Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Tuesday Travels: All Aboard!

For my American Nomad blog, I recently posted an article about train travel. Although Dan and I frequently travel by car, we’ve certainly been known to board a train or two over the years. Before I even met Dan, I had ridden my fair share of trains, even taking Amtrak’s City of New Orleans from the Big Easy (my hometown) to Chicago (where I was attending college at the time). And right after meeting Dan (but before we were an “item”), I took a trip to Italy, where I experienced a six-hour train ride from Venice to Rome – what an amazing journey that was!

When Dan and I lived in England, we often used trains to get from Henley-on-Thames, where we were living, to towns like Reading and London. It really was a more efficient and less harrowing way to travel than driving on Britain’s poorly marked roadways. And, of course, while residing in places like Chicago and Los Angeles, we used the public trains a lot – especially in the Windy City, which has a truly incredible system. Chicago’s trains almost always got us to our destination on time – whether it was an office building in the Loop or the Midway airport – and it was so much cheaper and faster than driving in the Chicagoland area.

Although I never collected trains as a child, I’ve always been fascinated with them. Despite the decline in U.S. train travel over the past century, America’s history will forever be intertwined with locomotives – and there’s nothing quite like riding the rails. If you don’t have time for a lengthy Amtrak journey, there are plenty of smaller lines throughout the country, offering short, nostalgic train rides for visitors. And, in lieu of that, you can always take the silly tourist train rides on offer in certain resort towns, such as Key West’s Conch Tour Train. Hey, don’t laugh – it’s fun!

While doing my research for the travel article, I discovered this interesting partnership between Amtrak and the National Park Service. Called Trails & Rails, the program “provides rail passengers with educational opportunities that foster an appreciation of a selected region’s natural and cultural heritage... promotes National Park Service areas...” and attempts “to encourage train ridership” – which I think is pretty awesome. Apparently, Amtrak and the National Park Service are also helping to celebrate the next National Train Day (yes, we have one of those), which is scheduled for next May. I’m personally heartened by all this attention to train travel, which is slowly becoming a thing of the past.

So, do any of you have fond memories of past train rides? Or is it time to take your first trip?


Bane of Anubis said...

I remember riding the tube in England to school (1st grade), but it's all a bit vague. After moving from England to DC, switched from the tube to the metro -- and my mother spent an entire summer ferrying my sister and me to all the museums (thus permanently souring me on such things).

All good memories, but now I think about all the terror plots and simple ways to derail a train and I get a bit jumpy (yeah, I know I'm a killjoy ;), though I think it'd be neat to take a cross country trip -- definitely more comfortable than a plane ride.

Lori said...

And again! What's with Blogger that now after you write the comment and submit it, it opens a second window that asks you to word check and approve it? I close that one lightning fast, thinking I'm done. Anyway, I was saying how I love trains and how I think they're much more pleasant (and safe) to ride compared to cars (not liking cars much here). In Romania I used the train all the time to go from my college town to home. My husband also has the fondest memories of trains back in India.

Martha W said...

I love trains. I can remember a couple of mini train rides from when I was little but once I could drive - anything that could be considered leisurely was shot out the window... :)

I have been thinking of taking Amtrak to Chicago for a trip but haven't worked out the vacation yet. *grin* I need more than a day for that!

Great post, Laura!

Becky said...

Hope you're feeling better.

My mom and dad once spent a summer vacation using the rails to trails program. I remember they went through Glacier N.P. and spent some nights there.

I also took a long trip from Oregon to N.O. via the Southern route, then back the Northern route, including The City of New Orleans. I thought it was funny how they dealt with the booze on that train, going in and out of dry counties in the South. My dad took the City of N.O. trian twice after we moved up here to see us as well (rented a car in Chicago).

You meet so many wonderful people on trains. I love them. I heard they're trying to reinstate the Amtrak line that used to go through Pendleton, which I need to "get on board" with, since it'll be our new home town! I hope we see more trains in the US.

Natalie said...

I've never been on a train in the U.S. My husband and I did some train traveling in Europe a few years back-- I think I could really like it, and even prefer it to car or plane travel. I wish America had better lines. I think the east coast has a few but we don't have much in the west.

Kathryn Magendie said...

Oh! I've always wanted to take train rides as you describe! I know when i was a small child, I was on a train with my Maw maw but I have no idea where we were going. Then also as a child, our class went on a train ride - to where, again, I do not remember.

I'd love to ride and see the countryside and have wine and good food while doing it! This is the second blog I've been to about trains, by the way, just each one different though :)

Strange Fiction said...

I would love to take a nice long train ride. Always wanted to do the tour of BC. I see the tracks running through the mountains and I'd like to see the view from the other side.

Lazy Writer said...

I've only been on a train one time. It was an amazing experience. There is just something romantic about it. National Train Day? Really? I had no idea.

Laura Martone said...

Boy, Bane. You ARE a killjoy - and I mean that in the best possible way, of course.

I loved riding the tube in England - watching SLIDING DOORS always makes me feel nostalgic. I've been to D.C. a few times, but I can't remember riding the Metro. While I think about terror plots on occasion, I don't let such thoughts rule my life... although I do fret about getting shot on the streets of New Orleans, but I digress...

Dan and I have talked about taking a cross-country trip via Amtrak. Neither of us have ever booked a sleeping cabin before, and we think it could be fun to see the country that way. If I ever do it, I'll let you know. :-)

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Lori. I've noticed some weird features on Blogger lately, too. I'll check out my settings and see if I did something screwy. It's totally possible, technophobe that I am.

Anyway, I agree that (overall) trains are safer than cars - Bane's terrorism concerns notwithstanding. Too many crazy drivers in the U.S. - and in other countries, too, for that matter.

Wow! I've never taken a train in Romania or India before. Must do that next.

Laura Martone said...

Hi, Martha! Glad you share my love of trains. Even short rides can be fun. It took me a while to drive (I didn't get my license until I was 22), so my train-riding phase lasted a while.

Oh, you should definitely plan a train ride to Chicago - since it's the main hub for Amtrak, there are a ton of lines into and out of it (as I noted in my American Nomad post) - even from southeastern Michigan, where I believe you live. I hope you plan such a trip soon! It really is a grand experience.

Other Lisa said...

I love trains. I once took a three week vacation across America by train (and skateboard). We went from LA to Santa Fe to Chicago to NYC to DC and to New Orleans, then home. It was fabulous.

I travel a lot in China and the rail system there is excellent - by far the best way to travel in that country.

We need a better rail system here in the US. Supposedly the California Bullet train has gotten funding - eventually it's suppose to go from San Diego to San Francisco I think, but that's a ways off.

If I were the person in the White House, I would be rebuilding our rail system as a part of the economic stimulus program. I'd use all those idled auto factories to help build the cars.

Laura Martone said...

Becky - Thanks for the well wishes, but I'm still feeling kinda poopy.

Anyhoo, that's awesome about your mom and dad. I'd love to spend a summer vacation doing that. A train through Glacier! That must've been beautiful.

Your long trip sounds fun, too - although I must admit I don't remember the booze issue. I was, uh, under age at the time.

And, yes, I love meeting folks on long-distance trains. It's just a different vibe. And I agree - I'd love to see a resurgence in train travel in the U.S.

Laura Martone said...

Natalie - Yeah, the European train system is terrific. Some of the U.S. lines are pretty good. There are some on the East and West Coasts - though admittedly in more populated areas, like New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Certainly a car allows you more freedom, but I do prefer trains to planes - unless you have to get somewhere really fast, that is.

Kat - I didn't go on "real" trains when I was very little - just the one in City Park (New Orleans). But I distinctly remember my kindergarten class being able to take an Amtrak train field trip (and Mom wouldn't let me go - bummer). As an adult, I love riding on the trains. Seeing the countryside is one of the highlights, for sure! P.S. What was the other blog that mentioned trains? I'm curious.

Deb - Yeah, nice long train rides are awesome. I've also always wanted to do the tour of BC. You should do it!

Susan - I agree. Train rides ARE romantic. So many of my favorite old movies feature train rides... Yep, National Train Day. I had no idea until recently either. ;-)

Christine H said...

I hate trains in the city. If you are actually trying to get somewhere for work or shopping, they are a nightmare! So crowded... and you have to lug all the books, papers, or shopping bags with you that you would normally put in the trunk of the car... and then try to keep them from getting stepped on or from accidentally hitting someone with them.

If you have a small child with a stroller, forget it! Trains are impossible to manage unless you have two adults to help get the child/stroller/paraphernelia in and out. Not to mention all those stairs going up and/or down between the platforms and street level.

I despise public transportation, can you tell? I used to take the train/subway system to work in Philadelphia. I had to drive 20 minutes to the nearest station, compete with all the other commuters through dense traffic and then try to find a parking spot (which is hopeless after 8 a.m.), then get on a train over the bridge, then change to the El train, then change to the regional rail. Then when I finally got to the general area of my office, I had to climb about 300 steps to street level and still walk three blocks to my office. It took me an hour and a half, and I had to pay for 3 different trains, plus fight the traffic to get home when I finally got to New Jersey. All the while fearing being mugged, stepped on, elbowed, or accidentally stepping on or elbowing someone else.

It didn't smell too nice, either.

Sorry to rant... but I feel less than nostalgic!

Excursion trains for pleasure... that's a completely different story.

Laura Martone said...

Lisa - Wow! A three-week, cross-country vacation via train AND skateboard? That sounds like an intriguing combination. I can imagine that China's system would be good - guess it would have to be, a country that size. I totally agree that we need a better rail system in the U.S., but unfortunately, Americans are obsessed with their cars. So, who will pay for the trains? Though, I must admit, I like your idea of rebuilding the train lines with stimulus money. It would be a better utilization of the money than some of its other current uses, IMO.

Laura Martone said...

Wow, Christine! That WAS quite a rant. But you're right - there's a big difference between excursion trains and commuter trains. And while I experienced my fair share of smelly, crowded trains when I was working in Chicago, I still rather enjoyed the experience.

When I went Christmas shopping, though, forget it. Fearing for my packages, trying to get outta people's way (entering and exiting), hanging onto a pole while keeping an eye on all my stuff. Ugh. I just feel blessed that I didn't have any kids to pay attention to as well. So, there's definitely two sides to the train story. Sorry your experiences were so crappy.

Christine H said...

Philadelphia is one of the oldest cities in the country. That is both its charm and its curse.

Laura Martone said...

That's one town I've never traveled to. Sometimes, I can't believe the omission, especially considering how much I love the history of colonial America.

And in Philly's defense, every town has its good points and bad. Chicago, great a city as it is, has its pitfalls, too.