June 13 – 15
As you probably know from reading this past winter’s blog posts, we were supposed to travel to Australia and New Zealand for an epic vacation. That was cancelled at the last minute as one of us was injured causing us to cancel the trip.
But we are better now and we wanted to do something else from our bucket list. We got tickets for four train rides through the West. The first leg would be the Coast Starlight from Portland to Los Angeles. Then we will take the Southwest Chief from LA to Chicago; followed by the California Zephyr from Chicago to the San Francisco Bay Area and a return to Portland on the northbound Coast Starlight to complete the loop.
We used Lyft for the first time to get to Portland Union Station. Because we reserved a sleeper room we had access to the Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge. We hung out in there for a while but also ventured out to grab some photos before we left.
“Go by Train” the sign says. We think we will thank you!
The main waiting room is large! Passengers were waiting for the Coast Starlight, the Empire Builder (direct to Chicago through Spokane, Montana, and North Dakota) and the Cascades which travels between Eugene and Seattle many times a day.
Each car has an attendant to make life pleasurable for the passengers. Our attendant was Alfred – he was great.
The train leaves Portland mid Afternoon and heads down to Eugene before turning east up the mountains toward Klamath Falls as the sun sets and then down the middle of California, turning west to the coast. When we awoke we had passed Redding and we breakfasted as we travelled more or less parallel to US 101.
It’s obvious Alfred has been on this route for a few years. As we pulled into Salinas, California – where we would stop for less than 10 minutes – he booked it across the street to a little restaurant and sauntered back with his lunch.
Here are some of the California views from our sleeper car.
Eventually we came to the California Coast just south of San Luis Obispo and followed it down through Santa Barbara and Ventura.
It’s difficult taking pictures from inside the train; the dirty windows and reflections conspire to obscure the photos. We found one method is to press an iPhone directly against the glass; unfortunately, this means you can only grab a shot of what is right in front of you. So we accepted some reflection and smudges for better views of our travels.
We pulled into Los Angeles a little after 10 PM on June 14 – a little more than an hour late. Late is usual on Amtrak cross country trips so if you take the train be prepared. We used Lyft again to get to our hotel – we are big fans of Lyft from our early experiences. I know an ex taxi driver who won’t be pleased to hear that. But it is so easy. All done with an iPhone app with no cash exchanging hands.
Our train to Chicago was scheduled to leave around 6 PM the next day so we had the morning and afternoon free to explore downtown Los Angeles – specifically Olivera Street – the heart of the old and original El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles del Río Porciúncula” (AKA , “town of our lady the Queen of Angels of the River Porciúncula”). After breakfast we walked a few blocks from our hotel to the old downtown.
This building housed an old fire station – and it is a fire station museum today. Next door we found an office where volunteers give tours of the area. We connected with Rich for an hour long tour of the beginning of the city. Olivera Street is a shopping district today with lots of colorful items for sale.
Carla is a history buff and loves these kinds of tours. After an hour we thanked Rich …
…and went in search of lunch. If you like Mexican cuisine, you’ll find excellent opportunities to delight your palate. I had tacos on freshly pressed corn tortillas with some delicious refried beans and rice. Carla had a delicious pineapple tamale. Yum.
We then went back to the hotel, showered, changed, checked out, and headed back over to Union Station. It is a beautiful building with a clock tower looming above old Los Angeles downtown.
Union Station is a large building with many interior waiting rooms and external plazas.
Los Angeles is definitely a car town but there are plenty of trains to help with the traffic. Many trains come from all over the Southland including regular service from my old hometown of Palmdale.
At 5:30 we walked up to the tracks and watched the Southwest Chief back into place. We boarded our sleeping car, found our room and prepared for the two night trip to Chicago.
<To Be Continued>
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