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Travel

Riding the Rocky Mountaineer

In the first part of a feature on his memorable, emotional, Canadian odyssey, Clive Nicholls rides a luxury train through the breathtaking backdrop of the Rocky Mountains

The grand piano falls silent and an expectant hush descends over the magnificent great hall in the railroad depot on the outskirts of Vancouver.

The immortal words "All Aboard!" ring out over the PA system, a piper fires up his bagpipes and leads us out onto the platform. Standing there, a vision in blue, gold and white, is the very grand Rocky Mountaineer train. Gleaming locos at the far end of the platform, the towering glass domes observation carriages in the middle; you can almost cut the excitement with a  knife as we get on board.

As I drink a toast to the days ahead, I;m over whelmed by the luxury on offer. Staff line the platform. With the piper still playing, we roll out of the sidings on our way to a magical tour of the Canadian Rockies- I feel like a million (Canadian) dollars. I had arrived in Vancouver a couple of days earlier on the Air Canada flight direct from Heathrow on its Boeing 787 Dreamliner. Air Canada is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year and it's remarkable how much things have changed in that time.

Its first passenger flight was a 50 minute run from Vancouver to Seattle in a ten seater Lockheed 10a Electra. Amelia Earhart famously went missing in a similar aircraft over the Pacific during her attempt to circumnavigate the globe. 

As part of the celebrations, Air Canada had been flying its Lockheed to destinations in Canada. The dates didn't fit in with me but I would have loved to see it flying.

My flight was rather luxurious: I flew premium economy which to me seemed equivalent to what Business class used to be like. Plenty of space a great meal- I went for the lemon thyme filled chicken breast with herb jus- and wine served in a real glass. I watched a film, reclined the seat and woke up just in time to have a snack before the final run into Vancouver airport. just perfect. (I'll be reviewing Air Canada's premium Economy and Business Class in a future issue of Choice.) 

As the Rocky Mountaineer pulls out of Vancouver, I leave behind fond memories of my two days there. It's a great city and I'll tell you next month of my adventures in the area, including a fabulous seaplane flight, but for now I want to enjoy every second of the train trip.

As the skyscrapers recede in the distance, we follow the route of the Raser River, and at the swing bridge, we swap from the Santa Fe tracks to those of the Canadian National Railway. At this point the river is wide and slow moving on its way to the Georgia straight, but higher in the mountains it is magnificent as it tumbles its way through steep valleys.

Ten million salmon spawn in the river each year- more than any other river system in the world.

I get the call for breakfast in the Goldleaf dining room. At home, it's Marmite on toast; here it's dining in style, and I settle on fruit followed by Eggs Benedict, featuring Montreal style smoked beef. As my coffee is topped up, we pass Fort Langley, originally built by the Hudson's Bay Company in 1827 as a fur trading depot. The driver slows the train to give passengers ta great opportunity for pictures.

The observation deck is good, but I prefer the open air vestibules at the end of each carriage, as there's no problem with reflections. In the distance I can see the 10,000ft peak of Mount Baker in the USA; yes, we are fairly close to the border at this point before we turn north through the town of Hope.

Barry Crawford, or train manager, gives is the nod that we will shortly be approaching Hell's Gate, the narrowest part of the Fraser River where 200 million gallons of water per minute force their way through the 110ft wide gorgr

e. The driver slows the train for us so that we can get pictures through a break in the trees- it's a stunning view. As we round each bend, there's another view. If cameras were still running on film, Kodak would be making a fortune.

As I take lunch in the dining car a black bear is spotted close to the tracks- I miss it as I'm looking the wrong way and have to settle for an eagle perched in a tree on my side of the coach! throughout the day the scenery just gets better and better, and as darkness falls and we pull into Kamloops for our overnight stay. I can only reflect on an amazing day that is true bucket list material.

I set my alarm as I want to be at the station to see the train roll in. It's still dark but the two 3000hp locos at the head of the train are an awesome sight as they ease into Kamloops Station from their overnight depot. It was just a few miles east of here that Canada's version of the Great Train Robbery took place in 1906. Barry Miner and his gang managed to stop the train and take 15 dollars and a handful of liver pills from the passengers on board. 

The Mounties soon caught them. It makes Bruce Reynolds and his mob appear quite successful. Today we are heading to Lake Louise (just short of Banff) with dramatic scenery all the way. The South Thompson River, the mouth of the Adams River, Salmon Arm, Mount Macpherson, Mount Begbie, Upper Arrow Lake and the Illecillewaet River. Intriguing names, fabulous places- I don't want to miss a minute.

At a town called Canoe a lady called Doris stands on her porch waving. A train never passes without Doris giving a cheery wave and a smile. The team at Rocky Mountaineer has arranged to fly Doris and her husband to Vancouver, and first class all the way home on the train, It's a lovely touch- have a great trip, Doris.

this is a day making memories that will last a lifetime. Travelling in luxury, dining on fabulous food and enjoying some of the best views in the world- just sublime. Snow caps the highest mountains, and at lower levels, the trees take on their autumn colours. We travel through the spiral tunnels of Cathedral Mountain and cross the Continental Divide before pulling in to Lake Louise as darkness falls.

The train will travel the short distance to Banff but I get off here.

I feel quite emotional. I've just travelled one of the world's greatest railway journeys, and I'm full to the brim with memories. I've been spoilt rotten, and it I wasn't staying in such a beautiful place- even though I have to wait until morning to see it in daylight- I would surely get withdrawal symptoms.

In the morning I open my curtains at the Fairmount chateau Lake Louise. Dawn is just breaking but many guests are down at the water's edge- it's selfie heaven! I join them for these magical moments before breakfast.

My trip on the Rocky Mountaineer was a trul amazing experience. And it gets better: there are add-ons at either end that will extend your holiday in a dramatic fashion.

First, I spent a couple of days in Vancouver before boarding the train and, at the end of my rail journey, I drove from Lake Louise up to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway- one of the most beautiful drives in the world.

It'#s stunning, but you'll have to wait until next month's issue of Choice to read about the rest of my wonderful adventures in British Columbia and Alberta.

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