We decided that Amtrak train travel overnight from Portland to Salinas would be a new experience. The adventure was nostalgic and pleasantly enjoyable.
Taking me back to my days of travelling to and from boarding school in the 1960's in Southern Africa … where we endured three days on the train getting to school and three days getting back ... three times a year! One and a half times around the world!
From the antiquated manual systems out of the 50’s to the very vintage look and atmosphere of the Portland Union Station nothing much has changed!
When we checked in at the station we were given a piece of card with our destination. At boarding time we followed a long line of people down the platform. Going from coach to coach showing our piece of paper to an attendant. Walking further and further down the train until we reached the last carriage. Here, the attendant referred to her manual seating plan and allocated us our seats.
We had decided our Amtrak train travel experience would be in "coach" rather than paying the business or sleeper class premiums.
Amtrak Train Travel
The seats were comfortable with lots of legroom ... a far cry from most airline seats! Another noticeable difference from flying was that the temperature was agreeably warm!
Seated in the upper level we enjoyed a very good view of the passing countryside and were shocked to see the number of people living in informal squats.
After a few hours the supper announcements started. To get through the first night we had brought our own snacks. But later decided to have breakfast in the dining car.
The announcements were pleasant and friendly but sometimes quite confusing. Many announcements applied only to the "Parlour Car" for people in the sleepers. I wondered why these announcements were announced to all carriages ?
After dinner there was some confusion with the announcement that “wine and beer" was still available. Followed a few minutes later with a correction this "only applies to business class passengers!"
Another quirky announcement was that the snack bar lady would be going off for a dinner break so if you wanted something you'd better come now.
We had a real mixed bunch. From a loud, inconsiderate preacher man who I later assumed was deaf. He spoke in a booming voice and went on and on about our ultimate destiny - quoting Bible chapter and verse. Led on by the young man sitting next to him who kept on asking him questions.
After the young man left the train the preacher man disappeared down the carriage towards the observation car. Wandering down there we noticed that he'd trapped another victim
Another passenger stripped down to his string vest before falling asleep and snoring loudly.
There were a cross section of society from hicksters to youngsters to just normal folk.
After dinner the lights were dimmed. I slept well with my fleece as a pillow.
We passed through places like Eugene Oregon, Sacramento and San Jose. Struck by the number of homeless people living under tarpaulins and plastic sheeting. In other areas there was a lot of uncollected garbage. In one section there was a mattress and a chair! Signs of opulence sprinkled in the poverty.
In others areas the facilities were disrepair.
We arrived in Salinas rested and intrigued ... we were now in John Steinbeck country.
Amtrak Train Travel Summary
- America doesn't have a passenger train travel culture.
- Interesting people travel by train.
- Amtrak train travel is both comfortable and enjoyable.
- You see the country in a way that you'd never experience it by taking a flight.
- I recommend it and would definitely do it again.