Tuesday, May 17, 2011

7 States in 3 Days on the California Zephyr

I made the most of my railpass and made the trip from West to the Mid-West (which really should be Mid-East...), Chicago to be more precise.  If you've seen the post from my train ride from Toronto to Vancouver, you'll already know how much I like taking pictures from my seat.  The ride was 3 days, 2 nights and we crossed 7 states, admired spectacular mountain ranges, canyons, rivers and plains.  Out of all the train rides I could do, I wanted to do the California Zephyr the most.  I wish I'd had the guts to ask the people I met and talked with on the train if I could take a photo... they were just as interesting as the scenery. I talked travel and politics with Mac from San Francisco who was heading all the way to Siberia by train (aside from the flight from New York to Copenhagen), had dinner in the dining car with John and Sharon who were farmers in Ohio, Pat, an 85 year old woman, who showed me how to use her nook and countless others.  I learnt a bit about the Pioneers who were some of the first people to make the trip West (other than the natives of course!) and shared my fellow passengers awe of their feat.  The land is truly amazing - I enjoyed the ride but I SO wanted to jump off the train and explore (again and again and again!).

Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (2)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (4)

  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (33)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (53)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (65)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (71)

Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (82)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (74)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (79)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (80)    Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (88)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (91)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (98)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (106)

Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (121)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (123)

Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (124)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (134)

  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (138)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (143)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (148)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (152)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (154)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (156)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (163)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (177)  

Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (187)  Amtrak - Emeryville-Chicago (20)

PS. For my friends who thought I was crazy to consider going to Nebraska (erm because it didn't hold that much appeal - well at least not compared to other states), I did make it through there... tho' sadly, I slept through it (not on purpose - Nebraska was during the night bit of the train trip - honest!).   Any Nebraskans out there, I don't mean to do your state a disservice - I'm still intrigued by all the places that are less obvious destinations for tourists.  Anyway, feel free to post your travel tips in case I ever make it there! 

The Amazing Fog of San Francisco

"The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco" not actually said by Mark Twain - nobody knows who coined it but San Franciscans love it... and so do I!  It's the fog. It could be beautiful, and sunny all day (like it was on my two days there) - you might  enjoy drinking an iced coffee sat outside, sunshine on your face, watching the world go by and listening to someone's explanation of why the Republicans don't want to cut the defense budget because they need all the reasons they can muster to cut all the social programmes (which I did) and then be blown away by the freezing fog in the evening of that same day on top of Twin Peaks whilst overlooking the city (which I nearly was).  It was bloody cold but it was a spectacular sight to see the fog creep in and move on - the twinkling lights of the city down below growing brighter or dimmer whilst it did so.  It was beautiful.  

Thanks very much to my friend, Birgit, in Vancouver who put me in touch with her friend, Morgan, and I had a place to stay in the city.  I drank home-made wine (really good home-made wine!), enjoyed the panoramic views from the balcony, found some tasty burritos in Mission went for a lovely stroll along a fog-filled beach and also got to catch up with relatives who lived in Fremont.  On the drive from Fremont back to the city, we went over San Mateo bridge where I got to appreciate the immensity of the clouds - they were so thick and heavy, I swear they were inches away from the water.  Grey is a beautiful colour.

Rainbow spotting on the Ferry from Oakland to San Fran
Ferry - Oakland-San Francisco (4)

San Francisco - Noe Valley (2)

View from my host's balcony
San Francisco - Noe Valley (5)

A brave couple picnic on the beach (it was bloody cold!)
San Francisco - North Beach (2)

San Francisco - North Beach (5)

Fog and city lights watch at Twin Peaks
San Francisco - Twin Peaks (2)

Views to Frisco...

Amtrak trains are a lot like the Via Rail ones in Canada... reclining chairs with lots of leg space, dining car and lounge car with lots more windows - one plus though for the Amtrak ones is that the lounge cars have swivel chairs!  Here are a few pics from the train going from Portland to Northern California...

Amtrak - Portland-Oakland (5)
Going through the Cascade mountains

Amtrak - Portland-Oakland (6)

Amtrak - Portland-Oakland (7)

Amtrak - Portland-Oakland (12)

Portland's good life

I'd heard and read enough about Portland for it to be on my radar - the great cafe culture, it's laidback-ness and the music (music friends of mine told me lots of good music has been coming from there recently).  In fact, one of the pluses about moving to Vancouver was the possibility for weekend trips to Portland (in the end of course, I'd done so much travelling around Canada, by the time I was in Vancouver, it had to mostly be about working and saving - and it's still a good 5 hours away!). Anyway, I was looking forward to checking it out.

110412 Portland (3)
I couchsurfed in the Alberta district. I arrived on a beautiful sunshiney day on Alberta Street, met Ted, my host, and went for lunch at La Bonita - he recommended their burritos (seems to me to be lots of amazing Mexican places for food in the US as I keep getting recommendations for them... not that I mind, they're usually right!).  We talked about travel and life in Portland and London. I was only there for a couple of days and Ted and his lovely housemates gave me the best introduction to life in Portland. It has a very similar feel and look to Vancouver - you've got the chilled West Coast vibe and high regard for the great outdoors as well as for a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.  I can totally see why this small city appeals to so many people (I'm sure I read somewhere how Portland was becoming a popular place for people to move to but I can't find it now).  Portland worked out fabulously for them because they could live the life they wanted really easily - finding good local produce for instance (I was especially impressed with their beer selection - who knew Portland had so many great breweries)! Their neighbourhood is beautiful and there's plenty to keep them entertained with some great restaurants, bars, cafes (of course!) and shops.  Lots of neighbourhoods have weekly or monthly street parties which sounded like fun (such a shame I wasn't there for one).  You don't need to stray too far away to be in awe of nature and they had the opportunity and space to pursue things they cared about.  I've always seen myself as a big city girl - I love how busy and full big city life can be. I'm also drawn more to cities that are messier/grimier (in all sorts of ways) but seeing a little of my host's world did make me appreciate how lovely it must be to thoroughly enjoy life when there is no messy.  I wasn't able to catch any live music - tho' Ted and his housemates have an awesome record collection.  However, I can confirm that there are some excellent cafes to sit and while away a few hours in. I also learnt about biodynamic raisins, sauna'd in the backyard and that Portland really is super laidback :o)

Favourite cafe - Townshends Tea House (I'm sure they have amazing tea but I tried and loved their Coconut Mate Latte).  The cafe in Powell's bookshop (which is a must visit for any book lover anyway) is a close second purely because you could browse for books and then bring a few in to the cafe to read in case you might like to buy them.
Favourite stroll - by the river to admire Portland's bridges.
Favourite beer - Rogue's hazelnut brown nectar (and Portland has some great beers)

Bridge and blossom spotting along the river
110413 Portland (8)

America's Bill of Rights
110413 Portland (13)

And back on the train again and for my first overnight on the Amtrak
110413 Portland

Monday, May 16, 2011

First stop - an unexpected stop

Ahhh, Greyhound.  I was a bit too last minute to get myself a cheap train ticket down to Portland and decided I wanted to just stick my headphones in and watch the world go by so didn't go for a rideshare.  So Greyhound was it.

I first travelled on the Greyhound when I was 19 with a friend and going from LA all the way up to Seattle.  I remember some interesting characters on the bus plus our cookies being stolen.  

In terms of riding the bus the way I wanted (headphones in etc), all went smoothly - actually the bus was fairly empty to got a couple of seats to myself. Sadly, a long stint at the border* meant I missed my connection bus in Seattle to Portland.  It was already 8pm, so rather than hang out in the bus station for the bus to Portland, I headed to the Green Tortoise, the hostel I stayed in when I was in Seattle the first time around. Also, taking the advice of the Green Tortoise person at reception, I bought myself a train ticket for to Portland and sent the second portion of my bus ticket off for a refund.

110411 Seattle (2)

Actually, the unexpected stop worked out well - the Green Tortoise had moved location and was much nicer than I remembered. It was close to Pike Place Market and managed to stroll around Seattle for a bit (it looks more grown up than I remember it), was thinking about stopping off in a bar but thought I'd feel too much of a billie in the more buzzier joints. Anyway, after witnessing a couple of sketchy drug deals, found myself in a jazz bar where there was a 16-piece live band playing and had a beer. Both very good. My train was leaving first thing in the morning so didn't have time to check out the Space Needle or much else but I'm glad of the u
unexpected stop.  In fact, made me want to go back and check out all grown up Seattle again one day.

* Just on crossing the border... I'm always a little anxious about crossing the border (and generally have 'please let me in' on repeat in my head) - and even more anxious when it's the American immigration officials I'm facing, they're just scarier!  Anyway, I was a little worried when it was my turn and the immigration official I was speaking to was asking me how he could know for sure that I'd leave the US when I said I would as I didn't have proof with an onward ticket.  Actually, I explained I was only planning to stay for 6-8 weeks (the visa waiver program gives you 90 days) and wasn't sure of where I would be leaving from yet so I guess his concern was fair enough really!   I thought he had started to lighten up a bit when he asked me how much fun I had planned for my travels.  I responded with an enthusiastic 'lots of fun!' and a big smile.  He then frowned and said 'funds, how much funds have you got?'.  Oops.  Well, I reckon my mistake worked out in my favour as he must have figured I was clearly not there to find work and let me in :o)  

On the road again...

My year in Canada was up. When I first started thinking about doing this whole Americas trip, I never really thought of Canada as being a real big part of my adventure, it was just a way for me to get to South America, to try living and working somewhere else and a good excuse to see the US too as I wanted to travel overland as much as possible from Canada to Latin America. I never even thought I'd spend a full year there... I think I was the last person to think I'd love it quite as much as I did (or do even!).

I reckon I must have travelled over 10,000 miles in that period, lived in two cities, stayed in 6 provinces and one territory, was enchanted by the ocean and the forests, walked up mountains, crash landed whilst skiing on mountains, gawped at the Northern Lights and absolutely adored the beauty, colour and randomness of its cities. Best of all, I made some amazing friends.

Again - more pictures and rambling from the rest of my time to come. Back to the point of this blog post tho'... I said farewell to dearest friends in Vancouver and hit the road again heading South.

A night at the Wise Lounge for beer and darts with friends got me to my first decision about the US bit of my journey. I would aim to get to New Orleans for Jazzfest which is on during the last weekend of April and first weekend of May.  I wanted to see if it was worth me getting a railpass as well as work out how much time I had and places I could see before getting to New Orleans so I made myself a spreadsheet... not really quite what I had in mind for my 'winging it' adventure but I reckon it was necessary.  I wanted to see bits of the US I hadn't seen before - more particularly, I wanted to go through the middle of it (despite being warned off the middle because "Americans there were crazier!" - That just made me want to go even more).  Anyway, I did buy a railpass and even figured out a route and I would book one leg at a time to allow for flexibility and a bit of 'winging' it ;o)

The route: Vancouver - Portland - San Francisco - Chicago - Detroit - St Louis - Memphis - New Orleans - Atlanta - Savannah - and then back West towards Texas before heading to Mexico at the end of May/beginning of June.

Because I love being on the road so much, whilst writing this post, I started thinking about songs I love about travelling and being on the road (or on tracks as I would be on trains quite a bit too).  Here's a few I've been listening to...

and this one I just found looking for the one above...

Friday, May 13, 2011

Making Vancouver my home...

I've got so ridiculously behind in updating this, I am going to come back to the rest of my time in Canada (which was spent living & working in Vancouver as well as a short stint on Vancouver Island and way Up North in Yellowknife) at a later date so watch this space... (in the meantime, you can go to my Photos page for links to photos on Flickr)