Iowa tower, with stormy weather
I love me a good water tower. I think it stems from my watching of the “children’s” TV show The Tripods, cruelly cut short just as we were really shitting our pants at the thought of tall metal towers wandering the British countryside causing mischief. I am also partial to gas holders, power stations, big chimneys and really any large man-made structure.
Before 2016, I’d never really ‘done’ Asia. Unless you count a stopover in Singapore airport back in 2004, which you probably wouldn’t. When I got the opportunity to visit Asia earlier this year, I asked friends which countries I should see, and had all sorts of recommendations, from Cambodia and Vietnam to South Korea to Indonesia. But it was the fact that several of my friends have visited Japan and all of them raved about what an amazing country it was, that made me add it to the list. (I’ve written about my trips to Hong Kong and both Bangkok and Ko Samui in Thailand if you are interested.)
I’m a reasonably seasoned traveller but I’ll admit I was worried about the language barrier before I went. While I’d heard efforts are made to have tourist signs in English, some areas could also be entirely Japanese. It turned out to be OK in the end, but I definitely struggled a little and got lost quite a few times, even with the benefits of smartphone apps. Continue reading
I have visited New York City every year for the past six years and I’m not sure I’ll ever get tired of going. Most people I’ve spoken to who have been there have loved it, but it also has its detractors. These people I have tended to find are countryside people who dislike cities in general, so see NYC as being particularly overhyped. While they are entitled to their opinion, I take great delight in ignoring them, for NYC is easily one of the best cities on the planet. It is the biggest movie set in the world – you’ve seen so much of it already in films and television that when you finally go, everything looks awesome.
I seem to get asked a lot by friends about tips for visiting the city, so rather than keep typing out emails all the time, I’m putting everything together in one place.
It’s worth remembering that everyone has different tastes – what I find interesting, you might find boring and vice versa. I’ve been recommended places to visit only to get there and find I didn’t like it at all. Always put your own preferences first when taking tips from other people. With that in mind, please continue reading… Continue reading
There are many ways that Amtrak is different from UK trains and I shall list the main ones here. Some are important, others less so. I purchased a 45-day, 18-segment rail pass which turned out to be hugely good value – the more long journeys you make, the bigger the savings.
Updated (17th August 2016)
A few people have asked how much it costs to do something like this trip but it really will depend how long you are in the States, where you choose to get on/off and which routes you take. The rail pass is available in 15 days (8 journeys), 30 days (12 journeys) or 45 days (18 journeys). Journeys are determined by where you get off. So for the California Zephyr, I went from Chicago to Denver (1 journey) and then Denver to San Francisco (1 journey), even though it is the same train and route. And if you cannot get between two points directly and have to change trains, that will be counted as 2 journeys.
One of the big advantages of being on the train overnight is that you don’t have to pay for accommodation, which is a large saving. So the more overnight journeys you can take, the more you’ll save. Continue reading
Distance travelled: 959 miles (Chicago to New York, via Rochester)
Journey Duration: 21 hours
States travelled through: Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, New York
My final train journey gave me mixed feelings, knowing that I would soon be going home but also seeing a little bit more of the US. I’d loved everything I’d seen so far, and the Lake Shore train promised more fantastic scenery.
This was a predominately night-time train, scheduled to leave to Chicago at 9.30pm. I used the time before departure to wander around the beautiful Union station building. Continue reading
Distance travelled: 924 miles (LA to Alburquerque), 1341 miles (Albuquerque to Chicago)
Journey duration: 18 hours (LA to Alb), 27 hours (Alb to Chicago)
States travelled through: California, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Illinois
This turned out to be the most dramatic train journey of all, and I am not talking about the scenery. Well, kind of – but not the type of scenery you’re thinking of. More of that later, though.
The Chief was due to leave Los Angeles at 6pm, and I hoped for plenty of gorgeous sunset views as we sped through the Southern California desert towards Arizona. The scenery didn’t disappoint, and a crescent moon also adorned the sky later in the evening, though my ability to adequately capture it through the windows of a reasonably speedy train was somewhat limited. Continue reading
Distance travelled: 469 miles
Journey duration: 9 hours
States travelled through: California
The shortest journey of all – a mere whippersnapper at nine hours in length. Thankfully it was all in daylight too, so I was able to see the wondrous Californian coast. I’d done a small road trip along route 101 the last time I visited San Francisco, but our time had been limited and we only made it down as far as Santa Cruz.
I almost caught this train for its entire journey from Seattle to LA, but had decided against taking the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle, taking the California Zephyr instead. The Zephyr was my favourite train of all, so I wasn’t too upset at not taking the Starlight the whole way. Continue reading
Distance travelled: 1038 miles (Chicago to Denver), 1400 miles (Denver to San Francisco)
Journey duration: 18 hours (Chi to Denver), 33 hours (Denver to SF)
States travelled through: Ilinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Utah, Nevada, California
The California Zephyr is a famous American train, first entering service in 1949 when the attendants were called ‘Zephyrettes.’ It ended up being my favourite train journey of all, even though it was one of the longest. The scenery is SPECTACULAR (capital letters are justified here) and I was fairly open mouthed the whole way. This was one journey where I was determined not to miss a second of the view and I stared out of the window until darkness fell, somewhere in Utah. Continue reading
Distance travelled: 675 miles (San Antonio to Little Rock), 634 miles (Little Rock to Chicago)
Journey duration: 17 hours (SA to LR), 14 hours (LR to CHI)
States travelled through: Texas, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois
The Texas Eagle holds the delightful title with me for being the train with the longest delays. Apparently there were some engineering works on the line somewhere but whereas in the UK they will close the line to do this, it is not needed for a daily train. Cue long periods of just waiting on the tracks while the workmen up ahead got all of their equipment out of the way so the train could move. Continue reading
Distance travelled: 573 miles
Journey Duration: 15 hours
States travelled through: Louisiana, Texas
This journey is one of the longest in the US, taking 45 hours to travel between Los Angeles and New Orleans. It is also one of the least frequent long-distance trains, running just three times a week, compared to daily for most other routes. I travelled to San Antonio to visit friends and the journey time was half that of the Crescent, prompting a big ‘WOO-HOO ONLY 16 HOURS ON THE TRAIN’ reaction.