Monday was wedding day so we didn’t venture too far from the hotel, as we had to be back in time to get ready for the 3 p.m. ceremony. Around 11 a.m., we headed back to L&L Hawaiian Barbecue. We both had the same thing again — Hawaiian BBQ mix for me, Teriyaki beef for her. Maybe the novelty of Hawaiian food has worn off; I thought the BBQ was good, but not spectacular as I had proclaimed before.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at a couple of local Kona beaches. The first was Kahaluu Beach Park, which was listed as a gem in the guidebook. The beach itself is nothing special, but the crystal clear water is perfect for snorkeling.
Next up was La’Aloa Bay Beach Park, also known as White Sands Beach Park. You’ll never guess what this park is known for. Despite being a Monday, the beach was full of sunbathers and swimmers. This beach was not listed as a gem but I give it high marks for the white beach and blue water.
Last on the Kona beach tour was Pahoehoe Beach Park, which was simply a park overlooking a beach. This park was nearly empty, featuring palm trees, grass, a seawall and a beach full of rocks.
The wedding was held on a lagoon overlooking the ocean and finished quickly, ending on cue just before a rain shower. The luau at Royal Kona Resort also served as the wedding reception and drinks were flowing. The luau mai tais were watered down so several trips were made to the hotel bar for stiff mai tais and cold Big Waves.
Soon it was time for the ceremonial unveiling of the pig, which had been cooking in the Imu (Hawaiian Earth Oven) for eight hours. The pig was cooked perfectly, as it fell apart when it was removed from the oven and hit the serving table.
When it was my turn at the buffet table, I loaded up the plate provided with four compartments. Salad went into the small one, macaroni salad next to it. And then the pig, beef and chicken filled up the remaining area of the plate. The luau food was solid — except for the poi, which looked like baby food and tasted worse.
The show was fairly entertaining, even though the guy twirling the fire had an off night, dropping the spear twice. Luckily for him, he didn’t catch the stage on fire.
Sunday started with the now familiar drive North on the interior Hawaii Belt Road to Kamuela, also known as Waimea. We had read good things about Hawaiian Style Cafe and planned to stop there for breakfast. However, there were numerous people outside the small restaurant and the wait was 30 minutes or more. Instead, we settled on the Paniolo Country Inn. I was a little skeptical when the bouncer turned out to be our waiter, but the food arrived quickly and it was a good standard American breakfast. I had a two egg omelet with ham, mushrooms and green peppers and sides of bacon and toast. My girlfriend had scrambled eggs with sausage.
Satisfied and full, we continued Northeast on the Hawaii Belt Road for the first time. I took a scenic route parallel to the main road for about 10 miles, which ended in Honokaa. We then went Northwest for about five miles until the road ended at a spectacular lookout of the Waipio Valley. (This was actually about 10 miles away from the Pololu Valley lookout we had seen on Friday.) We were asked which one was better. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves and only say that they are equally as impressive.
On the way to Hilo, we stopped at the Kalopa Native Forest State Park, which is basically in the middle of nowhere. There were only a handful of people in this park, which was reminiscent of a rain forest.
Our next stop was Laupahoehoe Point Beach Park, which is one of our favorite parks to date. In 1946, a tsunami wiped out the community living in this picturesque spot. In 1988, the Army Corps of Engineers constructed a harbor with concrete barriers. There is no real beach at this site, but rather a boat launch and lava rocks. However, the water is a brilliant blue as you will ee from the pictures.
We then went to World Botanical Gardens and Umauma Falls. The falls were nice, but to be honest, it was kind of a letdown. I was expecting something more impressive. The Botanical Gardens were nice, but nothing extraordinary. I guess this is the “B” tour; we hope to hit nearby Akaka Falls and the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, which is located on the coast.
Speaking of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Gardens, we drove past the entrance on a four-mile scenic drive. However, we did not stop as it was getting late, we were hungry and Hilo was ahead. (Before the four-mile scenic drive, we did make a quick stop at Kolekole Beach County Park, which is located underneath a bridge on Hawaii Belt Rd. Not much to report, other than it was probably a nice park in the 70s.)
Our next stop was Hilo. And with hindsight being 20/20, I should have kept driving. I wasn’t expecting much in Hilo, yet I was still let down. At 4 p.m. on a Sunday in the main downtown area, how hard should it be to find a restaurant that is open? In Hilo, the answer is extremely difficult. We had read good things about Pescatore, but unfortunately it didn’t open until 5:30. We kept walking. We also heard good things about Royal Siam Thai Restaurant. The sign in the window said they were on vacation until Sept. 31, which I guess is either forever or means they won’t be coming back. We finally found a restaurant open, which was Cafe Pesto. Too bad they weren’t closed, as well. While I did really like the shrimp chowder and my girlfriend enjoyed her tomato vanilla soup, the entrees were average, at best. I had the beef stroganoff and used about 1/4 of the salt shaker on it. My girlfriend used another 1/4 of the shaker on her dish. The service was spotty, as well. This place gets a definite thumbs down. And if Zagat’s has this as “Hawaii’s Top Restaurants” that is bad sign for food on the island.
We left Hilo and made the long drive back to Kona using the same route through the Northern mountains. That was another mistake. While the Southern route may have been longer, it would have been a lot easier driving than the 1 1/2 hours I spent navigating the winding, mountain roads in pouring rain.
Rows of coffee plants at Greenwell Farms on Saturday, Sept. 29. Notice the narrow rows between the plants; the introduction of All Terrain Vehicle (ATVs) means that a couple hundred more plants per acre can now be produced as opposed to when trucks where used by workers in the harvesting of the coffee plant.
Saturday started with a tour of Greenwall Farms, a famous Kona coffee grower in nearby Kealakekua. I’m not a coffee drinker, but nonetheless, the tour of the farm was an interesting experience. It started with a coffee tasting session of about seven types. I tried the Medium Roast, which I later found out has more caffeine than two shots of espresso. It tasted to me like, well, coffee. Other interesting tidbits I picked up during the tour: Starbucks buys coffee from Greenwell Farms and uses a blend of 90% Kona, 10% Starbucks; Greenwell Farms uses a process to remove acidity from the coffee, something that most others do not; Kona coffee gets its taste, which so many people love, from the volcanic ash in the soil.
After the tour, we had intended to head South, but massive road construction changed those plans. Instead, we headed back to Kona and stopped at L&L Hawaiian Barbecue for a late lunch. Good choice. While considered fast food, this place was nothing short of spectacular. I ordered the Hawaiian BBQ mix, which featured beef, chicken and short ribs. The meat is marinated in a bunch of Hawaiian spices, grilled and then served plate lunch style. The two sides were rice and a macaroni salad that was the best I’ve ever tasted.
Stuffed, we headed the same direction as the day before, up the interior road toward Waimea. Then from Waimea we went Northwest toward the coast where we some some unspectacular beach parks. Naturally, by the time we got close to the exotic beach spots, it was dark so we headed back to Kona. Those will have to wait until later in the week when we are staying on the Kohala Coast, featuring mega-resorts and picturesque beaches.
For dinner, we walked into downtown Kona and ate at the Thai Rin Restaurant. After a long day of driving, I was ready for a beer — a Big Wave to be exact. Unfortunately, despite the dinner rush being over, the service was horrible and it took 15 minutes to get our drinks. I wasn’t expecting much better from the food. But I was wrong. Beef in oyster sauce is probably my favorite dish Thai (or Chinese) dish. This place made it perfectly. After talking it over, I decided the reason I liked it so much was that other than the great taste, they had mushrooms, celery and carrots, in addition to the standard onions and green peppers. Those are the vegetables I like the most in Thai (or Chinese) food, and they had included all of them. Which brought me to another thought. Why do the Thai and Chinese places decide which vegetables go in which dishes? Why can’t the customer decide? After all, when you order a pizza, you don’t let the chef pick the toppings, do you?
On Friday, we left the hotel around 9 a.m. and headed up the interior of the island. Our first stop was in the cloud forest just outside of Kalaoa, which we accessed through a winding mountain road that took us from near sea level to around 6,000 feet in about 20 minutes. It was partly sunny on the coast, but true to its name, this mountain was cloudy and the view of the coast was somewhat obscured.
From there, we drove to the crossroads town of Kamuela, commonly known as Waimea, where we had lunch at Charley’s Thai Cuisine. Since my girlfriend is Thai, we decided we would sample several Hawaiian Thai restaurants during the week to see how they compared to those on the mainland. This was the first one. I ordered a plate lunch of beef ribs, sticky rice and papaya salad, while she had squid salad and Tom Yum soup. I liked the food and agreed that it was a bit different than our normal Thai fare. She liked her squid salad and said was prepared in more of a Vietnamese fashion – with peanuts – and my grilled ribs definitely had a Korean BBQ taste to them, as the waiter had suggested. This mix of styles makes sense as we were told the owner, Charley, is from Laos.
From Waimea, we headed West back to the coast and then took the coast road north and then east. After going through a couple of towns and then the country side featuring several one lane bridges and switchbacks, we arrived at Pololu Valley Lookout. Words can’t describe this place, other than to say that the green of the valley and the cliffs of the beach reminded me of my trip to Ireland. There was a trail down the overlook to the beach and it appeared to be very steep. Two hikers took up the challenge and were heading down as we left.
Our next stop was about five miles away at Keokea Beach Park, filled with many locals surfing out past a man-made rock barrier. The guidebooks didn’t care for it much, but I thought it was a neat little local park.
The wedding party was hosting a dinner at six so we headed back west and then south to the hotel, making the two hour drive in two-and-a-half hours thanks to traffic and construction outside of Kona.
After quickly changing, we went 30 miles north to the Canoe House restaurant, which is on the grounds of the Mauna Lani Resort. While the guidebooks warned that the restaurant was not as good since famous Hawaiian chef Alan Wong departed, I thought it turned out to be a great choice for a party of about 20. The outside tables were overlooking the beach, we saw a partial sunset, and both the food and service were top-notch.
Day 1 of the trip, Thursday, was a very long travel day. My girlfriend and I arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Airport at 5:30 a.m. ET after spending the night at a Red Roof Inn near the airport. (Normally, I prefer properties such as Marriott, but $200 was way too much for an airport hotel and I “settled” for the $69 Red Roof Inn.) After changing planes twice (Houston and Honolulu) , renting a convertible at Kona International Airport and then driving through rush-hour and construction traffic in Kona, we made it to our hotel around 6:30 p.m. HT (11:30 p.m. ET). We are staying at the Royal Kona Resort (where the wedding will be held on Monday afternoon on the beach) and the balcony from our hotel room overlooks the Pacific Ocean.
After 18 hours of travel, I was ready for bed. However, while unpacking, the hotel’s fire alarm went off. We decided to take this is our cue to eat a late dinner. From the reviews I have read, the food in our hotel leaves a bit to be desired. Since we are within walking distance of downtown Kona, we headed toward town.
We decided on Huggo’s, which is on the water, right next to the hotel. The good news is that our table was on the water, with waves crashing below. Unfortunately, it was already dark and we had missed the sunset. (Kona is on the West end of the Big Island.) A couple of guide books had recommended Huggo’s and our first dining experience in Hawaii was a good one. My girlfriend’s seafood pasta was full of fish an shrimp and my prime rib hit the spot. I’ve also found my favorite Hawaiian beer — Big Wave Golden Ale.
Not much to report on our first day in Hawaii. But Friday’s plans include a drive up the coast to check out some beaches and dinner with the wedding party at one of the big resorts North of Kona.
Past entries on this blog have been about my experiences during several cross country trips on Amtrak. To add to the challenge of keeping a blog, I attempted to post those stories and pictures in real time. Back then, I called this blog The Great American Travelogue Experiment. My first posts were in May of 2005 when I rode the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Orlando. At the time, I thought the future of this route was in grave danger due to annual Amtrak budget cuts by Congress. I was right — but for the wrong reason. Three months after my trip, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast and wiped out some of the track between New Orleans and Orlando. More than two years later, the full route has not resumed and probably never will. I was probably one of the last few people to take pictures on this stretch of track and probably one of the first to attempt to do so in real-time. I made two subsequent Amtrak trips that I documented in real time — one if February of 2006 and another in August of 2006.
Now, one year later, the blog is back. However, this time it is no longer an experiment nor does it require the constant, daily grind necessary to properly document things in real time. Instead, this is now The Great American Travelogue Experience. It won’t be virtual and may not even be updated daily during the trips it will be documenting. But hopefully, this slower pace will produce better thoughts and better pictures — as well as a more enjoyable experience.
The first trip I will be documenting is a wedding/vacation in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii from Sept. 27 to Oct. 6.
Her Last Call To Louis MacNeice, the third novel by Ken Bruen, is more of the same from Bruen: A rugged, main character straight out of the seedy London underworld. On this go-around, we meet Cooper, an ex-con who did his time for grievous bodily harm. Cooper and one of his former cellmates called Doc — due to his penchant for Doc Marten boots — put their criminal skills to use as both repo men and bank robbers. The first is on the up-and-up and makes good money, but the two keep getting drawn to the second and its adrenaline rush and enormous cash windfall. Things are going well for the bandits until Cooper meets a crazy American woman named Cassie. With Cassie in the picture, Cooper and Doc start to have personal and professional issues. Similar to the main character in the previous books, Cooper is long on brawn and short on brains, although Cooper’s choice of a Subaru Impreza as his everyday vehicle is a smart move according to this WRX owner. And similar to the other two books, we see Cooper on the run and attempting to hide in a London full of nooks and cranny’s. All-in-all, another gritty and enjoyable urban novel by Bruen, who seemingly atones for a mistake he made in The Hackman Blues — he mentions The Untouchables again, and this time he correctly says Kevin Costner played Elliott Ness.
As you may know by now, I love reading Ken Bruen. When it comes to urban fiction set in the United Kingdom, there is no one better — at least that I’ve found. And The Hackman Blues is another spectacular, gritty story. Unfortunately, there are a couple of slight issues. In Bruen’s previous book, Rilke on Black, the main character was a thug who got involved in a kidnapping plot. One book later, we’ve got the same exact plot. But what saves things this time are the twists — Tony Brady is not only a thug, but he’s one who battles manic depression. And Brady has an even larger flaw when it comes to the underworld — he lives an alternate lifestyle. But what really struck me were a couple of factual mistakes that an American proof reader would have caught but a British one didn’t, obviously. Bruen talks about the Chicago mayor who was arrested for drugs and then re-elected. He meant D.C. mayor Marion Barry. Bruen also talks about Kevin Kline’s role in The Untouchables. He meant Kevin Costner. Errors aside, it was still a damn good book. Brady is a sleazeball playing relationship Russian roulette, but neither he nor Bruen apologize for it, although there are consequences. And again we are shown the seedy underbelly of London and learn terms such as rent boy, which is British slang for a male prostitute. British gangsters and thugs again come to life and if you enjoy authentic urban fiction, The Hackman Blues is worth checking out.
On the cover of Rilke on Black, American author George Pelecanos lauds the work of British author Ken Bruen. I have to say it’s fitting since Pelecanos is my favorite American author and Bruen is my favorite British author. The reason, of course, is quite simple. When it comes to gritty, noir fiction filled with wonderful dialogue, excellent characters and a realistic dose of drugs, sex and violence, these two are the best in the business right now. Rilke on Black is Bruen’s third novel, but since the first two are out of print, for my purposes, we will call this Book No. 1. The story is told in first person by Nick, a massive bouncer short on smarts who lists “Thuggery” as his occupation. We are introduced to Dex, a psychopathic neighbor who gets saved from a beating by Nick, and Lisa, a saucy black woman who Nick picked up in a bar. This odd trio decides to commit a crime and, as one would suspect, things start to unravel in the aftermath. The book is damn entertaining once you get accustomed to Bruen’s unique writing style and the Queen’s English, and my only complaint is that the book is a bit short. (Lisa gets Nick hooked on drugs and he goes into a slide, but things move so quickly it fails to make an impression.) Brevity aside, as Pelecanos says — and I second — if you like realistic crime novels, Bruen is the one to read.
(Note: This is the final entry from my second San Diego trip via Amtrak. To start at the beginning of the trip, click here and follow the links at the top right of the page.)
We arrive at Sacramento at 9:39, which is 7:24 late, and the delays continue between Davis and Martinez. When we finally reach Emeryville, it is around midnight. We should have been there at 4:49 p.m., checked in, had drinks and dinner. Instead, we go right from the station to the hotel. Our wake-up call is in five hours.
Early Tuesday morning, we take Caltrain No. 210 at 6:45 a.m. from San Francisco to Santa Clara. The trip takes about an hour and costs $6.75 per person. We then take a free shuttle bus from the Santa Clara station to the San Jose Airport, arriving at 8:45. Our American Airlines Express flight to San Diego does not leave until 11:45, but we are able to get on an earlier flight, which leaves at 9:52. Security takes less than five minutes and we have little time to wait for the flight.
After the excruciating experience of yesterday, the trip from San Francisco to San Jose to San Diego via public rail and air is surprisingly easy and takes a little over four hours – less than the time it took to go 186 miles from Winnemucca to Sparks, Nevada. I hate to say it, but it may be time to say Adios, Amtrak.
Despite being a whopping 6:22 behind schedule leaving Truckee, CA, I don’t feel all that bad after seeing picturesque Lake Donner.
Of course, that all changes five minutes later, when at 5:10, we have to wait 47 minutes for an eastbound UP freight train coming up the mountain.
You know, these freight delays are getting out of hand. Coast Starlate, meet your brother, the California Forever.
If today is any indication, that letter Amtrak sent to Union Pacific about the legal and contractual obligation of UP to keep Amtrak trains moving isn’t working. In fact, it appears to be making things even worse. After costing me a minimum of seven hours today, my message to Union Pacific is the same one I give their engine when it finally chugs past: A nice, big one-fingered salute.
At 3:15, just outside of Sparks, we stop to obtain a permit to use a UP track not normally used by Amtrak. We receive permit No. 973, which is good until 4 p.m.
When we finally arrive in Sparks, it is 3:24 p.m. and we are 6:29 behind schedule. We change the crew in Reno and leave at 3:38 p.m., which puts us 6:24 behind.
Since my last trip on the Zephyr, Reno’s station has changed. Instead of stopping above ground with a view of the city and casinos, we now stop below ground. You have to give Reno officials credit on two accounts: The Zephyr no longer blocks the streets near the casinos and passengers don’t get to see just how outdated and rundown the hotels are in the downtown area. How is that for a sleight of hand?
As far as the near collision, nothing new to report. When asked, the engineer said he didn’t get the license plate of the tractor trailer. During the crew change in Reno, he was seen shaking his head while leaving with the conductor, obviously discussing the incident. My hat goes off to him for being quick on the brakes.
I wake up on Monday at 6:35 a.m. PT, 10 minutes before our station stop in Elko, NV. Thinking it may be a smoke/stretch-your-legs break, I quickly put on my clothes and go to the bathroom to put in my contacts. However, it is a quick one-minute stop and we depart at 6:50. We have lost more than 30 minutes during the night and are now 3:29 down for the trip.
We eat breakfast (leftover cheesecake from last night’s dinner and a cinnamon bun I bought in Grand Junction) as the Utah mountainous desert goes by.
Around 9 a.m., outside of Battle Mountain, NV, we slow to about 30 mph. On the scanner, I hear the conductor ask the engineer if we are behind a freight train. He gives a cryptic yes and no answer, saying we are behind a freight train, but not directly behind it and the freight is doing well.
At 9:20, I hear the tail end of a conversation on the scanner that worries me. I can’t tell if it is our train talking to the dispatcher, but someone is told that they are doing switch work at the border, it won’t be finished until 2:30 p.m. and to plan accordingly. I assume it is the Nevada/California border, but I’m not sure as I missed the beginning of the transmission. We are scheduled to be at Reno at the time of this conversation, but should now be there around 1 p.m. If we sit for a while, I guess I’ll know the reason.
Outside of Winnemucca, we stop at a red signal for 15 minute before we are given permission by the UP dispatcher to pass the signal.
Winnemucca features a triple stop – the first to change the crew, the second for the diner car and the third for a smoke/stretch break.
We left Winnemucca at 10:50, which put us 4:37 behind schedule
We were restricted to 30 for most of the way from Winnemucca to Sparks.
At 2:45, we made an emergency stop as a truck was backing up on the crossing, according to the engineer. I knew something was up when I heard the brakes squeal as we came to a stop. I think the 30 mph limit may have save us from hitting the truck.
The train was inspected and we resumed five minutes later.
At 9:26, just outside of Arvada, we make our winding way up the mountain. At the first tunnel, there is a Union Pacific freight train stopped exiting the tunnel. As the tunnel is only one track, we need to wait for him to pass us before we can proceed. Twenty minutes later, the UP begins backing up through the tunnel. Five minutes later, we make our way through the tunnel.
From 9:55 until 10:31 we go through 18 tunnels, in between wonderful views of Arvada, CO and the surrounding area.
We continue to be hampered by UP. At 10:33, we stop for a red signal a 7212 is head of us. We lose seven minutes. At 10:53, the conductor makes an announcement that one of the UP trains head of us has engine problems, forcing us to move at 9 mph. They are going 9 mph. I heard chatter earlier about someone’s engine bucking and cutting off, just like it did yesterday, but didn’t realize it was the train ahead of us.
At 12:11 p.m., we finally get to the east side of Moffat Tunnel, where we are greeted by a red signal. Twenty minutes later we start through the long tunnel.
We finally arrive Fraser/Winter Park at 12:53, which is 2:46 late.
The delays continue heading to Glenwood Springs. We have a pair of 15-minute stops, including one at Shoshone, with a nice view of a hiking and boating area. During one of the delays, the eastbound Zephyr passes us near Allen, CO.
When the train arrives at Glenwood Springs, we are 3:01 behind schedule, but we cut the deficit to 3:01 at Grand Junction.
Memo to Amtrak: Fix your #@$#@$ vending machines. While Grand Junction features a fruit stand and gift shop which sells ice cream, both of the vending machine are out of order and the change machine is out of change. Earlier in the day, the Pepsi machine in Denver was completely empty, as well. In this time of budget cuts, how is it that you don’t want my money?
After Grand Junction, we decided to again dine in our sleeper car. I had a hamburger and she had the same choice as last night – chicken. Once again, both were good choices. We watched the sunset over the Utah mountains during our meals just before we pulled into Green River, Utah 2:59 behind at 8:57.
After sleeping through most of Nebraska, I awake at 6:42 a.m. MT, as we quickly stop at Fort Morgan, CO. We have only lost seven minutes during the night and are 1:27 behind heading to Denver.
I take this as my cue, hustling downstairs to the bathroom and shower. Last night, a passenger said there was no hot water. Roy reset the breaker and I was hoping that solved the problem. Sure enough, the water was hot – very hot to be exact – and perfect for the shave I had neglected yesterday.
As I get dressed and update the blog, we go through Denver and then back into the station. We arrive at 8:10 and with the help of some schedule padding, gain back more than 30 minutes of lost time.
Not much to report Saturday afternoon/evening. We continue to lose time through, leaving Naperville 50 minutes behind schedule. After crossing the Mississippi, we leave Burlington at 6:10, which puts us 55 minutes back.
We have brought food on this trip – a collection of sandwiches, beef jerky and other snacks, along with wine and champagne – so we did not eat dinner or breakfast on the Capitol Limited. We decide to have dinner tonight, but instead of going to the dining car, we have Roy bring our meal to our room.
I’ve heard mixed things about the new Simplified Dining Service, but when we both get the chicken – our favorite on the old menu – we are pleasantly surprised. The chicken is as good or better than before. My mashed potatoes and her rice are also above average and the cheesecake is very good. I’ll have to give Amtrak a thumbs up on my first SDS experience. Of course, seeing all the cornfields out the windows, a couple of ears of corn would be nice!
We watch the sunset over the Iowa countryside before calling it a night shortly after we leave Creston at 9:51 p.m., 1:20 behind schedule.
The delays continue entering Chicago. After dropping the baggage cars, we sit on the track for 45 minutes before finally backing into the station. We finally arrive at the station at 1 p.m., which puts us 4 ½ hours late for the trip.
We check into the Metropolitan Lounge at 1:15 p.m. and are told to stay close by as boarding for California Zephyr 5 will be momentarily. This is just enough time to run upstairs to the food court and buy some brats and dogs for a late lunch.
Of course, after we make the mad dash for some food and get back to the lounge an announcement is made that the train is not yet ready to be boarded.
Around 2 p.m. we board the train and are greeted by our car attendant, Roy. While stowing my gear, I turn on the scanner and hear that the train is being delayed because there are no dinner plates, which need to be delivered from the commissary. While we wait for the dinner plates to make the train, we decide to eat.
California Zephyr 5 consist
1). Primary Engine 207
2). Secondary Engine 72
3). Baggage Car 1717
4). Transition Sleeper 32047 (Car 520)
5). Sleeper 32085 (Car 532) – We are in Car 2
6). Sleeper 32043
7). Dining Car 38007
8). Lounge Car 33032
9). Coach 34097 (Car 510)
10). Coach 34031 (Car 511)
11). Coach 31041 (Car 512)
We leave the station at 2:30 p.m., already 40 minutes behind schedule.
During my Amtrak trips, I hope and plan on delays that will make my experience last that much longer. This is especially the case on the Capitol Limited, which is scheduled to arrive in Chicago at 8:30 a.m., since I am not a morning person. However, my wish for a delay has been granted, but it may cost me a chance to get lunch at the Famous Billy Goat Tavern, which I documented in a previous trip post: (http://manypims.blogspot.com/2006/02/cheezborger-cheezborger-cheezborger.html)
After leaving South Bend at 10:47 a.m. (which puts us 3:24 behind schedule), we go about five miles before coming to a halt next to a large factory. An announcement is made that there are freight trains ahead of us and one may have mechanical difficulties. Two go past and we then move about 100 yards before stopping again. Finally, 40 minutes after leaving South Bend, we begin moving again, following Lakeshore Limited 49 (25) to Chicago.
I wake up at 7:45 a.m. thinking we are well into Indiana. However, when I turn on the computer and GPS, that is not the case. We are only approaching Toledo, which means we are three hours late – and counting. We approach the Toledo station, but Train No. 49 I in the station. We sit for about five minutes before pulling into the station at 8:03 a.m.
While in Toledo, I ask Lou the reason for the delay, assuming we were stuck behind a freight train. Lou says there was an accident last night east of Sandusky, Ohio with a fatality as a Norfolk Southern train hit a vehicle. We were delayed as they cleared the scene. We will file this under breaking railroad news. Our delay is now 3:15 as we leave Toledo.
Capitol Limited Consist
1). Primary Engine 156
2). Secondary Engine
3). Baggage Car 1857
4). Transition Sleeper 39033 (Car 2909)
5). Sleeper Car 32059 (Car 2901) – We are in Room 2
6). Sleeper Car 32095 (Car 2900)
7). Dining Car 38065
8). Lounge Car 33046
9). Coach Car 31010 (Car 3030)
10). Coach Car 34137 (Car 3332)
11). Coach Car 31020 (Car 3031)
12). Freight Car 74030
13). Freight Car 74062
At 7:25, we pass through Green Spring, WV. According to Lou, who is directly across from us in Room 1, all of the railroad ties used on the East Coast are made in Green Spring’s massive facility. And, for you railroad trivia buffs, those ties are soaked in creosote, which is also used to protect telephone poles.
I also hear Lou tell a passenger that he is approaching his 20-year anniversary working for Amtrak. In addition to the Capitol Limited, he has worked on former sleeper routes to Montreal and Boston, as well as routes to Charleston and New York.
At 7:41, we stop in Cumberland for a crew change. Cumberland is also a smoke stop, but since the platform is not long enough, we must wait 10 minutes until the new engineer pulls the train forward. We decide to stretch our legs and walk six cars back and detrain in the last coach car, which has passengers from Pittsburgh and stops prior. After a 10-minute break, the train leaves Cumberland at 8:01, 52 minutes behind schedule.
At 9:30, we stop near Meyersdale, PA. On the scanner, I hear someone – likely a freight train – say that they are getting out of Amtrak’s way. Two minutes later, a freight engine with no cars passes us, but we continue to stand still. I see only one track outside so it appears that we are on one of the main tracks and not a siding. Four minutes later, Engine 156 says he is clear, our horn sounds and we begin moving again, but under 10 mph, possibly under a restriction? Several minutes later, after going through what appears to be a small rail yard, we resume our normal speed.
We board Capitol Limited 29 and are greeted by our car attendant, Lou. We are in Sleeper 32059 (Car 2901), Room 2. As I unpack my computer, I turn on the scanner. According to the trackside chatter, we will be slightly delayed as they are still loading baggage from a train that was delayed.
We leave the station at 4:08 p.m., 13 minutes behind schedule. The train moves slowly leaving D.C., being passed by the Metro several times, and we lose more time at Rockville, departing 30 minutes behind schedule.
During the past week or so, the Capitol Limited has arrived in Chicago anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 ½ hours late. My guess is that we will arrive in Chicago tomorrow morning 1 ½ hours late at 10 a.m. CT.
Using a Verizon wireless internet card, Microsoft Streets & Trips with GPS and a Sony Cyber-shot digital camera, I will document our trip from Washington, D.C. to San Diego via public transportation, rail and air.
At 12:35 p.m., we arrive at the satellite parking lot at Washington Dulles International Airport. We take the parking shuttle to the main terminal where we board the 1:15 Washington Flyer bus to the West Falls Church Metro. The cost for a one-way trip from the airport to the closest Metro station is $9 per person per ticket.
We board an Orange line Metro train at 1:40 and, 10 stops later, change trains at Metro Center at 2:05. We take the Red line to Union Station, arriving at 2:10.
We check in to Club Acela and an hour later boarding begins around 3:25 p.m.
(Note: This is the final entry from my first San Diego trip. To start at the beginning of the trip, click here and follow the links at the top right of the page.)
We arrive at San Diego’s Old Town station at 9:55 a.m. and can’t find a cab anywhere. After waiting at the cab stand for 10 minutes, we finally get a ride to Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I had reserved a standard class car via the Internet several weeks back and got to pick from several makes and models. As I glance at the overcast sky, Mike from Enterprise tells me not to worry, the clouds will break in an hour. I choose a black 2006 Volkswagen Jetta, which is a sleek ride to say the least.
It only takes five minutes to get from Enterprise to our hotel, the Bahia Resort Hotel on Mission Bay. Despite arriving at 10:45, we are able to check in. Our room is on the fourth floor with a semi-decent view of Mission Bay and the hotel property. And, as Mike predicted, the sun is starting to peek through the clouds.
After three nights on the train, it’s time for a real shower. Then we’re going to have lunch and find a place to watch the Super Bowl.
Saturday night, after talking to our car attendant, Rene, we decide to slightly change our itinerary. Instead of taking the train all the way to Los Angeles, we will get off at Fullerton, California, which is one station prior to the final stop at L.A.’s Union Station. The reason for this change is that the Pacific Surfliner stops at Fullerton on the way to San Diego and we can catch an earlier train.
We leave Winslow, Arizona four minutes late at 8:54 p.m. and are in bed when we reach Flagstaff, Arizona an hour later.
On Sunday, we get up around 5:45 a.m. PT, as we are pulling into Riverside, California. We pack our things and get off at Fullerton, California around 6:40 a.m., which is about six minutes later. (According to Amtrak’s Web site, the Southwest Chief arrived at Los Angeles on time at 8:15 a.m.)
In Fullerton, California, I immediately head to the ticket window to exchange our Los Angeles to San Diego tickets at 11:10 a.m. for Fullerton to San Diego at 7:52 a.m. I receive the tickets – and $10.45 in change – and since we have an hour to kill, we walk around outside the station, wait in the station and then wait on the platform. To reach the platform for trains heading south, one must cross the rails via a bridge over the tracks.
Pacific Surfliner 564 departs on time at 7:52 a.m. and I set up my laptop and GPS and update my travelogue. After a limited and/or non-existent wireless Internet connection the past two days, I am finally able to get a good signal. In the future, maybe Verizon should change the name of its NationalAccess product to Sporadic Service in 10% of the Nation.
Not much happens Friday night. Still full from burgers at the Billy Goat Tavern, we skip dinner. Tonight we’ll find out if the dining cutbacks have taken effect on the Southwest Chief. I stay up until Kansas City, where we depart 8 minutes late at 11:03 p.m.
On Saturday morning, I wake up at 7:30 a.m. CT during sunrise near the Kansas-Colorado border. I take a shower and then get to experience that wonderful task of shaving on the train. As return to my room, we are pulling into Lamar, Colorado. It is now 7:26 Mountain Time and we are 20 minutes behind schedule. Our car attendant, Rene, says there is some padding in the schedule between here and La Junta, Colorado and we should have time for a 15-minute smoke break and pull out on schedule.
Rene is right as we stop at La Junta, Colorado 2 minutes early at 8:13 a.m. We have 15 minutes to stretch our legs – and for some, fill their lungs – and I go into the station and check out the vending machines. Forget Wheaties, the breakfast of champions today is a cherry and cheese bear claw, Andy Capp’s hot fries and pack of Twizzlers, washed down with a Dr. Pepper.
During the stop in La Junta, Colorado there is a crew change and I ask one of the Amtrak employees about the GTB delay last night. He says he wasn’t on the train, but he heard we blew a hose. Mystery solved, I guess.
We leave the station on time at Trinidad, Colorado, cross the Raton Pass (which I learn is the highest point on the Sante Fe line) and actually 12 minutes arrive early at 10:44 a.m. at Raton, New Mexico, which gives us another stretch and smoke break.
We leave Raton, New Mexico at 10:56 a.m., right on time, but then immediately stop for an all red signal in the West Raton Yard. After a short delay of a couple of minutes, we start moving again.
Outside of Lamy, New Mexico we are going very slow, and then we stop for several minutes awaiting an approaching train. It turns out the train we are waiting for is the Eastbound Southwest Chief. With this delay are 21 minutes late in Lamy.
We make the time back during the one-hour station stop in Albuquerque, New Mexico, which begins at 3:42 p.m. My stomach is still on Eastern time so I decide to get some food from the vendors on the platform. I choose two burritos – one beef, potato & beans, the other spicy steak – and an order of enchiladas, which comes with two of the pork variety.
We walk outside the station and see a Thai restaurant down the street. My girlfriend orders some Thai food to go and I have a beer while we are waiting. We return to the station, I take several pictures of the engines and we return to our room for a New Mexico/Thai feast. The train departs at 4:45 p.m. and we eat and watch the sunset over the desert.
We are on time at station stops at Mendota, Princeton and Galesburg, Illinois. At Fort Madison, Iowa, we stop for a five-minute smoke. The station, located 100 yards from the Mississippi River, is notoriously cold due to winds from the river. Tonight is no exception as the temperature is 32 degrees.
At 7 p.m., we are expecting the train to leave, but chatter on the radio indicates some kind of problem. The conductor says he’s heading over, a light is requested and someone announces there will be delay of 15 minutes. I’ll play detective and attempt to decipher that tidbit of information.
We leave Chicago’s Union Station exactly on time, pulling out at 3:15 p.m. CT
Here is the consist for Soutwest Chief 3:
1). Engine 200
2). Engine 52
3). Engine 44
4). Baggage car 1264
5). Transition sleeper 39019 (Car 3009)
6). Sleeper 32053 (Car 0331) – We are in Room 10
7). Sleeper 32044 (Car 0330)
8). Dining car 38047
9). Lounge car 33034
10). Coach 34008
11). Coach 34024
12). Baggage (Freight?) car 74080
13). Baggage (Freight?) car 74052
Originally, we were assigned to Room 2, which is right next to the bathroom. Our car attendant, Rene, and the conductor graciously allowed us to move to the opposite end of the car and avoid hearing the bathroom door open and close all night.
At our first stop in Naperville, Illinois, we again leave right on time at 3:50 p.m.
We arrive at Chicago’s Union Station at 9:27 a.m. CT, which puts us 57 minutes late for the trip. Yesterday, leaving Washington, my guess was one hour late so I’ll give myself props on that prediction.
The train backs into Union Station and we immediately head to the Metropolitan Lounge to check in for our train to Los Angeles. We are told to return at 2:30 for the 3:15 departure of the Southwest Chief.
With several hours to kill, we decide to have an early lunch at the famous Billy Goat Tavern, which was immortalized by John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd in a Saturday Night Live sketch where the duo worked in a burger joint and constantly yelled, “Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger.”
Not sure if the restaurant was open for lunch that early, I called the Billy Goat Tavern. Here is a transcript of the call:
“What time do you start serving cheeseburgers?”
“What time you want to come?”
“I can come right now.”
“OK. We serve cheezborgers at 6 a.m.”
“I’m on my way.”
It turns out the gentleman I talked to was legendary owner Sam Sianis, who answered the phone several times while we were there.
We both ordered double cheezeborgers because as they say, “When in Rome……” I was still a bit hungry after the double so I ordered a second. I made it about halfway through before hitting the wall. The burgers were incredible and I definitely won’t need dinner tonight on the train.
After leaving Billy Goat Tavern, we took a cab to the Navy Pier to walk around and kill some time.
The Navy Pier has several restaurants (including a newer version of Billy Goat Tavern) and numerous stores. They also have a stained glass museum and a convention hall, which today was hosting a boat show. The Pier was surprisingly packed, including a horde of kids on a school field trip.
We took a cab from the Navy Pier back to Union Station, arriving at 1:15 p.m. With no wireless Internet signal in the Metropolitan Lounge, I headed upstairs to Snuggery to buy WiFi access, update the blog and have a beer.
As of 1:15 p.m. CT, Southwest Chief 3 is listed as on time, with a departure time of 3:15 p.m. I’ll provide a consist and let you know the actual departure time later tonight.
On Friday, I wake up at 7:18 a.m., just as we arrive in Waterloo, Indiana. We have lost more time during the night and now stand 1:07 behind schedule. I head down to the shower, but it is occupied. I go to the bathroom directly next to the shower to put on my contacts. When I open the door, I am greeted by a Chloe, a friendly guide dog for a woman and man staying in the handicap room. We talk about my destination and I learn that he is going to Chicago and she is going to DeKalb, Illinois. I then head into the show which is no longer occupied.
As I finish my shower, I hear the announcement for our stop in Elkhart, Indiana. I return to my room as we stop at 8:13 a.m. I take some pictures of the dark and rainy morning and the locomotives at the station.
While talking to Larry, our car attendant, Chloe comes up the stairs and into his room. He takes her back downstairs. Later, I hear Larry tell the conductor that Chloe had escaped and they share a laugh.
We stop at South Bend, Indiana 23 minutes after Elkhart. We are now 1:13 behind as we head to Chicago.
(For a route that has only 14 stops between Washington and Chicago, it seems peculiar that there are two stops in Indiana within 20 miles of each other. Same goes for the Rockville, Maryland stop which in my opinion is needless since the trip from Rockville to Union Station can be made via the Metro in 20 minutes.)
Before I call it a night, I’d like to mention a couple of quality live rail travelogues that have raised the bar and set the standard for this type of thing.
Steve Grande, one of the gurus at trainweb.org, recently filed a live blog during his trip to the Sundance Film Festival. His top-notch trip report can be found at: http://www.trainweb.com/travelogues/stevegrande/2006a27a.html
Sean Stevens, known as Hotshot, is currently in the midst of a 30-day North American rail adventure. WhistleStop, which reads like a story from a publication such as Esquire, can be found at:
After following the Youghiogheny for a couple of hours, we are now riding the banks of the Monongahela, approaching Pittsburgh. We will probably make up a little time when we leave the Steel City, home of the Super Bowl-bound Steelers. I’ll find out where we stand when I wake up tomorrow.
We have reservations for dinner at 7:30, but we are called at 7 and only three of the 10 tables on our side of the dinning car are occupied. I heard talk about dining cutbacks on the Capitol Limited; that talk is reality as the New York strip is not available tonight nor will it be in the future, according to our server, as they change the menu. I have the country fried steak instead and it is mediocre, at best. My girlfriend gets the chicken, which has always been good in my experience. While my food is average, the service ia very good, something that doesn’t always happen.
While we are eating, the power goes out briefly in the dining car. I see the dining car cashier walking towards us, so I say loud enough for him to hear: “This is the other dining car cutback.” He smiles as he walks past our table.
As we finish eating, we stop in Cumberland, Maryland to change engineers and take a five-minute smoke break. When we leave Cumberland at 8:05 p.m., we are 56 minutes behind schedule.
Throughout West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania, my Verizon wireless card does not receive service. Ironically, these three states are part of Verizon’s alleged home territory and for some reason, the wireless works 10 times better in the middle of New Mexico, as I found out in a previous trip.
We stop in Connellsville, Pennsylvania at 10:28 p.m. and remain 56 minutes late. Connellsville also features a wireless signal for the first time in hours and I quickly update the blog before I lose the signal. I’m not quick enough. As the blog is attempting to publish, I lose the signal. I have to wait until the outskirts of Pittsburgh to get another signal.
At 4:13 p.m. an announcement is made that baggage from the delayed train is still being transferred and it will be another 10 minutes until we depart. We finally leave at 4:30 p.m., which is the official departure time on the scanner. We are already 35 minutes behind schedule.
As we leave Washington, D.C., we maintain a speed of only 24 mph. According to the scanner, we are stuck behind a MARC train. Finally, after crossing the Washington Beltway, we pick up a cruising speed of 71 mph. As we pull into the station in Rockville, Md. At 5:01 p.m., we lose another seven minutes and are now 42 minutes behind schedule.
Here is the consist for Capitol Limited 29:
1). Engine 52
2). Engine 44
3). Baggage car 1264
4). Transition sleeper 39019
5). Sleeper 32053 (Car 2901)
6). Sleeper 32044 (Car 2900) – We are in Room 5
7). Dining car 38047
8). Lounge car 33034
9). Coach 34008 (Car 0411)
10). Coach 34024
The train is scheduled to leave at 3:55 p.m. However, an announcement is made that a connecting train was late and we will depart 15 or 20 minutes late.
On Wednesday afternoon, I booked a ride online with the Super Shuttle from my house in Ashburn, Virginia to Washington Dulles International Airport. The cost for a party of two (my girlfriend and I) is $25 plus a $5 tip. The Super Shuttle arrives Thursday morning at 11:24 a.m. and takes us to the airport.
On past Amtrak trips, I have parked at either Union Station or Dulles Airport, but this time I decide to make the commute to D.C. using public (and private) transportation.
We arrive at Dulles at 11:46 a.m. and immediately board a Washington Flyer bus for the West Falls Church metro. Washington Flyer, which also operates all the cabs at the airport, charges $8 per person for the 20 minute ride to the metro station.
(If things go as planned, in the next 7 to 10 years, Washington’s Metro system will go all the way to Dulles Airport. There is talk that the route will go all the way to Ashburn, Virginia — in fast-growing Loudoun County — and the planned Metro station is actually less than a mile from my house.)
We arrive at the West Falls Church Metro station at 12:04 p.m. After purchasing our tickets for $2.35, we make our way to the platform. According to the neon sign, the next train is five minutes away.
At 12:16 p.m., the orange line train arrives, but we sit in the station for five minutes. According to an announcement on the public address system, the delay is due to the fact that only one track is open between West and East Falls Church.
At 12:27 p.m., the Metro goes underground and at 12:44 p.m., we reach Metro Center, where we transfer trains from the Orange line to the Red line. We arrive at Union Station at 12:53 and head to Club Acela to check in.
We are told Capitol Limited Train No. 3 is on time and boarding will begin around 3:25 p.m. for the 3:55 p.m. departure. My Verizon Wireless/Sierra Wireless AirCard 580 has poor reception – as is usually the case in the Washington, D.C. metro area – and I try my Netgear wireless card. This proves successful and I log on to the Internet, update my Blog and go to Amtrak’s Web site to check on the train status of the Capitol Limited for previous days.
Yesterday’s train arrived in Chicago 1:30 behind schedule. The day before it was 38 minutes late and the day before that it was 1:18 late. I check the status of today’s train and it is listed as being on schedule, which matches the information on the monitors in Club Acela. However, Amtrak’s Web site warns of delays on the Capitol Limited route and using the past three days as a barometer, we will probably be an hour late entering Chicago tomorrow.
That’s all for now. I’ll update the consist and the start of the Capitol Limited leg of the trip later.
I will start my week-long trip on Thursday, Feb. 2, taking Capitol Limited 25 from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. After a short layover on Friday, Feb. 3, I will take Southwest Chief 3 from Chicago to Los Angeles. Depending upon my arrival time in Los Angeles on Sunday, Feb. 5, I will take Pacfic Surfliner (train number TBA) from L.A. to San Diego. After four days in San Diego, I will fly from San Diego to Washington Dulles International Airport on Thursday, Feb. 9 aboard JetBlue Flight 314.
During this trip, I will attempt to update this blog (both words and pictures) remotely using my Verizon wireless internet connection. In addition to my Sony Vaio laptop computer, which has Microsoft Streets & Trips and a GPS receiver to plot the train route, I will use a Sony Cyber-shot digital camera and a Radio Shack handheld programmable scanner to help document the trip.
(Note: This is the final entry for my trip from Los Angeles to Orlando via Amtrak. This blog, originally called The Great American Travelogue Experiment, was published in May of 2005. In addition, it was published live from the train using a wireless card, one of the first rail travelogues to ever do so. To view this trip from the beginning, click here and follow the links at the top right of each post.)
The pictures above were taken on Sunset Limited Trip I in May 2005 aboard the Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to Orlando.
(This is the final picture from my first Vancouver trip. To start at the beginning of the trip, click here and follow the links at the top right of each page.)