Monday, November 5, 2007

Trains and Airplanes and Taxis - Oh My! Memoirs of a Panda's Travels

PandaBaby is a traveling bear, well-seasoned now in the art of touring her country. In the hopes of saving other and wiser travelers (i.e. - those willing to learn from the sad experience of our own mistakes), we are confessing the true highs and lows of our recent vacation.

To begin with, we rode Amtrak from coast to coast: Union Station at Portland, Oregon to Union Station in Washington, D.C. We boarded the Viewliner with "sleeping accomodations" (a misnomer!) Sunday afternoon, and quickly discovered our first mistake. Luggage capacity for our room was listed as "two small suitcases and a garment bag".

NOTE: always believe Amtrak's capacity remarks! GoldieBear, our traveling companion, did not believe, so we brought four large suitcases, a laptop, a briefcase, a camera bag, and a voluminous purse. Severely overcrowded conditions for three solid days and nights can strain even the most loving relationships, however, we adjusted and learned to communicate with mere growls and teeth-baring instead of the ferocious frowns and loud squawks of day- night number one.

NOTE: always bring industrial quality earplugs for sleeping on trains (unless you are naturally deaf to begin with). We discovered on the morning of Day Two, that no one in our sleeping car slept the night before, however, we had the privilege of having our bunks positioned directly over the faulty wheel and spring, so the racket was undiluted by distance in our cabin. We expressed our gratitude to the porter who brought us earplugs for the second night with a healthy tip when we reached Chicago.

The food on the train was surprisingly good and the wait staff was skillful at delivering meals and drinks without spilling, a marvel which PandaBaby appreciated, as she couldn't stand up and walk the length of one train car without grabbing for a support. A cruise ship might normally be a less turbulent ride.

Strangely, the rhythm of the rails put the normally sleepless PandaBaby to sleep, day and night and in spite of the groaning wheel and spring. All I need to do now when I have insomnia is ride a train - or acquire a bed that rocks.

The train trip finally did end, and we exchanged the interminable train ride for the interminable taxi ride. The time from Union Station to our destination in Virginia would be a half an hour even in traffic, but our taxi driver managed to get lost, then a spectacular freeway pile-up halted us in place for half an hour, so that we spent three hours getting to our daughter's home.

It was a strange four days.

The National Zoo was the best day of our vacation. We saw lions and tigers and gorillas and Panda bears!

Returning home, we took the non-stop airplane from Dulles to Portland airport - a five and a half our trip that was (pardon the pun) heavenly compared with the train. The price was nearly the same as the train, flying economy seating.

Home sweet home, there is no place like home - especially after being gone for a couple of weeks. Ahhh, asleep in my very own bed.

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