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Canada by Train – A World-Class Journey – Part 1: Toronto

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Canada by Train – A World-Class Journey – Part 1: Toronto

This is part one of a two-part column on taking VIA Train #1, The Canadian, across Canada from Toronto to Vancouver. It is a genuine bucket list dream trip which begins in Toronto, a metropolis worth visiting by any mode of transportation. .

Toronto's waterfront is a lively place in the summer. Credit: Tourism Toronto

Toronto’s waterfront is a lively place in the summer. Credit: Tourism Toronto

Toronto deserves its reputation as one of the world’s great cities. It is Canada’s largest and most cosmopolitan town. More than 200 ethnic groups speaking over 140 languages call it home. We spent an enjoyable couple of days before our train’s late March departure to sight-see.

Getting downtown is easy, After clearing customs at Toronto Lester Pearson International Airport, we boarded the UP Express, a 25 minute train ride from the airport to downtown Toronto Union Station. It runs every 15 minutes and costs only $12. The station has convenient municipal transit connections and many downtown hotels and attractions are within walking distance.

A hop-on-hop-off bus in downtown Toronto with the CN Tower in the background.. Credit: Tourism Toronto

A hop-on-hop-off bus in downtown Toronto with the CN Tower in the background.. Credit: Tourism Toronto

We enjoyed a narrated hop-on-hop-off bus tour that showcased Toronto’s diversity, architecture, shopping and arts. Don’t miss the CN Tower for lunch or dinner and an amazing view from the revolving restaurant. If the weather is nice, check out the waterfront and enjoy a boat tour to see the impressive skyline. We also recommend a stroll down Yonge Street and the theatre district. If you want to visit some of the far-flung ethnic neighborhoods and regional attractions, the Go Transit regional rail network has frequent service radiating in several directions from Union Station.

Leaving Toronto In The Dome Lounge

As sorry as we were to leave Toronto, our VIA Rail Train # 1, the westbound Canadian, was scheduled to leave at 10:00 pm, so we headed to the station about 9:00 pm. We’ll write more about the train trip next month, but, fortunately, our Toronto experiences were not quite finished since our night departure afforded a spectacular view of Toronto at night. It is something not to be missed. The same nighttime view is available from the commuter trains that ply these tracks, albeit without glass domes.

As night falls, downtown Toronto is painted with bright lights. Credit: Tourism Toronto

As night falls, downtown Toronto is painted with bright lights. Credit: Tourism Toronto

As sipped coffee in the plush departure lounge, it was not long before the all aboard! call came. Our 2,775 mile transcontinental journey was beginning! The conductor escorted passengers on a short walk to the platform and directed us on-board one of the 17 cars of gleaming stainless steel that was to be our home for the next four days.

After stowing our bags in our  small but nicely appointed first class sleeper compartment, the car attendant told us about his daily routine of changing the compartment from day sitting room to bedroom and back and invited us to walk four cars back to the last car in the train, the Glacier Park dome lounge, for complimentary champagne and hors d’oeuvres as the train departed.

The on-board service chiefs of the train were on hand to greet passengers in the VIA first class departure lounge. Credit: Tourism Toronto

The on-board service chiefs of the train were on hand to greet passengers in the VIA first class departure lounge. Credit: Tourism Toronto

Once there, we climbed the few stairs to the dome. Precisely at 10 pm the train began to move slowly. As we glided past the end of the covered station platform, Toronto’s night lights and sights burst into view from our 360 degree vantage point. We slid past the brightly-lit CN Tower and through the downtown Toronto while enjoying a unique view of many trackside buildings, some with people in the windows waving to us. As we sipped champagne and munched on a nice selection of passed hors d’oeuvres, urban scenery gave way to suburban and then exurban. As the city lights receded in the distance, our journey across Canada had begun in a memorable way. We retired to our sleeper convinced that the rest of the trip on VIA Train # 1 would live up to and even exceeded this auspicious beginning. We were right. ¦to be continued.

Before You Go:

Check these web sites:

http://www.seetorontonow.com/

http://seetorontonow.uberflip.com/i/632133-toronto-visitor-guide-2016

http://www.viarail.ca/en/explore-our-destinations/trains/rockies-and-pacific

 

Getting There

Toronto Lester Pearson International Airport (YYZ), 6 miles from the city center, hosts major airlines and both international and domestic flights.

The imposing main concourse of Toronto Union Station. Credit: Tourism Toronto

The imposing main concourse of Toronto Union Station.
Credit: Tourism Toronto

VIA Rail offers frequent service to Toronto Union Station from Canada and a train from New York City via Buffalo.

Major highways radiate east, west and north from Toronto.

The nearest cruise ship port is Montreal, 336 miles away.

When You Are There For A Very Short Trip

Steal some time from your schedule and visit:

  • Yonge Street, Dundas Square and the theatre district
  • The CN Tower

If You Only Have Two or Three Days:

Must-sees for a slightly longer but still short visit are:

  • Royal Ontario Museum
  • Catching a hockey or baseball game or a live theatre performance in season.
  • City Hall, the Ontario Legislature (Queens Park), Casa Loma and other notable buildings
  • Shopping at tony Eaton Centre
The beautiful Glacier Park dome lounge at the end of the train. Credit: Jeff Orenstein

The beautiful Glacier Park dome lounge at the end of the train. Credit: Jeff Orenstein

If You Have Several Days:

If you have the luxury of spending several days in and around town before your transcontinental train trip, enjoy exploring the region by visiting:

  • Niagara Falls is just 90 minutes distant.
  • Niagara On The Lake, Ontario
  • The Welland Canal locks between Lake Erie and Ontario.


Ginny O’s  Tips For Dressing The Simply Smart Travel Way.

The keys to dressing for long-distance train travel are efficiency, comfort and re-use. Onboard space is limited, even for passengers with small private bedrooms and large suitcases remain in the baggage car. Also, there is pre-trip touring and stopovers, some for an hour or two, so pack casual clothes appropriate for the season.


This Destination
At A Glance

Mobility Level: Low to moderate. Although touring Toronto and riding on the train requires getting in and out of various vehicles, most of the city and the train are handicapped-accessible and alternative mobility options are available.

When To Go: Anytime. Winters are cold and summers are hot but each season has its charms. Rail fares increase in the summer.

Where To Stay:  The Fairmont Royal York and the Strathcona Hotel are both close to Union Station. Many other choices are nearby.

Where to Eat: CN Tower

Special Travel Interests:  Canadian culture and scenery. Rail travel.

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Editor’s Notes:  Orenstein is a syndicated travel writer from Florida’s West Coast. He and his wife Virginia enjoy simply smart travel and writing about it. They can be reached atjorenstein@SimplySmartTravel.com. Check out their travel tips, photos, articles and blog atwww.SimplySmartTravel.com and like them at www.facebook.com/SimplySmartTravel/

Jeffrey Orenstein, Ph.D. and Virginia Orenstein are husband and wife travel writers from Sarasota, Florida. Their Simply Smart Travel column appears in newspapers and magazines in nine states and online.

Reach them at jorenstein@Simplysmarttravel.com. They publish travel ideas, articles, photos and blog at www.SimplySmartTravel.com and at www.facebook.com/SimplySmartTravel/.

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