Sunday, March 28, 2010

All Aboard!!

by Amanda Forester

Grab your knapsack; it’s time to ride the rails! There is something nostalgically romantic about boarding a train and experiencing that rush of excitement as it lurches from the station and chugs down the tracks (ok they don’t exactly chug any more, but you get my drift). I have been fortunate to be able to take several long train trips. Of course, those who read my previous blog will know this is due more to my deep and abiding fear of planes than to an innate love of train travel, but in taking train trips I have found many things I enjoy.

The one thing I realized as I started to travel by ground is just how BIG the country is. When you get on a plane and disembark at your destination several hours later you miss the true feeling of how big this place is (though I grant you an aerial view can be illuminating). There is also something very grounding (forgive the pun) to experiencing travel from a slower perspective. It forces me to acknowledge the spaces between civilization, not just the towns and cities themselves. In my hectic life, I often forget there is a whole word of nature out there. Traveling by train I am forced to bear witness to the vastness of this country and the many places that are still ruled by the native flora and fauna, not by humans.

In my train travels I’ve been exposed to scenery I never would have purposely sought. For example, I took the Amtrak Southwest Chief from Albuquerque to Los Angeles and crossed the desert plains. I’m a coastal gal so I’ve never had much interest in seeing the desert, but carving through orange rock canyons and watching the sun set red across the desert sand was breathtaking. Yet my favorite trip has been the Amtrak Coast Starlight, which travels from Seattle to Los Angeles. The scenery on this route is stunning, from the pacific ocean up into the mountains, and back down to the California coast. It is definitely worth the trip. The Coast Starlight also has an additional parlor car which has domed observation windows on the upper story, and downstairs it even has a movie theater! In the afternoons they have wine and cheese tasting. Think of it as a land cruise!

Traveling by train also forces me to slow down and rest. There is nothing I have to do, nothing I really can do on a train, so it is an opportunity for me to take a break from my schedule and revitalize my spirit. When I was going to graduate school in California, I used to look forward to my train trips back home to Washington because it was often the only time I had to simply relax. I could read a book, or knit, or do cross-stitch, or I could just look out the window, as my son is doing in this picture, and watch the beautiful scenery go by.

Yes, last year I took my kids on their first overnight train trip. Amtrak has a family bedroom (book early) that has two adult bunks and two smaller child-size bunks. It’s not a large room by any stretch, but my kids thought sleeping on the train was a huge adventure! In my younger years I saved money and went coach, but now I pay extra for a compartment (worth every penny if you’ve ever had to sleep in coach!). In order to maintain harmony for my younger travelers I was sure to bring activities for them and there is a plug in the room for the DVD player! We had a fun time and I hope to share with them the love of train travel. This summer we are planning more train trips – look out Chicago - here we come!

Have you had experiences riding the rails? If you could go anywhere by train, where would it be?


  1. Great post. You mad me want to get on a train and go almost anywhere. Unfortunately, the Amtrak schedule from here is horrendous--the train stops once a day at 3.00AM--that's north/south. I checked the schedule to Nashville and there doesn't seem to be an east/west train at all.

    I'm sorry because I've traveled by train in Europe and loved it for all the reasons you mentioned.

    One of my travel wishes it to take that famously scenic train (can't think of the name) across Canada.

  2. Fun blog post!

    I shared my Morocco train mishap on Lydia's blog the other day, but just remembered another train adventure in Italy. We decided at some point that the best way to get from Milan to Venice was an overnight train. When we bought our tickets for a sleeping cabin, I had all these romantic ideas about how our night of train travel might unfold. Unfortunately, that's not the way it worked. We arrived to discover we'd booked a shared room with four bunks, and the other two occupants had already arrived and were snoring very loudly. This continued for the whole trip. Suffice it to say, we didn't get much romance (or sleep, for that matter).


  3. I would love to travel on a real commuter train someday. Thanks so much for the inspiration, Amanda!

  4. They had one that went through the Arkansas mountains I wanted to go on, but I'm afraid it was never to be. Still, I've always thought it would be fun. And I've always loved Agatha Christie's books, so seeing Murder on the Orient Express in a NY play was lots of fun. Although, I wouldn't have wanted to have been on THAT train ride.

  5. Ooh! That sounds like such fun! I know people who have taken the coastal train and they all say it is phenomenal. Another thing to add to the list! Thanks for the great post.

    I rode the train a few times when much younger. As I said in your previous post of train travel, I just remember how long it took to cross Texas! As a child that was a huge mind-opener as to how vast our wonderful country is.

  6. Thanx for such a FUN post, Amanda!

    I haven't done much train travel in the US, but in Europe they are THE WAT to go! Like Tawna, I had an unfortunate incident on the night train from Rome to Venice. We also had a sleeping cabin, luckily for just us two. Unluckily, the heat vent was stuck in the full blast position and try as we might, we could NOT get it to budge so it blasted hot air into the cabin all night. I took off as many clothes as was decently possible, but it was still way too warm to sleep! Definitely not the trip I'd had in mind.

    As for the train I'd like to take, no question, The Orient Express but without the murder and mayhem. ;-)


  7. OOPS! I still have jet-lag (just got home yesterday). I should have said in Europe trains are THE WAY to go.


  8. So glad to hear another person 'fess up to fear of flying. That's why I take trains, too. When we lived in VT, I used to take the train from there to Baltimore to visit my sister. The train from Rutland, VT to NYC hugged the Hudson River a good part of the way and I loved that view in all sorts of weather. I would love to take a train across the west and southwestern landscapes! I wish the schedules were better.

  9. I'd love to take the train across Canada. I hear that's a great trip and soooo beautiful!

    Other than that, anywhere in Europe would work for me. I'd love to take a Chunnel trip - thereby visiting both France and England.

  10. My junior year in high school, the band (I was a majorette) took the train to Disney World to perform in the Main Street parade. Disney World was only part of that adventure. I have such great memories of that train trip!!! A friend who slept in the overhead luggage rack. Another who poured shaving cream in a buddy's hand while he was sleeping - just a few of the tamer ones I can mention in a public forum. What a great trip that was!

  11. MM - oh yes, I want to do the cross Canadian trip too! I think it's called the Canadian and it goes from Vancouver to Toronto in four days. Gorgeous scenery from what I hear.

    Tawna & Aunty Cindy - your comments reminded me of traveling through Europe by train - a great way to go. Their train system is much better than ours (in my opinion) easy to use and can take you anywhere you want to go. I had some fun times on those night trains - and some "interesting" times too! (Unfortunately not the romantic kind of interesting!)

  12. Terry & AC - I'd like to take the Orient Express too! (um, and yeah without the murder would be nice).

    Sharon - Texas is one BIG state! Going by ground you can really appreciate just how vast it is.

    Libby - I'm glad I'm not alone in my phobias! I'd love to take some train trips on the East coast - sounds beautiful.

    Robin - I did do the chunnel trip when I was in Europe - pretty darn cool I have to say. Though I read a book to keep my mind off the fact that I was UNDER the channel.

    Judi - sounds like you had one fun trip!!

  13. Sounds like fun, Amanda! I love loooong road trips, and a train would be even better since nobody would have to drive.
    The only train trip I've taken is the Georgetown to Silverton loop in Colorado. It's a steam train and goes over some high bridges traveling from one small mining town to another. Historic and sensationally scenic!

  14. My only train trip was RT's Love Train from LA to NYC back in 1983. You couldn't really relax since there was a documentary crew with you 24/7 along with magazine and newspaper writers.

    But yes, scenery was pretty even if we'd be up at 4 or 5am to pass out goodies to fans when we made stops!

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