Saturday, July 23, 2016

Voyage of the Vikings Cruise - Our Train Trip East

Day 1 – Home to Los Angeles

We were up bright and early (maybe not so bright, but certainly early for us) at 5:00 AM and ready to finally start our trip.  Val’s sister, Vicki spent the night with us and took us to the train station to begin our journey.  The first leg of our trip was taking the Amtrak Surfliner from our area to Union Station in Los Angeles where we would catch the Southwest Chief to Chicago.  The trip to LA was uneventful, but foggy most of the way so we didn’t see much of coastal scenery along the way.

After arriving at Union Station, I checked in with Amtrak and found that they now have a Metropolitan Lounge for sleeping car passengers, which was a huge plus as we had a six hour layover before our train leaves for Chicago.  The Metropolitan Lounge has comfortable seating, tables and chair, drinks and snacks, and restrooms which makes the waiting much easier.  You can also store your carry-on luggage which makes it much easier if you want to get out and walk around.  We have used the Metropolitan Lounges in Chicago and New Orleans and really enjoyed them.

After dropping off our bags we went out to get some lunch and had a surprisingly good lunch of crab cakes and waldorf salads at the restaurant inside Union Station.  During our trip to LA one of the plastic nose guards on my glasses broke off which made it a little uncomfortable with the bare metal hitting my nose so we decided to see if we could find an optometrist close by.  Thank goodness for smart phones and Google Maps; there was one only a half mile away and with guidance from my phone we walked there and my glasses were fixed.

We walked back to the station and spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and anxiously awaiting our departure time.  It was finally boarding time and we made our way to train and got on board.  Unfortunately, things didn’t quite work out as we’d hoped.  First off we got the small bedroom compartment at the end of the car which I had specifically today the agent we didn’t want and there was also a foul odor in our room that smelled of sewage.

We talked to the attendant and she agreed that there was an odor and that they had replaced the toilet and something probably didn’t get sealed properly and hence the smell.  She was very sympathetic and said she would see what she could do.  The train manager and conductor talked to us and said they would try to find another bedroom they could switch us too which would be difficult as the train was sold out.  It turned out there was a handicap bedroom downstairs that hadn’t been booked and we could switch to that.  We took a look at it and while it was laid out a little differently and was downstairs (poorer view) we took it as we didn’t want to sit there and smell sewage the whole trip.  It worked out well and I have to say the Amtrak people bent over backwards to help us and were all very nice.  Things happen and you have to adapt to them and we are happy with the results.

After getting moved it was time for dinner so we made our way to the dining car.  On the train, all tables are tables for four so you always end up sharing the table with someone.  We almost always have enjoyed our dinner companions and tonight was no exception.  After dinner we went back to our compartment and relaxed a bit and then called it a night, we were very tired.  Tomorrow we will be on the train all day and another night.

Day 2 – Train Day

We got up around eight this morning and decided to skip breakfast as neither one of us felt very hungry.  We didn’t sleep very well last night as it seemed we could hear the train noise a lot louder in our downstairs compartment than upstairs.  Also at times the train traveled very fast which caused swaying and some abrupt movement which would wake us up.

We spent the morning reading, looking out the window and relaxing.  We arrived early in Albuquerque so we had an extended stay there which allowed us to get off the train and look around.  We checked out the station and the vendors selling Native American souvenirs, but it was pretty hot so we didn’t linger very long.  By this time our lack of breakfast was setting in and we were very ready for lunch.  We made our way to the dining car for our 12:30 reservation and had a good lunch and good conversation with a couple who were returning home to Kansas City after a visit to California.

The rest of the day was much like the morning, although we both took naps since we were pretty tired.  We had dinner reservations at 7:00 and had a good dinner of steak for me and crab cakes for Val.  The food on the train is not exactly gourmet food, but it is pretty good considering the cramped environment that the food has to be prepared in.  We ate with another couple returning to Kansas, but this time after a conference in Albuquerque.  We returned to our compartment and read a while, but it was an early night for us as we were both tired.  We both hoped for a better night’s sleep tonight.  Tomorrow we are scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 3:15 PM.

Day 3 – Chicago and on to Boston

Today was our last day on the Southwest Chief before we arrive in Chicago to catch our train to Boston.  We slept a little better last night, but it was still pretty noisy with lots of motion.  Once again we skipped breakfast and spent the morning watching the countryside go by outside our window.  We ate lunch today with a young couple from Topeka, Kansas who were traveling with four other members of their family to Chicago to see a Cubs game.

After lunch we got our things together for our arrival in Chicago and then settled in to wait.  We were about a half hour late, but got to Chicago around 4:00 PM.  Union Station in Chicago had undergone a renovation since we had last visited two years ago and we had a little trouble finding our way around.  We finally found the Metropolitan Lounge which was brand new in a new location.  It had only opened three weeks ago and was very new.  It was much larger and covered two stories which is good as the old one was very crowded.  Chicago is a big rail hub with many Amtrak trains coming and going all day to various areas in the country so they really do need a lot of room.  The new lounge is very nice, but right now lacks the character of the old one and feels very sterile, but I’m sure that will change as the add more décor.

Our train to Boston didn’t leave until 9:30 PM so we checked our bags and decided to walk around Chicago for a while.  We wandered around for an hour or so and then headed back to the Metropolitan Lounge to relax for a while before getting some dinner.  For dinner we headed to the food court that is in the station which is huge and has many choices to choose from.  Unfortunately many of the choices were closed so we ended up getting some BBQ which was pretty good.  We headed back to the lounge where we were told our train would be boarding at 8:30 so we barely had time to sit down before we gathered our bags and headed for the gate.

We would be taking the Lake Shore Limited to Boston and instead of a bedroom compartment we had booked a roomette which turned out to be a mistake as they are quite small and we felt very crowded.  Unlike the roomettes on trains west of Chicago, these had toilets and sinks, but they weren’t enclosed, they just were squeezed in between the bed and the door so no privacy.  In addition, there were no other bathrooms on sleeper car so you had to use the toilet in the room; an odd arrangement, but oh well, when in Rome … .  After getting everything squared away it was almost 10:00 and we were ready to call it a day so we had the attendant get the beds ready and we called it a day.  After a day on the train tomorrow we arrive in Boston tomorrow evening.

Day 4 – Boston Arrival

After a restless night’s sleep we were up around 8:30 and struggled to get dressed in our small roomette.  We decided to go to breakfast this morning and made our way to the dining car.  On this train there was not a full dining car so our breakfast choices were limited.  We both had omelets which were passable and very salty sausage which wasn’t.  After breakfast we went back to our room which had been made up in our absence.  The first thing we did was call Amtrak Guest Rewards and try to get our return trip reservations changed from a roomette to a bedroom and luckily we were able to do that; no more roomettes for us.

We spent the rest of the morning and reading and watching the scenery go by until it was time for lunch.  I expected to be passing through city after city as we traveled through the east, but for the most part we traveled through lush green forests, lakes and rivers.  Lunch was no more memorable than breakfast, but it filled us up so we were satisfied.  After lunch we had a couple of hours until Albany, New York where we would have to change from the train to a bus for the last leg of our journey to Boston.  There is a lot of track work being done in the area which has disrupted normal train schedules and hence our upcoming bus trip.  One interesting thing about our last leg into Albany was that we followed the Erie Canal most of the way.  It was very interesting; it was very wide and looked more like a river than a canal.

We arrived in Albany late and transferred to the bus.  The bus was full so space was at a premium.  The rest of the day was spent on the road and dropping people off at the various train stops.  Traffic was very bad in places so we fell further and further behind schedule.  We finally arrived in Boston around 9:30 PM, an hour and a half late.  Val and I collected our luggage, found a cab and ten minutes later we were checking into our hotel.

We are staying at the Omni Parker House Hotel which is the oldest hotel in the United States.  We picked it because it is right in the center of Boston and close to both the train station and cruise terminal.  We were quickly checked in and made our way to our room.  We put a few things away and got settled and then called it a day as we were both very tired.  After three days on the train, I can’t tell you how much we were looking forward to sleeping in a real bed.  Tomorrow is the first of two days we have in Boston.

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