Archive for the ‘2009 Vacation: Train Trip’ Category

6/14/09 Sunday:

We boarded the 9:30am Chicago bounded Amtrak from Emeryville Station. Everyone was excited about the train trip! The trip to Chicago takes 52 hours so we get a family sleeping room, which is the biggest sleeping room running the width of the car, and located at the end of the lower sleeping car. My first impression of family sleeping room is that it’s a good size for five of us but things (carpet, seats, closet, speaker etc.) need to be keep up to date and clean.

In our sleeping room

In our sleeping room

As soon as the train departed from Emeryville, we went to dining car to have breakfast (meals are included for sleeping room passengers). I never boarded an Amtrak before and based on what I visited in Railroad Museum in Sacramento, I expected beautiful chinaware set sitting on the table. So when I saw the cheap plastic plates and cups I was disappointed… come to think of it plastic probably makes more sense in real life 🙂 Since Audrey was up early so I had to put her to nap right after breakfast while Richard took Alexander and Ethan to explore other train cars.

Alexander and mama in the dining car

Alexander and mama in the dining car

Lunch was served on first come first serve basis after lunch announcement. When all seats were taken then the wait staff would put your name on wait list and called you when seats were available. There were 4-5 choices from lunch menu, including the daily special which was chicken stew with mushroom over rice pilaf. The hot sandwich of the day was pastrami. I ordered cheeseburger on the safe side while Richard had pastrami sandwich. They are both not too bad. Desserts are either cheesecake, peanut butter squares or ice cream. We all had ice cream. The kids loved it!

Relaxing in our room after lunch

Relaxing in our room after lunch

We spent the afternoon relaxing in our room. I took some pictures from our bedroom window. I believed we passed by Reno/Lake Tahoe today but not so sure. This is one of Amtrak’s sightseeing route but I think they could do better job on the attraction guide brochure. A lot of times we passed the sightseeing points before we knew it.The captain did sometimes announce about some scenery attractions but the speaker in our room was old and not working properly.

More and more trees while approaching Nevada

More and more trees while approaching Nevada

Snow on the top of mountain

Snow on the top of mountain

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe

Dinner is available through reservation. Richard ordered steak; I ordered the daily special pork tenderloin, Alexander had salmon and we ordered roasted chicken for Ethan. Well, it turned out that Richard’s steak looked and tasted more like a pot roast (at least the meat is tender), my pork tenderloin was dry and not so special, Alexander’s salmon is fishy. Ethan’s roasted chicken turned out to be the best of all. Desserts are cheesecake, peanut butter squares or ice cream.

After dinner Richard and I worked out a system of bathing the kids: since I had to wash Audrey and get wet I suggested that I showered the boys too. When the boys are done they can walk across the hall way to our room where Richard was waiting to dry them and get them dressed, then Richard would come to the shower room and get Audrey while I dry and get dressed inside the shower room. Amtrak only provided soap bars and towels and wash clothes (I wish they are more specific about these amenities on their website)– I know I know it’s not a hotel or at home… There’s no trash bin inside the shower room, so whenever people finished taking their shower they ended up leaving soap bar at different corners of the shower area. The one thing that frustrated me the most is the faucet. According to the instruction you have to push on the faucet for 30 seconds for the water to stay on. I kept pushing it but the water kept turning off as soon as my hand was off the faucet. Arrgh…The faucet was hard to push and my hands started hurting. On top of that not to mention the water temperature was off sometimes, so the boys yelling ” Ouch! Hot!“. Showering Audrey is more challenging as I had to hold her in one hand and the other hand trying to push the faucet to keep water running…

Hall way view from our room: roomettes are on both sides closer to us. Pass the roomettes on the left is a stair access to top sleeping car and other train cars. Furtherdown are restrooms and a shower room (shared by sleeping car passengers) on the right. The room at the other end of the hall is a handicapped sleeping room, with private toilet and shower inside the room.

Hall way view from our room: roomettes are on both sides closer to us. Pass the roomettes on the left is a stair access to top sleeping car and other train cars. Further down are restrooms and a shower room (shared by sleeping car passengers) on the right. The room at the other end of the hall is a handicapped sleeping room, with private toilet and shower inside the room.

Just as we all settled to sleep (Richard and Alexander slept on the top beds while Ethan, Audrey and me slept on lower bed), I confirmed that smell I had been smelling on and off all day– whoever stayed in the room before us threw up on the carpet by the trash bin, which is right next to me when I laid down to sleep. Great!… I couldn’t change position because I had to bodyguard Audrey from falling down the bed. Sigh…! Oh well, I turned to face the other side and closed my eyes. It’s been a long day…

6/15/09 Monday:

Breakfast started at 6:30 am but we decided to sleep in and barely made it to breakfast cut-off time. After breakfast we decided to play some board games in the sightseeing/lounging car.

In the lounging car

In the lounging car


Semi desert and canyon scenery

The train passed Nevada when we were sleeping last night, and today we were  in Utah. The scenery had changed from greenery trees to semi deserts and canyons…very beautiful indeed.


Another canyon view. Sorry for the window reflection!

As you can see from the pictures, the train track and highway were built along this river– I believe it’s upper Colorado River but not sure. The track is on one side of the river and highway is on the other side. Notice the bottom path next to the river– it’s a cycling path/trail. I didn’t know it’s accessible until I saw some people cycling on the path. Who would cycle there in middle of nowhere?… and did I mention it’s a VERY long trail?

As soon as the lunch announcement was made, we went to the dining car quickly to get a seat. The waitress said daily lunch special was chicken stew with mushroom… again. Hmmm, I think it probably was a leftover special from yesterday, and learned from yesterday dining experience that daily specials were not good, I opted for hot pastrami sandwich so did Richard. The boys had hot dogs and chips from kid’s menu. Desserts are same old ice cream, cheesecake and peanut butter squares.


Audrey checking on lunch menu


Ethan's way of eating dessert: dipping potato chips into chocolate ice cream.

The scenery along the way was very beautiful and changing slowly. We got to took quite a lot of photos while we were eating, in the lounging car and also from our sleeping room window. At first there were semi deserts, then came lots of canyons. Some canyons had interesting formation. As the train moved, those canyons were slowly replaced by rocky mountains and green trees. One thing that didn’t change in the scenery is the river– We had been following this (Colorado River I believe) river for hours.


This is a refreshing scene after seeing all the canyons!


I like the contrast of red and green on the mountain


People river rafting


More greenery scenes

Audrey didn’t nap for long in the dining car. So I decided to take her back to our room to let her sleep some more while Richard and the boys stayed in lounging car until Audrey fell asleep then headed back to the room. Since the sleeping room was still new to Audrey, she just wouldn’t settle and sleep on her own– which means I had to swing her to sleep. With the train moving left and right constantly and Audrey being heavy and fussy in my arms, swinging her was not easy. I bumped to the closet a couple of times. She was crying for a good 15 minutes or so before finally closing her eyes. I sometimes felt sorry for other passengers staying near our room because the “walls” are very thin and you can hear the kids half way through the train car. Richard and the boys decided to come back. We had a quiet and relaxing time in our room, enjoying some more views while little Audrey was sleeping. The yucky smell was still there. We poured some baby powder to cover the smell but it only worked for a few minutes. Richard and I thought about changing room, but we overheard that all sleeping rooms were booked, so we tried to ignore it through the rest of the trip.


All tucked in among the mountains: The top and middle roads are highways. The bottom path is a accessible trail. Train tracks run along the right side of the river.


Canyon scenes are slowly replaced by these rocky mountains and highland trees.


I see many different faces on the top of the rock. What do you see?

Before we knew it, it was dinner time already… it felt like we just had our lunch though! I can tell you that although the scenery are very beautiful, but there’s nothing else to do in the train other than sit, eat and sleep– and this started to make Richard and me physically not feeling good. It seemed like the food from previous meal had not been digested yet and the next meal time was up. Since the food were included in the price so we thought it would be wasting money not to eat– so Richard and I both ordered roasted chicken (based on yesterday’s testimony) and the boys ordered hot dogs again from kid’s menu (I don’t like that they ate way too many hot dogs but since we are on vacation and on a train, I let it go…). I just ate the chicken and skipped the rest, including same old desserts.


Interesting canyon/rock formation... notice the big hole on the top.


More mountains and trees!


This is our train!... still following the river.


We crossed lots of tunnels on this day. This was one of them.


Another beautiful scene from the high up.

Towards the late afternoon/early evening it had been raining on and off. Oh, we also passed through LOTS of tunnels today, especially towards the late afternoon/early evening when it rained on and off. I couldn’t remember but believed we crossed more than 20 tunnels. The longest tunnel took us about 10 minutes to go through. We found out an interesting info from one waitress: the crew had to burn off any toxic gas inside the tunnel before the train entered, for the health safety of passengers on board.

Just as we came out of a tunnel, a vast green plains was in our eyes… and a rainbow too! (actually there was a second rainbow but very vague). At that time we knew that we had crossed the rocky mountains. Richard was telling that the scenery from then on went downhill, just like the train.


This was the view when we came out of a tunnel: great plains and a rainbow welcoming us!


Looking back at the rocky mountains while the train descending to the plains.

Indeed, as we were moving into the plains we saw more and more civilization, and of course the views were less and less beautiful. Looking back at the mountains and the last tunnel, I waved bye-bye in my heart…


We came out there before entering the great plains. I think it was the last tunnel of the trip.


View of Denver Station from platform

We stopped at Denver Station around 6pm for about 1 hour– the longest train stop of the trip. With 3 kids we didn’t border to explore around the Denver station. I just stepped out to the platform for a couple of minutes and then came back to the train.

Shower time for the kids was challenging like yesterday, but we managed to get it done. Audrey was quite cranky and tired and yet not sleeping until a good amount of swing time (at least the boys were quiet). Richard offered to take over Audrey so I could take a break. I went to lounging car for 30 minutes before heading back to sleep. I missed the fresh air, and I missed sleeping on a regular bed in a much bigger room…

6/16/09 Tuesday:

Today we woke up even later than yesterday. When the dining car staff announced breakfast would be closing in 10 minutes, we quickly dressed the kids and rushed to the dining car. I hadn’t even washed up yet! After breakfast we spent some time in the lounging car. There were no mountains anymore in the scenery, just green fields with cows and corns. When Audrey’s nap time was up we all headed back to our room. Again, before we knew it lunch time was announced. Since Audrey just fell asleep plus we had a late breakfast, we decided to volunteer to be on wait list.

Cows in the field

Cows in the field

Missouri River

Missouri River

Corn field

Corn field

When we finally seated down to have our lunch, we were told several food items on the menu were out. At this point Richard and I were sick of the food on the train and didn’t care much, so we just had the burger patty and skipped the rest. Desserts were all out too.

Today was the last day of the train trip. The train was scheduled to arrive at Chicago Union Station at 3:50pm today. So after the late lunch we went back to our room to pack up our stuff. I then did some reading while Richard and the kids watched Star Wars on his laptop. Audrey refused to sleep the whole time.

Watching Star Wars on daddy's laptop

Watching Star Wars on daddy's laptop

Audrey chose to eat her toes instead of napping.

Audrey chose to eat her toes instead of napping.

When the train finally pulled into Chicago Union Station, it was already 6pm. It was raining in Chicago but we were very excited as we had never been to Chicago (except Richard– long long time ago…). Yes! Finally I could breathe…

To read about our times in Chicago, check out 2009 Summer Vacation part II: Chicago.

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