Canada was nice. Cold, but nice. I arrived by train from New York, straight into Montreal, where I was met by the guy I was staying with. Montreal was interesting, officially everyone speaks French, but most of them speak English as well, at least in the city. I'm not sure I'd like to travel through the countryside without my French speaking guide.
I liked Montreal. If I knew how to speak French, I could live there. However, I was bemused by the way the Quebecians (?) are hanging onto their French heritage. Mentally I was continously drawing parallels between Quebec and Australia of 90 years ago, when Australia was "more British than the British". I was getting the same feeling about Quebec, except they were trying to be more "French than the French." It would be interesting to see the city in fifty years and see what direction they headed in. I hope to be back before that though.
After Montreal, I got the Trans-Canadian train across Canada. That was my "splurge" for the trip. I originally was going to travel in coach class, but after my overnight train trip in Cairo, I decided to splash out and upgrade to a sleeper class. I got the cheapest sleeper (a single berth, upper bunk) and figured out that the one train ticket cost about the same as my round the world plane ticket.
I had a single bunk, with no window, which folded up into seats during the day. If I had upgraded further I could have got the lower bunk (with a window) or even a private cabin. A window would have been nice, but in my opinion, avoid the cabins, that locks you away from the people which was half the fun.
The train itself was great. It had lounge cars with glass domed viewing platforms, so you could sit up there and watch the scenary go by. Two dining cars and the food was wonderful. Each sleeper car has six single berths, six single cabins and six double cabins. And a shower. Having a shower on a moving train is definately something everyone needs to try at least once.
One of the great things about being upgraded to sleeper class, I had the run of the train. If I remained in coach, then you're restricted to coach class (about 4 railcars up the front) while the rest of the train stretches back for about 30 cars.
The train trip itself was magical. The scenary was spectacular. Plus, I was there in Autumn, so all the leaves were turning. In the middle, I broke it for a quick trip down to Calgary to visit some relatives, then back up and on the train for the trip through the Canadian Rockies and into Vancouver. Next trip I'm spending more time over that side of the country.
My only gripe about Canada? The airport at Vancouver. You go through US immigration and customs before you leave the plane and it was the most poorly designed system of all the airports I was in. First off, for check-in there were two staff trying to check in four plane loads of departing people. That was a 2.5hr wait (luckily I had got there 3.5hrs early). Then there was a line to ensure you had your documents, then you go through (yes through) a duty free gate to get to US immigration (another line); next was US customs (line); then the actual check-in for your luggage (line); the compulsary airport improvement tax payment (line - a nasty surprise if you've spent all your money); and finally the normal airport security line.
This left me with enough time to do a flat sprint down to my departure gate to arrive bang on departure time. Luckily they had held the plane back about 20mins, but apparently there were about 30-40 people who missed the flight because they didn't get through the lines in time.
Aside from that little incident, the rest of Canada (99.99% of it) was great.
and the squirrel was in the botanical gardens