Friday, February 27, 2009

Review: Amtrak Auto Train

I recently had the opportunity to experience Amtrak's Auto Train. Auto Train is a very interesting and unique way of riding the rails. Not only you, but also your vehicle, are transported approximately 800 miles between Lorton, VA and Sanford, FL.

The train leaves, daily, at 4 PM from each station. Arrival time is about 9:30 AM the next morning. Two basic types of accommodations are available: coach and sleeper. Among sleeper there are several options. All accommodations include dinner and breakfast, with the meals in the sleeper dining car a bit more upscale. Both sections have their own lounge car with large viewing windows.

We opted for coach. The seats are very comfortable and lean back further than a coach airplane seat (but less than a First Class airplane seat would). There is a leg rest and a foot rest and tons of space between rows. A blanket and small pillow is provided but we chose to bring our own pillows.

There are several dinner seatings. We had 4 choices at dinner which included salad, bread, entree, desert, beverage and wine. Breakfast is continental with cold cereal and muffins. I brought snacks on board, and most people do, but we certainly didn't need as much as we brought.

While not cheap (cheaper if a reservation is made far in advance and with flexible travel days), Auto Train saves, at minimum, a night on the road, meals on the road, gas and wear and tear on the car.

We left Philadelphia area at 9 AM and arrived in Lorton around noon. After checking in we drove to a nearby plaza for lunch, then returned to have the car loaded. We had small bags packed with only the things we needed for overnight (toiletry kit, snacks, book, etc) and an Amtrak employee took the car.

It can take up to 2 hours for all cars to be unloaded the following morning. We got ours in about an hour. Everything went very smoothly, included arriving 1 1/2 hrs EARLY (something unheard of LOL), and we arrived at our final Florida destination by 3:00 PM that afternoon, one day after leaving Philadelphia.

When researching Auto Train, I came across an excellent web site that was very helpful: ON TRACK ON LINE. Check the menu on the left side bar for Auto Train and Amtrak tips.

(See also my June 2010 Auto Train and November 2010 Auto Train posts.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Monday, February 9, 2009

Lesser Three Gorges, Yangtze River, China

For a tour of the Lesser Three Gorges, all of the passengers on our ship were transferred to two smaller tourist boats.

The Lesser Three Gorges, as is all of the Yangzte River upstream from the Three Gorges Dam, was significantly changed by the construction of the dam. Before the dam was built, the Yangtze tributary into the Lesser Three Gorges was barely navigable. We saw photos of the 'before' and one could beach a boat on a narrow shoreline that existed on each side of the river.

It was even possible to walk across the river in some places. Men, called Trekkers, were positioned along these sections of the river to, literally, pull the boats through the non-navigable parts.

Now that is all changed. Old villages and antiquities were covered with water. Millions of people had been relocated. It was interesting hearing stories from our young guides. They loved the new 'modern' cities. Their parents usually adapted OK too. It was their grandparents who had the hardest longer being able to walk to visit old friends or to shop or to get to the local mah jong hall. That was sad.

For us this trip was extremely scenic, sailing between beautiful cloud shrouded mountain tops.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Niagara Falls In The Winter

We don't live too far away from Niagara Falls. So when the weather prediction was for a (relatively) mild and sunny winter day, we decided to spend an afternoon there.

We really were lucky with the weather. Not only was it sunny, with temps in the mid 30s, but there was no wind. Windy weather would have left us drenched in icy spray from the Falls. Been there. Done that. Not a great option.

But this day was nice. Since it was mid week there were very few people and even less cars. Being off season, there was no one collecting parking fees at the parking lots. Of course, also being off season, there were areas we could not access.

But the scenic overhang was open, giving us a wonderful view of the American Falls with a rainbow in the middle.

And restricted areas meant beautiful scenes with no footprints disturbing the snow.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Need A Bathroom???

There truly is a site for everything. TechTV has called this website, “the best idea ever” and I think I would agree.

Created in February 2000, The Bathroom Diaries® rates 12000+ public bathrooms in more than 100 countries, providing a wealth of information to both travelers and urban dwellers.

The largest enterprise of its kind in the world, The Bathroom Diaries® has appeared on CNN, the BBC, USA Today and The Washington Post.

Another great research/resource site!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Chiva Express - How Did I Miss This????

I LOVE to travel by train. When I visited Europe, while in college, most of the travel was by train. My first major train trip was over the Canadian Rockies. Since then I've traveled on train rides as mundane as Amtrak to New York City to the TranzAlpine Express in New Zealand.

So how did I miss the Chiva Express when I was doing my research for Quito, Ecuador??? WOW, how exciting an excursion this would have been.