Ottawa (via Montreal) to Halifax, Nova Scotia
12.10.2008 - 13.10.2008 16 °C
I took two trains to get to Halifax from Ottawa, which required a brief stop-over in Montreal (I didn't see more than the inside of train station though). After almost missing my train for the second time in 3 days, I was very glad to sit and just chill for a while. As it was just after Thanksgiving, the train was completely sold out and a "medical emergency" in the station didn't aid a speedy and smooth departure.
We did leave on time though, and were soon screaming along at full tilt - a lot faster than "The Canadian" - through yellow fields of corn, lakes and marshy rivers covered in Canada Geese and thick forests of narrow-trucked, white-barked spectacularly yellow and red-leaved trees. They became a blur through my window, but through them I could pick out occasional homesteads - typically Canada - house and outbuildings and a massive timber shingled barn with a half-hexagonal roof.
The scenery got more picturesque further north - gently rolling fields with clumps of deep red and yellow trees. The sky grew darker - pregnant - although the sun still shone on the train. The effect of the sun shining from behind the train onto the glowing trees, below a brooding blue / grey sky was astounding. I can understand how the Group of Seven (early 1900's Ontario based painting group) found this landscape so inspiring.
I would love to see an aerial photograph of this area during the fall - it must be stunning. This is definitely maple country; dark barked, deep red forests dot the landscape. After a brief couple of hours in the Montreal train station, I boarded "The Ocean" - http://www.viarail.ca/trains/en_trai_atla_hamo.html which covers the southern Quebec shore, New Brunswick and finally to Halifax in Nova Scotia, on the Atlantic. Apparently the cars themselves are old EuroStar carriages, and although comfortable, they were nothing compared to the "Canadian" carriages. I watched a couple of movies in the 'social' car (the one benefit of the Ocean over other trains I've been on) and then headed to an intermittent, but good sleep.
When I woke around the stops of Charlo and Petit Rocher the landscape had changed again, and reminds me a lot of southern Norway - low undulating hills, broken coastline with solid dark brown rocks and lots of glistening black water. Lots of birdlife as well, along with lovely lonely square timber clapboard houses, a lot with brightly coloured roofs. Very Scandinavian. The foliage remains spectacular - especially when back lit as it was at dawn, the train racing eastwards towards the rising sun.
Somewhere before Truro the train descended into a softly rolling valley, carpeted on each side by thick swathes of yellow and red, with dots of dark green evergreen offsetting the crazy warm autumn colour. It started to rain. About an hour after Truro we passed by a very large water body to the east; the trees have changed again - many more dark green conifers and some of the deciduous trees haven't started to turn yet. Lots of lakeside cottages overlooking winding waterways, on whose glistening black waters the reflections of the red leaves were stunning. We pass a town (Penny Lake?) which has a lovely church - again very Scandinavian - timber clapboard with strong austere lines as seems typical of the area. The pines that poke their heads above the canopy are all bent and grow away from what must be the direction of the prevailing wind.
I arrived into Halifax in the late afternoon and walked the easy 300m to the hostel, where I didn't waste much time before starting plans for the next leg of my journey - a self-driven mission around Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island and as much of Nova Scotia as possible. Funnily enough, a fellow traveler from Jasper in the Rockies was checking in at the same time as me (after getting off the same train!) so we started talking about sharing the cost of car hire, to leave in two days...