Part 1--Wandering West.
September 23--Took 91 Trenton to Alexandria, VA--in a roomette, which was the same price as business class on the regional, so no contest. Was going to start the trip with a leisurely tourist visit in Alexandria, but it was too hot to do anything.
September 24--Sunday: Cardinal ALX to CHI. Started from ALX about an hour late because a certain freight railroad (can we spell "CSX"?) hadn't gotten the proper paperwork ready for the train to go all of the 15 minutes between WAS and ALX. After that, things were fine, and the Cardinal made up most of the time. The Cardinal is quirky, but in a nice way--OBS would appear, then disappear--the dining car steward announced, after the meals were over in the morning, to let him know if anyone needed their beds put up (huh? )--my SCA was a very nice man, but I had to track him down when I needed something). Once you get used to a sort of Alice in Wonderland atmosphere, the Cardinal is just fine. It was dark much of the way the first day, so I didn't see much scenery. I had no idea of the beauty that I would see on the way back.
Chicago (and from now on, I've forgotten dates) overnight. Still too hot to do anything. Went out and looked at the Tribune Tower, found Fannie May chocolates, went and stared at the Tribune Tower, found Ghirardelli chocolates, drawn like a moth to a flame to the Tribune Tower. Next morning, walked a little bit along the river and sat and watched the boat traffic.
Empire Builder: Chicago to Portland. Checked into the Metropolitan Lounge--much nicer than I expected--I especially like the upstairs and "mezzanine" areas, which not as many people have found. Some other AUers there, which I didn't know til the day of traveling, so it was nice to have company. First time on a Superliner, and I liked it very much. Our SCA was a nice young man, but he had been in the Marine Reserves and away for a while, so he wasn't familiar with the routine. He had several AUers to help him . I found the scenery on the EB challenging. Out of Chicago was fine--farms with animals, a bit of the Mississippi River--but when we got to North Dakota and Montana, there was nothing there but some really bored-looking cows. Being from NJ, it was a bit odd to look out and see nothing for miles. I was rescued by two delightful farmers from Wisconsin who explained what the crops were, when and how they should be harvested, why what was planted where, etc. I had a nice minicourse in agriculture and it made things much clearer. The people in general on the trains were very nice, but some of the nicest were on the EB going west. And then we got to Glacier National Park, which I found very frightening because I am afraid of mountains and did not look.
Next morning, the reward was having a delicious boxed breakfast in the Sightseer Lounge watching the sun come up over the Columbia River--beautiful river into Portland!
One of the highlights of the entire trip, however, was not scenery--it was the coffee truck in Minot, ND! I had a delicious hot chocolate with whipped cream. The lady served the train passengers, then every once in a while would go to the window on the other side, which was a drive-up!
Portland: Nice dinner the first evening with two AUers, then the Gathering activities, and a nice meal toward the end with some more AUers. I stayed an extra day and went to the Portland Zoo, which was very nice--especially the sea otter, who put on a little show of his own for us! Enjoyed the Gathering very much.
Coast Starlight Portland to Sacramento: Took a side trip to visit my cousin in California--we met in Sacramento and had a lovely visit. I went to the Rail Museum the day before she arrived and truly enjoyed that. She and I had lunch on the Delta King boat, and of course talked and talked and talked and caught up! My SCA on the way down was Miriam, who was wonderful.
Part 2: The Journey Home and General Impressions
Same trains back--Coast Starlight Sacramento to Portland. Spent a lot of time in the Pacific Parlor Car and had a lunch there. My SCA was Robin--she was terrific. Mountains there, too, but not as bad because there were so many trees on them, all changing color. Stayed overnight in Portland.
Empire Builder Portland to Chicago: I knew what to expect this time. Watched the Columbia River as far as I could before it got dark. Next morning, we got to Glacier National Park and I made myself look the whole way through. I'm glad I did, because it was beautiful. Through MT and ND, read a book I got at the Rail Museum. Then we got to ride along the Mississippi in daylight for a couple of hours, which was very nice. Our SCA was Stephanie, who was wonderful--she had games and books and magazines and had a trivia contest on train songs and in general made the trip very enjoyable.
Three fantastic SCAs: Miriam, Robin, and Stephanie. All longtime Amtrak employees.
Chicago for several nights. I had switched to the hotel I stayed at on the way out, because I really liked it and it was convenient to everything I wanted to see. Went to the Art Institute, looked at the river and the Wrigley building and the Tribune Tower lit up at night while eating chocolate ice cream from Ghirardellis, just walked and looked at all the different buildings, had breakfast at Yolk one day and lunch at Wildberries the next. Tried to go to lunch at the Walnut Room in Macys but spent an hour getting lost in there and then there was a crowd behind me, so will do that the next visit. Saw the bean, which I didn't think I'd like, but did. Missed the lake because the park had a ton of bees in there, so will have to see that on another trip.
Last day in Chicago, it rained heavily, so I gave up the idea of going to the American Writers Museum. Went to the station early, because the Cardinal said service disruption, so I thought I would switch to the Cap. Ltd. (having vouchers to make up the difference if it was more) but when I got there, they told me everything with my train was fine.
Well, it sort of was--we left late because our OBS crew was the same one coming in on the late train. They jumped off that train and onto ours, with no break. And they were wonderful. My SCA was Jay--he helped out in the dining car, while the SCA next door took care of the sleeping cars. Then they switched off, and he helped in the sleepers while she went and helped elsewhere. I think they must have spelled each other for a few hours of sleep each.
I was not ready for the incredible beauty that met us in West Virginia. Mountains, but nurturing, calming mountains and the beautiful New River Gorge and people fishing and waving at us and houses nestling between the river and the mountains. And the courtesy and wonderful, gentle accents of the conductors in West Virginia.
Trains: I liked them all: the Cardinal for its quirkiness and small-town feel, the EB for the Columbia River Gorge and the nice people I met, the CS for the varied scenery and the PPC.
Cities: Portland has wonderful coffee, excellent meals from food trucks, an excellent commuter rail system, and a lovely zoo. And, of course, the city was fun because of visiting with my AU friends, old and new.
But it has a bad homeless problem that it refuses to address (no point in helping them, because of course they aren't there--this is Portand, and we are just too cool to have any problems). And on the other end, the trendiness is just too wacky--they may want to be weird, but they are driving regular tourists away.
Sacramento: Tower Bridge is one of the loveliest bridges I have ever seen, especially with the sun on it in the morning. I loved the Rail Museum and the river and even the weather, because although it was hot in the afternoons, the mornings were beautifully cool. I like boats and trains and rivers, and Sacramento has all three. The biggest surprise was walking down a street around the corner from the Rail Museum--there was a boardwalk, with salt water taffy and ice cream and funnel cake . I looked to the left, half expecting to be down the Shore and see the Atlantic Ocean, but there was just a freeway. Very strange but cool feeling to see those types of stores--made me feel at home, even all the way across the country.
Chicago. Remember when I started planning this trip and I was afraid to go to Chicago and some of you persuaded me to stay there a couple of days and give it a chance?
I found Portland somewhat annoying. I liked Sacramento.
And I fell head over heels in love with Chicago. The people are polite and friendly, there are so many styles of buildings to look at, and it is just a lovely city. I am glad it is just an overnight trip on the Cap Ltd., because I most certainly want to go back.
Favorite state that I went through: I went all across the country looking for wonderful scenery, and enjoyed the variety and the adventure. But I know now the very best is close to home: West Virginia on the eastbound Cardinal.
One last note--on the Cardinal, just before Manassas, I saw three VRE trainsets, so now I know where they go to rest for the weekend. Some of you know I love VRE, so it was the perfect nice touch to end the trip.
Edited by Mystic River Dragon, 16 October 2017 - 05:23 PM.