Pride Travel’s Rocky Mountain Rail Journey Through Canada – Day 6: Quesnel to Jasper on Canada Day
DAY 6- Quesnel to Jasper on Canada Day
Never mind my disposition yesterday… this morning’s early wakeup was painful. Perhaps because we were lacking the niceties of an Orange Juice and Tea personal wakeup call, or perhaps because, although pleasantly surprising for what it was, our Best Western was not quite up to par as the Fairmont. Whatever the reason, we manage to sneak aboard the shuttle bus only second to last and proceed for our morning ‘tour’ of the remaining portions of Quesnel. Say what you will about small-town folk, but they certainly take pride in their community. Mention a tire store as one in our number did, and our bus driving guide will proceed to highlight every tire store in town on our route, what each provides, and the reason so many tires are needed: gravel roads and winters are hard on tire tread.
Our obligatory tour completed, we made our way back home to board the Rocky Mountaineer. Dana and Keisha, our lovely attendants, wait staff, and tour directors were cheerily with us again, greeting us with genuine warmth and hospitality. The first half of our journey, they warned, would be mostly through rural communities with little in the way of scenery. This, of course, would have had no effect on Nathan’s prolific photography, save for the catastrophic failure of his camera halfway through the day. This technical failure will not impact our ability to showcase the scenery to you, dear reader, but only delay it as we switch cameras and require an adapter to access those photos. Just remember that good things come to those who wait.
Descending into the dining deck today, I take note of the fine art prints hanging on the wall. Appropriate BC Scenery adorns the few spaces where glass does not dominate and features waterfalls and forested highlights of our trip. Beside each of the massive glass windows, tiny shaded lamps give the added feeling of being in a classic dining car from days long gone. Breakfast selections were the same as yesterday, but today I try the “GoldLeaf Breakfast” featuring scrambled eggs shaped like a low cylinder, adorned with a rose of BC smoked salmon both drizzled in a lemon crème fraiche sauce that just totally complements the sprinkles of kelp caviar throughout. It is an interesting combination of hot and cold that actually works. Nathan, having had his pancakes and itching to try an egg plate orders the Rocky Mountaineer omelet stuffed with a generous slab of mozzarella with a side of Canadian bacon, asparagus, and country potatoes and he is equally if not more pleased with his choice today than yesterday.
Our mid-morning views prior to lunch were plain in comparison to yesterday’s and what was to come. Expanses of flatlands filled the scenery with the occasional river view as we straddled the Frazier from one bank to the next, with small bridges along the way. I take the time to write yesterday’s blog, nap a bit, and write some more.
We once again make our pilgrimage down to the dining room with high expectations. Today’s lunch menu was refreshingly new, although still featuring meat, chicken pasta and vegetarian options. The carrot ginger soup we start with was very good, the two vegetables balancing each other quite well; careful consideration and measure was given to the ginger which, unconstrained, could easily have overpowered any dish. Nathan ordered the pork tenderloin, and did not speak again nor gesticulate with his Italian hands (a rare occasion, I can assure you, reader) until he had devoured the entire thing. I can only surmise that he was very happy as a cat with that chestershire grin splayed across his face. BC salmon is world-class, ranking in the top percentile of world Salmon production and rivaling Alaskan salmon. My BC salmon was very lean, with almost an oaky flavor that came through the light herb butter sauce. Although salmon is a common fish I often avoid, a visit to British Columbia is wholly incomplete without having salmon. I remain convinced that here, this fish is king of the waters and the seafood tables alike. Even simply grilled with a light herb coating, the flavor is much more robust, richer, and less oily or fatty than typical store-bought salmon. Desert today was a lovely combination of chocolate mouse in a dark chocolate cup, with a custard apple tartlet. Needless to say, when we finished the first morsel, we ordered seconds. Nathan even ordered a jumbo mouse serving in a wine glass, having not been satisfied with the smaller, chocolate cupcake delivery system; he ate the cup, though without compliant!. Today we lounge a bit longer for lunch downstairs, having second rounds of tea and chatting with our table mates and newly made travel friends. Since the trip is sold in segments, most of our train mates will not be joining us in Lake Louise and the second half of our circle trip. We exchange cards, and promise to email and write each other, swap photos, and catch up after the trip before returning upstairs to lounge in the dome.
Although I continue to extol the virtues of GoldLeaf dining aboard our Rocky Mountaineer trip, one must keep things in perspective. Aboard a train, or even a small ship, there is very limited space which forces the executive chef and food & beverage managers to a limited selection of foodstuffs and beverages (hence the birth of the Sex on the Rails cocktail yesterday). While the selection may be limited, the quality is exquisite with the attention to detail that only a small dining experience can provide. Normally, there would be two seatings for each meal, as the dining deck accommodates half the number of passengers as the dome deck seats. That’s because the galley is very spacious and exceedingly functional to allow for the meals to be properly prepared and so takes up half of the car downstairs. We were fortunate to request a ‘Galley Tour’ and able to snap a few photographs.
Having pleasantly enjoyed my Sex on the Rails cocktail yesterday, Dana and I begin to ponder how the drink and particularly the pink grapefruit would contrast with different alcohols. We settle on gin as a good prospect for a try and boy do we hit on something. Substituting the vodka with gin allows the juniper to dance with the grapefruit on the palette and tames the sweetness a bit. Sex on the Rails is reborn : 1 part gin, 1 part ginger ale, two parts pink grapefruit to top off. Our group is constantly testing our rail staff, not intentionally of course, and being pleasantly surprised. Little things like a continuing pleasant attitude and smile even when some of the passengers become demanding. Sure, this is a luxury rail car and luxury clients can be demanding, but I don’t think I could smile and serve you the drink you barked at me without slugging you across the face first. You have to hand it to servers that can take it in stride, stay pleasant, fulfill the most onerous of requests, and still maintain a positive outlook to serve the next innocent bystander or guest. When my off-hour request for potato chips to go with my newly coined cocktail is made, it is quickly fulfilled by Keisha from a secret stash of oh so yummie salted crispy kettle chips somewhere in the bowels of this steel serpent, without question; potato chips aren’t even on any menu or dining offering! Our retinue of staff, Keisha, Dana, our Chef, cooks, and the entire crew aboard the GoldLeaf dome car make the brand proud! We are very pleased and looking forward to the same great service on our Banff to Vancouver return rail trip.
We pass the quaint small town of McBride, population 400, which won the CN Radio award for Best Hockey Pride town by painting the entire town, buildings, and sidewalks blue for the color of their team. As an extra treat to make up for loosing one hour by crossing into Alberta and Mountain time, our hosts pass out a small unscheduled treat of cheese, dried fruit and cracker. Today is Canada Day, the celebration of the birth of Canada as a nation, and our staff lead us in a song of ‘O Canada’ to celebrate.
The highlight of today’s journey on the rails is by far the Rocky Mountain Trench. A flat pass neatly formed by nature snugly in between the Rocky Mountains and Mount Robson, and the Caribou mountain range to the east. Arriving at the mouth of the trench, we return to the awesome alpine scenery that makes this journey legend. To both sides of our train, for miles on end, we are surrounded by snow capped peaks, forested mountainsides and river-framed foothills, so much so that we would have to take many pictures and string them together in order to capture the panorama before us. The pinnacle of peaks is towering Mount Robson. At almost 4000 meters, it is the tallest peak we will encounter on our journey with a peak consistently cloud covered in its own micro-climate. Even just a partial viewing of Mt Robson, however, leaves an impression of grandeur on the senses and majesty on the soul: this is communing with nature at its prime. We enter the Red Pass, so named for the iron infused red-rock mountains, and enter deep into the Canadian Rocky Mountains on our ascent into Jasper. Even continuing past Mt Robson, we continue to pass majestic scenery, with the Rockies ever our embracing mother, arms folding in from left and right to cup us close.
Back in a Fairmont again, we are delighted to be reunited with our good friend, the Fairmont bed which we sorely missed yesterday. The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is very unique unto itself, even among a chain of singularly unique leisure properties. While the logistics of being on a national park adjacent to a lake makes servicing the log cabin units challenging at best, the staff excel at maintaining the Fairmont service hallmark every step of the way. When I asked for extra soap, it arrived in a nice terry cloth bag, hand delivered by a pleasant housekeeping attendant on a bicycle; that’s right, a bicycle. Shuttles and carts are operated continuously to navigate and move guests around the property, should you wish to forego the leisurely stroll along the lake from your cabin to the main lodge building with its expansive selection of shops, dining, and great hall atmosphere.
For dinner, we opted to stay at the lodge, as it was already 10 pm by the time we were settled and refreshed. We dined on spectacular Bison burgers at the Emerald Lounge. Bison is a slightly gamier version of beef, but with significantly less fat, cholesterol and other ‘bad stuff’ that beef has a reputation for. The taste is much fuller and complex, and a very good match to Dijon mustard, horseradish and other strong condiments. At half past eleven, we are treated to a partial viewing of the Canada Day fireworks being shot off from Centennial Park. Only the top portion of the fireworks is visible from the Lodge due to the towering trees lakeside that obstruct the lower portion. Having been to fireworks in San Francisco where fog completely covers the show, this was actually a nice treat to see the exploding colors from the comfort of our Emerald Lounge veranda in comfy deck chairs. Fireworks completed, we meander gently lakeside back to our cabin, utterly convinced that our stay in the bucolic oasis of nature was too short, and must be revisited for a longer duration.
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