Pride Travel’s Rocky Mountain Rail Journey Through Canada – Day 5: Whistler to Quesnel on the Rails
Day 5 – Whistler to Quesnel on the Rails
The early wakeup call turns out not so bad as we had dreaded. Having packed the bags the night before and requested an orange juice & tea wakeup call, our attendant delivered our drinks with a pleasant smile and gently whisked away the bags. There’s something to be said for luxury porterarge service whereby your luggage is taken from your room in one city and returned to your room in the next without you having to lift so much as an ounce. Of course, we still had to carry our day bags, but the load was significantly lighter without the larger pieces. Since our departure was so early, we did not have the opportunity to checkout at the gold desk nor to grab a light pastry from the Fairmont Gold lounge. Our disappointment was short-lived, however, as we knew a nice hearty breakfast awaited us aboard the Rocky Mountaineer.
As was the case with Whistler Mountaineer, GoldLeaf express boarding was swift and easy. We simply presented our ‘RockyPass’ ticket and were greeted with warm smiles by our attendants. Upon entering the GoldLeaf two-decked dome car, we ascend the staircase up to the main dome viewing level, which is a filigree of glass and steel unobtrusively designed to allow for maximum viewing of the spectacular scenery to come.
Breakfast was quite lovely, the quintessential epitome of elegance and taste. We descended the spiral staircase from the top deck of the glass dome car to the dining deck below. This level is a true gem featuring dining booths lined with classic fabrics in muted colors adorned in a stylized vine pattern. Our tables were lavishly covered in thick crisp white linens and the large picture windows did an excellent job of framing and showcasing the scenery passing by so we would not miss a moment of the amazing landscapes we were going through. The first course was a simple fruit plate containing a slice each of melon, apple, pineapple and topped with a gooseberry for that extra touch of luxury. For breakfast, we had the choice of a delectable omlette, scrambled eggs (with caviar in a cream sauce on top and a smoke salmon rose to boot), pancakes, eggs Benedict a-la-Rocky Mountaineer, and a fruit parfait. I ordered the pancakes which were very light and airy and were accompanied with a sprinkling of maple sugar on top and some of the best maple syrup that he said he has ever had. Marc’s choice today was for the Benedict. The Rocky Mountaineer’s version consists of one perfectly poached egg straddling some shaved Canadian maple bacon on a bread crumpet. Perfectly seasoned breakfast potatoes are accompanied by slightly roasted cherry tomatoes that were quite dainty and delectable. Since there were some left, he also ordered the yummie fruit and yogurt parfait, just so he can tell you our reader what it was like. He says, in great detail: It was yummie, it had fruit, and yogurt.
We ascended our stairs again to the dome deck. Leaving Whistler behind, we start to become accustomed to the motion of the car, while taking in some of the most breathtaking views of the massive snowcapped mountains surrounding us. I quickly assume my position as photographer and took the brave step of making my way to the vestibule to start documenting our rail ride to Quesnel with the camera. The Rocky Mountaineer Gold Leaf dome car has special deluxe rear section, the vestibule. Open on three sides for grabbing a breath of fresh air and spectacular photographs, it exudes sense of exclusive privilege only offered in Gold Leaf. As the Gold Leaf dome car is the last train car, we also had access to spectacular rear views for photographs and tunnel shots simply not possible from elsewhere on the train.
Shortly after passing a few small lakes we approached one of the many large lakes that we would skirt the shores of. First we set upon Anderson Lake near the small settlement of D’Arcy. The water was so breathtakingly still, you could practically hover and glide right over to the other shore. We followed the coastline of this lake for about 15 miles, which on the gentle rails was almost an hour. All of the camera fanatics (such as Nathan) made their way outside, since every curve in the track presented a different view that could not resist the camera’s eye, nor escape the ouuuhs and aaahs from the lips.
Looking up to the mountain on the right you see the scar of a giant landslide that took place thousands of years ago, creating the Seton Portage. This rubble divided an ancient massive lake into two, Anderson Lake and Seton Lake. This bridge of earth has been developed, and once was the site of a large apple orchard; there’s a little hidden river, where locals tube the ditch in summer for fun and frolic. There’s even a local legend about walking across the backs of salmon in the shallow waters that are just chocked full of them. Seton Lake is vastly different than Anderson Lake in both temperature and color. The BC Hydro Project, which provides almost 70% of the electricity for all of British Columbia, diverts glacial melt from mountains above, using gravity to propel the water down at massive speeds which then drive electric producing generators. This drops the water temperature of the lake dramatically, turning the lake a milky green color with all the glacial silt, like a sea of frosted emeralds spread before your feet.
When we reached the end of the lakes environment begins to change, dramatically. Those massively beautiful mountains that you have been admiring create an interesting effect further inland. The snowcapped peaks block the flow of moisture from the coast and soon a semi arid region begins to unfold. This process, called a rain shadow, radically deprives the area of precipitation. Since there is no abundant source of water, tall trees and swaying grasses give way to an area that is mostly scrub brush and bare earth very much akin to a high desert. This is by no means an indication that the views are any less spectacular. With no vegetation to cover the ground you can see the many layers of sediment that make up the surrounding area. Bright reds and pale yellows are interspersed with the darkest black and browns, a rainbow of earth tones to tease the senses. The semi arid environment lasts for about 70 miles before gradually giving way to a more alpine feel, affording scenery that is very reminiscent of the Southwest U.S. When we sit down for lunch, the air becomes much cooler outside and a bright green returns to our view.
Just before lunch, another round of service in the glass dome second deck was served. I ordered a gin and ginger, my drink of choice in Canada, but Marc wanted something more sultry. Although liquor is plentiful aboard, mixers and juices are somewhat limited: no cosmopolitan or any cranberry sadly. But, with the aid of the ever-accommodating Rocky Mountaineer service staff, a new drink was born: we dubbed it Sex on the Rails…. but not for any particular reason our readers may be thinking (naughty you!). One part vodka, one part ginger ale, and two parts pink grapefruit juice rocked gently,
just as you will be on the Rocking Mountaineer. This drink will be consumed two additional times today, and given the warmth of the sun-drenched dome car, a refreshing summer tradition has been born!
Lunch aboard this luxurious train and the Gold Leaf service is a major event. For the hours between breakfast and lunch, our chef and cooks have been preparing the meal and various courses, baking, making, and decorating deserts. When you descend into the dining room, you once again are greeted with new fresh crisp linens, plentiful cutlery, and a menu for your perusal. This is a three course meal with Salad or soup, main course, and oh-so-rich-and-wonderful deserts. We began with the heavenly cream of potato leek soup. Marc ordered steak, and was very pleased with both the doneness and presentation. My pork tenderloin was flavorful and juicy, with a dark port-like demi glaze sauce. Desert was utterly divine. Marc couldn’t contain himself and ordered a second plate halfway through the first! He is very fussy about his chocolate so when he orders double, speaking with a mouthful of the first, it must be good. A choco-holic’s dream-come-true, the deceivingly labeled ‘chocolate brownies’ were really more akin to a soft flourless chocolate cake moist and rich, with full cocoa subtleties that bathed the palette.
After dining, we return to the upper car to enjoy a post meal drink while watching the countryside pass. This ever changing scenery has given way to aspen forest and eventually rural farm areas. I love to take pictures of old houses or barns and I will say that I was able to snap photos to my heart’s content, although doing so from a moving train can be daunting and I ended up with a lot of pictures of trees and bushes; look for the green blobs in the foreground of our pictures…. As we went further north, we started running into even larger lakes, some seemed impossibly big and were filled with small watercraft and fishing vessels.
About 7:30 we finally arrived in Quesnel. Incidentally, make sure to pronounce Quesnel properly (as Kwa-nel), else you may wind up corrected by the Rocky Mountaineer staff. Quesnel figures quite prominently in the gold prospecting days, and served as a hub of activity and the jumping off point to many a fortune seeker in the horse-and-buggy days.
This is a quaint little stopover, very much a logging town. The Fraser River runs right through the heart of the town, and the town’s claim to fame is the decorated fire hydrants. Each of the forty or so in town are painted up as a small person, from can-can girl to lumberjack and more. These are rather odd but likable enough to be addictive…I think I was able to find seven of them to take pictures in the little time we had in town before dinner. After shopping at the much raved about local souvenir shop, we ambled back to our hotel with some friends that we had made while on board.
At one point I broke away from our small gang to take a couple of quick shots of the town’s casino and a small church that I had seen several blocks off the path. While sidetracked I passed a Dairy Queen and could not pass stopping to get a chocolate dipped soft serve cone. It had been too long since my last Dairy Queen stop and my soft-serve came with two heaps of nostalgia at no extra cost.
Dinner in Quesnel was included at our hotel tonight, as the accommodations, though best-available in the town, are not up to Fairmont caliber. We spent our night tonight at the Best Western Tower Inn, which to our pleasant surprise has a very good chef. Our meal, although basic consisting of chicken pork and shrimp options was really quite memorable. The main course is simple enough, with no sauces, but the flavor of light herbs is complemented by excellent texture obtained from just the right amount of cooking. Our precursor, however, was the cream of chicken soup. Quite possible the best chicken soup Marc and I have ever had anywhere in the world, the Cream of Chicken served by the chef at Beggby’s in Quesnel is singularly delectable. Not quite a cream soup in the strict sense, the chicken and vegetable stock is complemented by a light touch of milk or cream. We cannot further describe in words the taste, and it would a crime to try. Desert was equally surprising: chocolate and white chocolate mouse gateau topped with tamarind jam. Tamarind… in rural BC; I cannot even remember the last time a ‘fine’ restaurant served tamarind. Needless to say, we were very pleased with the surprisingly fine quality of dinner. Sure, not every course would qualify for haute cuisine, but excellent food remains excellent food, nonetheless. We wobbled up to bed and collapsed from pure food overload.
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