Story by Andrea Gross; photos by Irv Green
On Day One we see bald eagle, osprey, beaver and the round, white rear ends of bighorn sheep.
On Day Two we see salmon, hundreds of them, and our guide gives us a quick science lesson: where they live, how they spawn, why some are deep red and others pale pink.
All the while, I sit in supreme comfort on the Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury train known for giving its guests the best in both scenery and service. This is a trip I’ve wanted to take since my parents took it 18 years ago, not long after the train was inaugurated.
The attendant brings scones and a cup of tea. “This is your before-breakfast snack,” he tells me, and I start to giggle. I’m not used to being pampered, much less being served a pre-breakfast cup of tea in a white china cup. As the train rumbles its way along its signature route — a 594-mile journey from Vancouver to Banff in the Canadian Rockies — I feel deliciously, delightfully decadent.
In a splurge we’ll never regret, my husband and I have chosen to travel in Gold Leaf Service, which means we’re riding at tree-top level in a two-story coach with huge windows that curve around to the roof, giving us a panoramic view. From our seats, which are wide and comfortable with plenty of legroom, we can peer down at the rivers and up at the mountains.
Later we walk back to investigate the less costly Red Leaf seating. The seats are fine, but without dome windows, the view is less expansive and the feel claustrophobic.
Soon it’s time to walk downstairs to the first level for a white-tablecloth meal. I choose a cheese omelet with asparagus and Canadian smoked ham; my husband opts for scrambled egg with smoked salmon and lemon chive crème fraiche. At our server’s suggestion, we also get a vanilla yogurt parfait topped with granola and fresh field berries. Oh yes, and don’t forget the warm croissants.
Lunch is even more elegant. We have our choice of steak, prawns, or chicken one day; salmon, pork or chicken the next. Dessert is always chocolate — one day chocolate accompanied by vanilla ice cream, the next chocolate with apple tart. I think I’m in heaven.
Back upstairs, I watch lazily as the train takes us past fertile farmlands, through the beige and brown desert of the Fraser Valley, around pine-bordered lakes, and into the dense, forested mountains of eastern British Columbia and western Alberta.
Meanwhile, an attendant attends to our every need. Water? At your service. Cola, juice, wine, beer… How about a mixed drink? Someone on our coach asks for a Baileys on ice and the idea catches on. Pretty soon we’re clinking glasses with the other passengers, lifting our Baileys to toast the mountains.
After an overnight in Kamloops, where some passengers go to a buffet-cum-musical show but we choose a quick meal at the nearby Frick and Frack Taphouse, we get back on the train for the highlight of the trip: our journey through the Canadian Rockies.
By early afternoon we’ve begun a steep climb — gaining 2,500 feet in 130 miles — and the scenery changes again. The mountain peaks, which had been playing hide-and-seek with the clouds, are now tinged with snow. By this afternoon, says our guide, we’ll be at the highest point of our trip, crossing the Continental Divide at 5,332 feet above sea level.
A bit later we enter relative flatlands, and someone in the back of our coach shouts that he sees a “bear or something” off in the distance.
We rush to the windows on the right side of the train. A few of the hardier passengers run to the outdoor standing area between cars, where the temperature on this fall day has dropped to a breezy cold.
Cameras flash. The bear, if indeed there was a bear, disappears. But wait, maybe he’ll reappear. Cameras keep flashing. We’re glad we have digital.
It’s past 7 p.m when we arrive at the Banff station, where we’re greeted by an elk, who nods his head in a stately manner. His friends are cavorting in the lawn of a nearby house. Welcome to the Canadian Rockies.