The journey continues!
The Cardinal train was an interesting experience. I definitely enjoyed the scenery, but I found that the physical trains themselves (I took two: one from Chicago to Charlottesville, and the other from Charlottesville to Washington, DC) were a bit unusual. The dining car was “modified,” meaning no vegan lunch option, no reserved seating, no announcements for meals at all. There were two “lounges,” but one seemed to have a snack bar that was perpetually closed, and both were much smaller than the panoramic lounge cars on the Superliner trains. I had thought the Cardinal was a traditional Superliner, but apparently it’s a bit different.
The other thing that surprised me a lot in my sleeper car was that the toilet and sink were right next to the seat/bed! There were no shared bathrooms in the sleeping-car section, and no shower that I could find, so that was all different. In some ways I found it more convenient to have the toilet and sink right there, but it also did feel a bit odd to use the toilet directly next to where I was sitting or sleeping. (And many people travel with two people per roomette, so there could be a privacy issue there!) In addition, I found that the water pressure from the sink was so high that there was almost no way I could wash my hands or brush my teeth without spraying water all over my seat or bed and belongings, which was less than ideal.
Overall, I prefer the west-of-Chicago Superliner trains I have experienced. But, I’m glad I finally got to experience the Cardinal. I did eat dinner the first night, and had a nice conversation with someone from Cincinnati. On the Charlottesville-to-DC leg of the trip, I took Business Class since it was only a three-hour trip, and had a lovely conversation with my seatmate from Lowell, Massachusetts. She and I talked about staying in touch.
In Charlottesville, I had a wonderful time, staying with a friend of a friend who has spent her entire career working on clean-water issues, for the nation via the Clean Water Act (all the way back to when Nixon signed it into law in the 1970s) as well as more recently in her surrounding area. She drove me all around the Charlottesville area, and I was reminded of why people say Virginia is one of the most beautiful states in the union. After the incredible beauty of the arid western states on the train, the rolling hills of West Virginia (on the Cardinal train) and the areas around Charlottesville were a completely different kind of natural wonder. The trees were just starting to turn, and it felt like I had arrived during a magical moment in time.
The other big highlight of my Charlottesville stay was on Saturday, when I reconnected with a friend I knew from 20 years ago in Portland. We were both native Virginians, but found ourselves living in the same apartment building in SE Portland… and later discovered we were born only two days apart, in the same year! She and her husband and 12-year-old son, neither of whom I had yet met, drove several hours from their home southwest of Charlottesville, to pick me up there, and then we drove about another hour and a half to see Luray Caverns. I had visited that place at age six, with my grandmother and my two-year-old sister, and found it captivating. When I realized the train would be going near there on this trip, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to relive some childhood magic.
The caverns did not disappoint; they were just as breathtaking as I had remembered from 40 years ago. I’m so glad I got to go! I also enjoyed the time I spent with my friend and her family, as well as dinner with their extended family on the way back home.
Then, yesterday, I boarded the train in the afternoon, and disembarked at Washington’s Union Station in the evening. I made my way to my friend’s home in Fairfax, Virginia, which took nearly two hours via the Metro subway. But she picked me up at the station to drive me the last segment of the journey. I got to meet her two chihuahuas, which continued the theme of adorable pets across the country. (A snuggly cat in San Francisco, an energetic beagle in Denver, two huge fluffy cats in Chicago, and a snuggly poodle and enthusiastic miniature schnauzer in Charlottesville.)
After dinner at the nearby vegan-friendly Silver Diner, we called it a night. This morning, after she left for work, I headed back into DC. First I went to the always incredible NuVegan Café (if you ever find yourself in Washington, do not miss it!!) where I ran into a friend who lives just a few blocks away from NuVegan, but who had returned only yesterday from a two-week trip to Portugal, Spain, and Morocco! I expected that she would be sleeping all day, but no, there she was in the café. We got to catch up a bit, before I headed out again, on foot, to the stalwart Sticky Fingers Bakery. I devoured a mocha cupcake on the spot, and bought a few treats for later, and then caught a bus to the National Cathedral. Wow! The architecture, both inside and out, was incredible. There was a choir of teenagers practicing inside, which made the place even more magical. I sat in a pew for a while and soaked it all in, then toured the rest of the place.
The light was about to start fading, and I needed to practice assembling and riding the folding bike my host will be graciously lending me tomorrow for my epic ride of the 40-mile W & OD Trail, so I began the long process of returning to Fairfax. (This trip involved two buses, a train, and a Lyft, and totaled more than two hours.) In the Metro station in the city, I noticed someone distinctive-looking whom I had glimpsed on a prior vacation in a completely different locale, but had never spoken with. I introduced myself, and we had a wonderful chat for the next half-hour or so on the train, until his stop. He said he had been having a stressful and unpleasant day at work, so it lifted his spirits to be “found” by a near-stranger. We took a selfie, and each left the interaction with a smile.
So much magic on this trip.
I’m going to turn in now, so that I can wake up in time to be fresh for my bike ride!