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One of the best vacations I have ever taken was one we took just a few months ago. The destination was Savannah, Georgia which, in and of itself, is one of my favourite places to be. But Savannah is not the subject here.
The special part of this vacation was the journey itself, both there and home again. Yes, it really is about the Journey and not the Destination.
Now, I love to travel. There is nothing more exhilarating than getting into the car knowing that the open road lies ahead and I have nothing to do but enjoy the drive. I have been travelling ever since I have been me. I grew up as a military brat and if we weren’t travelling between my Dad’s duty stations, then we were travelling to spend time with family. I am told I was a well-seasoned traveler before my 1st birthday.
What was amazing about this vacation was the fact that we decided to “take the train”. The train is a marvelous way to make the journey. There is none of the pressure of the airport – no outrageous deadlines, no long lines to wait through or crowds of miserable people. Just a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere staffed with pleasant people who truly seem to enjoy what they do for a living.
Don’t get me wrong – when we lived in simpler times I loved going to the airport – I enjoyed watching the planes land and take-off, making up stories in my head about all the wonderful places the people were going. I enjoyed sitting in the terminal and people-watching. I still enjoy the rush you get on the airplane – waiting on the runway anticipating take-off and then finally hurtling into the air at a bazillion miles an hour… But being “in” the airport is no longer a pleasurable option.
Riding the train however is a true pleasure. I love this way of travel. Train trips, for me, are the best way to go and see the world. I enjoy the movement of the train and watching the landscapes fly by. It is meditative and soothing, with nothing pressing to do other than just look out of the window and reflect. It’s a great space for writing, too.
We splurged a little and got a “roomette”, which is really just a tiny cabin, to ourselves. The ticket for the roomette included complimentary meals and drinks, coffee and newspapers. At night, an attendant came by to make the bed with proper linens. The car had clean bathrooms and two showers, too. When we boarded, the porter took the bags that we hadn’t checked and put them in our roomette all the while giving us an introductory tour of the features of our little cabin and then informing us about the lounge car and the dining car. We settled in and waited for the train to pull out of the station.
The rhythm of the train rolling along the tracks was almost mesmerizing. I loved watching the scenery change as we moved from small town to small town, watching the traffic on the sideroads alongside us, waving to people sitting in their cars as we passed through the railroad crossings. We talked and joked, played cards, read and just thoroughly relaxed. After a short time our porter came around to make our lunch reservations. He wore a white shirt, a red tie and a very strange dark blue hat with a silver Amtrak logo attached to it. And his striking outfit was complimented by a wonderfully thick moustache.
The dining car was an experience unto itself. At the appointed time we left our little cabin and made our way to the dining car for lunch. Walking on the train was an adventure, especially from car to car as they move independently of each other. It was a little like being in the fun house at the local carnival, but it all added to the experience. The food was good, the atmosphere fun and lively, and we truly enjoyed ourselves eating lunch, all the while watching the scenery slip past our window. I am not sure if the charm was in the new experience of enjoying a sit-down waited-upon meal while we were travelling along or if it was the dining car itself but either way I was thoroughly enchanted.
After lunch we explored a little, eventually finding our way back to our little cabin to sit and relax. We watched as small town gave way to farmland and back to town again, enjoying reading the place names, watching the stations large and small go by and generally soaking in the ever-changing vignettes passing by our window. We saw picnics and little league games, people washing cars in their driveways, little babbling brooks and streams, laundry hanging on the line, a wedding party coming out of the church, people building fences, painting houses, riding horses. We saw cows standing in pastures, kids riding bikes – it was truly a slice of small town Saturday afternoon life.
The routine at dinner was much the same, our mustachioed porter came by to make our dinner reservations and at the proper time we headed for the dining car. Dinner was slightly more crowded than and just as jovial as lunch. As we were only two, we were asked to share a table with other passengers. Now I know some people don’t like this, but I find it an exhilarating chance to meet new people on a common ground. We had a delicious dinner and a grand time getting to know a charming young lady who was travelling home after spending some time with her parents. Home for her was now New York and we were very entertained in listening to her description of life in the big city.
As we were finishing dinner our porter came to find us to let us know we would be arriving in Savannah soon. We said our farewells to our new-found friend and leisurely strolled (well as leisurely as you can on a rocking train) back to our little cabin. When we arrived in Savannah we were refreshed, recharged and ready to go which made our destination and the rest of our vacation just that much more enjoyable.
I will definitely “take the train” the next time we vacation. We are actually looking into planning an entire vacation on the train – endpoint to endpoint and then turning around and doing the same route home – I’ll keep you “posted”