Although I haven’t traveled internationally, since my European river cruise, I had every intention of checking in and posting about a few short domestic getaways. In January, Bruce and I headed back home to Long Beach, California, to see family and friends, for my 50th birthday. Mom flew us out and big sis, Gail, threw me a wonderful birthday party! Check it out on my photo-sharing website; I have included photos of downtown Long Beach, at the waterfront: www.ExquisiteCards.Fototime.com .
In late April, we drove to Greensboro, North Carolina, so I could compete in United States Masters Swimming Spring Nationals. After the four-day competition concluded, we finally took the time to drive downtown and check it out, before settling in at the Mellow Mushroom, for a celebratory beer and pizza. Photos are posted of that trip, as well.
After Nationals, we recovered for a few days, after a very busy and intense April, and then headed up to Washington, D.C.; a destination that had long been on our list of places to visit. “You have NEVER been to Washington, D.C.?”, you ask, incredulously. You must be thinking it (right?), because we got asked that question numerous times over the months we planned this trip. Nobody could believe I had been to 64 countries and 19 states, but had never visited our nation’s capitol!
Yes, it was time to see American history; not just read it in school text books…
So, what better way to travel to D.C. than by rail; the old-fashioned American way. It had been a long time since we had traveled by train; 1987, to be exact. We rode the Starlight up the entire west coast, disembarking to visit the highlights along the way, and then picking up the train, again, on another day, to continue our journey. What a fantastic trip that was! I would recommend it to everybody.
This time, we traveled on the Crescent, from Atlanta to Union Station, in the heart of Washington, D.C. We had been invited to stay in nearby Burke, Virginia, with our neighbor’s son, David, and his wife, Melody. Funny how that all came about. We met them at our neighbor’s party, instantly hitting it off and having more things in common than could possibly be discussed at an afternoon party. It was uncanny how the four of us just clicked. By the time we said goodbye, invitations to visit were sincerely delivered- and repeated, almost every time e-mails were sent back and forth between us. With an offer like that, how would we refuse? Besides, the timing was right. We had moved to the east coast, we were closer than ever to the capitol, and I was insistant we go there while Barack Obama was President. Of course, I knew there was no possible way we would actually see the President or First Lady, while touring the White House; I just had this thing about wanting to be there while the Obama family called it home. And, there was no way we were going to go to Washington, D.C., without touring the White House! So, I checked my calendar (twice!) and counted back from our arrival date exactly six months (to the day!), to make sure I contacted our congressman about applying for tickets, as soon as I was eligible. And, I called that day, as soon as the office opened. Stephanie told me it was “first come first served”, when she reviewed the ticket policy with me. I assured her I must have qualified as “first come”. When she asked the desired date for our tour, she busted out laughing, and, indeed, assured me I was the first to come asking for tickets for that… MONTH. As a bonus, she also offered tickets for three other tours; the Capitol being the only other tour we actually ended up taking.
Since it was an overnight journey, we opted for a “roomette” in the sleeper car; emphasis on “ette”. Our our micro-mini room was 3’6″ x 6’x6″. Really. And, somehow, in that little space, they included two bunk beds, a sink, and a toilet!
After settling in and getting briefed by our friendly room attendant (in the first photo, on left), we made our way to the dining car for the first of our two meals included in the cost of our overnight journey. Due to space limitations, tables were shared, cruise ship style. And, also like on a cruise ship, we could choose whatever we wanted from the selections on the menu, dessert included. But, that is where the similarity ended. Rather than having chefs prepare dinners to order, as they do on cruise ships, as well as on Canadian VIA trains, the food is reheated after being prepared in an offsite kitchen. The portions were large, though, and the food tasted surprisingly good, considering the circumstances. I ordered the crabcakes and Bruce had chicken (a very large half of chicken at that). It was a pleasant experience, actually, dining with a nice elderly couple who frequently travel by train, the old fashioned American Way.
As we watched northeast Atlanta pass by our window, we enjoyed the sunset, followed by the cobalt blue sky turning pitch black. We exchanged travel stories and compared our train experiences, relaxing to the vibration of the train and the clickety-clack sound it made on the rails. Nice not having anywhere to rush off to; we just sat back in our booth and relished the experience.
After wandering back to our little roomette, we procrastinated asking our attendant to turn down our beds, knowing it was going to be a bit of a choreographed operation to get us both ready for sleep. Somehow, we managed, but not without plenty of giggles- and a few bumps (and, later, bruises).
Sleep, as we expected, was often interrupted by the train’s whislte, sounding at every intersection, mandatory by law. But, we somehow got through the night- and, our preparation for breakfast, the following morning. That humorous routine involved getting the bottom bunk converted back into seats, so one of us could sit while the other washed up at the sink. Like I said, you have to have a good sense of humor when attempting a feat like that!
You also have to have a good sense of humor when grits arrive with your omelette, instead of the potatoes, as was ordered by Bruce. Our waitress was way too busy to trouble her for a switch, so I braved a taste of those pasty-looking grits, with the idea of trading them with Bruce for my potatoes. No can do; they were… AWFUL! Bruce got half of my potatoes, instead.
Before we knew it, it was time to gather our belongings, tip our room attendent, bid farewell, and disembark in Union Station. Our plan was to spend the day seeing the sights, before boarding a VRE (Virginia Railway Express) train for the Rolling Road station, close to David and Melody’s house.
Stay tuned for our D.C. adventures; another post will be written shortly…