I recently returned from a two week, four city trip out west. I spent time primarily in Vancouver, British Columbia, Seattle, Portland and Minneapolis. In order to get there, I took an Amtrak train, since I don’t generally prefer to fly. Also, because it’s awesome.
Here are the first few days of my journals and photos.
1/21/10 10:58 PM CST – Minneapolis, Minnesota
The sleeper car room is actually pretty cool. I don’t know how else to explain it other than it’s an oversized closet. There’s two seats on the bottom, then a top bunk that pulls down, a table in the middle that folds out so you can set drinks, computers or even play checkers with the checkerboard pattern built in. There’s a nice set of toiletries in a bag – soap, shampoo, etc, and and a box of Kleenex. It’s private and quiet. Happy to be in here.
1/22/10 7:24 AM CST – Rugby, North Dakota (approx.)
So, turns out a sleeper car is not entirely conductive to sleeping. I took a Tylenol PM last night to help aide me in napping, and instead, it just gave me these wild hallucinations you get from staying up too late with night time cough medicine. I just ended up tossing and turning a lot, and compulsively checking my phone and trying to find music on my iPod. I think I tried to turn on Brian Eno’s “Music for Airports” on several occasions. I don’t remember a lot of it, and that’s probably because I was really tired.
I dared to look out the window in the morning. If there’s one thing about the Dakota’s – at least North – there is absolutely nothing but land. Hardly any trees in site. I’m looking forward to Montana, seeing some mountains and feeling like we’re getting somewhere. The Midwest is like one big vacuum. I always thought it was special that Illinois didn’t have mountains. I always wished it did. It was always kind of a treat to see them. I haven’t seen any substantial western ones since I went to visit my grandfather in New Mexico ten years ago.
It being nearly seven thirty without a sunrise sort of freaks me out. I don’t really ever recall it being this dark out ever so late in the morning. It doesn’t even look like it’s coming up anytime soon.
Eating on the train has been an experience each time. To conserve space, they group you into fours at a table. Last night for dinner, it was me, two Minnesotan women in their fifties (likely) and a slightly larger college freshman girl going to visit her friend at Winona State University. The Minnesotan women were returning from a ski retreat in Michigan, and it seemed that they were generally interested in hearing about my Minnesotan girlfriend. The Winona girl tried out for American Idol in Chicago, making the second cut before she got eliminated. She attends UW Milwaukee.
This morning, I sat with two older men and this completely green-behind-the-ears kid traveling to Minot, ND from Fayettville, NC. He asked a lot of questions about politics, the underwear bomber and other stuff people don’t generally bring up in a conversation. The man next to me – whom I’ll call Jerry, because I don’t really remember his name – was a former band teacher in Manhattan. We talked about jazz and he told me about Gene Shepard and some other radio guy I can’t remember the name of.
Both the Minnesotan women and this man Jerry were very interested in talking about Apple. The man across from me was a machine parts repairer or something. He was from near Milwaukee. Nice enough people.
1/23/10 1:52 AM PT – Sandpoint, Idaho
I’m way past the expiration date on this train as we accidentally took a two hour break due to some wheel trouble. This was doubly aggravating, considering that no one was available on the train to talk to about this particular incident. I think I freaked myself out awake because of it.
Either way, I’m likely in Idaho now, waiting for one last stop before the final one hour and 45 minute trek to Spokane. I don’t anticipate being there anytime before 4 am, which means it’s about six am my time. Ugh.
There is one cool thing about this whole situation though. Being insulated by the mountains in this train car. I can’t necessarily see anything outside, mind you, but I feel like we are the pigs in a very big blanket. That’s kind of cool.
This woman that I met on the train along with this guy Liam who I met in Chicago (he effectively drank all the way from New Jersey to Montana.) Anyways, the woman wanted me to call her MA (for Mary Alice or Mary Ellis?). I don’t know. She had a new white MacBook and the first two Beatles Anthologies. She said being on this train was like it’s own little town. I liked that.
1/25/10 10:26 AM PT – Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
As Friday bled into Saturday and the train trip continued, we made a scheduled stop in Libby, Montana and ended up not leaving for over two hours. Turns out there was some issues with the wheels or the engines on the train that resulted us dropping an engine in Montana. I dozed off for an hour when we had stopped. When I woke up, I was slightly delirious, trying to find a conductor or an attendant for no luck. I was with this older woman named Nancy who was coming back from her mother’s funeral, and some older headstrong guy who claimed to be a former conductor. He was wearing a brace on his arm.
We got to Spokane two hours late. Kelly picked me up and we got to the hotel where we talked for a bit then got ready for bed. I was so amped up from the ride that I didn’t end up falling asleep until 5 AM PT (7 AM CT). Needless to say, after a few interrupted hours of sleep, I was still pretty tired.
With that, we set out on the road for Vancouver. First was a stop at Jack In The Box where I got a decent chicken sandwich and curly fries.
I’m amazed at how “not present” I feel on this trip. It was no different on our way back up to Vancouver. I found myself constantly in awe of the mountains, how big and frankly, perfect they looked. They weren’t like those on the east coast – these had more definition – pine trees, rockier cliffs. In the decent towards Seattle, these mountains bordered the water (which was impossibly blue) and were punctuated by great blue and grey cloudscapes. It’s truly Pacific Northwestern. There’s something so inherently free and open and goddamn clean about the whole thing. I just consistently can’t believe that this is my life at this moment.
Also, we stopped at a Starbucks on the way and i had my first London Fog, which was absolutely terrible. Subsequent ones since then have been much better. Don’t trust a Starbucks in it’s home state, it’s bound to disappoint.
After four hours of driving, Kelly and I decided to stop in Seattle for lunch. (This was a decision we weren’t sure we were going to make, as we had a scheduled White Denim concert at the Media Club that evening. Because of our 8 + hours of driving later, we didn’t end up going, but that didn’t deter us.
I don’t think that there’s a much better place to go for an introduction to Seattle other than Pike Place Market. It’s incredible. Kind of like a flea market on steroids, with fresh food. Also, it’s a complete sensory overload. Fresh fruit and veggies everywhere. The seafood is at every corner. I saw enormous shrimp for sale, so fresh that I just wanted to pick one up right off the ice. I saw the guys throw the fish at the Fish Market. There is so much going on in every corner of the market, it’s like a different world with each space. I’m excited to go back this weekend to discover it even more. With this little bit, Seattle seemed very, very livable. Hopefully next weekend does more to persuade me in that direction. Note:
It’s here I have had the biggest and some of the best sushi I’ve had. HUGE California rolls with REAL CRAB MEAT. Not the imitation stuff. Delicious.
(I should note, when we parked the car, we accidentally parked next to human feces. It’s very clear that it indeed was human feces, mainly because the person used a paper plate or some sort of paper product to wipe. It was pretty gross. It also prompted my mother to send me an email saying she saw some people doing crack by the market when my parents were in town there. Hilarious.
I took some of my best photos by the market – the sky seems tailored to for really vibrant photos. The colors are amazing at sunset.
After a few hours in Seattle, we decided to head back to Canada. This, on the last few trips I’ve made has always been my favorite thing: Crossing the border. This trip, it seemed a bit more labored. We were both kind of concerned crossing the border with an American passport and a Canadian one. Lucky for us, we didn’t have a lot of trouble.
First impressions of Vancouver: It’s probably the least Canadian city of the three major Canadian cities I’ve been to. Perhaps I feel like it’s more of an extenuation of what I saw in Seattle – but with a different flag and kilometer signs. It’s still pretty, but not in the ways I thought when I was entering. It seemed kind of ho-hum, but after the Sea To Sky Highway drive on Monday (more on that later) I got shut up pretty quick.
Sunday, we went downtown. First stop was a place called “Honey’s” that Kelly swears by. They have these gigantic, homemade donuts that were unlike any other donuts I’ve had before. They’re more mini cakes than anything. Delicious. We also had the “Coveman” breakfast, which was your standard eggs/bacon/potatoes with some amazing potato bread. Well worth it.
Going downtown on Sunday was cool enough. I liked the Hudson Bay Department Store with all of the Official Olympic Merch – kind of reminds me of a Canadian Marshall Fields – not Macy’s, natch.
We visited a couple of lackluster record stores, Gastown (nice steam clock), dodged into some decent coffee shops, stopped by the Amsterdam Cafe (The legal weed cafe. You can’t buy it, but you can smoke it there.) Not that it mattered.
At dinnertime, we met up with Kelly’s friend Tess, someone I have been a casual acquaintance with through messaging for a couple of weeks now. We went and got late night sushi at Shima Sushi. It was a great hole in the wall place that Kelly and I visited the next day after. I must put a Negitoro roll (Tuna belly and green onion) on my list of favorite rolls. Hopefully I can track it down when I get back. Probably – definitely – won’t taste the same.
View over 200 photos of the entire trip here, and check back for more entries from the trip!