Trains + Me = Disaster.
My last trip on an Amtrak train was in 1995, when I traveled from New York City to Boston to visit my friend Valerie. The trip to Boston should have been easy. We were set to arrive in time for dinner, but in the middle of a field in Connecticut, the train came to a screeching halt. The conductor thought that he had potentially hit a kid playing on the train tracks, so we were stopped for several hours while the police did a thorough investigation. Luckily, it was fine, but between the police and several small delays before the incident, we didn't arrive in Boston until after midnight.
On the way back to New York, there were so many small delays that I arrived at Penn Station too late to catch my connecting train to upstate New York. I had just turned eighteen and was alone in an unfamiliar city, so I spent a sleepless night in the station.
My trip to Boston was enough for me to write-off the possibility of future train travel. However, Dan and his parents like trains and it seemed like a easy way to get to Santa Barbara for a day trip.
We took an Uber Cab to Grand Central Station in Downtown Los Angeles to catch the ten a.m. Coast Starlight. If you've never visited Grand Central Station, it's a must do. It's gorgeous and it has been used in many television shows and movies. You will feel like you've been transported to a different era. It almost feels odd to walk around in jeans and sneakers, like we should have dressed up a bit to show the building some respect.
We picked up our tickets and headed to the platform.
On the trip to Santa Barbara, we had reserved seats in the coach train. The seats were very comfortable, significantly better than seats in the coach section of most airplanes. They ample room, reclined and had a foot rest.
The downside of having assigned seats, is sometimes you end up sitting near someone obnoxious. The woman sitting behind Dan's parents was a nightmare. In a booming voice, she held a very personal phone conversation ( I learned all about her committing welfare fraud) for the entire trip. She didn't even hear the announcement to be courteous when using cell phones. Nice.
We moved to the Observation Car, which has first come/first serve seating with both booths and chairs that swivel. We snagged a booth and Dan took pictures, while I read my book. You will note in the pictures below that I have my book and my Kindle. When reading is concerned, one can never be over-prepared!
The lower level of the Observation Car had a snack bar and we bought some very stale donuts and coffee. The donuts were as hard as rocks.
The view leaving Los Angeles wasn't very nice, but about an hour into our trip we started seeing beautiful farm land and eventually the Pacific Ocean. The last forty minutes or so were spectacular.
Unfortunately, our trip to Santa Barbara was marred by a sad accident. The train in front of us hit a man in Oxnard. We were stuck on the tracks for over an hour and we were told that the pedestrian was okay, but that he had been transported to a hospital. Later, we learned through the news that the pedestrian had died.
We arrived in Santa Barbara in time for a late lunch at the Fish House. The Fish House is a favorite stop of ours for seafood and is a must-do every time we are in the area. We had about five hours to walk along the beach and enjoy Santa Barbara before heading back for our return train home.
The train was delayed. so we used the time to take pictures around the station.
Our train was delayed even longer, so we went and had drinks at the Blue Tavern, a Peruvian restaurant located within view of the train station. Even though our return train ticket included a meal, we couldn't resist sharing a pizza with our caipirinhas. Delicious.
When it was finally time to board our train, we were ushered straight into the dining car. It was so late, that we were the only people left for dinner and the server had been waiting for us. On the positive, our server was super nice and personable. In fact, all of the staff at Amtrak went out of their way to make sure that we were happy. On the negative, the food was horrible.
We started with a small garden salad with Newmans Own Dressing and a dinner roll. Myself, Dan and his father ordered the steak. It was a piece of tough meat served with flavorless (tasted canned) green beans and an overcooked baked potato. Dan's mom had the vegetarian pasta, which didn't look much better, but she said that it was good. Since it was late and the food was unpalatable, we picked at it. It did go down easier with the complimentary mini bottles of champagne that we were given. Nice touch.
The reason that we had dinner included on the way back, is because we had tickets for the sleeper car. Silly, I know. Truthfully, it seemed a bit like renting a hotel room for a few hours. We had two private rooms that had chairs, which converted into bunk beds.
Have you seen the episode of Sex and the City where Samantha and Carrie take the train from New York to California? They book a First Class Sleeper Room and discover that there is nothing first class about it. Yup. Not exaggerated at all.
The rooms are super small, so much so, that Dan being so tall couldn't stretch out his legs properly. I can't imagine a long trip on Amtrak. My in-laws can though and they've already booked a trip from Chicago to Los Angeles for next fall. I can't wait to hear all about it.
We spent a little over an hour in our sleeper cabin, which was as nice as they could make it considering the space issues. They filled it with magazines, a small gift bag of toiletries and we were offered drinks/snacks. We had an attendant who made sure that we were comfortable and had what we needed. He even made us a paper bird for the Lunar New Year.
Train travel just isn't for me.
As I mentioned, the people at Amtrak were rockstars, really they're working hard to make train travel a desirable mode of transportation for vacationers. It might be nice, if time isn't a factor. It was not a good idea for a day trip to Santa Barbara. The delays ( although in no way Amtraks fault), really cut into our afternoon. I wanted to be swept away by the romantic concept of train travel, but the reality fell short.