cautiously optimistic?

VIA-HFRAnyone who has attempted to travel from KTown to anywhere else and wishes to avoid the near daily carnage along the Queen’s Highway 401 is faced with either flying or taking the train.  In a(much) older post I had a few thoughts about VIA Rail, but recent news has prompted an update.

VIA Rail is proposing to upgrade the old CP right of way (yellow line) paralleling Hwy 7 into a dedicated passenger rail line between Ottawa, through Peterborough and on to Toronto, while at the same time upgrading portions of the lakeshore CN infrastructure (blue line) all with the intent of increasing the frequency, if not the speed, of rail service in the Toronto to Quebec City corridor.

Specifically Kingstonians may soon enjoy an alternative to ‘Luggage Lotto‘ at YGK or ‘Big Rig Dodge’em‘ along the 401.  If, and its a big if, Transport Canada approves and funds VIA Rail’s High Frequency Rail (HFR) plan, then Kingston could soon become a hub with late arrivals from Toronto and Montreal complemented by early morning departures.  Imagine being able to enjoy a show in Toronto, returning comfortably that night, or better yet departing early enough to catch  flights out of YYZ or YUL, all while avoiding the circus of cancellations and delays that sums up Air Canada’s service to YGK.

While I’m at it, a couple of improvements to the design of Kingston VIA station regardless of whether HFR comes to pass:

  • Divert the through freight tracks to the southeast side of platform two, to allow dedicated passenger rail embarking and debarkation with the intent to build;
  • Raised platforms at rail car floor height (as is the case in virtually every European main train station!) to enable mobility options.
  • Construction of  a weather canopy over much or all of the exterior passenger platform.

around the world – part 43.1 (driving to florida)

Anna Maria Island - Tortuga Inn

Every year, after months of cold and darkness, and just prior to the first signs of spring, thousands of Canadians suddenly abandon their homes and head south to the Caribbean, Florida, Mexico and so on.  And this year,  Junior was no exception.  Even with what has been a mild winter by any measure, Junior and family found themselves joining the mass migration of Canucks south at Spring Break. 

In some moment of sheer lunacy, I determined that it would be a good idea to drive.  Perhaps it was the mild shock of air fares, or some crazy idea that it would be ‘fun’, but at any rate by 6am early friday we departed our house and began our two-day journey. 

For those of you contemplating the drive, I can attest that the advice of my colleagues and friends has turned out to be quite accurate.  You should budget two long days of driving – planning a minimum of twelve hours on the road, factoring in another two or more hours of stretches, meals and pee breaks    A couple of colleagues, real pros at this, strongly advised going hard the first day – up to 18 hours(!) such that the second day is easier.  No doubt they all have teenage kids who can entertain themselves.  Anyone travelling with two small children must invest in a portable CD player.   This wonderful invention, I am sure has prevented the untimely demise of an untold number of children.   

In the end we opted for a more or less balanced two days of about 12 hours driving each – although due to somewhat inclement weather on the first day, we actually did not accomplish half the distance, stopping just past Roanoke Virginia.   Mind you once we joined I77 in North Carolina, we managed to progress at a much faster rate and had we not encountered a traffic accident on I75 near ocala,  would probably have made it in to our destination before 715pm.  As it was we arrived at 8pm, and collapsed into our beds.

cheerfully incompetent

VIA Rail

My few readers will have noted by now that Junior travels a wee bit – perhaps more than is strictly necessary.  In my roamings, I have had on occasion the pleasure opportunity to travel on Canada’s own VIA Rail.  For uninitiated, VIA Rail is a passenger rail service wholly owned by the taxpayers of Canada, known in the parlance as a Crown Corporation.  In this regard it is not unlike AMTRAK (USA), or any of a dozen or more European state-owned passenger rail services.  Thus it is run largely for the benefit of its employees and where passengers are noticed at all, it is with at best diffidence and more often with sufferance.

In comparing modes of transport it is often difficult to find true comparisons of merit, since the modes differ significantly enough as to pose problems finding commonalities.  Except where it comes to service.  Leaving aside private automobiles, where the service offered to the passengers is diffident at best and downright awful at times  (particularly in Junior’s chariot), passengers in Canada have two options – fly or ride the Iron Horse.   Edward the Corgi  has heard my theory before – but for those who have never heard it – thus.   On the whole and with evidence of my own eyes, Air Canada is miserably incompetent, whilst VIA Rail is cheerfully incompetent. 

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around canada – part 5 (montreal)

09 March 2010: 

weinsteins and gavinos pasta bar factory

 

Back in Montreal for the first time in many years (notwithstanding transiting through Dorval) and it seems to me on first glance as though that while the city structure is clearly a little distressed, what with the potholes and dodgy sidewalks (mind you, KTown can offer craters as awful as the best of them), there is much more excitement now then when I last called it home.   Maybe I am wrong, but I didn’t see too many storefronts for let, I did see plenty of sharply dressed folks and everyone seems fairly cheerful.   Despite my shocking neglect of the place, Montreal still remains my favourite Canadian city. At Wednesday night dinner comfortably ensconced in the window and indulging in a bit of people watching, I did notice that an inordinate number of vehicles flowing south on Stanley were of the Mercedes, Audi, Land Rover, BMW variety – perhaps indicative of a local economic confidence which seems to be ignored in the rest of Canada.  I suppose it is easy to overlook Montreal especially in afterglow of the Olympics and the ‘me first’ attitude of Tranna.   Thursday night off to Weinsteins and Gavinos for a meal, and then down the block to Three Brasseurs for a couple of beer, before heading back to the hotel. 

How to get there

  • VIA RAIL:  I am more and more convinced that this is the best way to travel to Montreal – no headaches with traffic, no time wasted looking for or paying extortionate rates for parking etc. 
  • By Car:  If you must insist on taking your vehicle, then of course Montreal is well serviced by several major highways leading into the city.  The roads are a bit rough in places – comes from overbuilding the infrastructure and then neglecting it for decades I suppose.   Please note that there isn’t actually much of a bypass around the city – especially to the south.

around the world – part 42.3 (the two ton sled)

The two ton sled

 

Cars are getting too damn smart for their own good; unfortunately Junior is going in the opposite direction.  Thinking I might save a few shekels – because the car rental agencies gouge on everything – I declined snow tires at the hire car station at Munich airport.   

Being an experienced Canuck, I surveyed the piddling amount of snow in the fields nearby, noted the otherwise dry roads and calculated the odds of encountering more snow during this trip – which given past trends should have been low to non-existent.  As it turns out, rather the opposite has occurred, snowing about two inches every night since arriving last week.  Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a cause for concern, except for the following: 

  • The rental variant of this vehicle is not all wheel drive;
  • It does have a very clever traction control computer that denies power to any wheel which might encounter ice, thus for instance making it a little challenging to get moving from a stop.  Yes, one can turn off the traction control, but then you are faced with the option of spinning the tires.  Oh, and did I mention it is an automatic?  Don’t ask, I drive stick, but it was all they had left;
  • While the autobahn benefits from the snow clearing attentions of the highway authorities, local roads not so much;

So lets review: a slightly tired traveller thinking to save money declines snow tires on a  powerful saloon car without all wheel drive = 2 ton sled.

around the world – part 41.7 (poland)

Many moons ago, the mother of SWMBO was born in the town of Romanshof (now Romanowo), Netzekreis (county Netze) just north of the market town of Czarnkau in Poland.  She and her family, not being of the correct ethnicity (not Polish) and coincidently being on the losing side of the Second World War, as a seven year, were ‘invited’ to leave by the victorious Red Army.   There are delicate memories involving traumatic loss, dispossession, violence and so very slowly over the years I have been able to encourage her to offer up her recollections, supplemented by those of her older brother and now with opportunity to travel to Warsaw the prospect of visiting the mother in law’s birthplace engaged my curiosity….

Although I did not have the time to travel out towards Poznan, I did find quite a few websites dedicated to the geneology of German settlers in hinter Pomern, the area which encompasses the Netze.

around the world – part 41.5 (warsaw)

Few cities can claim worse luck than Warsaw.  Over time the city has been burned by the Swedes, smashed by Russians and then flattened by Germans.  Not surprisingly all that’s left Warsaw looking like it’s gone ten rounds in a boxing ring.”

Hardly inspiring then.

IMG_0067

Palace of Culture - Warsaw, October 2009

 Despite the ubiquitous grey brick buildings and the cold windy streets, there is something appealing about Warsaw though, and I think it is in the spirit of its residents.   They would certainly need it given all they have been through in the last century.

I had no idea, other than a vague understanding, of just how smashed this city was by 1945.   For instance the Jewish Ghetto was so thoroughly destroyed, levelled, that very few traces of its existence may be found today.  The only remaining portion of the wall is found in the courtyard of an apartment building at ul Sienna 55.  No longer than about twenty-five feet, it is one of the few items remaining of the Ghetto.  The area around it was completely transformed after the war, a grid pattern of streets, boulevards, parks, office towers, and of course the mighty Palace of Culture were superimposed over the pre-war streets and alleys. 

 More photos here.