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TrainWeb Visitor Travelogue

By Mandy Andersen

This past Christmas/New Year we (myself, husband John, our eight year old daughter Heidi, and our six year old son Kory) made ourselves known to Amtrak. We boarded the train in Portland - we were seated upstairs, and travelled to San Francisco. The sights were wonderful [the return journey was even better because the daylight hours were opposite to the outgoing journey] and we enjoyed it very much. I had made the children their own 'Smiley' fleece blankets and pillows and a snazzy backpack (for Christmas) to carry them in, and they were able to use them to the full. The meals were really good, although I had packed a lot to eat and that helped a great deal.

San Francisco was delightful; we visited the Exploratorium, the Steinhart Aquarium, the SF Zoo, an Asian Art Museum, a couple of other museums (whose names escape me) and if memory serves, these were free because of our Portland science museum and zoo membership cards which operate on a reciprocal basis. We also walked both ways across the Golden Gate Bridge (I piggy-backed Kory on the way back - he wasn't used to walking that length!) - we started out in fog but came back in sunshine. We were able to stay at a clean, old family hotel (top (4th) floor) with our own kitchenette.

Oh yes...we did get to see Haight-Ashbury and some obvious hangovers from the 60's. Christmas morning the children opened their family presents ('Santa's were reserved back in Portland for our return) and stockings and enjoyed the excitement nonetheless. We enjoyed SF very much and feel that we will go back. We only really scratched the surface and as the children mature I feel that the list of desirable sights to see will also increase.

New Year's Eve we boarded the train just outside San Francisco (via shuttlebus) and travelled on down to Simi Valley. I forgot to mention that on the train there is a children's room where they have 'space' to move, toys to play with, videos to watch, and a place to meet other kids. There is a 'resident' magician on the train and every day he gives a show and blows fascinating balloon shapes for the children. On the first leg of our train trip on Christmas Eve there as a Santa who came to visit the children, take their wishes and hand out party favors. We have this videotaped, and when Heidi sat on Santa's lap and he asked her want she wanted for Christmas, she remarked that there were a couple of things she wanted. At this point I think Santa braced himself for the worst, and Heidi shared with him that she wanted 'paper and pencils,.....and a telescope'!

Before this sounds like something out of a bizarre Dickensian 'Christmas Carol' you need to understand that our daughter ploughs through paper and pencil like a beaver. She draws daily and her room frequently has to be rescued from a rising tide of successful/semi-successful/unsuccessful attempts. The telescope is still on the Christmas list.

After a week in Southern California (not long enough), it was time for us to return home....this time we boarded the train for a single journey back to Portland. At least also the menu changed because of the direction we were going. The menus per trip reflect the cuisine of the point of departure. Hence we enjoyed NW cuisine outbound and California/Baja inbound. As this trip was a budget one we didn't get to taste all of the meals we would have liked to. I forgot to mention that on our return trip we spent more time in the observation lounge upstairs and there was an elderly English gentleman who obviously had spent some time in the NW who acted as a narrator/guide as we travelled back through the mountains.

The children made friends as they went. Heidi even struck up a conversation with a young mother travelling with her baby son. Heidi spent some time down at the girl's seat chatting with her. She was a young mother whose husband was with the coast guard away at sea and she was making the rounds of the relatives. On the trip from SF to Simi Valley Heidi and Kory made friends with a young girl and her mother, a fire fighter, who were returning from scoping out new accommodations for when they relocate for a summer training session.

We are entirely determined that we will Amtrak again. Next time we will go first class and book a family room. This will have beds that are made up everyday, all our meals will be paid for, there is a separate lounge with a book/video library and we will still have the freedom to roam the train.

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