One of North America’s oldest railway lines, The Ocean rail, takes you on an unparalleled journey as it chugs down the eastern coast of Canada. Here’s my experience. By Sudipto De

Sitting on the upholstered leather seat, I watch as the Atlantic edge of Canada swings by in my window as it filled with varying shades of blue merging into each other. I am sitting on The Ocean, a 110-year-old railway line, incidentally one of North America’s oldest ones between Montreal and Halifax, tracking down the eastern coast of Canada in search of some magnificent views in the golden hours. This 21-hour journey starts from the bustling metropolis of Montreal just as dusk flicks off the top of the steel and concrete skyscrapers that dominate the city. The train then goes on clawing its way through sleepy villages in Quebec and New Brunswick before ending up on the waterfront of Halifax.

 

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We land up in Montreal in search of this historic train journey. The city, named after a mountain that dominates its skyline is a cornucopia of an urbane mishmash of multiple cultures against a backdrop of French Colonial history. As soon as my flight lands, I head to La Banquise where I dig into one of Canada’s favourite dishes: Poutine, a gigantic plate of French fries covered with greasy gravy and cheese curds. Although there are quite a few versions of the poutines to try out, this one has the perfect ratio of crispy cut fries and squeaky curds that makes for quite a mouthful.

 

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Belly loaded with carbs, I head out to discover the indomitable spirit of this city. I head to Old Montreal, the city’s iconic historic neighbourhood where a plethora of historic architecture takes you back to more than a century ago. The city might be a bustling metropolis but the cobblestoned streets crisscrossing this older part of town gives it a feel quite akin to that of Europe. The Montreal Town Hall and the Bonsecours Market are two of my favourite places to enjoy the French colonial charm. As the train starts off in the evening, I decide to grab another bite, this time at Le Restaurant at Hotel Le St. James. Executive Michelin star chef Eric Gonzalez dishes out some delectable modern food including a Squash veloute served with walnuts, glazed chestnuts and grilled Quebec Lamb.

 

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We reach the iconic Montreal Central station, our departure. Dominated by a gigantic fresco that depicts the lives of Canadians, the station provides the perfect bit of history to commence our journey. The train chugs away from the station right on time as I decide to explore the train before settling in for the night. The sleeper cabins have couches that convert into bunk beds along with provisions for private bathrooms. Dinner is usually served in the dining car where you can dig into some grilled steaks served with mash and veggies along with a selection of beverages. Just as dinner is about to be served, a massive expanse of blue that is the St. Lawrence lake comes into view. The service room also provides for some quick bites but the best place to enjoy the train is at the Park Car. Situated at the front end of the train, this two-storey car has a vista dome that offers a panoramic view of the scenery around you.

 

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You must scramble onto the Park Car early in the morning to beat the gaggle of children who seem to be awestruck by the scenery unfolding before them. Dawn approaches the quaint little towns of Quebec and New Brunswick including Mont Joli and Matapedia in the former and Campbellton and Miramichi in the latter. There are massive expanses of evergreen forests with crystal clear waters of the lakes cutting across them. Although most of these towns are quite small and are perfect for a quick getaway, it is the town of Moncton that calls for a stopover. Flush with the scenic vistas that New Brunswick is known for, it’s the tidal bore here that makes for some interesting views. Due to onrushing high tides, the waters of the Petitcodiac river roll back on itself creating waves that are hugely awaited by the surfers of the area. Watching this gangly gang of seafaring riders ride out these tall waves is an opportunity you surely wouldn’t want to miss.

 

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The Atlantic edge appears on the horizon as you slowly and steadily make your way towards Halifax in Nova Scotia. Home to whitewashed lighthouses topped with red tops and interesting maritime history, head to the Maritime Museum. There, you’ll discover the city’s inextricable link to the Titanic as it received much of the dead. Watch the recreation of Titanic’s luxurious deck chairs along with a sombre reminder of all those who died during that fateful night, including body bags and chests from the ship. The museum also features rare artefacts from multiple shipwrecks across Nova Scotia along with a walkthrough of CSS Acadia, the only ship to have survived both the world wars.

 

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All this roaming will have you hungry in no time. Head to The Press Gang to try out some freshly shucked oysters from the nearby islands including Sober Island and Caribou Island along with the restaurant speciality Clam chowder consisting of mussels and Cod and definitely some seared scallops. No trip to Halifax is complete without a trip to the Stillwell Bar for some local brews and the Highway Man for some tapas and wine. The Ocean may not be the fastest way to travel between Montreal and Halifax but it surely offers a window into the stunning beauty of the Canadian countryside that you wouldn’t be able to experience otherwise.

 

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Related: The French Connection In Canada: Two Days In Montreal, Quebec