Most of the basic details of our trip were planned months ago, including our train trip which started last night in Atlanta Georgia and has now deposited us quite happily in our New York Hotel, here on Seventh Avenue in Manhattan. But let me tell you, this part of our whole across-America odyssey was the bit that had me worried the most.
Pam innocently didn't help things along when she gave me Australian speechwriter Don Watson's travel book, 'American Journeys', as a gift. I took it with me to the local cafe for lunch, looking forward to a good read, opened it at a random chapter and the gloomy sod spent the whole chapter carping on about how terrible the Amtrak Atlanta Station was. As I had already booked the train tickets and paid for them, all I could think was "we're doomed!"
My first view of the station almost had me humming Peggy Lee's old hit "Is that all there is?". For the main Amtrak station in a city of 5 million, this lonely single platform wouldn't have looked out of place in a dusty Australian country town. Undeterred by Watson's spoilsport mutterings, however, we entered the Amtrak offices there and encountered some sweet, helpful people who eased a lot of our worries. Sure we could check our bags in early that day. No, you don't have to get there as early as the signs say. Half an hour beforehand should be fine, honey.
After checking out of our hotel we returned the Avis rent-a-car which had been our loyal, trouble-free friend for the last 38 days, had a nice lunch in town, killed a few hours doing nothing much in Atlanta, then we headed for the waiting room at the Amtrak. There's a different crowd which travels by Amtrak. Not so affluent but just as polite and friendly as all the other Americans we have encountered here, there and everywhere.
Arriving on time from New Orleans, ready for its 8.04pm departure from Atlanta, the big Crescent City Line train looked even bigger next to the low platform. For the trainspotters out there reading the blog, the locomotive pictured here is a big diesel, but when they get to Philadelphia they substitute it with an electric loco for the rest of the trip to New York.
As the train trip was my idea, I booked us into the nicest sleeper cabin they have. We've travelled by sleeper train together just once, back in 1994, from Sydney across to Perth, and Pam was looking forward to doing it again (or at least I hope she was). These cabins are miracles of space efficiency, and inside this space the lower two bench seats convert into Pam's bed, while my upstairs bunk pulls down from above. There's a folding third seat (which you can't see) and around the corner is our own self-contained toilet and shower cubicle. A veritable Tardis, it was.
However, as soon as we plonked our cabin bags down in our Tardis, a friendly face announced that dinner was served (it came free, as part of the sleeper-room package) in the dining room. A comfy enough place, we had a table to ourselves and enjoyed a thoroughly ordinary meal indeed. I took photos, but who wants to see the dry, stringy roast chicken I had or the soggy bland fish with overcooked boiled vegies which Pammy ate half of?
After polishing off the ice-cream, we retired to our room, and an hour or so later the attendant came in and in a flash converted our room to sleeping quarters for us. Now, sleeping on trains isn't easy, but we both decided by next morning that Amtrak is definitely quieter and more comfortable than the Indian Pacific train to Perth was back in Australia, and so we did sleep fairly well this time round. However, the first thing to get used to with Amtrak trains is their driver's love of blasting the horns. The train lines run through the countryside and cross roads incessantly, and so the long, repeated blasting of the horns to warn of the train's approach to each level crossing went on virtually all night. It wasn't that loud, and along with the clickety clacks and occasional stops here and there to pick up passengers through the night, the whole thing worked out to be a bit of a hoot. We'll probably do it again another 15 to 20 years from now, once we've forgotten all the worst bits.
All along the way the Fall season colours in the trees were a highlight, but whizzing along in the train at 50 or so miles per hour made them hard to catch on camera. The further north we travelled, the stronger the foliage colours were. We're looking forward to seeing Central Park's Fall foliage this week as there was a thing on the Weather Channel the other morning about how nice Central Park is looking at the moment.
However, train trips always take you into cities via their back doors and untidy backyards, too, and our Amtrak train also hurtled past countless abandoned factories.
From Baltimore onwards we noticed lots and lots of streets of terraced houses, some in good condition and well-loved, and others looking decidedly run-down and shifty. At times you could swear you were in an English train somewhere in the Midlands.
We also crossed many ugly bridges, polluted streams, and vast factories of complex pipeworks and towers belching steam producing goodness knows what essential ingredient for modern living
And then, as we left Newark, New Jersey, we spotted some very tall towers in the hazy distance. Not long after that first glimpse we then whooshed into a tunnel that took us under the Hudson River. Before we knew it the train had stopped at Penn Station, we stumbled off the train, waited half an hour for our baggage to appear, then caught a cab to our hotel.
New York! We're here in the Big Apple and haven't done a thing yet. We just slumped into our room, unpacked, looked at each other and said "New York". And so exploring New York is another day, and another blog posting from us. But I'm really relieved – grumpy old Don Watson was wrong – hooray!