Travelling by Train: Off to Saguenay!

 

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Today, I finish my journey to Jonquière! Yesterday was the longest leg of the trip, traveling all day to cross through the province of Ontario and into Québec. The best way to describe the trip would be full of surprises.

I was supposed to take three VIA trains (Kitchener-Toronto, Toronto-Montréal, Montréal-Québec City) and arrive in Québec City by nighttime. My first train was delayed by 40 minutes mid-route, waiting for a freight train to cross the tracks at a “train intersection”. Unfortunately, my connection time was also 40 minutes. The train pulled into Union Station at 11:31 am (I am not kidding). VIA said that they never hold trains. I could see my train across the platform, slowly chugging away. I missed my next train by exactly one minute.

Fortunately for me, there were a number of people who had missed the same connection, so I just followed the crows inside. Waiting in line at the service booth, I learned that the girl behind me, Leah, was in the exact same Explore Program placement as I was! I now had a travel buddy.

I know that missing a train is a hassle, but watching the customers yell at the attendants was appalling! I didn’t want to be a part of it so when a woman tugging a huge suitcase growled at me, I offered for her to go ahead of me. Not worth the energy to argue with any of them. A woman appeared from an office behind the attendants and motioned for me to follow her. Another woman did the same to Leah.

I was led to a rather tiny office with far too many papers in it. The lady thanked me for my patience in dealing with the delay, and offered me an upgrade in my next ticket. I told her where I needed to be and when, and she made it happen.I was given new tickets and told that I was upgraded to first class. I would also be receiving dinner aboard the train. Now I was very happy! I was going to make it to Québec City as planned, only slightly later.

Traveling by first class also means you wait in the Business Lounge. It had marble floors, big fancy lighting, leather lazy boys, plus a café offering free soda, juices and hot drinks from one of those fancy latté makers. By now I had met 2 other girls in the same situation as myself. One was traveling home to Montréal. The other was also in the Explore Program, but in a town neighbouring Jonquière. We chatted over our multiple free drinks, making our 3 hour layover pass by much faster.

First class boards – you guessed it!- first, so the three girls and I were able to pass all of the huge queues, some full of those disgruntled customers from before whose yelling didn’t warrant an upgrade. The seats were huge and comfy, and since I had been assigned a single seat, I had one side of the aisle all to myself.

Shortly after leaving the station, complimentary cocktail hour began. Yes, I was enjoying my trip to Québec very much! There was a choice of beef tenderloin, seafood bruschetta or pesto cheese tortellini for dinner. The tenderloin was all gone by the time the waiter got to me, so I chose the tortellini. There was wine with dinner, and coffee and tea after. I was so full!

When being rescheduled in Toronto, I was told that when I arrived in Montréal, there would be a coach bus to Québec City. I was told to find the VIA attendants in Montréal and they have been notified of the situation. Once I managed to track them down, I was given a prepaid bus ticket, put into a prepaid cab and taken to the coach bus station. I was told the coach trip would take three hours. In Toronto VIA said I’d arrive by 11:00 pm. In Montréal, that changed to midnight. At the bus station, it was actually 12:30 pm. I would get there eventually.

I don’t remember much of the bus ride. It was long and I was exhausted. I tried to sleep, but it didn’t work as well as I’d wanted. The bus arrived in Québec City at 12:30 pm exactly. My hostel was a short walk from the station, along a brightly-lit, busy street. And (just my luck) all uphill. I made it there eventually.

I had never stayed at a hostel before, but the owners were very welcoming. And they spoke English! I was simply too exhausted to try French at nearly 1:00 am. I have never known a bed to be so comfortable! I believe it was because I was so tired.

Today, I finished the trip up to Jonquière. Almost everyone on the bus were Explore students as well. The bus ride was beautiful, especially through all the nature reserves and parks. There was still ice on Lac Jacques Cartier, even in late May! Rivière Saguenay, which Jonquière sits on the banks of, is quite wide and apparently far too cold to swim in.

When I arrived in Jonquière, I met my new house mother, Monique. Until actually meeting her, I had no idea who I would be staying with for the next five weeks. Monique has three grown children, plus a few grandchildren. She’s also hosting another girl, Jamie, who is from Vancouver. It’s nice to be living with another student. Since I was the first to arrive, I had first pick of the bedrooms, and chose a lavender one facing the street.

Monique had her family over for dinner since it was Mother’s Day. I must say, she is a great cook! She made tourtière for dinner and pouding chômeur for desert. The desert was so delicious despite the off-putting name (it translates literally as “welfare pudding”). Monique’s children can all speak a little English so they told us some funny stories at dinner. One of Monique’s daughters also has a horse farm nearby and she invited Jamie and I to visit for a ride sometime.

All-in-all, I arrived in one piece. Every itinerary goes off the tracks (see what I did there?) at some point, but my patience resulted in a better trip and free dinner.

I guess they thought we’d all need a happy hour after that fiasco!

 

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