It’s been a couple of weeks! Re-entry into Portland took some adjusting for me, so this final blog post of the trip has taken me a bit longer than I had anticipated.
The final leg of my train travels went nicely, although I was definitely disappointed to discover that the Silver Star train did not include a dining car, nor a panoramic lounge car. Amtrak is in the process of eliminating dining cars on their long-distance lines. I find this deeply saddening; it heralds the end of an era that I never wanted to see end. (I am now considering taking one more long-distance train trip this winter—my yearly sojourn to sunny San Diego, where I had planned to fly to maximize my time—to enjoy the dining car on the Coast Starlight, since my understanding is that they will retain that car for perhaps the longest of any of the lines. I hope they will have it at least until December or January.)
My uncle in North Carolina explained that the lack of the panoramic lounge cars on the eastern long-distance routes may be due to shorter/tighter tunnels in the eastern part of the country. The tunnels cannot accommodate the double-decker Superliner trains, so the Cardinal and Silver Star—among other lines—use Viewliner cars instead for their sleeping accommodations. These trains have “regular” lounge cars, attached to their bistro cars, like those on the regional lines such as my Northwest standby, the Cascades, which runs from Vancouver, BC to Eugene, Oregon. It’s nice to have snacks and light meals available, as well as some chairs and tables to socialize and/or look out the windows on both sides, which is harder to do from a coach or business seat or a sleeper car… but these bistro/lounges in no way compare to the dining cars and Sightseer lounge cars. So, the trip from Washington, DC to Raleigh was relaxing and scenic—I got to see one last sunset from the train—but I was a bit disappointed to miss out on those two amenities.
My time in the Raleigh area was lovely, split between my aunt and uncle and a close friend/sweetie whom I see whenever we manage to find ourselves in the same place at the same time.
I experienced a quaint rural area known as “Jugtown,” where a revival of generations-old family pottery making has sprung up in the last couple of decades. It is not a formal town, but rather a loose affiliation of perhaps a dozen neighboring homesteads, where families make and sell beautiful pottery.
I also got to tour the Raulston Arboretum and botanical garden. (They even had a small Japanese garden there, which I had not expected!)
We visited Apex’s first all-vegan restaurant, which happened to also be the first Turkish restaurant I had visited. The food was delicious, and I wished I had at least another week in the area so that I could have tried many more items on their extensive menu.
And, I got to experience a lovely twilight nature hike in William B. Umstead State Park. I am always struck by how trees and vegetation always look at least slightly different in different regions.
Lastly, I even got to go swimming, in the hotel’s pool. I hardly ever swim, and with autumn fast encroaching back in Portland, I was more than happy to enjoy a dip on a sunny upper-80s day.
My time in this area brought a truly amazing trip to a wonderful close. The flights back were kind of rough (last row, middle seat, crying baby to my left, late in the day and battling the exhaustion of a month with inadequate sleep, all of which painfully reminded me why I prefer trains to planes) and it was cool and drizzly in Portland as we touched down. My travel date was the autumnal equinox, so the end of the trip marked the change of the season, and quite dramatically so: the heat wave continued in the east, while here in Portland we have experienced temperatures dipping down into the 40s at night, and drizzly skies, since I have been back. I love my adopted hometown, but I have definitely been working through some post-trip adjustments since my return!
This trip was the longest vacation I have ever taken. It was also the most logistically complex. And, remarkably, everything that needed to go right did go right. I am so pleased with the year’s worth of visioning and concrete planning I put into this journey, as well as indescribably grateful to everyone who helped or participated in any way. I got to reconnect with so many friends and family members, from so many different places and eras in my life, and I also got to meet many wonderful new people.
I saw breathtaking scenery, from the windows of my trains as well as out on walks and a 45-mile bike ride, down in caverns, in Japanese and botanical gardens across the continent, and the beautiful property on which I grew as a child.
I will never forget this trip, nor the people who helped to make it so magical for me.
I’m already cooking up a few more journeys, for the next few years…! Meanwhile, I’m settling back into my life in Portland, enjoying the spectacular colors and skies of October. Thank you to everyone who has followed along on this journey with me! (And, if you’re interested in dreaming up an epic journey of your own, and would like some co-brainstorming and/or logistical help, I would love to schedule a phone session to help you to turn it into a reality, so feel free to drop me a line!)