It all started here...

It all started here...

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Amtrak Coast Starlight - Seattle to Los Angeles

Amtrak Coast Starlight 36-Hour Train Ride in Coach from Seattle to Los Angeles, May 8 & 9, 2015

After staying with families in Seattle for a week, it was time to go home. I thought it would be nice to take another train ride home. Our last train trip was 15 years ago and we had a private roommette that included all the meals in the dining car. It was certainly an enjoyable ride! This time we booked coach seats for the long ride home. We had spent enough money on this trip already, got to watch our budget. This train ride cost us about the same as plane tickets, $200 for both of us. If we book a roommette it will cost us $700. I think with the Amtrak tickets, the earlier you book the cheaper they are. So booking early is the way to go.

We planned on taking the commuter train from Everett to Seattle King Street Station but Jonny got up early and drove us there instead. This poor new dad didn't even have enough sleep himself but still graciously took care of us. Thanks, Jonny, for making our lives much easier!

Beautiful King Street Station in Seattle


We were a bit early and the train station was quite empty at that hour.

I had time to go around and admire this gorgeous station.

There was no signs or anything to tell people what to do. I found out that we need to check our bags inside the ticket office when I was walking around the station. I even talked to that same person earlier and he did not mention about the baggage check. Maybe I scared him when I walked in the first time while he was concentrating on his computer. He did not show any courtesy at all. Somehow, this was what my impression of most of the Amtrak staff. Cold, care less, and sometimes rude. I wonder why? We are the paying customers, it's not a free ride!

Even though we were first in line, when they started checking in, people just cut in shamelessly. Maybe because there's a big gap between the start of the line and the check-in counter. People just rushed toward the counter ignoring that big old line that was already formed. And the staff, of course, they couldn't care less. Oh well, I guess there's always some DYKWIA (Do you know who I am?) kind of people!

We found our seats in the last car. Spacious seats for the next 36 hours and off we went!

Lakeland, where we spent a few nights earlier at ET/AT's house.

One of the reasons that I wanted a train ride was to 'see things' along the route. It's much more interesting than flying on a plane. 

There must be some history behind this one.

And the scenery...

just gorgeous!

Small cabin on the lower deck, mainly for disabled and families with small children.

Restrooms are all located on the lower deck, right outside of the small cabin.

A small station along the way.

First stop where we were able to get off for a stretch--Portland Union Station.

Most people were off the train either to get food, smoke, or just walk around a little. 

Later on that evening, we were way up on the mountain tops in southern Oregon, and I must say that it was just gorgeous! 
We brought food with us this time since we were not planning to eat in the dining car. After a simple dinner of PB sandwiches we were ready for bed. I thought it would be OK sleeping in those seats, but it turned out that it was a painful night. Several times I woke up with either neck or back pain, very uncomfortable! I promised myself that I will never take another overnight train ride again unless I can have a bed.

By early morning we arrived Sacramento, California.

I remember that building.

After our simple breakfast, we figured that it was time for us to try out the lounge car which was 3 cars up front. We had stayed in our seats the whole first day and the lounge car was so much better in sight seeing. The views were incredible and most of the time not crowded. We practically stayed here the whole second day until after Simi Valley, when they had to close that part of the train.

I believe this was Oakland Station.


Arrived at San Luis Obispo Station

After the stop at San Luis Obispo, the train route went along the California coastal region. Here is the sand dunes area near Oceano. We camped here in our RV a few years back and had a great time.

We did not see any whales on our week-long cruise, but on this day we had a few whale sightings near the coast. Just incredible!

Being in the lounge car really made this ride along the coast amazing.

Near Santa Barbara

After leaving Simi Valley station, we were told that we had to go back to our seats because they were closing down the lounge car. By then it was dark anyway and it was about time to get ready to leave the train. After confirming that no one will be getting off at the Burbank station, the train went straight to Union Station and we arrived before the schedule time of 9:00PM.

Taking the long walk through the 'tunnel'. They also had some golf carts transporting passengers from the train to the station.

Baggage Claim is to the right of this area.

After getting our bags, which they checked the claim tickets carefully, we walked through the waiting hall to the front of the station. We were in a hurry to meet MOR who was already waiting outside, barely had time to just snapped a few quick pictures.

The end of our two-week vacation!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Vancouver HOHO Bus Tour and Amtrak Cascade

Disembarkation, Vancouver--Crown Princess Wine Country Coastal Cruise, Day 8-May 2, 2015

HOHO Bus Tour, Vancouver
We came to the end of this wonderful cruise and off the ship we went! We had a train to catch in the afternoon from Vancouver to Seattle which left us a few hours to explore Vancouver on our own. First thing first, we walked out from the cruise port and found Pan Pacific Hotel which is also at Canada Place. A couple of their staff were checking luggage of their customers at the side door. We dropped our bags off with them for $5 a piece then went straight towards the HOHO line outside, paid for our tickets for the day and boarded the bus. Not the most comfortable bus, felt more like an old school bus that was transformed to a colorful tourist vehicle. It was kind of crowded also but everybody got seats. No one got off the bus for the first few stops and we couldn't take anyone who was waiting to get on at Stanley Park. Our plan was to take the whole route once and see if there's any stops that would be interesting to get off. It was quite windy and chilly sitting at the back of the bus with the top down but after people start getting off about half way we were able to move up to the covered seats.

The Amazing Laughter Sculpture by Yue Minjun at Morton Park near English Bay

That's the bus. After riding on it for two hours we needed to find the restrooms. We decided to pay a visit to the Vancouver Library.

This is a huge library and it is truly beautiful!

Instead of running back out to catch the bus, we decided to just sit in those comfortable chairs and read. They have a good collection of Chinese books that caught my attention. After a while we decided that it was time for lunch.

A contemporary looking church across the street from the library. I think it's called the Westside Church.

We walked a few blocks around the downtown area...

and found what we were looking for...ChC wanted another poutine before leaving Canada.

There's no place to sit at this place but we managed to find a streetside bench nearby to enjoy our delicious lunch.

Fried Chicken Poutine, which was very good! $9

Mean Supreme, which is roast angus beef with mushrooms, bacon, onion, etc. $10
I don't like wet, soggy stuff, even though this is very tasty, I prefer the fried chicken one better.

After that filling lunch, we walked back to the public library to catch the HOHO bus one more time. The following pictures show some places that we went past.

I think that's the post office.

BC Place

Entering Chinatown

Chinese Cultural Center in Chinatown


This is the HOHO #1 stop (Gastown).

We continued our ride through downtown to complete the first round.

Back to Canada Place where the Diamond Princess docked.

The Pan Pacific Hotel

We stayed on for our second round of the HOHO bus.

Stanley Park

Rose Garden

Along Stanley Park Drive

Not the "Little Mermaid" but quite similar.

The Lions Gate Bridge

The bus also went to Granville Island before heading back to town. Here is a community garden some where near the hospital.

Back to the Public Library, this time we stayed on to complete the route.

When we got back to Gastown, we were told that the bus will have to stop here for 20 minutes. I thought I had timed it just right so we could be at the train station by 4:30. With the unexpected extra 20-minute stay it really made me anxious.
The Steam Clock in Gastown.

While I got to use the restroom inside one of the buildings near the bus stop, we did not dare to venture out too much. 

Amtrak Cascade
Once we were back at Pacific Place, we rushed inside Pan Pacific and picked up our bags from the concierge. With the help of the gentleman we hailed a taxi to take us to the train station. We were suppose to get there an hour before the train departure time to clear immigration. Traffic was terrible at that hour and the $10 taxi ride turned into a $14 ride. We could have taken the Skytrain but we just didn't have time to deal with it by then. Right after we were dropped off, we went straight to the line for coach passengers where they assigned seats before going through immigration and security check. I'd have to say the immigration officers were not very friendly here. Some people just don't appreciate or like their job. But I guess it is less time consuming to clear immigration here than
at the regular border check. I think we were in line for about 25 minutes total. Business Class passengers have priority with a separate line but they still had to wait for the same immigration counters for their turns. After security check we dropped off our luggage beside the train where they separated all the bags with the same destination in groups.

Inside the Cascade. I think they grouped all the passengers getting off at Everett in the same car. There were quite a few empty seats and fortunately no one was in the seats across from us but the passengers on the other side of the aisle were very chatty, making it a noisy ride all the way.

This train ride was lovely indeed. Beautiful scenery all the way.

Border Check on Fwy 5 didn't look too busy. For us on the train, a couple of officers came on board and checked our tickets/passports when we reached the first stop on the US side. A painless and quick procedure, I think the stop was about 10 minutes. The officers were much more friendlier and pleasant. We arrived Everett at around 9PM that evening. Overall, we had an enjoyable day in Vancouver and an interesting ride on the Cascade. A nice way to end our cruise!
BTW, we did purchase food on the train. I had a cheeseburger and ChC had the pizza for dinner. Unfortunately they were just microwaved frozen food for outrageous prices. It was like 6 or 7 dollars for each item. A little bag of chips was like $2.50. Better bring your own food.