Maine March Madness (Acela to Boston)

Discussion in 'Travelogues / Trip Reports' started by MARC Rider, Mar 8, 2019.

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  1. Mar 8, 2019 #1

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    Time for the annual ski trip to New England.  This is the second year I've been leading one to Carrabassett Valley, Maine.  Everyone else just flies up to Portland (Maine, that is, i.e., PWM), but I take the Acela to Boston, rent my car there, drive up to Portland and spend the night before meeting everyone at the airport.  On the way back, I drop off everybody at PWM, continue to drive back to Boston, drop the car, spend a night in Boston, and spend the afternoon riding the Acela home.  Train ride are first class using points in one direction and an upgrade coupon the other way.

    As I've done this trip and described it here previously, I thought that rather than discuss the Acela, it's performance, describe the interesting railway infrastructure and equipment I saw along the way, I will focus on the topic that seems to be of most interest here on Amtrak Unlimited:  The food! :)

    Although my trip started on the first day of my retirement from Federal Service, I actually woke 15 minutes earlier than usual in order to make Acela 2150, my ride to Boston  that leaves at 5:30 AM.  This is sort of weird, because my usual MARC train left at 5:20, but I left the house earlier than usual.  Actually, the taxi driver took about 5 minutes longer to get to the station than I do when I drive, so perhaps it was for the best.  

    The Acela came in on time, and I was seated in my assigned seat, single window seat, facing forward, with full recline (no reverse facing seat behind me). After we left Wilmington, I ordered breakfast.

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    The "breakfast quesdillas."  Oh, here's the menu for both trips:

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    After we left New York, I had another breakfast coming, but I wasn't all that hungry, so I got the fresh fruit plate'

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    After creeping through Metro-North territory (70 mph maximum, usually a lot slower than that), we finally started to pick up speed, although given the track alignment, we couldn't go all that fast until we passed Kingston, RI.  Here's the obligatory 105+mph speed readout.

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    After arriving in Boston, I realized that I had a roller bag, and I had to pick up a large roller duffel and pair of skis at the baggage claim.  Lacking an extra hand to deal with the three pieces, I found a redcap in front of the Club Acela Metropolitan Lounge.  He agreed to hold my one bag while I got the others.  After I retrieved the others, he watched them while I went up to the Metropolitan Lounge and called Enterprise for my car rental.  When they called me back, I wen downstairs, and the helpful redcap wheeled all of my gear out in from of the station where the Enterprise driver was waiting.  Definitely worth the tip.

    Over to Enterprise, rented my car, added the rental to my EZPass account, and then off to lunch at Yankee Lobster, on Seaport Blvd.  The lobster rolls, while still good, are getting kind of expensive.  Back in the car, up Seaport Blvd., right into the Big Dig, turning off on US 1 North to continue to Maine.  A stop at the New Hampshire Liquor Store for some distilled spirits and a couple of bottles of cava to toast my retirement, and then into Portland, with no traffic or weather problems.

    The view of Portland harbor from the rooftop bar at my hotel.

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    Time for dinner.  Portland has developed a reputation for having quite the culinary scene, particularly for a city of its size.  I've tried a number of well-known places before, but wanted to try something new.  In addition, it was close to 15 degrees out, so I wanted something a little closer to the hotel to minimize my walking in the cold.  I selected a place called Davids, in front of the Civil War monument, highly rated on Google Maps and mentioned as a worthy place to try at Chowhound.

    First course was a tuna tartare:

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    Main course was grilled duck breast with cherry sauce.

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    Finally, dessert was an apple-berry crisp with a scoop of vanilla Ice cream.

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    The food was basically pretty good, but I think the saucier was a bit too heavy-handed with the sugar, especially in the tuna tartare.  The duck was really cooked nicely, though.

    I know, there are those who would like Amtrak to serve food like this on Long Distance Train dining cars, but be aware that this meal (along with a glass of shiraz and a cup of coffee cost me something on the order of $85.  And this restaurant is not a real fancy or expensive place.  But everything is cooked to order.

    The next morning I woke up and found that it had snowed a bit.  A good omen for a ski/snowshoe trip.

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    And so we headed north into even more snow, the land where the roads are bounded by 3 to 5 foot high snowbanks and the snow is so deep, if you're not wearing snowshoes you sink up to your knees.

    It was a good weekend in the far cold north, and there's more to come concerning the return trip, including some ranting about Amtrak customer service (or the lack thereof.) But don't worry, it's not all negative, and mostly good, it's just that I might be out some AGR points.
     
  2. Mar 8, 2019 #2

    MARC Rider

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    MARC Rider

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    So we had a good weekend.  The company enjoyed drinking my cava to toast my retirement, and enough people found out that they liked Manhattans that I didn't need to haul back a half-filled bottle of rye whiskey in my luggage.  Oh, yes, there was food, too, and we did go skiing and snowshoeing.  The snow conditions were much better than last year, perfect packed powder and temperatures in the 20s.  Last year the snow was like frozen concrete and temperatures in the mid 30s, freezing a t night, just to annoy us.  And I had a great lunch at Parkside on Main in Rangeley -- fish and chips made with fresh haddock and fried to perfection.  Not a trace of grease.

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    Finally on Monday, we packed up and left in a fairly heavy snowstorm.  The roads were a bit slushy for the first 30 miles, slowing us down a bit.  Then I tried my usual shortcut between Farmington and Livermore Falls that doesn't get quite the same loving attention from the snowplows as the main highway, so we were doing 30 in low gear over packed snow with some fairly steep hills.  Beyond that, the road was more or less clear, and the snow had ended by the time I dropped off my happy campers at PWM.  Then, down I-95 and US 1 right into Boston with absolutely no traffic problems.  You don't always get that kind of luck in Boston.  I turned in my keys to Entrprise, and I was driven to South Station to unload my checked baggage.  The Enterprise driver was fine with driving around the side of the station to the baggage and express dropoff (there's a gate and a guard lets you through.)  So I didn't have to figure our about what to do with two bags and a pair of skis.  Thus, it was at the South Station baggage room where my luck left me.

    The baggage guy looked at my e-ticket and said, "This train has already left."  

    "What do you mean," I replied, "It's not until tomorrow. I just want to check these on 67 tonight."

    "Look at the ticket," he said, and I did.  Whoops.  I booked the wrong date.  It's not the first time I've done that, but I usually catch the goof and fix it before I leave home.  In fact, I did that with one of my hotel reservations for this very trip.

    He told me to straighten it out with the ticket agent, and he would check my bags anyway.  He did charge me the $10 fee for the skis, the first time I've ever had a Boston baggage agent charge me.  But I think there was a supervisor hanging around.  So I go to the ticket agent and show him my e-ticket, and he says, "This is an AGR points redemption (which it was), we can't handle that."  He gave me a phone number, and so I retreated into the Metropolitan Lounge to do battle with the Amtrak call center.  I definitely lost that battle.  First I tried calling the AGR number he gave me.  The phone would answer and then I would be instantly disconnected. After a couple of times of this, I remembered the old definition of insanity, that of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  Then I tried the regular 1-800-USA-RAIL, and got stuck in an endless hold.  Then I logged on to my AGR account and found a different number than the one given me by the ticket agent.  I called it and as disconnected just as instantly.  Finally I said the hell with it, hauled out my laptop, logged into Amtrak.com after a lot of difficulty connecting to the wifi  and booked myself another points redemption for tomorrow.  I figured I'd write a letter to Amtrak Customer Relations or AGR, or whoever can give me satisfaction concerning the lost points and a rant about how how the various call centers are inaccessible at 4PM on a Monday afternoon.  Maybe I'll send a cc to Mr. Anderson and whoever is in charge of the relevant congressional oversight committees.  In any event, I rebooked, the point price wan't that bad considering I was booking the day before, but the seat selection in First Class was terrible.  Only about 3 seats left, they booked me in an aisle facing backward with a forward facing seat in from of me (limited seat recline.)  I was able to change it to what I thought was a forward facing aisle seat with a forward facing seat behind me, so I's have full recline.  More on that semi-fiasco later.

    Tired out from that business, I went down into the bowels of the T, whipped out my CharlieCard and bought a 1 day pass.  My hotel was down by Tufts Medical Center, and I could have gone back upstairs and found the Silver Line 4 bus, but it was getting cold out, so I chose the subway.  There were two flights of escalators, the first one to the Silver Line platforms had a down escalator, but only an up escalator from the Red Line, so I had to clump my bag down the stairs.  Then there was Downtown Crossing and the transfer to the Orange Line and the exit at Tufts, which required hauling the bag up a full flight of stairs.  There is an elevator at the Tufts station, but I'd have to go up a flight of stairs outside to reach the hotel on Tremont St.  What the hell, at least I can still haul suitcases up and down stairs, I shouldn't complain.  Now checked into the hotel, checked in with home, it was time for a night out on the town in Boston.
     
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  3. Mar 8, 2019 #3

    cpotisch

    cpotisch

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    Great report! Thanks for sharing it with us, and many congrats on your retirement! :)

    Sorry to hear about your bad luck with your ticket back. I've had too many issues over the years with agents screwing up the dates of travel. Sometimes they just get it wrong when we're first booking it, and other times they mess up while later on while I'm trying to make some other modification (like going from a Roomette to a Bedroom). One time I had simply called to ask what an upgrade would cost, and then declined because that figure was just too high, but the agent somehow sent a new ticket that had us traveling on two totally different dates. I want to emphasize that I didn't say or ask anything about different dates, and all the call discussed was what an upgrade to a Bedroom would cost, yet the agent found a way to change our ticket to be two days earlier, without saying a word about it. Of course, the moment I noticed this (which was a few hours after the call), I immediately called USA-RAIL and had them fix the dates (fortunately the price hadn't risen at that point), but I still think about the fact that if I hadn't happen to check my email that soon, I would have had no idea the change had been made, and the price for the right dates likely would have gone up before I could fix the issue.

    Best of luck getting them to return your points.
     
  4. Mar 8, 2019 #4

    MARC Rider

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    At this point, my plans for a night out were fairly simple.  A couple of cocktails at Drink on Congress St., then a stroll over to the North end for some Italian food, pick up a box of cookies at Mikes Pastry on Hanover St. and call it a night.  Which is pretty much what I did.

    Instead of returning to the South Station area by the subway, I decided to try out the Silver Line.  SL4 runs directly from the Tufts Medical Center station to South Station (well, really on Essex St. across the street from South Station) with only one stop.  Well, actually a lot more stops when you count red lights and cars blocking the narrow streets of Chinatown, but only one stop where passengers board or leave.  I was pretty impressed with the way the driver wrangled that big articulated bus through the narrow streets, but this is not Bus Rapid Transit by any means.  Also, the "South Station" stop was across the street and we had to step through a pile of rapidly freezing slushy snow as we alighted from the bus.

    It was getting dark and cold as I walked across the Congress St. Bridge past a couple of replicas of the ships involved in the Boston Tea Party.  (Fun fact:  One of the people involved in the Tea Party was the owner of the ships, essentially dumping his own cargo overboard.  The British weren't letting the ships leave without unloading the cargo, they couldn't unload the cargo without paying the tax that nobody wanted to pay, and the ship owner just wanted his ships out at sea making money, not tied up at the dock.)  Drink is one of the places that pioneered the "craft cocktail" craze.  It's sort of unmarked, but eventually I found it.  I was in the mood for whisky based cocktails, and the bartender prepared for me something called a Greepoint, which is basically a Manhattan with yellow Chartreuse and something called a Gold Rush, which is basically a whisky sour made with honey syrup.  To soak up the alcohol, I had "duck tots," which were home-made tater tots with pieces of duck confit.  They were tasty and the sanbal ketchup was nice, but I didn't really taste much duck.

    When I got out, it was colder and darker, so I cancelled my plans for walking over to the North End, and walked back to South Station and the T.

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    Emerging from the subterranean gloom at Haymarke I made my way over to Hanover Street, and, after some thought, decided on the Prix Fixe menu at Vinotecca di Monica on Richmond St.  This was a 3 courses with wine pairings for $55 (though with tax and tip the final bill was closer to $70.)  First course was asparagus with and mini-omelette in a pasto-ish sauce accompanied by a light Italian white wine, the name of which I forgot.

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    The pasta course was thin ribbon of home-made pasta with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shavings and prosciutto with an olive-oil based sauce. This was paired with a Valpolicella.  Mmm, it was very good.

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    Finally, the main course was a chicken marsala, accompanied by a Sicilian red, the name of which I again forgot.  Very tasty.  I even have to admit it's better than the chicken marsala I make.

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    After all this food and drink, I was kind of stuffed, so I decided to pass on dessert right then, but after I walked it off a bit by going over to Mike's Pastry to get a box of cookies for the family, I ducked into a nearby coffee shop and got a cannoli and a latte.  That was it, it was too cold out to walk around, so back to Haymarket, the Orange Line, and my hotel.
     
  5. Mar 8, 2019 #5

    Bob Dylan

    Bob Dylan

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    When in Boston good Food and Drink help make up for the fact that you're not in New York! :giggle:
     
  6. Mar 10, 2019 #6

    OBS

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    Thanks for the report and Congrats on retirement!
     
  7. Mar 23, 2019 #7

    MARC Rider

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    OK, I guess it's time to finish my account of this trip. When we left off, I was in Boston, coming home from an evening out on the North End, rather stuffed from a 3-course Italian dinner topped off by a cannoli and latte. I awoke the next morning and slept a bit later than I had planned, but not to late to miss by 1:00 PM train. I dressed, packed up and went down to the lobby to check out. That's when I found out that Boston was hosting a meeting of the American Physics Society, which explained why every hotel room in the city was so overpriced. If I run this trip next year, I am definitely going to check on whether Boston is osting anything that week.

    Out the door, I hit the 20 degree (F) cold. Getting to the elevator at the Orange line station involved walking around the block, and I picked the wrong way around, as there was construction and unshoveled banks of ice-hard refrozen snow. But I didn't have to wrassle my bag down the steps to the subway platform, at least not at Tufts. Downtown Crossing was another matter, but it was only one flight down. Then there were up escalators at South Station. I wheel my bags to South Station up to the redcap. This guy, Jack, was very helpful. He took care of my bags while I was running around in the morning, and suggested a place for breakfast across the street, lots more character than the corporate chain stuff in the station



    Susan's Deli on Essex St., right in front of the SL4 bus stop. After my overindulgence the night before, I didn't want much more than a bagel with a schmear, which was provided and was good. Apparently the breakfast sandwiches are very good, and everything seemed reasonably priced.

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    My initial plan for joyriding before my Acela left was to ride the Blue Line to Wonderland, take the bus to Lynn, and return back on the MBTA commuter train. But I was a little late, and it didn't seem like I could do it with a safe enough padding, especially considering the time need to get to South Station from North Station. So I just rode the Blue Line to Revere Beach. This involved the Red line to Park St., the Green Line to Government Center, where I caught the Blue Line. (Well, I could have walked, but it really was cold outside. Anyway, this allowed me to ride on all 4 of Boston's subway lines on one day.)

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    What a fine, white powdery sand beach :)! According to the sign, Revere Beach has the distinction of being the first public beach in the United States.

    As you can imagine, with the temperature in the low 20s and the wind blowing stiff off the water, I didn't stay out that long. Back to the T (which was just across the street) and time to gawk at the unique rolling stock, which can on on both overhead catenary and third rail power.

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    Back into Boston, on what is a fairly scenic ride, with views of the water and salt marshes, an interesting looking hilly seaside neighborhood (Beachmont) and views of the airport. I decided to get off at Aquarium and walk back to South Station. This was a bit of a mistake, mostly due to the windy cold, although the bright sunshine in my eyes didn't help either. In any event, I got back to the station with plenty of time to lounge around in the Metropolitan Lounge until Jack, the redcap, came by and took me (and my bags) out to the train.

    Here a bit of an unpleasant surprise greeted me. Apparently they hadn't had time to turn the train, and so the first class car was at the "wrong" end of the train. This meant that my reserved seat was now facing backwards instead of in the direction of travel. It didn't really matter until we got to New York, as the First Class car was pretty sparsely populated until New York, and the attendants said we could sit where we wanted until then. I spent some time sitting across the aisle between Westerly and New Haven enjoying the coastal scenery, at least I did when the sun wasn't shining into my face.

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    For lunch I picked the chicken rouldade accompanied by a couple of glasses of the Korbel brut. A tasty lunch, and the portion side was just what I wanted after the humongous Italian dinner I had the night before.

    After a good deal of 40 mph running between New Haven and New Rochelle, we finally reached New York. 20190305_163655(0).jpg
    Over the Hell Gate Bridge.

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    Manhattan skyline from (I think) the Bronx side of the Hell Gate Bridge.

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    As we were passing Sunnyside Yard, I noticed the two elevated transit lines that seem to provide a great view of the yards. Which lines are these? It might be worth a trip to New York to ride them and take a look.

    At New York, the car filled up with business types (well, it was about 5 PM or so). Even though they kept saying First Class was sold out, it turns out that the seat next to mine remained unoccupied the whole way back to Baltimore. The two seats facing me, however, were occupied by two guys who were doing the classic work on the laptop, talk on the phone at the same time thing, but otherwise the rest of the ride was uneventful. I had the lamb tagine for dinner. It was OK, but not quite as good as the one I had in January

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    This was accompanied by 2 glasses of Woodford's bourbon on the rocks. Given that they have a real generous pour (like they put in a few ice cubes and then fill the glass to the rim with the bourbon), I'm not sure I should have had 2. But I did, and I was able to remain upright when I detrained in Baltimore. My baggage was waiting, and the baggage guy helped my with my stuff to take it out to the car, where my wife was parked in the pickup zone. Then a quick drive home, and that was my last Amtrak (or MARC) ride, at least for now. It's weird not getting up every morning to ride the rails, but I'm sure I'll be riding again soon.
     
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  8. Mar 23, 2019 #8

    MARC Rider

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    Um, I think the new software censors "naughty" words. I had described crossing a bridge that spans a stretch of the East River called "He ll" Gate, and the software replaced the proper name with "**** Gate." I'm not sure whether this can be fixed, but if it can't I would recommend that this software not be used on any discussion sites that are focused on theological matters.
     
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  9. Mar 23, 2019 #9

    OBS

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    Thanks for the rest of the report. Yes, Susan's deli makes wonderful breakfast sandwiches! Many Atk employees eat there!
     
  10. Mar 24, 2019 #10

    AmtrakBlue

    AmtrakBlue

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    The old software **** out certain words, so I don't think you can blame it on the new software
     
  11. Mar 25, 2019 #11

    Ryan

    Ryan

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    We’ll just have to rename it “Heck Gate”.
     
  12. Mar 25, 2019 #12

    jis

    jis

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    Or take a “positive” approach and rechristen it “Heaven Gate”.

    IMHO this selective auto-blocking of words has always been stupid and continues to be so.
     
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  13. Mar 25, 2019 #13

    Mystic River Dragon

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    I enjoyed your report very much--thanks for posting it:).

    I have seen snow on sand before, and it always strikes me as beautiful but very odd--like two seasons colliding.

    I think that, in retirement, you will find that not having to ride the rails every day will give way to the wonderful chance to make your own schedule and do whatever you want (including riding the rails you actually want to ride for fun)! Congratulations!:)
     
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