Thursday, September 29, 2011

Along the Mississippi River by Train, for Skywatch

The Sun shines not on us but in us.
The Rivers flow not past, 
But through us.
~John Muir

A river sings a holy song conveying the mysterious truth that we are a river, 
and if we are ignorant of this natural law, we are lost.
~Thomas Moore - From The Re-Enchantment of Everyday Life

Rivers know this: there is no hurry. We shall get there some day. 
~A. A. Milne, Pooh's Little Instruction Book

For skies everywhere, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Batting Practice at Fenway

Continuing the story of our trip by rail to Boston (all posts are indexed here, for those of you who just can't get enough of other people's endless vacation pictures):

We were so close!

L. to R.: Maybe Dustin Pedroia, Carl Crawford, and ***Jacoby Ellsbury***

"The Captain," Jason Varitek, and Jacoby E.


Thank goodness Beez was a Red Sox fan, otherwise I couldn't have married him thirty years ago!

I just couldn't shoot enough pix of Jacoby Ellsbury, my favorite player


Youk, again!

Right after I got this shot, my camera lens jammed. Can you believe it? Our seats were just above Jacoby in the outfield and I couldn't take a single photo.

This board above later carried a message: "She said YES!" even though I didn't get that shot.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

On Our Way to Fenway

Continuing the story of our trip by rail to Boston (all posts are indexed here, for those of you who just can't get enough of other people's endless vacation pictures):

Okay, now how many people travel across the country to go to a baseball game? Quite a few, as it turns out, and a lot of them were staying at the Lenox Hotel along with us.  

To get one of these packages (hotel, limo, Fenway tour, a close-up look at batting practice, a pre-game party, pictures with the Red Sox' World Series trophies, free food and drinks brought to you non-stop by your own server, Red Sox uniform shirts, and first-row seats on the Green Monster) you have to sign up with and pay close attention to the emails they send you. You have to be quick and you have to fork over the money, and then you are in for a treat!

Beez was pretty excited to be leaving for the game at last!

The fans start to gather in the elegant lobby of the Lenox Hotel

Jimmy Fisher, 80-something bellhop, entertains the fans with stories of when Casey Stengel and the Yankees used to stay at the Lenox 

Boarding the limo--they called it a limo, it looked like a bus to me until...

I saw the tricked-out interior

There were even drinks facilities, but

... the ride was a short one and we arrived at the world-famous Yawkey Way before we knew it.

There is nothing like your first view of Fenway Park, no matter how many times you've been there before

Look, it's the Green Monster. Our seats were to the right, by the light pole

"America's Most Beloved Ballpark," indeed

Monday, September 26, 2011

Breakfast at the Boston Public Library

Continuing the story of our trip by rail to Boston (all posts are indexed here, for those of you who just can't get enough of other people's endless vacation pictures):

I'm pretty sure that Beez didn't plan it this way, but our hotel in Boston was right next door to the Boston Public Library, a National Historic Landmark. On our first morning in Boston, we strolled over there for breakfast and to meet our friend, Greg, who had driven down from New Hampshire.

On the way, we saw a Duck Tour bus/boat. These World War II-style amphibious vehicles take visitors around the city and right into the Charles River. 

Libraries grow with the times, and the Boston Public Library is no exception. Its building at Copley Square was built in 1895, with an addition in 1972. 

Between the old and new buildings there is a wonderful courtyard. We picked up our breakfast at the in-library cafe, and headed outdoors to admire the fountain, the morning, the beautiful buildings, and to catch up on news with Greg, who was one of my students way back when he was in elementary school.

The display in the foyer of the newer library building was all about Boston's role in the Civil War, and we admired a signed, first edition copy of Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe.

Greg (left), has grown a bit since third grade, when I first knew him. 

I couldn't resist taking a photo of the first streetside pissoir that I have ever seen. Very civilized, I think.

Then we headed back to the hotel to get ready for a limousine ride to America's most beloved ball park and a very special baseball game.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Dark Skies Over the Night Train, for Skywatch

On our recent train trip from New Mexico to Boston and back again, I was fascinated by the night scenes I could observe from the lower berth. I awoke one night when the train stopped for fuel in Kansas City, Missouri.

Mmm, mmm, it doesn't get any better than a night train. A night train in Kansas City. I know there's a song there, somewhere...

I loved the angles and the light and the sight of the empty night train. And the dark skies, of course, for Skywatch.

I think I just like that phrase: Night train. It conjures up the memory of train sounds, and that slightly swaying train feeling, and the darkness sliding by, and the moon on the river, and the clackety sound of going over the bridges. Night train.

And I really, really loved the effects I could get of the night lights in Kansas City, once the train started moving. You can see that it was just a little bumpy, down there in the lower berth. 

For skies in the day and skies in the night, be sure to visit Skywatch Friday

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Luxury in Boston's Back Bay or, Is It Really Us?

When we travel, our overnight accommodations can usually be described like this: Cheap, close to the highway, pets allowed, easy check in and check out. Yep, I'm talking Motel Six.

Not this time. For our trip by rail to Boston in honor of our anniversary celebration, we stayed at the Lenox Hotel, which has been described in the following ways: Boutique hotel, "one of the five greenest luxury hotels in America," historic charm, environmentally friendly, personalized service, richly appointed... The list could go on, and it all accurately describes the place. 

I'm telling you, I could hardly recognize us as we stepped into the elegant mirror and marble elevator run by a uniformed elevator guy!

Our room, chandelier and all. I kept opening the curtains day and night for the wonderful view.

Our view from the 10th floor.
Harvard and the Charles River are off to the right, just outside the edge of this photo

A beautiful stairway just down the hall

One of the great characters at the hotel is Jimmy Fisher, who has been a bellhop there for over 60 years and who is well into his eighties. You can read about him in the article, Beloved Boston Bellhop Gets His Dueand you can see him at the hotel on weekends. I know you'll want to go.

Here is a video showing some of the amenities at the hotel. Oh, my, I am still impressed with the fact that we stayed in a hotel with actual amenities. Imagine.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Irene's Damage in Upstate New York

A lock along the Erie Canal has been terribly damaged by the flood. It has become a dam, rather than a bridge.

From Chicago to Boston, we traveled on Amtrak's Lakeshore Limited. According to the route guide: 

The Lake Shore Limited follows some of the nation’s most beautiful shorelines, combining scenic beauty with interesting history. Traversing the shores of Lake Michigan, Lake Erie, the Erie Canal, the Mohawk River, the Finger Lakes and the Berkshires, it splits in Albany offering alternate routes to either Boston or New York. The variety of landscapes and waterways that make this trip so beautiful and memorable punctuate the skylines of either city at journey’s end within blocks of the Atlantic Ocean.

[The Lake Shore Limited is the descendent of the former New York Central Railroad’s train of the same name, along with the 20th Century Limited that plied the same route,albeit with all-Pullman (sleeping car) service. Making its first run in 1902 out of New York’s Grand Central Station, the train ran for almost 70 years. So rich and famous were its patrons that Paparazzi would often wait at its terminus with the expectationthat somebody in the public eye would step off of the train – perhaps James Cagney or William Randolph Hearst.

The most famous incarnation of the train was the new streamlined version designed by Henry Dreyfuss that debuted in 1938. However, “cowled” steam locomotives soon gave way to diesel power at the conclusion of World War II. After the failure in 1970 of the merged New York Central and Pennsylvania Railroad, Penn Central, Amtrak was formed to take over passenger service. On October 31, 1975, the Lake Shore Limited returned to the route with service that included both coach and sleeping cars, more closely aligned with its namesake than with the Century.]

After the train split at Albany--our part went on towards Boston and the other part went to New York City--we began to see the effects of Hurricane Irene, which had churned through the region just days before, leaving flooding and extreme damage in its wake. We first saw curiously gray-colored ground cover in the woods along the track, finally realizing that this was due to the recent flooding and that everything was drying out after being covered with mud.

Then we saw a beautiful historical building (Guy Park Manor, built in the Revolutionary War era) that had been torn apart by the raging floodwaters. You can see photos and an article about it in the New York Times of Sept. 1, 2011: Manor That Has Stood For Centuries Teeters in Storm's Wake.

I took these photos along the Erie Canal--as far as I can tell, we were just passing Lock 11 near Amsterdam. You can see a newspaper slide show of the area and the damage in the Albany, NY, Times Union newspaper of Sept. 19, 2011.

The downstream side of the lock
For more information about the Erie Canal, see The Erie Canal for the history and some historical photos; and The Official Site of the New York State Canal System, where you can find updates and press releases about the damage to the Erie Canal from both Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, as well as advisories and anticipated re-opening dates for the canal. This site also includes information about all the canals in the 524-mile New York Canal System.

In spite of the damage we could see, this was beautiful country, much as we both remembered seeing it in The Last of the Mohicans.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Union Station, Chicago

Continuing our rail journey out of Albuquerque: On our second day on the train we came into Chicago's Union Station for a bit of a layover and a change of trains. What an amazing place this is! On our first stop there on the way back east, we pretty much grabbed something to eat, pawed through our suitcases for a change of clothes, and hopped onto the Internet to catch up with the world. On the way back, we took more pictures, shown here. 

From the Union Station website: ... completed in 1925 by the Graham, Anderson, Probst and White Firm, the Great Hall is considered to be one of the greatest indoor spaces in the United States.

Guests are awed as they enter this 20,000 foot classic Beaux Arts style room which boasts 18 soaring Corinthian columns, terracotta walls, a pink Tennessee marble floor and is crowned with a spectacular five-story, barrel-vaulted, atrium ceiling.

While waiting for the train the second time through Union Station (on our way back home) we found the Metro Deli, where I had the best salad ever--Grilled Shrimp and Roasted Pear. I have posted a version of it here on my recipe blog. You can drool over the rest of the Deli's menu here

On this leg of our journey, traveling from Chicago to Boston, we had a different type of roomette. I was so looking forward to having my own private bathroom, but once again we were reduced to giggles at the sight of it. If you look carefully to the left of Beez, that is the whole thing. There is a toilet (with a pillow stored on top of it in this photo), sitting right there next to the seat, with a little pull-down sink above it. 

I'm telling you, we broke some new ground on this journey! At least there was a nice view from the toilet, and a nice view of the toilet, as well. When you are traveling by rail in the eastern part of the country, only single level trains are allowed, because bridges and overpasses are lower than in the wide-open west, where our double decker train traveled with no restrictions. So our little in-room bathroom was in full view on ground level. 

I was so desperate to wash my hair that this is where I used a rinsed-out wine bottle to pour water over my head and into the tiny sink, while waving merrily to the porters just outside the window in the station as we waited that night for the train to leave on the final leg to Boston.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Three Suns in Cleveland

This is pretty much what I saw as the sun rose over Cleveland, Ohio last week. Well, I really did see just one red sun, but the fact that I was shooting through a train window as it trundled along while I was balancing in a not-so-big lower berth made some other things happen, and I ended up with three red suns.

For all kinds of surprising skies, please visit Skywatch Friday. You never know what you will find there.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Second Day: On Board at Last

Just before noon in Albuquerque we boarded the Southwest Chief, Amtrak's train that runs from Los Angeles to Chicago. We had plenty of time before the train left to get adjusted to our tiny upstairs roomette. Although we had spent time on the Amtrak website looking at all kinds of info and pictures of roomettes, the actual size of little room itself gave us the giggles. I had thought that our suitcases would fit in there with us--wrong. They had to stay downstairs in storage for the first two days of our journey. If I had only realized, I would have brought a change of clothes in my carry-on bag. 

However, we learned a lot about train travel during this first leg of the journey. We quickly arranged our possessions, and staked out our little areas, surrounding ourselves with cell phone, books, and magazines (Beez); and knitting, sudoku, and digital reader (me). We made do with the clothes on our backs for the first two days, pulling clean clothes out for the next leg of the journey when we had our stopover in Chicago. I even figured out how to wash my hair in a tiny pull out sink while the train was moving, using an empty wine bottle to get the rinse water to my soapy head. But that was on the second leg of the journey, when we had changed trains and had an in-room bathroom of sorts. More about that later!

Most important, we learned to do the train-walk-jiggle-dance (Beez's name for it) as we walked the length of the train to get to other cars. The important thing is to keep your hands ready to reach out to steady yourself on the back of a seat, the edge of a table, or a solid wall (when available)--this will help you avoid landing in someone's lap or in the middle of their dining table when the train makes sudden and unexpected movements. Walking on a moving train is a lot like walking on ice--you need to keep your weight right over your feet and be ready for anything!

Apache Canyon, New Mexico
 As residents of the sleeper car, we soon found that we were considered to be first class travelers. It was almost embarrassing and really unlike anything I've ever experienced, as my previous travels have been less than luxurious.  My only train experience was two days in coach class with a three year old, long ago; and a trip cross country with my mother when I was three, myself. For this journey, we were called to our meals in the dining car to be waited on and to dine at white tablecloth-covered tables; to get to the dining car we crossed through several coach cars where folks were either trying to sleep in a variety of uncomfortable-looking positions or making do with snacks either brought from home or purchased at the snack bar.

When the dining car attendant ascertained that we were "sleeper," all we had to do was to sign for our supper, as all meals (excepting alcoholic drinks) were included in our fares. We could choose anything off the menu without any concern for cost, and without being bothered with any pesky payment. Lovely!

Another nice thing about the dining car is that you sit side-by-side with your traveling companion, which means that you are seated across from someone new at each meal. We ate and chatted with people from Australia, New Mexico, Massachusetts, Florida, New York, and from other places, as well. There were a lot of Amish folks traveling by train, but we didn't get to meet any of them, to my disappointment.

On the Amtrak site, you can download a copy of the Southwest Chief's menu, if you wish. The veggie burgers were delicious.

Near Glorieta Pass, New Mexico
When traveling by train you can wander around to the sightseer lounge car or down to the snack bar to bring back a bottle of wine. It was so relaxing, with someone else doing the driving.

Near Pecos, New Mexico

Near Pecos, New Mexico

At first, I was shocked at how close trains were to us when they passed on the next track, but I got used to it

The remains of Fred Harvey's Hotel Castaneda at the Las Vegas, New Mexico train station

Late afternoon in the Sunflower Valley of Colorado
As it got dark, we tried to re-arrange our seats into berths, but needed a little help. The porter chided us for even trying, and set the whole business up in a moment or two. Sleeping in a train berth took some getting used to, and my first night was a bit restless. However, I loved waking up as we passed through little train stations and farmland, and I saw a whole batch of very wide-awake looking people board at 4 AM in Newton, Kansas. Beez, on the other hand, spent his first night in the upper berth worrying that he might fall out as the train swayed and chugged along. We got better at train-sleeping as we went along.

We traveled through much of Colorado and Kansas in the dark, waking to see Kansas City, Missouri
in the early morning light

Crossing the Missouri River

Train shadow on a trestle

The farms in Missouri, Iowa, and Illinois were the tidiest that I had ever seen. This one is near Mendota, Illinois. The sky had a smoggy look at we approached Chicago, and the weather outside was hot and humid. 

Next Monday's post: Chicago, a layover, and a new train to Boston