about a year after i moved to LA, los angeles magazine mentioned huell howser as one of their top 50 favorite things of LA. not one to miss out, i instantly googled huell, and learned he was a popular los angeles tv personality (he has since passed away, RIP HH), with multiple shows on public television that chronicle his travels through california. i instantly fell in love. huell was an extremely charismatic man, who was paid to travel through california, meet people, and talk about their adventures on television. dream job!
after setting up a series recording for all of his shows (he has many), i learned he would be appearing at train day at union station. sounds nerdy, but we went and met huell! we also were able to tour many of the trains at union station and learn of the routes. it is here that i learned of the coast starlight, the amtrak train that travels from los angeles to seattle over a 36 hour period. sold.
two years later, we boarded the coast starlight at union station, found our roomette, and off we went! our car attendant brought us champagne as a send-off, which only helped to reinforce the fact that we had made an excellent decision. since we had a sleeper room (“room” is a bit of a stretch, but the space served us well), we had access to the parlour car, which included personal dining (with a delightful and witty waiter, greg) and arm chairs in which to relax and enjoy the views. we also visited the sightseer car, with its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the dramatic landscapes.
the early afternoon of day 1 was spent enjoying the breathtaking ocean views of the southern and central california coast. though we had taken a trip through central california earlier that summer, the train meandered through the rarely seen views from vandergriff air force base, which is off-limits to drivers. a guide who formerly worked on the base peppered us with some interesting tidbits about the area and the base. we enjoyed a wine and cheese tasting in the dining car that afternoon (all included in the price of our ticket), which included wine and cheese from regions we passed on our route.
when we woke up on day 2, the scenery was completely different: deserts and coastal cliffs now turned into mountains and pine trees as we travelled through oregon and washington. we met more of our fellow travelers (i had no idea such a large train community exists!), and swapped stories from our respective hometowns.
the most memorable part of the trip, though, was the relaxation that ensued. on a train, i was trapped. i couldn’t work (wifi is available, but only works about half the time), i couldn’t run errands, and i couldn’t worry about delays (and there were many delays; definitely do not make plans at your destination for the four-hour period after you are scheduled to arrive). instead, i spent time reading, chatting with my husband, and meeting people from all over the world. i enjoyed the diverse views, and finally had some time to think, without caring about the urgencies of my everday life. how often do our trips afford us that luxury?! next up: the empire builder line from seattle to chicago. montana, here i come.
who should go: explorers, those looking for some time to relax
who should not go: the high maintenance
what to read: a murder on the orient express, agatha christie
what to watch: darjeeling limited
what to pack: rooms are small, so pack light. a scarf and cardigan will protect you from the changing temperatures on different cars. a camera is a must.