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


Jean (aka Auntie Bucksnort) said...

What beautiful scenery. And all taken from a moving train. Impressive photography skillz!!

Margie's Musings said...

What a neat experience!

Joyful said...

What a lovely trip so far. I'm enjoying the train journey with you. I would have been shocked too at how close together the trains are when they pass. There is certainly not much space between the passing trains.

JC said...

Wow !!!
I've been so busy lately that I haven't had to time blog or visit. Your trip sounds very interesting.

Sallie (FullTime-Life) said...

I am loving this trip! We took a cross-country Amtrak trip in 1997, shortly after we retired (pre-RV and pre ditital camera, we didn't even have any camera with us). We loved it, many similar experiences and feelings (we too weren't quite comfortable with 'first-class' status but loved meeting people while dining.)

Thanks for the memories and the great pictures which are way better than any I would have snapped if I had had a camera back then -- I'll be following along on the rest of the journey.

Diane AZ said...

I'm enjoying all of your beautiful pictures and interesting commentary about traveling by train. When I was young, my mother took me on a train trip from Los Angeles to Indiana, but I can't remember much of it.

Martha Z said...

We love to travel by train and our first major trip was the Southwest Chief from LA to Chicago. We've never traveled Amtrak beyond Chicago and I've often wondered if we would like to go all the way east.
I'm anxious to read all of your adventures.

Ms. Becky said...

I'm loving this train journey with you! I recognize the corn fields of Illinois in that last photo. this is great to learn all things to keep in mind when traveling by train. it's something I've always wanted to do. I didn't know the meals were included in the ticket price. how's the food?

becky said...

Gosh this sounds like a fun way to travel. Despite the cramped quarters, it sounds so romantic to travel by rail.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

Sounds wonderful! You're making mewistful for more trail travel for myself. I would love to travel by train with just my husband or even my kids. I know they would love it as much as I do.
I've yet to spend the money for a sleeper, though. I think I'm too much of a tightwad for that. lol!
I was surprised at how comfie the coach seats were when traveling on that same train 15 years ago, even when 8 months pregnant with twins.
I only wash my hair every twice a week because I tend to have dry hair, so hair washing facilities wouldn't have been useful for me anyway.
And I brought along lots of soup packages and beverages and a travel immersion water heater. I sipped tea and hot cocoa all day and munched on lots of yummy snacks, fresh fruit, noodle soup and oatmeal that I brought with me.

Between meeting new people, the beautiful scenery whizzing by, all of my comfort items, and the luxury of not having to sit in crowded, loud airports, I felt spoiled.
Yes train travel is very special indeed.
I'm glad you and Beez had the opportunity to go on such a wonderful adventure together :)