1612 - Ontario and Quebec by Rail
Canadians might travel more than any other citizens on earth, but we're often guilty of ignoring our own back yard. These holidays, after dismissing the inflated prices of flights to the Caribbean and refusing to put even more KMs on my lease, I decided to consider the train. VIA Rail, the national consumer railway in Canada, was offering a CanRail Pass. 7 one-way tickets in the Windsor-Quebec Corridor over 21 days for $300 CAN. That was it. My latest adventure was taking me to Quebec.
December 26th - Kitchener, Ontario
VIA Train #84 was scheduled to leave the station at 7am on boxing day. I headed to the station, excited to start the adventure. The station in Kitchener is small, about the size of your typical Starbucks. It serves VIA train service across Canada as well as local service to Toronto, Canada on GO Train. On the secondary track, two local engine sit in hibernation, unlikely to move over the holidays.
As the train approaches most passengers are gathered outside anxious to find a spot for their luggage and settle in for their journey. The train boards just after 7am, a few minutes behind schedule. I'm on car 4. Even though my ticket was economy, the train looks like it should be business class. The "Business Affairs" sign above the seats is a clue I might have a lucked out on an upgrade.
For someone travelling with a lot of video and photography equipment, empty seats beside you and a table in-front of you are a gift from the gods. Their even more appreciated when the announcement crackles of an issue with the train's air-breaks. It would be the start of several announcements that eventually turn a four hour delay and myself and other passengers being bussed from Kitchener to Toronto's Union Station.
What was the rush though? A chance to setup equipment, wander outside the train and take photos and videos of the train stationary on a quite track. An even better opportunity get breakfast at one of Kitchener's best local coffee shop, Smile Tiger. And, as luck would have it, the chance to meet one of my all-time favourite authors and podcasters, Malcolm Gladwell!
December 26th, 2016 - Toronto, Canada
It wasn't until early evening when train (bus) arrived at Union Station in Toronto. The weather was miserable. The only thing worse than snow in Canada is freezing rain. I stuck close to the terminal, munching down on the best wings in Toronto at Real Sports, watched some World Junior Hockey and snapped a shot of the CN Tower in the pouring rain, before getting on the next train, bound for Kingston.
December 27th, 2016 - Kingston, Canada
The arrival in Kingston last night was without ceremonial. After checking in at the local Econolodge (don't judge), I enjoyed a good rest, a solid (for a hotel lobby) breakfast and short Uber ride to downtown Kingston. The weather doesn't look much better today, but there clouds look like they could clear and I could catch the sunrise. I was right. There was a brief moment where the sun, rising over Lake Ontario, could be seen between the water and the clouds. That illuminated Kingston's iconic City Hall allowing me to capture some incredible shots from the ground and from the air.
The Kingston area during the downtime between Christmas and New Years is pretty quite, but the scenery is still beautiful. As I explore the city before the crowds begin to arrive, I find this small ice rink on the other side of City Hall. There are only a few skaters this early in the morning, so I place the camera close to the ice snap this photo of the early birds enjoying open ice and the crisp dawn air of downtown Kingston. For the rest of the day I enjoy snacks and coffee a few local cafe's and break open my laptop to edit photos and check in with my team at work.
My time in Kinston was brief with VIA Train #40 leaving from Kingston to Ottawa in the early afternoon. I check out of the hotel, head to the station and continue my journey north to the National Capital of Canada.
December 27th, 2016 - Smith Falls, Canada
I lived in Ottawa several years ago and could never get bored of its historic buildings and landmarks and the beauty of the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers and Rideau Canal. But first, I'm heading to Smith Falls, Canada (a little town 40 minutes outside of Ottawa) to spend some time with family. I spend most of the day working, then I'll head out the next morning to capture a few photos from Smith Fall's Victoria Park.
December 28th, 2016 - Ottawa, Canada
Today, I'm back in Ottawa for more time with family and the familiar sights of coffee shops as I continue to work from the road. At dusk, I head to Victoria Island on the Rideau River and attempt to capture the Canadian Parliament at sunset. Success.
Walking along the Ottawa River outside of Parliament opens up all sorts of surprises. Walking back to my car, I stumble on this scene of the Mill St. Brewery. There are so many hidden gems like this in Ottawa. Getting out on foot (in the winter) or bike (in the summer) is a great way to uncover them.
December 29th/30th, 2016 - Montreal, Canada
Another day, another train. This morning, I packed my bags and boarded Train 34 to Montreal. I arrived in the late evening and after checking in the hotel and organizing my gear I decide to head out on foot to explore the city. A natural destination is Mont Royal, the 764 foot small mountain or large hill (depending on who you ask) in the heart of Montreal. As I approach the mountain, the sides are being illuminated with a stunning projection ranging from coloured lights to a glowing fire, to scrolling text celebrating Montreal's 375th anniversary. Even though a hike to the mountain is out of the question tonight, I take the sky and capture footage of the projections with the Montreal skyline in the distance.
December 30th, 2016. Today I'm out exploring many of Montreal's best cafes. I find a spot called Mamie Clafoutis, with delicious croissants, good coffee and a loft-style living room to work. Later that evening, I find out Mont Royal isn't the only part of the city lit up. From cobblestone streets of Old Montreal to the skyscrapers downtown to the Paroisse Saint-Jacques on St. Denis Street in the Latin Quarters everything is illuminated.
As I continued exploring Montreal, I continued to encounter light installations. Installation like Loops, zoetropes (giant cylindrical rings) that play out storybook scenes accompanied by music and lights. My night ends at VIA Rail, excited to pickup another adventurer to join me on my journey.
December 31st, 2016 - Quebec City, Canada. Visiting Quebec City, as a english speaking Canadian, feels as foreign as you can get in your own country. The multi-language, multi-culture focus of Montreal is replaced with pure Québécois and it's a beautiful thing. The fleurs-de-lis of Quebec's provincial flag paints a perfect foreground for the historical and beautiful winter backdrop of Quebec City. I knew immediately, that this was going to be a photographers paradise. We head to Quebec's old city for a lucky last minute dinner reservation at La Buche (absolutely incredible and worth an entire post of it's own) and then decide to celebrate New Years Eve at the Grande Allée. My batteries die from the cold and I lose my iPhone. The night goes undocumented.
January 1st, 2017 - Quebec City, Canada
Nothing starts a new year quite like the bright sun piercing through the blowing snow of the overnight snow. Walking through Quebec City on New Years Day, scenes like this were everywhere. After lunch at the only place open in town, Chez Ashton, we decide to explore Quebec City on foot.
Historic buildings, the surrounding mountains, beautiful views over the St.Lawrence River, and locals who truly embrace the winter make this an incredible place to visit during the holiday season. We came across this views like this looking north of the city towards the Laurentian Mountains.
Wandering through historic Old Quebec, with its narrow cobblestone streets, countless cafes, shops and pubs is a stark contrast to the openness of the Plains of Abraham. The site of numerous clashes between the French and English empires can barely be distinguished from the equally icy skies.
Everywhere you look in Quebec City there's a building with rich history and stunning architecture. None is more impressive than the Le Château Frontenac. As the sun set on New Years Day the view of the Château Frontenac is nothing short of stunning.
As day turned to dusk, it was time to take a look at this historic hotel from the air. This shot was from just outside of the historic walls of Quebec City and involved a composition of three photos taken with various angles from the sky. The view from above Quebec City is incredible.
As we wandered around the walls of old Quebec City, taking in the history, we wondered whether visitors in the future would look at this artifact the same way we look at walls, buildings and monuments. For time travellers from the past, or people who lost their cell phones the night earlier (guilty), this phone booth is fully functional.
With temperatures below zero whether you're looking at Fahrenheit or Celsius, ducking inside the Le Château Frontenac to warm up with a strong drink is strong move. If you can't get a reservation, the wait for Bar à Vin 1608 might be worth it. The small circular room was serving up iconic cocktails from around the world. It doesn't get much better than leather chairs, a good drink and a roaring fireplace right beside your seat.
As the trip wound down, it was important to remember the incredible opportunity we have to travel in this country. These lavishly decorated Christmas trees or "Trees of Hope" were sponsored by local businesses light up the loby at Le Château Frontenac with proceeds going to La Fondation du CHU de Québec. We leave the Frontenac for dinner at another one of Quebec's gems, Aux Anciens Canadiens (firmly cemented in the top five meals of my life) then head back to the hotel to rest for the long train ride home.
The trip back to Kitchener, Ontario, Canada from Quebec City is a marathon. With stop in Montreal and Toronto it's important to take a break and stretch your legs when you can. A final 3 hour layover in Toronto left time for ramen and cornflake ice cream at Momofuku Noodle Bar, a quick stop at Starbucks and a walk down Richmond Street. There's also always time to stop and take an iconic shot of one of Canada's true gems. The CN Tower stretching high above the rest of the skyline in downtown Toronto, Canada.
Traveling through Ontario and Quebec was a perfect experience for the holidays. The laid back nature of the train gave me a change to work, edit photos and plan each leg of the journey. If you're thinking about travelling this summer Canada, consider giving rail a try.