Tag Archives: Train

Easy Morning into Ardèche

No rushing about today. All activities on shore take place in the latter half of the afternoon. We breakfast at 9:30, seated at a lively table of Americans. After breakfast there are French lessons and then a chocolate tasting (Valrhona) in the lounge. So during this slow period, drifting along the picturesque Rhone River, enjoying the swans and little towns,  I will note some observations about Viking and River cruising for those considering it.

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This is a very pricey trip. There are a few ways to make it way more affordable. Book your own air travel. Viking is first class all the way and will take care of it for you. They don’t price shop and you will fly first class, the most expensive way to get to Europe. Roughly half the cost of this trip was for airfare. We are also staying in the second most expensive cabins on board. They are spacious. Other passengers have told us that their rooms are quite small. You can view dimensions online. Our cabin features a sitting room (about 8×12) with a chair, couch, desk, fridge and tv. The bedroom (about 8×10) features a second tv, closet and space to stow two suitcases out of the way. The narrow bathroom (about 10x 3) is attractive and well designed. We also have a lovely and private balcony off of our stateroom. No complaints here about space.  First class cabin all the way.

But… do you want to pay for it, when the very comfortable bar and lounge, quiet library and sun deck are merely steps away? It’s not a huge boat. I takes 30 to 45 seconds to walk to the lounge, sun deck or dining area. I would guess that the the cabins furthest away might take 2 minutes to get anywhere. There are always seats and tables available in these areas, unlike on the massive oceanliners where you have to stake a deck chair out in the morning and actual fights over said chairs erupt between passengers..

Alcohol though not complimentary in the lounge, flows freely at lunch and dinner (wine) and you have a bottle of sparkling wine waiting in your cabin when you arrive (may only be in first class). You can also purchase a premium drinks package. Depends on how much you drink. I’m fine with paying for the occasional beer or cocktail but you can bring your own as well, especially since we are in the heart of French wine country and you are in town frequently.

If you are a photographer, take the leisurely walking tours offered as opposed to the regular tour. All of the infirm or very old passengers will be in the group and you have plenty of time to duck down alleyways and explore and return to the group without missing a beat.

The only other advice I have heard and can pass on is beware of booking in the spring. Rivers run high with rain and  waters pouring down from the Alps and are unpredictable. The cruise last week remained in port at Avignon for the entire week. It did not move. Some passengers went home and received a partial discount and the people who stayed, were bussed from town to town for their excursions and then returned to port in Avignon. Very disappointing I’m sure for those imagining themselves floating serenely down the Rhone. As a result of these high waters, our ship, the Hermod did not make it to Avignon to receive us this week. Her sister ship, the Buri was sent instead. In regards to that, tomorrow morning we are meeting up with our original ship, the Hermod, in Vivviene and transferring over. Other than packing our bags and leaving them outside our stateroom by 8 am tomorrow, we are not required to do much else. Minor inconvenience.

Today our afternoon excursion took us by motor coach to the countryside of Ardèche for a steam train ride through the valley. The trip is an hour long on an open car train and the ride is quite dirty from the coal used to power the train.

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At the half way mark the engine is manually turned on a turntable and we head back. The valley is beautiful and features many ancient stone bridges over the River Doux.  Acacia trees bow with their lightly scented waterfall pannicles, and daisies, pink soapwort, white yarrow and mauve meadow rue fill out the colour palette which has considerably reduced now that spring has given way to the summer heat in Provence. Lavender is about to bloom.

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Perched high on the stony cliffs are neat rows of vineyards with a look down at nude bathers taking advantage of the cool, clear waters at the bottom of the valley.  Soon  we are returned to the station where a lovely snack of croissant and apple cider await.

The coach departs the train station and deposits us back at our ship docked at the small town of Tournon. I decide to grab my camera and take my own tour of the little village whose pastel face looks towards the steep vineyards of Tain l’Hermitage across the Rhone.

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Dinner, served a little later this evening, consists once again of many choices but the Chef recommends her coq au vin we we choose. The chicken, stewed in a rich wine sauce over two days with bacon and mushrooms does not disappoint especially accompanied by a local merlot. I however find the French onion soup appetizer thick and unappealing. Our waiter steers us clear of the orange dessert souffle, saying it is too dry, and we instead choose the mascarpone and cherries, pretty to look at but very sweet.

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Back to our room to pack for tomorrow’s transfer at Vivienne in the morning and then onto Lyon.

Rocky Mountaineer – Day 1

September 2nd.
Up early, we scramble downstairs to get our boarding passes for the Rocky Mountaineer. The process is smooth. We board a charter bus and head for the train station. The Mountaineer has its own dedicated station. Beautiful, sunny and clean. A piper pipes us aboard Car Number 12 and friendly uniformed staff wave to us in welcome. Feels like what jet travel must have felt like in the 60’s.

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We splurged on “Gold Leaf Service”. Our coach is nicely appointed, spacious and features a clear shatterproof glass top for viewing of some of the world’s most amazing scenery. Staff is gracious, accommodating, informative and funny. Passengers are mostly the grey brigade including a 95 years young gentleman traveling on his own. A snappy dresser with an engaging laugh, he is crossing this trip off of his bucket list. No children on board today. Many accents twitter about among the passengers.  We hear smatterings of German, Dutch, English and Australian. And Gatineau French. One of our fellow passengers is based close to home.

By 8:30 we are slowly proceeding through the suburbs of Vancouver. Past New Westminster, shipping containers and rail yards. Very industrial for a bit.

Our train consists of 22 cars and over 600 passengers for today’s journey. The dining car can only accommodate so many people and we are included in the second seating, which means eating breakfast around 10 am. To tide us over we are served a warm cinnamon scone and tea while we roll through scrub land dotted with goldenrod, purple asters, yellow snap dragons, horsetail, rambling wild blackberries and inexplicably, a fully loaded tractor trailer of new vehicles in the middle of a ramshackle farm yard. The views soon give way to the farm belt of the Fraser River Valley. Tree nurseries, cornfields, blueberry “orchards,” hops and the occasional horse or cow. Fellow vacationers follow roadside towing campers.

RMD1 - Rob 008While today’s first breakfast seating enjoys the gold leaf service, we spend time in the vestibule, an outdoor covered balcony at the rear of our train car. Here we take about 500 pictures of blurry trees whipping by as we learn to adjust to taking pictures from a speeding train. We are entering the foothills. The day is sunny, warm and the air is beyond fresh.

RMD1 - Rob 010Our view changes to mostly mixed conifer and deciduous trees. We pull over to a siding to allow a coal train to pass. Our hostess tells me that we have the right of way as a passenger train and pay a premium for the privilege, but if the freight train is too long for the siding or is late, we will be asked to pull over. This is a working railway. By day two we will understand that we really do not have right of way.

RMD1 - Mo Food 001Now our view shifts to beautiful views of the milky green waters of the Fraser River as it winds by. As we reach Hell’s Gate, the train slows to “kodak speed”, one of the very few times it does, for picture ops. “I believe I have reached the Gates of Hell”, declared wussy explorer Simon Fraser upon first reaching this narrow where more water pours through per minute than spills over Niagara Falls in the same time. Of course, it may have appeared more daunting in a birch bark canoe and knowing that no fine cheese plate and glass of merlot awaits when he returned to his seat.

RMD1 - Rob 011Sandy rock towers rise to one side of the train. Soft rock is overlaid with hard stone and then again with soft rock. As the soft rock erodes it leaves behind artifacts that are reminiscent of the features in the mountains of Arizona. Striated rock faces in shades of grey rise into cornflower blue skies, dotted with cottonball clouds which cast their shadows blissfully on the hills. Conifers and loose pebble beaches line the cool green water. We get an occasional glimpse of a colourful, graffiti decorated train riding the tracks on the opposite bank.

RMD1 - Rob 013Lunch is late as we are part of the second seating. The menu is varied with good choices. The food is decent, artfully presented, fine, “hotel” meets first class airline food.  This is not a foodie slag. Remarkable for just being produced en masse in a small, stainless steel galley kitchen, the food, mildly seasoned is well suited to pleasing a great many people. There are over 600 passengers from around the globe with varied palates. While we are satisfied and sustained, the food is not particularly noteworthy.

RMD1 - Mo Food 017RMD1 - Mo Food 018The stoic, spent towers of mulleins line the tracks and begin to mingle with the grey green sagebrush. The yellow-blooming sage presents itself against the backdrop of the fawn coloured hills. I could be in the Nevada desert. I admit to being surprised by the arid BC interior. The larger mountains have receded to the background. Osprey and bald eagles are eagerly spotted by passengers in and near the dead trees they nest in. As we pass a bend in the Thompson River, we spot a herd of Bighorn Sheep.

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RMD1 - Rob 015We continue on our leisurely passage to Kamloops, where the north and south Thompson rivers converge. As the train pulls in to our overnight stop, past homes and yards, we are waved in by two of Kamloops finest on their mounts. Kamloops receives passengers from the Rocky Mountaineer, six days per week, 7 months a year, who comprise the bulk of their tourist and main industry. We are soon whisked away by “chariot” to our accommodations for the evening. Unfortunately our chariot takes issue with hills in a hilly city. Have no fear, our determined driver, backs up and takes a run at it. Luckily the traffic light is with us and we arrive in our rooms, key in hand, already checked in, luggage waiting. Very efficient. This is appreciated because  we are exhausted by 7 pm.

No bears.

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