A Travellerspoint blog

Cascades to Vancouver

View North America 2022 Train Trip on Bob Brink's travel map.

October 23, 2022

I needed to get up early to catch my 7:45 train, but certainly not at 3:30. I managed to get a little more sleep but finally gave up. I never sleep well before an early flight, and I guess this applies to early trains as well. My first four trains had all been in the afternoon or evening, so I had not yet tested that concept, and this will be the only test since my train from Vancouver was scheduled for 3:00 pm. I hope to have more opportunities in the future to test this.

Although I had the option of several departure times to Vancouver, my reservation was for the only train of the day. All the other departures were for buses. In fact, I was lucky to even have a train ticket since Amtrak had only reinstated its train to Vancouver in late September. In the past Amtrak had run three or four trains each day between Seattle and Vancouver, but those were cancelled at the start of the pandemic.

I have not discussed my planning for this trip, but since this was the day for my only international train, perhaps this is a good place to provide some details. Cross-border trains had been a big issue when I began my trip planning; I wanted my train travel to be a full circle, all by train, with no flights.

I had started my train trip planning by contacting an agency that specializes in train travel. I had a great chat with an agent who took all the details of my trip, especially my desire to not fly into the US, and after several minutes said it was best to get back to me with a quote. I never heard back from him. I then tried the Amtrak travel branch. Again, I had a great chat, gave all my details including the no flights to the US stipulation, and again he said he would contact me with a quote. I was ghosted a second time.

I finally decided to just do everything myself. I then discovered the issues that my two agents had encountered and perhaps convinced them that I was not worth the effort. I had read marvelous reviews about the Montreal to New York and Seattle to Vancouver trains but did not know that they were not in operation. Amtrak had to cancel the cross-border train at the start of the pandemic since travel between the US and Canada was restricted. Then when the border reopened, they did not have the equipment nor the staff to restart those trains. That explained why my agents could not get me everything that I wanted. It does not explain why they did not tell me.

In addition to the cross-border train issues, I had quickly established some other things I had to work into my planning. The Ocean from Halifax only runs 3 times a week. I could not get my preferred sleeper roomette on the Canadian leaving from Toronto to Vancouver; they were only available going the other way, from Vancouver to Toronto. And the Canadian only runs twice a week, so 3 or 4 days in between departures. Lastly, the connection in Buffalo between the New York bound train from Toronto and the Chicago bound train from New York was several hours.

I guess this was too complicated for the guys at the travel agencies. I had to work in some compromises such as my flight to Chicago, skipping a stop in Utah, and assuming I would have to take the bus from Seattle.

I did all my reservations on the Amtrak and Via Rail websites. I booked the four main train rides right away and left the day trains (or bus), from Montreal and Seattle, for later. There are several trains each day from Montreal to Toronto and four buses each day from Seattle to Vancouver.

When word came that Amtrak was restarting the Vancouver train service, I began a daily check of train seats for October 23, but still no train would come up, only the buses. On September 6 the train finally appeared, and I tried to book it. But the system would not let me finish. After the shortcomings of the travel agents, I was similarly not impressed with Amtrak reservations. They had a phone number, but it was a computerized system that just sent me back into the on-line system. I sent through a request for help, but nothing came. I rebooted my computer and finished the booking. Amtrak tech support replied on October 2 with a “sorry to be taking longer than expected” email. That “longer” was almost a month.

Back to my travels, I needed to pack, including the things that I had washed and were not quite dry. I finished my room coffee and headed out. It was a quick walk to the station, much faster than my round about trip when I got here. It was still dark and damp but at least it was not raining. I was joined by a couple who left the hotel at the same time and were obviously headed to the station as well.

My ticket specified that I was taking the Amtrak Cascades train, but unlike my previous two named Amtrak trains, this one was for a route that includes several trains and buses and goes from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver, B.C. But no train goes the entire route. This particular train only goes between Seattle and Vancouver.

The King Street Station serves three different Amtrak routes, the Coast Starlight that brought me from Emeryville two days before, this one I was leaving on, and the Empire Builder which goes to Chicago. The station was opened in 1906 and served the Great Northern Railway and Northern Pacific Railways. Over the years, the station had suffered from lack of use and funds. There had been poor attempts at modernization. Fortunately, the station was restored about ten years ago at which time many of its features were uncovered, including the beautiful ceiling.


There were two lines, one for business class and another for coach. They were checking passports. Business class passengers could go right to desk. The rest of us had to wait. It took us about five minutes longer.


We were called to the platform to board. The conductor told us the train was going left. It is funny how disorienting it can be when you are in the middle of the train and try to understand which way the train is going. My preferred side of the train was left. I had two coaches to choose from, so stayed with the left theme and went that way. Some seats were facing forward and some backwards. I wanted forward but more so wanted window on the left, so sat down in the first empty place. I ended up having both seats to myself. As I had found on the Via Train to Toronto, train seats in coach are quite comfortable, on par with business class seats on planes (what I imagine anyway, since I never get to sit in them).


We left on time, at first down the road that I had been on the day before.

The train went along the water for most of the route with the with the occasional inland shift. Sometimes it seemed we were almost in the water.

It was not a perfect day since the mountains were mostly covered in clouds, but the water was quite nice.


I had a pocket full of US change so decided to go to the café car and get a coffee. I had been in the US for 8 days without drinking a Starbucks coffee, even in its Seattle birthplace. But Amtrak served Starbucks. There was only one employee, so service was slow. Everyone was paying with their cards and the person in front wondered if they even took cash. But they did, so I got my coffee and got rid of the change.


We crossed the border into Canada. They had told everyone at the last stop that the next one would require the border formalities. But for now, we just enjoyed the view. The tide was out. There were lots of people walking along the sand, many with their dogs.

We approached the Fraser River. I took a photo of the Skybridge that carries the local transit trains, SkyTrain.
We crossed over on a different bridge a few minutes later.

We made good time until Burnaby, which is about 15 minutes from the train station. We then sat for a long time. We were told that there was some issue with the signals, needed to change tracks, and that someone had to come to help us do that. I was texting a friend in Vancouver. He asked what time I was arriving. We were almost at the station, but I could not tell him. I had read that train passengers should not make big plans for the time of their scheduled arrivals since trains are often late. I thought that applied to cross country trains, not just getting in from the suburbs. He told me to text him after we arrived. We ended up an hour late.

When the train finally did arrive at Pacific Central Station, the business class passengers were allowed to go first to Canadian immigration. I was still not convinced that it was worth it to upgrade, especially after I went through in about 5 minutes. I put down my passport and explained my train trip to the agent. She asked me how it was and sent me on my way.

The station is just east of False Creek. The first big structure is Science World with a big ball which hosts a giant OMNIMAX Theatre. It was built as part of the 1986 World’s Fair. Just beyond is BC Place Stadium, home to Vancouver’s soccer and football teams (using North American definitions of the two). It was my landmark to help me find my downtown hotel.

I took some photos of the Terry Fox Memorial. I assume all my readers know who he was. If not, please stop reading this and google him.

I texted my friend, Chris, who owns a house in Pouch Cove but spends most of his time far away working as an engineer (not the train kind). At the present time he is working in the mountains of BC during the week and living in Vancouver on the weekends. A few weeks ago he was back in Pouch Cove when Zoe and I met him on our morning walk. In fact, Zoe saw him and took off running to see him, going as fast as her old man (me) could keep up (she was on a leash). When I had told him about my trip, he mentioned that he would be in Vancouver the same day that I would arrive.

Chris suggested lunch. He had previously suggested some urban hiking as well. We started walking. I took some photos.


And we kept on walking. I was getting hungry and was starting to wonder when we might stop. Chris had a specific Korean restaurant in mind. He had fallen in love with the cuisine ever since he visited his daughter while she was working there.

We finally arrived. It was quite busy even though it was now mid-afternoon. Chris suggested one of the soup dishes. I chose the squid and bulgogi and some dumplings. The food was fantastic.


It was sizzling.

We continued with our walk after lunch. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The streets were busy. We stopped at the “A-maze-ing Laughter” sculpture. The sculpture is composed of 14 statues and was created as part of the Vancouver International Biennale in 2009 and portrays the artist in a state of hysterical laughter.


Chris took my photo. I was not hysterical.

We worked our way down to English Bay.
There I said goodbye to my friend and continued my walk along False Creek towards my hotel.

I stopped at a supermarket near my hotel to buy some fruit and yoghurt. I made a point of picking up a plastic spoon for the yoghurt, but when I got back to my room I found that the cashier had not put my spoon into the shopping bag that I had to buy to carry my things. I now had a thick Greek yoghurt and no spoon. I did not want to go back to the store, so went down and asked at the front desk and was sent to their sports bar/restaurant. It was busy. It was loud. But I needed a spoon so stood in line with the patrons. When my turn came, I told the nice hostess that I just wanted a spoon, not a table. She told me to wait until she had seated some people and came back with a spoon for me. She did not want it back.

The yoghurt and fruit became my supper. After my big lunch, which had finished after 3, and a long walk I was tired and decided to just stay in. I had 4 nights on a train coming up, so enjoyed my quiet hotel room and soft bed.

Posted by Bob Brink 16:11 Archived in Canada Tagged trains amtrak via_rail Comments (1)


View North America 2022 Train Trip on Bob Brink's travel map.

October 22

I woke up refreshed. To be a bit redundant, I have to say that it is definitely easier to sleep in a bed in a quiet hotel than on a train. I looked out the window at a grey and cloudy sky. The forecast suggested worse, putting some doubt into my sightseeing day in Seattle.

As I left the hotel, I crossed the road and looked back to see how I had missed it the night before. It was obvious; the entrance was fully covered by trees. I headed towards the water and found a café for breakfast, where they had lattes but no croissants. I settled for a bagel. From there it was only a few minutes to the main road along the water. I took many photos at the waterfront including the giant Ferris wheel called the Seattle Great Wheel. I did not consider going for a ride. Even if I had, with the clouds it was not going to be a great day for photographing what are supposed to be fantastic views of Seattle.

I saw that there is a sculpture garden, the Olympic Sculpture Park. I knew I needed to go there.


I looked down the track that I would be on the next morning.

Then it started to rain. I had just passed a small café with covered outdoor tables, so I hurried back there and took shelter. I chatted with a couple from Portland who had come up for the weekend. They told me that Portland and Seattle had been exchanging the dubious distinction of having the worst air quality in the world, thanks to the many wildfires, such as what we went through the day before.

The rain came down quite hard for several minutes. Once it let up a little, I headed back down the road. This time I noted the terminal for the Victoria Clipper Ferry. I had mentioned my trip on the ferry in 1988 in my post “Night on the Ocean” when I described my “landing” in Canada. I thought about taking a photograph of the terminal, but it was raining again, and I had my camera under my coat to keep it dry.

I had to visit Pike Place Market. I took a few photos along the way.


The seafood vendors are famous for throwing fish, but I did not see any flying objects.

I made a beeline for a fruit and vegetable vendor who was giving out mango samples. He asked me where I was from. His reply to Newfoundland was, “Where is that?” He then said that he could ship to me in Newfoundland. I was a bit skeptical since seconds earlier he did not even know where it was. The mango was good. He gave me his card.

There was a big line going into a place with heavenly smells. I asked a man what everyone was lining up for and how long it took to get to the front. “Russian pastries”, he said. It will take you about 10 or 15 minutes, but get in line, it is worth it.” So, I did. I bought a ham, cheese, and spinach one for lunch and a Russian for dessert. It was fun waiting and listening to a woman who kept everyone in line and moving forward. The place is called Piroshky Piroshky. If you are ever in Seattle, be sure to get in the line.


I passed the original Starbucks coffee outlet. There was a big line there as well. I was willing to line up for the pastries, but not for a Starbucks coffee.


I needed a place to eat my pastries. Although there were lots of outdoor tables, everything was quite wet. I ended up back in my room. I had to be careful to avoid leaving flakes everywhere since these pastries were definitely flakey. I quite enjoyed the savoury pastry but was not so fond of the sweet one.


The rain kept falling, so I decided to stay in the room and watch my Penn State football team on television. I called Po and found out there was a dinner party at my house. Po has organized the Pouch Cove Public Sculpture committee. The artist and his assistant were in town installing the garden’s latest piece. They and the committee all shouted hello to me. I felt a bit sad to be missing that, but not too much, since I had a couple more trains to catch.

This is the sculpture, "An Opening in the Canopy". it is a sundial, consistent with Pouch Cove's town motto, "First to See the Sun".

After the game, I checked Google Maps for a place to buy some fruit and identified a 7-11 convenience store. It seemed like it should be easy to find, but I walked towards the water, past where I thought it should be and then back around the block. I did see an interesting looking Peruvian restaurant. Instead of a menu I had to use their QR code, which used a lot of my precious U.S. data, but it came up with some interesting things. I went inside, where they gave me a real menu. I had salmon and a Peruvian beer. It was very good. There was a big group at the table next to me. I wished that I could try some of their dishes.


When I left, I noted a sign for what was once the location of the store. It was now covered up. Google Maps was a bit out of date.

Back at my room I downloaded my videos and went through my notes. I may write up the final version many days or weeks later, but I do try to have notes on the bigger things that happened during each day.

I had been receiving emails from Amtrak about my booking on the Cascades to Vancouver, requesting me to bid on an upgrade from economy to business class. I put in amounts of $20 to $25 without committing and was told that my bid was weak. My original ticket was $40 and business class was about twice that. I could not see a compelling reason to upgrade. On Via Rail you get a meal and free drinks, but Amtrak was only giving $3 off menu items and priority boarding. They also mentioned more leg room, but train seats are already quite spacious, and the trip was only four hours. Seats are assigned in business class, but I thought that might not be a good thing if I was not assigned to a window seat on the left side which I had read was the best for the water views. My seat in economy was not assigned. I just needed to be quick enough to get a window seat on the left side.

I set my alarm for 5:45 since I needed to pack in the morning since I was giving my things another few hours to dry.

When I planned this trip, I had wondered how I would feel about getting on one train after another. I had now been on four different trains for over 100 hours and been in almost constant motion, having spent only one or two nights at each stop. So how was I feeling at that moment? Was I ready for another train? You bet I was. I was super excited and ready to grab my bag, roll it to the station, and get on board my next train.

Posted by Bob Brink 13:12 Archived in USA Tagged trains seattle amtrak united_states Comments (1)

Coast Starlight

Smoky Day

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October 20, 2022

I had used up as much of the day as I could. The hotel lounge was comfortable, but I was restless and ready to get moving. I had another train to catch, the Coast Starlight, which would take me to Seattle, but first I needed to catch the Amtrak Bus that would take me across the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to the Emeryville station.

It was a pleasant evening for more walking in San Francisco. I walked down to Post Street and passed Union Square with its many big stores such as Macy’s, Tiffany’s, and Saks Fifth Avenue. I am not a shopper, so these places meant little to me. Most of my wardrobe comes from Costco. I had taken these photos earlier when I returned from the ferry.


With a better sense of direction from my two days in the city, I made the trip in about 15 minutes, which left me with a bit of a wait in the San Francisco “train station’. It is a pleasant little park and was fine for that evening’s wait but would be not so pleasant on a cold, rainy evening.


A bus pulled up and discharged some passengers. The waiting passengers tried to board but were sent away. That bus was not returning to Emeryville.
A group of young people put on a dance performance.

The proper bus arrived right on time and whisked us across the bridge to the Emeryville Station. It was not impressive. After being in the Chicago and Denver stations, both historic structures, this was more like a bus station.


Soon after our arrival we were told that the Coast Starlight would be an hour late, so we had more time to sit on the not very comfortable plastic seats.

The train had originated in Los Angeles at about 10:00 am that morning. Unlike the California Zephyr which had a rich history prior to Amtrak, the Coast Starlight did not. Before Amtrak there was no through train on the West Coast. There was a train, the West Coast, which ran from Los Angeles to Portland via the San Joaquin Valley for 25 years from 1924 which then had some cars go on to Seattle with a different company. By the time Amtrak was formed in 1971 there were Los Angeles to San Francisco trains and others that ran between Oakland and Portland and Portland and Seattle.

The train arrived at 10:40, just over an hour late.

I found my room. This time I was on the right side of the train. This was my third sleeper train in the past week and second one in an Amtrak Superliner roomette. The car and the room were only slightly different than my last train. For one thing the car was not a transition unit, but overall, everything was basically the same. I felt like a practiced train traveller. I knew where everything was in the roomette as well as where the bathrooms were. And that rocking and rolling feeling of the train felt quite familiar.

My bed was already made up. This was no issue since it was now bedtime.

Based on my research into things to bring on an Amtrak trip, I had packed a small power bar. It had stayed in my suitcase during my first three nights in sleeper cars. Just that morning when I was packing, I had thought that I could have left it behind. But as I went to plug in my computer, the two-pronged plug fell out of the socket. It was too loose. No problem, I pulled out the power bar and the grounded plug fit quite snugly. The power bar had been necessary after all. It then fulfilled the second purpose of allowing me to charge more than one thing at a time.

I decided to take a shower and for the first time on the trip found the shower room occupied. I went back to my little room and downloaded my photos while I waited. After 20 minutes I returned and found the shower available. That was the only time that I had to wait to use the facilities on my Amtrak trains.

I had just got back into my room when I heard Jeanne, my buddy from the Zephyr. She had just boarded in Sacramento. Jeanne was one unit down and like the last time, across the narrow hallway. It was great to see an old friend. We agreed to meet up in the morning.

October 21, 2022

I slept quite well. Was I getting used to the train or was it better tracks? One thing that was different for me on this train was the distance from the engine. As I had explained in my Zephyr post, on that train I was in the transition sleeper. That meant that I was quite close to the engine, which also meant close to the horn. Amtrak did supply ear plugs, which I tried but did not find comfortable. We were further back on this train, so the horn was not as loud. There was also the rattling of the door lock on the rough tracks of Nebraska. I ultimately unlocked my door to stop the rattling. I did not have that problem on this night.

I was one of the early arrivals for breakfast and was seated with a single man, probably in his 30’s, who said he was going to the Portland area. In explaining my travels, I invariably mentioned my ill-fated Russian train trip. He then mentioned that he was Russian but had been living in the US for most of his life. He was noncommittal about whether my trip had been a good idea. I found him just a bit mysterious since he mentioned his Russian heritage but did not say anything more about it.

I had the breakfast quesadilla, which I found okay, like most things on the Amtrak trains, filling but nothing to get excited about. A lady at the next table had the Signature French Toast. It looked more like what it a signature dish should, maybe because they had put the whipped cream on top rather than in a plastic container as on the Zephyr, but then the woman had to pick up her toast to eat it. Just like me, she could not cut it with her plastic knife.

The couple on the other side of the dining car mentioned that they were celebrating their 20th wedding anniversary. I was always interested in why people were choosing to travel by train. At the bus stop the previous night I had met a couple celebrating their belated honeymoon. At the “fresh air smoke stop” I met another man who uses the train to go to Reno.

The first bit of daylight came as we were finishing breakfast. Then Mount Shasta appeared. At 14,179 feet (4,322 meters) it towers 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) above its surroundings. The volcanic mountain is a potentially active.

About 20 minutes later another mountain appeared. Was this Goosenest Mountain?


We were passing through an area of volcanic mountains, several of which are potentially active. This map from Volcano Discovery shows the many volcanic mountains in Northern California. We had passed most of them in the night.


The scenery was quite nice as we passed some farms and ranches.

We passed some children who waved.


No one was home to wave from the Trump supporter’s house.


We reached Klamath Falls. We soon should have been seeing many more mountains. Here is the volcanic map for Oregon.


The scenery should have been spectacular. I will quote from an article by a couple (unfortunately no longer with us) who specialized in train travel, Ted & Sylvia Blishak.

“By the time #14 rolls into Klamath Falls, the ponderosas have given way to junipers. After that the tracks run along the edge of Upper Klamath Lake, where bald eagles and white pelicans compete for attention as more Cascade volcanoes come into view. Mt. Shasta distinctive double-peaked shape, now over 100 miles behind, is still visible through the clear mountain air. Away from the highway now, the train begins to climb towards Cascade Summit and into a rain forest where ferns and dogwoods grow and waterfalls cascade. “

Things were still fine for the next hour or so.


But that was the end of the great views. The skies were getting more and more hazy. Not only could we see smoke, but we could also smell it and even taste it. We were going through wildfires.


We went to lunch and found the dining car freezing. The dining car staff had cranked up the air conditioning, we assumed to help clear the smoke. I had lunch with Jeanne and another woman. We all had the Natural Angus Burger. It was quite good. I asked for more coffee, which never came. It would have been nice with the cheesecake that I ordered and definitely did not need.

At one point the tracks ran along a lake. I took a final photograph to show how beautiful it could have been.


It then started to rain. That was it for photography on this train.

The train really emptied out, especially in Portland. There were no reservations required for supper. I sat with John and Sheila, who are retired (semi-retired?) musicians. I quite enjoyed their company. I said no appetizer but got a coconut crusted shrimp anyway. I had the chicken and finally skipped the desert.

We arrived in Seattle at 10:15, two and a half hours late. Although the rain had stopped, it was damp, chilly, and dark. It should have been a 10-minute walk to my hotel, but I was on the opposite side of the street and walked right past it. It was a Courtyard Marriot so I had visualized something bright. I kept on walking for another 10 minutes before finally figuring it out. I wondered how I could have missed it, but understood better when I saw it in the morning. The entrance was covered by trees.


I needed to use my card in the elevator to access my floor. I tried several times and could not get anywhere, so I went back to the desk. A man took me back to show this old man how to use the card. It worked. My room was nice. I tried to avoid thinking about the cost of my hotels during this trip.

It was far too late to talk with my ladies back home. I did a quick laundry since I was staying for two nights. I wanted a suitcase full of clean things before my one night in Vancouver and four nights on the train.

I was now half way through my sleeper nights and still having a great time and looking forward to my final two trains. Before that I had a whole day to explore Seattle.

Posted by Bob Brink 02:24 Archived in USA Tagged trains canada amtrak united_states via_rail Comments (0)

Foggy Bridge and Tall Trees

Second Day in San Francisco

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October 20, 2022

I had another good sleep, so I guess there is something to be said for sleeping without train horns, rattles, and bouncing. I knew I had to quickly make some plans for the day. The last part was clear, I needed to catch the Amtrak bus at 8:50 that would take me over to Emeryville for my 10 pm train. That left over eight hours to fill after my noon checkout. I did not want to be walking for that long, no matter what shape I was in.

I decided that a tour was in order. San Francisco bay cruises are popular, but chose another option, a tour across the Golden Gate to see the redwood trees in the Muir Woods. I would get to stop at the Golden Gate Bridge on the way and then could forego my ride back and return on a ferry from Sausalito, using that as my bay cruise.

I began my research into a Murre Woods tour the old-fashioned way. I inquired at the front desk. I then returned to my little café and knew this time to ask for a croissant with my latte. The woman asked, “No yoghurt today?” She remembered me. I ordered a yoghurt, too.


Back at the hotel I was told that their usual company had no afternoon tour to Muir Woods. I vetoed any investigation of a morning tour. I needed to fill in my afternoon, not the time I had left in my hotel room. The desk clerk tried a couple of other places with no luck. I had now learned that tours sell out in San Francisco. I thanked him and said I would look for myself. I checked online and confirmed that most tours were already booked. Finally, I found a tour with the Big Bus company. This company is better known for their Hop On-Hop Off tours. For some reason they had some bad reviews of the Muir Woods outings, but they had room, so I immediately reserved a place.

I made a quick WhatsApp call to my ladies and packed my bag. It was time to check out. I left my suitcase, planning to be reunited in about 8 hours. My tour started at Fisherman’s Wharf, a 45-minute walk from my hotel.

I took a few photos on the way.

We waited at their office. As noted, the company runs the Hop On-Hop Off tours.

I was pleased with our bus after the driver opened up the roof.


The bus made its way along the waterfront.
We made a stop at the Palace of Fine Arts.

We then drove across the Golden Gate Bridge. It was loud, windy, and cold with the top down. But no top meant I could get this shot of the bridge.


The driver stopped on the north side. The bridge was enveloped in fog. It was still loud with traffic noise. The bridge might be beautiful, but it is still part of a highway. A company rents bicycles for tourists to pedal across the bridge. I doubt that would be pleasant on a cold and foggy day.


As we drove up the hill above Sausalito, we got a very quick view behind us of the city and bridge enveloped in fog.


Our destination was the Muir Woods National Monument. Coastal or California Redwood trees, once common, are now only found in a narrow strip between Monterey and Oregon. The species includes the tallest living trees on Earth and are also among the oldest living things. The Muir Woods, at that time known as Redwood Canyon, were saved from logging and flooding, and were designated a national monument in 1908.

This was my second visit to the park. My uncle had brought me here back on my 1975 trip. I have great memories of my time with him. It was also sobering to think that the visit was 47 years ago.

The driver told us that we only had about an hour and a half in the park. We all went off on our own walks. I found the photography quite challenging as the forest was dark with bright light shining in the canopy.

I told the driver that I wanted to take the ferry back, so he dropped me off at the dock. I was the only person to get off.


There are two ferries. One is the Blue & Gold Fleet which goes to Fisherman’s Wharf. The other is the Golden Gate Ferry which goes to the ferry terminal in downtown San Francisco. The Blue & Gold ferry was boarding when I arrived at the dock, which made my decision easy, I did not want to rush. After all, I was trying to fill up my eight hours. I was also happy to be landing at the downtown terminal.

The Golden Gate Ferry is part of government transit and cost me $7 for a senior ticket. The boat was not crowded. I found a place on the upper deck in the stern and spent the next hour bouncing around taking photos and videos. This was harder than taking them on the train since wind was added to the equation. The sun was directly behind the Golden Gate Bridge, so all I could do was point my camera in that direction and hope I was capturing it.




We docked at the downtown terminal. I started walking in the direction of my hotel.

I was looking for a place to have supper, but as I got closer to my hotel, I decided to just go back to the Thai restaurant. I knew the food would be good. I had the crab noodles this time. It also had the advantage of a quiet corner seat. I might have been happily sharing tables on the train, but I was content to sit by myself at other times.

I arrived back at my hotel a bit early, having used up only seven of the eight hours. But I was too tired to do anything except relax in the lounge. I knew that it was more comfortable than the waiting room at the bus stop, a little park with benches.

I felt excited as I anticipated another overnight train ride. That answered my question from a couple of days ago when I had wondered how I would feel when it came time to board another train. I was ready to jump back on.

Posted by Bob Brink 19:06 Archived in USA Tagged trains canada amtrak united_states via_rail Comments (0)

The Streets of San Francisco

No Crimes Solved Today

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October 18, 2022

4:30 pm


I was once a big fan of a television crime drama called “The Streets of San Francisco”. I made sure to catch every episode, but not for the storyline or the acting. Instead, I was hoping for some good shots of San Francisco. I first visited San Francisco in 1975. It was my first real trip away from home. I had been in Los Angeles staying with school friends and flew up to visit my aunt and uncle in San Jose. I had never travelled on my own, so being sent by BART train into the city was a great adventure. I saw the hills with the views of the ocean and bays and was absolutely amazed that such a place existed. I did have a chance to return on three occasions, in 1981, 1988, and 1997, but it had been a quarter century since I had last been here.

So, I was quite happy to be back walking on the streets of San Francisco. I got a little lost in the change of street angles around Union Square but soon found my way to the Cartwright Hotel. All my hotels on this trip were within walking distance of the city’s train station. San Francisco’s station just happened to be a bus stop.

The desk clerk first teased me about my Penn State sweatshirt, but then told me that it was my lucky day, I was upgraded to a suite. It took me a few seconds to realize that she was serious. I had just spent two nights on the train and was going to be happy to just have a room that did not bounce up and down. Now I was getting a suite!

The Cartwright Hotel was built in 1914. It has been upgraded since then, but maybe not recently. It maintains its old historic hotel feel. Internet searches even come up with references to being haunted, although I did not see any ghosts. There is no bar or restaurant but there is a lounge area which I appreciated the next evening when I waited for my train.

I took the elevator up to my suite and had to take a quick video.

I took this photo the next morning.


I’d had no phone or internet connection on the Zephyr, so immediately did a quick WhatsApp with Po and Zoe. I asked Zoe why she had chewed on my underwear. She did not answer. I guess since Zoe always chooses my underwear, that she loves me the most.

Two nights in one place meant that it was time to do my laundry. My nice suite was soon covered with my now clean but quite damp clothes. I hoped that they would be dry before it was time to pack.

Chinatown was not far, so I headed that way for my supper. I was surprised at how long it took to find a restaurant as the first blocks were full of retail stores, all closed for the day. I finally came up to two adjoining open restaurants, one of which had signs from a recent grand opening. I chose that one and was pleased to find that most of the other customers appeared to be Chinese. I ordered a plate of noodles.

I enjoyed my supper and strolled back towards the hotel. It was a pleasant evening. I bought some bananas at a convenience store, my first fruit (not counting the few strawberries in my salad) in the past five days. My giant suite had a giant TV in the living room, so I watched some basketball on the big screen TV. It was strange to have the room not rocking back and forth. I wondered if I would recognize a small earthquake or just think that I was back on the train. I went to bed early by west coast time, but my biological clock was still a few time zones away, where it was much later.

October 19, 2022

I slept well in my king-sized bed, which was probably three times the size of my bed on the Zephyr. I did have a funny sensation when I got up. On the train I had very little room between the bed and the door to my sleeper compartment, so I had to step down quite carefully. I caught myself doing the same thing in this big hotel room.

I checked Google Maps for a nice café for breakfast. I saw one that was just around the corner and their website showed croissants. That looked like the place, but on arrival, saw no croissants in the display case. I decided to stay and just go healthy with a yoghurt and my latte.

The café had a long bench with tables. I sat in the far corner. A man rushed in, dropped his bag next to me and went to the counter to order. After a few moments I realized that I was being stared at. There was a little chihuahua sticking his head out of the bag. He was looking at me and trembling. I tried to talk to him, to reassure him that all would be okay, but he did not believe me. Instead, he jumped out and fled towards the next table. I called out to make sure that no one sat on the little guy. The man returned, grabbed the dog, stuffed it back into the bag, scarfed down his bagel, and left without saying a word. So much for looking out for his doggie.

A couple sat down. They were speaking French and had two baskets with pastries. I saw a croissant. I used my best French. “C’est bon, le croissant?” It is "the real thing" the woman replied in English, the language change not unexpected considering the quality of my French. “You have to ask for a croissant”. The owner is French, although I did not learn if that had anything to do with the rationing his croissants. My breakfast was supposed to be over, so I had to think for second, maybe two. I ordered a croissant, along with a second latte.


After my very satisfying breakfast, I returned to my suite to plan my big day in San Francisco. I have not mentioned my previous travel plans for 2022. For several weeks this past spring and early summer, I thought I was going to Spain to walk one of the Camino de Santiago routes, specifically the Camino Primitivo, which is 321 km long and takes about two weeks to finish. I had done considerable research but more importantly had done quite of bit of training, both walking the roads around Pouch Cove, as well as several hikes on the East Coast Trail. I overdid the latter and ended up with some knee problems. Then I injured myself watching TV. Yes, the dreaded TV injury; I stubbed my toe on the furniture and could hardly walk for a couple of weeks, could not hike for a month. That was the end of my walking adventure in 2022. I decided to postpone the Camino until another year.

But all that training combined with some timely rest for my knee (and the healing of my toe) had me in great condition for walking. I had no intention of using any transport on my first day in San Francisco. I set my Hiking App to track my time and distance and went into motion.

Not surprisingly, I took many photographs along the way. I expected to love the shots of the hills but found the many gardens quite amazing as well.

As I was walking past Chinese stores and restaurants, I thought to myself, “I should be able to get some porridge and donuts”. No, not your whole wheat cereal and a glazed donut, but a thick Chinese rice soup dish, usually eaten at breakfast or lunch. It often includes seafood or meat. Like many things Chinese, I was introduced to it by my wife. It is likely to be on menus as congee. Po sometimes calls it jook, although in our household it is always porridge. It is especially great with Chinese donuts, long deep-fried sticks of dough. That might not sound great if you have never had them, but fresh donuts dipped into porridge are simply wonderful. Po makes her own porridge at home, but it is the donuts that are hard to duplicate as they require a large quantity of boiling oil.

I went into a restaurant and asked if they served porridge, but the woman on duty did not speak English. She kept pointing at pictures of things on their menu. I kept saying, “No, I want porridge.” There was one customer, a twenty something non-Chinese guy, sitting in the corner enjoying his meal. After listening to the lady and I go back and forth several times, he finally called out the number. It was at the bottom of the menu. But they did not have any. So, maybe the woman had understood and was simply trying to sell me something else. The helpful customer had never had it, so I described it to him and suggested he try it one day. I went on my way.

This is what it looks like. You should try it sometime.

My first destination was Telegraph Hill, specifically the big white structure on top of the hill called Coit Tower. One does not need a map to get to the tower. You can see from everywhere in San Francisco which is why an observation deck was built there in 1849 so that information about incoming ships could be signalled to city residents. That was replaced a telegraph system in 1853.

The funds for the tower were donated by Lillie Hitchcock Coit. She had an interesting history as first a volunteer helper for the early fire brigades and later for her cigar smoking, trouser wearing and gambling, things that were not something for ladies to do. She left money to “beautify the city” and luckily the city finally decided on the tower.

I approached the tower from the south and turned left up past the Filbert Steps Garden.


The tower is 210 feet tall (64 m) or 13 stories tall. It was built in 1932-33. The bottom of the tower features many fresco murals painted as part of a federal New Deal employment program for artists, who were primarily faculty and students at the California School of Fine Arts.

The elevator was not working that day, but since I was interested in getting in my steps, did not consider that a problem.

Of course, there was a great view at the top. Although the openings are covered with glass, it was cleaner than Amtrak’s. That could just be natural washing from the rain. That is how my upstairs windows are cleaned back in Pouch Cove.


I bought a water and an ice cream at the kiosk at the bottom of the tower and took a few photos from that level.


I then walked around the tower and rejoined the Filbert Steps with its 400 wooden steps that take you through the Grace Marchant Garden
to the Embarcadero, the eastern waterfront of the Port of San Francisco.


At the bottom I reached Levi’s Plaza and walked to Fisherman’s Wharf.


I did not spend much time there as it is far too touristy for me, so I hurried along, only stopping briefly at the submarine and then fled north.

One aspect of the city that I remembered from 1975 and that had mercifully changed, was the seedy strip clubs and sex shops. That San Francisco had these establishments seemingly everywhere, with touts calling out, advertising the chance to talk to their live naked girls. I have to admit that at the time I was not against talking to naked women but can say that I resisted their pleas. I had no money to spend on such things.

I was only walking away from the area and not looking for a meal, but I soon had the highlight dining experience of my trip. As I was passing a food truck, a man called out, “Mr. Photographer, take a picture of our truck”. I did as I was ordered. “Take a picture of our sign.” I took another photo. “Take a picture of me.” And another.


Once I took the photos, I figured that I should have something to eat. I decided on a barbequed shrimp taco. It is not actually my new friend’s business. The owner, Freddy, and his wife, Marsha, were busy working. Marsha made the taco. Freddie has a couple of restaurants as well as the truck. I suggested that he should open one in St. John's. The taco was fantastic. They only had two tables in a little parking lot. I sat beside my friend and chatted while I ate. He took great enjoyment at my dismissal of things touristy, such as Fisherman’s Wharf and the cable cars.


I continued on towards the south. I had many opportunities to take a cable car but just kept walking. I found a nice café for my latte fix.

My route took me close to Lombard Street, famous for a one block section that has always been referred to as the “crookedest street in the world”. The design was suggested by a property owner due to the steep grade and was built in 1922. It has since become a huge tourist attraction. A big part of the traffic were little yellow electric vehicles that are rented to tourists with a planned GPS routing. Yes, if Fisherman’s Wharf is too touristy, then so is Lombard Street.


I was thinking about walking as far as the painted ladies, a street of Victorian Houses that are popular with photographers but decided that I would need a couple more hours to finish my outing, so turned back towards the hotel. According to my app, I had walked over 13 km (x miles) during my San Francisco day. That was great, but on the Camino, I might have days that are twice that far.

I took this photo just as I was arriving back at my hotel.


I found that my laundry was not drying well. I shuffled it around to share the light and even tried the hair dryer. I had passed a Thai restaurant that looked like a good place for my supper, so I headed there. I ordered the Thai Drunken Noodles. “Yes, hot is good. And a Thai beer, please.” It was great, which made two really good meals for the day. Plus, it all started with a croissant.


It was only a few minutes from the restaurant back to my suite. I knew I needed to plan my next day's activities but was too tired, so after a few minutes of flipping through my photographs, I just crawled into my giant bed.

Posted by Bob Brink 21:46 Archived in USA Tagged trains amtrak united_states Comments (0)

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