View From the Train

Being a coastal dweller, I sometimes finding myself dismissing that huge mass of land between the ocean as "flat and boring". Yet every time I am exposed to said countryside, I am always reminded that it has bushels of beauty. Traveling through the true countryside, away from interstates, truck stops, and billboards, I gained an even greater appreciation of this particular chunk of our fair country.

Cruising over the mountain pass in the Cascades was great. The pass over the Montanan Rockies was even better. We encountered a bit of a snow storm round about Glacier National Park*. I liked taking pictures of the snow. The rest of Montana impressed me as well, with its rolling hills and vast plains(/grazing land, I assume). I thoroughly enjoyed spending the evening knitting while watching the lazy scenery roll on by. Unfortunately, our passage through North Dakota was in the night, so I didn't see much. I'm told, however, that it is very similar to Eastern Montana.

Besides the great landscape, it was neat to see the little towns. I got to get off and walk around in a few. Others we saw fly by at 50 miles an hour. There was a certain charm to the towns that was noticeable even at 50 mph*. Most of these places aren't experiencing the population expansion like so much of the NW, so the stores along main street are the same ones that have been there for years. (Or perhaps I am assuming too much. A brief glimpse and a lot of time to ponder can lead a person to do that.*).

Anyway, I just wanted to add this outside-the-train evidence to my previous post regarding internal evidence of why train travel kicks ass. I'm just sorry I don't have more photographic evidence.
Saturday March 22 2008File under: travel, USA

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Empire Builder

I *heart* train travel.

Before, most of my railway experiences were either in places where train travel was the norm* (Asia and Europe) or only for short distances here in the U.S. (Seattle to Portland, Northeastern Corridor, etc.). I had heard mixed reviews of Amtrak's cross-country service so was a little anxious about the trip*. After the fact, thought, I am glad to say that Amtrak's cross-country service on the Empire Builder couldn't have impressed me more.

Without going too much into detail, let me just highlight what has turned me into such trainophile, at least regarding this trip. For one, I was blown away by how much leg room each seat has. We are talking quite a bit more than first class on an airplane. You can keep your luggage at your feet, if you so desire, and still have space to comfortably sprawl. The seats themselves are on the upside of comfortable. There are foot rests and leg rests that fold out from under the seat*. One could wish for the ability to recline slightly more* but was still more comfortable than a plane*. The convenience of the boarding (/layover) process is also worthy of note. You don't have to take off your shoes, check your luggage 3 times, or empty your bags of all liquid and gel substances. You show up and then you get on the train. And at the station stops, you could hop off, have a quick stroll to stretch your legs, snap a few pictures, then hop back on without anyone hassling you for a ticket or anything. Speaking of stretching your legs, while in transit, there is plenty of space to get up and walk around. Plus, there are destinations to walk to: the diner car*, the lounge car, and the observation car (which was really the hip place to be). Lastly, the views couldn't be beat. (More about that later*.)

Can you tell I enjoyed myself? While there were certain unpleasantnesses associated with passing 48 hours in a relatively enclosed space, I couldn't help constantly comparing the experience to that of the alternative. The train came out on top 9 out of 10 times. If I was to do it again, the only possible changes I would make would be 1) try to convince someone to ride with me (it's so much friendlier with two) or 2) look closer at the possibility of getting a sleeper car (in my initial investigations, I didn't pick up on the fact that meals are included in the price of your roomette.)

While I concede that the train isn't approriate for all situations*, I encourage people to not discount it when they are considering their next trip.
Friday March 21 2008File under: travel, USA

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Eastbound Train

Spring is in the air; trees blooming, baseballers spring training, me only needing 3 wool blankets on my bed in the garage, and, as is kind of becoming a pattern, me feeling the need to go out on an adventure. This itchiness for adventure that has been popping up in my life over the past couple years (and my increasing willingness to give in to it) interests me greatly. I could try to dissect it ("seeking answers to life's persistent questions"*, yada yada yada), but I'm hardly qualified.

This incarnation of adventure isn't going to be nearly as bold as some of the others–no circuses, scooters, or international travel, although anything could happen. Maybe even calling it an "adventure" is a stretch. Perhaps I should downgrade it grammatically to merely a "trip". Oh those pesky semantics.

Here's the plan so far: go east. My hopeful itinerary includes Chicago, Boston, NYC, Portland (Maine), Phillie, Baltimore, Ohio, North Carolina, and points in between. I leave on the first leg this afternoon: Seattle to Chicago by train. The ride is slated to take 48 hours and I've got my books, crosswords, and knitting all ready. I chose the train for a number of reasons; comfort, convenience*, purty views of North Dakota, and environmental concerns (more on that later, hopefully). Anyway, the hope is to see friends along the way so if you live in an aforementioned place and might have time for lunch, dinner, or an insider's tour of your town, drop me an e-mail and we'll work something out.
Tuesday March 18 2008File under: travel, USA

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