It's day fifteen (for me) in the A-Z blog challenge! This month I'll be sharing all about my Christmas/New Year's travels to Canada – providing insight into the places I went, reviewing the hotels I stayed at, and telling my story. Today's letter is T for transit, like Via Rail in Canada.
Because our Amtrak train arrived in Montréal so late, our very first experience in Canada was exploring Montréal's Central Station before boarding Via Rail for our trip to Québec City the next morning.
Mid-evening between 7 and 8 pm at night, especially during the winter (my only experience of being in the station), you aren't likely to find too many people wandering around. All of the shops and restaurants inside were closed and even the ATM wasn't working. (ProTip: Have a credit card with you that you can use internationally if you don't have Canadian dollars on you when you arrive.)
Slowly, and if you'll recall, hangrily, we made our way to our hotel for the night hoping that there might be something worthy of discovering in this French Canadian city covered in darkness.
The next morning, bright and early, we grabbed our bags and walked back to the train station from our hotel eagerly anticipating our continuation on to Québec City. Did we need to arrive at the station early? Would there be a line similar to the one we stood in to board Amtrak in New York City? Was there a check-in process that we needed to go through with our tickets?
Yes, there was a long line. No, we did not need to check-in. And, more specifically, there was no checked baggage for our particular train ride. If you are traveling further, there might be.
Another tip: If you know in advance when you are trying to take Via Rail Canada, be sure to check online up to two months in advance to get your tickets for cheaper. They occasionally run sales, especially during the holiday season. By checking for a sale we were able to pay half as much for our train tickets going to Québec City on an early train that no one else wanted to take compared to our return trip from Québec City to Montréal.
|We arrived at the train station approximately 45 minutes prior to the train departure and this was our line.|
To find where you need to go once you get into Central Station, you can use the large board hanging in the center of the lobby(?) to determine your train's "number" and figure out if it's on time or not. Then, next to each escalator, you will see the train number or destination on a sign. I'm guessing Montréal to Québec City is a common destination, so they definitely had a sign for that route. I didn't really see one for any others (nor was I looking). When it is time for you to board your train (as in exactly time), someone from the station will come and switch the escalator and begin checking tickets for you to board your train.
Seats on board Via Rail Canada are not extraordinarily spacious nor lavish, but they are comfortable enough to get you from point A to point B. There are plugs for you to use during your journey and free wifi to keep you entertained.
In the seat back pocket, you will find a list of all of the snack and drink options available on Via Rail.
If you are lucky, they might even pass out free chocolate! :)
But for the most part, you just ride Via Rail Canada to access relatively cheap transportation and get good views without doing any driving.
When we arrived in Québec City, I managed to snag a picture of the train…
and the first class seating…
The Québec City train station was absolutely enchanting compared to Central Station in Montréal. I loved the small city feel of the local train station, the Christmas trees in the foyer, and the small shops and restaurants all throughout the station.The Gare du Palais is (I'm guessing) one-third of the size of Central Station, and it has that small-town feeling too.
Even though Justin and I walked to our hotel from the Gare du Palais in Québec City, I recommend catching a cab (or figuring out the bus transportation) if it's snowy, you have (enough) luggage, and your hotel is in the old town. A cab is how we returned to the station and we didn't regret not having to drag our luggage through the snow a second time!
Because Québec City is so much smaller than Montréal, when it was time to take the train back, there was less of a line and more of a seating area for waiting to board, with special seating up close to the door for parents with young children and handicapped or elderly people. However, even though there isn't a line, seating can get filled up quickly.
Even though, from what I could tell, driving between Québec City and Montréal might have been more fun than taking the train and would have allowed us to get beautiful pictures and access parts of the country that we couldn't get to from the train, riding the train, especially during the snowy winter season was more practical for my husband and I since we aren't as used to or comfortable driving in snowy and icy road conditions. I could also see how the train would be a great choice for people commuting for work. Four hours straight without a whole lot to see, plus the internet, makes it easy to get things done without being distracted.
Are you a fan of trains? What is your favorite way to travel and why? Would you consider using Via Rail Canada for travel within Canada?