At the end of April, I got to travel to a conference for work. It was held in Seattle (home of Grey’s Anatomy for anyone who is a fan). Seattle, although in the US, is not so far from Vancouver, lying not quite 200 km south down the coast. I could have driven there, but I decided to take the train as I had no idea about parking at the hotel or the conference centre, and to be honest I’m not so comfortable driving in an unfamiliar city. I’m pleased I made that decision because I managed to catch a ride home with my boss and the traffic was chaotic.
The train was the Amtrak Cascades train (click here for their website). Before I went I had read about what a beautiful trip it is down the coast, so I was looking forward to seeing it for myself. It was also my first time to cross the border into the US since I’ve been living in Vancouver. I’ve heard various stories about how difficult and unpleasant these border crossings can be, so I was wondering how that would work out too.
I got to the train station in Vancouver rather early (well, on time according to the ticket, but no one else seems to pay attention to these things except me) and then had to wait around a bit. I had to go through some pre-customs checking before boarding the train, but it was totally painless. And off we went.
The first impressive sight I saw was one of the bridges as the train headed out of Vancouver. Bear in mind I was taking photos through the window of a moving train, so some of these are really not great pictures.
Next I was treated to a fabulous view of Mount Baker. It’s a pity this photo doesn’t do it justice. It really is a towering beast of a mountain. Seen from other angles, with other mountains in the picture, it really puts into perspective what a monster this mountain is.
Then there came a lot of water and flat farm land, which although pretty to look at, didn’t make for such stunning photos, so I won’t add them here. However, passing through some of the small towns that the train runs beside just near the border, one gets to see a lot of jetties, which would have turned out as better shots had I not been whizzing by in a train.
Then dusk started to settle in, and treated me to some fine silhouettes.
All this while, the train conductor is walking past and stopping to chat to me (I think I was one of the only solitary travellers on the train, who didn’t have her face buried in a laptop or smart phone and actually engaged in conversation). The train whizzed along the sea front, and I also got treated to the view of a naked man who had just had a swim, and a girl pulling a brown eye at the train (classy honey, really). It did make me giggle though.
Then came the border. The conductor warned us over the intercom to have our travel documents ready, and to comply with the customs officers as this keeps things running smoothly and on time. He did it in a very funny manner, clearly showing that he thinks sometimes the customs officers go over the top. We slowed to a halt, and a couple of guys hopped on the train, checking every passenger. They got to me and gave such a cursory glance at my passport that I’m not even sure they matched me to my photograph. But that was it. Welcome to the USA. Painless.
The train set off again, and not much later it was dark, and then it became a game of trying to keep myself awake until my stop (the train continues past Seattle to Portland and on), and finally there I was.
It was a nice ride, with pretty views, but it was also unbearably slow, stopping at every small town station to pick up and let off passengers. The food on offer (the train left about 4 or 5pm, so we travelled right through dinner time) was not amazing (I got a veggie burger and was a little grossed out to see the guy pull it – cellophane wrapped – out of the fridge and pop it in the microwave, then hand it to me, nice and soggy – but hot), but I guess they don’t exactly have a big capacity for catering. The train was also no where near full, so I wonder how they manage to make any money running this. Maybe next time I’d opt for the bus.