Tuesday, November 08, 2011


On the move again, I took the train (Amtrak now) from Montreal southward. Daylight savings changed overnight, making me a little nervous about getting to the station at the right time. An hour early would be ok, but an hour late would be bad.

There was the usual delay crossing the border, not a big deal when you expect it. And you get to stay in your seat on the train. The customs person asked me where I was born. I said "Arusha" and he gave me a blank look. "Sorry, Tanzania." Still the blank look. "Africa." His eyebrows elevated. "What nationality were your parents?" he asked. "British" seemed to satisfy him and he gave me my passport back. I like the quirk of being born somewhere "different" but in today's political climate I'm also very glad it wasn't somewhere like Iraq.

This train goes to New York which is where I need to switch trains to get further south. But one of the advantages of trains (in my opinion) is that they stop at more places, unlike airlines, which tend to just go from hub to hub. I'm sure there's lots of cool stuff in New York, but it's a huge city and likely a challenge to find somewhere to stay that's nice without being ridiculously expensive.

So I stopped in Schenectady, as I did on my way to Boston in the spring. Small towns are nicer stopovers - they're more walkable and hotels are cheaper. I'm staying at the Stockade Inn again - a small place in a historical building.

Having had sufficient wining and dining in Montreal I opted for the Moon and River Cafe for supper. Another funky place (but friendlier than L'Escalier) They don't serve alcohol and they don't even have an espresso machine OMG :-) Good vegetarian food though. I was tempted to hang around for the live music but I decided to read my book by the fireplace back at the inn instead.

It's fun to explore new places, but it's also nice to revisit places and know your way around. Last time I was here I had quite a search for a decent coffee. This time I knew exactly where to go - Villa Italia - only a short detour on the way to the Amtrak station :-)

I change trains in New York and travel overnight to arrive in Savannah in the morning. It's still cool here (frost on the cars this morning) I'm looking forward to putting the heavy jacket away once I get to Savannah, although I'm sure I'll need it again in on the way back.

It's nice to have wifi on the train now, and power outlets at every seat! On Via Rail from Saskatoon to Toronto there's no wifi and a single power outlet for all the passengers to share!

Too many people seem to regard travel as a necessary evil, getting stressed and irritated. Occasionally I find myself falling into the same trap, but for the most part I love the journey as much as the destination.

Penn Station was as big and busy as I expected, but it was also clean and bright and more modern than I expected. I looked for somewhere to have lunch. There was lots of fast food down in the station but it would be nice to find somewhere a little better. I made my way up to street level. At which point I was reminded that I'm really not a big city person and retreated into the known world of the station :-) I managed to get a sit down lunch at Fridays.

Next challenge was coffee. I asked the waitress if there was a Starbucks in the station. Her eyes lit up and she said "No, but there's Tim Hortons". As a Canadian, I'm happy for Tim Horton's international success, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for. I wandered around the fast food places looking for an espresso machine. I found one at a place called Chickpeas, not exactly where I would have looked first, but I'll take what I can get!

Unfamiliar transit terminals are always a challenge to figure out. There are never enough signs or instructions for newcomers and they all have their own unique inscrutable procedures. Penn Station was no different. Even for the long distance trains, they didn't announce the track till 15 min before, at which point there's a big scamble for everyone to get in line.

One common point on longer Amtrak trips is that the conductor assigns seats as you get on the train, according to some unknowable process. And regardless of how full the train is, they always pack people together, leaving half the car empty (or even entire empty cars), rather than letting people spread out. I hope there's at least some benefit to the staff, because it certainly wouldn't be the choice of the customers.

At least I managed the scramble well enough to get a window seat :-) Now it's just a matter of sitting back for the ride to Savannah.

(I planned to post this yesterday, but there was no wifi on the New York to Savannah train.)

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