Patrick was our sleeper attendant on the Empire Builder, the most charismatic and dynamic to date. Nothing was too much trouble for him and his knowledge of the route such that he was often on hand to give advice about upcoming photo opportunities. He was also the main presenter of the wine-tasting, combined with an amusing quiz, which I presume he had devised. And he found himself helping out in the dining-car as an extra waiter! All done with a smile and an impish sense of humour. There was no trace of servility or obsequiousness about him; he was obiusly a man who really enjoyed his work and working with people. We left St Paul's about an hour late, as the last bus did not arrive until around 10.45, and spent some time chatting with our friends in the lounge car. The sunrise next morning, commented on by quite a few passengers, was spectacular. Presumably prolonged as we were travelling westwards. The interior of our bedroom, compared with the Zephyr in 2005, had been updated and the shower seemed easier to use. There was no need for sticky tape and there were no rattles! By the time we got to the dining-car for breakfast there was already a waiting list. Compared with the other two trains the dining-car ran at capacity and with a chef on board the food for which he was responsible, was of a high quality. My eggs were cooked to perfection and grits and fresh "biscuits" were available. Again the staff, we were mainly sereved by Don, were cheerful, attentive and positive. While not being spectacular, the scenery of North Dakota and Montana was more interesting than we had anticipated. Something missed the previous day on the bus were those small american towns who we their existence to the railway. There is always something to see as you pass through them, even if it is just the remains of a grain silo and a few sidings. Lunch was by reservation, my beef sandwich very tasty and too big. One of the attractions of Amtrak travel is the people you meet at meal times. Every meal so far has been enjoyable. Usually you do not meet the same people again, but on this trip we did. Our lunch partners on the Empire Builder also lunched with us on the Starlight, almost a week later. They, like us, were retired and used Amtrak a lot, and were very positive about the experience, apart from punctuality. As already mentioned, the wine-tasting was a piece-de by Patrick. At Havre you had to be impressed by the sheer size of the locomotives that used this route in earlier times. I have noticed the frequency with which equpment from the steam era is displayed in the US. Communities by the tracks seem to take a pride in their railroad past. Soon after Shelby the Rockies began to appear in quite amazing light, as there was a considerable amount of rain about. These views continued as we passed by Browning, which did seem to be a bit of an untidy sprawl. Glacier Park was decidedly damp and cool, but the freshness of the air was very refreshing. Dinner we had with our friends and it must rank as one of the most pleasant meals I have experienced. The scenery as we moved into the Rockies was beautiful, the dining-car buzzing with oredered activity, the service attentive and pleasant, my steak cooked to "rare" perfection and so tasty. And, although the dining-car was running to capacity we were under no pressure to leave. The four of must have spent nearly two hours there, simply relaxing in one of the most civilised ways there is. Also because we were so far north and west we had daylight until Whitefish. There I was able to express my thanks to the chef, comment on the difference his presence made to the standard of the food. He said that that was the very reason that a full dining service was to be returned to the Coast Starlight. The elderly gentleman we were travelling with had pre-Amtrak experience of railroads both as traveller and employee and he was surprised that on this train at least there was not one more dining-car or lounge. Another wonderful night's sleep and breakfast with a French couple who were also avid Amtrak users. The scenery continued to be beautful, in an Alpine way. My wife thinks she prefers the scenery on the Zephyr route and I will agree that the climb after Denver and as far as Glenwood Springs is spectacular. And the ascent from Truckee to the summit of the Sierra Nevada equally so. But I did find the long descent into Roseville somewhat disappointing, bearing in mind the history of that route's construction. Having made the same trip by car this year I find my opinion confirmed. The density of the conifers makes it very difficult to appreciate the grandeur of the scenery. Whereas on the Empire Builder from around Browning to Everett the scenery is beautiful and therafter to Seattle you have views over the Puget Sound. One poor woman, bound for Portland, had for some reason found herself on the wrong portion of the train and was now headed for Seattle. It is difficult to understand how something like that can happen. Attendants know where their passengers are bound for and the conductor makes his/her rounds after every stop. She was quite philosophical about it and seemed to think it must have been her fault. We arrived 35 minutes early in Seattle, despite having been stopped a couple of times as freight trains passed. A really wonderful experience. Coast Starlight to follow!
Posts: 168 | From: uk. northumberland | Registered: Jun 2007
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