Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “luxury rail travel”

Freeway-Free in California: Sacramento

Cars are convenient, but I find it intensely liberating to be without one. Why travel to a different locale if you are traveling withing your own bubble, complete with too familiar anxieties about parking, traffic, one-way streets, and so on? When possible, I go by other means. It is wonderful to discover how many other means there are, and what new adventures can be found when one is not chained to a steering wheel.

49er's stadium, Santa Clara

49er’s stadium, Santa Clara

Example – for our most recent day trip from the Bay Area to Sacramento we took the train. The Capital Corridor train pulls into the Santa Clara Great America station at about 7:30AM; we are early enough to see the new 49er stadium glowing with construction lights as it grows like a giant phosphorescent fungus adjacent to the station. The train is not crowded yet, so we pick plum seats in the upstairs and enjoy reasonably decent coffee from the café car.

I have written about the train experience here. After a quick three hours (one newspaper, two magazines, and part of a paperback, we debark at the old Sacramento Station, our goal being the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the Crocker Art Museum, and a lunch date with our Sacramento-resident son and his wife.

He doth bestride our narrow world like a colossus...It is a grayish day, but our spirits are buoyed by interesting sight. On one side is the Gateway Arch that leads to the historic Old Sacramento neighborhood, on the other an angular light tower bestrides the path to central Sacramento like a giant’s Transformer or Erector set – I half expect it to fold itself up into a closetful of coat-hangers as we go by.Gateway Arch, downtown Sacramento
The Old Crocker Mansion is changed also; the original Victorian mansion was deeded to the city along with the banking family’s art collection; over the intervening century the mansion/museum has added a wing, then another wing, and now a modern new museum addition which dwarfs the original mansion. The Rockwell exhibit has drawn a wide spectrum of Sacramento citizenry: field-tripping students clutchingtheir study guides, a bevy of Red Had Clubbers In their cheerful scarlet and purple costumes, and even a vanload of art fans from the Lighthouse for the Blind wielding their red-tipped white canes.

Old Crocker Mansion Museum - SacramentoNew Crocker Museum - Sacramento

After appreciating the 350 Saturday Evening Post covers as best we can, we stroll over to Il Fornaio restaurant on Capitol Mall for lunch with the kids. Afterward we have time, so we go through the arch and the gaily painted tunnel to Old Sacramento. The wrought-iron balconies recall the French Quarter in New Orleans; a century of flood damage is hidden beneath the wooden sidewalks. Instead of building levees against the Sacramento and American rivers as their city subsided, Sacramentans simply built second and third stories on top of the “basement” floors which had originally been at ground level.Signage - Old Sacto
We stroll into some of the colorful tourist boutiques, check out the visitors’ center, and make our way back to the station through a surprising remnant of Chinatown featuring a memorial statue to Sun Yat-sen who seems to bless our departure.
If the day had been sunnier, we could have spent time on the Capital Mall exploring the Rose Garden, the Cactus Garden, the various war memorials, and the Stanford Mansion. Instead we caught the earlier train and peacefully read our way back to Santa Clara, gazing occasionally out at the poor folks stuck in their steel bubble gridlock on the neighboring freeways.

Next: the Coast Starlight to San Luis Obispo

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Canada: The Alien Next Door – Day 6 (continued) – Kamloops

Lights of KamloopsIf you are traveling from Edmonton to Vancouver, you go through mountains.  If you are on the Rocky Mountaineer, the luxury tourist train, you are promised that you will the mountains in daylight.  The first day you see the Canadian Rockies.  The second day you see the northern Cascades.  And in between  you have to stop somewhere.  That would be  Kamloops.Kamloops Casino

After the historical majesty of Banff Springs, Kamloops is barebones, down-to-earth, and offers everything you need for a one-night stay.  There are at least two hotels with serviceable accommodations (we stayed at the Thompson).  There is a downtown, which features a brightly lit library and an even more brightly lit casino run by the Indian tribe whose reservation is across the river.  It is summer, and there is a college in Kamloops, so there is a lot of life on the streets even though it is mid-week.

Flood MarkerRiverside Park just over the railroad bridge sits at the confluence of the north and south branches of the Thompson River. Historically and pre-historically, the river has been even larger:  a marker at the edge shows the height of the river during several 20th century floods (Ankle, knee, and waist- high lines), during prehistoric times (head-high) and during the epochal flooding of 1894 (about twenty feet up there).

The park features lots of rolling lawn, graceful trees, a sandy beach, and a bandshell where free music concerts are given every night of the summer season (Heavy on the country-western genre.) Thanks to the balmy temperatures and the slow-moving river, it also features economy size mosquitoes, which limited our attention span for the concert.

RiversideBandshellWe strolled back from the park past a pizza parlor overflowing with families, an ice cream shop overflowing with children (including one practicing with a hula hoop). From the turn of the century opulence of the Banff Springs Hotel we had time traveled all the way to the 1950’s., We settled for dinner at The Noble Pig brewhouse, where the modest cuisine was considerably enhanced by the friendly service and outdoor dining.   I expected to see Ozzie and Harriet at the next table, with young David and Ricky fighting over the last piece of pizza.

Canada – the Alien Next Door – Day 6 – the Rockies by Rail – All aboard!

The view from the Rocky MountaineerBy 7 AM we are breakfasted. By 8Am shivering on the platform, waiting for our luxury train to arrive. A far-off whistle blows! We see an oncoming light! Everyone pulls out cameras, starts snapping photos. It’s coming closer! It’s getting louder! It’s not stopping! It’s a freight!Here it comes!
It’s a loooooooooooooong freight. Everyone puts their cameras away, goes back to shivering.
Another distant whistle. Another headlight. This time it’s the real thing – the Rocky Mountaineer, striped elegantly in black and gold.Dome car on the Rocky Mountaineer - outside

Uniformed attendants jump from the doors and spread  a red carpet on the platform to mark where you are to mount the train. We have been issued special red-enameled maple leaves which entitle us to seats in the bubble dome car and hot meals served in the downstairs dining space. (Lowly gold-enameled leaf-ers have to make do with box lunches served at their seat.)
Dome car, Rocky Mountaineer

On the train!Comfy reclinable seats!  Snack tables!  Scenery! Clean windows! Open bar! Food, snacks, local cuisine – hopeless! I haven’t seen a scale since we left, but I’m beginning to dread when I do.

Tonight : Dinner and overnight in cosmopolitan Kamloops

Tips on travel with the Oldest Old – Part IV– Trains and buses

Maybe you get seasick in swimming pools.  Maybe you get claustrophobia if there is no escape route from a boat.  A second alternative available in some areas is old-fashioned luxury rail travel.  I’m not talking about AmTrak with its erratic schedules and limited meal service.  There are excellent tours by rail if you search diligently – and are willing to pay.

For example, Canada’s Rocky Mountaineer luxury train starts in either Jasper or Banff and winds its way through the Canadian rockies past glaciers,, wildlife, and snowcapped peaks.  You can choose to travel with three different levels of luxe– a car with picture windows with a box lunch brought to your seat,  a dome car with hot breakfast and lunch served at your seat, or a dome car with an open bar and a dining service below offering a choice of excellent gourmet meals with white tablecloths, crystal glassware, and attentive service.   The train travels only in daylight so as not to miss a scenic moment, and you disembark in the evening to stay in 4-5 star historic hotels  along the route.

Other luxury train travel opportunities are available in the UK, Europe, Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa.

Caveats:

You are likely to have different stopping points each night – lots of unpacking and re-packing

Use of the premium service requires that you must be able to negotiate the  narrow spiral staircase between the sightseeing and dining levels of the rail car.

Options are pricey, pricier, and priciest

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A third alternative – luxury bus travel

Advantages:

Bus tours cost depends on the tour company, but are generally  more affordable than either cruise or rail travel

There is a wider variety of destinations available by bus than by boat or train. A top-end bus tour company will put its travelers into the same hotels as the luxury train might offer, and has more flexibility in offering excursions to restaurants and other attractions outside the hotel.

Caveats:

Bus travel, no matter how well sprung the bus and how insulated the engine, is more tiring than cruise or train travel, with more on-and-offs for trick knees and hips to endure.

Compared to cruise or train travel, there is more “dead time” on the bus between destinations, and less ability to move about.  If you get carsick trying to read on a bus, you have few entertainment alternatives, no matter how many sing-alongs and Draw-the-Moose competitions your tour guide instigates.  And if sing-alongs and Draw-the-Moose competitions are not your thing – so much the worse!

Like train travel,  bus travel is likely to  involve multiple overnight locations.  If you don’t want to pack and repack every day, check   itineraries for tours that have a central hub for overnights with tours branching out to different destinations each day.

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