The Great Train Adventure

train sta j n me
The Great Train Adventure began with booking our trip. In the past, I had reserved our Amtrak seats online and had our tickets mailed to us. Always sitting on pins and needles until they arrived. Now I can print them out or store them on my smartphone. I opted for the printout, since I am new to the whole smartphone thing.
Packing was the next step. Amtrak has a strict 2 carry-on limit, so we wanted to pack as light as possible, not only because we would be hauling our luggage everywhere, but we also did not want to leave it unattended as we wandered around the train during our 39 hour ride. Our seats were in coach, so there would always be other passengers around us.
train sta j schlwk
My dad dropped us off at the park and ride and we took public transportation, the commuter train, to the express bus that stops just across from Union Station. Inside, we found comfortable seating for our 2 hour wait, and checked in to get our seat assignment. Yak worked on some school lessons while I caught up on reading newsletters and books.
Before boarding I decided we’d better get some food, or we would be stuck with several expensive meals of not so good quality. Fortunately, Union Station has some nice, reasonably priced offerings, so we got some fresh fruit, snacks, yogurt and veggie juice, as well as a hot meal for our dinner.
famima fresh foods
Soon enough we were walking down the tunnel to our platform and boarding our train. Squeezing up the narrow stairs to the upper level is always a challenge, but we made it and stowed our gear. We settled in, ate our dinner and waited for the conductor to check our tickets. Later, we explored the café car, the observation car and the menu for the dining car. Pretty much the same as the last time we rode, several years ago.
Back in our seats, we broke out the gadgets and played video games (the boy) and read (me). No movies on the train anymore. Guess everyone brings their own now. That’s sure what it looks like, anyway, with tablets and smartphones blazing away at every turn.
observation car
Sleeping in coach is not too bad. We had our pillows and blankets (Amtrak no longer provides them) and were plenty cozy in the reclining seats. The movement of the train lulled us to sleep. I woke up just before the café car attendant announced coffee and I had my travel cup ready! It felt good to stretch my legs and walk around a bit. Back at our seats, the boy was beginning to stir and I retrieved our breakfast from the overhead rack – fruit, yogurt and juice. The train ride itself became a pilgrimage as I quietly had my morning devotions and said my rosary and Divine Mercy chaplet.
The long day of slow travel allowed for schoolwork, correcting schoolwork, writing, reading, playing video games and getting off the train at one of two 30 minute stops, to stretch our legs and inspect the wares of local vendors set up in front of the station. We also treated ourselves to lunch in the dining car. The food was not exciting, but the conversation was nice. Amtrak tries to fill its dining tables, so we had a luncheon companion we had previously not known. Conversation ranged from publishing, to video games, to Flagstaff, AZ and several subjects in between.
j train schlwk
Dinner was cheese and crackers and after reading some more and wishing we had brought a dvd or downloaded some videos to watch, we got out our blankets and pillows and slept almost all the way to Colorado.

Travel by Train – Stop or Station?

Union Station, Los Angeles, CA
Train travel is probably my favorite. I sometimes consider the logistics of ditching the truck and trailer and moving around exclusively by train. Of course, then there are Mr. Cuddles and Mrs. Susie; having to rent a place if there are no friends or relatives to stay with; cooking meals, etc. So for now, our primary means of living and traveling are the truck and trailer.
Some of the things I love about the train are: lots of legroom. Usually plugins at every seat (on long distance Amtrak trains). The observation car. Sleeping while moving. Not having to stop and use the restroom. Or eat. Working, reading, watching movies or just looking out the window without having to watch the road. Naturally, there are the occasional disadvantages: noisy children (or adults), sick travelers (get on healthy, get off sick after enduring hours of co-passengers’ coughing and sneezing). Luckily, our experience with that has been rare, and since my son and I travel together, we are seatmates and don’t have to worry about sitting next to strangers.
Lamy, NM – a stop
Waiting for the train is not too bad either. At least at Union Station. There is decent seating, decent food choices and a newsstand. Down the tracks, however, can be a different story. Many stops do not feature the comforts of a station. Some stops are in the middle of town, almost just like a bus stop. Not too bad if the weather is okay. Not great in bad weather. Especially if the train is late, or you are very early. Other stops are quite a different story. For years, we took the train from Williams, AZ, “Gateway to the Grand Canyon“. Not only no station, but the stop is in the middle of nowhere. Outside of town. In the woods. On a dirt road! Exciting, huh? Having now spooked you, I will relieve your fears. Williams also hosts the Grand Canyon Railway, which owns a major hotel in town. Amtrak contracts with the hotel to pick up and drop off its passengers at the stop. So if you are getting on or off the train in Williams, never fear, your bus or van driver will get you to the train, or pick you up and take you to the hotel, from where you may retrieve your car or make other transportation arrangements (have someone pick you up) in comfort. 
Trinidad, CO – stop
So when you are making your train travel plans, keep in mind where you will be boarding or disembarking. Is it a stop or a station? A stop will be on the side of the tracks with no amenities except maybe a parking lot. Make sure you know whether you can walk to where you need to go, or somewhere you can wait indoors, or have someone waiting to pick you up. A station will have many amenities, including a waiting room, seating, bathrooms, ticket counter and maybe even food. At least you will be out of the elements if you have to wait and you may even be able to rent a car or take public transportation from there to wherever you’re headed next.
Albuquerque, NM – station
If you’ve never taken the train, give it a try. Maybe we’ll meet up with you on our next train adventure!

Metro! Riding the Rails in SoCal

Olvera Street plaza, Los Angeles, CA

Forsaking Colorado’s sub-zero temps, we’ve made our way to Southern California. We’re so happy to leave the snow boots behind, we’ll even forgive the few hours of cloud cover, which blocks the sun for part of each day. It is the rainy season here, after all. Even a few drops of rain won’t put a damper on a day of train riding and Los Angeles is developing a pretty good metrolink system.

Yak and I love riding around on trains. L.A. county’s Metrolink is now connecting with several other SoCal counties, all the way down to San Diego. We have long desired to take a day and ride the buses and trains. My first order of business was to visit the Metrolink website and print out a route map. We studied the best way to approach our adventure and decided to start at the nearest station, get a “TAP” card and load it with a day pass. That way we can reload and reuse the card whenever we are in town, which is several times a year. A day pass is the best deal for us, as it gives unlimited rides on all Metrolink rail and bus lines. Unfortunately, I didn’t check the bus schedule. The car battery was dead and no one was home to help us jump start it, or drop us off at the train station, so we walked to the corner bus stop. The wait became too long and there was no bench, so we walked several blocks to the next bus stop. Here, we found, there were 2 buses to choose from. We took the first one – fortunately we chose well. It deposited us at our station and we purchased our “TAP” cards. 

Feeling very much like Harry Potter at the subway station with Mr. Weasley, we tapped our way onto the platform, where we joined several other folks waiting for the train. Once aboard, we decided to ride to the end of the line in Redondo Beach, but once there, found that the beach was farther than we wanted to walk. Since we hadn’t studied or printed out any bus schedules, we chose to ride the train back to the airport and watch the planes for awhile. In theory, this was a great idea but in reality, tightened security makes it almost impossible to get a good view of the planes taking off and landing, unless you are a ticketed passenger.

hand painted tiles, clay floor tiles, vintage lighting at Union Station

We continued on the train and deciphered which stop would drop us closest to the bus for Union Station. Union Station is beautiful! Outside are several shady/sunny courtyards, with trees, flowers and seating. Inside are newsstands, restaurants, a bar and several other food vendors. Not to mention the vintage seating in the lobby, the colorful, painted tilework and clay tile floors. Very Angeleno. 

Calle Olvera

I had not taken Yak to Olvera Street, just across from Union Station, since he was a baby, so we had to go. He said it felt like we were in Old Mexico. Olvera Street is a story in itself, for another day, as I’m getting a bit long winded with the train adventure. This day, we enjoyed wandering through the market stalls, then stopping for a familiar Mexican ice cream from a vendor in the plaza. 

It was getting time to head back, so even though there are a number of interesting attractions within a short walk from Olvera Street, we made a beeline for Union Station, this time to take a real subway train back to our home station. We changed trains twice, as if we did it every day, before arriving at the station, where we waited for our bus to take us home. And waited. And waited. We finally walked the 2 miles to the house. At least it wasn’t too cold or too dark. Or too far. We heartily agreed to check the bus schedule next time, or make sure the car was running so we could park it at the park & ride lot. Or bring our bikes and rent a bike locker.

Maybe next time we’ll take the special express bus to Disneyland…