Best Way to See Stuff? Go By Train.
The word has gotten around that I’m an authority on train travel and I keep getting emails from both friends and total strangers with questions. First, let me say that I am more than glad to respond to any and all of those inquiries. The only disclaimer–and I try to include it in all of my responses–is that I am glad to offer my best opinion, but that’s all it is … just my opinion.
By far, the most common question I get has to do with specific trains … which do I recommend as the more scenic or the most direct route. Amtrak, of course, makes it easy as far as most of the long-distance trains are concerned, because almost all of them originate from or terminate at Chicago. So if you’re starting from there, it’s just a question of where you want to end up. You can head west to Los Angeles, the Bay Area, Seattle or Portland. You can go south to New Orleans or east to Washington or New York or Boston. And, of course, there are a lot of towns and cities along all of those routes that are worth a stop-over.
In fact, that’s exactly my approach to train travel. If I’m going to be traveling from A to B, I immediately start thinking about what might be worth seeing somewhere along the way. My trip back to the NARP meeting in Washington last April is a good example. On the way there, I stopped for a couple of nights in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I took a day to visit Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and on the way back, I stopped off in San Antonio for a couple of nights because I had never seen The Alamo.
Of course I could have done the very same thing by air, but — Good Heavens! — just imagine the hassle! Getting to and from the airports, changing planes at least twice, going through security multiple times, not to mention the expensive fares that always come with relatively short-haul flights.
By contrast, for my Charlottesville stopover, I got on the Cardinal in Chicago about 5:30 p.m., had a nice dinner, slept well in my comfortable roomette, and got off in Charlottesville the following afternoon after a beautiful ride through the New River Gorge and over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Two mornings later, I boarded another Amtrak train that delivered me to Washington’s Union Station a couple of hours later.
So–sure–I could have flown. But how much simpler it was by train … so much less stress and at less cost. Yes, it took me one additional day, but I planned for it and, since I was on the train, there was no hotel room to pay for and all my meals were included in the cost of the roomette in my sleeping car. Now, come on … how can you beat that?