To the South by rail -- 03/13/01
b Nancy is not particularly fond of flying so given the need to travel down to South Carolina this past weekend (to attend a nephew's wedding), we decided to take AmTrak.

We had wanted to arrive early enough for a Friday evening oyster roast but that would have required catching a mid-afternoon train (which was the latest one that could have connected with an overnight train that would have brought us into Charlestown at mid-day on Friday) so we ended up catching the 10:03 pm train which meant that we would not reach Charlestown until almost 24 hours later.

The sleeper car rooms (roomlettes?) were interesting. (Actually, I think they are supposed to be called compartments.) They were not the ones you usually see in the movies (there are a couple of those larger rooms available but at a much higher price)... These are more like a modern version of the old Pulman cars.) Picture a regular coach car but with a narrow hallway replacing the aisle and tiny rooms where the seats would have been. During the day each room would have two seats facing each other. At night the seats are reclined until they are flat with the seats touching and a thin mattress pad is placed on them (along with bedding and a pillow) and the upper bunk is lowered into place. These beds (much narrower than a twin bed) are a bit wider at the head than at the feet. Next to the feet of the lower bunk is a toilet (hidden beneath a flat cover that serves at a step to aid in reaching the upper bunk) and above the toilet is a little fold-down sink, complete with running water (it is labelled as hot and cold, but both seemed the same temperature to me). There is a sliding door that can close and lock and shades that can be pulled down to cover the aisle windows as well as dark curtains that can be pulled to cover the outside windows.

We both found the bunks to be reasonably comfortable. The station master at Kingston mentioned to us that the engineer on our train was "one of the best," with more than twenty years of experience and "a soft hand." Perhaps it was a combination of the driver's skill and the fact that all of the track and the trackbed between New York and Boston was upgraded for the Acella (AmTrak's new high speed express train) but I found that the ride heading south was much smoother and that I slept much better from Rhode Island to Washington than I did returning from Charlestown to New York. It was a bit like sleeping in a hammock, a bit of swaying at times, but although I woke a few times, enough to be aware that I was on a train, I mostly slept and have no memory of passing through New York at all. On the return it was more like getting a few scattered moments of sleep during a long bumpy night. I would, however, recommend that you give this a try; I would certainly consider doing it again.

This is considered to be First Class -- so we were pampered passengers, with the porter stopping by to offer cookies and coffee, etc., and the snacks (coffee, softdrinks, bagels, donuts, etc.) in the Cafe car are available without charge (not including alcohol) as well as meals in the dining car. It was really neat to eat meals in the dining car as the world rushes past the windows... it was like being in a movie. I may be old enough to have come from an era when most towns in the U.S. had real passenger service, just like in Europe, but I've never travelled more than two or three hundred miles by train before. The food may not have been quite up to a fine restaurant, but it was acceptable and much better than any airplane food I've ever had. (Actually, the chicken caesar salad I had for lunch was quite good.)

We reached Washington at 6:20 Friday morning. Our train to Charlestown (the Silver Palm) wouldn't depart until 12:40, so we had a bit over six hours to fill in D.C. We stashed our luggage in a locker and set out on foot to explore. We have always enjoyed Washington and this quick little visit made us decide that we should plan to spend a few days there sometime next year. (Nancy will be there in a few weeks with an 8th grade class trip so she might want to recover a little before going again. *grin*) Most of the museums don't open until 10 (although the Smithsonian "castle" opens at 9) but we enjoyed walking around the capitol and down the mall. We also wandered through the garden behind the castle and then through the scupture gardens (more because Nancy wanted to see the flowers than because of the scupture -- our tastes tend to run more toward the classical than the modern -- but I did see a few pieces I liked.) and then we visited a new museum, the Postal Museum (which may sound strange, but it was very interesting, lots of bits of history, interactive exhibits, etc.) which is located in the old post office right next to Union Station.

Nancy had also booked us on a sleeper car for the Washington to Charlestown part of our trip on the theory that spending nine hours on a train would be much more tolerable if we had our own private compartment. She was quite right. It was nice to be able to stretch out, kick shoes off and prop our feet on each other's seats and enjoy peace and quiet and privacy.

We enjoyed our stay in Charlestown and I'll try to write about that in a day or two and maybe even have a snapshot or two... [Oh, how much did it cost? I don't know. Nancy wouldn't tell me; she says that I really don't want to know. She's probably right.]

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