The Great Train Experiment: A Liveblog

10:40 a.m., aboard the Northeast Regional #174

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The Amtrak station at New Carrollton

Last month, as I was planning my annual 4th of July trip to Albany, I decided to take the train – both to save money and cut down on all the hassle associated with flying. I was assured by people who love to travel by train that this would be the best experience I’ve ever had, while others used the word “nuts” to characterize my plan.

I’ve just boarded an have an aisle seat in the quiet car, which is pretty much what I was after – so far, so good. I did realize, however, that the outlets are by the window seats, so I may try to switch if an opportunity presents itself, even though I like sitting on the aisle better.

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My train to NYC.

I’ve got plenty to keep me busy: a Kindle full of books (“A Game of Thrones” is currently in process), three knitting projects, a ton of podcasts, and of course a busy Twitter feed (NHL free agency starts at noon). I’ll update in a while as to how I’m doing – bored or happy to be relaxing.

Apologies, by the way, if the formatting is wonky. The iPhone app for WordPress doesn’t give much in the way of photo options, so I had to code some of it by hand, and my coding is rusty at best.

11:15 a.m.

I got my window seat – and electrical outlet – in Baltimore. Yippee!

11:55 a.m.

Hello, Wilmington!

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12:35 p.m., somewhere between Philly and Trenton

Only gripe so far: I am freezing! There is way, way too much air conditioning in this train car. Of course, I am *always* cold, so not having a sweater or wrap easily at hand is totally a failure on my part. No blame to Amtrak for this one.

12:52 p.m., just past Trenton

Big win for taking the train – I realized I could warm up by hanging out at the doors when we stopped! I basked in a muggy little sunbeam in the doorway when we paused in Trenton and now I’m feeling all toasty again. Yippee!

I also gave the restroom a try while I was out and about, and it was fairly decent. But then again, the last time I used the toilet in a train I was in Thailand, and it was literally a hole straight down to the train tracks, so my standards are, perhaps, not so high.

Forty-five more minutes to Penn Station…

2:11 p.m., waiting to depart Penn Station on Amtrak #235 to Albany

I want to note here, that had I been on an airplane for the last half hour or so, I would not have had the amusement of watching Twitter blow up when the Flyers signed 39-year-old Jaromir Jagr to a $3.3 million dollar contract. Had I not been on the quiet car, I would have laughed out loud. Instead, I’ll just say: “Hahaha! Suckers!”

***

As someone who has only taken the train long distances in foreign countries, I kinda thought big-city train stations (Cairo, Bangkok) were confusing because I didn’t speak the language. I assumed making a very quick transfer (under 30 minutes) at Penn Station in New York would be easy, since the signs would at least be in English.

Well.

Lesson learned: giant train stations are confusing, irrespective of the language the signage is in. I managed to find my train with time to spare, but I had that same flustered, fish-out-of-water feeling I’ve had before. Huh. Wasn’t expecting that.

The big disappointment on this train is that there’s no food service – I had counted on eating on the train to make up for not allowing myself enough time to pick up lunch. Of course, the upside here is that at least I have a bottle of water and some cookies (of the chocolate salty oat variety from Teasim – my favorites) in a cooler bag, so at least I have a snack.

Albany is an hour and 45 minutes up the road. I’ll try to check in one more time before I arrive…

3:00 p.m., just north of – I think – Croton

As noted at the beginning of this post, I brought a backpack full of amusements on this train ride, but I’ve hardly touched any of them because the NHL free agency tweet-o-rama started at noon. (I did knit one repeat on the lace trim for the long-in-process green skirt and promptly screwed it up, so that went right back in the bag.) Between the aforementioned Jagr-to-the-Flyers bonanza (giggle) and the Caps making some interesting moves – bringing back former captain Jeff Halpern, letting Boyd Gordon go to the Coyotes, sending Semyon Varlamov and his brittle groin to the Avalanche for two years of first-round picks (!), I’ve been plenty entertained en route.

(And I’m now wondering what all has been transpiring in the 10 minutes I’ve been thumb-typing this. It’s been craaaazy. Gotta go look!)

3:45 p.m., Poughkeepsie-ish

Observation: chocolate salty oat cookies are very messy. Much better suited for their usual role in picnicking than for eating on the train. Glad I have ’em, though.

Oh, and hello Hudson Valley!

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4:18 p.m., somewhere between Poughkeepsie and Albany (sorry, wasn’t listening at the last stop)

Still glued to the twitters waiting to see where the Caps are gonna find the cap space to make today’s trades work. (They’ve picked up Joel Ward and Roman Hamerlik since last I updated – crazy!) I’m hoping they trade Alex Semin, and for my brother’s stress level, I hope Tom Poti is retiring, even though I don’t dislike him quite as much as Brian does.

Gotta say, I wasn’t expecting this to evolve into an NHL free agency liveblog, but it’s what I’m thinking about at the moment, which is what liveblogging is for, right?

Ah. We’re at Hudson. The train is starting to thin out now. Almost there!

4:30 p.m., in the home stretch

Since the point of blogging live from the train was to help determine if it is a reasonable alternative to flying (for me, anyway), I thought I’d better write about something other than hockey trades for a minute.

Overall, I’d say this was a fairly successful experiment. My back hurts a little from sitting for so long, which I’ll have to remember for the trip back and plan to get up and walk around more. The seats are much better than on an airplane – both wider and with better leg room. There has been very little accidental bumping into my seatmate, and even when the people in front of me have reclined, my knees have not been crushed.

The general vibe has been much more low-key, too – plenty of courtesy and none of the fraught nerves that are common in airports and on airplanes. Even in the crazy zoo of humanity that was Penn Station, people just seemed rushed, not hostile.

I don’t know if I’d want to do this for every trip – it would really eat up a regular-length long weekend – but when time is not an issue, it’s not a bad way to spend a day.

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Oh, and to Brian, who emailed the following:

“Take the train, regret it, and then blog about it….but make sure to clearly put in there ‘my brother said I was nuts and it pains to me say this but he was 100% right.’ :)”

Sorry, dude. You were wrong.

4:52 p.m.

I am here.

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15 thoughts on “The Great Train Experiment: A Liveblog

  1. sprite July 1, 2011 / 11:29 am

    Have fun!

  2. iottoknow July 1, 2011 / 11:31 am

    Wish I could join y’all! Have a great trip.

  3. wendalicious July 1, 2011 / 2:00 pm

    It’s 2:00! Where are you now???

  4. Shannon July 1, 2011 / 2:01 pm

    Glad to see all is running on time so far….see you around 4:45!

    @Chris – wish you guys were coming up too. Marlene would complete the circle. 😉

  5. Eileen July 1, 2011 / 2:03 pm

    I’m loving the live blog and happy it’s going well so far! Keep having fun.

  6. Shannon July 1, 2011 / 2:57 pm

    Since you’ll be hungry, have any thoughts for dinner? I thought about BBQing some burgers or something of the like…

    • Sarah July 1, 2011 / 3:02 pm

      I will need to eat immediately upon arrival – seriously, first drive-thru window we see. But burgers for dinner sounds good, too…

      • Shannon July 1, 2011 / 3:40 pm

        Um…that would probaby be McDonalds. Are you starving enough for McD’s?

      • Sarah July 1, 2011 / 4:11 pm

        Yes. I’m so hungry I’d even eat at Burger King, which I hate *way* more than McDonalds.

  7. Mom July 1, 2011 / 3:29 pm

    I’m so enjoying the blog-o-Rama, seeing as I was a skeptic. My last train ride was to the Checz Republic, so I don’t have American standards either. Glad it’s gone well. Have a fun, fun time & give my best to all the gang (and parents).

    • Eileen July 1, 2011 / 3:47 pm

      Czech. 🙂
      I remember that too, with the “Gestapo” checking our passports and all! 😉 what an adventure.

  8. Shannon July 1, 2011 / 4:29 pm

    Guess I’d better head out to go pick you up! See you in a few. I’ll bring you a fruit bar or something to take the edge off, haha.

  9. Mom July 1, 2011 / 6:25 pm

    Yeah, Eileen. Sorry, fingers out of sync on Czech! But, you recalled it too. The passport check in the middle of the night, as well as a stranger for a bunk mate in “our” car — an adventure REMEMBERED 

    I have OLD memories of train trips to NYC from Bing as a late teen/adult for a day in the city. It was really great — food, club car, friendly travelers playing guitars, singing!! Miss that. No more passenger trains in/out of the old hometown.

    Glad you enjoyed, Sarah. Are there security luggage/body checks like airports?

  10. Joanne July 1, 2011 / 7:54 pm

    $3.3 million for aging talent makes the Flyers look downright frugal, considering some idiotic signings in the past. (Yes, Rangers, I’m looking at you. And you, Devils.)

    Have fun in Albany!

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