Thursday, September 15, 2016

Amtrak Across America - The California Zephyr (Part I)

Have you ever considered taking a long distance Amtrak? From what I gather talking to people about traveling, lots of folks have thought about it, while it seems some don't know it's possible. I can assure you it's not only possible, it's a wonderful way to experience the country. Forget flyovers; America is full of stunning scenery and the rails is an excellent way to see a lot of it up close. 
And even when the scenery isn't so stunning, the trip can still be a really good time.

Highways are much the same in many parts of the country, with not much difference unless the changes are dramatic. It can render places boring easily. But the train provides a totally different experience. Not only can you relax and soak up the views, there are a lot of chances to meet some really unique and interesting people. As a natural introvert, the idea of being so up close and personal with so many people - groups of less than four are seated together during meal service in the dining car - was less than appealing when I learned of it. Truth of the matter is that it was a fabulous time, and a lot of fun. In fact, I spent so much time doing things on the train, I spent very little time with things I'd brought to pass the time.

We few in to San Francisco and spent the night with family. The next day we were graciously taken to the train station in Emeryville; not in San Francisco proper, but very easy to reach. Our train departed about fifteen minutes late, so I was already a little anxious about the connection we were making in Chicago (spoiler alert: there was no need to worry).

Finally on the way, we snaked through California.

Not only do the trains have cafe and dining cars, there is a lounge car where you can do some ciewing. Sometimes there is narration of the trip as well, which can be really interesting. It seemed to usually be done by local groups affiliated with historical or rail societies, on the trip I was on. These lounge cars had comfortable seats facing the windows as well as booths. 

Above, the dining car. Below, the lounge car. In the lunge, I met a 74 year old man and his young twin sons. The guy had lived a long time in Africa and done a lot of work with the Peace Corps. 
He was an interesting fellow.

While we never had a problem getting a seat in there, I did once hear an Amtrak employee asking people to give others a chance to enjoy the area, so it seems they try not to let people monopolize these areas.

There are cool windows up top, obviously you can see them in the image above. Unfortunately we did not have those windows, or really any upper windows at all in our room, although the room has a great window for both seats when the beds are tucked away. 

The West has the best scenery.

When I started uploading these photos, I thought it might be best to break it up into a few parts.
I took so many photos that I won't continue to Denver until the next post.
For now, enjoy the views I got on the first day.

Above, the view as we selected our meal, which was delicious by the way. I hope Amtrak will continue to feature freshly prepared food on their trains! I had a veggie burger.

Above, you can see the highway, complete with billboard. We had no such advertising to deal with.
Just nature.

Back in our room, it was relaxing and comfortable.

Above, the view inside the hallway of one of the sleeper cars.

A gorgeous sunset signaled the end to our first day.

We had a last chance to stretch our legs before settling in.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Alaskan Cruise Part II - Juneau, Haines, Victoria BC, SF

The first part of our trip was chronicled in Part I.
We managed to pack a lot in to our time in port; it's not unusual for us to pack as much as possible into out trips. I generally try to maximize the time we've got, and we're also used to being a bit short on time - something truly characteristic of cruises. While in Juneau we decided to also go on a hike that provided another dose of stunning viewpoints. 

It was a lovely place that was, somehow, secluded and devoid of other tourists even though many other ships were in port at the same time as us. 

Again, the weather wasn't ideal for taking photos. But one nice thing about this sort of weather, it's not hot and hiking was pleasant.

Afterwards, w took a look around town and had a nice lunch on the waterfront.

I really enjoy photographing flowers, and Alaska provided tons of opportunities.

Further afield, we stopped in Haines. It's another quirky little Alaskan town.

The Hammer Museum is below. A photo from outside was enough hammer time for me.

There were a lot of people trying to get a photo with this totem pole, one of the few I saw.

Our excursion in Haines was a rafting trip with some local guides. It wasn't white water or anything crazy, but it was very pleasant. I also had the opportunity to take some more photos.

We had a ride back from the rafting trip to the cruise ship, but decided to get off in town and take one more quick spin around town before heading back to the boat. We went in a cool little local art gallery, which had this nice sculpture outside.

Finally had to head back.

One really fun part of the cruise was getting to see Glacier Bay from that vantage point. For me this was the best part og being on the ship. They had set up a good commentary along with the viewing.

After awhile, the return trip began. We were treated to some gorgeous views and went to the deck to enjoy them. I'd been enjoying my time off the boat because unfortunately I was seasick for a majority of the time. Luckily looking back, that's not really what I remember.

One last excursion before the trip to San Francisco; we were off to Victoria, British Columbia. What a gorgeous city it is. Sadly we had only a few hours here.  
But, of course we found time to have a look around this lovely town.

I got some good tea on the main drag.

We had a little time in Sanf Francisco. We visited SF MOMA, which I guess is now the old museum. It was fun though. The world cup was on and they screened the final.

The cable cars..

.. the Transamerica building..

..and the end.

= center