All-Inclusive Traveling Wheels

By on November 11, 2021
traveling wheels

Yearning to travel again, the nostalgic romance of riding the rails kept skirting through my mind. Why not travel our nation by train? I convinced my husband and two sons to join me on this quest.  Donning ourselves in the armor of flexibility and a spirit of adventure, we set out to conquer obstacles and embrace a distinctive traveling wheels vacation. 

San Francisco is always a winner

Prior to boarding our train, we spent time in San Francisco where shortly after arriving we found ourselves craning our necks. Looking up and down Powell Street, we saw nada, contrary to our light rail zipping by us on the illuminated Muni phone app. Clutching our Clipper Passes, the surrounding chaos of cars, taxis, bikes, and trucks rumbled all around as the smoldering dusk descended over the active city and street musicians played not so quietly in the background. Yet our transport was invisible until it dawned on us that our Muni raced underground below our feet. Oh my, small town visitors meet big city savvy.  

After hopping off the Muni, we stepped up to the welcoming shop called Andytown Coffee Roaster, an artisan roaster for the most discriminating coffee aficionado. Sipping our cup of java, rich aromas wafted around us like a warm blanket as we strolled toward Golden Gate Park. Mile after mile, we drank in the fall colors amongst aromatic flowering plants, meandering streams, and paused at the Celtic Prayerbook Cross above Rainbow Falls, the location of a scene in Dirty Harry. Ultimately, the strains of Lindy Hop tunes beckoned us, so partnering up we joined the open-air dance under the shadow of the DeYoung Museum.

traveling wheelsLucky us, we happened to be in San Francisco when the Navy’s Blue Angels flew from the Golden Gate Bridge to Alcatraz to celebrate Fleet Week. Trekking up the steep incline to Alamo Square Park, home of the grand Victorian Painted Ladies, yielded breathtaking views of the air show. F/A-18 Hornets seemingly rose majestically out from the ocean behind the massive skyscrapers below, painting vapor trails in the azure canvas sky. Clamping our hands over our ears while jets roared overhead, we gazed mesmerized at the awe-inspiring performance. 

Wrapping up our day, we landed at the Buena Vista for their famed Irish Coffee. Indulging in the exquisite tasting Irish whiskey and coffee, where the cream floated as delicately as a swan. We sighed contentedly to the last drop. Across the street, we caught the iconic cable car and hung on to the sides while city lights illuminated our path. Screeching to a stop on a steep incline in Chinatown, we stared at wondrous scarlet globes dotting the streets overhead like fire lanterns floating against the inky sky before we sauntered back to our hotel. What a remarkable day in San Francisco.

The California Zephyr

traveling wheelsMorning came, and Lyft efficiently deposited us on the doorstep of the Emeryville/San Francisco Train Station. Shortly, the most talked-about train in America, The California Zephyr, rolled to a stop. Our dedicated Sleeping Car attendant, Chester, greeted us amiably with a grin from ear to ear declaring, “I love riding the rails and have for over 30 years now.” His zeal about trains showed up while providing turndown service, assisting with meals, helping with luggage, and regaling us with stories of his intriguing life on Amtrak. Thus commenced our all-inclusive train experience. 

Arguably this is Amtrak’s most scenic route, with views outside changing like channels on television from state to state. As the city faded, spectacular tree-lined lakes and rugged mountain passes greeted us, followed by light-colored granite cliffs in the Sierra Nevada before bursting into the blazing orange and red sedimentary painted canyons and table-top mountains in Utah. Approaching Colorado, the massive Rocky Mountains loomed all around us. Eventually, these yielded to wide-open spaces traversing across expansive plains and deserts where the golden views stretched to eternity.    

traveling wheelsMeanwhile, to indulge between our scrumptious all-inclusive meals and complimentary beverages, we opted to bring a bag of freshly roasted coffee beans, intentionally purchased at our Andytown stop in San Francisco. After the upper and lower berths transformed into comfy roomette seats, we pulled out the table between us about mid-morning. Cranking our hand grinder, the crushing of beans to a medium-fine grind reverberated throughout the roomette as stellar views unfolded outside. Immersing our portable water heater wand in a coffee mug brought water to a perfect geyser temperature of 195 to 205 degrees. Coffee lovers know that the AeroPress is ideal for a rich, smooth coffee. As a durable, lightweight, and compact unit, it’s the perfect companion when traveling, even on trains. Although, some finesse is required when pouring hot water in a narrow cylinder on an oscillating train. 

Relaxing is essential as day eases into the night. Just as an anchored sailboat soothingly rocks in a bay, so our train swayed rhythmically (and a few times not so gently) while barreling down the tracks at a stable 79 miles an hour, whistle-blowing at the grade crossings. We slept like babies, occasionally waking to peer out at the star-studded skies.  

Chicago Architecture & Beyond

Predictably, 51 hours later, we rolled into Chicago, one of the largest cities in the U.S., founded on Lake Michigan in Illinois. Unpredictably, we arrived at our hotel with luggage in tow, to discover the entrance boarded up and padlocked! After a momentary panic we recalled, travel is always an adventure and requires flexibility. Note to self, verify all types of reservations a few days before departure. Fortunately, by scrambling, we booked another hotel nearby. traveling wheels

Settling into a different but ideal hotel, we booked a boat excursion with Chicago River Boat Architecture Tours. Arriving at the river, we met Jim, our tour guide. The depth of his knowledge packed a wallop as his passion overflowed for all things architecture in his Windy City. Fascinating stories about the designs, people, and innovations behind these creations punctuated the cruise and surprisingly tied in with our train travel. Back in 1856, Chicago was the rail center of the U.S., boasting 100 trains a day. Today, rusty tracks for obsolete electric coal trains still meander concealed underground below Chicago’s 100-year-old Art Deco, Neo-Classical, Gothic Towers, and modern-day skyscrapers.

Our traveling pursuits always require searching out top coffee roasters wherever we go. I normally wouldn’t recommend Starbucks to diehard coffee nerds, but Chicago hosts a Starbucks Reserve, 1 of only 6 in existence throughout the entire world. Wander through floors 1 through 3, but park yourself on the 4th floor for a one-of-a-kind experience. Order the Knob Creek Bourbon Whiskey Barrel-Aged Guatemala coffee, and your overjoyed taste buds will thank you!traveling wheels

With only two nights in Chicago, we set out to track down the top three premier deep-dish pizzas in town.  Lou Malnati’s Pizzeria went head-to-head with Giordano’s followed by Labriola. Digging deeper, we learned Lou Malnati always thought it was funny that an Italian should open a pizzeria in a Jewish neighborhood on an Irish holiday, but that was just Lou’s style as he dedicated his restaurant to hospitality and family. Meanwhile, Giordano’s founded by Italian immigrants to America, E Efren and Joseph Boglio, introduced their Mama Giordano’s famous Italian Easter Pie originally served in her small town near Torino, Italy. Now, a winner in both Italy and America. Finally, as a child, Rich Labriola (aka Chief Dough Boy) would hide in the back seat of the car while his father drove to their family pizzeria so he could work side by side with his dad making pizzas. Eventually, he started his own business based on his conviction that delicious food can feed your soul. These backstories rang as rich as the pizzas with which we stuffed ourselves and we unanimously proclaimed them the top three in Chicago.

The Empire Builder

Returning to Chicago’s Union Station while carrying our third prize pizza hot out of the oven, we reclined in the Metropolitan Lounge. This place affords a new level of luxury to Amtrak travelers to recharge before, after, or in between train travel. Sinking into chairs that hold you in a soft embrace, it’s the perfect place to unwind before boarding The Empire Builder.

Once onboard, access to the observation car called sightseer lounges provided ample opportunities to see the country on our long-distance train through floor-to-ceiling windows. The glass brings daydreaming out a window to a whole new level, literally. Simply choose a single-seat, gather informally in a small group, or snag a table for card games and laptops.

Meanwhile, in a race against the setting sun we saw the mountains of Glacier National Park visible in the distance, but would we reach them before the sun said good night? Whew, barely. To gain maximum view time, consider touring on some of the longest days of the year.traveling wheels

Transitioning from Glacier to the Gorge became our reward for waking up early on our last train day. The show of astonishing beauty along the Columbia River Gorge basked in the orange glow of sunrise. Stunning vistas poured in from every conceivable direction along the rippling river. Our spirits soared as we headed toward our journey’s end, Union Station in Portland, Oregon. 

Can you imagine arriving at your destination rested? That’s the attraction of all-inclusive train travel. A slower pace, delectable dining with beverages on the house, entertainment tucked in your luggage including ebooks, audiobooks, and playing cards, plus private sleeping quarters along with transportation from start to finish. All aboard to ride the rails in the good ole USA.

Pamela, the founder of Well Traveled Pen, captures traveler imaginations, inspires an enthusiasm to travel, and helps readers envision their next journey. Her expertise flows from extensive traveling and building her own successful business, to guiding small and mid-size companies on a firm path to excellence. Her experience ranges from resort management, leadership conferences, property management, and business consulting. Pamela’s vision is to celebrate and encourage women 50+ who desire to live life with spirit and passion each day. To connect, visit her at www.welltraveledpen.com.

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All-Inclusive Traveling Wheels