San Francisco Day Three: Getting Lost for Fun and Profit

We spent the day getting lost. It was awesome. I highly recommend going to cities and getting lost when you can. You see more and learn more that way.

Getting Lost at the Golden Gate Bridge

It takes skill to get lost here, and I’m not going to recommend it necessarily for a first attempt. It is difficult to get lost when you have a large landmark by which to navigate. But Peter and I were feeling ambitious, and we’ve had a lot of practice at this, so confidence was high.

We started out pretending we weren’t going to get lost. Nope. We were going to explore the Golden Gate Bridge Welcome Center. We took the 28 bus from Van Ness and Chestnut to the Welcome Center at the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog was so thick you could not see the bridge. Nope, I was not disappointed. I’ve read a lot about San Francisco, so a nice thick fog was really just part of the experience I was expecting and made it fun.


There’s more than just the bridge itself to view, though. There were exhibits explaining the construction of the bridge, the principles of its aesthetic design, and the engineering that went into its structure. You could experiment with tension and torque with hands-on models. I loved being able to play with this, and it made me think of my dad quite a bit. You can’t go to Disney World with the man without and engineering or physics lecture. No, that doesn’t screw up the magic. It proves just how magical we hairless monkeys really are!

In exploring, we discovered that the bridge is painted International Orange. Except for the Golden Gate Bridge, I have rather an aversion to that particular color. I think mostly because I spent most of my childhood with that color trim in my bedroom. (This was my own fault. Mom and Dad let me pick out the color at four, and I was in a fire tones phase that only lasted a year. I was stuck for another fifteen years!)

Peter mentioned that Fort Point was nearby. Looking down the cliff, you could see it. We decided to walk down a winding path to the fort for a couple of reasons. A) We like historic buildings and B) It’s the site of the Gaean Embassy in the Gaea Trilogy by John Varley. (Getting sick of how fiction drives my choices? Aren’t you glad you weren’t dating me as a teen?)

We start down the path. The paths are made for both pedestrians and bikers. I love how San Francisco has these areas separated from powered vehicles where people can walk or bike. The town I live in has some similar projects, and I am very much for it. Being able to get outside and not worry too much about cars is nice. I like to take walks, and this one was lovely.

After about a half mile, we’re trying to figure out where the heck the path is to Fort Point. We can see it sometimes when we round a bend, but we can’t figure out which path to take to get there. As we go along, we see small animals and local flora. Signs caution us not to pick the flowers or mess up the wildlife. I’m cool with that. I’m sure the plants anchor the sandy cliff, after all. It’s beautiful and serene, and I stop caring where I am because the walk is nice.

We wound up back where we started.

With a shrug, we decided not to worry about it and get a cup of coffee. Perhaps the Gaean Ambassador was drunk on tequila and couldn’t see us, anyway.

We decide to hop on the 28 bus to go back into town and see if we can explore a bit of Ghirardelli Square. As we’re pulling away from the bridge, I’m not recognizing the roads, but it is only when we pass Golden Gate Park that I realize we’re going the wrong way. After a short discussion, we decide to stay on the bus and see where it takes us. We wound up going past SF State University, a French Lycee, a mall and several other places before getting to the end of the line.

In San Francisco, buses don’t run continuous routes as they do in my own town. At the end of the line, you get off to catch the bus going back. We did and were approached by some tourists asking for directions.

Peter and I have had this happen since our honeymoon. We’re tourists. We are still asked for directions. I guess we look non-threatening or something.

Getting Lost Failure: Ghirardelli Square

We went Ghirardelli Square to have some lunch and wander around. We had a proper pizza Margherita — fresh mozzarella, tomatoes, and basil leaves. Done right, this is Pizza Purity. Waxman’s in San Francisco does, and it was beautiful. Not only that, I had a dark roast pour-over coffee so good it quite literally brought tears to my eyes.

San Francisco has this habit (at least in the tourist areas) of having small braziers and outdoor heaters on sidewalk cafés so that even in the chilly but sunny weather, you can enjoy being outside. It’s rather a good idea, and we saw several of these in Ghirardelli Square and Pier 39. I suppose it’s rather like Disney World blowing cold air in lines. I know it’s not energy efficient, but it is comfortable.

After shopping for a bit, but not buying anything (sorry tourist bureau!), we decided to go to Ghirardelli’s itself for something tasty. We split a caramel, fudge, and sea salt sundae, and were happy with Life. We did not get lost and were feeling our failure as we thought about what to do for the evening.

Chinatown, Little Italy and Getting Lost Success!

We went to Chinatown for dinner, but I think we should have gone earlier so that we could wander around more. A friend of Peter’s wanted to meet up with us, so we met up at Henry’s Hunan on Grant Avenue.

The food and company were excellent, and we had some help getting lost this time. One of the larger streets, Columbus Avenue, runs diagonally across the grid of the city. As a native of the DC area, I knew this would be a great aid in getting lost, and in addition to having the navigation issues, we also had great help from Peter’s friend, who forgot where she parked her car.

We wandered around the streets for a bit, trying to find the parking lot, and decided to have a little dessert at a small Italian place that served espresso, coffee and all sorts of Italian pastries. Peter got a Tiramisu, which he had never tried before. (I suspect he will try it and try it after this, though)

Thus fortified, we again attempted to find her car. Finally, she got a taxi to drive around until she spotted the parking lot (this is advanced Getting Lost, and a technique I need to remember!) then she offered us a ride back to our hotel, which we accepted.

For our last full day in SF, it was a good one.

San Francisco Day Two: Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf

We decided that we’d explore Fisherman’s Wharf, what with some of our City Pass tickets having stuff there. We could have walked, but decided to be bums and take the bus instead since we’d be walking all day.

Fisherman’s Wharf

Cruise of the Bay


The ticket included a cruise the bay on a Blue and Gold Fleet boat. We decided to do it first thing in the morning, even though at ten when the first cruise left, the fog hadn’t totally let up. We weren’t too worried about that, as the fog wasn’t so thick you couldn’t see anything at all. It had cleared enough that Alcatraz is clearly visible.

The boat was quite substantial, with both indoor and outdoor seating, as well as a canned lecture about the various points of interest in and around the bay. It discussed the history of the city, touching, of course on The Great Earthquake of 1906, and several other things.

I was still kind of on the fence about the whole Alcatraz swim, so intended to use this as some time to scout the territory. When the boat rounded the island, I was able to see clearly from the boat and get an idea of the general course of the swim. (You aim slightly north of the entrance to Aquatic Park so you’re not swept past it by tides). Did the distance look intimidating? Not really. I could pick out several distinctive landmarks on the shore at which to aim. Waves? Eh, choppy, but I’ve been swimming in rougher since early childhood. Hell, I’d swum in rougher than that particular day a couple of months before in a New England lake.

But oh, the cold.

It was cold and windy on deck. I was comfortable enough in a skirt, long-sleeved t-shirt and shawl.* Imagining getting in the water? Not so much.


Churros, Shops, and Sea Lions

After the cruise, we wandered around a bit. I hadn’t really eaten much of the mediocre hotel breakfast, so was hungry for a snack. We wandered around Pier 39, but things don’t really get started early there. Finally, we walk by a cart selling churros. Believe it or not, I’d never had any, so why not?

The real reason I wanted to try them is dorky. I was screwing around on Tumblr one day, and one of the people I follow had posted in Spanish, that at dawn, someone should look to the east for their coming. They were asked if they had churros, and if they didn’t, not to come. (It was funnier in Spanish) I was proud of myself for being able to figure it out… Look, I told you it was dorky.

Anyway, churros are good.

We watched the sea lions after that. I love those critters, I really do. They smell awful when the wind shifts, mind, but there’s something about them that’s just a joy to watch. We hung out sipping coffee and listening to them bark and call and warn each other from different docks before moving on.

Aquarium by the Bay

The Aquarium by the Bay focuses less on the pretty tropical fish and more on the local sea life. For me, that was the real charm. There was a Pacific Octopus (which I did not taunt), and a wonderful tunnel beneath a huge tank rather like the one at the Virginia Aquarium that gives you the impression of walking along the ocean floor along with the fish, included an exhibit devoted to local sharks. Well, the non-scary species, anyway. No, seriously, there’s only about five species out of thousands that are human aggressive, and no, I am not scared of all sharks, just the human aggressive ones.

After that, there was an exhibit on the waterways in California that feed into the SF Bay, and places you could touch certain sea life. They had stingrays, small sharks, and sea stars. They also had an exhibit of river otters! I love otters, and these little fellas were adorable.

Eagle Café

We ate at the Eagle Café for lunch. Peter had clam chowder in a bread bowl, and I had a crab salad. Okay, this is where I gotta let my East Coast out.

Ain’t no crab like a Maryland Blue. Just sayin’.

Don’t get me wrong, the meal was good and well-prepared, but I gotta represent for the Chesapeake Bay, ‘kay?

Speaking of which, when I think “bay” I think something like the mouth of the Chesapeake. San Francisco Bay was very different. Felt like you were in a bowl or something. Beautiful? Beyond a doubt. I really do love the area and want to go back. But it doesn’t have that “big water” feel I get at home. (Then again, the very word is an Algonquin-derived term meaning “Big water.”)

Palace of Fine Arts

We made our way back to the hotel for a couple of hours so I could catch up on some work for a client before we went off in the other direction to the Palace of Fine Arts.

The palace was originally constructed for the 1915 Panama-Pacific Exposition. This was a huge event and pretty amazing that the city could pull it off, what with an earthquake levelling it less than a decade before. Among other notables who came to see it was Laura Ingalls Wilder on a visit to see her reporter daughter and then son in law.

The structure now contains enormous Greco-Roman columns with female figures, a lovely man-made lagoon with ducks and other waterfowl, gardens and walkways. There is also an exposition hall where kids can explore technological exhibits. There was a Hunger Games Expo there. That… put me off quite a bit, and we did not pay extra to see it.

There’s also a theater that is still in use, giving lots of musical performances.

It’s very beautiful and serene and a great place to go and think.

In Which We Make Fools of Ourselves at Bobo’s

I figured that after our day, we could go to a restaurant near our hotel. So, we decided on Bobo’s because, hey, the name was goofy and it looked like it got good reviews. I tried to get reserve a table, but the online service wasn’t taking them. We decided just to walk around the corner and show up.

The hostess was very kind and did find a table for us. The décor looked nice, and we settled down to enjoy a pleasant meal. Opening our menus, we about dropped our eyeteeth.

$149 for a steak!!!!!

Now, this was the most expensive thing on the menu. I’ll grant that. But still, when the most expensive thing on the menu is a hundred and fifty bucks, you don’t think the cheapest meal is going to be twenty, do you? We looked up from our menus, looked each other in the eye, shook our heads…

And ran like scared rabbits. Yeah, we’re rubes. Go ahead and laugh.

We hopped the bus to Fisherman’s Wharf and went to Wipeout. Not sophisticated, but I’m sorry. I’m just not enough of a foodie to eat at the high-priced places.

After that, we hung walked off our dinner and went to bed, wondering what we should do for our last full day in San Francisco.

* Unless you own one, you simply would not believe how warm a wool fingering weight lace shawl can be!

San Francisco Day One: Wimping Out and Bouncing Back

The first day in San Francisco did not start great. We had a mediocre breakfast at the hotel (it was included in the price, and it was below even train standards). The idea was that I’d do a training swim at Aquatic Park each morning before we’d do our day.

The point of the trip to SF was for me to do the Alcatraz Sharkfest. I’d done a few little swims along the beach at Virginia Beach in warm water, which in retrospect probably didn’t help. But the reality was that after all those warnings about how you have to be able to swim a mile in 40 minutes in a pool to do the swim had finally gotten to me. Sure, sure, the cold was bad, but I have a built-in wetsuit. It would have been uncomfortable, but the reality is also I’ve done swims in water that cold before. I looked up my training records from 2015. I did at least one swim of close to an hour in Lake Mascoma when the water temps were about the same as they were for Alcatraz.

I cannot swim a mile in 40 minutes in a pool. My best time was about 47 minutes. I could deal with the fear of sharks. I could cope with the cold. But the sheer, unrelenting “YOU DO NOT BELONG WITH US” message from the event organizers is what finally did me in. (The reality? Plenty of people who swim at my speed have done that swim safely in organized swims with escorts and I know it).

I couldn’t make myself do that training swim, even with the kindly encouragement from someone sitting on the beach. I suspect he was a swimmer himself, but I am not sure.

But the whole, “You don’t belong thing” just got to be too much in my head. I don’t know where my swimming is going to go. But it’s not going to be constantly taking the little micro-aggressions from being the only fat chick in the gym at five-thirty in the morning, where I also only belong as the pet “good fatty” and have to deal with the goddamned workout monitors who compare their workouts to mine so they can allay their fears about their own bodies. Ultimately it sucked the joy out of it. (Please, no inspiration porn reassurance. It’s all one with sucking the joy out of my swimming, as I know what that shit is code for. I should be strong enough to stand up to it. It shouldn’t matter. But the reality is I was being nibbled to death by ducks. Just… don’t. You wouldn’t want to deal with a Noël who decided that other people’s thoughts and feelings didn’t count at all. You really, really wouldn’t.)

Okay, that was a downer to write, but I felt like it needed to be said. On to stuff that’s a lot more fun.

Golden Gate Park

We had intended to take public transportation while in SF. But figuring out a bus in a strange city is often problematic. We got lucky. An off-shift trolley driver was heading in the direction of Golden Gate Park, and he just… gave us a ride. It was amazing. A ride, discussions of landmarks along the way, some advice about transportation for tourists… He even dropped us off right at the Japanese Tea Gardens, where I had wanted to go. We weren’t quite sure how we’d get back to the hotel, but figured if worse came to worst, we’d try out the Uber app or get a taxi.

Golden Gate Park is about a thousand acres of cultivated land similar to Central Park. Very similar, in fact. In the early 1870s, San Franciscans decided they wanted a park much like Central Park in New York, and chose some sandy dunes on which to build it. The designer of Central Park threw up his hands and said that it wasn’t possible, but they found another engineer who was able to put the output of the city’s horses to good use, use that to anchor plants on the sandy dunes and slowly transform them into the park we know today.

When I comment most concentrations of human habitation are as artificial as a space ship, this is the kind of thing I mean.  I can’t NOT see the engineering behind it.  Engineering can be done intelligently or poorly, but it’s going to be done for people to live comfortably.  And yes, a nice park with grass, trees and such is part of living comfortably.  Golden Gate Park is an example of this done quite well.

Japanese Tea Gardens

I really wanted to see them because I am a fan of the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. The books are urban fantasy revolving around the idea that the Fae world and the mortal world are side-by-side and places often have these little pocket universes (called knowes) that only the Faerie can access. In her books, one such knowe is in the Japanese Tea Gardens. When I went to SF, I had to see it.


The gardens are beautiful in a way I love. I like what you can only call “cultivated beauty,” and the Japanese style of gardening probably best exemplifies it. It is beautiful and serene and lovely. As we were strolling through the gardens, Peter, who has never read the books, commented that it seems to him that San Francisco has these little worlds tucked away in it as you go about the city. I can only imagine that this is part of what inspired McGuire to write such a vivid storyverse.

California Academy of Sciences

Unlike my usual mode, this vacation really didn’t have a plan. So, we just decided to do what we wanted on a whim. After visiting the Tea Gardens, we went over to the California Academy of Sciences. After a little bit of debate on how much money we wanted to spend, we finally decided that we’re always up for a science museum. We were slightly dubious of the timing because it also looked like Wednesday was Field Trip Day. We decided that if we couldn’t handle a bunch of children enjoying a museum, we were losing sight of Who We Were as Humans. It turned out to be a decent financial decision as well as an enjoyable museum trip.

You see, San Francisco has this tourist thing available called a City Pass. You get admission to several attractions such as the science museum, the DeYoung Art museum, aquaria and a boat trip around the Bay. Also included is unlimited Muni use for seven days. (At $2.50 per trip, not including transfers, that really did turn out to be a decent deal for Peter and I).

We could have spent all day there, but didn’t. We knew our time in SF was going to be limited, so we only spent most of a morning there, seeing the planetarium show Incoming! They got George Takei to do the narration, and he did a great job, but what was even better was that they were interested in keeping it as up to date as possible. This means they didn’t necessarily have the funds to re-record Takei’s material on a regular basis. An astronomer working for the Academy interspersed the show with current updates. The guy was great.

Of course we went to the Aquarium because, dewd… Aquarium. I wanted to be a marine biologist from the ages of about 9-11. I always want to go to the aquarium. It’s a given. We also visited the living roof. I’d heard of the concept before but never seen one. The idea is that roofs in cities contribute to temperature changes in a city (especially heating them up in the summer), and that a green roof with a habitat for local flora and fauna helps to offset this. This also insulated the building, lowering heating costs, and helps to filter rainwater drained from the roof and avoid pollutants. The birds up there aren’t too afraid of humans, so it was cool to see some local birds.

After that, I was fading, so we grabbed some coffee and some water. The water was sold in waxed cardboard cartons rather than plastic bottles, which makes sense. I wince at how much plastic we throw away, and the water tastes fine in it. While we were on the lawn drinking our coffee, we watched the children on their field trips also taking a break. Gymnastics was on a lot of the children’s minds (Simone Biles had not yet won her gold for floor, though) and they were doing a lot of tumbling routines on the grass. They ranged from hesitant to skilled, and it was fun to watch them trying out their abilities there.

We then decided to leave the museum and do something else, but as we were walking through to the exit, we were caught by a couple of other exhibits – one on earthquakes and then the Osher Rainforest. Part of me didn’t want to look at the earthquake exhibit, but then I thought, “You are in Earthquake country and know nothing about earthquake safety. Maybe a little education would be useful?” We learned quite a lot, but I am going to admit I am glad we never actually used the knowledge.

Then we went on to the rainforest. I loved it. We were shunted through an airlock, bringing to mind the scene in Dune where Jessica finds a wet planet conservatory in the governor’s palace in Arakeen. (Nor were we likely to be the only people to comment on that going though, I expect). Then we went up a spiraling ramp with a gentle slope to see a tiny simulated rain forest, and discussions of the ecology of it. At the top, something magical happened.


There were butterflies everywhere, but this one decided to make a friend.

We couldn’t top that, so decided to move on to see something else.

The deYoung Museum of Fine Art

This museum really has a diverse collection. I don’t have the art education to explain what we saw in any meaningful way, but I enjoyed this very much. We spent a lot of time in the Art of the Americas, seeing everything from modern Inuit to ancient Andean work. From there we went on to more modern stuff, seeing some amazing glass pieces, to modern paintings we loved to at least one mostly blank canvas that had us both biting our lips because we couldn’t see where that kind of thing belonged in a museum. I don’t have the education to understand why that canvass required either skill or insight. Maybe someone with a real art education can fill me in. Understanding the skill and use of color behind a trompe l’oeil? I get that! And there was a lot of work that really did just make you stop, stare and think. Obviously we took no pictures. But, if you enjoy art, it’s totally worth it to spend a lot of time here.

By this time, it was getting on to late afternoon, and we hadn’t had any lunch. We decided to take the bus back nearer to our hotel and decide what we wanted to do for a small meal.

End of the Day Adventures

Both Peter and I are somewhat unskilled at dealing with walking directions in terms of Google Maps, and our phone batteries were dying. But after a false start or two, we were able to catch the correct bus that would take us to a stop near our hotel. By then, my client had sent me a bunch of work. So while I spent some time in the hotel room working on that, Peter went off in search of a small snack. He came back with sandwiches from around the corner from a shop run by an Eastern European family. Tasty.

We decided we wanted to get sushi at least once while we were in San Francisco, so I again consulted Lord Google to see what was A) Local enough to get there by public transportation easily and B) not gut-wrenchingly expensive.

We settled on House of Sushi, about six blocks from our hotel. Easy walking distance except for a hill that was eye-crossingly steep on Greenwich Street. (We weren’t too far from that curvy road on Lombard Street, to give you a general idea). This was what I was looking for – a little hole in the wall place with decent prices and good food. As indeed it was! We went with chef’s choice and enjoyed our sushi immensely.

We decided that most of our day on Thursday would be to be really touristy and enjoy Fisherman’s Wharf.

Salt Lake City to San Francisco

Being an early riser, I rose early.   Being up really early means you don’t wait for showers, which makes me happy.

We had breakfast with this utterly delightful man from San Francisco who was coming home from his own coast to coast adventure.  He had Views on education, history, and the general state of Humanity.  Well educated, well-traveled and erudite, it was a pleasure to have breakfast with him.

Lunch was with two really different people. One was a retired woman who didn’t fly, but lived in Oakland and had family in Chicago.  She was a California Zephyr veteran and a former accountant.   The other woman?

She was beautifully turned out for a cocktail party.  She had about six disparate businesses and claimed she liked to take the route from Reno to SF because she could work on the train on her various businesses.  This last she mentioned after a comment that I usually take the Northeast Regional, which has Wi-Fi, so it was really strange for me not to get some work done on the train.   Peter and I had to put our hands over our mouths leaving the dining car all the way back to our roomette to keep ourselves from laughing loud enough to be  heard all over the train.

Across the Bay Bridge from Emeryville (c) 2016 Peter Vinton, Jr.

By this time, I have to admit that we were getting a bit weary of the train and ready for our next adventure. The scenery was still lovely, of course, but you can only walk around on a train so much, and we wanted to be able to get up and move.

We got to Emeryville on time, and were able to board our bus to Pier 39 at Fisherman’s Wharf with no trouble.  But since we decided not to rent a car, how to get to our hotel?

We walked.

It was a little over a mile, and Google Maps was fine with walking directions, so it was no big deal.  After days of mostly sitting, a walk was pretty welcome, our carry-ons were backpacks, and our big suitcase had wheels. The slope up Van Ness wasn’t as bad as coming up the hill to our house, so I was kind of eyerolling the whole “San Francisco Hills” thing, even though we were happy to get to the hotel.

When we got to the hotel, we really kind of collapsed, though.  It was nice to be off a train and able to take a long soak in a bathtub.  We ordered dinner in, and I took care of some work a client had sent me.  I’m self-employed, and my ability to work is mostly controlled by Internet access.  The California Zephyr doesn’t have wireless, darn it.  Being used to the Northeast Regional and the Vermonter, I gotta admit not working on the train was one of the stranger experiences of the trip for me!

We turned in early, our bodies still kind of on East Coast time, but ready for more adventure the next morning.

Denver to Salt Lake City

I am enjoying this trip immensely.

We crossed the Mississippi into Iowa a little after five.


I did a coast to coast trip in a car when I was nineteen and we did cross the Mississippi on Interstate 40 in Tennessee.  Old Man River is a lot broader there, so it was a bit of a shock to see it when it is much further North, and a young and sprightly thing.  Still, there’s something kind of mystical about crossing the US and crossing the Mississippi, and we both were kind of quiet as we were doing so, wrapped in Thoughts.

At dinner last night we met an Aussie couple who were pretty much doing America by train.  He was a doctor.  I don’t recall what she did, but when they found out we had both worked for a hospital, there was a lively discussion about medical care in our two countries.  I get the impression that Hogwarts-St. Mungos is a bit fancier than the hospital he worked at.

Breakfast was with a couple of people who I think met on the train — a Chinese political science student who was studying in LA and wanted to move to Georgetown to finish up, and a young man who was a professional video game coach.  He started as a developer, became a QA tester, and then went on to this career I had no idea existed.  I admitted I liked puzzle adventure games over first person shooters, so wasn’t a “real gamer” and he rolled his eyes, disdaining the qualification.  It was fun talking to them.

We got off the train in Denver to walk around the station a little, but it wasn’t a long enough stop to do more than stretch our legs and look around. I guess that may need to be on our List of Cities to visit (I think Peter and I may need to buy a small RV…)


So, west of Denver.

You know how people go on about the scenery?  They wax poetic and take pictures and they think they’re giving an impression of what the country looks like, and I’m here to tell you, they’re stinking lies.

Pictures and words simply do not do the majesty and beauty justice.  I’m a writer and teacher.  I make my living trying to get concepts across in any way I can.  So, teacher mode kicks in and says, if you can take the trip, do it.  You can get a general idea and taste from blogs and good photography (sorry, I’m a crap photographer), but I cannot urge you strongly enough to get the experience if you can.


You hear people say, “It’s about the journey, not the destination.”  For the most part, I tend to be a goal-oriented person.  So it might seem strange that this is an important idea to me. This trip is very much about that.  Partially, it’s about seeing my own country, something not every American is fortunate enough to do, but also it’s about meeting different people.

We had lunch with a couple from Chicago who were on an anniversary trip to Reno.  They often travel by train, and had bought a book outlining the train route and points of interest along our route.  We saw a bald eagle during lunch, which was cool.

We also found out there is an interesting custom along the Colorado River.  At a certain spot, people will wait with  breathless anticipation to see the California Zephyr go by, and with great solemnity, drop their drawers and moon the train.  A less impressive collection of male backsides is seldom displayed, but hey, it cracked the dining car up, so why not?  I kind of wish my grandmother and grandfather had been traveling with us at that point.  My grandmother would have thought it was hilarious, and my grandfather would have been entertainingly horrified.  It would have provided hours of conversation fodder.

We had genuinely planned to get a lot of reading, knitting and drawing done during our trip West.  We didn’t.  We were simply too captivated by what was right outside our window to do anything but drink it in.


We had dinner with a couple who were doing a trip to San Francisco from a tiny little town in Indiana.  They were as Midwest as Midwest can be — proud of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.  The wife was an enthusiastic Cubs fan and softball coach to several generations of girls in her town.  They were also enthusiastic travelers, having been to Australia, rented a car and did a road trip across the country.  She was impressed by the friendliness of the people, and had even been invited to breakfast at one chance meeting of someone walking in town.  I try to imagine inviting random tourists in for a meal, and have to admit that would never have occurred to me to do so.

We fell asleep as we were travelling across Utah, and on to our next day’s adventure.


We got into Chicago around nine in the morning, and collected our bags.  Because we weren’t sure how much we were going to like the roomette for two more nights, we decided to see what an upgrade to a bedroom would run us.


Friends, we just plain weren’t $1600 worth of inconvienienced.  We decided to stay in the room we originally got.

That settled, we dropped our bags off at the fancy lounge for people who had sleepers. In reality, nice, but not that fancy.  Food, TV, comfy seats and coffee.  We didn’t avail ourselves of any of this because we wanted to see at least a teeny bit of Chicago and only had a few hours.

The important thing, of course, was to see Lake Michigan.


Maybe you think it’s weird to wanna see the water.  That’s nice.  I don’t.  We saw water and athletes finishing a 10K run and geese and big big big tall buildings.  (I’m from DC.  Big, tall buildings aren’t really part of my idea of “city”)  We considered going into The Art Institute of Chicago, but figured that for $25 a pop, that was something we’d want to spend all day on.


Peter was keen on having real Chicago style deep dish pizza, so we went to Giodano’s.


I found out something.  What they CALL deep dish pizza at some pizza places?  It ain’t.  A real deep dish pizza is a bread shell into which you layer meat, veggies and cheese, then cover in a layer of sweetish tomato sauce.   A)  I really like it.  B)  Not sure it’s true pizza to my East Coast sensibilities.  But never mind.  It’s tasty. And since I’ve had it in Chicago in a place that seems to have a rep for good deep-dish pizza, I feel like I can say I tried the real thing.

Trying the local dish made in its proper locality is something I started about a quarter of a century ago the first time I visited Boston.  We went to a Bostonn tavern, and I decided that while the idea of clam chowder didn’t excite, maybe the locals really did make something good.  (They did, and it’s a dish I am now fond of).

When we boarded the train, we got a pleasant surprise.  The Superliner roomettes are a little larger than the Viewliner ones we were using on the Capitol Limited.   Those few inches make a difference and I think we’ll be more comfortable.

Not sure what the next couple of days will bring, but I think it may be a lot of books and knitting.  We’ll have to see.

Sleeping on the Train

Not sure if I love it…

The dining car experience is fun.  We were informed you WILL make a friend, as it was explained that the seating was group seating.  We knew this in advance, and since we are familiar with the experience from cruises, we were prepared to have a good time meeting some people.

Dinner was with a grandmother and granddaughter duo, and utterly delightful.  The little girl was obsessed with anime, manga and Doctor Who.   She was an absolute treasure and gives me hope for young women everywhere.  I hope nothing messes with her enthusiasm and obsessions.

The grandmother was an artist.  They’d visited DC and were really enthusiastic about the museums and tours they enjoyed there.  It was neat to get impressions of DC from a non-local’s eyes.

So, the vaunted Amtrak food by award-winning chefs?

Um, no.

Don’t get me wrong, the food isn’t necessarily bad (though microwaved “mixed vegetables” reminded me of why I didn’t get into veggies until I was in my thirties)  but it’s really kind of bland, standard American fare that makes me think of the old Howard Johnsons back in the day.  To give them credit, the steak was indeed well-prepared, and the cheesecake for dessert was tasty.    But I’d just spent a week with my family, and we tend to be more adventuresome cooks.

After dinner, we hung out in our room, watching the scenery.  This part?  I’ve been told the leg between DC and Chicago isn’t really all that interesting.   If that’s so, I expect to be blown away by the western leg of the trip, because I really enjoyed what I saw.


Two people in a roomette is cramped for some things, and perfectly comfortable in others.  During day mode, it’s fine.  There’s a comfortable table between two ample seats, your own private viewing window and it’s quiet and peaceful. For anyone used to traveling coach who has had to endure some yutz having a five hour conversation with their ex husband’s new wife (I swear, I am going to use that material for a trashy novel under a pseudonym), you will find the quiet and privacy of your own room a thing of beauty and joy.

Sleeping?  I made a couple of mistakes — the first being simply to go to bed far too early.  When you wake at night on a train (and I wake at night a lot) there’s not a lot to do.  Sitting up and reading in a roomette isn’t really comfortable.


I woke quite early and got in a shower while there was sure to be no line.  Showering on a train is really about like showering on a cruise ship, so I was comfortable with that.

Breakfast was nice, but it’s hard to mess up breakfast.  We ate with two other men, each traveling alone.  One seemed to just about live on the railroad, and loved long-distance trips.  The other was a long-distance train novice like ourselves.

Conversation was interesting with this one.  My husband was asked what he did for a living, and some chit-chat.  No-one spoke to me. It was weird, but my mind was mostly on Chicago and our next leg, so I returned the favor and ignored them.

Boarding the Train

I was really having too much fun at the beach to write anything. The quiet time I did have in the morning was dedicated to getting some work done for a client, so no real blog posts.

Thing is, for the most part, the fun of being on the beach is playing in the water and talking with my family.  Yes, that’s a Kindle in my lap.  Yes, reading on the beach is a Great Pleasure.

(c) 2016, Martha Ellen Figart

Probably the most entertaining thing to an outsider would be my son’s reaction to Jello shots.  It turns out Jello shots are not his thing.  (My cousin did make ’em strong, which *I* liked quite well!) I know, he doesn’t sound like a early twenty-something.  When I told people I knew that he had his first beer at 21, people assumed I was merely a Deluded Mother.  Nope.  It’s not that he’s too pure to drink or something.  When he was fifteen, we had champagne together on a cruise and he liked it well enough.  It was just that he decided when he was 21, it was time to sample a beer, that’s all.

We took the train from Norfolk to DC. Daddy very kindly brought us to the train station at oh my God, it’s early!  The Norfolk station was much nicer than I expected — a new building with friendly, helpful staff.  Norfolk, VA is often this weird mix of run-down and really nice.  I went to ODU back in the day, so was expecting more run down than nice. The train ride was about what you expect for an early morning Northeast Regional — mostly quiet.  We napped.

When we got to Union Station in DC, we had several hours to kill.  We checked our major baggage — only bringing a carry-on for the train ride.

Fortunately, we met up with some old friends from waayyyy back and had a wonderful lunch at The Dubliner, as well as spending a little time in the National Museum of the American Indian.  I wish we’d had a little more time there, but we did get to see a great exhibit by Kay Walking Stick.  It’ll be there until the middle of September, so you’ve only got about a month left to see it.

(c) 2016, Sarah Kavanaugh (I have no idea why Peter insisted on this pic being taken here. Yes, my hair is frizzy. DC humidity is no joke)

Getting on the train was really smooth. Man, they pamper the heck out of you when you travel in a sleeper car.   They have a special lounge where you can wait, though we didn’t really use it because we were visiting with friends.

Boarding is easy.  You’re assigned a particular car and room on these trains.  Between riding the Northwest Regional and flying Southwest, the idea of assigned seating is pretty novel.   In this case, we’re

We got a roomette, and it actually feels roomier than I expected.  I’d known it was small, but it’s comfy as can be for travel.  I was glad that I’d looked up some advice about overnight train travel in advanced.  I was prepared for the roomette not to have a lot of storage room.  The carry on for our overnight stuff, and my purse fit, but it was one of those “just enough” situations.



We’re about to roll out from DC to Chicago for our adventure, and we can hardly wait.

Day Two: The Great Coast to Coast Adventure of 2016

Most of the morning was spent in thunderstorms, which is not a great way to start a beach vacation.  We hung out in the room for a bit, checking the weather and wondering what we should do with the day.  However, there was supposed to be a small window of a couple of hours that were not spposed to be a storm.

Friends, we go to the beach to sit our asses on the sand and play in the ocean, not to play mini-golf or go to funhouses.   That meant we were going to try for that little window of decent beach time.

We got lucky.  That little window of time turned into as perfect a beach afternoon as you could hope for.   The waves weren’t large, but other than that, we had a great time.   We played in the water, watched my nephew create one of his sand engineering works, and Mom and I did a quarter mile swim along the shoreline.

Yep, Mom’s an open water swimmer now.  (No, I don’t think she’s really going to get into the sport.  She was humoring me by going along and doing a little swim with me.)

The heavens opened around dinnertime, which was fine.  We stayed in and made a puzzle.  I know, hot times with the Figart household, huh?

As is my habit during Beach Week, I’m up with the sunrise, though I gotta say, the camera is not doing the spectacular dawn any justice.


Day One: The Great Coast to Coast Adventure of 2016

It started out great.  I was so smart.  I got tickets for us to take the bus to the airport rather than deal with parking.  I had everything properly packed, created a travel folder for our trip and we were all good.  Sure, sure, the flight from Logan to BWI had some crying babies.  But hey!  It’s summer, it was a Saturday, and the reality is that small children are going to be on vacation flights.  It happens and I can’t get too tied up in a knot about tiny humans behaving like tiny humans.

The problem is that was the day that there were thunderstorms all over the East Coast.  Our flight from Baltimore to Norfolk was first delayed by an hour — thunderstorms and flight routing, ya know?

I couldn’t get really bent out of shape by that, either.  An hour late?  It happens.  Why freak?

Then it was a hour and a half.  But we board the plane! Ya!  It’s a short hop from BWI to Norfolk, so it’s still all good, right?

Nope.   The flight route between BWI and Norfolk is closed.  Not weather this time, but air traffic.  We do not have permission to take off.

We sit on the tarmac about an hour.  That’s okay.  I’m hot and uncomfortable, but I have an audiobook and knitting.  My husband has his music and a bunch of books.  And we had gotten up at four in the morning, so napping was definitely an option as well!  (I don’t sleep well on planes, but I catnap great)

The flight was fine, but we took a weird route, coming in from the Southeast right over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.   It was a wonderful sight, and to be frank, I’m really glad I got that view.   To me, the sight of it always means a homecoming.  I love that bay.  It’s the route my ancestors took to come to Virginia, and those waters are my blood.

We were so late that the transportation company that was going to get us a ride from the airport had its staff go home.  But it was still good because they put us in a nice cab to oceanfront and to my family.

And waking up to this is good…