In January 2006, I travelled from Chicago to San Francisco (Emeryville) on the California Zephyr. Travelling on a long train journey in the USA had been on my list ever since I saw movies like North by Northwest. A Superliner Roomette was duly booked for about $350.

When travelling, I would e-mail my friends and family in Australia about what was going on. Nothing has changed, I still mention the food in detail like I do in my flight reviews. The best part of this, I think, is when I describe all the people I met on the train.

California Zephyr Tales

It was snowing and very windy as I went to the train station, so my navy coat looked like I’d had a severe case of dandruff all over it! 🙂 Checked my bag, and sat down in the lounge for an hour before boarding the train.

Found my sleeper car and my carriage attendant (who had been doing the job for thirty-one years!) Sam gave me a brief rundown on all the services. Settled in and off we went! The first afternoon wasn’t very exciting, mostly flat land and what not. I met the woman in the sleeper next to me (Nell from North Carolina who was about 80 and talked to me a lot!) and then had dinner.

I had the Beef Flat Iron Steak, a bottle of red wine, and a Chocolate Bundt for dessert. Very filling and very good – especially as all meals were included in the train fare. Popped back to my cabin, read, and pulled down the bed from the roof/wall to sleep. Needless to say I didn’t sleep well, and cat napped on and off until about 6am, when I got up and went for a shower. That was an interesting experience, but I got clean and was happy.

The Next Day

At breakfast I had the French Toast with juice and coffee. At meal times you’re seated with other passengers, so everyone gets to know each other and chats a lot. I headed for the lounge car and stayed up there while we passed through the Rocky Mountains! Beautiful scenery, and I ended up taking a lot of photos while chatting to people.

For lunch, I had the Stone Fired Supreme Pizza, and continued watching the world go by. At dinner time I had the Cod Basil and Thyme, which one of my dinner companions from the night before had recommended, and it was very nice as well.

Night time came, and after about five Jack Daniels and Cokes, I decided it was bed time and to sleep on the lower bunk this time around, as the upper one has less room. After Salt Lake City, I went to sleep and managed about six hours. Awake at 6am again, showered, and looked forward to my last day on the train. The Western Omelette was my breakfast, lunch was a Black Angus Steak Burger. All great – big portions, plenty of food.

The Last Day

We went across the desert, then up the Sierra Mountains where it was snowing and foggy and totally great! We were delayed for three hours at Sparks, Nevada which was boring and lost more time later on. As we were so late, we were served another meal which was Tri Color Tortellini.

Picked up my bags, and got the bus. As there weren’t many of us on the bus, the driver took us all to our hotels. Mine was second, thank goodness. I had a message to call Carolyn already, and I checked my e-mail briefly and went to sleep.

A Wide Variety of Passengers

I enjoyed the train trip – a lot of eating, chatting, taking photos and relaxing. The other humans on the train were varied, and it was like an Agatha Christie novel –

* Nell, the chatty Southern 80 odd year old

* The African American Grandmother going to visit her daughter

* A guy who came from San Juan and was on the way to hospital and spoke about how America was going down the toilet

* The brassy serving woman in the dining car who took no crap

* The drunk loud American complaining lady who maintained her berth wasn’t hers until she gigglingly realised it, and who during the delay complained loudly and a lot

* Two American guys, 20 and 21, both really good looking, who were employed part time in the forest harvesting marijuana, which is how they get their money. They had been to Washington DC to visit a friend who lost his legs below the knees in Afghanistan

But Wait, There’s a Few More!

* A mother and daughter who spent a lot of time with the above American guys

* An aircraft mechanic who works with Alaska Airlines in Portland. He likes to cross-country ski

* A guy who was wearing a burns pressure suit as he’d been burned at some stage

* Dour German dinner announcer guy

* Bored Lounge Car snacks seller guy

* Random man in the lounge playing a recorder

* A lass on the way to Boulder to do a culinary course

* Screaming bent old man (the train jerked and his bad leg twisted, scared the life out of me!)

* A hispanic family with three children – definitely the youngest on the train until the aforementioned 20 year old Americans

* … and the Amish! I had a great old chat with about 10 Amish people who were on their way to Mexico for Doctors appointments as the US is too expensive. One had a hook for a hand, two were 21 and married last September 1 (I am sending them copies of my pictures as they’re not allowed to use cameras), none of them used deodorant so there was a bit of a whiff, but they were all lovely. Most of them had 9 or 10 brothers and sisters, and all had farms – of the 160 acre variety, containing chickens, pigs, horses and so on.

Interesting stuff!

Overall Thoughts

Well, that is the end of the e-mail. I had a ball on board the California Zephyr and would recommend it to anyone. Being able to have my own room for peace and quiet was very welcome. There are plenty of opportunities to socialise, at meal times and in the observation car.

Train travel is good fun and I like it as an alternative to flying. Now that I have done the California Zephyr, I wonder which train journey in the USA I should take next.

What do you think about train travel in the United States? Have you done the California Zephyr or one of the others? Any recommendations? Thanks for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image and Roomette via Amtrak.
Observation Car picture via TripAdvisor.
Dining Car photo by Steve Brown via Flickr
Map via Wikimedia Commons.