Saturday, May 24, 2014

Syracuse to Toronto on Maple Leaf

We knew that today was going to be the longest and probably the most difficult day of our trip.  We had to leave the hotel, get to AMTRAK station, find out about luggage etc.  Get on train, get off and go through customs, get back on train and arrive Toronto and lastly find our train for the main part of our trip on the Canadian.  We had a 2 hour window including any allowance for the first train being late. As I write this on Friday morning – we have recovered but it was indeed a long day!
The shuttle left the hotel at 10:15 as we had planned and we were at the Syracuse Depot at 10:30.

We had 2 hours to get the lay of the land, check in, eat lunch and wait for our train.  This was a new facility built about 10 years ago to house both the rail and bus traffic serving the Syracuse area.  It was clean and well kept.  Things fell into place. On all of our train travel except today we are traveling with sleeping accommodations which means your meals are included.   Not so today – so we ate a Subway at the station before our train arrived.

Everything was on time until about 15 minutes before departure when suddenly it was 20 minutes late.  Finally the Maple Leaf arrived and we boarded.

This train makes a daily run from New York City to Toronto.  The ride was comfortable with a bit more space than on a plane.  Our 4 pieces of carry on luggage were stored overhead in very roomy bins. Carry on luggage had to meet certain weight and size criteria.

We passed through rural New York and the outlaying areas of several cities.  First city was Rochester where we passed the Kodak building. It was large with a fairly empty parking lot.

Then we passed through Buffalo.  At both locations we stopped primarily to let passengers off. The last stop in the US was Niagara Falls. By the time we left Niagara Falls more than 75 % of the seats were empty.  The ride was comfortable but a bit bumpy and we were wondering if the tracks in Canada  would be smoother.  Between Niagara Falls US and Niagara Falls Canada they made an announcement to look for the falls – we had not thought we could see them from the  train – well we got photos out both sides of the train – one side was a bridge which obstructed any view of the falls and the other side was the Niagara River! Good thing we had already seen the falls!

At Niagara Falls Canada the train stopped and everyone was required to leave the train with all their luggage and clear customs.  We completed a short form, showed our passports, answered a few questions and stood along a wall while a beautiful chocolate lab paced back and forth sniffing everyone and their luggage. All in all a fairly painless process.  We then walked out of the station and back in another door and waited a few minutes before boarding the same train. Now the train was managed by VIA personnel. It was the AMTRAK equipment and the WIFI worked until we reached Toronto.

We stopped for a couple freight trains to pass us and had one 30 – 45 minute stop for a boat to go through a lock.  We passed through  primarily an agricultural area known for vineyards and fruit. 

We had dinner in the Cafe Car – soup, a hamburger, and cheese and crackers.  Certainly not gourmet but filling and good. The cheese and crackers were really excellent.
We were running about an hour behind schedule and while not frantic we were concerned about finding our way through Union Station. 
We saw lots of graffiti on buildings, fences, and train cars along the tracks and a nice sunset as we pulled into Toronto.  Just for the record – the train ride was much smoother for the Canadian leg of this trip – same equipment so it must be the tracks!

Union Station is undergoing a huge remodeling so it was even more confusing than we had expected.  We found the boarding gate but when we got there were told we needed to check in the VIA Sleeper Car lounge  to get our meal assignments etc.  So off we went carrying and pulling our luggage.  We found it, got checked in and collapsed in some comfy chairs for about a 30 minute wait for boarding. 

Most of the station was under construction but the original great hall was beautiful and we took a few minutes to admire it.

About 9:30 we got a boarding call and retraced our steps back to the gate and followed along the side of the very long train “The Canadian” to find rail car 113.  We were directed to bedroom B where beds were made up and waiting for us!

The bedroom has two bunks, a sink, a small toilet in a separate compartment and about 18 inches of free space. Not as large as the room on the AK ferry but adequate as long as small spaces don’t bother you! The main difference between this and the ferry is the compartment changes into two comfortable seats for daytime use.

Our car attendant – a very pleasant young lady named Emily gave us a short introduction to the room and train.  We pulled out of the station at exactly 10 PM.  We were both very tired and laying down felt VERY good.  The bed was most comfortable and sleeping came easy! 

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