No better way to travel

There is no doubt about it. I’ve been mesmerized by trains by entire married life. Oh, it wasn’t all fun and games, and I didn’t always like it. Growing up in Union County, I didn’t have much interaction with trains. It was easier to hop on a bus to Port Authority in New York or take the Number #8 bus to go to Elizabeth to shop in Goerke’s or visit Humes Music Store. As kids, we never took a train anyplace; family vacations to the White Mountains of New Hampshire were by car, two days of travel, an overnight in Connecticut and arriving at this magical wonderful Burroughs Farm in Twin Mountain, NH early afternoon the second day. It was exciting. But then I married a fireman on the railroad. Jimmy, like his dad, worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad. It was a time when you hired out you hired as a fireman…and yes, there were steam engines, and yes, Jimmy really did shovel coal and sweat by the fire pit even on the coldest days. It would be years until he had the seniority to be ‘promoted’ to engineer. In between, the PRR became the Penn Central Railroad, the government stepped in and Conrail became the ‘freight’ railroad, and firemen and engineers had their choice…did they want to be Conrail engineers or Amtrak engineers, the new government railroad. Jimmy was already an engineer and he chose Amtrak, he liked running passenger trains, liked the trips to Washington, D.C, layovers in Philadelphia where he could visit museums before bringing another train back to New York, and liked the fact we would then have passes to travel wherever Amtrak ran. Even then, we never took many train trips. Jimmy didn’t want to spend his time off as a passenger on a train another engineer was running. Even with passes, we never got to take our children cross country, or even to the nation’s Capital by train. Jimmy believes the train was for work, not for pleasure. And he worked hard for his pay. At the time, there were no sick days, no holidays, no days off. If you didn’t work, you simply didn’t get paid. So he was very healthy all those years we were raising four children and putting them in tuition paid Catholic schools. He called in sick for our daughter’s cheerleading meets, our son’s Pop Warner games. Looking back, I’m so happy he had the option and we both recognized enjoying our kids’ activities beat a bigger paycheck any day. My train trips while Jimmy was alive were glorious when I took them. Often, when Jimmy had a run to Washington, DC, a four or five hour layover there, and another trip back to New York. I could go as a passenger, meet him at Union Station, and we could spend a couple of hours visiting the Smithsonian and having lunch in one of the Capitol’s restaurants before boarding his train for our trip back home. I loved it, and so loved the Smithsonian and visited every building, in addition to the Library of Congress and the Capitol many times. We took several trips after the Auto Train came into being, driving to Lorton, Virginia, boarding the train and watching them board our car, for the overnight trip to Florida, then reclaiming our vehicle and moving on to wherever we were going. Wonderful trips. After Jimmy’s death, both to memorialize him and our happy memories, and to travel….so easy to travel by train when you’re a lone woman traveler…I knew I wanted to take the train across the country! At least once! I ended up doing it more than that. I took one trip to New Orleans since I was also taking a cruise sailing out of there. What better way to start a cruise on the Mississippi than by taking the train to the boat! t was an opportunity to see the beauty and wonder of America through 11 states and Washington, D.C. There simply isn’t anything that can compare! Boarding in New York…Amtrak’s Crescent is one of the few long distance East Coast trains that doesn’t stop at Metro Park…you whiz through New Jersey, Philadelphia, Delaware and Maryland before stopping for a few minutes in Washington, D.C where dozens more board for the trip South through Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and final stop, New Orleans. Rather than the straight line south leaving the nation’s Capital, the Crescent travels west through Virginia, giving riders the opportunity to ride through the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, smack through the middle of towns like Manassas and Culpeper, Jefferson’s Charlottesville, before moving on through High Point and Charlotte in North Carolina, touching on Spartanburg and Clemson in South Carolina, and on to the beautiful city of Atlanta, Georgia. Alabama’s small towns along the route include Anniston, where Anniston Army Depot, a huge Army installation with dozens of tanks lining a perimeter near the railroad, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama, then on to Meridian, Picayune and more in Mississippi before pulling into the Festival City of the World, New Orleans. The Crescent is the only Amtrak train that makes this route, and timing of the trains going north and south makes it possible to see different towns by night and day. Heading south, you’re just about entering Virginia at dusk, and sleeping your way through the Carolinas, with the sun rising over Georgia and an evening arrival New Orleans. On the return trip, it’s daylight from New Orleans through Georgia, then sleeping once again through the Carolinas, and daylight through the beautiful western side of Virginia and the upper Southern states for a noon-time or so arrival in New York. Accommodations aboard Amtrak are delightful, whether you opt for coach, sleeping cars, or, in between, business class accommodations which mean more space, quiet and comfort than the more popular and less expensive coaches, but still a lower cost and privacy than the private miniature cabins for two. All classes of travel on the Crescent enjoy the same dining room and lounge cars, and seats in both coach and business allow plenty of room for stretching out and lying flat. In recent years, I’ve traveled overnight both ways, in coach and in a private bedroom. Both have distinctive benefits. The coach seats are far less expensive, the seats are wide, big and lay back, and you can bring pillows or blankets for added comfort at night. You have the joy of meeting other travelers, making new friends, and everyone is polite and quite throughout the sleep hours when the lights are dimmed. The private cars of course give you all the privacy you want, two seats and a table for playing games, reading, or holding a glass of wine, and a porter who comes in and converts those two seats to a most comfortable bed at night., You meet your new friends in the dining room where the menu always has a minimum of five entrees and great desserts. It’s elegance on wheels. On the Crescent, it’s in Georgia in the right season, when you first see spring has arrived in the South, with magnolias in bloom, violet and white wisteria blowing gently in the breeze along tree limbs, and dogwood and bulb flowers adding brilliant colors to an already beautiful scenery. As in most large cities, the train stations are right in the heart of things, so it’s always an inexpensive cab ride to hotels of all price ranges, and museums, shops, restaurants and other entertainment you can start enjoying immediately. After all, it was a most relaxing, enjoyable, and scenic trip to get there.


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