Travelling Onward Into The Night

The California Zephyr was named after the Greek baby name “Zephyr”  which means of the west wind.  People with this name have a deep desire to travel and set their own pace. And indeed when the train gets up to speed (a comfortable 80 miles per hour), it does seem to flow like a gentle breeze as it travels across the land.  After enjoying our drink in the lounge car, it was time to go back to our room and watch some of the scenery go by.

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THE FARM LANDS OF ILLINOIS ROLL BY

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Amtrak publishes travel guides for all of its major routes, and you can download them and print them off for free.  We printed off a copy before we left home and brought it along.  The guide provides mileage from the start of your journey to the towns and areas you travel through, as well as interesting trivia, location of state lines, and information on when to change your watch as you cross a time zone.  An example of the type of information included in the guide would be that at mile 162, you travel through Galesburg, which was the birth place of George Ferris … the inventor of the Ferris Wheel.  To take a look at this guide click on the following link http://www.amtrak.com/ccurl/692/258/Amtrak-California-Zephyr-Train-Route-Guide-2014.pdf

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Amtrak also includes train schedules in all of the rooms that show the small stops (and the longer stops of 30 minutes).  This is handy to know where and when you are going to arrive at a certain part of your journey.

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PETE TELLS ME WHAT IS COMING UP NEXT WITH THE HELP OF THE ROUTE GUIDE (AND A FREE COFFEE FROM THE REFRESHMENT STATION)

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All of the rooms have sliding doors. Although they don’t lock from the outside, they have a lock on the inside. This provides privacy.  There are curtains that can be drawn across the glass windows for night time, or during the day.  It creates a cozy room, and this is one of the advantages of travelling in a sleeper car where everyone is in a compartment … no noisy neighbours who snore at night, no kids running around … just your own peaceful room.  Because there are room attendants, security isn’t really an issue, although we did keep our wallets and passports with us at all times … but our computer and personal belongings were perfectly safe in our compartment.  For extra safety, when you leave the compartment to go for a meal or wander the train, close the door and draw the curtains and those in other compartments won’t know if you are inside or not!

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SLIDING DOORS ON THE UNITS GIVE YOU PRIVACY AND PEACE

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As the afternoon wore on, we got more relaxed and by 5 PM had spread out quite comfortably. At 5:30 we crossed the Mississippi River which marks the Illinois/Iowa State line.

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THERE IS ENOUGH ROOM TO STRETCH OUT AND RELAX

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THE WETLANDS OF THE MISSISSIPPI SPREAD OUT TO THE AREA AROUND THE RIVER

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AT 5:30 PM , YOU CROSS THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER AND ENTER IOWA

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LOOKING BACK OVER THE TRAIN TRESTLE WE CROSSED ON OUR JOURNEY OVER THE RIVER

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FIELDS OF DRY CORN HUSKS WAVE IN THE BREEZE AS DUSK SETS

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By the time our dinner reservation was called, we had been lulled into a relaxed state by the rocking of the train, the lovely scenery rolling by and the effects of our happy hour drink.  We made our way to the dining car for our first meal of the trip and we were impressed.  The staff were friendly and we were seated opposite a mother and her bright 10 year old child.  This was no misbehaving child, but rather a highly intelligent young woman who was on a national reading jury for children’s books, and she delighted us with her conversation.  Her mother was an aerospace engineer for Boeing and was taking her daughter to visit another sibling in Denver Colorado (where the train stopped the following morning).  While we conversed, we were given a fresh salad and a menu to look over.  I ordered a steak (done to order by the chef), with tasty garlic mashed potatoes and vegetable medley, and Pete had the salmon with rice and vegetable.  All of it was very good.  We also had dessert.

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The wait staff will ask for your train car number and your room number to put on the order, so they know if you have used your meals or not. This information was easily located on the green card we had gotten when we checked into the lounge in the Chicago station.  We ordered wine with our meal (which is extra).  We found the food to be quite good.  Gratuities are not included when travelling, so if you eat in the dining car, leave a tip (and tip on the full value of the meal, not just the wine you ordered).  We didn’t take pictures of the food, as we wanted it to be a camera-free time and also be polite to our dining companions.

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By the time we got back to our room (which was close to 9:00 PM), it was dark outside and there was little to see.  Our beds had been made down.  One thing to keep in mind if you have your beds made down while you go to dinner … make sure you leave your toiletry bag and your night clothes out on your seats!    We had put our toiletry bags in a side storage area we could access, but hadn’t considered that when the beds are made down, you can’t get under them … which is where our carry on luggage was.  We could have gotten the room attendant to unmake the lower bed, but instead for the first night, simply slept in our skivvies for the night and if we had to get up for the bathroom, put on our jeans and a t-shirt, but there isn’t much room once the beds are down … so having your night clothes ready before dinner and then changing in the change room downstairs before bed is much easier.  The photos below are of the room when it is made down for the evening (these shots were taken the following night when we DID have our night clothes).

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LOOKING IN OUR ROOM DOOR WITH THE BEDS DOWN

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THE BEDS ARE COMFY AND LINENS, PILLOWS AND BLANKETS ARE PROVIDED AND CHANGED DAILY.  CLOTHS ARE LEFT OUT FOR AN EVENING WASH-UP

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THE SPACE BETWEEN THE COMPARTMENT DOOR AND THE UPPER BUNK ISN’T LARGE, AND GETTING DOWN IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT CAN BE TRICKY WITHOUT TURNING ON THE LIGHTS (WHICH WE DID).

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THE UPPER BERTH HAS ABOUT 2 FEET OF CLEARANCE TO THE ROOF, AND THERE IS A SIDE SEATBELT UNIT THAT HOOKS TO THE ROOF WHICH FORMS A SMALL NET SO THAT YOU CAN’T ROLL OUT OF BED.  IT IS EASY TO HOOK IN, AND EASY TO UNHOOK IF YOU NEED TO GET UP AT NIGHT.

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On our first night, we slept decently.  The rocking motion of the train puts you to sleep.  In fact I found that I woke up mostly when the train stopped, and I peered out curious to see where we were.  The lower berth of the sleeper unit was quite warm, but the compartment air was quite dry so keep a bottle of water handy beside the bed on the window ledge in case you get thirsty.  The upper bunk was cooler thanks to an adjustable vent in the roof.  The handle is easy to adjust to make the unit cooler (wider open) or warmer (closed further) during the day or the night, but it has more effect on the upper berth at night.

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For a future trip, Pete and I would consider a different option.  As earlier quoted, 6 months in advance a room for 2 including all meals is $632.  But if you wanted, you can take a sleeper unit by yourself for $468 dollars.  So if we booked far enough in advance, we could book two sleeper units and ask for them to be across from one another.  During the day, we could hang out together, and at night, you would only have to make down the lower bed, and you would have more room. It would cost a little more than only taking one unit, but would be a bit more comfortable.

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I wound up in the lower bed (Pete’s choice) and I have to say that one of the most amazing things as we were crossing Iowa was the stars in the sky.  The sleeper units are on the upper level of the train so there is no need to close the curtains as nobody can see in, and the only time there are lights coming into the car is when you pull into a big station.  I woke a few times through the night, and the stars were magnificent … in fact the big dipper was so large (and turned with the handle down) that it looked like the lowest star in the handle was touching the horizon.  It was something I hadn’t expected, and I was truly delighted.  The bunk bed is above the windows, so doesn’t have a view out at night.

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During the early evening, we crossed Iowa State and as we slept, crossed Nebraska in darkness and awoke in Colorado.  We set our watches back to Central Standard Time before going to bed so that we would wake up on the correct time.  Train travel at this time of year is very much about early to bed and early to rise.  In tomorrow’s blog, I’ll talk about our breakfast, and the wonders of travelling through Colorado on the train.  Until then … a groggy picture taken the following morning of

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Fenton & White (or in this case … White & Fenton)

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