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The Secret to Train Travel.

It’s hard to explain to someone who has never done it, why a long-distance train trip is so rewarding. Half of the secret is simply paying attention–and I mean really paying attention– to what’s passing by outside your  window.

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For instance, deep into the Rocky Mountains on the California Zephyr, spotting a sign painted on the roof of a barn. It says “Rancho Starvo”. Or seeing surfers riding Pacific Ocean waves en route from L.A. to San Jose on the Coast Starlight. Or being dazzled by the Fall colors you see from the Adirondak on the way up to Montreal.

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Pick a train, any train, and if you’re really paying attention, there is always—let me repeat that—there is always something interesting or unusual or special about to come into view.

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And then there are the people you meet on a long-distance train ride. I have a writer friend in Honolulu who believes that every human being has at least one interesting story to tell. The challenge and the fun, my friend says, is in finding it.  So wander into the lounge car, buy a bottle of beer and sit down near someone who looks interesting. Or start a conversation with a nice young couple sitting across from you in the dining car. Where are you from? Where are you going? And why?

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I was on the Lake Shore Limited a few years ago and was seated for dinner at a table with a man who, it turned out, is one of a handful of people in the entire world qualified to repair and restore very old pipe organs. He was on his way home after spending two weeks in Austria where he had been restoring the ancient pipe organ in Vienna’s St. Stephan’s cathedral.

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Another time, over breakfast in the Empire Builder’s dining car, I found myself having breakfast with a couple who own and run a B&B in Granby, Connecticut, a small town of some 11,000 people. To our mutual delight and astonishment, we discovered that their house is next door to the old Victorian house in which both my father and grandfather were born.

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Go ahead and fly if you must. But just think what you could be missing.

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