We interrupt our regularly scheduled road trip, driving our fantastic Jeep 4xe, to take a sojourn on the train!

Ah, the romance of the rails! Much has been written of it! The idea of train travel is supremely seductive, evoking images of the Orient Express, fancy dining cars, red velvet and decadence. Staring out the window as the world rushes by, then light fades into darkness with just the hint of shadows passing the window. Sharing the moments with that special person, then being lulled to sleep by the rhythmic clacking of the rails and the subtle musical hum of the engine as you speed along towards your destination. So romantic! It’s like being immersed in the best of Victorian romance literature!

However… the designers of modern trains need to get to a library. Desperately. A library. Soon.

Our destination was New York. We had planned to make it to the Big Apple sometime in our trip but we were a bit lost on what to do as far as the Jeep was concerned. We didn’t want to drive it into Manhattan. And, besides, the parking rates were astronomic.  We had originally thought about parking the car outside of New York, perhaps with someone we knew in the area, and taking the train in.  Then it occurred to us; if we’re going to do that, why not do it in Atlanta? Leave the Jeep there with a co-worker, then take the Amtrak from Atlanta up to New York? Perfect!

Have you ever done the train thing? Most of you have probably been on a train at some time or another, even if it was just a local metro. You get a ticket, race on board to find a seat, and stare out the window until you get there.  But this trip was going to be over a day in length; that’s a lot of staring. We decided if we’re going to do this, let’s do it right. Let’s get our own room.

The rooms to choose from are the large family rooms or the roomette. The family rooms were very expensive, so we decided to book a roomette.

First, to clarify, the family room is a large room with two double beds and a separate enclosure with a toilet and shower. Completely self-contained with lots of room to spread out.  Hence the added expense.

But, the roomette… this is a tiny little compartment that has one bunk bed that converts to seating, a bunk bed above which has to be dropped down, a tiny cabinet to put your carry-on luggage, and a sink and a toilet. Not separate, the toilet is right there. In fact, when closed, it can serve as another seat. Or serve as a shelf. Or serve as a table to put your small bag on. But I can guarantee you, when you’re traveling with someone else, the last thing you want it to serve as is as a toilet.

We were told there was a public toilet we could use, but it was in another car.  In fact, it was three cars away.  So we compromised. One of us would use the larger bathroom three cars up in the coach car, and whenever anyone went up to the larger bathroom, the other would use the in-room toilet. We knew when it was safe to return to the roomette by when the curtains were opened. Not a perfect situation, but certainly workable.

One of the cars between us and the treasured public bathroom was the dining car, where you could get additional snacks and beverages for a fee. It much more closely resembled the décor of a sad 50’s diner than anything from the Orient Express, but the service workers were very friendly whenever we passed through.

Boarding in Atlanta at 11pm the roomette was already made up into beds, which made getting ourselves and the luggage situated a bit entertaining. After some gymnastics with the luggage we settled in for the night. The bunk beds (much like airline seats) are intended to be just wide enough for the average person. They succeed about as well as airline seats do…. apparently people were much smaller when they were originally conceived. The idea of sleeping together was quickly discarded so we knew we’d have to use the separate bunks. I’d be on the top bunk, Steve would be on the lower bunk. But we made it work.  Sleeping on a train – it takes some getting used to! Less of a rhythmic lullaby and more of a rock and roll opera. But you know? It did have its own particular charm.

We woke early, and requested the attendant switch our roomette to the sitting room option (do not try this at home! It does seem to require a professional). We stood in the aisle as he tossed our sheets and blankets to the floor. We heard creaks and clacks as mechanical levers were pulled and locks were engaged. When we were allowed back in, voila! Instant sitting car!

Our tickets guaranteed us breakfast and lunch, and the continental breakfast option was, while not fancy, certainly fine. In daylight, the train offers delightful views as the country whooshes by, occasionally pulling into stations to let passengers load and unload. At one stop there was a festival going on, and parents brought their kids to wave at the train as it went by. I was resting in the top bunk at the time, so I waved back. Steve took some photos of them.

Did I mention the wifi? Yes, the train had it. Although it did fade sometimes as it was also subject to signal strength.  Still, between the train wifi and our own cell access, we were able to keep up with the world and, most importantly, we were able to watch the FSU vs Syracuse game (which FSU won!)

Despite the rather cynical description, the train trip was actually quite a fun experience and we’re looking forward to doing it again.  Although, admittedly, we might splurge for the family room next time.

We finally arrived in New York. Since we had packed light with backpacks and pull-behinds, we only had to jump off the train and work through the crowd to the streets of Manhattan.

Interesting side note: when you get off a ship there’s an effect wherein sometimes even on dry land, it still feels like you’re on the ocean. This is called mal de debarquement formally, or getting your “land legs” back more informally. It’s normal in most individuals and usually goes away pretty quickly. As it turns out, trains can have the same effect, and I felt like the entire city, and the hotel once we arrived were swaying for several hours.

But there we were! The Big Apple! New York City! A new adventure to begin! We turned ourselves toward the hotel we’d booked off Times Square and sallied forth with determination and grins on our faces!

A few minutes later, we turned around and retraced our steps with chastened expressions as we had sallied forth in the wrong direction. 

Next Blog: New York City!

1 thought on “Trains!

  1. How lovely a synopsis! I look forward to hearing about the rest of your NY experience. And did you know Brandi Carlile is playing at Carnegie Hall this weekend? She’s performing Joni Mitchell’s Blue. A once in a lifetime event… If you’re a fan of either or both, I highly suggest this amazing opportunity!

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