Monday, September 27, 2010

Part 3 Vacation Series: Amtrak Adventure aka The Trip that I will Never Take Again

Ok, finally here is the last part of our summer vacation extravaganza. The final part of the trip was traveling via Amtrak train from California to Washington DC (Southwest Chief and Capitol Limited trains). We switched trains in Chicago. We were supposed to have a nice 3 hour layover in Chicago, where we could have hung out in the First Class passenger lounge, used the internet, used a real toilet etc, but it wasn't meant to be. The train was 2 hours late leaving California and then we lost about another hour along the way - somewhere late at night in Colorado we stopped due to a medical emergency - some oldster cut their leg on piece of metal and needed stitches.

Traveling by train is pretty inexpensive, IF you don't get a sleeper room. I wasn't going to agree to spend 3 nights on a train and not have a sleeper. We got on the train on a Wednesday night, rode all night, spent all day Thursday and Friday on the train and then Friday evening we switched trains in Chicago and that train got into DC on Saturday afternoon. When you get a sleeper room, you get privacy, and can eat for free in the dining car. And you can shower. The "coach" people can eat in the dining car if they pay. But they can't shower, and they can't visit you in your room. However, just because 1st class passengers can shower, doesn't mean they will. Oye - there was one stinky guy who was in a roomette down the hallway from us and boy, he stunk. Was glad when he got off the train after the first day. Just walking past his doorway you could smell the funk. He must have gotten on the train stinky cuz no way could a human get that stinky that fast. Even DH noticed it and that's saying something.

For a short train ride, riding coach would be fine - the seats looked very spacious - much more spacious than an airline seat. Back in the 80's when I lived in upstate NY, a few times I took Amtrak down to NYC for the day. But I don't remember much about the actual ride (just a few hours long). For this trip, I didn't want to deal with others talking at night, snoring, etc etc. A lot of people in real life annoy the heck out of me.

Anyhow, the first night on the train was awful. There was one little A/C vent that worked poorly - and going thru California and Arizona in August was toasty. I've heard people say the gently rocking of the rails will lull you to sleep. BS! That first night felt like we were doing figure 8's, doing loop-de-loops and going up and down sides of mountains all night long. So the first full day on the train I was rather grumpy and not my normal cheery wonderful self.

Plus, the train was out of chicken strips and wouldn't be getting any. I had promised Jacob there was chicken strips on the menu. Disaster. He lives on chicken strips. So most of his meals consisted of Haagen Daz ice cream cups. That was one good thing about the dining car - they had great desserts (they are pre-made). Finally when we got to Chicago - he did get to have Amtrak chicken strips and guess what? They were yucky - microwaved, not crunchy.

One of my misconceptions about the Amtrak train was that we'd be able to get off at the different stops and walk around outside for 10 or 15 minutes. Wrong. Most of the stops were to get people on or off quickly and not be sightseeing. Unless some passenger cuts themselves, then you can go outside and look at the Colorado darkness for a while.

There was only one major stop where we got to get off for about 20 minutes - that was Albuquerque and I even did a little bit of hurried shopping. I even videotaped it, the closest thing I got to *yardsaling* the entire trip.

The second and third nights were better as far as the air conditioning went, what a difference a good nights sleep makes. The bathroom facilities were down the hallway - so you had to share bathrooms, the toilets were similar to an airplane toilet. They provided towels and soap for the shower. The shower wasn't half-bad. The coach people had their own toilets and the first class passengers had theirs. But still, people are gross. Amtrak needs to hire full time cleaning people. And maybe buy some toilet brushes.

One of the cars in the train was the kind you see in the ads with the glass domed ceiling, the big windows with comfortable chairs etc. But geez, when people have been drinking beer in there all night and leaving their cans and food wrappers and crap all over the place, it's gross. There is also a little cafe car that sells beer, wine, and snacks. People all sprawled out across 3 seats etc. People are pigs. How hard is it to put your crap in the trash can? Didn't spend much time in the special window car.

In the dining car, the way Amtrak works is that they will seat you with others. Most times when the 3 of us were eating together, we sat by ourselves but other times like for breakfast, DH would get up early and eat first and then I would eat later. So they sat you with strangers. Met one nice woman who lives in New Mexico on a 600 acre ranch who said she uses a fire wood stove to cook on. Like a modern day little house on the prairie. I told her I couldn't live out in the middle of nowhere on a big ranch (she said a 600 acre ranch is "small" by NM standards) because I love going to yard sales too much. Her response was "I love yardsales too!"

So bottom line, I would not do a big cross country Amtrak ride again. Three nights was pretty long. Jacob didn't mind it at all. And no internet service on the train! Why can't Amtrak provide internet service? We are considering doing a weekend trip to Philadelphia and taking Amtrak. Some people like Amtrak because as one person said "they don't treat you like a terrorist" - it's pretty low key getting on a train, sure you have to show your ID, but you don't need to remove your shoes or get to the train station 2 hours before your train leaves. And you are allowed to bring a ton of suitcases with you if you want.

Somewhere out West




Kansas City, MO (I think). We were able to get off for about 5 minutes)


Window car - woman next to me sprawled out over 3 seats


Dining car

Inside our cabin - I slept on a top bunk, those hanging straps are like seat belts to keep you from rolling off


about to cross the Mississipppi


Somewhere in West Virginia - people tubing down river






A stop that was considered a "smoke break" - that's DH and Jacob down the track.


Back in DC - you can tell it's DC since there is a homeless person napping in the pic.


and here are some youtube videos of the train trip:











p.s. forgot to mention the rolls on the train were awesome too. Dessert & rolls - yum.

1 comment:

ZDub said...

That trip sounds exhausting.

Sorry it was dark when you were in CO.