California Here We Come

It was now Saturday morning, and we had been on the train since Thursday afternoon. We were surprised at how well we had adapted to train life.  The brief stops for fresh air were enough to let us feel like we had contact with the outside world. The scenery had been spectacular, the weather was perfect, the food good, and our dining companions interesting.  Both of us had slept soundly on our second night and rose early once again …. in fact a little too early.  We should have suspected something was up when we came from our morning wash-up and the crew in our car were just putting on their uniforms.  The clocks had been turned back on each leg of our journey (starting with our flight from Toronto to Chicago) so when we awoke at 6 AM, it felt like 9 AM to us.  The dining car wasn’t open until 7, so we headed down to the lounge car and watched a gorgeous sunrise.  We had crossed the Nevada state line while we were sleeping and the first stop of the morning was Reno at 8:30 AM.

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THE SUN RISES OVER NEVADA.
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Part of the research we did on the trip was to find out about appropriate tipping practices on the train.  As discussed earlier, we tipped at 15-20% on the full value of our meals in the dining car (even though we only had to pay for wine, as the rest of the meal is included in your train ticket).  This extra income subsidizes the wages of the serving staff in the dining car, and they earn every cent.  In the lounge car where the attendant serves drinks and snacks, there is a tip cup that you can throw a 10% tip in, or change, or a dollar bill. When it comes to the room attendant … well, when they make up your room and ensure you have hot coffee in the refreshment station and give you fresh water, and keep coach passengers out of the sleeper cars and basically help make your trip as comfortable as possible … they deserve a tip. Standard tipping rates are $10 per night per sleeper unit. This is not at all mandatory, but we actually tipped out much more, as we saw how hard Dee worked, and she had truly made our trip extra special.  We left our tip on the bed with a little note of thanks when we went to breakfast.  When we got back, the car was made up, there was a little note of thanks, and the next time we saw her, she gave us a big hug!

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A $20 TIP IS A NICE WAY TO SAY THANK YOU TO YOUR ROOM ATTENDANT AFTER 2 NIGHTS ON THE TRAIN

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Breakfast that morning was spent with a couple from New York who were heading to Reno for 13 days of gambling.  They must have been high rollers, as they told us that the hotel in Reno put them up for free. The husband favoured the computerized poker games and bemoaned the fact that at the tables with real players, rank amateurs would foul up the betting.  On his last trip, he had won $10 000.  Pete and I aren’t really gamblers, so it was fascinating to hear about how Reno has changed, what casinos had closed in recent years and the trends in gambling.  We finished breakfast, and then headed to the lounge car for our daily snack run before heading to our room for our final day of train travel.  We were due into Emeryville at 4:10 PM and would arrive in San Francisco by 5:00 after transferring to a bus to take us across the San Francisco Bay.  But first … Reno, and then the Donner Pass.

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THIS IS ALL WE SAW OF RENO FROM THE TRAIN

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By the time we reached Reno, the skies had clouded over, and there really wasn’t much to see of the city from the train.  Reno is known as the “Biggest Little City in the World” and is famous because they liberalized divorce laws and legalized casino gambling in 1931 which made it a destination.  It has come on hard financial times like many major cities, and unlike Las Vegas, it doesn’t have the same scope or glamour.   But like our breakfast companions,  some people still make their way there, hoping to win big.

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Within 40 miles of Reno, we had crossed into California and the train began to climb across a series of higher and higher plateaus through the infamous Donner Pass. This pass became a part of the history books thanks to the Donner party, who in the winter of 1846/47 got hopelessly lost in a blizzard in the mountains and turned to cannibalism to survive the winter.  The pass may have a morbid history, but in the fall it is beautiful even shrouded in rain and fog.  The train runs all year round, and we wondered what it would be like to travel these passes in the winter.  Other people we spoke to said there was a certain magic to leaving Chicago in the snow, climbing the high rocky passes with blue skies and white powder all around and then descending into the warmth of Utah, crossing the Sierras back up through the snow, and then coming down in California to the warmth of the coast.  Apparently, the Sierras can receive up to 30 feet of snow per year, which would explain the various tunnels and snow sheds that the train travels through on this part of the journey.

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Trip Pix 593RISING UP THROUGH THE DONNER PASS IN THE RAIN … AHEAD IS ONE OF THE MANY SNOW SHEDS THAT PROTECT THE TRACK FROM THE 30 FEET OF SNOW THAT FALLS HERE EACH WINTER.

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Trip Pix 597THE TRAIN CONTINUES UPWARD THROUGH PASSES THAT REACH ALMOST    10 000 FEET ABOVE SEA LEVEL

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Trip Pix 610EVENTUALLY THE CLOUDS BROKE AND WE ENJOYED THE SCENERY OF THE SIERRA MOUNTAINS … COVERED WITH PINE AND SPRUCE FORESTS.

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We spent the morning relaxing and enjoying the scenery.  We had brought some writing work along, but … well, we just never got around to it.  As the train began the steep descent from Colfax towards Sacramento, we made our way to the dining car for one final lunch.  We were joined by a young man who was a real estate investor specializing in how to flip houses.  He had been living in the New York area, and was moving back home to the San Francisco Bay region to start his work there.  His entrepreneurial spirit was clear, something that likely would have been appreciated by the many folks who made their way to this part of the world during the California gold rush.  After lunch, the mountains faded away and we began to reach larger cities, the first being Sacramento at about 2 in the afternoon.

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WE PULLED INTO THE SACRAMENTO TRAIN STATION … WELL … THE STATION IS ACTUALLY THE LOW BUILDING A QUARTER OF A MILE FROM THE TRACKS, BUT THEY PROVIDE GOLF CART SHUTTLE SERVICE FOR THOSE THAT CAN’T MAKE THE WALK.

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AS THE TRAIN PULLS OUT, IT CROSSES THE SACRAMENTO RIVER

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MOUNTAINS ARE REPLACED WITH FARM LANDS

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AS WE CONTINUED WEST, PALM TREES BEGAN TO APPEAR … HERE AT THE CHARMING TRAIN STATION FOR THE TOWN OF DAVIS.

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THE COAST LOOMS IN THE DISTANCE

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THE AFTERNOON SUN ADDS WARMTH TO THE GOLDEN HILLS APPROACHING MARTINEZ

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AT MARTINEZ, THERE ARE SIGNS OF BIG INDUSTRY, BUT IT ISN’T ALL WORK …. MARTINEZ IS WHERE THE MARTINI WAS INVENTED

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BIG SHIPS LET US KNOW THAT WE ARE NEARING OUR DESTINATION

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REMNANTS OF OLD FISHING PIERS EXTEND INTO THE BAY AS WE APPROACH EMERYVILLE

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52 HOURS AND  2438 MILES AFTER STARTING OUR TRAIN TRIP, WE HAVE ARRIVED IN EMERYVILLE.

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At the Emeryville Station we gathered our carry-on luggage and made our way through the train station to the front where the transfer bus was going to pick us up. The bus driver was ready and waiting.  We waited while the rest of our luggage was transferred from the train, and let the driver know where we were getting off.  The bus stops at the Trans-Bay station in the centre of San Francisco, but also makes stops at four other major sections of the city.  In our case, we were dropped at Fisherman’s Wharf, a five minute walk from our hotel.  The bus transfer is included with your train ticket as long as you book your ticket all the way to San Francisco.  If you only book to Emeryville, you will have to pay extra for the bus … so …  make sure you book all the way through to the end of your journey.  Emeryville is on the Oakland side of the bay so you get to take the Oakland Bridge route which gives you your first clear views of San Francisco.

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THE BUS TRAVELS OVER THE OAKLAND BRIDGE TO GET TO SAN FRANCISCO

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ALCATRAZ CAN BE SEEN IN THE DISTANCE … A PLACE WE WOULD VISIT A FEW DAYS LATER

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VIEWS OF SAN FRANCISCO LANDMARKS SUCH AS COIT TOWER APPEAR AS YOU GET IN CLOSER TO THE CITY

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THE TRANS-BAY TERMINAL IS THE FIRST OF 5 STOPS AVAILABLE TO TRAIN  PASSENGERS COMING INTO SAN FRANCISCO 

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Once we got off the bus … the Amtrak train part of our vacation was finished.  We had a great time.  In fact we had so much fun on this part of the journey that we are seriously considering another trip on the train in 2016 … possibly flying to Los Angeles and doing two days in the Disney parks, and then traveling up the west coast on the Coast Starlight train to Seattle with a few nights stop-over, and then taking the Empire Builder route through the Montana Rockies all the way back to Chicago, and picking up some of the things we didn’t have a chance to see there on this trip.  Who wants to come with us?  For more information on Amtrak travel go to http://www.amtrak.com/home

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We got off the bus at around 5:20 PM  and made our way to our hotel … by coincidence, also called The Zephyr.  Our plan was to settle into the hotel, unpack, shower and shave, and then explore Fisherman’s Wharf at night.  We wanted to locate a nice place for dinner to celebrate our arrival.

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THE FRONT SECTION OF THE ZEPHYR HOTEL FACES THE BUSY STREET IN FRONT OF FISHERMAN’S WHARF.  WE WERE ON THE QUIETER SIDE.

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In tomorrow’s blog … exploring San Francisco … a place to sight see, and to EAT.  Until then, here’s a shot of a cleaned up …

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Fenton & White (or White & Fenton)

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