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The Coast Starlight (again)
We walked to the Amtrak station, to wait, wait, wait (and read).
We arrived about 7:15 pm: other passengers gradually arrived. We heard that the
train would be late. About 11pm the rumours started: it's stuck at San Jose,
awaiting another engineer, it's stuck at San Jose, they had to haul a drunken
passenger off the train. Eventually, we heard it would be in at about 1am, an
hour late. Then came another announcement: the bridge at Martinez had to be
opened for a ship and that made more delay. We at last left Sacramento at 2am.
We didn't sleep too well: probably up too late. Dewi heard the announcement of
last call for breakfast but we later suspect it must have been the call to get
names on the waiting list for breakfast in the diner. We dressed in a hurry and
sat in the lounge car until our names were called. We didn't have to wait too
One advantage of running two hours late was that we got see very
interesting sights in daylight, such as the cone of a volcano covered in snow at
Black Butte, and the solidified lava flow which the railway track is laid on.
Mt. Shasta became visible, the track climbed up and up, and we crossed into
Oregon. Klamath Falls station told us something about the climate. Most stations
have a tractor to tow the baggage carts around. But the one at Klamath Falls was
the only one with a snow-plough on the front of it.
We were nearing the highest point on the line when we were warned to look out as
we passed over the spectacular Williamson river canyon.
After breakfast and sightseeing, we did doze some. But we had
lunch and then there was a wine tasting, of Amtrak's house labels. Can't say we
really enjoyed any of the three, though the Zinfandel was the best. The amount
being poured was more than one usually had just for a tasting! but there was
cheese and crackers too.
All this time, we had been running two
or more hours late, but it was still predicted that we would get to Portland at
5:30pm. However, we lost more and more time, the Empire Builder train out of
Portland could not be held, and the poor people heading towards Spokane and
Chicago were told to report to the agent to get a hotel room for the night. We
were then told that we would not arrive before 6:30 and that we could have
dinner if we wished. So we scooted along to the diner and had the main course:
prime rib (Eufron) and lasagna (Dewi) though we did not eat it all, because in
fact we arrived about 6:45.
Leaving the station, we found the bus stop, waited a while, then
had a very helpful bus driver who said he could take us to just one block from
the hotel. No charge! for it was within Fareless Square, the no-ticket-needed
zone downtown. At the appointed stop, the driver told us to descend, and another
passenger carried our cases out and then re-boarded. I started to walk the wrong
way, the driver blipped the horn and waved me to the correct direction. Very
At the hotel, we checked in, in record time: we
only needed to swipe the credit card and the keys to our pre-assigned room were
handed over. It was a large, king-sized bed, in a room on a non-smoking floor.
The hotel was filled with a conference on death and dying and counselling
thereof, but a conferee assured us that really, they were a very cheerful bunch
We'd had dinner, so we went straight to our room, and perused all the tourist
stuff we could find, and had an early night.
A good night's sleep, really refreshing showers, and we were ready to be
tourists. However, we couldn't face the full hotel breakfast, so were out the
door looking for coffee and "something". We paused at a street corner, looking
at a coffee shop across the street, when a man asked if he could help. "Coffee"
we said and he pointed out four or so coffee shops close by. We went to the
first and ordered coffee and toasted bagels & cream cheese. "We can't toast
anything" was the response. "But our competitor across
the street can toast bagels" was added! so that's where we went.
Then down to Pioneer Square to wait for the opening of the tourist office.
Portland is laden with cows: fibreglass or metal cows painted outrageously. We
examined all those in the square, for the few minutes remaining.
In the newspaper was a flyer for an electronics supermarket that had camera
memory cards at a fantastic price. At the tourist office we found that the way
to get to the electronics store was to use the 96 bus - which only runs on
weekdays, so we had to scratch that idea. We did however buy half-price tickets
to a play that evening. Then we boarded the Portland Streetcar to Powel's Book
City, a whole city block of a bookstore, on several floors. Bought a remaindered
book to read on the train. Back to the public library, looking to buy discard
books for the train. But although there was a sale at the library store, the
discard books are sold at the administration building, on the other side of the
So we took the Max light rail train to Lloyd Centre, a shopping mall at the edge
of Fareless Square, which has been bent un-square to reach the convention centre
and the Lloyd Centre. Knowing whether you're in the Fareless area is simple: if
the rails are set in the pavement like streetcar tracks, it's Fareless: if the
rails are set in ballast like train tracks, you have to pay the fare. Getting
into the enclosed shopping centre was a puzzle, but we followed other people off
the Max to a hidden entrance buried in the exit from the parking garage. Checked
on the price of another memory card for my camera, but Radio Shack suggested
Circuit City, further out on the Blue Line. Back to Max: but first had to
purchase tickets at machine, as we were going outside Fareless Square. At 65+,
we are "Honored Citizens" and rate a 60-cent fare. Off then to Gateway, a
3-platform station where the red and blue lines separate. Max trains, by the
way, have two kinds of car, which are mixed indiscriminately. Both kinds are
articulated: both kinds have smooth sides right down to rail level, concealing
the wheels and making it safer for pedestrians alongside. However, one kind has
a low-level floor that you just step onto from the street, with a mezzanine at
each end of the car: the other has 3 or 4 steps as you enter, but the whole
length of the car is at one level. We saw several bicycles being taken on the
low-floor cars, quite casually. Indeed, there was a bicycle traffic jam inside,
on one trip.
Now back to Gateway: Circuit City was not visible,
so we walked to another box store. I didn't buy: the price was too high, so back
to Max back to Pioneer Square, and back to the hotel for a rest. After
coffee and Kit-Kat, Dewi went out to ride the Portland Streetcar again. The
particular car that came along was a Vintage Trolley, a reproduction of one of
the original Portland cars. It seemed to have modern electrics hiding behind
brass "heritage" control levers. I called the driver's attention to the
cardboard box jammed beneath the wheels, adjacent to the track brake. He raised
his eyebrows and pulled all the pieces clear. I wanted to ride to the end of the
line and back. At one point a van had been parked partly on the track. That
heritage trolley has an air horn that, on full air pressure, would do justice to
a small ocean-going vessel! and the motorman sounded it repeatedly until the van
driver appeared and parked in a better position. At each end of the car is a
donation box and postcards, so I donated and took a card.
The car is double-ended, doors at each end left and right, board at rear, exit
at front, one driver, one conductor, who announces historical info as he has no
fares to collect since most of the route is in Fareless Square. At the end of
the run, the car waits: no alighting or boarding, at a stub track. The driver
pulls down one bow collector, raises the other, and back we go. The conductor
pointed out the meteorite on display at the corner of a university building.
At about 6pm Max again, down to the historic district, and to the Elephant and
Castle: not the chain that we have in Canada, but a pub and restaurant. Good
fish and chips, but it started to rain heavily while we ate. Max took us near
the theatre, but there's a long run without a stop, which meant that we had to
walk back several blocks. "Dinner with friends" is a good play, and it was
presented in the round.
To get back to the hotel: could not find Max stop, so walked on the sidewalk
along the track. It was raining and blowing: had to stop the umbrella from
blowing inside out. We were almost at Pioneer Square when a train rolled up, so
we walked the rest of the way. Went to back door of hotel - it was closer - but
found it had been locked for the night, and we had to walk around the block to
get to the front entrance.
The next morning, Sunday, we again went for toasted bagels and
cream cheese plus coffee at Tulley's. Then Max to the old town/Chinatown area,
and walked a block to the Chinese Garden. Joined a tour that was just starting.
Portland is twinned with Suzhou in China and the style of garden reflects this.
Most of the plants are types that would flourish there, but in fact were
obtained in Portland. We had visited gardens in Suzhou itself and were
interested in the comparison.
Then we happened upon a Max train so we took it one stop back to the Saturday
Market, held also on Sunday. Lots of handicraft and hand-made things, but did
not buy. Then waited for Max back to Pioneer Square, but a Vintage Trolley
rolled up so we took it. Vintage-style body, but inside bearings on wheels (like
PCC cars), modern controls, control buttons hidden in a discrete wooden box, and
it has bow collectors not trolley poles. Otherwise, it looks vintage!
Lunch, then back to hotel to check out. Re-packed so that we only needed one
case in the compartment. There's a bus stop just across the street from the
hotel, and almost immediately we had a free bus to Union Station.
We realised that our original itinerary had us arriving in Toronto late at
night, and leaving the next morning. This would have given us almost no time to
exchange news (a.k.a. gossip) with our friends, so we thought to change the
Chicago to Toronto segment of our trip to the previous day. The ticket clerk at
Portland worked hard. Amtrak could change it in their computer, but could not
print a ticket. The clerk told us that we did indeed have space reserved for
April 18, and to use VIA's ticket even though that showed the date April 19.
Having made this change, we went to the first-class ("Metropolitan") lounge, and
had juice and read the paper and looked around the station. There was an
interesting Talgo lightweight train, used on the route to Vancouver, BC. We'd
been on an overnight Talgo, travelling between Madrid and Lisbon, and found it
smooth and comfortable.
Click on thumbnail for larger picture.