The Sunday Traveler decided it was time to try on a bit of train travel to compare air to land travel.
The starting point for my trip was in the little town of Martinez, California, not far from my home in the east bay of San Francisco. Martinez is an old trading post established in 1849 and became the hub for gold and shipping industries. The “new” train station has a very small town feel to it harking back to days of old. A perfect way to start a relaxing trip; no lines of aggravated people waiting to go through security, little noise, pleasant customer service to check your suitcase if you wished (at no charge), or to buy a ticket if you didn’t already have one. In a word, efficient.
Getting on board, and finding a seat in coach, I had my ticket checked by Amtrak staff, and then settled in to start enjoying the vistas rolling by.
Seats in coach are wide, and have an incredible amount of leg room, recline nicely and have a leg rest that can be elevated in addition to the foot rests on the back of the seat in front. Each row of seats is equipped with two electrical socket for charging up any electronics you’ve brought on board for use. The only negative I have to report is the lack of wi-fi, and going through the Nevada and Utah deserts, and canyons in Colorado, left us with no service at times. But then you should really be focusing on the beauty out the window.
Exploring the train was the next order of business, and I set off to find the Observation car with its panoramic dome and side windows…and comfy tables and club car type swivel chairs.
At the station in Sacramento, docents from the California State Railroad Museum board the train to provide historical and sightseeing commentary between Sacramento and Reno; especially interesting as we head up into the Sierra and travel through the wonderful old gold mining towns of Auburn, Colfax, and by the American River Canyon,and along Donner Lake where the fateful Donner Party traveling west from Illinois were stranded during the winter of 1846-47. If you remember your history, there was cannibalism involved with only 48 of the original 87 surviving. If some did not know this history, the docent was giving us the info on the overhead in the observation car
The train rumbled on, climbing the mountain continuously gaining altitude, and did not exactly make this like a bullet train. One has to be prepared for slow, no hurry, and some unexpected stops when there may be a train ahead with a problem holding your train back a ways. This happened a couple of times on my train in Green River, Utah, and I forget where else, but at least this gave us time to “de-train” and walk about the platform or nearby area until the All Aboard was called out.
Sometimes there’s a lot of explaining to do
One needs to approach train travel in the States with an air of nonchalance, and patience; you’ll enjoy it more that way. Do not try this if you are on any kind of schedule needing to arrive at your destination at a given hour.
Meal options are either in the Dining car, or food from the Cafe car (snacks, drinks, hot/cold sandwiches). I tried both. Both were very acceptable. The Dining car had some pretty good dishes on the menu including steak and a braised chicken to name just two items; seating is at tables of four, so if traveling solo you are destined to make new friends in the dining car. I met some great people and had wonderful conversations over meals there.
Stops along the way at different stations were always interesting, including the 3 a.m. stop in Salt Lake City
I couldn’t resist getting off to stretch my legs even if it was in the wee hours of the morning. I wanted to experience all of this, no matter the hour.
Morning brings the trip to the wash room (train WCs were extremely clean!) and brushing one’s teeth swaying back and forth. Kind of fun.
We moved on toward the Colorado state line and its beautiful canyons to traverse before hitting Denver, my destination.
So far, I was favoring land travel over air travel. People just seem friendlier. More to come in the following weeks, with the view out the window next up.