Sunday, May 9, 2010


With the official start to summer only weeks away and thoughts turning towards vacation and travel, Paul and I have been thinking about our more interesting travels and the two that stick out most are when we traveled across the United States, twice! As you can imagine, travelling over 3000 miles in 4 days means having plenty of interesting encounters.

Our first trip occurred in November 2003 when the US Coast Guard issued orders from Portsmouth, VA to Seattle, WA. Our intent was to load up our gold (erm, excuse me, champagne) Chrysler LHS and drive to my parents' house in New Jersey for Thanksgiving and shoot across 80 to avoid most of the snow and higher elevations that Route 90 would've led us through. However, 6 hours later our huffing, wheezing and shuddering car told us it was time to make alternate arrangements. Since childhood I've been in love with old movies that showed the good ole days of train travel which seemed much more elegant and comfortable than it is today but it was an experience we both wanted to try. So we said goodbye to my parents at NY Penn Station and embarked on the first leg of our journey to Chicago. Money was a bit tight so we ended up riding Coach which was a HUGE mistake! If you've never ridden Amtrak, when you ride Coach on a long trip such as this you have the option of paying $30 per person extra to eat in the dining car or, if you're like us and riding on a limited budget, you're stuck with rubber burgers and slimy turkey but you do have access to beer and wine to forget your troubles:-p A word to the wise, whenever you're riding Coach on Amtrak do yourself a favor and pack some sandwiches, you WON'T be sorry! Another problem was the train stopped several times in the night and every time those doors opened the cabin was blasted with ice cold air! 18 hours later we pulled into Chicago shivering, exhausted, hungry and our backs full of knots:(

Happily, we were able to afford to travel the next leg of the trip in the Sleep Car as I was NOT about to spend the next 3 days in absolute misery! When we disembarked we gimped over to customer service to discover our bags would be moved on to the next train for us so we wouldn't have to be stuck lugging them around for the next four hours between trains. So since neither of us had ever been to Chicago or anywhere in the Midwest before, we figured we'd take a little tour of the city. Of course as soon as we stepped foot out of the terminal we discovered WHY Chicago was known as the Windy City! We were instantly hit with a blast that felt as if someone had smacked us in the face with an icy washcloth but after sitting on that train for almost a day we had to stretch our legs and decided to hold out as long as we could. I have to say at this point if you've been to one city in America you've just about been to all of them. The few blocks we wandered could've been in Philadelphia or lower Manhattan. We did get to see Route 66 and the Sears Tower (as it was known then) and we were hoping to find Oprah's studio but hot food and drink started to sound real good about then so we headed back to the terminal.

Paul had his old reliable burger and fries while I went Asian after being accosted by the lady behind the counter of virtually every Asian food place in any food court in the country screaming at me "YUMMY YUMMY BOURBON CHICKEN!" Thanks to our accommodations, after lunch we were able to hang out in the First Class lounge with free Wi-fi, big leather chairs and complimentary bar where I discovered hot chocolate went very nicely with a rum and coke chaser;)

We settled into our roomette on the train which at the moment consisted of a flip down table and two armchairs and was far more comfortable. As the train rolled on, our attendant gave us a quick rundown of the amenities of our cabin and asked when we'd like to have dinner. Shortly after, as we got comfortable I managed to blow out yet another outlet by plugging in a little fan for some air but this time I only took out that one fuse and not the whole train;) Being the foodie that I am, I fully enjoyed the dining experience during our trip. You're sat with two other people, which takes getting used to, and order anything from roast chicken to steak which comes with salad, beverage and dessert for dinner. Afterwards we had drinks in the observation car where the night sky above exploded with stars! In the meantime our attendant was preparing our room for the night which involved pulling the armchairs together to form a twin bed, pulling open an overhead cabin to reveal another twin bed with a safety net so you don't fall out and mints on the pillows! We sped through the Rockies around midnight and I looked out to see snowcaps and dizzyingly deep crevices bathed in moonlight.

The next morning as we enjoyed a breakfast of eggs, bacon and toast our room was made up again. In Montana we were given the chance to get off the train for an extended period while they changed engines and crew. Finally at about 10am on the third day we got our first glimpse of the Cascade Mountains, Mt. Rainier and our new home for the next three years, Seattle!
As we were unable to post last week, I'll be continuing the second cross country journey in a second post. As we ended up driving this journey in the 3rd tiniest car in creation, it was a much MUCH more eventful ride in which we thought at least once a day we were going to die! Stay tuned:)

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