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Rail guru takes train 7,000 miles from London to Canada

When he saw the fare, The Man in Seat 61 refused to fly to North America

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 14 August 2019 16:59
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Interview with 'The man in seat 61' on his way to Victoria Columbia for tea

The name on the side of the train on platform 11 at Britain’s busiest railway station is intended to inspire adventure: “Destination Weymouth.”

But Mark Smith, the international rail guru known as The Man in Seat 61, left the 11.35am from London Waterloo at Southampton, after the first stage of his quest for a cup of tea in Victoria.

The Smith family – Mark, his wife Nicolette, their son Nathaniel, 13, and daughter Katelijn, 10 – are heading for a tea room on the Pacific coast of North America.

“I’ve made it difficult for myself: I’ve decided to go to Victoria, British Columbia, for 7,032 miles, without flying, for a cup of tea,” says Mr Smith.

The final destination is the Fairmont Empress Hotel, overlooking the water in the capital of British Columbia – “with a modern, chic ambiance highlights by a selection of 21 loose-leaf teas, including our famous Empress Blend,” claims the hotel.

On the day that more painful train fare increases are revealed, The Man in Seat 61 is in cabin 4101 aboard Queen Mary 2, 1,000 miles west of Bishop’s Rock at England’s southwestern tip.

“Sea moderate, wind southwesterly force 5,” he reports.

The ship is due to arrive at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in New York City early on Sunday morning, 18 August.

“After one night in New York, we’re hopping on the Maple Leaf Amtrak train up to Toronto, and then crossing Canada on the stainless-steel “Streamliner”, The Canadian, which takes four days and four nights to get from Toronto to Vancouver – about another 3,000 miles.”

Mr Smith was planning an adventure to Canada, flying out to Toronto and back from Vancouver, and taking the train between the two cities. But the cheapest “open-jaw” flights he could find in August cost £900 each. He organised the luxury cruise – or “crossing”, as he prefers to call the voyage to New York – for only a few hundred pounds more.

Even though flying would save many days of terrestrial travel for the family, Mr Smith says they needed no persuasion.

“All three of them bit my hand off: Queen Mary 2 crossing with Cunard to New York. The Big Apple, Canada, the wide open prairies, the Rockies…

“We’re all really looking forward to it. It’ll be a jolly good cup of tea. Tea at the Empress is rather like tea at the Ritz, only Canadian style.”

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