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Posts tagged: Amtrak

Travel: Ride the Scenic Amtrak Cascades

 

    I paid the $5 taxi fare from my mid-town hotel and walked through Seattle’s King Street Station to the track where the Amtrak Cascades was waiting.

 

    After I stowed my bag overhead I settled into my seat as the rest of the passengers filed on board. There were several other women, each traveling solo like me, a couple of students and a man who immediately opened his laptop, logged onto the free WiFi and went to work. Within minutes the train pulled out of the station. The soft morning light was just filtering through the clouds and the city sparkled as we rolled out of town just before 8 a.m., heading north toward Vancouver, British Columbia.

 

    I’m an unabashed train lover and I have been for as long as I can remember. I admire grand old train stations and I never fail to feel a frisson of pleasure every time I start out on a rail journey. These days, it’s not just the tie to history and romance that draws me. It’s more than the fantasy of all the movies I’ve seen and and stories I’ve read that were built around trains and the people who ride them. My attraction to trains has grown to be much more than that. For one thing, there is none of the stress and hurry-and-wait routine that has become so much a part of flying. It is traveling the way travel was meant to be experienced, with leisure and expectation, in comfort with a wide window to take in the view.  

 

    There are compromises, of course. Without wings, travel takes longer. Sometimes much longer. Trains, like planes, come with the risk of delays. But on a pleasure ride, taking the trip for the experience of all it has to offer—exactly the point of my trip from Seattle to Vancouver, B. C.—it is easy to forget all that. 

 

    Living in a part of the country that boasts long stretches of unspoiled coastline, majestic mountain peaks and every kind of landscape from desert to rainforest, those of us in Washington can become complacent and a bit spoiled. We expect a beautiful view whenever we look out the window. The Amtrak Cascades does not disappoint. 

 

    Rolling through the cities of Edmonds, Everett, Lynwood, Mount Vernon and Bellingham we crossed quietly into Canada.

 

I watched the sun paint the sky as it rose and followed the flight of bald eagles as they launched themselves into the sky and soared over Puget Sound. 

 

    The four-hour trip is the perfect route for an excursion. Arriving at Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station it takes only minutes to clear passport control. That leaves plenty of time to explore one of North America’s most European cities. I’d suggest a bite to eat at one of the popular food trucks downtown and a water taxi to Granville Island’s market and boutiques before taking the return train at 5:45.

 

    Thanks to the length of our summer days, it’s possible to spend a few hours in Vancouver and still make it back to Seattle with daylight to spare. And maybe just enough time to stroll down to the waterfront to watch the sun set on another fine day in the Pacific Northwest.

 

For updated information about Amtrak Cascades fares and schedules go to http://www.amtrakcascades.com

 

 

 

    Cheryl-Anne Millsap’s audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the U.S. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

Travel: Vancouver Christmas Market

   December in Europe is beautiful and the traditional Christmas markets are a way to experience the best of the holiday season. Of course, it’s not always possible to hop on a plane and cross an ocean. I couldn’t fit it in this year so I started thinking about a way to come as close to a European experience as possible without crushing my calendar or busting the budget.

 

    As it happens. Vancouver, British Columbia, launched a Christmas Market in 2010 and I’ve been hoping to get up to check it out. So, why not this year? I had some business in Portland and some research to do in Vancouver. With a little flexibility, I figured I could combine business and pleasure. 

 

 

Sleeping in Seattle

    Instead of flying straight home from Portland, I booked a flight to Seattle and a room at the Red Lion Hotel 5th Avenue. It’s one of my favorite hotels, comfortable, upscale, right in the center of my favorite shopping district and a short Light Rail ride from the airport. 

  

    I checked in, dropped off my bags and walked down to Nordstrom Rack for some Christmas shopping before the store closed. After a good night’s sleep (the Red Lion motto is “Stay Comfortable” and I did) I was up early the next morning and although I could have walked, the short taxi ride (it was just a $5 fare) to the King Street Amtrak station was well worth the extra minutes it gave me.

 

Riding the Rails

    I’m a train lover and I’ve taken the Amtrak Empire Builder from Spokane to Seattle and Portland, and over to Montana, but I’ve never been on the Amtrak Cascades. It’s a fantastic three-hour trip and December is the perfect time to enjoy the stark winter scenery along one of the most beautiful coastlines in North America.      

 

   Rolling out of Seattle just before 8 a.m., the train followed Puget Sound and stopped in a number of cities and small towns before crossing into British Columbia. I got a cup of coffee and a piece of locally-baked banana bread in the train’s Bistro Car and had breakfast in my seat, my eyes on the view out the window. At one point a bald eagle who’d been sitting on the broken trunk of a dead tree, looked straight into my window before flying out over the Sound. I pulled out my iPhone and it was almost as if he was posing for me as he circled overhead.     We arrived in Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station at around 11:30 a.m. 

 

   I checked in at the Loden Hotel and it is a gem. My room was elegant and understated and I was happy with an upgrade to one of the 2nd-floor terrace rooms. The Loden is conveniently located and I could walk to all the downtown attractions. (Winter rates are particularly attractive.)

 

The Vancouver Christmas Market

    I’ve been to Christmas markets across Germany, from Munich’s large elegant market to the smaller, more provincial markets in villages along the Rhine. The Vancouver Christmas Market is incredibly authentic. The 45 charming wood huts were filled with all kinds of goodies. And the tasty potato pancakes, cheese and ham spaetzle, bratwurst, spiced sweet baked apples and, of course, souvenir mugs of Glühwein made me feel like I was at a true German market. 

  

    School children sang carols around the big tree in the center of the square and a Kathe Wolfhart pop-up shop was filled with handmade ornaments and crafts. I’ve always wanted one of the handmade candle carousels and I finally bought one while I was in Vancouver. (I knew I could carry it on the short flights and get it home safely, something that’s always hard to guarantee on long flights home from Germany.)

 

 

The takeaway

   My instinct was spot on. Vancouver is a great place to get an authentic European Christmas market experience, as well as a little “Christmas in the Big City” fun, without leaving my favorite corner of North America.

 

    I spent three days and nights soaking up the vibrant multicultural offerings of the city. Vancouver’s reputation as city of foodies is growing and I can testify to the variety of world-class cuisine.  There are more must-visit restaurants than I can list here, but Tableau Bar Bistro at the Loden (mushrooms on toast!) Homer Street Cafe (outstanding rotisserie chicken), Burdock and Co., Hawksworth Restaurant, Pidgin (book the Chef’s table!) and Rangoli were standouts. And the pastries at Boucoup Bakery are worth a trip any time. 

 

 

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a travel writer whose audio essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of ‘Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons’ (available at Auntie's Bookstore in Spokane) and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

 

 

Glacier National Park Centennial

     For a girl like the girl I was, a child of the deep South, born into a world of steel mills and tidy neighborhoods of bungalows on oak and maple and pecan tree-lined streets; for a child steeped in the heady Southern perfumes of feathery mimosa trees and delicate gardenia blossoms and the unlikely grape bubblegum scent of Kudzu vine in bloom, driving into Glacier National Park, under an endless sky and surrounded by snow-capped peaks, was like suddenly discovering I had wings. That my feet were no longer tied by gravity.     
    

     The world around me never again looked the same.
  

      I was fresh out of third-grade. My family packed up the station wagon, towing a tent trailer, and set out to see America. We set out for Glacier National Park.
    

     As we drove across Montana and through the park, I rode with my head at the open window, curls blowing in the wind, my fingers curled over the top of the car door, my chin resting on the back of my hands, trying to take it all in.
     

     I remember the feeling of being too small for the landscape, like an ant crossing the sidewalk. I listened to the cool, singing sound of clear mountain water rushing over beautiful green, red and lavender stones scattered like cabochon jewels on the river bed. I let the sandy soil of boulders, ground into dust by a millennium of massive glaciers, fall between my fingers. I held my breath as we made our way up a spectacular, winding, climbing, breathtaking road called “Going-to-the-Sun.”
    

     The place left its mark on me. By the time we got home, I wasn’t the same girl I’d been when we left. I never forgot what I had seen.
  

      Years later, when the chance to move my own family out west presented itself, I jumped at the chance. Leaving behind everything familiar, I knew I was going home.
    

     This was all running through my head on on May 11, when I made another trip to the park. This time on the occasion of its centennial. A celebration of 100 years. Exactly 100 years ago to the day, President William Howard Taft signed a bill that established Glacier as the 10th national park.
   

      I sat in a folding chair in a big white tent and listened to Park Superintendent, Chas Cartwright welcome the crowd. On the dais, in addition to representatives of local legislators and governmental entities, Native American leaders, in full headdress, were there to signify the complex and collaborative relationship between the National Park Service and first nation peoples.
    

     I studied the faces in the crowd wondering what, exactly, besides the opportunity to be a part of history, had drawn them. Common wisdom states that there is something within each of us that seeks a companion. A mate. A missing piece to complete the human puzzle. I wonder if the drive to find our place, our geographic perfect-match, is just as strong. Some of us give into the siren call and get behind the wheel, or board an airplane or train. We chase the dot on the map. Others of us settle for romance from the armchair. Some, like a little girl gazing up at tall mountains with wide eyes, just know it when we see it.
    

     After the centennial ceremony, I joined a tour of the park facilities. At each stop someone - a retired superintendent, a craftsman, a landscape specialist, an archivist - deepened our understanding of the history and structure of the park. I was proud to be a part of the unique history of the moment.

    At the end of the day, carrying my souvenirs - the commemorative centennial coin, lapel button and program - I boarded the Amtrak Empire Builder, the train that would take me back home to Spokane. As we rolled out of Whitefish, Montana, I could see tall peaks in the distance.Chin-in-hand, I gazed out the window until the light faded.

     The important thing to remember is that we are all as small as ants in the million-acre landscape of Glacier National Park. And it will stand long after we’re all gone. It will be there for others to discover, to fall in love with and to celebrate. Glacier National Park has, for 100 years, awed us and inspired us. I hope my children’s children will make the same pilgrimage to celebrate 100 more.
             
Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her essays can be heard on Spokane Public Radio and on public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com

To see more photos of the Glacier National Park centennial celebration click Continue Reading

Train lovers

The thing about going somewhere is that, if you’re lucky, you have someone to tell goodbye. Someone who is sad to see you go.

      It’s the same coming home. For the fortunate, there is someone there to welcome you. Someone who missed you and is happy to see you again.

      It used to be that when you sat at the gate in an airport, waiting to depart, you got to witness all kinds of goodbyes and hellos. You could see men and women rush into one another’s arms when a plane landed. You witnessed tender embraces, last kisses and that lingering brush of hands at departure, palm against palm then fingertip to fingertip, prolonging the separation until the last possible moment.

      Now, as any flier - frequent or not - knows, most hellos and goodbyes are said at the curb. A wave, a quick kiss and out of the no-parking lane as fast as possible. From that point on all passengers are the same. Stressed. Suspicious. Caught in the machine that air travel has become.

      But, if you travel by train, ah, well then, you see it all.

      Train stations are still places of hand-holding and long goodbyes. Of people running into embraces and the loud chatter of reunion.

      Sometimes, on the train, you see other stories, as well.

      Sitting in the observation car of the Empire Builder, watching the Columbia river roll past, I noticed a woman sitting across the car. She was on her cell phone, talking to someone. The connection was spotty so occasionally the call was lost and she would have to punch in the numbers again. What held my attention was the tone of her voice. It was so high and cheerful I assumed she must be talking to a child. But, then I realized I was wrong.

      “What did you do today,” she asked. The voice on the other end of the signal must have talked about a project of some kind.

      “Well, it was sweet of you to do that,” she said. “You are a sweet man, you know. That’s why you’re my husband.”

  Paying more attention, I could hear the brittle edge in her voice. She wasn’t quite as cheerful as she sounded.

      They talked a minute or two more and the signal was lost again. Finally she ended the call by making a kissing sound into the phone.

      I went back to my book and was immediately lost in the novel. The next time I looked up and glanced over at the woman, she was still sitting in the same place but was now snuggled up against a man. Her head rested on his chest, under the curve of his left arm and his right hand was on her knee. They were silent, staring out the window at the sunset.

      For a moment, I was confused. I’d heard her talking to her husband just a few minutes before. A man who was obviously far away. And now, suddenly, he was there beside her.

      But, of course, he wasn’t.

      I realized that the silent couple, lost in their own thoughts, must be lovers. At least one of them, the woman, had another life.  He wasn’t wearing a ring.

      There was a sadness to the way they sat so close together, touching, thinking. I tried not to watch them but I was captured by the tableau. The miles passed.

      After a while, when the sunlight disappeared and the only thing in the window was one’s own reflection, an uncomfortable image to stare into, they got up and walked back to their seats.

      I don’t know if they stayed on the train or got off at my stop.

      In the business of arrival, gathering bags and departing the train in the dark, I forgot to look for the couple. I don’t know where they went.

      I can only imagine her, carrying her bags, walking away from the man on the train, palms brushing, fingertips touching, into the arms of the man on the phone.

      On a plane, they wouldn’t have had the time to sit, holding one another. On a plane, I wouldn’t have noticed them at all.

         

Cheryl-Anne Millsap is a freelance columnist for The Spokesman-Review. Her audio essays can be heard each week on Spokane Public Radio and are frequently picked up by public radio stations across the country. She is the author of “Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons” and can be reached at catmillsap@gmail.com 
 

Stepping back to Portland

I’m planning another trip by train to Portland. It’s one of my favorite vacations. I don’t mind the late departure, I don’t even mind riding in coach. There is plenty of room to stretch out and I usually find someone interesting to talk to along the way. Planning the trip brought this 2008 column to mind:

Moments in time quickly pass us by

Cheryl-Anne Millsap
The Spokesman-Review
Originally published: April 7, 2008

I stood on one corner of a busy street in Portland with my daughter and a young family stood on the other. The mother carried a diaper bag and the father carried their daughter. The spring day was unexpectedly wintry and sleet had slickened the streets. The baby was bundled in her coat with a soft pink fleece cap covering her head.

I glanced over at them and then looked away.

“No!”

It was the sound of the man’s voice that made me look back. As he stepped off the curb, he lost his footing on the uneven pavement. He went down hard. What I had heard was his cry as he began to fall.

I knew that sound. Every parent knows it.

 

Riding the Amtrak Empire Builder

Special to Pinch

Feb. 25, 2010

By Cheryl-Anne Millsap 


    The lights glowed in tiny pools on the sidewalk, piercing the darkness every few yards or so, reflecting in the polished steel as I walked along the idling train.
    Stepping up into the railcar, I stowed my heavy suitcase in the rack and carried my smaller bag up the narrow staircase to the upper level of the Amtrak sleeper car. I scanned the signs above the doors before coming to my  compartment. The bed, as the attendant had told me when I showed him my ticket, had already been turned down.
    It took me a few minutes to settle in; pulling out my computer, plugging in my phone, gathering all my tools and travel talismans around me. Finally, I was ready. I had everything I needed to work through the night.
     I don’t know why I bothered.
   

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About this blog

Cheryl-Anne Millsap's Home Planet column appears each week in the Wednesday "Pinch" supplement. Cheryl-Anne is a regular contributor to Spokane Public Radio and her essays can be heard on Public Radio stations across the country. She is the author of "Home Planet: A Life in Four Seasons."

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