grandfather excited? (I can’t ask them.) They got out in Winnipeg, joined brothers who had come first. I have trouble deciding to move across town. It boggles to think about packing up from one country and going to another, where the language is different, the customs are different, and there isn’t much there, there. And this is the back story of most of the people here, or of their parents, or their grandparents.
I set my alarm the last morning, so I would wake up with the light, and not miss all of the last bit of the journey. I especially wanted to be awake for the Fraser Canyon. Unfortunately we went through much of the province in the night time; there’s another train that goes through BC taking advantage of the scenery, but it is much more expensive, and includes a stop in a hotel. I liked the echo of a more utilitarian time, when train travel was common. Still, it was nice to be awake for the last of the Fraser Canyon, and then to watch the morning roll by through the Fraser Valley.
It’s a prettier route the train takes than the highway, or maybe just one that’s different. I’ve driven the highway so many times, I maybe don’t notice it anymore.
And then I was home, though not ready to be, it was such a lovely experience.
I did get a bit of a reprieve though, as I’d offered to be a tour guide to my friends from Switzerland, and when they rolled in a couple days later (after a layover in Jasper) I spent several days looking at Vancouver with the eyes of a visit0r.
It was fun, what can I say.