Two weeks ago, we travelled from Winter Park, FL to Washington, DC…from DC to Chicago…from Chicago through the northern part of the United States to Portland, OR (including about 120 miles through Glacier National Park)…and finally from Portland to Merced, CA.
Over 4,000 miles in 6 days and 5 nights via Amtrak.
I was a little nervous going into this trip.
Would the kids behave for that many days on a train?
Would we all go a little bit stir crazy?
How would the food be?
Would I sleep at all?
How late would we end up?
Turns out, all of my worries were for naught. The kids behaved wonderfully (most of the time), there was too much to look at out the windows and enough stops for us to not go stir crazy, the food was delicious (and plentiful and included in our first class tickets), and after the first night I slept at least as well as I do in my own bed. And while we were often late on the tracks, we were rarely late into stations…or if we were, it was by less than an hour.
For most of trip, we all had roomettes – very small rooms with two chairs facing each other that fold down to become the bottom bunk. The top bunk folds or cranks down from the ceiling.
That's Tom and Caleb in their first roomette. Unlike most of the trains we travelled on, our first sleeper car was a Viewliner, which meant that…
the…ahem…facilities were in our rooms.
It seemed a little awful at first, but it really wasn't that bad. It was the only train that had that feature – most of the time, we walked down the hall or downstairs to find the toilets and showers.
Meals on a train are served community style,
which means that if there are four of you, you get your own table. Any number smaller than that and you're sharing your dinner table with another traveller or two. It was really rather nice, and Caleb in particular liked sitting other other people and schmoozing.
I'd intended to get pictures of the meals, but never did (that whole moving while you're eating thing!), but I was only disappointed in one meal (raviolis). Other than that, everything – including halibut, steaks, breakfasts and desserts – was wonderful.
The kids were a little nervous climbing in into their beds the first nights, but that changed pretty quickly. Our car attendants (all so helpful and friendly) made the beds up for us and put them away each morning. Between that and not having to cook or clean the kitchen each night, I was feeling pretty spoiled!
We ended up leaving their beds down quite a bit to give them somewhere else to play. And that Snoopy in Caleb's arms – he's officially travelled over 50,000 miles now. I think Caleb's at 53,000.
It wasn't easy getting used to the swinging and swaying you always feel when a train is moving, and it took me over a week to get rid of it once we were off. You never know when you're going to hit a bump or just sort of roll…although that usually seemed to happen when I was in the shower.
What did we do most of the time?
We played games…
we all did quite a bit of reading, we talked, we slept andwe looked out the windows quite a bit.
If only those Amtrak windows would have opened!
And we learned one lesson very quickly:
Travelling by train isn't about getting somewhere.
It's about the journey. It's about sitting with your grandparents and staring out the window. It's about not knowing exactly where you are or what time it is and being perfectly okay with it. It's about true rest and relaxation. Train travel means chatting with strangers who share your rails and a newspaper in your room each morning. It's about seeing the country – the parts you don't always see from the highways.
It's about living a slower life, if only for the duration of your travels.
I don't when or where, but I can guarantee that we'll be taking the rails less travelled again someday.