We love traveling by train. It’s slow, will take you possibly 10 times as long to get there as by plane, the train cars are usually outdated, the food is…not great, you rarely get to where you’re going on time. And….the landscape is beautiful, it gives you a sense of the land, the country and the people in a way that no other type of travel does. Not even the trains in europe. On long distance amtrak trains, you are required to take your meals (if you eat in the dining car) with others. A dinette fits 4 and if there are not 4 your group others will be assigned to your table. We’ve had fascintinating and enlightening conversation with people that we would never have shared a meal with at home in our normal routine, different states, life experiences all come together in an Amtrak dinette. Most often I leave the trip feeling like the outside world is creating much more divisiveness between people that there actually is. Then there’s the time with those you are traveling with, you have hours to spend together, slow hours, most of the time we put away the screens and just enjoy passing the time looking out the window, and enjoying waiting for our next meal, the next stop, and playing cards. Here’s some highlights from our last trip.
Philadelphia to New Orleans – Amtrak Crescent
We’re ready to board, it will take us more than a week to get back to the West Coast, but we’ll be spending a night in New Orleans, 3 days in Marfa Texas and a night in Los Angeles as well.
This trip there were 3 of us. 2 adults (Robin and I) and Jasper. On the first train to New Orleans Jasper and I shared a roomette and Robin had one to himself across the hall. Jasper and I often take train trips by ourselves and I often splurge on a bedroom, this trip there were none available. We were just on the train for 1 night, and it worked out great.
The train stops in Birmingham, we’ve got off here before to visit friends in Alabama, but this time we just had a few minutes to talk around. The station is scrappy, and run down, but it’s feels like it has a post-industrial patina that makes sense as it’s right next to the old Sloss furnaces which are super interesting.
It’s time to eat (again) and “enjoy the journey” on plastic plates with some Newman’s Own dressing.
The color palette of this dining care is remarkable. Mint Green, Forest Green, and Pale Pink, so remarkably on trend that I realize that everything has been done before (in the 80’s)
Here’s my 2017 Heath Ceramics Summer Color palette, which was designed 6 months before I ever set foot on this dining car. Those Amtrak designers were about 20 years ahead of me.
The train was late getting into New Orleans, which was a bummer as we didn’t even have time to go out to dinner. We stayed at the new Ace Hotel, and had a great breakfast before heading to catch The Sunset Limited early the next morning. This train only runs 3 days a week, so it’s hard to get more than an overnight in New Orleans. Unless you have lots of time.
The Sunset Limited runs the typical Amtrak Superliner double decker cars. So, you’ve got lots of space in the lounge car to play cards or legos.
The weather got real stormy in Texas…
We arrived at Alpine Texas pretty close to on time. I think around 10am. The train doesn’t stop in Marfa TX, so we got off in Alpine TX it’s about 20-30 minutes by car and there’s only one rental company. They will drop off a car for you at the train station.
Our favorite place to stay in Marfa is in the restored trailers at El Cosmico.
We stayed in this Blue one which was awesome, great deck, and fantastic outdoor shower. We had a nice dinner with friends one evening , cooked taco’s in the trailer and ate on the deck.
Our friends Jamie and Constance make wonderful textiles and furniture. Stop by Garza Marfa if you make it to Marfa.
So much Judd to see around town.
We got back on the train in Alpine and Headed towards Mexico. It’s always amazing to see the border (wall) from the train in El Paso. There’s also a beautiful old station in El Paso, not much to do there, but the architecture and old tile work are worth taking a walk through the extreme heat to see.
So just when you are hoping the train will be late because it’s scheduled to arrive around 5am in LA, it’s early… Union station in LA, not to be missed even if you’re not traveling by train. It’s my favorite station in the US.
We stayed all day and night in LA and then got back to Union Station the next morning to catch the Coast Starlight back to Emeryville. The Coast Starlight has an extra train car called the Pacific Parlour Car (usually). Even though you can get to Emeryville before night the same day and you really don’t need a sleeper (1st class ticket) if you do this trip and can splurge for one, it’s worth it. The Pacific Parlour Car is only accessible if you have a 1st class ticket. Pro-tip is get a seat on the couch in this car as soon as you board the train, and stay there all day, there’s a bar and they serve lunch and dinner in the car. Sometimes there are small tour groups that grab the couches, so you have to stake your claim early, and the reservations for lunch and dinner usually fill up fast.
Much of the day there’s amazing views of the coast. Most people think it’s crazy to sit on the train all day when you can fly in an hour or so, but…spending a day seeing the coast and not having to drive it, it a good way to spend a day in my opinion.