Tuesday, 28 July 2015
People asked me before this trip if it wouldn't be quicker to fly. Indeed it would be quicker, and cheaper, but that's not the point.
The train itself is very comfortable. My sleeper "roomette" is a cabin made for two. The two facing seats fold down to make a bed and the other bed folds down from the ceiling. The seats are wide and soft, made to fit the more ample arse. (And boy have I seen a few of those!) I can shut my door and pass the time as I choose: reading, sleeping, writing this...
Or watching the fabulous scenery: from San Francisco Bay through the forests of the Sierra Nevada, over the high desert of Nevada and Utah, past Salt Lake City into the Rocky Mountains and the canyons of Colorado, then across the Continental Divide and on into Nebraska.
As I write, we're sweeping through the rolling countryside of Iowa. This looks for all the world like Ireland so I'm not gazing wide-eyed out the window. It's raining too, which completes the effect.
When it comes to meal times the crew assign you to a seat at a four-person table in the dining car. Who you end up sitting with is a matter of luck. But that's part of the adventure, and I've met people I wouldn't otherwise have met. Okay, some of those people could have stayed unmet and I wouldn't feel the loss, but overall it's been a very pleasant experience.
There was Sue from California who takes care of other people's pets as a semi-retirement occupation. As she left home on Sunday morning the forest fire was a long way from her house, but she left the keys of her packed car with the neighbours just in case.
Then there was a really boring couple from South Dakota who thought everything I said – where I'm from, where I live, what I do for a living, where I'd been on previous holidays – was awesome. And indeed it is when you compare it to their wretched, dreary existence. I'll spare you the boring details.
Mike from Nebraska is in the oil business. He taught me that fracking does not cause geological damage; it's all to do with how you dispose of the waste water. Or something.
Brent from Colorado is an anaesthetist, but his conversion was far from sleep-inducing. He was seeing the canyons from the inside for the first time. You don't see this stuff from the highway.
The only foreign people I met were two couples of German-speaking Swiss. I met them at two different meals, but I don't think they met each other.
Sandra looked about 60 years old. She was taking her sick son home. He was a fitness instructor, in perfect health. Had a stroke at the age of 37.
And finally, I came across some very nice crew members. The teams of conductors and engineers changed several times along the way, but the catering staff stayed throughout. On the first morning when I was putting my name on the list for lunch I gave my last name. From then on, every time I went to the dining car – two breakfasts, three lunches, two dinners – Reggie greeted me with a loud and cheerful "Hello, Mr Maguire!" If I was first at a table he'd invite/instruct others to "take a seat beside my friend Mr Maguire."
So long, Reggie, Mr B, Pete, Brad, Melissa, and the roster lady whose name I didn't get. You helped make my journey a pleasure.
Monday, 27 July 2015
The house in Berkeley turned out to be a hovel!
Having confirmed my reservation for a room in a house, the owner then emailed a few hours later to say it was no longer available and there was only a mattress in the living room. I really had no choice at that point, so I accepted for a (slightly) reduced rate.
The owner wasn't there when I arrived, but his flatmate let me in. The room was filthy: dirty wall-to-wall carpet, bicycles parked on one side, empty pizza boxes on the floor. I was shown the couch, which looked as dirty as the floor, which had several blankets on it but no sheets. I took a look in the kitchen and found the counter tops strewn with unwashed cooking pots and pans, the sink piled high with dishes. The bathroom was as bad, and the shower cubicle clearly hadn't seen a squirt of Jif for years.
The flatmate called someone to come and prepare the room while I went out to dinner. When I got back there was a mattress with sheets, though I couldn't tell how clean they were. I used my shirt as a pillowcase and slept in another one. I also wore my jeans to bed.
This morning I couldn't find fresh towels so I used the cleanest looking white one I could find hanging up. I put another towel on the floor of the shower cubicle in the hope that whatever bacteria lived on it were less offensive than the community that inhabited the mouldy cracks in the tiled floor.
Needless to say I'll be leaving a review on Airbnb. It will probably be a copy-and-paste of the above.
Sunday, 26 July 2015
The downtown area is quite small, but the city spreads quite far around the core. My hosts – my nephew, Éamon, and his wife, Pamela – live with their three children in a leafy neighbourhood called Evergreen Valley.
And very good hosts they are too! They ferried me to and from the train station several times, took me around some of the sights downtown – Santa Clara mission, the Winchester Mystery House – and drove me to the beach at Santa Cruz to fulfil my my ambition to get my arse wet in the Pacific for the first time. But they also made the ultimate sacrifice: instead of giving me the expected mattress in the baby's room, the they bunked in with their youngest and gave me their own room. No greater love hath nephew than to give up his bed for his uncle!
I strongly recommend Maguire's B&B in San Jose!
Tomorrow, Sunday, I take the train from San Francisco to Chicago. Originally, the idea was to leave SF on Tuesday but I had a change of plan. Unfortunately, when I changed the date of my train I didn't take into consideration Sunday schedules on the connecting trains from San Jose. The only option was a bus at 4.20am, which would get me to the main stain three hours before departure time.
So, tonight (Saturday) I'm staying in Berkeley, a ten-minute walk from Emeryville station, the departure point of the California Zephyr.
I don't believe there is WiFi on the train, so the next post will be published when I arrive in Chicago on Tuesday.
Saturday, 25 July 2015
Unfortunately, the day I took the tour it was cloudy and chilly so the conditions were not ideal for photos. The ticket cost $45, which I find a tad expensive, but I saw a lot of interesting things and places that I wouldn't have otherwise seen. It also gave me a good idea of which areas I'd like to visit and which I'd prefer to skip.
That's the Tip of the Day, folks.
Thursday, 23 July 2015
So I had a bad experience with "service" last week. I'm happy to report that I've had many examples of good service since.
Apart from the hotel receptionists, taxi drivers and waiters who've been genuinely helpful, I've been pleasantly surprised by the honest advice given in shops in San Francisco. More than once I've been told "I wouldn't by that here. You'll get a better deal a few doors down."
This happened when enquiring about sim cards, fruit, and tickets for guided tours.
Wednesday, 22 July 2015
Monday, 20 July 2015
Saturday, 18 July 2015
Whether these incoherent features were the result of Sarah's incompetence as a designer, or of her desire to confuse the spirits she believed were haunting her, is a matter of speculation.
As our bubbly tour guide at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose told us, you can decide which version is true.
Saturday, 11 July 2015
On the upside, I was able to bring forward my train trip to Chicago by two days at no extra cost. I'll now be spending four days in the Windy City instead of just two.
So the new plan looks like this: