Chicago, the Empire Builder, Glacier Park, Portland, Coast Starlight & Home

A tale in several parts.

Part One:

Every 18 months or so Judy and I like to take a relaxing land cruise via Amtrak. With my company shut down for the week of July 4th and the long-term future of Amtrak in doubt, we prepared for one last hurrah along a new route for us: the Empire Builder, Chicago to Seattle/Portland through the Northern states.

The first step was getting from SJC to ORD via United (an Amtrak Travel partner). Amtrak did a great job of getting us inexpensive economy seats on a morning direct A320 at ~$150 each, when the cheapest one-way non-stop I could find on-line was >$900. Score Amtrak!

The ever popular shuttle-in-law dropped us off at SJC terminal C in plenty of time. Not having any status on United, we waited in a rather long check-in line behind pax bound for Santa Barbara. Virtually every person ahead of us was wheeling or dragging large bags of odd shape. After some discussion we decided that they were golf clubs(!) As we mused on why so many people would want to whack small white spheres around in the hot sun when they could be on a cross-country train trip we made it to the front of the line.

I handed our stack of tickets to the agent who inexplicably asked me what our final destination was. I knew she could see SJC-ORD on the top ticket, so I helpfully offered "San Jose". This was obviously not the right response. Once again we were asked what was our final destination (and I could hear "Is this your FINAL answer"? in her voice). OK, I'm game. I respond that we are going from Chicago to Essex MT, to Portland, to San Jose. She looks though the tickets one more time and says, "Yes, but what is your final destination"? Desperately not wanting to be the weakest link, but not adverse to mixing metaphors, I answer that we are taking United to Chicago then the Amtrak Empire Builder to Portland and the Coast Starlight from Portland to San Jose. Success! She is bemused by the train tickets on ARC stock and exclaims, "This is a TRAIN ticket"? and we are finally squared away. I was not the weakest link!

There is no MRTC on United, and we are seated in row 15, well behind Economy+ in the cabin. I put on my best puppy dog look and ask if there is an exit row available, more typing and we are handed boarding passes for row 10 window and next - an exit row and Economy+ seating to boot. Score!

Off we go to the gate and our first encounter with the TSAs since December of last year. We are wearing our metal-free traveling garb and breeze through the detectors, no wanding, no muss. Judy's bags clear the x-ray, as does my camera. My carryon, however, proves to be a bit more fascinating to our TSA. I admit I travel with an eclectic collection of stuff. I've got a handheld scanner, NC-10 earphones, pocket watch, Petzel LED headlamp for reading at night, computerized LED flashlight of odd shape, spare batteries, Hastings triplet, and a UV keychain light. I suspect it was the scanner that caught the TSAs attention, but who knows? Back and forth, back and forth goes the bag. Her co-TSA was rummaging through an unlucky pax's belongings, and she calls him over to look at the display. He reluctantly comes over, looks at the display, appears to grunt and returns his attention to the unlucky pax. My TSA fiddles some more with the color or contrast of the display and finally achieves an image that pleases her. She calls again to the other TSA, still deeply involved in his rooting about. He does not respond. She plaintively tells him she has a better image now and again he does not respond. After puzzling over my bag a few more seconds she shrugs her shoulders and sends it into my waiting hands without further inspection. Score!, I think.

We board UA #356 for an on-time departure. A minor in the exit row across from us is booted into another seat without protest. The FA comes by and quizzes us about the operation of the exit door and evacuation procedures. I score points by inquiring about a discrepancy between the instructions on the door itself and what is printed on the safety card. The FAs like to know you are paying attention these days.

The captain comes on the PA and makes a little speech welcoming us aboard, noting that channel 9 is always available on this flight, noting that only United made channel 9 available and closing with the statement that "Our hearts go out to those affected by the tragic events of September 11th. God bless them and God bless America". I had heard of this, but had not experienced it for myself.

The in-flight movie, contrary to the in-flight magazine description, is Monsters Inc., which I had seen before, so after the hysterical birds-on-a-wire opening scene I just listen to un-eventful ATC chatter and read a magazine. I don't know what "Taste of Chicago" is like in C, but in coach it is a ham and cheese sandwich with a couple of cookies for dessert. On the theory that travelers should eat when they can, I do. On the theory that only good food is to be eaten, Judy does not.

We deplaned and headed for baggage claim. While Judy examined a wall map of Chicago I went to the restroom and returned just in time to see our bags emerge from the belt 2nd and 4th, respectively. Score!

I've long wanted to see the ORD aviation memorabilia shop in the basement of the airport Hyatt, so we collected our bags and trudged off to find it. I found the shop to be interesting, but short on memorabilia. I admired a signed copy of a book by Amelia Earheart. They only wanted $2,500 for it but I decided that I didn't really have room in my luggage for another book.

The proprietress of the aviation shop gave the distinct impression that talk about anything other than aviation was not welcome, so we went to the hotel lobby to ask about the best means of getting to the city center. The helpful concierge told us we had three choices. A cab for $40, an airport shuttle for $19 each, or the subway for $1.50 each. All three options would take the same 50 minutes. Our final answer was... subway! A weary FA sat next to us on the train. She apologetically explained that her luggage was tired when the large stack slumped alarmingly towards us as we rounded a corner.

50 minutes later we caught a $5 cab ride to the Hotel Monaco with a cabby who remained resolutely silent for the entire trip. A laconic gesture towards the hotel was our indication we had arrived. Welcome to Chicago.

I'll never accumulate major points in SPG, HHonors, or the like because our method for choosing a hotel it to type "Boutique Hotel [cityname]" into a search engine and go from there. After we had booked our room, the Hotel Monaco was featured as a "best value" destination in the SF Chronicle. I was pleased. I opted for a premium room, which surely took us out of the "best value" category, but it was a nice room on the 14th floor. I opened the window shades and gazed out upon the featureless brick 14th floor wall of the 29 story building across the alley. I'm glad we opted for the premium room since I'm sure the non-premium rooms opened onto walls of silently staring windows rather than the relative privacy of brick. Score.

The Hotel Monaco is a boutique/chain with locations in seven major cities. They have a lovely program called "Guppy Love" wherein room service will deliver a complementary goldfish & bowl to your room. Not to be eaten, the goldfish provides comfort for weary and possibly slightly depressed road warriors who have been away from home too long. It is a nice touch, but we did not avail ourselves of the service.

We went off to stretch our legs intending to walk down to the waterfront and check out the "Taste of Chicago" celebration going on this week, but it turned out to be too far away for the time we had. Instead we walked down the Chicago River, admiring the public art and the boats passing up and downstream. Going downstream, close to the right bank, was a small craft filled either with out-of-towners such as us, or chronologically challenged locals. As the clock chimed the hour, an unsuspected piece of public art sprang into action and a majestic arc of water sprang from the left bank, arced over the river, and bullseyed the unsuspecting mariners. Score Chicago art! The water arch runs for 10 minutes on the hour every hour. The local small watercraft laughingly skirted under the arch on the left bank, while the lordly yachts waited for the show to end before crossing.

Dinner was in the Mossant Bistro downstairs from the hotel, a fine French eatery that I can now highly recommend.

After a restful night's sleep we head out for breakfast and to find ways to kill time before the 2:10pm departure of the Empire Builder. As we approach the elevators we see a bowl containing a companion goldfish sitting outside a room. Out eyes light up and we bend over to examine the little harbinger of guppy love. With some horror we discover that it had expired sometime in the night. Contemplating my earlier image of the weary, slightly depressed road warrior I am pleased to remember that the windows in the rooms do not open.

Part Two:

Abroad in Chicago

6:30 we're up and ready to go. Mossant is closed for Breakfast Sunday morning. This is too bad since the menu looked really wonderful. Breakfast is NOT optional for us so we ask our concierge about local breakfast places that would be open at this hour. He directed us to a possibility and we struck off across town in search of it. On our way we passed several breakfast places, all marked "Closed Sunday". We finally see the sign announcing the place our concierge recommended, but as we get there we are faced with the dreaded "Closed Sunday" sign. Oh no. Welcome to Chicago.

Two blocks down the street we can see a crowd of people milling in front of what looks like a restaurant, so we head in that direction, stomachs growling. As we draw closer, it appears that we have found an Irish Pub expelling the last of its patrons. No breakfast there, nor beer, alas

At long last we find a bakery that has a limited cooked breakfast menu and fuel up for the morning ahead. Now what to do…? We've been to Chicago before and only have a few hours to wander around, so we head down into the loop and gawk at the buildings. The Sears tower is now ringed with concrete barriers tastefully painted in red, white, and blue.

Bored with architecture we catch a cab to Chicago Union Station and head for the Metropolitan Lounge. The Metropolitan lounge looks like any domestic airline lounge and is reserved for FC Amtrak passengers. It is the only air-conditioned room in Union Station and has free non-alcoholic beverages and no alcoholic ones at any price. We check our bags there and go to look at the old arrivals hall. The arrivals hall is a cathedral-like structure of surpassing magnificence and charm representing the glory days of travel and the power of the emerging railroads. It is little used these days and only held a few people desultorily clustered in front of some enormous fans that provided scant relief in the humid air.

We're hungry again, so off we go on a sweltering ten block forced march of the financial district in search of a place to eat, "Closed Sunday", "Closed Sunday", all of Chicago is "Closed Sunday"! We finally ate at the station deli. Judye broke her rule about good food and I wish I had broken my rule about eating whenever I can.

Union Station has a children's jail, which kept the rugrats safely isolated from the adult population. It is a big glassed in, soundproof room, similar to the isolation rooms that the smokers have in airports. Inside was a child-sized locomotive and things to sit on and slide over. Someone here had a truly magnificent idea! SFO, are you listening? How about a model plane for the smokers to sit in and reminisce about the bad old days?

While we wait for our train to be called, an enormous tour group enters the Metropolitan Lounge, completely overwhelming the facilities. I'm sure it was a perk offered some tour group since there aren't that many sleepers leaving Chicago by that time of day. We immediately decamped to the fairly empty regular waiting room to wait for the boarding call.

Finally boarding was called and seniors and families boarded first. One cute old couple, dressed Sunday-go-to-meeting for the trip, was too far away to hear the announcement and the helpful crowd passed the information to them. The woman perked up right away and pertly forced herself through the crowd to the conductor. The gentleman was still methodically packing their belongings onto a rollaboard and the conductor was trying to hurry him along, calling him repeatedly from across the waiting room. The lady became impatient with her spouse and calls out Darrrrren SmithSON!, you get over here RIGHT NOW! (not his real name). The call and rising inflection was right out of a television version of Ohio and she could be heard from one end of the station to the other. This jollied the crown immensely and many people offered to help him with his gear. With vast dignity he assured all that everything was under control and proceeded to the gate in stately fashion as the crowd admiringly gave way.

We board! The Empire Builder is 25 cars long and we're fourth from the end - it is a long hike carrying our luggage, but we are finally welcomed aboard and make our way to deluxe room A. For those of you not familiar with Amtrak Superliner equipment, Room A sits at one end of the car and due to engineering considerations has the in-room bathroom/shower door facing opposite all of the others. Room A is a tiny bit more cramped than the other rooms and it is always the last to be reserved. I had no luck changing rooms over the previous weeks, but no matter, it is still a fine way to travel with a large couch, chair, washroom and closet. The deluxe bedrooms have large windows that allow you look out of on both sides of the train. If you are in a standard bedroom you have to rely on the kindness of your neighbors to keep their curtains pulled back.

One problem I notice immediately was that there is no handle on the bathroom door! Deferred maintenance is taking it's toll on Amtrak I'm afraid. I fashion a replacement using wireties from my bag and we settled in.

Now the announcement comes that the sleeper just ahead of us has a problem with the wastewater vacuum system and will have to be replaced with one now in the yard. Exchanging, cleaning, and stocking the new sleeper will take two hours. We open our books and read…

Part Three

Chicago to the Rockies - Highball Chicago, Amtrak #7

There is nothing like a train for viewing America in comfort and style. As we head towards the Rocky Mountains majesty we truly travel under spacious skies, by amber waves of grain, beside fruiting plains, through gleaming alabaster cities, and over mighty rivers. We also pass trains that have no name, freight yards full of old black men and many, many graveyards of the rusting automobile. The railroad travels through beautiful country unpierced by roads and creeps through the underbelly of our cities. Luckily country miles far outnumber underbelly miles.

(Judy insists that for authenticity I note that the grain is actually green at this time of year)

We're finally rolling and the Empire Builder makes up lost time. The train stops at a number of stations along the route. Several of them are designated smoking stops where the train pauses longer than necessary for the equipment. Neither Judy nor I are selected as designated smokers, and we breath a sigh of relief.

As we approach the Rockies, I use the loo in our car and observe the indicator light change from off (working) to on (flushing) to flashing (malfunction). Oops, not a good sign. The car attendant works some magic and the light goes off. I peek in again a few minutes later and it's flashing again. Not a good sign. It turns out that the holding tanks are full and we are advised to use the facilities in other cars. Now that's something you can't do on an airliner! At the next major station they hoover the tanks and we are good to go again (no pun intended ).

For the foodies among you, Amtrak has standardized their menus over all the long distance trains. Dinner options are 10 oz. top sirloin, 8oz. center cut pork chop, chicken, or pasta. The pork chop and steak are (mostly) cooked to order. It's amazing what the cooks can do in a kitchen roughly the size of two shoeboxes glued together. The meals are free for sleeping car passengers. Tips and alcoholic drinks are extra. For some reason the dishwasher was out of order on this train, so we ate off paper plates instead of the usual china.

Arriving at Essex, Montana we disembark for two days in Glacier National Park. We check in at the Izaak Walton Inn. Izaak Wanton is the Izaak Walton of "The Compleate Angler" fame. A book I own but whose writing style has always defeated me.
The Izaak Walton was a way station for crews of the Great Northern Railway who first carved the rail route over the Rockies following the route pioneered by Lewis and Clark. Today it is an Inn for skiers and railfans Judy calls them trainos - think winos), of which we are neither, but it is convenient to the park. Burlington Northern Santa Fe helper locomotives idle 100 yards away and freights roll through every hour or so. Despite the tonnage of freight going by, the area is mostly serene and quiet.

Check-in is a bit discordant. The woman at the front desk begins by saying "I don't know if you smoke or not, but if you smoke in your room or common areas there will be a $150 fine". Whoa! Why don't you ask us if we smoke before threatening us?? But I'm tired, so I keep my opinion to myself. Next I tell her we would like to get underway early, so can we please fill out the car rental paperwork tonight? Well, no. If we do that we'll have to charge you for an extra day's rental. Whoa! It's 9:00pm, we're in the middle of nowhere, and you want to charge us for an extra day? Again, I hold my thoughts, collect the key and we settle into a pleasant room for the night.

Thankfully we had dinner on the train since the dining room closes promptly at 8:00pm.

It's morning and since we don't have the car keys we are forced to eat at the inn. Judy finds the food acceptable, but since there is no sausage or bacon or anything resembling meat I'm disconsolate. I set my sights on lunch.

I mention the previous night's car rental issue to the owner and he promises to clear up the issue with the employee. We hop in the Ford Escort, which is well out of its element at this elevation, and head for the hills.

Now we're renting a car, right? Near Glacier National Park, right? And no one thinks to tell us that the major north/south road on the east side of the park is impassible due to slides. Oh well, we don't travel far before finding this out, backtrack to the road through Browning, and head north to Waterton on the Canadian side of the park.

The scenery is breathtaking and it is hard to keep the mind on driving. Every corner brings a new marvel to view. We stop at Goat Lick and observe a dozen mountain goats licking at the mineral-rich earth across the valley. At another stop, mountain goats are actually in the parking lot, carefully examining the wheel wells of arriving cars. We cannot fathom why. An idiot tourist mother with an infant on her back walked right up to the goats. Probably an American who doesn't know that Canada doesn't put up with the ludicrous personal liability lawsuits we have here in the good old USA.

So as not to cover territory twice, we loop over to Cardston before heading south again to traverse the Going-to-the-Sun road through the heart of the park. In Cardston we stop and pay homage at the Fay Wray Memorial Fountain. Fay Wray was born near Cardston and an elaborate metal image of King Kong holding Fay marks the spot of a very unassuming and non-working concrete fountain dedicated to Ms. Wray.

We also stop by the Alberta Temple, the first temple constructed outside of the continental United States by the Church of Latter Day Saints. For those of you who have seen the temple in Salt Lake, you might expect soaring, ethereal architecture. Unfortunately, this building looks like an enormous crypt, looming over the sleepy little town. Actually, the more I think about it, perhaps this is a conspiracy between the RCMP and the CIA to conceal the mausoleum where the remains of King Kong are interred. You heard it here first!

Traversing the Going-to-the-Sun road, through the heart of the park, is a must do experience. Outside of Banff or Jasper, I doubt that there is more spectacular mountain scenery anywhere in North America.

We arrived back at the Inn around 9:00 and prepare to turn in for the night…

Part Four:

Kalispell, Empire Builder Reprise, and Portland

It's Wednesday and we rise with the dawn, which is pretty early this far North. We pile into our wheezing Escort and head for East Glacier where I hope to find a real breakfast, unfortunately, I fail. The lodge at East Glacier has a breakfast buffet similar to the one at Izaak Walton except it has bacon and sausage - not a sufficient improvement to warrant the extra 50-mile round-trip drive. Montana is wide open for some enterprising chef to open a decent place to eat.

Breakfast over we decide to see what Kalispell has to offer. Most of our vacations are spent driving like mad over large amounts of territory. The road west of Glacier is clearly the route of choice for those who drive to the park. On the East side commercial establishments are thin on the ground whereas to the west we have tourist trap after trap, mystery vortexes, drive through grizzly enclosures, and outfitters willing to sell the unprepared enough expensive equipment to get them deep into the park before they die.

We drive through more pretty country with lakes, rivers, and cottonwood trees. The cottonwood are spawning and in places it looks like it is snowing, the cotton drifts down so heavily.

Kalispell has an unexpected feature for a city in Montana. Traffic. Bumper to bumper, crawl along the road, major city traffic. It almost felt like home. Other than that, it looks like any other city so we soon turn around in search of a coffee shop we had passed earlier. We found the shop and proceeded to have the first acceptable meal we could find in Montana.

After lunch we head back to the inn to catch the 7:44pm Empire Builder to Portland antiquing and taking side roads along the way. We have dinner at the inn, move our bags from the Escort into the office, and bit farewell to our not-so-trusty steed. While we wait for the train we go out back and sit on one of the porch swings overlooking the railyard. In the swing next to us is a portly gentleman of pale aspect and a balding, slightly greasy pate. We nod at him and proceed to have a quiet conversation of our own.

Several minutes later he loudly announces "You know what I don't like"? We swivel our heads around and confirm that, improbably, he is indeed addressing us. It turns out that he doesn't like California, which is where he lives, not its politics, not it's religious beliefs, not it's traffic, not it's people. What he really wants to do is buy an entire section of land in Montana, build a house at its exact center, and prepare to move again should he ever hear an automobile in the distance. Uh huh. Here is the perfect example of the individual I imagined expiring deep in the park after determinedly outfitting himself at the park entrance and he wants to live in the center of a square mile of wilderness.

Silently we wish him luck in acquiring his section of land sooner rather than later and cautiously back into the inn on the pretext of asking after the train.

The train is running a respectable five minutes late. We jump in the van and are driven a hundred yards or so to the flag stop. Essex is one of the few, or perhaps the only remaining flag stop on the passenger rail system. It is not a scheduled stop for the train, but they are required to stop if they see someone standing at the side of the track. Sure enough, the Empire Builder comes around the bend and obligingly stops to collect us.

In a rare display of poor spotting, our sleeper is a ways off down the track over a stretch of rough ballast. Not a problem for us, but an elderly lady disembarks from our car and has some rough going ahead of her to get to the van.

Our car attendant had thoughtfully made dinner reservations for us, but since we had previously dined we had him put the bunks down and sealed up the room for the night. We were in room D for this leg of the journey and the handle on the bathroom door was missing on -this- train as well! I used another two wireties to effect a repair. If I have to keep repairing Amtrak capital equipment for them I'm going to apply for a union card and charge them full union rates! One more change of equipment to go and I'm now out of spare wireties.

While we slept, the Empire Builder had split into two sections at Spokane. The section with the diner and hot breakfast proceeded to Seattle while our section, with the lounge car and cold breakfast proceeded to Portland. We could have taken the Seattle section, but the timing on meeting the Coast Starlight was much tighter and we didn't want to take the chance of missing the connection.

Morning finds us in Pasco, WA where we once again are not designated smokers. I take a hot shower on the lower level where the facilities are more expansive, put up the bunks myself and we then amble to the lounge car to pick up a cold breakfast box.

The cold breakfast was fine and we are looking forward to having a nice lunch in Portland during our layover.

I have my scanner tuned to the railroad frequency as I usually do. Unexpected things often happen on rail trips and you seldom find out what it really happening from the public announcements made by the train crews. It is the same sort of fascination we have with channel 9 on UA. We are heading down the Washington side of the Columbia River gorge - another spectacular route - when we stop at a red signal and I hear that we have a "BK" or block indicator signal. It is also July 4th and there is further chatter about being on a "heightened state of awareness" and the track maintainers being some distance away so we might have to be held some time before they can investigate the situation. I ***** up my ears.

One way or another, the Empire Builder volunteers to investigate and we go sniffing down the tracks at a very reduced speed.

We finally clear the block and ramp back up to track speed. The engineer reports feeling a "bump" at one point, but nothing else out of the ordinary. Some miles later on I hear the report that the "bump" had been a broken rail, nothing more exciting than that.

We roll into Portland Union Station on-time and without further ado. We meet a friend of Judys, chat awhile in the empty Metropolitan lounge than head out to have lunch. Of course the place I had chosen for lunch, and called to confirm that they were open on the 4th, had a sign reading "closed for the 4th". No problem, we wander around downtown and find many places closed except for Tai, Senegalese, Chinese, and the local soup kitchen. Since the soup kitchen line looked pretty long we followed our friend's recommendation and have a lovely Dim Sum lunch and then visit a Chinese Garden. A lovely surprise in downtown Portland.

Next up, the Coast Starlight and home…

Part Five:

The Coast Starlight, PDX-SJC and Home

We're reading in the Metropolitan Lounge as the Starlight pulls in to the station early. Boarding passes in hand, we find our sleeper coach and climb aboard. The Starlight is our favorite train since Amtrak West was created to manage the Western rail system and proceeded to make the Starlight their signature route. Fresh carnations await us in our room, the first amenity kit we've seen on the trip sits next to the sink, and superior towels are packed on the shelf. J. And look! There is a handle on our bathroom door! Our car attendant is Darren, relatively new to Amtrak where crew can have worked passenger trains since before Amtrak was born, but enthusiastic and ever willing to help.

The Starlight pulls out on the advertised just as the wine and cheese tasting in the lounge is announced. We make our way to the lounge and snack on local cheeses and crackers while sampling a California Chardonnay, followed by a Riesling and a Shiraz. Apologies, I don't remember the wineries, but I did purchase a bottle of the Shiraz to take back to the room J While we are in the lounge, our chef walks by and I recognize him from a previous trip. Chefs on the Starlight have been trained at the California Culinary Academy and it shows.

After the wine tasting, we go back to our room to watch the scenery go by. Darren pops in to make sure we know all about the features of our sleeper and our reservations are taken for dinner.

Our reservations are called and we make our way to the diner and more fresh carnations on the tables. A display of American flags tells us it is the 4th. At Christmas the train is decorated with lights and before the cutbacks, comedians and jugglers were provided for entertainment.

We both elect to have the steak again. Meals are now the same across all Amtrak long distance trains, but our Chef added an orange glaze to the vegetables, rosemary to the potatoes, and mushrooms to the steak sauce - possibly out of his own pocket. Way to go, Amtrak West! Regrettably we again have no room for desert and head back to our room to read and watch the scenery.

One interesting effect of watching the world go by is that your mind gets used to the constant motion and tries to compensate. Whenever we are stopped at a station, the world appears to be slowly, but constantly, moving backwards. The effect wears off after a few hours.

I've got the scanner going in the background and trackside detectors periodically give us our axle count, outside temperature and cheerily announce "No defects, no defects". At one detector it appeared that we had lost an axle, because the count went down by one, bit I guess they managed to fix it before we hit the next detector, since it gave us the expected count.

Somewhere in Northern Oregon a detector suddenly announces "Stop your train, stop your train, dragging equipment, dragging equipment" and we stop, bang, right there. The conductor debarks and walks the length of the train. It appears that we had snagged a wire along the track somewhere and were pulling it along after us. It is removed and we head off again. Never a dull moment.

Night falls and we have the sleeper seats converted into bunks again. There is a problem with the air vent in that it doesn't close all the way and it is impossible to stop the flow of cold air. I score points with our attendant by gently closing the louvers around a towel to effect a seal.

It is now dark as we pull into Klamath Falls for an extended stop. Suddenly the Klamath Falls fireworks display lights up the sky and everyone gathers at the windows to watch. We are in the station long enough to see the entire performance - Happy 4th of July! After the show we bed down, not to awaken until the Sacramento, CA stop.

Sacramento to San Jose is a pretty route as it follows the Sacramento River and the edge of san Francisco Bay, but our on-time arrival in SJC makes it a short trip. The in-laws pick us up and we head for home and our cats. ... and so ends another vacation.