Expotition — Train notes

I’m finally posting the notes I took on the Expotition…here are the ones from the train, with a few notes on the return trip added now:

Dec 26th, 4pm (EST): We’re on the Capitol Limited, a Superliner (tall train!  eeee!), and the first Thing That Could Go Wrong has gone wrong — we left the bag of food in Rockville and didn’t even have time in Union Station to buy more munchies.  Oh well.  They will feed us on the train.  I had a cup of Ben & Jerry’s mango-lemon sorbet in honor of my great-grandfather, who rode many trains in the course of being a cadet in the Air Force during WWI and wrote many, many letters home detailing (among other things) the ice cream he got on many stops from the nice Red Cross ladies.  There are no power outlets that I can find in this train, so I’ll spend most of the time reading or sleeping, but it is a double-decker!  And has curtains on the windows!  And soooo much legroom!  There is an Amish(?) family (who speak Pennsylvania Dutch, which is evidently also a relative of Schwaebisch) with an adorable but rather unhappy baby in the car in front of us.

 

Dec 27th, 12:37pm (CT): We are now in the lounge waiting for our 2pm California Zephyr.  The ride to Chicago was lovely, and actually was going to be getting in early, but then ended up an hour late due to congestion at the station.  Oh well.  The “coach” seats on this kind of train are infinitely more comfortable than the ones in the Northeast Corridor commuter trains — lots of leg room and the seats tip back nicely so that they’re really quite comfortable to sleep in…I’ll be glad to have the sleeper car, but doing this whole thing coach would not be as crazy of an idea as it seemed.  There’s a nice roomy lounge on top with HUGE windows to watch the scenery and chat with fellow passengers; it’s extremely communal and kind of romantic.  The Northeastern trains feel like giant busses…this is more like a very low-budget cruise ship.  We had dinner in the dining car; the special was some quite acceptable baked trout with veggies and rice.  Somewhat overcooked, but fish is hard to do right in bulk.  The dining car is all formal-looking with tablecloths and flowers on the tables, and you get seated with random other people which is kind of fun.  There are several other people from the ride to Chicago who will be on this train with us again.  I spent quite a while talking with a children’s librarian from Chicago.  We came in to Harper’s Ferry at sunset, which was lovely.  We missed most of the Appalachians, but got some beautiful mist-and-snow covered farms as the sun rose.  Chicago is impressively industrial.  We had almost 4 hours in Chicago, so walked around outside the station for a bit, then read and crocheted and such, and then had some 3rd rate train station food for lunch.  Blech.  But still, food.  We’ve taken a look at the train guides for our route, and it looks like we’ll get the really scenic parts in the daytime.  Tonight, we get to be blissfully oblivious to Nebraska, as we’ll sleep through most of it.

 

5:40pm(CT)  We’re finally leaving Chicago, after the train had some mysterious mechanical issues as well as problems with getting-out-of-the-station congestion. We have a cute little “room” (#13 in Car 532) with big comfy seats and a little tray table and such, and free food and drink.  I am so far not sure that I’m sufficiently impressed to justify the price markup for it, since it actually works out to less legroom than a coach seat, but that may change when I see how comfy the sleeping arrangements are.  And it is very cute.  I’m feeling a bit unwell, possibly from the unfortunate station food, which may be interfering with my ability to be impressed with the room.

 

10:07am(CT)  Ok, sleeper cars are *awesome*.  Impressively comfy, tiny little moving hotel rooms!  This is the best way to travel.  I still prefer hanging out in the lounge car for daytime, but the room is just the perfect little box for sleeping in.  Nebraska is impressively flat; we’ll be in it for about another hour.  I want to go run around and look at the sky!  I don’t think I brought enough books.  However, I did bring my Hebrew textbook, dictionary, and Tanach, so I’m just going to sit in the lounge car, translate Hebrew, and stare at Nebraska until my brain melts.  (Really, Colorado would have been a *much* better backdrop for Psalm 24.  But Nebraska at least has lots of nice impressive expanses of heavens.)

 

10:36am (MT)  We are now moving out of the Lands-Which-are-Awe-Inspiringly-Flat and entering the Lands-Which-are-Awe-Inspiringly-Not-Flat.  There will be a period of pleasantly hilly country in between them.  We are about 7 hours behind schedule.

 

2:24pm (MT)  We’re now in Denver, and are beginning to see Real Mountains.  Yay!  The food so far has been quite tasty.  People haven’t been as remarkably sociable as they were on the DC-Chicago leg, but I’ve still chatted with some interesting folks, and meals always involve meeting new people.  We’ll get lots of new fellow passengers in Denver, as a whole big church youth group is getting off here.

 

8:09pm (MT)  Mountains, Gandalf!  I want to see mountains again!  These are very Middle-Earthish mountains. Alas, it was dark by the time we crossed the Colorado River, but we had beautiful winding switchbacks and tunnels over craggy peaks, a herd of elk, several deer, and a coyote, and generally phenomenally beautiful views. Tomorrow: Utah!

 

 

 

Jan 5th, 7:07(PT)  We are now in a marvelously quaint inn in Big Sur, where we will spend the night before heading out bright and early tomorrow morning for Los Angeles.  We’re taking Highway 1 (in a cute little red Prius), and stopped at the Monteray Bay Aquarium for much of the afternoon.  Jellyfish are amazing!  And sea otters are very cute.  I could just sit there and watch the kelp wave for hours if not interrupted.

 

Highway 1 is impressively scenic.  If it were in a movie, I would have said it was overdone.  The effect was increased enormously by the fact that during the “dusk” portion of the trip, the entire vista was covered in a dense blanket of fog.  For those not familiar with this road, it is a tiny little two-lane road with a cliff going up on one side and falling down on the other side to the sea.  There is really not much space between you and a rather long drop to the wave-crashing rocks and frigid Pacific ocean.  And we (or rather, Ben, with me hanging on in what I had decided was going to be excitement rather than terror) got to drive through this while in parts only being able to make out the reflective yellow dots down the center of the road.  Part of this was a rather long bridge between two cliffs.  There was so much fog that we were only pretty sure we hadn’t missed Big Sur by being reasonably certain that all the cliffs we could make out on both sides were too steep to have fit Big Sur on them.  This road feels sort of anachronistic in that we are staying at an inn which is right on the road, which is the only road in what is otherwise the Middle of Nowhere surrounded by alternating impressive cliffs and redwood forests.  

 

The inn is a genuine quaint wooden building with a wood fireplace and stove, though our actual room looks more standard hotel-like.  There is a resident cat whose quite laid-back and friendly, and I had amazing fish tacos for dinner.  Because this is California, the little convenience store sells tofu and Annie’s mac and cheese and nag champa incense in addition to the standard kitsch and camping supplies.  I may pick up a mug or something; I could use a new mug for work anyway.  The quaintness is broken somewhat by the wi-fi connection.  We’re going to hang out for a bit and then go back to the restaurant-and-store big for ice cream.

 

Jan 8  6:23PM (PT)  We are on the Southwest Chief waiting in the station — on time!  Yay!  …I suppose I shouldn’t jinx it.  The Los Angeles train station is *weird*.  A marked lack of the normal fast-food train station restaurants (one little prepackaged food kiosk, one decent-looking bagel place, one Very Nice Restaurant with associated bar), and a waiting area that did not include a train schedule sign.  We waited in a line in the middle of the main intersection for about 15 minutes before going to our actual gate, which seemed very poor planning.  But the train is here and that’s the important part, and we’ll have dinner soon.

 

Jan 9, 5:13PM (MT) We’re about half an hour from Raton, NM, fairly near the border with Colorado.  We lost an hour or so overnight, and have made it up splendidly; we’re just about on time again now!  There was a glorious sunset and soon will be dinner and much coziness.

—-

Added today: we had lunch in the dining car of the Lakeshore Limited, and for some reason the chef or waiters really like putting citrus in the water glasses.  Mine included what must have been a whole quarter of a lemon.  So I juiced it into the glass, added some sugar, and made quite acceptable lemonade.  Seeing that I actually used the lemon, the waiter presented me with another wedge on a little plate :-)  It was exceptionally cute.

We had planned to split a dinner in the dining car as well, but the Lakeshore Limited is a fascinating train in that there are actually two routes.  Passengers going to New York City and to Boston are one the same train until Albany, where the train splits.  You are informed that you must be in your seats, not in the observation car or something, or you risk being on the wrong half of the train!  So we didn’t have dinner in the dining car because the NYC folks appear to have gotten that car.  Or maybe they just took it off entirely.

Both the Southwest Chief and the Lakeshore Limited arrived just about on time; the latter was actually maybe 5 minutes early!

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