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Jim & Julie's Rail Travelogue
With the Amtrak/VIA North American Rail Pass
http://www.trainweb.com/travelogues/2002/2002j18a.html

From: julenow@juno.com

Greetings from the Jim/Julie Travelog-rail this time,

When we return home I look at it as work-sort mail, yard trimming etc. It takes about a week after each trip to get caught up. Consequently I'm constantly planning another trip to leave ASAP because as our friends the Prouts said..." there are so many beautiful places to see/you meet the nicest people/get educated each day and so little time." The subject trip was something very few people do and it was so good that I've already put together another adventure for next year. Want to join us?

EXPECTATIONS: When we began our clickety clack travels with Dave/Ginny Bousquet (ages 70 and 65, but think their 55 with their unflappable adventurous attitude) we anticipated card playing; riding 20 different trains; sleeping 19 nights on the trains and 12 in hotels; traveling 20166 miles at a cost of $.13-14/mile per person; two clothes washing times in Boston/Toronto; traveling through 41 of the lower 48 states and most of the Canadian provinces; having the same five items to choose from per meal on Amtrak; reading; watching the scenery for animals; arriving regularly late on Amtrak and having them create some misadventure for us. (all the above occurred except the latter as we were close to being on time; early on Canada's Via Rail; the surprises were a couple of hotels). The North American Rail Pass at $427.50 gives a person unlimited 30 day coach riding. The money comes in for food, the hotels and upgrades for the sleeping car accommodations which include the meals.

ACTUAL RESULTS: [Trip began October 18, 2002. -Ed.] None of us tired of schlepping the bags/rail travel. It was always an adventure to see something new. On the Coast Starlight between Los Angeles to Emeryville(Oakland) the very nice Parlour car was removed since it had asbestos in it and the state of Washington had denied its entry until it was removed. We had a sightseer/dome car in its place. An obnoxious person was put off the train in Paso Robles into the arms of the police.

The next day we caught the Zephyr to Chicago where Julie and I won an Amtrak deck of cards by correctly identifying the only collegiate athlete to have been drafted by all three major sports-Dave Winfield. We strained to pick up the World Series game via radio.

It's a short 20 hours (925 miles) from Chicago to New Orleans where we had dinner at Emeril Lagasse's NOLA restaurant. Since a bridge was out, we backed up 10 miles to arrive in Memphis. The towns in Mississippi/Louisiana are decrepit with lots of trash/junk around. Amtrak's food prices have increased with a chicken pot pie at lunch being $8 and yet at dinner a great filet mignon complete meal was only $18.50(included in our sleeping car cost). Ridership in October/November is very light and we rarely had to wait to eat our meals on the white linen table cloth tables. Our sleeping cars were half filled unlike summer where you have to reserve several months in advance.

Upon arriving in Miami I noticed a dead vulture on the front of the engine. Hotel.com said our hotel was close to the Amtrak station, but a $34 one way cab ride in sticky humid weather said differently. Viewliner(not Superliner) sleeping cars from Miami to New York( 27 hours and a 30 degree change) and later from Washington D.C. to New Orleans were superior economy bedrooms with a toilet in them instead of down the hall plus a DVD player(Men in Black II; Mr. Deeds, Ya Ya Sisterhood) with better lighting. It was nice to be in the upper bunk and have lots of head space with a window.

It was the end of October and the leaves were beautifully late in changing their colors; red/orange/yellow and green. During our three hour layover we toured the National Postal Museum in D.C. All the trains between Washington D.C. and Boston are powered by overhead electricity at 110 miles/hour for most trains except the new Acela Express at 150 miles/hour with a very smooth ride. (The Acela regional trains still have the old equipment so you want to be on their Express to experience the best Amtrak has to offer). The door between the cars is clear so you can see into the next car and it's flat/smoother walking between cars where the doors open automatically. All seats have tables with computer outlets and we played cards for the five hour run with the train being half filled. It was here that we made the acquaintance of the Mayor and his staff from Sorrento, Italy who gave us a small bottle of lemon liqueur. The Acela Express saves 90 minutes off this run, when compared to other trains, and is the only train with a TV, which was in the cafe car showing CNN.

On Sunday we took a day trip on the Downeaster from Boston to Portland, Maine with lunch being a tasty 1 1/2 lb. lobster roll at the Doubletree hotel next to the train station. We recommend spending the $8 to upgrade to Business Class for all the non alcoholic drinks you can consume, a newspaper and more comfortable seats. Again the fall colors were beautiful on this three hour one way trip. End part one!

31 Day Train Trip- Part Two

The only big city station that was below par was Atlanta-small, no parking and no first class lounge. It was good that Atlanta was just a 30 minute crew change stop and not where we were boarding. Reaching New Orleans again we had the morning available and we took the local bus to a good zoo where we saw two white Bengal tigers and some monkeys/birds we've never seen before.

Arriving in Chicago(so many trains go through this town) at 10A.M. we made our noon reservation for a nice Italian lunch at Coco Pazzo's and then a $20 cab ride to the very interesting Science and Industry Museum. We enjoyed walking through the diesel powered Pioneer Zephyr("Silver Streak") which in 1934 averaged 80 miles/hour from Denver to Chicago. This signalled the end of steam power which was finally phased out approx. 17 years later. In the farming exhibit I had fun climbing up in a big modern Deere harvester to see 50 different computerized buttons and pretend to plow the field by watching the huge movie screen in front of the harvester. This is an interactive museum where there's fun for all.

At 8:15 P.M. we boarded one of Amtrak's best viewing trains, the Cardinal, with one Viewliner sleeping car. How could you go wrong with dinner at 8:45 with generous serving of salmon, roast pork filet mignon etc. On our way to Washington, D.C. along the Ohio River with its barges/tugs, the train highballed at its top allowable speed of 79 miles/hour through the beautiful fall colors. Kentucky and West Virginia were spectacular. The DVD movies didn't work, but we had already seen the ones that Amtrak was showing for that period. In Charleston, the beautiful state capital's golden dome was seen. East of Montgomery there were some nice falls in the Kanawha River when going through the impressive New River Gorge which featured the longest steel arch span bridge- over 1700 feet near Fayette, West Virginia.

For five hours in Washington D.C. after spending the night at the Holiday Inn Capitol we walked our legs off at the Museum of American History(part of the Smithsonian) and National Aquarium before the three hour ride to New York. The many government buildings are large and the Smithsonian's new building will be the study of the American Indian.

Our first misadventure occurred at New York's Best Western Hotel which was booked through Expedia. com. They only had a queen bed for the four of us even though our confirmation said two double beds. Where hotels are high priced we book one room to save money for a few hours sleep. We now know that Hotel or Expedia .com only guarantee you a room and it could be one or two beds/smoking or non smoking. It's best to call several days in advance directly to the hotel to confirm your reservation, but even that's not fool proof. Calling Expedia, they offered no help which is like stealing from us. We had the hotel move out the furniture and we slept on the mattress while the Bosquets enjoyed the box springs set side by side on the floor. Everyone was a good sport.

The next day it was on to Canada where we looked forward to a new menu selection from their Via Rail. We took the Adirondack train on the 381 mile beautiful trip to Montreal with 145 miles being along the wide Hudson River and along Lake Champlain. It was November 3 and the fall colors were still blazing. We passed West Point, freighters and many long barges pushed by tugs going up river. Since it was the weekend there was a National Park Service narrative guide on board who gave us the history of the Hudson Valley. Amtrak has many of the guides on their trains. Unlike the Aspens in the West, which change to yellow all in one grove of trees, the colors are random in the East since all the trees grow together, wherever. This causes a plethora of colors across the hills. Getting off our train in downtown Montreal we went upstairs to Fairmont's Queen Elizabeth hotel and had a beautiful view of the morning's snow fall, a yellow lighted Christmas tree and the many large buildings. We spent the day walking four blocks to the subway which took us to the Biodome at Olympic Park. At their small zoo we saw some unique exhibits- bats in two caves with enough light to see them fly/land and hang by their tails; the inside of a beaver lodge where the two animals shared an apple and carrots after swimming in through their secret entrance. All the movies were in French so we passed on that killing time event. The city's underground is huge with many shops, theatres and restaurants. After seeing the immense St. Catherine's church with gold statues/paintings, we boarded our 7 P.M. Via Rail trip to Halifax.

End Part Two-Jim/Julie

31 Day Train Trip- Part Three

Angels Win! Angels Win! Angels Win! It was nice to be able to see the last three games in our hotel rooms even if they ended around 1:00 A.M. Also enjoyable was reading a daily newspaper; we get one delivered to our train room on the Amtrak rides. Nightly showers are no problem even though we're rocking on the rails.

Halifax, Nova Scotia was cool/dry and the Westin Hotel next to the train station tried to put us into a smoking room. After holding firm and the hotel gave up their "good/bad guy" routine, they were creative and put us in a very large room with one king bed and two roll aways. This occurred after we had reconfirmed our no smoking room via telephone two days earlier. Due to the favorable exchange rate, the room cost each family $57 US. Halifax is a modern city built on the hills along the waterways so cruise liners can dock right downtown. This is also the advantage of trains which usually arrive right downtown of the vibrant large cities. By use of Westin's free shuttle we went six blocks downtown and had breakfast with the locals at C'est Si Bon. I had my first coffee au chocolate and could get addicted to it if it wasn't for the $2.75 price.

We spent our free time shopping in the large mall which continued a long ways being connected to hotels/businesses-all inside to avoid the 30 degree weather outside. At 1:05 P.M. our overnight train left for Montreal and the snow. We had adjoining bedrooms so the partition could be removed to make it into a "suite" complete with a table which we used to play cards across Canada to Vancouver. In making tough judgements, I'd say Amtrak's food was preferred, even if the portions were too large, and Via Rail had the better sleeping accommodations with the beds going across the room instead of lengthwise. The train lost 65 minutes when it hit a deer and the antlers injured some cables on the front of the engine. The ride in the very same car as yesterday was bumpier which we attributed to the snow on the rails.

Upon arrival back in predominately French speaking Montreal we waited 20 minutes and left on a Via Rail 5 1/2 hour commuter train to English speaking Toronto. At all the stops Via maintains modern stations unlike some of the "under funded" Amtrak shacks. This train was the only one without a cafe car and they sold cold sandwiches by pushing a cart down the aisle like the airlines. This was an express train which cuts an hour off the others which make more stops. In Toronto we had our only complete day off from trains since the schedule couldn't connect any better with our next train to Vancouver which only runs three days a week. Like Montreal, Toronto is also large/modern with flat agriculture(corn, hay) and pastureland along the rail route.

Following our afternoon arrival we walked four blocks from our hotel to do the laundry. This left the next day free for exploration of the largest underground shopping center- THE PATH, 6.25 miles; 1200 shops/services; linking 48 office buildings and 6 major hotels. Lunch was enjoyed against a background of big band sounds with a great view from Toronto's #1 landmark-CN Tower. It's 115 stories up and revolves every 72 minutes. The underground/above ground at 2 P.M. on a Friday were teeming with people( why aren't they working?) like New York. The Path, like Montreal, flows up and down at various levels. Besides the subway, we also took electric streetcars. On the river front of Lake Ontario there are many high rise apartment/condos. The city has a high percentage of minorities with Asians being the largest group.

The last travelog will be there long (number of cars and three nights) train to Vancouver. Love, Jim

31 Day Train Trip- Part Four and "The End"

9:00 A.M. we left Toronto sitting in the dome /rounded parlour car which Via calls their Park car at the end of the train. For the next three days we played cards, had wine tasting and champagne, and good food as we went across bleak snowy Canada to Vancouver. When the train refueled we got out to stretch our legs in 15 degree weather at Sioux Lookout, Winnipeg and Edmonton. After leaving Jasper in the Canadian Rockies we were treated to sightings of 20 Rocky Mountain Big Horn sheep complete with rams, deer and two different fox couples(4). Vancouver was its typical rainy weather and 50 degrees. Via trains usually arrive on time and this ride was 30 minutes early at 8:20 A.M.

After a three hour bus ride we arrived in Seattle, but not before losing a young Canadian lady passenger at the border because she didn't have a return round trip ticket. Prior to boarding our Amtrak sleeping car for Chicago at 4:45 we had three hours to explore Seattle. One block east of the station was Chinatown for a good lunch which was a welcomed different fare than on the trains. Then we walked two blocks for the $1.25 streetcar ride to Pioneer Square(attractions observed which we'll do next time-underground tour, glass blowing, Klondike Gold Museum with movies) and to various river front piers(tour Russian submarine, Elliott's for seafood, aquarium, ride the monorail, go up the space needle). Three of their five old fashion streetcars were running and were purchased from Australia.

After we left on the Empire Builder for Chicago we stopped at Everett, Washington and surprisingly were greeted by 250 people, Elvis impersonator, music etc. It seems we were the first train to use their new station and it was being dedicated. Waking up the next morning we again were surprised to learn that wonderfully the train was three hours behind due to a freight derailment near Wenatchee in the night. This made for outstanding viewing from the dome sightseer car going through Montana's Rocky Mountain/Glacier National Park which normally isn't seen due to night time schedule. We were rewarded with sections of the Kootenai River being turquoise color; two moose in the river; an eagle which Ginny spotted; beautiful Tamarack trees turned yellow mixed in with the green pine trees.(we were told that these are the only pine trees to lose their needles) for a great looking forest. On board we watched My Big Fat Greek Wedding and passed on Spiderman.

The next morning in Minnesota we followed the large barges on the Mississippi River for 140 miles; onto Wisconsin and arriving in the city of really tall buildings, windy Chicago at 6:45(90 minutes late). After storing our bags the following morning at Amtrak's Metropolitan Lounge, we walked two blocks to the Brown Line El(elevated) train ($1.80 to go all over Chicago) to the Merchandise Mart. Unfortunately it was mostly offices/show rooms with only some shops on the first floor. The Board of Trade was closed after 9/11 so we spent two hours riding the EL seeing the sights. That afternoon we boarded the Southwest Chief to Fullerton on our final journey. We waited two hours at Fort Madison, Iowa to cross the Mississippi River since the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad personnel couldn't get the bridge down to lock. Consequently it was an hour late arriving at home base.

We all thought this was a great adventure! Sightseeing, eating well, listening to our CD's, playing cards, reading and listening to our traveling comedian, Dave Bousquet, made the trip always entertaining.. If any of you would like to join us next October SCHLEPPING BAGS all over the USA/CANADA feel free!

December will be spent at our usual Y's Men Tree Lot earning money for one of our favorite charities-YMCA. May you all be blessed with Happy and Healthy Holidays.

Love,
Jim and Julie


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