American Orient Express
The Great Transcontinental Rail Journey
by Lorraine Symons
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Tuesday, March 15th, 2005
Darlene's husband, Ken, drove us to the
Ottawa airport to catch our 12:00 noon flight to Toronto, our first stop on the
way to L.A. An hour later after retrieving
our luggage we trudged through the slowly moving custom line, myself with a big
bag which was now minus a foot and not sitting very level, a bulging satchel
and a large canvas bag containing three one-quart bottles of maple syrup for
the guys in the Trainweb office. We
finally made it through the security line, went for a bite to eat, then waited
in the boarding gate area and just "people watched" while we waited for our
4:40 pm flight to Los Angeles.
The plane was on time landing shortly after 7:00 pm L.A.
time. (10:00 pm eastern)
Ray was there to meet us and before long had the luggage in
This was Darlene's first visit to Los Angeles and I was
looking forward to hearing her thoughts of the L.A. freeway. Other than the barely audible sound of her
occasional little gasps, she was unusually quiet. After arriving at Ray's place she told me that she prayed the
whole way. Ray remembered my first time
in freeway traffic, clutching my seat with "a deer in the headlight" wide-eyed
look of terror pasted on my face. I
guess it's just something you have to experience to understand.
By the time we arrived at the house it was well past 8:00
pm. His wife Maria greeted us and we
all sat around catching up on news, but the long day and late hour was taking a
toll. We excused ourselves and called
it a day.
Wed. Mar. 16th, 2005
We left for the Trainweb office early as Ray had some work
to do before he could show us around town. Darlene and I walked over to the Rail Restaurant for a cup of coffee, then
walked around Fullerton Station before heading back up to the office. While Ray was finishing up, Shivam came in
and we had a chance to ask about his wife, Kranti, whose first baby was due any
day. It was great to see him again and catch up on news, and we received an
invitation to dinner for the following evening.
We had a busy day of shopping and sight seeing. Two places I especially enjoy shopping at
when in L.A. are the Tuesday Morning Store, and Little Saigon, a roughly
six-block neighbourhood that is part of the Westminster area in Orange
County. In one dress store an employee
gave us a demonstration of how the silk and velvet material was decorated. We had a snack in a Vietnamese bakery and
bought some of their croissants. When
Vietnam was under French rule, they learned the art of baking great bread and
they've brought it to this country. Absolutely the best croissants you can buy.
Thursday, Mar. 17th, 2005
Ray drove us to San Diego where we saw the retired aircraft
carrier "Midway", then we continued on to Mexico where we followed the
picturesque winding coastal highway to the town of Ensenada.
We dined at a wonderful little seafood restaurant before
heading back to Tijuana and those long line-ups at the U.S. border.
Friday, Mar. 18th, 2005
While Ray went to the office Darlene and I went to a few
little antique shops around the Fullerton area. The rest of the day was busy, ending with dinner at the Hometown
Cafe, one of my favourite spots when I'm in the area. The evening was spent doing up laundry and packing up for our
Saturday, Mar. 19th, 2005 - Los
After checking in at the Ritz Carlton Marina del Ray, we spent the hours
between 11:00 am and 2:00 pm touring the area, enjoying a leisurely lunch and relaxing
by a fireplace in comfy, overstuffed chairs in the hotel's salon.
When we arrived at the meeting area, some people were
chatting with old friends but most were anxiously awaiting the orientation.
Refreshments were readily available while we awaited the official welcome by an
A.O.E. co-ordinator/guide named Kitty.
Kevin, another guide, also talked about the trip and I
remember him asking, "what is the difference between a train passenger and a
hitchhiker"? "About five minutes." In other words, when you are off the train
make sure you are back on at the specified time because the train waits for no
Wayne, the on-board lecturer, rounded out the dialogue with
a short description of some of the areas we would be seeing and some of the
discussions we would be having on board.
We were enroute to the L.A. Union Station by 3:45 pm and
Kevin provided commentary while pointing out some of the historical sites.
We arrived at the station at 4:40 pm and inside we located
the staff representative for our assigned sleeper car, the Washington, and
proceeded to board in an orderly manner departing the station at 5:05 pm.
We were in room H of the Washington car, a vintage Pullman
style room with an upper and lower berth. During the day the upper berth is folded away and the lower one
converted into a nice soft bench sofa. A well-designed feature was a full sized drawer under the bottom berth,
which was soon filled with everyday stuff that would save us the aggravation of
pulling down and rooting through suitcases. Each bedroom had its own private water closet, which meant it only
contained a toilet. There was a sink
and vanity as part of the room. My
large bag was put on the upper shelf while Darlene's fit nicely under the
bottom berth beside the drawer. The
closet, only four inches wide, held a few pair of pants and a few blouses. Shampoo, cream rinse and body lotion were
provided as well as nice large, snugly bathrobes. There was always bottled water provided in the room and
everything just sparkled, it was so clean.
After depositing our luggage we decided to explore the train
and partake of the Champagne Reception being held in the Seattle Club Car and
the New York Observation car.
We decided on the New York car just four cars away. This car
is always at the end of the train and we thought that it would be the least
A nice display of fresh fruit, jumbo shrimp, cheese wrapped
pastry, coffee tea and of course, champagne was available. All drinks were
complimentary during the reception.
There were no reserved dinner seating times so we went to
the diner at 6:00 p.m. hoping to beat the crowd. There were two other couples
seated so we took a single table thinking we'd leave the double tables for
larger parties that would come later.
The Zurich diner looked beautiful. The tables were covered
with white linen, the A.O.E. china, silverware and crystal sparkled in the glow
of the little table lamps and the fresh flowers on each table lent a cosy
atmosphere to the room.
Our server tonight was Allaine. I chose the oven roasted Celeriac (celery) soup, Chilean sea bass,
fresh cheese and herb bread and chocolate turtle cheesecake. The soup was the
best celery soup I had ever tasted. The sea bass was very flavourful and cooked
just right however the portion was rather small, but the chocolate cheesecake
was very decadent. Two cups of fresh brewed decaffeinated coffee completed a
most satisfying dinner.
We finished eating at 7:00 p.m. and went back to the Copper
Canyon dome car. There were a few
people seated and one couple playing cards, but we just wanted to relax a bit
before heading out to bed.
This was the first chance to truly relax since this morning
and I was very excited about going to the Grand Canyon tomorrow. It has been on
my "to do" list for more years than I like to admit and I honestly never
thought I'd get the chance to see it first hand. I've travelled the east and west coasts of the U.S. numerous
times, but have never visited the central or southern states.
Alex, our porter on this the Washington sleeper, had the
beds ready for the night. He inquired
about a wake-up call and a shower reservation time. He explained that sometimes
it can get pretty hectic with everyone wanting to shower at the same time so,
to ease the congestion and keep things flowing, he reserves the shower times,
usually 20 minutes apart. I requested a 5:30 wake up and shower time.
Each evening a detailed daily itinerary is placed in the
room showing the schedule of events for the upcoming day. It tells you what
city we will be in, what time we detrain and even gives the weather forecast
for the following day.
We were both in bed by 8:15 p.m. and by 8:30 p.m. I was
Sunday, March 20th, 2005 -
It might have been the sound of the train racing along the
track that first woke me at 1:00 am, but it was the excessive back and forth
motion of the car that allowed only fitful sleep till 3:00 am. I felt like a
running shoe in a dryer, and at times actually braced myself against the wall.
Because of the turbulence, sleep evaded me the rest of the night, so at 5:00 am
I shot out of bed and took my shower. It was a quick one, as the train lurched
so vigorously I thought if it derailed, I didn't want to be found in the
shower. Darlene then followed and I dried my hair and dressed before she
returned. It's kind of a ballet for two people to get ready in a tiny room, but
co-operation and consideration go a long way toward making it happen. It was
just before six so I made my way to the New York car hoping the coffee might be
ready. The coffee was indeed prepared as well as the very appetizing looking
continental breakfast. The choices
included fresh homemade tea biscuits, muffins, toast, butter and a variety of jams
and jellies, a large platter brimmed with fresh sliced fruit and berries, as
well as a big basket of apples, oranges and bananas.
The coffee was delicious and I couldn't resist a tea
biscuit--heavenly. Mike was in charge of this car and I would come to realize,
over the course of the next few days, that you could set your watch by him.
Back at the room Darlene was ready so we went forward three
cars to the diner for breakfast. Carl and his wife Kathryn from New York were already
seated so we sat at the table beside them. Theresa, our server this morning,
was a very pleasant girl with a wonderful smile. I ordered oatmeal porridge and
the A.O.E. breakfast that consisted of two pieces of toast, two eggs, bacon and
potatoes. I did not care for the porridge, it was too creamy, but Darlene
stated that it was the way that she preferred her porridge. The rest of my
breakfast was just perfect, and Theresa was around for coffee refills.
Wayne, another early riser sat with us this morning, and
talked a bit about the canyon and vegetation of this area. He was very
knowledgeable and readily pointed out the Juniper, Ponderosa pine and scrub
brush. He really surprised me when he
explained that all of the hills around here were actually volcanic in origin.
Back in our room we rifled through our belongings looking
for something warm to wear. The
temperature was in the 40's, it was cloudy and there was a wind that looked
biting. All we had brought with us was
summer clothing, never imagining that we would require anything too warm. I
wore a pair of summer pants, blouse, a sleeveless hoodie, a sweater and my
raincoat, not much protection from the cold but I would not miss the Grand
Canyon. Darlene suggested we wear the bathrobes and we had a good laugh over
this, but later on when we were out in the cold the robes did cross my
The sun seemed to be peeking through and it looked like
those clouds might be parting. The
terrain was very flat with lots of scrub brush, Juniper and Pinion Pine trees,
but the Ponderosa pines were thinning out. There were very few dwellings to be
seen and just the odd scattered cow and a goatherd.
We detrained and boarded the motor coach for the half-hour
ride to the Yavapai observation station; there we would begin a 1 1/2-mile hike
to El Toar. Those that didn't wish to hike would stay on the bus and continue
on to Mather Point, a photo stop.
Water bottles were passed around with a warning not to
become dehydrated, something that could easily happen at high altitudes. Grand
Canyon elevation is 6837 feet.
While we waited to head out it started to hail, and then the wind picked
up. The extreme cold was most
uncomfortable and my hands were freezing. After ten minutes the hail stopped,
the sun came out but the wind never let up.
Nothing could prepare me for my first glimpse of the canyon.
The word spectacular would detract from the magnificence of this wonder. I was
not aware of its enormity or the different brilliant red and brown shades of
the granite, limestone and sandstone. Sunsets must be breathtaking.
Darlene's suggestion of leaning over and snapping a picture
while she held onto me was... ...declined.
For the next 1 1/2 hours we walked the pathway along the rim
while the guide explained how and when the canyon was formed. He pointed out the caves, explained the
different rock layers and told about the mule ride. But all we wanted to do was
look, then look some more. A short paragraph in the Grand Canyon guide tells it
"This canyon is a gift that transcends what we experience. Its beauty and size
humble us. Its timelessness provokes a
comparison to our short existence. Its vast spaces offer solace from our hectic
We finished the tour at 11:45 am and boarded the bus for a
short ride to the Canyon Cafe. The food
was buffet style with plenty of hot selections that helped warm us up.
We had free time now to do our own exploring and we started
out at the old Grand Canyon Railway Station, the oldest log cabin train depot
in the United States. Next we followed the Rim trail to the old Hopi House and
spent some time looking at the arts and crafts. We started to walk around the
Angel Lodge but we were tired so decided to head back to the bus to get out of
The bus was 3/4 full of tired people like us. We still had
almost a two hour wait and thought it would have been a good idea if plans had
been made for one of the busses to return early, maybe stopping at the town of
Williams for those who liked to shop, or even going straight to the train. It might break up an otherwise long wait.
However, if the weather had been warmer it would have been so enjoyable walking
around and exploring a bit longer.
When the bus pulled out, bottled water and snacks were
passed around and we watched a very entertaining film about mule rides down
into the canyon. After seeing it, Darlene and I both agreed that we would have
loved to take it.
We arrived back at the train station at 5:25 pm. I think it
was called the Williams station, a very attractive looking and clean one. My
re-chargeable batteries were not recharging properly so I went into the gift
shop and bought a few packs of regular batteries. The train pulled into the
station at 5:35 pm for boarding then departed to a siding at 5:45 pm. It finally
left the siding at 7:20 pm.
I inquired at the passenger service desk about earplugs.
Yes, they would be delivered and placed on our pillows when the beds were put
down for the night.
Tonight we selected roasted butternut squash
soup, Caesar salad, marinated grilled flat iron steak served with horseradish
mashed potatoes and haricot vert. For
dessert I enjoyed mini Key lime pie. All was excellent. The meat was so tender,
but again the portions were small. Both lunch and dinner meals offered a
selection of home made breads made by the pastry chef each evening.
Sitting across the aisle from us tonight was Chris and John,
two thirteen-year-old cousins from Florida. They were well-mannered young lads and
people on board were enjoying their youthful exuberance. Tonight they were
savouring pizza and Hamburgers. The chef kindly offered to make them something
special if they didn't want to choose from the regular menu. They had also
discovered Shirley Temples, and John highly recommended them to me.
Theresa was back with coffee refills.
We walked to the Seattle Club car to hear Debra play the
piano; we had heard such nice reviews about her. What a lovely car this was
with a bar, a grand piano, and a small library. Debra wasn't there but we did
meet Al Davis from Virginia who told us that this was his second Orient Express
trip. Al explained that one of his passions was playing the piano and he
admitted to being a rail-fan. We met Maureen and Leslie, two long-time friends
from California who had booked this adventure after Maureen found it on the net
and convinced Leslie that it would be fun. They were enjoyable company but had
to leave for dinner. We would see them often on this trip. A few people came in
to sit and shortly Debra sat down at the piano and began playing a medley of
songs, then asked for requests. She was a very talented pianist and before long
people were singing and humming along. This was a good icebreaker as I had
noticed people were holding back, probably being thrust into a train-full of
people from all over was a bit intimidating. Oh well, one person at a time. We
were both exhausted from the day's events so bade everyone a goodnight and
journeyed to our room. All I remembered was plugging in the earplugs and
turning off the light.
Monday, March 21st, 2005 - Albuquerque, New Mexico
We were both awake about 5:30 am and realized we had no
shampoo. Darlene volunteered to find Alex and request some, and it wasn't long
before she returned with enough to last us the week. Because, as she says, I'm
high maintenance, Darlene let me go first and just as I finished the power went
off. She wasn't quick enough, when I returned, and had to return to the room
when someone else beat her to the shower. By this time the power was flicking
I went to the New York car to give Darlene some space to get
ready and to enjoy a cup of coffee. Charles, of Birmingham Al. was enjoying his coffee while reading the
morning paper. Of all the accents on this train, I enjoyed Charles and his
wife, Betty's, the most. To my ear they
possessed the quintessential southern intonation.
Because of our late start, our usual dining
area was full, so we went forward to the next room of the Zurich diner. Our server
was Rachael this morning. Again, I enjoyed the A.O.E. breakfast with a double
order of bacon, fresh orange juice, and coffee completed my hearty first meal
of the day. All of the servers on board are first class. Meals are brought
promptly, they just seem to know when you require a re-fill and are there to
offer one. Salt and peppershakers are
always topped up, and something I've noticed was the linen napkin folded
differently for each meal. A playful touch.
After the meals were finished the tables were re-set for the
next mealtime and on many occasions when walking through the dining area
between mealtimes I noticed the servers polishing the glassware.
At 9:00 am we detrained and boarded the motor coaches for
the hour-long drive to Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico.
Our tour guide this morning was Joel, who told us that Santa
Fe was over 400 years old. The area, he
said, was in the sixth year of a supposed twenty-year drought. Many water restrictions were in place, such
as no car washing, and watering your lawn was prohibited. They were very
thankful for the bountiful snow falls they had in the mountains this past
winter, as it would help ease the drought-like conditions they had been
The elevation of Santa Fe is 7,000 feet and it lies in the
foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Joel
also mentioned the San Andreas Mountain Range on one side, translated means
The Pueblo Indians were the original settlers, but when the Spanish colonists
came they named the place The Royal City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis. He
also pointed out the Chemisa (sp) bush, meaning rabbit foot, which grew wild
along the freeway.
Arriving in the city, the quaint charm of the adobe houses
made me smile. I couldn't help but feel each residence possessed its own
Tourism is the chief industry in Santa Fe with many artists,
musicians and writers living and working there. It is home to many museums and
has its own Opera House as well.
There were plenty of movie stars living here and Joel went
on to name a few, Julia Roberts being one of the landowners.
It was biting cold and very windy as we left the bus. Joel
took us on a walking tour showing us some of the historical locations and
pointing out various interesting architectural details of some of the older
buildings. We toured the beautiful St.Francis of Assisi Cathedral and watched
as the organist practiced his music. (He loved an audience)
We also saw the famous, some say miracle, circular staircase
in the Loretto Chapel.
He pointed out the local shopping square where the wares are
guaranteed to be authentic, local native crafts.
At noon we stopped for lunch at the La Casa Sena restaurant
located on Palace Avenue.
Any meals we had off the train were all arranged by A.O.E.
and were inclusive.
Because of the large number of us converging on this
restaurant, they offered only two lunch selections. One was salmon and the
other was a tortilla with black beans and two other ingredients. Those who
chose the red salmon declared it absolutely wonderful, and my Mexican dish was
spicy delicious and warmed my insides. I was really too full for dessert but will give A.O.E. credit for
choosing this restaurant with it's fine cuisine and spotless establishment.
After lunch we meandered through the different shops buying a few articles then
met back at the bus at 3:30 pm. We left Santa Fe for the hour-long drive back
to our train, stationed at the Alvarada transportation centre in Albuquerque.
The staff was all out to greet us upon our return. It was 5:45 pm and the train was due to pull
out at 6:00 pm.
In the dome car we talked to Bob, the train master. He was
in charge of all aspects of running the train. He explained that Amtrak engineers must operate the two Amtrak units and
there must be an Amtrak conductor on board as well. I asked why the
intermittent power this morning and he told of the troubles that the trailing
unit, which supplies the power needs to the train, had been experiencing, but
it had been corrected.
My appetizer tonight was the Southwestern crab cake, (it was so good I should have ordered five)
followed by wonderful French onion soup, Halibut with roasted red potatoes, and
for dessert, chocolate panna cotta with raspberry sauce. Coffee or tea to completed the dinner.
Everything was scrumptious.
I really enjoyed wandering into the diner to eat at whatever
time we chose. Maybe if the train was running at full capacity, I believe there
were only 81 passengers on board, they would have to adhere to an allocated
seating time. The plus side of an allocated time is being seated with strangers
for a meal and there is no better way to get to know someone than by breaking
bread with them. I missed that aspect and found that most people fell into a routine
of occupying the same table for every meal.
We retired to the dome car to catch up on notes, Darlene and
I wanted to keep a low profile as we had promised to lead a sing- along tonight
in the Seattle car. All the fresh air
today left me feeling a cold coming so I left Darlene there and I was in bed by
Tuesday, March 22nd, 2005 - enroute to San Antonio, Texas
Awoke at 6:00 am this morning and felt I had
enjoyed a good sleep. The rocking had awakened me a few times and the speed had
brought me to my senses a couple of times but overall I had slept well. Went to
the New York car for breakfast, as we would be on the train all day and I felt
like a change of venue. Mike had the continental breakfast all set up. Coffee
always starts my day and this coffee was very good. Two pieces of toast with
jam, and a banana contented me. I went back to the room; Darlene had already
gone to the diner for breakfast, to put away stuff so that Alex could make a
clean sweep of the room. It makes it so much easier for the porters if clothing
and stuff is put away so they can do their job. Alex was a great porter and anytime we asked for something his
answer was always "right away". After every shower he wiped down the stall and
laid out fresh towelling for the next person. It was a long day for them as I
saw him in the hallway at 5:30 am and he probably didn't finish putting down
beds until 8 or 9 pm. All the porters slept in the two transition crew cars at
the head of the train. There was a night porter on duty every night in the
Copper Canyon passenger service area. Every morning when we walked forward for
breakfast, she always greeted us with a chipper "good morning".
The train stopped in Alpine for half an hour then left at
8:30 am. Someone mentioned that we were now on what was once called the
Southern Pacific Line.
All of the cars on the Orient Express have been greatly
refurbished. They bring you back to a time when rail travel was king. All walls
and hallways have rich red mahogany paneling that is polished to a high lustre,
and all cars are kept immaculate at all times.
I took my camera and notebook to the dome car to check out
the scenery and get a seat for the morning lecture by Wayne Ranney, entitled
"How the first people came to America".
It was a beautiful sunny morning in the state of Texas. I
just couldn't believe I was looking at Texas.... that's T-E-X-A-S ...the big
John and Chris were here as well as their mother, Carolyn,
and grandmother, Joan. There was a good turn out; I recognized many, but was
surprised to see a few faces I hadn't seen before. This lecture was a good
idea; it got people out and about.
John asked me this morning if I was a Canadian. I was taken
aback with his raison d'être when he said, "You say "eh" sometimes". I explained that "eh" had different
connotations when used with tone nuance, and gave him a few examples. John was
like a dog with a bone, he practiced over the next few days until he could use
"eh" in conversation like a native Canadian.
Wayne began his most informative lecture on the different
theories of when and how the first people came to America. He invited us along
on an imaginary trek from the European continent to present day Alaska,
traversing the ice fields of Canada then finally the Plains.
Wayne interjected from time to time to point out our
location or to identify an interesting form of vegetation. Desert marigold, a
type of daisy, prickly pear, the yucca plant and, most interesting to me, the
mesquite bush, considered a pest plant in Texas. When you can find them,
mesquite barbeque briquettes are my husband's favourite, but unfortunately, are
not always available where I come from. We had passed through Longfellow, west
Texas, and were now speeding through the Chihuahua desert on the Union Pacific
Wayne concluded by telling us that all of the land in Texas
was privately owned, a fact that surprised many of us.
Leaving the dome I tottered to the New York observation car
for a photo shoot out the back window. By now I had learned to walk the
corridors with hands up at the ready as a precaution to the sudden swings and
unexpected lurches of the train. It had been a rough ride so far, some areas
rougher than others and I wondered about some of the anxieties the more elderly
people on this train might be having.
Smoking was allowed on this train at anytime, but only on the vestibules
between the cars. Wall mounted ashtrays were provided and the windows in these
vestibules were open most of the time offering great ventilation and a good
place to take pictures if you didn't mind the airflow.
It was quiet in the car as I took a few pictures of the
landscape. Mike was busy preparing the lunch that was offered daily in this
car, probably for people who desired something less filling. A huge platter heaped with a variety of
sandwich meat, turkey, ham, pastrami, and roast beef, coleslaw, potato salad,
and cheese, sliced tomatoes, mayo, and a basket of white or dark bread. There
was always a big bowl of fresh fruit and the ever-present coffee and tea.
Our usual spot in the diner was full so we went forward and
had Marita as our server. I ordered the Ciabatta sandwich with smoked pepper
turkey, spicy mango mayo, sunflower sprouts, Swiss cheese, tomato, field
greens, and a smattering of potato chips. I thoroughly enjoyed the filling
sandwich and the raspberry poppy seed buckle with cream for dessert.
My note taking needed attention so I sought solace in the
dome car. Sitting across from me was Edmund and Janet playing a game of cards.
It was obvious that he was loosing but he seemed a good sport.
People were slowly assembling in the car, ready to hear the
second lecture by Wayne on Mexico, Texas and the Alamo. Again the talk was very
informative. I never realized what an erratic history Texas had before becoming
part of the United States.
And just the mention of the word "Alamo" brought memories of
my childhood hero, (courtesy of Walt Disney) Davy Crocket.
Wayne pointed out the changing vegetation of the Texas
landscape. The dry, arid sparsely vegetated areas of west Texas had given way
to the greener pastures of central Texas and there were small trees now rather
The train pulled into San Antonio Texas around 5:00 pm. We had made plans to
detrain tonight with Leslie and Maureen to get some fresh air and exercise.
We went for our usual early dinner and I ordered smoked
tomato soup, Almandine Trout over Mascarpone Polenta with a vanilla white
butter sauce. The fish was cooked to
perfection and the mango cheesecake with fruit salsa seemed the perfect
accompaniment to my meal tonight.
We met the girls and detrained at the Istanbul car with
instructions from the staff to knock on the window of the Copper Canyon car on
our return. This was to alert the porter so the steps could be lowered to allow
us to re-board. When the train was parked for the night, all entrances were
closed up tight so that no intruders could board after dark.
Maureen led the way; she was taking us on an excursion to
the River Walk for a short tour and a drink at one of the cafes.
It was a warm evening and the air felt good. The River Walk
was very busy (school break) but we managed to find a table and enjoy the
sights around us. We got a little lost going back and stumbled upon the Alamo.
What a sight, all lit up at night. Maureen was the only one with a camera and a stranger appeared who
graciously offered to take our picture together in front of it. I hope it turned out.
It was just around nine when we returned so we knocked on
the window to announce our arrival. I think I headed right to bed, my notes
Wednesday, March 23rd 2005 - San Antonio, Texas
Slept like a log last night and after showering and
preparing for the day I sauntered to the New York car for the continental
breakfast so that Darlene would have more room to get ready. When both beds are down the floor space is
Mike had everything set out so I made some toast and enjoyed
a few cups of coffee while reading one of the newspapers provided on
Announcements were made every morning over the P.A. system
by Kitty, who informed us of the day's events and let us know what time we
would be departing the train.
Today at 9:00 am the busses would take us to the Riverwalk
first and then we would either walk or take the bus to the Alamo.
We enjoyed the hour-long ride on a river barge along the very scenic river
route. The Riverwalk encircles the heart of the downtown area with numerous
shops, restaurants and even an open-air amphitheatre lining the meandering
riverbank. Our barge operator pointed out the historical sites and kibitzed
with people he knew along the walkways.
We walked the few blocks to the Alamo, often referred to as
"The Cradle of Texas Liberty."
There was a small line-up out front but once inside it was jam-packed. No
picture taking was allowed, and I found myself inching along, following the
people ahead of me wondering where the line led. An announcement was made that
a lecture would start in the garden so we scrambled to escape the chaos and
found a seat on one of the benches.
We sat spellbound in the courtyard as the lecturer, a young
woman, led us on a journey into the past. She directed us through the events
that led up to the siege of the Alamo, and when she raised her voice and quoted
Colonel Travis's declaration "I shall never surrender or retreat" we all felt
as if we were back in the year 1836.
She reminded me of a concert conductor as she stood in
centre court and pointed to the different locations where events had taken place
within these walls. In rapid-fire she turned on her heel and pointed, "there
was where Davy Crocket and three Texans took a stand", "that cannon was put
atop the east wall," then her arm would arc in the air as she showed us the
"direction of the enemy fire". Her voice lowered as she walked us through the
final stages when the ammunition was running low, then rose with the "final
assault". Silently, all eyes followed her direction to the corner wall to
watch, as the Mexicans were about to scale it. It was a wonderful half-hour
lecture and Darlene and I waited our turn to tell her just how much we had
We stopped in the gift shop and I picked up a few souvenirs
before we made our way back to the train. It was close to 12:30 pm so we packed
away our purchases then washed up for lunch. In the diner, Theresa inquired how
our day in town went and asked what we thought of the Alamo. She knew our food
preferences better than we did. She
knew, without asking that I liked my eggs over medium and I preferred white
toast. If I forgot to specify how I
liked my meat cooked, she would order it medium well, just the way I liked.
The chicken salad on mixed greens was a light alternative
today and the train departed the station at 1:35 pm just as I was enjoying my
apple-berry crisp with vanilla ice cream.
I spent the afternoon in the almost full dome car watching the Texas landscape
turn a lusher green the further east we travelled.
Ed, from Springfield VA, who had eaten dinner with us a few
times and who was a great conversationalist, was there.
When talking to Leslie, I mentioned her Lance Armstrong
bracelet. She told me of a difficult yearlong journey she had been on, but was
now living strong. We talked of teen times and laughed at her recollections of
her teen years and some of her past friends. Maureen, she said, was lying down, as she'd not been feeling the best
This morning Alex brought me a box of tissues for my purse,
as I've had a nasty head cold since yesterday, and Carolyn and her mother Joan
have had a case of laryngitis to go along with the cold they picked up at the
The uncertainty of the first few days had given way to a
more relaxed ambiance on board and people seemed more open and genuine in their
greetings. Of course John and Chris
with their youthful, uncomplicated, sometimes candid approach had been sociable
with everyone from day one
We walked back to the observation car to enjoy a few hors
d'oeuvres. We sat down for a while to chat with Betty and Charles from Alabama. They told of a few antique shops that they
liked to visit in New Orleans.
For dinner tonight I ordered the black bean soup. Now I had never heard of black bean soup but
so far the soups had not let me down and had been a very enjoyable part of my
dining experience. Tonight's selection
was no exception, and was followed by most tender prime rib with roasted
potatoes and sautéed broccoli, and for dessert I chose the thoroughly
scrumptious orange cinnamon crème brulee.
I was in bed by 7:30 pm and although I awoke a few times
during the night, I had a pretty good sleep.
Thursday March 24th, 2005 - New Orleans, Louisiana
Showered at 6:00 am this morning and decided on the
continental breakfast. My head felt
twice its size and my nose was totally plugged. I hadn't packed anything for
colds, but thought I might be able to find a drug store and pick up something.
I ate my toast and sipped my coffee while watching the sunrise, sitting on the
giant overstuffed ottoman at the back of the train. I couldn't believe that I
would be visiting New Orleans, often claimed to be America's most interesting
city, and where it's said that there's no such
thing as bad food.
We passed the Jefferson water tower and just ahead, spanning
the mighty Mississippi, was the Huey P. Long Bridge the longest and highest
steel railroad bridge in the United States. It was a beautiful sunny morning as I waved to people from the open
window of the vestibule. We arrived early at the Union Station. The train pulled in at 8:00 am. My one quest
today was to purchase a few Mardi Gras beads to be used as an ornament on my
At 9:00 am we detrained into the warm mid 70's sunshine to find three mini tour
busses waiting. We chose the one that had a short red haired woman, wearing
oversized Easter bunny earrings, standing in the bus doorway.
Her name was Katheryn Young (Kate) and she was an animated
Estelle Getty with a Louisiana accent.
As the bus pulled away she asked if anyone had any suggestions
on how to get rid of a forty-year-old son who still lived at home. Here was a
lady who enjoyed people, and as we soon found out, loved her city of New
You could hear a pin drop as we gathered around Kate in the
St. Louis Cemetery in the French Quarter district as she went on to explain why
the bodies were buried above ground. "Think of St. Louis as saucer shaped" she
said, "some areas were below sea level so that when it rained, the city had
problems with floating bodies". Kate's
narration was animated and personable.
The solution was to build tombs, or mini mausoleums that
were actually natural crematoriums. After three years there were only ashes
remaining so many generations of a family could be buried in these family
tombs. There was a peaceful ambiance to this setting and although we didn't
venture too far into the cemetery, as far as the eye could see were pathways of
elegant well maintained vaults.
We continued on the bus through the Garden District, one of
the city's oldest and most beautiful neighbourhoods. Here we saw the majestic
old mansions and lovely gardens brimming with spring foliage and early blooms.
She pointed out the thousands of Mardi Gras beads hanging from the tree
branches and overhead wires, leftovers from the parades, and told of some of
the more risqué anecdotes that had us all tsk-tsking in delight. Kate took us
back in time as she talked about the area being under different rule in the
past, but in a positive sense. In her opinion, the Spanish, French, Irish and English
influence had all together shaped the character of New Orleans into what it is
We left the bus and continued on a walking tour of the
French Quarter with Kate at the lead. She identified where Tennessee Williams
had lived when he wrote his famous play, "A Streetcar Named Desire", and told
of the annual "Stanley-Stella Shouting Contest" where contestants shouted out
their best "S-t-e-l-l-a impression to celebrity judges.
She mentioned local Cajun artist, George Rodrigue, most
famous for the "Blue Dog" series of paintings.
historical residences were identified as she asked us to pay special attention
to the intricate detail of the lacy iron grillwork on the balconies.
We stopped on a narrow side street as Kate directed our
attention to the roof area of a three-story house. She began a tale of intrigue
about a beautiful young girl who spent the night on that very roof as an act of
faith to prove her love to a "cad" and how her frozen lifeless body was
recovered the next morning. As I looked around the group I noticed that
complete strangers had joined us to listen to Kate tell the story.
The time had flown by and before we knew it she was leading
us to "Muriel's Restaurant" to enjoy some New Orleans food for lunch.
She shook each one of our hands and thanked us for being
such an attentive audience.
The dining room at Muriel's Jackson Square looked more like
a ballroom with its period furniture and beautiful rich brocade drapes.
The service was great and what a culinary delight, sampling
some authentic New Orleans fare. The food was absolutely delicious and the
portions were generous.
Our lunch consisted of
-Muriel's salad-mixed seasonal greens with sweet onion extra
virgin olive oil reduced sherry wine vinegar and goat cheese
-Pecan Crusted Puppy Drum, with oven roasted pecan and
crawfish relish and lemon butter sauce.
-Crème Brulee with fresh fruit
-Tea and coffee
We had two options for the afternoon, a visit to the D-Day
Museum or free time to explore the French Quarter. We decided to explore as
many of the shops as possible and find the antique shop on Royal Street that
Charles and Betty had told us about.
Many of the stores still had beads and beautiful masks left
over from Mardi Gras, but after four or five they really were a repetition of
the store before. In one little place I found some small porcelain covered
balls that chimed when shaken. On we sauntered until we found an antique store.
It was obvious, upon entering that we couldn't afford anything in the place,
but we walked around enjoying the museum quality pieces. The uniformed guard
smiled and tipped his hat when we left and it wasn't until later I realized,
the reason for his smile as we left was the relief that the two females with
the oversized canvas bags didn't have to be watched anymore.
The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering along looking
at the sights, smelling the piquant aromas and enjoying the sounds of an
occasional impromptu jazz band.
At 4:00 pm the busses picked us up at a pre-arranged location
and returned us to the train, which was a good thing because Darlene and I
couldn't have lasted much longer.
As we were about to board the train, there must have been
panic in my voice as I remembered out loud that I had forgotten to pick up some
beads. Malina, the porter on the Istanbul car overheard and offered to give me
one of hers. Deep inside I really wanted those beads, but did not want to take
hers so I gently refused her offer.
A while later when I went to my room, a gold and red necklace
was hanging on my door. It was such a
generous offer on her part that I searched for Malina and gave her a pair of
those chiming balls I'd picked up. She said she really liked them. I hope so
because I just loved the beads.
We had a different server at dinner tonight. Lyndsay, like
the other servers on board, was very pleasant and efficient and seemed
sincerely happy to be serving us.
I had thoughts of skipping dinner tonight but Darlene
persuaded me to re-consider and said a bowl of hot soup might make me feel
She was right, the gumbo with andouille sausage warmed my
insides and was definitely comfort food tonight.
I retired early, thankful that Alex had prepared the
beds. I was in bed shortly after 7:00
pm. and hadn't even heard when Darlene retired for the night.
The room phone rang about 9:30 pm. It was the office, Leslie had dropped off some cold tablets that
she thought might help, and asked for them to be delivered to my room. A porter
delivered them immediately.
Within five minutes of swallowing them, my sinuses cleared
and I heard nothing until I awoke at 5:00 am the following morning.
Friday, March 25th, 2005 - Enroute to Savannah, Georgia
It was either the
Tylenol cold caplets, or smoother riding rails, or a combination of both, but I
had enjoyed the best sleep of the trip so far.
We showered and readied for the day then made our way
forward to the diner. Carl and Kathryn
were waiting in the lounge area of the Copper Canyon for the diner to open.
Being from New York we shared the same time zone, so like us they were always
the first ones up and about. The night porter (unfortunately I never got her
name) was the first to greet us every morning and informed us that we were now
A heavy low lying mist lay on the fields but the sun was now
shining, having broken through the cloud layer. It looked like it was going to
be a gorgeous day.
After breakfast I found Alex and asked him if he could leave
one bed down today, as we would be on the train the whole day and I thought I
might want to snooze a bit later on. No
problem he said.
At 8:30 am I had been sitting in the Dome car watching the
back-wood scenery and listening to, or feeling the power of the engine as it
slowly strained up a long gradual incline.
Wayne would be giving his final lecture this morning on the
Ice Age and Global Climate change, and until it began, we chatted with some
people we had become quite friendly with.
My mind fought Wayne the whole time he spoke this morning,
and it wasn't until the end of his lecture that I kind of understood his theory
of Global Climate change and the facts that supported the theory of our
entering another ice age. In Canada the talk is always of global warming and
John stood up and gave a short talk on a book he had read by
Michael Craeton, on Global Climate change.His teacher, Mr Sawyer had recommended it and John said he had
thoroughly enjoyed it.
Wayne and John seemed of one mind on this subject, so I'll
have to do my own research, maybe think outside the box.
A light lunch was served today, but it was filling and most
Panzanella salad dressed with (homemade) croutons, yellow
tomato, onion and cucumber with caper garlic and red wine vinaigrette.
Lemon pie for dessert and a cup of coffee completed my meal.
Sitting in the dome car after lunch we started talking about
the different accents on board this train. It was agreed that Californians were the only group that had no
detectable accent. We were discussing this
with Leslie, Delores and Harland Feicht and Vera and Mike Pontrelli. When we found out that Mike's ancestry was
Italian the talk turned to food. He
explained to me the secret of making good spaghetti sauce, and how he simply
loved to cook, especially for the grandchildren.
At 2:30 I excused myself and went to the kitchen to talk
with Elisa, the pastry chef. She was
putting the finishing touches on some of the goodies to be served at the
afternoon tea, and she invited me inside, where I took a few pictures. Elisa
had been up all night baking those lovelies as well as her regular output of
tea biscuits, muffins and those delicious homemade breads as well. Her day
usually started about 4:00 pm helping with the evening meal, then in the
evening she started baking for the next day's meals, sometime working through
the night to have everything finished.
Elisa was an important component of the fabulous on-board dining experience,
and I looked forward to sampling some of those treats.
The Afternoon Tea was a huge success with what appeared like
a full turnout to sample Elisa's treats. A wonderful selection gracefully displayed on the linen draped grand
piano, and Elisa gave a brief introduction to the art of the Afternoon
Tea. Three different tea blends were
available and I noticed Chris and John seemed to be enjoying themselves.
We left to make room for others that were coming and ended
up in the dome car. This seemed to be
the favoured assembly site for many on board to converse, or watch the passing
scenery, or just soak up the sun's rays.
We were in Georgia now and the soil had a very distinct red tone. Someone remarked that those trees in full
white bloom were Bradford pear trees and somewhere in Fort Valley I took a
picture of a train spotter. I hoped he
was having better luck with his camera than I was with mine. For the last three days I could only take
three or four pictures at a time then the film would lock up. After ten minutes I could take a few more
and so on. I also had trouble recharging
the batteries and even after a 20-hour stretch they were not fully
recharged. It might have had something
to do with the power kicking off and on, I wasn't sure.
Edmund from California was sitting across from me and I
asked him about his afternoon in New Orleans. He told me he had thoroughly enjoyed his visit to the D Day Museum, and
how touched he had been by a young girl of maybe thirteen or fourteen who came
up to him and said "Sir...I want to thank you for saving our country". Edmund was so moved that a person of such an
age would know anything about the war let alone D-Day. He talked of his service in Burma during the
Second World War, and of an extraordinary family he had met, while in Paris,
who had taken him into their fold. He
pondered out loud that he might even try to look them up, after all, he had a
Kitty was knitting away as she chatted with people, but I
suspected that after she had ripped it out for the second time, it was indeed a
sanity blanket, and not the scarf she claimed it to be.
Carl talked of an unusual incident that had happened the
previous day. He was walking by the
storage closet at the end of the car that held the water bottle supplies, and
just when he passed, the door flew open and the bottles fell out on him.
I told of an experience the first morning on board when I
had opened up the storage drawer under my berth to retrieve my hair dryer. When
I finished with it, tried to put it back, but the drawer would not open. I reported it to Alex who called maintenance
and they managed to pry it open.
Kitty said that she had heard stories of "unusual"
happenings on the Washington car and over time the name Isabella had been given
to the phenomena.
I never did tell Darlene of the night I had been awakened twice
because our bedroom door was wide open, and both times I had made sure it was
The rest of the afternoon was spent enjoying the scenery and
conversing with our fellow travellers.
Edmund told boyhood stories of he and his brother spending
summer holidays at a distant relative's farm to (most likely give their mother
a much-needed rest) expand their horizons. The tale of jumping into the grain
bin and the account of the hired farmhand showing them how to roll their first
cigarette, and of them smoking in the haymow so they wouldn't get caught, sent
shivers up my spine.
Other tales of his exploits left me wondering how he ever
reached his eighth birthday.
The soup today was roasted carrot and ginger with spinach
infused oil. It was my favourite to
date. I would never think of "Campbell's Soup" as "mmm mmm good" anymore. This
was followed with a very flavourful Fettuccini Alfredo, one of my preferred
pasta dishes, and the pear tart with whipped cream for dessert was first-rate.
There had certainly been no let-up in the quality or diversity of meals thus
In the forward Seattle club car Al on Piano and Mike on
banjo played some toe-tapping music while we sang along with them. They were two great guys and I couldn't help
but think, as I'd watched the camaraderie develop over the past week, that
they'd be best "buds" if they lived in the same town.
We were back at the room by 9:00 pm and readied for
bed. We would be de-training at 8:45
am, earlier than normal and we wanted to be all set, ready to go.
I woke up once during the night thinking it must be almost
5:00 am, but when I checked my watch it was only 1:00 am. Guess I was excited about Savannah.
Saturday, March 26th, 2005 - Savannah, Georgia
The showerhead could not be adjusted this morning, and the
water streamed out in one forceful jet. I thought of the phantom Isabella. My eyes felt pushed into their sockets when I rinsed my face, (whoa,
that woke me up) and as I rinsed the shampoo I fanned my fingers to dissipate
the force of the flow on my head. I
could envision new part lines being permanently etched all over my head.
Darlene was surprised to see me back so quickly, but she had
to return to the room when someone was quicker to the punch. Alex was obviously riding shotgun over the
shower this morning so she put herself on his list.
At breakfast, Carl told a tale of having maintenance down early that morning to
replace the shower door handle (they had a private shower en-suite) which fell
off when he tried to use it. He said
the whole mechanism had to be replaced, and yes, he had been thinking of
We detrained at 8:45 am into the Savannah sunshine and
humidity. I could feel my hair wilt as
we walked across the platform to the waiting trolley busses. We boarded the second one and Tara was our
Southern Bell tour guide.
We started touring some of the lovely squares of
Savannah. The city is very unusual in
that it was originally comprised of communities built around central squares,
there were twenty-four in the early days. The lots on the east and west sides of the square were for public
buildings and churches, and the lots on the north and south sides for private
dwellings. The squares themselves were beautiful, well-maintained parkland
areas some with monuments and water fountains amid beautiful lush gardens and
huge, mature trees.
Tara took us past Chippewa Square where Forrest Gump had sat
on the bench waiting for his bus, with his box of chocolates.
Pride in this city was evident everywhere we toured, as
beautifully preserved and restored residences gave an air of old world charm.
Mid morning some of us were dropped off at the Roundhouse
Railroad Museum, while others continued on to Cockspur Island to explore Fort Pulaski.
About ten of us left the trolley and met up with David Bird
who gave us a wonderful tour of the premises. David told us that this was the oldest, most complete railroad repair
shop in the U.S. I was very surprised
at the size of the roundhouse, with an actual operating turntable, and
surrounding buildings. We saw the
oldest portable steam engine in the U.S., and an exhibition of shaft and belt
driven machinery. The massive
smokestack, he said, was 120 feet above and 110 feet below ground. A lot of time was spent enjoying the HO
scale model of Savannah, maintained by the Coastal Rail Buffs, I'm sure.
This tour had been so interesting that Tara had to come
looking for us. We had five minutes to
check out the gift shop and make a few purchases and this was where Darlene had
misplaced her camera. (Later in the day
it had been found and returned)
At noon we made our way to Dr Metts house, a beautiful old
Victorian residence, for a refreshing Mint Julep, and a homemade dinner of
typical Southern fare.
To have sat in the grand dining room, surrounded by such
opulence, was a thrill I cannot describe. The chandeliers, silver centrepieces, fresh cut flowers, I could go on
forever with the many fine details that completed the sensation.
There were many "firsts" for me at this lunch. The Mint Julep contained liquor,
surprise! I always pictured it as a
kind of lime-aid. The fried chicken was soooo lip smacking (but I didn't), as
well as a steak that was cooked differently but very tastily. I had never sampled okra or greens but found
them to be very flavourful. Black eyed
peas, mmm mmm, sweet potatoes, yuck, but I didn't like them back home either,
and the macaroni, and tea biscuits were delicious as well.
"Mandy", a character from "Midnight in the Garden of Good
and Evil," was on hand to speak about what locals refer to as "the book." She was very entertaining and kindly obliged
a song for us.
After lunch we waddled a short distance to the 1800's home
of Marcia Thompson, the granddaughter of the famous Mrs. Wilkes.
We were welcomed inside the lovely home and served a very
rich homemade chocolate cake, and a wonderful banana pudding. We were invited to eat our dessert and sip
our tea in the parlour, dining room, or side-porch in the garden, wherever we
felt most comfortable. This had been a
remarkable episode, where we all experienced the embrace of true Southern
Bravo American Orient Express for organizing this great
adventure in Savannah. All of the days
so far had been noteworthy, but this one had been remarkable.
We continued on with the tour seeing more of the beautiful
sights of Savannah. We stopped for an
hour or so to do a bit of shopping.
Darlene and I proceeded to a shop that specialized in Irish wares and
purchased a few items including umbrellas.
It had looked for a while like it might rain, but we knew tomorrow's
forecast called for plenty of precipitation.
Back on the trolley on the way to the train we received some
lessons on Southern manners and Etiquette, and were taught the "language of the
What a unique opportunity we had experienced today. I thoroughly enjoyed Tara's anecdotal
commentary while we toured the beautiful city of Savannah. The efforts of Savannah's
restoration project to refurbish the stately older homes and re-establish the
central squares had truly set the city apart by attitude and style.
We arrived back at the train around 5:00 pm. It had been overcast most of the day and I
thought that it might be a good time to take a few pictures of the two units
that were hauling the Orient Express. I
ran into Bob, the train master, and did get a chance to climb aboard the lead
unit and take a few pictures. There
were two genesis P42 engines on this trainset, almost the same as freight
locomotives, he said. The lead unit
hauled the train and the trailing unit supplied the electrical needs of the
train. Each engine had 4250 horsepower.
Bob opened a narrow doorway leading to the engine room. I couldn't help but think of Darlene's
husband who is a heavy machine operator.
He would certainly appreciate the size, power and sound of this engine
and would have had many questions. Bob
pointed out the different features and explained the general workings of the
When I asked his opinion on train whistles, he didn't
hesitate with his reply that they are intended as a safety feature and should
I had enjoyed my tour and thanked Bob after climbing
down. There was a light drizzle so I re-boarded
at the Seattle car and enjoyed listening to Debra playing the piano.
We set out for the diner shortly after 6:00 pm and were
joined by Maureen and Leslie.
We enjoyed a very leisurely dinner talking about all things,
great and small. Over the course of the
last eight days we had dined together a few times and had welcomed their
company on many different occasions. These were two individuals with very
distinct character qualities. Leslie
was very mother-like, and soft-spoken, someone who had a remedy for what ailed
you. Maureen was more of a leader, a
take-charge person. I told her that she
would be an intense competitor on the "Great Race." They had a genuine concern for each other's well-being and I
could understand why they were best of friends.
We called them "our train sisters."
After dinner we went to the dome car to catch up on our
notes and to join in the different conversations around us or merely listen to
the chatter. A friendly, civilized discussion on American and Canadian politics
led to the conclusion that both sides harbour disappointment in our respective
Governments. After such an adventure packed day, we welcomed an early bedtime.
Easter Sunday, March 27th, 2005 - Charleston, South Carolina
I enjoyed a great sleep last night but awoke at 4:00 am when
the train started up for Charleston.
Alex surprised me on the way to the shower with his "Happy
We walked to the Copper Canyon lounge and when Carl moved a
pillow in order to sit down, he found an Easter egg. Edmund arrived and told
everyone that there was a golden egg to be found that entitled the finder to a
free A.O.E. trip but of course we knew he was fibbing.
Leslie and Maureen joined us at breakfast. There were
buckets everywhere around the car catching the rainwater that somehow managed
to find those little openings. It had
been pouring for some time now. The
train arrived in North Charleston at the old Naval Base area, the only place
large enough to accommodate the length of the A.O.E.
We donned anything that would hopefully keep us dry and
detrained at 8:45 am. The staff was all
lined up holding umbrellas so we would be protected from the rain as we crossed
over to the motor coach.
At this point I must mention Ned. He was often in the background but he seemed to be the one
organizing everything. Whether in the
diner during meals or up in the dome car making sure drinks were available,
disposing of stuff or watering plants, he was quietly visible everywhere on this
train. Early one morning, in the dome
car, we talked about the "joys" of wearing contact lenses. He had had laser eye surgery and had never
regretted it, in fact wished he had done it earlier.
I'm sure he was the decision-maker on this train and was the
one who kept things running smoothly.
Our tour guide on the motor coach was Kay, and when she
smiled you just forgot it was a gloomy, rainy day. She pointed out the Ashley River to the right and the Cooper
River on our left but warned us that if we were talking to a native of
Charleston it would be pronounced "Cuppa."
She told the most interesting story about the HL Hunley, the
first submarine to sink an enemy ship. (The HL Hunley was a Confederate sub
that sank a Union ship)
The year was 1864 and the location was the Charleston
It was a daring underwater mission that did succeed but at
the cost of all crew on board.
The HL Hunley, lost at sea for 137 years, had been recovered
Kay spoke of the "Friends of the Hunley" who were slowly
solving the puzzle-like mystery, one piece at a time. Everyday they come closer to understanding why the Hunley never
We passed the Citadel Military College, enroute to some very
We finished the coach tour and it was now time for our much
anticipated carriage ride.
We were in the midst of a downpour and there was nothing to
do but get wet.
We sat on blankets and were given some to cover our knees to
keep out the dampness, but they actually absorbed water and in the end it felt
like I was sitting on a wet sponge. Darlene,
in the middle of the carriage, didn't get too wet but the rest of us on the
out-side seats weren't as fortunate.
However, that didn't ruin the thrill of exploring Charleston in a horse
Our driver mentioned the "diaper" that the horse was
wearing. "Before any of you ask," he said, "allow me to explain." A law had been passed in 1971 that stated
the people of Charleston had the right to walk barefoot. "The only exemption was the Mounted Police,"
he said, but I'm sure he meant their horses.
Despite the terrible weather, we had a wonderful tour as he
took us to the old part of town and down the narrow one-way streets.
We ended up at the old covered market district where we only
had a half-hour to shop.
Being Easter Sunday there were very few vendors and those
all had similar inventory. While
waiting for the bus, John offered me a piece of salt-water taffy and I traded
him one of my rocks collected at the Grand Canyon.
Our bus had arrived to shuttle us back to the train for
lunch. The staff was waiting with open
umbrellas to welcome us back.
The cream of tomato soup took the chill off my bones, and
the Penne Pasta with Bolognese topped with fresh Parmesan was quite tasty. I finished with a slice of rich moist carrot
At 2:00 pm we once again boarded the bus via the umbrella
brigade, on our way to tour the home and gardens of Magnolia Plantation.
Chris and John elected to pass on this trip and stay on
board. Theresa was lending them her
laptop to watch a movie.
Barriedel, B.D. for short, was the guide on this leg of the
tour. I paid close attention as we
crossed the Cooper River and sure enough she identified it as the "Cuppa
B.D. talked about Charleston, and then we were shown a short
film clip on Magnolia Plantation.
Moss draped the stately oak trees that lined the driveway
leading to the house. Our attention was
directed to a few small, whitewashed houses some distance from the main
house. These were the old slave
The house looked grand indeed with its massive wrap-around
porch. Leslie and I went to the back
veranda to enjoy the early blossoming trees.
Because of the large size of our group, we were divided into
three or four smaller parties of fifteen to twenty people. By the time I made it into the first room
the tour had begun but I did hear that it was used as an everyday sitting
room. When everyone filed out, I turned
to take a picture just as someone hollered, "tell that girl she's not allowed
to take pictures." I hadn't realized my
mistake but felt relieved when one of the ladies on our tour sidled up to me
and said, "Don't feel bad; she told me to get rid of my chewing gum." It wasn't long before Darlene was scolded
for being on the other side of the line so she left the tour and walked outside
to explore the grounds. We spent the rest of the tour being careful not to
break any more rules before being dismissed.
I enjoyed a brief walk while looking at various birds and
ducks. The miniature horses delighted
me as they galloped around their compound.
They had a wonderful gift shop chock-full of interesting,
reasonably priced souvenirs and by the time I purchased a few items; it was
time to leave for the bus.
The on-board staff was waiting with umbrellas once
again. It was almost 5:00 pm and we
washed up and went to the New York car to see what treats Mike had presented
this evening. We sipped champagne while
chatting with Betty, Charles, Geraldine and her daughter Julia, and Ed with
whom we had enjoyed some first-class discussions.
A special dinner had been planned for tonight so we set out
for the diner. Our regular area was
full so we went forward to find a table.
We had hoped to sit in Theresa's section to thank her for the attentive service
and let her know what a great person we thought she was.
The soup tonight was potato leek with sour cream and
chives. Darlene had the Breast of
Pheasant, and I enjoyed my coldwater lobster tail served on mushroom risotto
with sautéed carrots and bourbon infused beurre blanc.
The dessert of choice tonight was the Red Velvet cake with
chocolate and fresh berries. While we
lingered over coffee, the chefs, culinary team and kitchen staff were brought
out for introduction. They received a well-deserved ovation for the tireless
effort put into preparing and serving culinary delights.
Although Theresa was busy, she delivered a lovely note to us
and we replied with our appreciation.
On the way out we stopped at Joan and Carolyn's table to let
them know how much we had enjoyed the boys.
The staff had taken Chris and John under their wing, entertained them on
a trip that might otherwise bore them, served special treats and handed out
generous doses of good-natured teasing.
Of course it also helped that both boys were very well
We went to the room to pack up. We had already voiced our good-byes to many people as the last
day is always so hectic and many "thanks" don't get said.
Mike, our banjo-playing friend, had summed it up best one
evening in the Seattle car after a gig with Al. "This was the greatest trip; this is just like family."
We retired for the evening on this our last night aboard the
Monday, March 28th, 2005 - Washington, D.C.
Awoke at 5:00 am and after getting ready we packed the last
minute stuff and had everything ready before we went to breakfast. We were early so sat in the lounge with Carl
and Kathryn, then Edmund came in and had a coffee with us.
We enjoyed our last breakfast in Theresa's section; Carl and
Kathryn, like most travellers were
looking forward to arriving home.
We sat in the dome looking at the Virginia landscape. We talked in general with others who were packed and ready. The train arrived at 11:30 am and as we
stood waiting in the vestibule we had a chance to thank Alex for looking after
us. We detrained and took the escalator
into the Washington station, the most beautiful train station I had ever
seen. We were shoved along so I only
had time to snap a few pictures as we made our way to the front of the building
to claim our luggage.
A pre-arranged airport shuttle to Dulles airport ($15.00)
was supposed to be waiting but we couldn't locate it. With hope fading, we waited out front by a huge pillar, and had
resigned ourselves to hailing a cab.
From out of nowhere Al grabbed my arm and said, "Come on let's go, the
shuttle can't wait any longer." He had
located the shuttle right away and knowing that we were also booked, had
convinced the driver to wait an extra length of time hoping we would show up.
When the driver said that he had to leave, Carl made a quick dash to try and
find us. What a lifesaver he was.
Traffic in Washington is very fast paced. Al drew our attention to a few points of
interest and when we arrived at the airport, sent us in the right direction. We
must have looked perplexed because he told us to take care then gave us each a
big hug that felt "just right."
Witnessing one of the seven natural wonders of the world as
part of a rail excursion was truly a significant element in this adventure.
I tried to absorb as much of the transfixing ever changing
terrain of the southern States as possible, and at times found myself getting
goose-bumps when I recognised an actual living landscape scene of one of my
The local tour guides played an important role in the
success of this trip for it was through them that we were able to see and feel
the local character and spirit of the many different sites we encountered along
our journey of discovery.
High praises for the onboard staff who truly went the extra
mile to make you feel welcomed, and ensured that your comfort and well-being
was of the uppermost importance.
As always, I met some of the most interesting, "salt of the earth"
individuals, who truly do feel like family after a while. Although, we were from all different
backgrounds, the one invariable is our love of trains.
Click on below links to view each set of photos:
Set #01 /
Set #02 /
Set #03 /
Set #04 /
Set #05 /
Set #06 /
Set #07 /
Set #08 /
Set #09 /
Set #11 /
Set #12 /
Set #13 /
Set #14 /
Set #15 /
Set #16 /
Set #17 /
Set #18 /
Set #19 /
Set #21 /
Set #22 /
Set #23 /
Set #24 /
Set #25 /
Set #26 /
Set #27 /
Set #28 /
800321 - New
800741 - Savannah Sleeper
800768 - Santa
800740 - Denver Sleeper
800258 - Washington Sleeper -(haunted)
800297 - Istanbul Sleeper
800743 - Copper
Canyon Dome Lounge Car
800301 - Zurich Dining Car
800308 - Chicago Dining Car
800310 - Seattle Club Car
800231 - Monte
800753 - Bar
800050 - San
Francisco Sleeper and
crew dining car
800668 - Grand
Canyon Crew Sleeper
800755 - Yellowstone
Park Crew Sleeper
800715 - Los
3 - Trailing Unit
92 - Lead Unit
Click here for more American Orient Express travelogues and photos!
Click here for more travelogues and photos by Lorraine Symons!
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