A day of mixed emotions. While I looked forward to seeing family and friends again after five weeks away, it saddened me to think the trip was almost over. I could quite happily have kept on traveling!
Our last journey started in the comfort of the Metropolitan lounge at Union Station in Chicago. The lounge offers comfy armchairs, internet access and free coffee and tea to sleeping-car passengers while they wait to board, a nice perk especially if, like us, you arrive over an hour early for the train.
We left Chicago in the dark, one last chance to admire the glow of city lights before they faded into the distance and we headed for the agricultural heartland.
The overnight portion of the journey took us through Indiana and Ohio. We saw more of Ohio’s countryside than expected as we woke to find the train was running over an hour late. By the time breakfast was over we were in Pennsylvania and heading for our first New York stop: Buffalo. There was still another nine hours to go but the knowledge that we were back in New York State confirmed the reality that the trip was near its end.
After the flatlands of Ohio and Pennsylvania, the sight of New York’s majestic forests and hills stretching as far as the eye could see was a welcome relief. Maybe I’m biased as I live in New York, but I’m always stunned by how grand its scenery is.
As the train heads south from Albany it follows the east bank of the Hudson River, sometimes so close that there is little separating the tracks from the water other than a short strip of pebbles.
I was surprised to see that cargo ships still ply the river this far north of Manhattan.
But all too soon it was time to gather our bags. This sign was our sign that at the next stop our adventure would be over:
The trip was amazing in every respect; the scenic train journeys, the delightful cities we visited, the fascinating people we met, all combined to create an experience way beyond what I’d imagined. That the US is a large and diverse country is an accepted fact, but the trip gave me a far better understanding of just how big it is and how varied people’s lives are than looking at a map or reading about it in a book could convey.
It’s easy to think that the way one lives is the ‘American’ way. That the concerns of most Americans should be the same, but when you see the isolation of some of the large farms or even small towns, and note the different attitudes as you move from city to city or coast to coast, it is obvious that in terms of day-to-day life there are few similarities. People may have the same hopes and dreams for themselves and their families, but the means of attaining them are very different, as is the definition of success in achieving those ambitions.
The trip has left me with an increased desire to learn more of the history of the country and see more of it – there’s still the huge interior for me to explore and, thankfully, several Amtrak routes not yet taken, including the California Zephyr from Chicago to San Francisco which various fellow passengers declared the most scenic of all Amtrak routes. Travel by train may not be the fastest way to get around the country, but in terms of being able to relax in comfort and enjoy the wonderful scenery on offer, it’s hard to beat.