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In Part 1 I talked about a recent tour to the province of Alberta in Canada with the highlight being the 103rd Calgary Stampede which takes place every year in July.  Dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” it is similar to our state
fairs.  It also includes a world famous rodeo where the toughest Wild West cowboys and cowgirls show off their skills.
When we arrived in Banff we were early enough to take the Gondola Ride to the
peak of Sulphur Mt.  When you reach the top you have panoramic views of the village and valley below.  We also made a stop at Bow Falls.
Bow Falls is a wide river waterfall situated in the backside of Banff.  We strolled along a walkway to see this waterfall which gave us views from above the falls as well as the rapids and cascades further upstream. Whenever we looked downstream from the falls we would see the river twisting its way before tall mountains including the oddly sloped Mt Rundle. If you remember the movie “The River of No Return” with Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum this is where the movie was filmed.
We spent two nights in Banff with an excursion the next day along the Icefields Parkway, North America’s most scenic highway. Each year millions of visitors come to Banff to marvel at the emerald waters of Lake Louise and drive beneath the towering jagged peaks lining the Icefields Parkway.  There are hundreds of breathtaking sights including a series of emerald-green alpine lakes fed by nearby glaciers. Pictures do not do justice to the awesome colors of these lakes.
Our first stop was the Columbia Icefield for a ride out onto the Athabasca Glacier in a specialized Snocoach.  The Athabasca Glacier is part of the Columbia Icefields, located at the Continental Divide.
The first time I visited the Icefield and living in a Northern state, driving and walking on infinite layers of ice did not seem like it would be that big of
a deal to me.  However as they began explaining about the definition of a glacier it became interesting.
To be considered a true glacier the ice has to be at least 25 acres wide and 100 feet deep.  And it has to move.  In this area we could see areas where the ice was over 400-500 feet thick.  When you realize what you are driving on, it makes the experience much more fascinating.   Some of the ice we travelled over was created by snow over 400 years old.
Being on the glacier, I felt like we were on the surface of the moon. The crevices and craters revealed beautiful streaks of electric blue.  When we got out I
filled my water bottle with water from the gurgling stream.  It was very crisp and refreshing and they claim very pure.
As we walked around, we had to watch out for the crevices and fissures.  You
definitely wouldn’t want to fall in.  The ice on the glacier is said to be as deep as the Eiffel Tower is high.  The first time I stood on the white-blue ancient ice of the Athabasca Glacier fulfilled a lifelong dream I never knew I had.
If you have a bucket list, you definitely want to put this experience on it. A word of warning:  I was here about five years previously and it is scary how much the ice has shrunk.  This is something you may want to see sooner rather than later.
Our next stop and another highlight was a visit to beautiful Lake Louise and its famous Chateau. The setting is one of the most picturesque in the Rockies with the hotel set against the backdrop of the deep emerald waters of the lake.  Staying here can be extremely costly but visiting and having “high tea” is a wonderful experience.
Chateau Lake Louise is a Fairmont Hotel on the eastern shore of Lake Louise.  The original Chateau was built in stages at the end of the 19th and the beginning
of the 20th century by the Canadian Pacific Railway.  It is a “kin” to its predecessor, the Banff Springs Hotel.
Just as Hill and the Great Northern Railway built the hotels and chalets in Glacier National Park to lure Easterners out to visit the park, the Canadian Pacific did the same thing in their Park.  If you see pictures of Chateau Lake Louise you will understand how stunning the place looks.
Lake Louise was named Lake of the Little Fishes by the First Nations and is a glacial lake.  It is located about three miles west of the Hamlet of Lake Louise and the Trans-Canada Highway 1.  The lake is named after Princess Louise
Caroline Alberta, the fourth daughter of Queen Victoria.
As you look at the lake you can see the surrounding mountains reflected on the emerald green waters of this glacial fed lake.  It is truly a sight to behold.
I am not going to talk about Jasper in this article although that is another famous town in the area.  This tour I was on did not go there so I will
save that for a future article but that town is even more remote and animal sightings are common rather than rare.
We had free time the next morning in Banff before boarding our motorcoach for the one and half hour trip out of the Rockies and back to the Plains where Calgary is located.
We were headed to the Stampede.  From the chuck wagon races and bull riding to the music and the midway, the Stampede is an annual Calgary event not to be
missed. With over one million visitors per year, you can expect crowds at this
ten-day event.
The event is so popular that the city nicknamed itself “Stampede City” and, affectionately, “Cowtown”.   There’s a tournament-style rodeo with professional athletes; horse racing with a $1.15 million dollar prize; famous pop, country, and rock musicians; water shows; fireworks and rodeo games for all.
After checking into our hotel we headed to the GMC Rangeland Derby and  Grandstand Show. The Derby is the world’s premier chuckwagon racing event complete with 36 drivers, 288 horses and their teams of outriders vying for the over one million dollars in prize money. This is the Stampede’s most renowned event!
The Grandstand show at the end of the evening features the Volte. This stunning program includes a rock opera musical score and gravity defying sights as well as fireworks and performing black stallions.
Organized by thousands of volunteers and supported by civic leaders, the Calgary Stampede has grown into one of the world’s richest rodeos and one of Canada’s largest festivals.  It is a significant tourist attraction for the city. The rodeo and chuckwagon racing events are televised across Canada and you can even find American film stars sitting in the bleachers.
The next day we were free all day to explore the rodeo on our own.  We saw displays, attractions, and events including the Art and Lifestyle Showcase, nonstop entertainment on the Windsor of the West Stage, and many creative arts and crafts.  We also visited the Co-Op Kitchen Theater where some of the world’s top entertainers performed.
Finally our last day in Calgary arrived with the morning free to continue our exploration around the Stampede.  That afternoon we concluded our Stampede visit by experiencing the thrill of one of the world’s all-time greatest rodeos. The six major events we saw were Bareback and Bull Riding, Barrel Racing, Saddle Bronc, Steer Wrestling and Tie-Down Roping.  These events are the backbone of the Stampede Rodeo.
All too soon our time in the area was over.  That evening we boarded our motorcoach for the trip back to Lethridge and the next day we were once again on the Empire Builder headed back to Chicago.  The Canadian Rockies and Calgary Stampede…what an awesome adventure!

 

Last summer I did a tour to the province of Alberta in Canada with the highlight being the 103rd CalgaryStampede which takes place every year in July.

Dubbed “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” it is similar to our state
fairs.  It also includes a world famous rodeo where the toughest Wild West cowboys and cowgirls show off their skills.

We took the Amtrak train, the Empire Builder, to Shelby, Montana where we boarded our motorcoach to take us overnight to Lethbridge.    Located on the Oldman River, this is the largest city in southern Alberta and the fourth-largest in the province.  Because the Canadian Rockies are nearby this contributes to the city’s cool summers, mild winters, and windy climate.

As we journeyed through the plains, we could see the mountains looming ahead.  The Blackfeet in Montana called the area “the backbone of the world” and it looks like a backbone as you drive towards them.

To understand the Plains area, you need to know about the people who lived there. I could do a whole article on the Plains Indians but for now you should know these Native Americans were nomadic, lived in tepees and followed the great buffalo herds for their survival. Natives in Canada are treated much better than their American counterparts and are known as The First Nations.

There are many mesas out on the plains (think mountains that look like large tables) and some of them were used as buffalo jumps in the old days.  The Natives would creep up behind the herd and stampede it onto a mesa where they would run to the end and fall off the steep cliffs.  Native women and children waited below ready to help with the process of preparing the buffalo for their food, clothing and other essentials they used from the dead animals.  The Natives even said a prayer of thanks after they had a good hunt.

Our first stop on the way to Banff was Head-Smashed-In Buffalo
Jump.  It looks like any other Canadian Rockies foothill area, but this is a UNESCO World Heritage site that contains 6,000 years of Native history beneath its grassy surface. Head-Smashed-In
Buffalo Jump is the best preserved of these type of sites. The five-floor interpretive center, which is cleverly disguised in the hillside, is considered a Canadian Signature Experience for how it guides visitors chronologically through the area’s rich history.

From there it was onto Banff.  Funny how climbing to what feels like the top of the world can make you feel so small. The Canadian Rockies are a wonderful place to find peace of mind.  You know you are definitely in a different world.

I have had travelers ask me if there is a difference between the American Rockies and the Canadian Rockies.  The answer is a definite “yes.”  The Colorado Rockies are a second set of mountains.  The first ones eroded down to nothing and were replaced by the granite mountains we see today.  Earthquakes and volcanoes created those mountains.  Naturally this did not happen overnight.

Another difference is Colorado has fifty-six mountains over 14,000 feet.
But they don’t look much taller than their Canadian counterparts because often in Colorado you are already six to eight thousand feet when looking up at the summits.

The Canadian Rockies are still the old limestone mountains and have eroded into beautiful shapes creating the difference in the way the two sets of mountains look.  Also, even though they tend to be only five to
six thousand feet high, you are most often on a valley floor looking up at them so they seem as tall as the American ones..

As we left the Plains, our overnight destination was located in Banff National Park situated in the heart of the Canadian Rockies.  The beauty of the natural wonders of this area is unbelievable.  You can see lush forests, mighty fast flowing pristine rivers, emerald
lakes, and immense glaciers while crisp mountain air surrounds you.

But be prepared.  This is the great outdoors. Not only is this home to wildlife such as elk, deer, sheep, black bears, and grizzly bears, but seasonal weather—including flash floods and falling trees—can make some areas dangerous.  That is why an escorted tour is so great.  You have a guide who not only describes what you are seeing but also takes you to all the important places safely.

Next blog:  More on the Canadian Rockies and Calgary Stampede.

With the new year, Lent will be coming and that means one thing in the South–Mardi Gras. And the biggest one happens in New Orleans.

Recently my company developed a new tour that goes to New Orleans.  I have been to that city many times and it’s a fun place to visit, especially if you like to eat and drink.  You’ll find bowls filled to the rim with gumbo, late nights in dark jazz clubs, and strolls through historic neighborhoods.  There are many festivals throughout the year, including the most famous one, Mardi Gras.

New Orleans is one of the world’s most fascinating cities and home to a truly unique melting pot of culture, food and music.  The people who came to the city arrived from Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa.

There are Cajuns and Creoles.  The difference?  Mainly it has to do with how they migrated since both groups are strongly influenced by French culture.
The Cajuns came from Acadia in Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and
New Brunswick regions of Canada. The British were worried they would rise up
and fight on the side with the French during the French and Indian War so they expelled them from the region

The Creoles are made up of people from Spain, Africa, the Caribbean and many other regions. Their cuisine is different as to spiciness and they tend to include
elements of African, Native American or Caribbean culture into their music and
faith. Cajuns usually use a jazz or blues style and lean toward Catholicism.

New Orleans is a major United States port and the largest city in Louisiana.  The population in the city is approximately 344,000 with over a million in the greater metro area.  Since the city is on the Mississippi River and the river bends, the town is also called Crescent City.

After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 the city grew rapidly with influxes of Americans, French, Creoles, and Africans. Later immigrants were the Irish, Germans, and Italians. Sugar and cotton produced on large plantations outside the city helped the economy grow.

The city’s expansion was due to a drainage plan designed to drain huge tracts of swamp and marshland and expand into low-lying areas. However over the years these newly populated areas declined to several feet below sea level, leaving the city like a bowl.  Even today when we are on tour there, buses are no longer allowed into the French Quarter.  They fear the streets could crack under the weight of these heavy vehicles.  Instead we have to stay on the perimeter and then walk in to the Quarter.

During Hurricane Katrina the levees tipped over and Lake Ponchatrain spilled in decimating much of the city.  However the French Quarter and St. Charles
Historic district remained intact with little flooding since they are on much higher ground.

There is very distinct old architectural style found in the French Quarter.   When
you see balcony buildings with lots of wrought iron you are probably in the
city. Remember the town is several hundred years old and is also in the humid South.  I had one traveler who was very disappointed when he saw the French Quarter for the first time.  He thought it was dirty and run down.  But that is New Orleans.

People drink and eat on Bourbon Street every day and at night they close the street to vehicle traffic.  The partygoers throw their garbage and cups in the street.  Every morning the trucks come in and sweep up the garbage and then they hose the street down.  I know that sounds yucky but it works.

There is a lot to do around the city.  On our tour we go to the National World War II Museum which is an excellent attraction.  We also have a step on guide who takes us all over the city.  But if you are not on an escorted tour you
can ride the trolleys and see the famous St. Charles Avenue with all the famous
mansions.  This street is also part of the Mardi Gras parade route and months later you will still see Mardi Gras beads hanging from trees and electric wires.

We also go to a cemetery to better understand the unique burial system in the city.  You’ll never see any movie or Television show with New Orleans as the setting without seeing one of the famous cemeteries.

It is best to take some type of tour or trolley to become familiar with the city.
They don’t call it “The Crescent City” for nothing.  Streets can bend in all kinds of weird directions.  On top of that the Americans and French did
not get along very well back in the 1800’s.  So they built many boulevards where they could meet since this was considered neutral ground.

And the main thoroughfare leading to the French Quarter is called Canal Street.
It is one of the widest streets in America due to the fact it separated the two cultures.  Here all the streets have different names when they cross Canal.  One side is the American named street and the other, the French named street.  So when St. Charles Ave gets to Canal Street, the name is changed to Royal.  And,
Bourbon changes to Carondelet.

If that gets too confusing for you, don’t worry.  Get to historic Jackson Square
and find a restaurant that serves Gumbo, PoBoys or Muffalettas.  For dessert
you’re off to Café du Monde for beignets and coffee as you watch the street
people and artists selling their wares.

After that if walking the Quarter doesn’t do much for you take a horse and buggy ride or have a bicyclist ride you around.  After all you need to save yourself for serious partying that evening.

That is why the city is called “The Big Easy.”

Memphis: Music and Food

When you think Memphis, hopefully you think music and food.
Of course there is so much more but the city is world famous for Rock N’
Roll, Soul, and Blues music, as well as Barbeque, especially ribs.
Memphis is one of the few cities in the US that even has awesome food at their airport!

The city has a population of just under 655,000 making it the largest city in the state of Tennessee, although Nashville’s metropolitan area is larger.  It is also the largest city on the Mississippi River.

I always tell my travelers that in olden times  “the rivers were the roads.”  Since the city is located on a large bluff rising from the Mississippi River, the town site has been a natural location for human settlement.

The Mound Builders settled in the area thousands of years ago and there is a lot of evidence of their existence here.  De Soto, the explorer, broke off from Coronado in the 1540’s and traveled the river.  These men were searching for the Lost Cities of Gold, which of course obviously they never found.  Then in the mid 1600’s Marquette and Joliet traveled the river all the way up to Wisconsin and Michigan in their quest to civilize the natives and save souls.

Since the city had a large slave trade the people voted to seceded from the Union in June 1861, and briefly became a Confederate stronghold. However ironclad gunboats captured the city in June 1862 and the town was occupied by the Union Army for the duration of the war.  The presence of the Union Army attracted many fugitive slaves to the city and the black population of Memphis increased from 3,000 in 1860 to nearly 20,000 in 1865.

In the 1870’s plagues ran rampant all over the United States (these illnesses decimated the Native American populations out West) and over half of the population of Memphis died.  Robert Church became the first African American millionaire and he did this by buying up properties of the deceased with no living relatives.

The city is the home of founders and pioneers of various American music genres, including soul, blues, gospel, and rock n’ roll. Many musicians, including Aretha Franklin, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Roy Orbison, Booker T. & the MG’s , Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes, Sam & Dave, and B.B. King, got their start in Memphis in the 1950s and 1960s.  Both Sun Records and Stax Records are reminders of this colorful time.

The famous Beale Street is a national historical landmark, and shows the impact Memphis has had on American blues.  Any night but especially on weekends, people come out dressed in their finest to visit the restaurants and clubs that made this area famous or should I say “infamous.”.

There are also many museums in the area as well as A. Schwab’s famous dry goods store that advertises “if we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”  I had one passenger get really excited when he saw some toys for sale he remembers playing with back in the 1950’s and 1960’s.

And there are so many other places to visit in the area.  First, I have to mention the most famous: Elvis Presley’s Graceland.  No matter what you think of Elvis’ taste, this 14 acre estate where you see how he lived, including the “jungle room”  and his gold records, awards and costumes is worth at least a one time visit.

Don’t forget to atop by Sam Philips’ Sun Studio which is opened for tours. Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Roy Orbison all made their first recordings there, and were “discovered” by Phillips. Many great blues artists also recorded there, such as W.C. Handy, Father of the Blues.

Another “must” stop as mentioned previously is Stax Records which created a classic 1960s soul music sound.  Booker T. and the M.G.s
were the label’s big band for most of the classic hits that came out of
Stax.  But also Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and many others recorded
there. This music still lives on in the Blues Brothers movie, in which many of the musicians starred as themselves.

There is a trolley that runs all over the downtown so you don’t have to find a place to park. And this gives you your bearings for all the great sites to visit. Be sure and walk into the Peabody hotel to see the famous
ducks.  And just on the other side of Beale Street is the Lorraine Motel
where Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot.  Every day a bouquet of flowers is placed on the 2nd story at the site of the shooting.  The National Civil
Rights Museum is also located there and definitely worth a visit.

While in Memphis be sure and have a piece of pie.  But remember as the dumb laws for Tennessee state “all pie must be eaten on the premise.  No pie may be taken out!”  Where that law came from is anyone’s guess.

Last time we looked at train travel with Amtrak but now let’s focus on some individual routes.  Chicago is a hub for Amtrak.  The long distance East/West trains originate in that city.  However it is the coastal and commuter runs that make the most money for the corporation.

The trains that run along the West or East coasts, as well as some smaller train routes like the Empire Service between New York and Buffalo and the Hiawatha between Chicago and Milwaukee, make several trips a day back and forth to their destinations.  Since these trains are very profitable for Amtrak, the equipment is more up to date.

Trains from Chicago to New York, Boston or Washington, DC like the Lake Shore Limited or Capitol Limited, are shorter distance trains since the distance between Chicago and the East Coast is shorter than trains going from the Midwest to the West coast. These trains leave Chicago in the evening and the next day, you are at your destination.  Acela Express from Boston
to DC is another popular commuter run in the East..

The Pacific Surfliner has several runs a day from San Diego to just past Los Angeles. This train continues to Seattle but not several times a day. The scenery along the Coast Starlight route is unsurpassed. The dramatic snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, lush forests, fertile
valleys and long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline provide a stunning
backdrop for your journey

In addition to all the Chicago trains, there are several that go north and south out of New York.  The Crescent goes deep into the Carolina’s, Georgia, Alabama and ends in New Orleans. But you can also take the City of New Orleans from Chicago to get to that famed city.  What a great way to travel to Mardi Gras without having to worry about road conditions or weather related flight cancellations.

The older trains are the ones with the most problems, since Amtrak has not updated their equipment in a long time, and they are the long distance Western routes. The scenery is more spectacular but issues can develop.  The staff, while overworked, strive to give the best service possible and you can tell that most of them love their job.

There is a feeling of excitement when boarding the California Zephyr.
The next morning you are in Denver and the scenery becomes vertical.  Some of the areas the train goes through cannot be accessed by cars.  Then late the next evening, Salt Lake City, UT beckons.  If you continue on to California, that overnight is spent traveling through the desert.  Finally on your last morning, you arrive in Reno.  Once again you are vertical through the tunnels and majesty of the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

The scenery on the Empire Builder is also really stunning. While the Mississippi
River and the Badlands of North Dakota have their own beauty, the run between
Glacier National Park and Seattle in the Cascade Mountains is truly awesome.
This track was not built until the late 1800’s. Then in the early 1900s, the
great Western lodges were constructed to bring the wealthy Easterners to the
remote National Parks. The Empire builder is billed as a 1st class train.
Service is consistently good a.

Another favorite train is the Southwest Chief. There is something special about watching the buttes, mesas and the Southwest desert that has a beauty all its own. The crew on this train comes out of LA and I have always found the service and food to be excellent.
I have not been on the Texas Eagle for quite a few years. It goes from Chicago to St Louis, Dallas and finally San Antonio. There it meets up with the Sunset Limited coming from New Orleans and going to LA. One time on the Sunset Limited, I awoke in the middle of the night and looked out. There was a full moon and the huge sand dunes in the Sonora desert looked like we were traveling on a distant planet. The Sunset Limited used to be the only cross country train. However after hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans to Florida run was not resumed.

I love riding the trains. There is something about sitting back and watching the world go by that is very relaxing.  And it is so much more comfortable then driving.  You can get up and walk around the train and the engine keeps chugging along all night to get you to your destination faster than a car.  Always remember, “it is the journey and not the destination.”

I recently did a “food tour” of Virginia Beach, Virginia. But before we arrived we made a couple of other stops. If you visit you will find a lot of history in this area. We had so little time, we were not able to see much of the historic places. However if you visit plan to stop at the Jamestown Settlement and Williamsburg while you are there.
On Day Two we did a 3 hour whirlwind tour of DC. Since it was late Sunday afternoon the roads seemed to magically open for us. We walked by the White House, Capitol, and into the WWII monument. We then drove the tidal basin & even had time to walk into the Lincoln & Korean Memorials. On the way out of town we zipped by Arlington National Cemetery & the Iwo Jima Memorial. If you ever do the Iwo Jima Monument make sure you drive the whole circle. It’s an optical illusion but it looks like the flag is raising and lowering as you drive around.
The next morning we had 3 hours to kill so I contacted the Convention Visitor Bureau in Hampton, Virginia. The man who helped me there awesome! They have the most wonderful History Museum in that town. It covers 400 years of history in several galleries. He organized guides for us and split the group in threes for our tour. We also saw St. John’s Church before “Bruce” jumped on our coach and did a little city tour on our way to lunch and shopping. For those of you interested there is a big Bass Pro Shop on a little lake with restaurants and a Coldstone Creamery behind the store. I haven’t even touched on all the neat things to do in this town, including some great shopping areas and restaurants.
Then we headed to Virginia Beach. The population is approximately440,000 and it is the most populous city in the state. However the area is very spread out so it is not a city with big skyscraper type buildings. As we drove in we saw many hotels several stories tall facing the ocean, with the required tourist souvenir shops nearby. The way they were built most rooms had ocean views. Our hotel had every room with balconies facing the boardwalk and ocean.
The city is located on the Atlantic Ocean at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay.
Naturally due to the location it is a resort city with miles of beaches and hundreds of hotels, motels, condos and restaurants along the oceanfront. The boardwalk is also neat. There is a separate paved bike path so you don’t run into pedestrians and the famed King Neptune Statue is a must stop.
The city is home to many state parks, several long-protected beach areas, three military bases, a number of large corporations, two universities, International headquarters and site of the television broadcast studios for Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), and Edgar Cayce’s Hospital for Research and Enlightenment which was established in 1928 with 60 beds.
Cayce was a very famous psychic in his time who claimed healing abilities and made prophesies. He is known as the father of the “New Age” movement of the 1960s. He lived in Virginia Beach until he died on January 3, 1945. His followers are still very active in the area and many people all over the world still study his prophesies.
An interesting historic fact is near the point where the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean meet, Cape Henry was the site of the first landing of the English colonists, who eventually settled in Jamestown in1607.
One of our dinners was at the Chesapeake Grill, the only restaurant on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. We had wonderful Barbeque there as we gazed at the beautiful water views. I just wished we had time to stay long enough to see the sunset. I am sure it would have been spectacular. But even if you don’t stop you need to drive over the bridge. It is four lanes and has two tunnels. The entire bridge and tunnels span twenty miles!
 Naturally seafood was the highlight of our tour. We had She Crab soup, fish sandwiches, crab cake, BBQ shrimp, grilled shrimp, oysters Rockafellar, clams provencal, and fish tacos. And homemade desserts–little chocolate cookies, key lime pie, piled high strawberry shortcake and famous Bundt cakes from Rowena’s in Norfolk. Did I mention cheese and sausage at our wine tasting?

And I have to tell you as I tell my travelers–when you are on vacation there is no calories in the food you eat!

The third day of our stay was a lot about peanuts and ham. We went to Smithville and had Brunswick stew, a ham sandwich on a sweet potato roll, and a Virginian reuben, which is actually made of turkey. After all this food we visited a famous Ham Country Store where we learned about curing and how hams are stored and preserved. The only problem we had was when everyone got off the bus at the end of the day they smelled like they had been in a fire!

There was a little time late that afternoon and evening to enjoy the beach and our hotel. The next day sadly we left for our overnight stay in Pittsburgh before heading back to Chicago.

There are so many great towns in the area like Norfolk, Newport News, Portsmouth and Hampton that when you think about your next vacation, put the Eastern shore of Virginia high on your list. I know you won’t be sorry. However if you want to escape the hoards of beachgoers I would suggest a visit in the spring or fall.

 

Summer is fast approaching and that means many people are thinking about their summer vacations.  Traveling by train can be a very fun experience if you have the proper expectations.

Riding trains can be an awesome experience.  There is a definite romance with riding the rails. And, you encounter many train buffs along the way who have fascinating stories of vintage trains and travel in the olden days as well as today.

In the U.S., Amtrak is the major means of cross country travel.  When dealing with Amtrak you have to sit back and enjoy the ride and scenery, but expect issues can happen. I believe if your expectations are not too high, you can much more appreciate the journey.

Amtrak is a government owned corporation with the rails primarily owned by freight companies. Passenger trains must yield to freighters and if they become delayed for any reason, they have to pull over and let the freight trains go by. Sometimes this can cause delays so if you are in a hurry, don’t take the train.

You meet very nice people when traveling by rail. The dining car contains booths that seat four. If there is only one or two of you, expect to be seated with others. The conversation can be very stimulating as you wait for your meal to arrive.  On the long distance trains, the food is prepared on board and it is usually enjoyable.

If you can afford it, a sleeper (with bathroom) or even a roomette (bathroom down the hall) is the way to go. You have all your meals included since this is considered 1st class and coffee, water, juice and ice are available all day. A morning newspaper is delivered after the first morning stop each day.

Sitting up can be a little tiresome and there is no privacy. Nevertheless, if you cannot afford a room, this type of travel is an option. If you need to use the bathroom, you have to go downstairs. Small pillows are provided but no blankets. The seats however are roomy and recline so if you know ahead of time what to expect, it is not quite so bad.  This is especially true if have experienced a long overnight flight. You have much more room in coach on a train then on a plane.  It is all about the spirit of adventure and going to new and sometimes, remote places.
The 1st class passengers get the initial choice of dinner times so if you are in coach expect a later meal, especially in the summer when popular trains have several sleeping cars that have to be accommodated first. I know many seniors tend to dislike eating late but there is a snack bar to hold you over while you wait for dinner or as a substitute for the dining room. And, another option is to have your coach attendant bring your meal to your seat if you prefer not to wait for a late dinner time.

A lot of us have a misconception of train travel as displayed in the old movies, like North by Northwest, which showed traveling on trains as a glamorous experience.   It is important to get past these old images of leather seats and meals with fine china as portrayed in the movies. No longer is there a club car with waiters bringing your drinks.  Now you go downstairs in the lounge car to purchase your beverage and either sit in the observation car or go back to your room or seat to drink it.   But it is still fun to watch the scenery unfold as the train sways and clickety clacks along the rails while you are sipping an evening cocktail or glass of wine.

There are many who travel all over the US by Amtrak. Just remember to make reservations in advance, especially for summer travel.  This is the busiest season for Amtrak and trains can be full with people.

I think sometimes we can get spoiled by our fast paced world. At one time, train travel was a luxurious way to travel. It still can be lots of fun, if taken with a spirit of adventure.  Sitting back and letting the scenery unfold in front of you is a great way to relax and unwind from a hectic life.  Remember it is the journey, not the destination.

Next month we’ll look at some different train routes you may enjoy.