Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sacramento, the Delta King, and traveling by train

The Huz and I spent a few hours walking around Sacramento this afternoon, working off our yummy Greek lunch purchased at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant (the best kind, in our opinion!) from a woman whose Greek accent was so thick you could spread tzatziki on it. Yesterday we'd prowled Old Sacramento pretty thoroughly, taking a ride on a formerly steam engine train completely surrounded by 3rd - 5th graders, and then just walking up & down this very touristy but fun section of the city. I found a cool little place called Shiny Objects, with the owner behind the counter and scads of fascinating glittery dichroic glass pendants. Picked up a couple, one for myself and one for friend Robin. I liked them so much that I went back today to buy some more for gifts, but unfortunately by 3:00 he was already closed. Bummer! Oh well, it gives me an excuse to find something unique for them at one of our next stops (Salt Lake City and Denver).

Below are some pics showing the charm of the Delta King, where we're nesting for a couple of days. We're trying to stay at locally-owned venues whenever possible, and we've loved our stay here.

Look how short the doorways are! (The Huz is 6'2")

It's funny, much as we're enjoying this leg of our trip, we're finding people are a bit more stand-offish than many we've met earlier in our trip. I find that the memories that bring a smile to my face are the ones that include people we've talked to, like Carol in Whitefish, and this fellow who helped us with camera batteries in St Paul, and a dinner with the Huz's former fiance and her husband (surprised myself by really liking her! And him :o). And for the past couple of days there hasn't been a ton of that.

Partly it may be that we're not eating in the dining car lately, only because our trips don't coincide with meal times. Dining cars are great social experiments. Each table seats four, and because they can't afford not to have all the seats populated all the time, we've always been seated at dinner with others. It's made it very easy for us to spend leisurely time with some pretty intersting people. For example, our first dinner companions, on the trip from NY to Chicago, were a couple who'd just come over from Egypt. She was an American who's been teaching at the American University in Cairo, and he was an Egyptian lawyer. We never did entirely get the story as to why they're traveling together; they're not married and had separate sleeper compartments. They were in the US so she could undertake a grant-funded project for the city of Detroit, something to do with comparing the "spaces" that middle Eastern immigrants choose as compared to their residences back home.

Our second companion was a published author! He has published a novel and is working on another one. He lives in Syracuse and writes until his money runs out, then he does contract work for Microsoft writing content for their website.

Next we dined with a newly engaged couple, Jeff and Stephanie. Both are well ensconced in the hospitality industry. She's a concierge, he advises restaurants and wealthy individual collectors on wines. Needless to say, we got some good tips from them on restaurants!

Next was a woman who's lived all her life in North Dakota and told us about the recent oil rush going on there; and another woman who is a project manager for the King County (Seattle) prison system.

Honestly, it was all just so fascinating! The Huz is great at drawing people out and we've both enjoyed being diverted from our own sort of dense togetherness on this trip ... we've been married 16 years and together for 20, so it's not that we don't have anything to talk about, but we probably don't have three solid weeks of conversation in us either!

Seattle to Sacramento

After another scenic trip on Amtrak, from Montana to Seattle (see below), we spent 3 days with the seester and her family, including Katie the Jack Russell. Katie's a love, never happier than when she's getting a tummy rub. Got my doggie fix. Shhh, don't tell Simba! We went out for some fabulous sushi at I Love Sushi with the seester, her Huz, and my Favorite Blond West Coast Niece. And really enjoyed some great music and preaching at the seester's church, Eastlake Community Church. After church, some of the seester's friends old and new joined us 4 for brunch at a local diner type place (we love those!) and the conversation was great ... wide-ranging, some personal, some about current events, just a good mix of talkers. We loved it to PIECES!

We had such a nice visit with the seester & her huz, we hated to leave, but leave we did, hopping on a train south to Sacramento. We're staying on the Delta King, a permanently moored river boat in Old Sacramento. Despite our landing in their laps at the unseemly hour of 7am, the staff gamely took in our luggage, directed us to the restaurant for a fabulous breakfast, and got us into our room by 8:30. What a blessing ... we were pretty tired from the overnight train trip. We'd gotten on the train in Seattle at around 10 am and arrived in Sacramento at 6am the next morning. If all had gone smoothly, that would have been a no-hassle way to get here, but a section of the track was out for repairs so we were on the train just to Eugene, Oregon, then got on a rather ratty bus for a 5-hour ride to Klamath Falls, Oregon, and then finally got on a train at 10pm for the final leg. We hadn't arranged for a sleeper car because we'd heard you can negotiate for the sleeper with the conductor once the train has left the station, and often get a better rate for it. So that's what we did, and it worked, but it also delayed bedtime quite a bit. And I can never just walk into the room, lie down, and go to sleep. So while the huz clambered into the top bunk and closed his eyes for the night, I played card games on my PDA till 1am, and then *still* couldn't get to sleep when I shut off the lights!

Needless to say, we took a two-hour nap right away when we got our room, and then headed out to explore Old Sacramento. More on that, and pictures of the Delta King, later!

The Seattle train station is gorgeous. So's the Portland station, but unfortunately I didn't have my camera handy for that one.

vanilla: real? imitation?

A shout out to my cooking pals: here's an unexpected result in the real v. imitation vanilla wars!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Week 1: Greetings from Whitefish, Montana!

We've been on our three-week train trip for 6 days now. Starting in New London CT because we dropped Simba off at Todd's sister's house for the three weeks, we hopped on the train for New York and then on to Chicago. We decided to splurge on a sleeper car from NY to Chicago, it being a 17-hour trip overnight, and we were hooked! Not only is it nice to stretch out when it's time to sleep, but the little compartments are just a wonderful way to spend the daytime hours as well. The fact that meals in the dining car are included in the price was a nice bonus, too.

We breezed straight through Chicago, changing trains to the Empire Builder there, and spent a couple of days in St Paul, falling in love with it in the process. It's a wonderful small city, walkable, and beautiful. I hope to post some pictures from there later ... I don't have PhotoShop on this laptop so I need to seek out an image editor that will let me resize the images down to Blogger size. In the meantime, above is a picture of the main street of Whitefish, Montana, showing the gorgeous mountains at the end of the very Western-quaint street. We had a lot of fun moseying along the street, and met a really nice lady named Carol in "Montana Tom's" who, as it turned out, designed and made the earrings that I bought there. She was a treasure. She wasn't going to tell us that she designed and made them, but since they were labeled "Made in Montana" and were called "CMK Designs" I asked her if she knew the designer. Ha! How very fun!

The trip from St Paul to Whitefish is some of the most gorgeous scenery in the country. Just about an hour before you get there, maybe a bit more, you cross the continental divide over the lowest pass in the Rockies ... which is still a mile high! The mountains still have snow, although it's a bit patchy now. I can't even begin to do justice to the lyrical beauty that you pass through. Just do it yourselves and see. So much better to drive through it than fly over it!

Next stop: Seattle, where we'll stay with my seester, do some laundry (one backpack for 3 weeks, what WAS I thinking?) and hang out for a few days before moving on to ... not sure where. Either Victoria Island in Canada or Sacramento in the other CA!

P.S. The second half of this YouTube video gives you just the faintest flavor of the glories of traveling across the top of the country in the Empire Builder. This whole train experience has been amazing ... a little moveable community of travellers, with time to sit and have a meal together, as the scenery slides past the window, sometimes mundane, sometimes completely stunning.