Early start on Friday to catch an uber down to Union Station Los Angeles for the Coast Starlight train north. I checked out the Amtrak lounge as I had a business class ticket, but it was a smallish lounge, nothing spectacular. Whereas the main part of Union station is amazing, a lot of it original. Very ornate chambers and original waiting room chairs, shoe shine benches, chandeliers etc.
When the train arrived in the track you get the first sense of how big these Superliners are. Double decker carriages that connect to each other on the upper level, and the train itself is extremely long. I walked right up the front to take a photo which meant I missed the best choice of seats in the upper level of the business class car, though I was lucky enough to still get one on the coast side, it wasn’t one with full window view. As I sat there, fiddling with the seat and finding the best position, I started to wonder what I was in for, I was going to be on this train for 11 hours! And many more trains in the weeks to come. Temporary despondency arrived, however after a few hours on the train this departed as you slowly relax into the non-hurried train atmosphere. These are definitely not high speed trains.
Business class seating in the upper level is nothing special, they are the same seats and legroom you get in Coach class, however you’re pretty much guaranteed an empty seat beside you. So like on the plane I could stretch out and have my stuff scattered conveniently around. I opted for a reservation in the dining car for lunch and had the first of what I suspect will be a number of deconstructed cheeseburgers. Instead of it coming in burger style, it arrives with the bottom half of the bun, the burger and cheese on top, but everything else decoratively arranged around the plate, and it’s up to you to construct it yourself. Also a couple of ‘pickle spears’, as if sliced pickle isn’t enough!
In the dining car, I met a couple travelling all the way to Seattle in Business class seats. This would be another 24 hours on top of my 11 hours, and I thought I had it bad! I’m very glad that my upcoming overnight trips are booked in roomette accommodation where I will hopefully be able to sleep!
The train line doesn’t make it into San Francisco, only into Oakland on the other side of the bay. So at 9:40pm you are politely kicked off the train and onto a ‘Thruway’ bus that takes you the rest of the way into the city, over the enormously long Bay Bridge. You are then less politely kicked off the bus in a temporary bus terminal (they are rebuilding the proper one), by this stage definitely exhausted and worn out and looking forward to a bed. Uber it is and shortly thereafter I arrive at my hotel, The Urban.
The Urban is a cross between a hostel and a hotel. Private rooms with shared restrooms and showers. Though unlike the hostels I’m used to in Australia, the facilities are not one giant room full of cubicles and sinks, but private individual rooms that you occupy yourself for the required duration. They are of hotel quality and there are enough on each floor that I haven’t had to wait yet. For suffering the minor indignity of having to leave your room to visit a bathroom you save a considerable amount of money per night as San Francisco is one of the more expensive cities to stay in.
My one big complaint about the room is that the floor is on quite an angle. Whether from a previous earthquake is probably not worth pondering too much. This wouldn’t be a big issue except the bed is also as a result on quite an angle. I sacrificed my Game of Thrones book, thankfully quite a thick volume, tearing it in half to prop up a bed leg at each end. This reduces the angle but doesn’t eliminate it. Thankfully there are two pillows so you can use one to prop yourself up and reduce the risk of falling out of bed. I must say I am looking forward to Glenwood Springs which will be my first ‘proper’ hotel, after this angled sleeping experience and the LA AirBnB.
On the train I took part in the wine tasting in the Pacific Parlour Car. This is the only way business class passengers can see this car as it is otherwise reserved for sleeping car passengers. I wasn’t overly impressed with the car itself.
During the wine tasting I was chatting to a San Francisco native who strongly recommended Alcatraz as worth visiting. His thoughts were that although it had a very touristy reputation it was definitely something worth doing, though availability could be limited. Back in my seat later, I looked up tours on my phone and was lucky enough to grab the last Adult ticket for Saturday. I could tell it was the last because I tried to change the time while it was in the cart, and suddenly there were none left. This was very lucky as when I arrived at the Alcatraz Landing, the next available tickets were for the 11th October…
Sure enough, the trip over to the island and the tour of the prison were excellent. By happy coincidence, this was also day 2 of the San Francisco Air Show, with jets flying over the bay, and Alcatraz Island happens to be one of the best viewing spots! Saw lots of interesting planes and formation flying, including the US Blue Angles, and a United 747 fly-by. The bay was absolutely cram packed with boats as it is also Fleet Week.
One nice thing about a hostel kinda hotel is the included laundry facilities. Had already scoped out a laundromat one block up the hill, but the hotel has its own commercial machines. Just need a ready supply of quarters, about the only useful US coin there is it seems to me. The others are just accumulating in my backpack.
Dinner was another deconstructed cheeseburger in an Irish bar around the corner. My companions at the bar were a couple from Kansas City who were quite happy to chat and exchange tales about the differences between Australia and the US. Tried a couple of local beers and the best one was ‘Moose Drool Dark Ale’, very impressive despite the odd name.
Today, Sunday, I took a bus tour to the Muir Woods and Sausalito. The Muir Woods are one of the few opportunities to check out California Redwoods. They are very impressive trees, and the park is a beautiful spot to spend some time. Ironically, on the way to look at these Californian trees, we passed by many many stands of Eucalypts, at a guess Mountain Ash. The driver informed us that following the 1906 earthquake, the city was looking for a quick source of lumber and imported Eucalyptus trees, however later found out they weren’t suited, but the trees themselves loved the climate and flourished. You can now see them all over the place, including one on Alcatraz, and the smell is enough to make me quite nostalgic for home already!
From Sausalito, a little sea-side town on the other side of the bay (we crossed the Golden Gate bridge on the way over), I took a ferry back to San Francisco’s ferry building and the Embarcadero. I wandered over to the California Cable car line, and after a wait, boarded the cable car tram towards Van Ness. This was quite a thrilling experience sitting on a bench facing the street with nothing to stop you falling forwards except for your grip on a nearby pole. Meanwhile the car is trundling first up seriously steep hills (some of the hills around are a 41 degree grade), and then more disconcertingly, rumbling quite fast down the other side. I would have taken more photos if I had another hand or two to hold onto my backpack AND the pole!
Tomorrow sees me back on another Thruway bus to Emeryville and onto my first overnight train from Emeryville to Glenwood Springs, a 26 hour journey. I may well need to take advantage of the hot mineral springs when I get there!