Thursday, 21 March 2013

Train Trip 2013 - By the Numbers

Travel Days - 46 (one day drive, Saskatoon to Minot; 45 day rail pass; drive home after arriving in Minot on 45th day)

Distance traveled by train - 7040 miles = 11330 km

Nights spent on train - 6

Cost of 45 day Amtrak pass - $859 each = $1718 (This saved us $600 over what it would have cost without the passes. Plus we spent an additional $1198 on upgrades to sleeper class on the overnight segments. All meals are included when travelling sleeper class.)

Train segments used - 12 (out of a possible 18 individual train trips allowed on a 45 day pass)

Stops made - 15 - Seattle, Salinas/Monterey, Santa Barbara, Los Angeles (to transfer trains), Tucson, Alpine, New Orleans, Lake City (by bus), Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, Charlottesville, Baltimore, Washington (to transfer trains), Chicago, Minot (start/finish location)
Santa Barbara Train Station
Longest time at any one place - 3 nights

Distance traveled by bus - 645 miles = 1040 km

Distance walked - Lots!

States visited or passed through - 25 (North Dakota, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Minnesota)

Aquariums visited - 7 (Seattle, Monterey, Tucson, New Orleans, Charleston, Baltimore, Chicago)

Zoos visited - 2 (Santa Barbara, New Orleans)

Number of aquarium & zoo memberships Andrew bought - 9 (all of them, as a way to provide more support)

Favourite aquarium - Monterey (heavy emphasis on the environment, healthy oceans, sustainability; very kid friendly in many ways; friendly and helpful staff and volunteers)

Favorite place - Alpine, Texas (Our focus was on getting to Big Bend National Park and Alpine simply the stopover to get there. But the town was a very pleasant surprise -- lots of history, fantastic old restored hotel, several art galleries, a couple really nice restaurants and coffee shop.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Train Trip 2013 - Eating and Drinking Our Way Around the U.S.

Andrew and I enjoy good quality food. Being vegetarian sometimes makes it harder to find restaurants that take as much care with their meatless features as they do with their meat-based dishes. Or that have meatless dishes at all!

We also love a good coffee shop -- where not only the coffee and tea are hot and tasty but where we can relax and veg for a bit . . . read our books and catch up on email and blog posts in comfort.

Instead of writing about food and drink in numerous blog posts as we went along, I decided to do one post with a compilation of places we thought were notable.
Fourth & James - Triple Berry Scone

Lumsden, Saskatchewan

This was the first time we'd ever stopped in Lumsden! Andrew's sister, Penny, had found the website for Fourth & James Bakery so we thought we'd give it a try. Andrew really liked his Americano, my hot chocolate was made with real chocolate milk, and the light & fluffy triple berry scones were chock full of berries and had a crisp sugary topping. We stopped here on the way home as well and will definitely make this a regular stop on any trips south.

Seattle, Washington

Zeitgeist Coffee -- funky place one block from the train station.

Fonté Café and Wine Bar -- quiet classy place just a block from the craziness of Pike Place Market. Coffee/tea, food & wine.

RN74 -- trendy, popular with the after work crowd (i.e. noisy!).  We had a great evening meal and tried the tomato soup cheese fondue appetizer as it was highly recommended in the Yelp reviews. Yum, yum! Also, flawless service from the wait staff!
Tomato Soup Cheese Fondue (note the cheese inside the bread) at RN74
Tilikum Place Cafe -- Cozy place on a cool day. Very close to the Space Needle and Experience Music Project. Had an excellent lentil soup and biscuit sandwich with egg and mushrooms.

DeLaurenti Specialty Food and Wine -- This is the type of store I could spend much time in! Saturday afternoon we stopped in for a wine & cheese tasting. Four of each for only a $2 cover charge.

Pike Place Market -- A blog post about Seattle food would just not be the same without mentioning the famous market!
Humorous bag at one of the fruit stands at Pike Place Market
The Coterie Room -- Voted one of Seattle's best restaurants, we had an excellent meal here!

Monterey, California

Tilley Gort's Cafe - Vegetarian and organic! Great food and extremely fast service. Normally I wouldn't complain about fast service but this was almost too fast for a nice relaxing supper. Some wild artwork on the walls.

Vegetables on Fire! 
Psychedelic fish

Carmel Valley Coffee Roasting Co. - We went to their Pacific Grove location.

Bistro Moulin - Quiet little place for a nice evening meal. I'm usually not much of a gnocchi fan but the spinach gnocchi was much talked about on Yelp and definitely lived up to the rave reviews! The sauce was soooo yummy!
Appetizer sized spinach gnocchi
Salinas, California 

Olivia's Cafe - Authentic Mexican restaurant. Nothing fancy but had a huge, delicious and inexpensive burrito with the freshest tortilla I've had in a long time! Extremely convenient (1/2 block) to the train station.

Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara Coffee Roasting Company -- we like to support the local coffee shops when we can. This one had quite an eclectic clientele -- they seemed to be homeless/panhandler friendly. And they served an excellent spiced chai latte that they brew themselves.

Anchor Woodfire Kitchen and Bar -- in same building at Indigo Hotel. Newly opened and excellent enough food that we ate there two nights in a row.

Tucson, Arizona

The Tasteful Kitchen -- Not a single meat dish on the menu! So many vegetarian items we had a hard time choosing what to eat! Finally, a lovely evening dining place that is fully vegetarian. Unfortunately, they didn't serve wine but you could bring your own.

Alpine, Texas

Plaine Coffee -- Good coffee, free wifi, a comfy couch and funky artwork!
Semi-crash -- note the driver has already gone to heaven in the top right hand corner of the painting.
Reata -- Honestly, we didn't expect much in Alpine. But Reata's locations in both Fort Worth and Alpine are well known fine dining establishments in Texas. The chocolate bread pudding, steamed in a tamale, served with dulce de leche ice cream with dulce de leche and chocolate sauces drizzled over top was definitely one of the top desserts of the trip!! The ice cream was from a local supplier who makes the dulce de leche flavour specifically for Reata.
Chocolate Bread Pudding at Reata
New Orleans, Louisiana

A New Orleans classic!
Houston's -- This wasn't our first choice but, after a long day spent at the zoo, it was about the only thing close to our hotel that offered much in the way of vegetarian. We were VERY pleasantly surprised by the vegetarian platter which featured several different veg dishes that were full of great flavours.

Cafe du Monde -- Is it possible to go to New Orleans and not have a beignet?

Cafe Amelie -- Lovely garden courtyard (unfortunately too cold to sit in it!). A couple good vegetarian options.

Jacksonville, Florida

La Cena Ristaurante and Wine Bar -- This place got great reviews on Yelp as one of the few fine dining places in downtown Jacksonville. The menu was a bit bizarre and hard to follow (various prices for three different sizes of offerings but you had to flip back & forth between pages to try to figure it all out.) However, the in-house made pasta was absolutely superb, was served piping hot, and deserved the very high ratings!

Savannah, Georgia

Moon River Brewing Company -- Fairly typical pub fare (good veggie burger & sweet potato fries) but I mention it here because of the very good and unique local brew we tried. "Wild Wacky Wit -- Old-style Belgian Wheat Ale (ABV 4.1%) Spiced with spiced Curacao bitter orange peel and Coriander. Light and exotic . . . A party in your mouth. "

Gallery Espresso -- "The oldest coffeehouse in Savannah." Funky place, yummy egg croissants for breakfast.

Sapphire Grill -- Very likely our favourite dining place of the whole trip! Excellent 3-course vegetarian tasting menu that consisted of whatever the chef felt like making or had on hand. It was delicious, as was the chocolate torte. The waitress, Christine, was also extremely good at her job and suggested a couple other good vegetarian restaurants that we'll have to try next time -- Kayak Kafe and The Sentient Bean. 

Charleston, South Carolina

O'Hara & Flynn Wine Bar -- A tiny little place with shelves of wine bottles from floor to ceiling on each of the side walls, an old wooden bar at the far end and antique tables and chairs crowded in the middle. The friendly owner is from Germany and bought this place as a retirement project 10 years ago. Love the atmosphere! Great apple, brie, walnut & honey appetizer plate!

Sermet's -- Nice restaurant downstairs with The Mezz Jazz Bar upstairs. Great eggplant parmesan. Tiramisu for dessert. Yum, yum.

Sampler plate of gelato at Charleston Grill (blueberry,
raspberry, lemon, pear, coconut)
Charleston Grill -- Fine dining in the Charleston Place Hotel. We don't normally associate restaurants with the word "grill" in them as having good vegetarian options but this one did. Albeit rather expensive but very classy place with extremely good wait staff.

City Lights Coffee -- Another funky little place with quirky customers, good coffee, fresh bagels and scones.

Charlottesville, Virginia

Ebelskivers (also spelled aebleskivers)
Inn at 400 West High -- The bed & breakfast we stayed at served the most amazing breakfasts!!! Yogurt, fruit & granola cup, muffins and orange juice along with a different hot breakfast dish each morning -- baked eggs & salsa, buttermilk cinnamon waffles, and ebelskivers (a dutch pancake) filled with apple butter. Made in a special pan.

Zocolo -- Amazing cheese fritters!

The Shebeen -- Two very delicious entrees -- peanut vegetable stew and polenta "sadza" cakes".

Hamiltons at First and Main -- The vegetarian blue plate special, featuring 5 veg dishes was very flavourful!

Virginia makes very good wines! The Charlottesville area is known for the Monticello Wine Trail and also has several micro-breweries in the area. We visited Blenheim VineyardsKeswick VineyardsBarboursville VineyardsWintergreen Winery and Devils Backbone Brewery.

Baltimore, Maryland

Lamill Coffee -- in the Four Season Hotel -- good coffee & tea, yummy cookies and pastries, comfy seats, and great view of the harbour.

Watertable - A restaurant that supports local and organic, has several vegetarian choices, and another great view of the harbour!

Chicago, Illinois

Terzo Piano -- In the Art Institute of Chicago. A relatively quiet place to have a nice lunch when the restaurant we'd planned on going to was totally packed and had a lineup out the door. Bright white decor and a view towards Lake Michigan.

Flight of the Sangria -- Blanco (apple, pear, clove),
Rose (cranberry, orange, cinnamon), Tinto (cassis, sage, allspice)
Mercat a la Planxa -- A great tapas restaurant. Seriously, what can be better than flights of sangria???

Starbucks -- Normally I wouldn't include Starbucks in this list but this one served wine! It's in a 2-storey location; main floor is a regular looking Starbucks. Upstairs has a second coffee/wine bar area that also serves small appetizer plates and is filled with big comfy chairs (but still lots of places to plug in laptops). Great recycled decor as well.

Trattoria No. 10 -- A fabulous Italian restaurant that lives up to the reputation of great Chicago restaurants. Probably the best butternut squash ravioli I have ever had! And the profiteroles with chocolate and caramel gelato, smothered in chocolate sauce, wasn't bad either. :-)  Trattoria No. 10 is a member of the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition.

Monday, 18 March 2013

Train Trip 2013 - Chicago to Minot to Home Sweet Home

And it kept getting snowier and snowier and . . . brrrr, what a cold bleak landscape looking out the window of the train as we rode across Minnesota and North Dakota! I certainly haven’t missed that the past few weeks. 

After arriving back in Minot we got our car from the long-term parking area at the airport. There actually wasn't as much snow on it as we'd anticipated (no doubt due to wind) and we breathed a sigh of relief when it started no problem after being parked for six weeks.

The roads were in good shape the whole way home, despite travel advisories closer to Saskatoon. We were shocked by the amount of snow in our yard! Is it really six weeks later??? Thank goodness for a wonderful sister-in-law who looked after our place and awesome neighbours who are keen snow shovelers.

As much as I love travelling . . .  it's always great to be home again! 

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Train Trip 2013 - Washington to Chicago

Officially, the train left Washington on time. But just a couple minutes out of the station we stopped . . . and stayed stopped for quite some time. We were told there was a signal down ahead of us. Two and a half hours later we were advised that our original conductor crew disobeyed a signal -- essentially, went through a stop sign. The conductor, assistant conductor and engineer were removed from the train and a new crew brought in. If my eavesdropping interpreted things correctly, they're automatically suspended from operating a train for 45 days. Safety first! Especially on a train!

I’m glad I don’t work in downtown Chicago. The buildings are all so tall it seems like there’s no sun. Fortunately we were close to Millenium Park and the waterfront. Once again, we did a lot of walking!

Love the effect that wavy balconies have
on this building.
Look up . . . look waaaay up!

View of downtown and Lake Michigan from the aquarium
I find it interesting how something as simple as the cloud gate sculpture (aka the bean) can resonate with so many people, young & old; it makes them smile and act goofy, and take a multitude of photos of themselves and each other.  
Cloud Gate Sculpture -- with city scape and skating rink reflection
From under/inside the sculpture . . . that little dot in the very middle is me!
Self portrait

These photos were taken on a cloudy day. Andrew got some better ones on a nice sunny day.

We also visited the SheddAquarium -- our final and probably second favorite aquarium of the trip. The Shedd is located in a historic dome-shaped building situated right on the water. The exhibits area was quite wide open with lots of room to move around. We took in the dolphin show (which also included penguins and beluga whales) and really appreciated the focus on the training and health aspects of the animals rather than just putting on an entertaining show. The other great thing to see was how much the trainers obviously love what they’re doing. You just can’t fake smiles that big and animated! 

Other interesting sites around Chicago . . .

Ginormous gargoyle on top of Chicago Library

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Train Trip 2013 - Baltimore to Washington

I was going to do one post that included from Baltimore through to Chicago but . . . too many photos from Baltimore and Washington! They both have great train stations!

Baltimore's Penn Station was built in 1911 and, save for a couple renovation/restoration projects along the way, appears to have stayed relatively true to original. In 1983/84 one of the projects included restoration of the glass ceiling which has been painted over in black during WWII. It's now quite magnificent!
Glass ceiling at Penn Station, Baltimore
Glass ceiling at Penn Station, Baltimore
Decorative woodwork and lighting on end of a bench in Penn Station.
A combination of old & new . . . old stairway and decorative post with new digital track signs.
We didn't spend any time in Washington, DC (just not enough days left in this trip!!) but had a short stopover there after leaving Baltimore and waiting to catch the train to Chicago. Washington's Union Station is one of the most elaborate we've been to! It certainly rivals the Los Angeles station. Equally impressive, but in a different way.

It was built in 1901 and is now a national landmark. The main concourse is 45 feet high from main floor to ceiling and 760 feet long -- at one time, the largest single room in the world. Again, it is a building that was left to decline, was abandoned for a few years, and then renovated/restored in 1988 to the tune of $160 million and is an example of "adaptive reuse through a public and private partnership".
The front of Washington Union Station
Three of the many eagles outside Union Station
Soldier statues inside the station
Beautiful ceiling and stonework
Front archway at Union Station
We also had a bit of time to wander farther afield and The Capital Building is very close to the station. Another awesome building!
The Capital Building
One of eight stone archways with single tree in front (bottom right in above photo)

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Train Trip 2013 - Charlottesville to Baltimore

Daylight saving almost got us into trouble! We didn't realize the time change was happening this weekend. Thank goodness for comments on Facebook and a couple other subtle hints that clued us in. However, no harm done as the train was delayed by 5 hours (apparently hit someone/something) so we decided to go Greyhound instead and ended up in Baltimore only an hour later than we had originally planned.

Surprise, surprise, we went to the aquarium here! Three large buildings and some good displays, well worth the visit, but Monterey is still our favourite. I love Andrew's very cute photos of the turtle and the tamarin monkey!
The entrance area of the aquarium . . . it made me want to go climbing! :-) 
We were very impressed with the Barnes & Noble location in the old power plant (along with the Hard Rock Cafe, a seafood restaurant, and office space). Great old building and I loved the smoke stacks up the middle of it.

Old smokestacks going up the middle of Barnes & Noble and office spaces.
Inside Barnes & Noble
We had a view of the harbour from our evening dining location and saw several police patrols. The Baltimore Police have a very cute little electric car that they use in the harbour walk area. I'm not sure the word "cute" should be used in reference to a police vehicle but I think it fits! Unfortunately I'm struggling to find a photo of it -- even on the Baltimore Police website!

One small section of the Baltimore Harbour area. Triangular building on the left is one of the aquarium buildings.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Train Trip 2013 - Charleston to Charlottesville

Two feet of very wet heavy snow, high winds, fallen trees and broken branches over roads, and massive power outages. We missed it by "that" much! Almost . . .

All this came in the Virginia area on Tuesday/Wednesday and by Thursday, when we arrived in Charlottesville, most of the roads were cleared of both snow and trees, and power had been restored at least in the city. A few of the outlying areas were still without due to trees down over power lines -- crews were working hard to get things back in order.

We stayed at The Inn at 400 West High, a very lovely bed & breakfast just a couple blocks from the downtown pedestrian mall. The present owner purchased the building a couple years ago, did massive renovations and has been open about 1 1/2 years. The breakfasts were amazing!! We were the only ones there for most of our stay as several others cancelled due to the storm. We really enjoyed relaxing by the fire place in the evenings.
Kitchen area at the B&B
Living room at the B&B
Stained glass window in the bathroom of the 3rd level suite of the B&B
We'd taken the train from Charleston to Richmond and then rented a car to visit Charlottesville -- known for its wineries and micro breweries, the Shenandoah mountains, the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. Even in the winter off season it's a beautiful place. I can only imagine how much more so when decked out in the colours of spring, summer and fall.

Andrew had read about a winery owned by singer Dave Matthews. Quite by accident, our first stop was his Blenheim Vineyards.  Unknown to me, Dave is also an artist and each year illustrates one of the wine labels.
Poster of Dave Matthews wine label illustration for 2010
Not far from Blenheim is Monticello, the home of Thomas Jefferson -- interesting historical tour.
Over the next two days we also visited Barboursville Vineyards, Keswick Vineyards, and Wintergreen Winery. Barboursville is one the largest in the area and we taste tested 20 of their wines! Luckily they were quite small samples. There was still no power at the three of the four vineyards; they were all running on generators and still conducting wine tastings by candle light.

There are also several micro breweries and a couple cider houses in the area. We stopped for lunch at Devils Backbone Brewery and Restaurant which was extremely busy on a sunny Saturday.
A sampling of beers
Unfortunately, neither the Skyline Drive or the Blue Ridge Parkway got plowed so despite the warm sunny days we weren't able to take in the views. We still drove some very scenic areas and got out for a short hike at lower elevation.
Blue Ridge Parkway
Hiking along Rockfish Creek
Part of the Appalachian Trail runs along the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway. I would definitely like to come back to this area again one day!

Here's Andrew's blog post and photos from around Charlottesville.