Planes, Trains and Automobiles, Part 2

Vancouver, BC, to Whidbey Island, WA

The trip from Hong Kong to Vancouver, BC, was 11 hours via Cathay Pacific; two hours less than traveling the other direction, because of the tail winds. We were served two very good meals. Early in the flight and then just before we arrived we were able to watch what was happening outside on the camera mounted on the bottom of the airplane.  Fabulous!  I watched onemovie I enjoyed; one was terrible and I didn’t finish it; I read a bit, slept some. After about four hours my legs were itching to move, my bottom was tired of its limited position(s). Hubby and I got out of the seats several times to walk—to the restroom, up and down the aisles, back and forth– always aware that blood clots (deep vein thrombosis) can form if movement is restricted for too long. We have been on some airlines which have public service messages, sometimes with short films, showing exercises and urging folk to move ankles, knees and legs frequently. Cathay Pacific offers water, tea, noodle soup, coffee, juice, soda and alcoholic beverages, all free at any time during the flight.  Those fluids helped.  There is a caution: Alcohol is said to increase circulation problems. About three hours before we landed I found a British crime drama I really liked and watched four episodes. I highly recommend “Broadstreet”. (Double click to enlarge photos.)


The Vancouver International Airport is stunningly beautiful and easy to use. There are fabulous pieces of art, much of it from various First Nations peoples, large mobiles mostly featuring animals and lovely water features. We had already decided we wanted to take the AMTRAK from Vancouver to Mt. Vernon, WA, 30 miles from our home, now we needed to get from the airport to the train. One choice was the Sky Train, a light-rail system, delightfully dubbed “Canada Lite”, costing only $2.50/person to the train station. We had seven pieces of luggage, there was a bit of a walk involved, steps–and an elevator, but we decided that was not a good choice for us. We chatted with a taxi driver, receiving an estimate of the cost, then rode with him. The trip took about 25 minutes and the cost was $35.00.  His taxi was an SUV, so easy to use.  And, on the trip we learned about the large Sikh community in the area. He was a businessman driving the taxi for two months, doing a favor for a friend who was vacationing. He told us of the expansion of the blueberry fields on both sides of the US/Canada border; Canada is the 2nd highest producer of blueberries in the world; the United States is first.

Vancouver’s Pacific Central Railway Station is a pleasant reminder of the days when rail travel was more common. It’s a large, two-story building with a ticket counter and an agent who had been there for years and could share some history. There was a place to store luggage if we wanted to take a walk while we waited for our train. But the price has been raised recently to $6/piece and we only had a three-hour wait. Dale bought coffee for both of us, we stacked our luggage beside one of the long wooden benches in the lobby and took turns exploring inside the station. There was a coffee shop, a bus terminal, a taxi stand, a car rental, and a magazine/book/quality souvenir shop with boxed sandwiches. I choose egg salad. It was OK.  I was famished. Planning for the train trip I purchased a box of sushi and a Canada Dry soda.

Via RailCanada you can travel north to Jasper and as far east as Halifax Nova Scotia. We were heading south to our home on Whidbey Island in Washington State so we purchased tickets for the sleek AMTRAK Cascades. Again we went through customs then walked out of the station past “Business Class Car” (that’s a new one to me on trains), the Dining Car, the Bistro Car to our “Coach Class Car”—very comfortable and clean. Even before we left we were being entertained by nine students from Switzerland, speaking mostly in German. They were gathered around a booth/table seating area in the back of our car. “They’re having a good time,” I said to Dale. “It’s fun to hear them so excited.” After 40 minutes of their excitement and chatter, unintelligible to us, it started to be annoying. Then a friendly conductor talked to the group and their answers in very good English made it fun again. Everyone learned they’d skied in Calgary and were heading to Mt. Baker, then Mt. Rainier, somewhere in the Sierra Nevadas and then home. Fortunate kids—they weren’t in school, weren’t working—and on vacation they were learning first hand about their world.

After about an hour, we were given instructions over the intercom encouraging us to visit the Bistro Car and/or the rest rooms if we wished, telling us: “Soon you will need to be in the seats assigned to you with your passports and tickets available to be inspected by the US Customs Agents. We did as we were asked. Soon after we saw the Peace Arch, white and impressive at the Canadian/US Boarder, four agents boarded and walked through the car checking our passports and ID.

We had left mid-summer in Australia; now were were experiencing mid-winter in North America. Because we had left Vancouver at 5:15 pm/US time our journey was in dark making it almost impossible to see the coastline, close and wonderfully visible on day trips. But now the inside lights were on and glared on the windows; the conductor was not allowed to dim them. Too bad; as I’ve done that trip in the daytime and it’s very enjoyable to see the coast, first in the distance, then below the dramatic and beautiful two-lane Chuckanut Drive between Bellingham and Mt. Vernon. That road was created by prisoners in the very early 1900’s; it’s high above the sea and the tracks run so close to the water, there is almost no land between the train traveler and the sea.

Dale’s sister Carol met us at the AMTRAK Station in Mt. Vernon, Washington with our 4Runner and inabout 40 minutes we were home on Whidbey Island. We do find it hard to have our kids and grandkids living so far away—literally on the other side of the earth. The blessing of staying with them so long, nine weeks, is that we became a part of the routine of their lives and can know now, here at home, if we calculate correctly, what they are doing. There will be more Australia stories and photos as I reflect on our nine weeks there and continue reading the books I brought back.

We have many wonderful travel memories including planes, trains, automobiles, taxis, buses, Land Cruisers, 4Runners and jeepneys and I’ll keep writing about them. I will write about past train travel especially to many places in the US and in Hong Kong, India, Australia and Canada. And, I’ve just learned that AMTRAK is writing about creating train residencies for writers. Now that’s on my Bucket List for sure.

Categories: Australia, Books, Education, History, Sociology, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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