Train Games: San Fran to Salt Lake City (Train Ride 1)

Good morning from Salt Lake City! I would tell you how beautiful it is outside, but we haven't made it as far as leaving our hotel room. It's currently 9:00a.m. as I write this and we got to Salt Lake City at 3:30a.m. We're pretty tired, but the adventure was well worth it. 

I'll catch you up on our first leg of the train trip: San Fran to Salt Lake!

This is the California Zephyr!

This is the California Zephyr!

We pulled into the Emeryville train station about 45 minutes before our train was set to depart. Emeryville is just 20 minutes outside of San Francisco, so it was really easy to get to. There was a lot of back and forth about how early we should arrive at the station. Most things we read said 30-45 minutes. This didn't stop me from still being a little nervous we weren't going to be early enough. Airports have ruined me with their unexpected long security lines, boarding policies, etc.

This began our first lesson about traveling with Amtrak:

Lesson 1: It's a way more laid back experience than flying.

We walked into the small station and expected to have to get into lines to get checked in, go through security, and check our bags. None of that was true. There was one line to check bags and one line to buy tickets (we already had our tickets, so that wasn't necessary). The window for checking bags was closed and we were told to come back in a bit (we were just a little early). So, we headed outside and sat down with the other people waiting for the train. This is when our questions began to fly.

"Are all these people waiting for our train?"

"Are they all going to Salt Lake, too?"

"Why is there no security line?"

We could tell from what we were overhearing that our train was on time. It seemed that everyone sitting outside was also getting on the California Zephyr, and we pretended to know exactly what we were supposed to do. As we waited, we called our Dads to wish them a Happy Father's Day, took pictures of the station, and continued to repeat, "I can't believe we're really doing this." 

At this point, we heard over the intercom, "If you want to check a bag for train 6, the line is closing in 2 minutes."

This began a small bit of panic and an encounter with an unreasonably rude Amtrak employee. What we didn't realize is that after we went outside they opened the line to check bags. And the line was only open for a short window. After a moment of watching the employee shame person after person for being late or not getting in line soon enough, we made our way to the front of the line. Richards set her straight (very nicely) and we were surprised the only information she needed from us in order to check our bags was the name of our destination.

Once our bags were handled, it was smooth sailing. We waited outside, followed instructions to get line with the other coach passengers, and watched the train arrive. We were told which car to get on (and it was all based on our destination), so we climbed onto car 611 and made our way to find a seat. To our surprise, the car was very empty.

As we settled in, we still had tons of questions, "Where's the bathroom? Where's the observation car? Can we leave our stuff here when we go eat?" We slowly started to figure things out as we made our way out of the San Francisco area. We asked the staff lots of questions and reminded them how new we were to this whole travel-by-train thing. Some found that endearing ... others responded to our questions with eye rolls. You could say we knew who our favorite Amtrak staff members were very quickly.

We had grand plans to read and play games and listen to music, but we spent a whole lot of time just staring out the window (and talking about our foot rests). Who wouldn't stare out the window when it looked like this?

Lesson #2: The train stops alot. 

We knew the train would stop in major hubs, but we didn't realize how many small stations we'd be stopping at as well. Each stop was really quick. We'd let a few people off and gain a few new ones as well. Our car began to fill up more and more as time went by, but we still were never crowded. Richards, Caroline, and I each had a row to ourselves the entire trip.

Around 11:45a.m. we made our way to get some lunch. We didn't really know where we were going, but we knew we needed to go a few cars back. We stumbled upon the the Lounge car. In this car there are snacks, drinks, and some light meals like pizza, hamburgers, and hot dogs. 

After lunch, we spent some time in the Observation car. This car is my favorite. Not only is a great place to look at the scenery, but it's a hub for activity and socialization. There were families playing cards, some elderly men reading papers, some guys filming with their Go Pro (we really wanted to get a tutorial from them), and even a man with a ukelele. It was awesome.

At this point, we just kept saying, "We're big fans of train travel."

We eventually made it back to our seats and spent the afternoon napping, reading, listening to podcasts, and listening to music. The views for the afternoon sure didn't disappoint.

I realize the downside of train travel is the length. Why take a train from San Fran to Salt Lake that takes 18 hours when you can take a flight that takes just a couple hours? I think these pictures answer that question. I love that we slowed down and got to actually see the beauty around us, enjoy our surroundings, and get to know the people on the same journey. 

Late afternoon we learned another lesson about the train:

Lesson #3: You need a reservation for dinner on the dining car.

The guy that runs the dining car made his way around the train to take reservations. They start with the people in the sleeper cars and end up in coach (THAT'S US!). By the time he got to us the next reservation was for 8:30p.m. We obviously had no where to be, so 8:30 it was. The dining car has family-style seating. This means that every table has to be filled (4 people to a table), so they seat you with strangers to fill the space. We got to meet a lovely lady from Virginia who was making her way back home after spending 11 days in Oregon with her son and his family. We enjoyed our dinner (Crab cakes for Richards and I, pasta for Caro, and Pad Thai for our friend from Virginia) and watched the sun set over Nevada. It was gorgeous.

We hung out in the dining car for a while and let the guy in charge of the car know he was our favorite (he called us to dinner earlier than 8:30) and then we made our way back to our seats to settle in for some sleep. It was going on 10:00p.m at this point and we were scheduled to get off in Salt Lake City at 3:10a.m. They made an announcement at 10pm saying that "quiet time" was beginning. They turned the lights off, let us know they wouldn't make any more announcements, and told us someone would stop by to let us know when we were in Salt Lake. 

We each curled up with sleep gear and did our best to get some rest. I slept fairly well, but woke up every 30min to an hour to shift around. You can only sleep in a curled up ball for so long. 

We rolled into Salt Lake right on time, got our bags, and grabbed a taxi to our hotel. We climbed into bed at 3:45a.m, slept til 9:00a.m, and are (slowly) preparing to explore Salt Lake for the rest of the day.

We'll head back to the train station at 3:30a.m. to catch the next California Zephyr train and head to Denver! It's definitely more of an adventure than a vacation, but it's been a blast!

In case you missed it... You can catch the previous posts here:

Train Games: San Francisco

Train Games: Prep Mode

Train Game 2016