Category Archives: Trains and Buses

Getting to Paris via TGV and our Hotel, Le Metropolitan, a Tribute Hotel from SPG

Yes, can you believe that I had never been to Paris before this trip?  I was anxiously looking forward to our four days in the City of Lights.  I had my list of places I would like to go, and things that I wanted to see.  I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to do it all so I gave myself permission to deviate from the schedule I set up.  Of course I had to save some things to see and do for my second trip to Paris.

For our hotel stay I made our reservations at the Radisson Metropolitan in the 16th Arrondissement using my Club Carlson points more than a year before our trip. Previously with Club Carlson if you booked a reward stay, your last night was free.  In other words, they didn’t even charge you points.  Consequently I booked two nights under my name (remember one of those nights was free) and two nights under Blogger Hubby’s account.  We would spend four nights at the hotel in total but only paying points for two nights.

Before we went to Paris I found out that SPG purchased our hotel and it would be in their luxury collections.  I was concerned that they wouldn’t honor our reservation but they assured me they would.

A month before we left the United States I had made train reservations and purchased our TGV (fast train) tickets to go from Lyon to Paris.  I again turned to The Man in Seat 61 to explain the differences between the trains.  He had recommended purchasing our tickets through the Captain train website which I did.  The Captain Train website has since been taken over by Train Line but it is the same format and I had no problems purchasing and printing out my tickets.  If you plan to go to Europe, for many routes it is much less expensive if you purchase your tickets 60 or 90 days in advance.  For other smaller, local trains it didn’t seem to matter and we would purchase them at the train station either at the kiosk or at the ticket counter once we knew definitively what our plans were. Track information is not posted until 20 minutes prior to the train’s arrival so no sense in asking people which track you’ll be departing from.  Also, since we departed Lyon from Part-Dieu station there was assistance for those with mobility problem as as was the case with our traveling companions.  Her husband went into the office, told them where we were waiting and an attendant came out with a wheel chair and took her to the correct track and helped them on.  If you need help and it is available, take full advantage of it.

For those who are unfamiliar with train travel in Europe, once you have your ticket, you need to validate it prior to boarding at the machine on the platform.  Conductors will still come by and check your ticket to see if it has been validated and if it hasn’t, there is a huge fine to pay.  p1070049

On the Train Line website, which is in English,  you can choose which type of seating you wanted and which class.  We traveled first class (wouldn’t do it again), sat in the upper deck for better viewing and chose single seats facing each other.  Across the aisle were two seats together either facing forward or facing each other like we were.  We had a small table between us with a small lamp.

p1060530 p1060534

I emailed the concierge at our hotel asking for ways to get to the hotel from the Gard Lyon, the train station that we would be arriving in. Obviously the options were to hire a driver, taxi, subway or bus.  He gave us the prices for these options.  We chose to take the bus as it would drop us off about 2 blocks from the hotel and would be inexpensive. We bought a book of ten bus/subway passes called a caret.  If you plan on using public transportation, I would recommend buying a caret as it will save you time.  For us taking a bus was easy as we only had carry-on luggage (me) and a slightly larger case for Blogger Hubby as we allowed room for souvenirs in his suitcase.  The ride took a lot longer than I thought, about an hour, but while we were traversing Paris we got a good orientation to the city and I got my first glimpses of the Eiffel Tower.  Blogger Hubby is always a little nervous about making sure we know that we are on the correct bus/train, that we are going in the right direction and that we know where to get off. Fortunately I have no qualms about asking people.  I found if you have a smile, and ask if they speak “English” people are willing to help you as much as they can.  I’ll tell you this now – we did not get lost once nor did we get on the wrong train or bus or miss our stop.

We got off the bus and headed for our hotel, now called Le Metropolitan, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel.  The hotel is shaped like a triangular between two streets.   I knew that European hotels were small but when they took us to our room, I couldn’t believe how small it was. Both of us could not be up and walking around at the same time.  There was a small chair in the corner but immediately behind it was a floor lamp and if you sat down the back of your head hit the floor lamp.  You couldn’t pull the chair out because there was only about a foot’s length between the chair and the corner of the bed.   When we asked if there was another room they told us no and that we should be happy as this was an upgrade.

I did not know how we would be able to spend 4 nights in this room. That night I sent a tweet out to @SPG assist, sent them the pictures and told them how uncomfortable it was.  Next morning there was a knock on our door and they moved us across the hallway.  This room even had a couch in it – certainly not luxurious but a much nicer room.  I would stay away from room 226 and instead ask for room 230.

There is a wall about 12 inches from the other side of the bed. If I sat in the chair, you couldn't get past my legs and feet.
There is a wall about 12 inches from the other side of the bed. If I sat in the chair, you couldn’t get past my legs and feet.
If we pulled the bench out to sit on it, so one could get by as we would be blocking the narrow passage
If we pulled the bench out to sit on it, no one could get by

 

There is a restaurant on the first floor and it looked nice though we didn’t try it.  I believe the breakfasts there are about $30 each. img_1655 Instead we would go to a pastierrie and purchase our freshly made French pastries.  Around the corner and down the street from the hotel was a Casino – which is a French supermarket.  That’s where we purchased our yogurts, sliced meats, cheeses and wine.

For being branded a “luxury hotel” it did not feel very luxurious to us with the awful royal purple rippled carpeting in the hallway, elevators that didn’t work half the time, the lounge area that had tables where we played cards sometimes and looks better in these pictures than it did in real life.  The lobby is very nice and the staff is friendly and helpful and they met all our needs particularly when we asked for numerous directions, which subway stop to use or how to get to train stations.img_1654

We would walk down two flights of stairs to go down and everyday we had to walk around the housekeeping cart right by the stairs and the elevator. A little awkward.
We would walk down two flights of stairs to go down and everyday we had to walk around the housekeeping cart right by the stairs and the elevator. A little awkward.

As you walk out the door and basically walk straight you will see the Eiffel Tower.  I gasped when I saw it all lit up in the evening.  This is the view as we were about 50 meters from the hotel.img_1649

Nevertheless we are very thankful that we had the points to stay here and that we booked it while we were still able to get one night free through the Club Carlson program.

Next post will be our sightseeing adventures and how we saved some money.

Advertisements

Packing for a Month’s Trip to Europe in a Carry-On

For our travels before and after our river cruise on the Rhone on AMAWaterways, we were planning on using public transportation, mainly trains as well as subways and buses.  What we found on our train trips last year through northern Italy was that the luggage racks are above your seats and Blogger Hubby was always lifting our fully packed 26″ suitcases up to the racks.  He is in his early 70’s and quite fit but I still worried about all that lighting as well as all the stairs we had to climb up and down in some of these smaller train stations.  I vowed to pack lighter.

I was determined to fit everything into a wheeled carry-on piece of luggage.  I wanted to be responsible for my own luggage.  I didn’t want to have to ask for help from strangers and I didn’t want to take only what I could handle. I need to be able to lift it onto a train up the step or two as well as if we went up to the upper deck on the train.   If I couldn’t handle it, then I was taking too much.  My friends were somewhat aghast that I would be gone for almost a month but you know what….I did it and felt so great.

I brought with me 2 pairs of printed capri pants, one pair of nylon travel capris, a pair of shorts and three pairs of long pants and a dress.  I stayed with colors that were blue, white and black.  All the tops could be worn with at least three pairs of pants.  One of the tops I brought was a tank top that I could wear by itself if it was really hot and conversely I could layer it under long sleeve tops if it were chilly.   I brought a white sweater, a long sleeve heavier white top that would be layered, a knit outer layer quarter zipped pullover, a thin nylon raincoat/windbreaker, 3 pairs of shoes, underwear/night clothes, curling iron and a bag of meds.  My packing cubes from e-bags helped keep me organized and it made it easier to pack, unpack and repack throughout our journey.  In addition to my carry-on, I also had a LL Bean medium size tote bag that I could loops over the handles of the suitcase and I wore a backpack.

img_1368 img_1369I brought my knitting with me, my iPad that held the books I was reading and as a way to get in touch with family through the free wifi on our river cruise ship and the wifi that came with the hotels that we stayed with.  With my iPhone, iPad, Blogger Hubby’s Kindle and my camera all needing charging I found it an inconvenience last year plugging items in and then unplugging them to charge other items.  I bought for myself on Amazon an Anker 60W/12A 6-Port USB Charger PowerPort so I could charge everything at the same time  Here is a picture of it:

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-7-26-25-pm

I did bring a small purse with me so I would have it when we would go out to dinner rather than bringing my backpack.

With a limited amount of clothing, it was never an issue of what I was going to wear.  We did make use of the laundry on the AMADagio before we left to make sure we were leaving with clean clothing.  We brought a small bottle of Woolite with us to wash out some things in our bathroom sinks but found we ran out and bought some inexpensive liquid laundry detergent to supplement.

I’ve mentioned how I brought a 22″ carry-on and you are probably wondering what Blogger Hubby brought.  He actually brought the next size up though all of his things did fit in a carry-on.  He brought the next size along so we would have room for anything we might purchase along the way.

Coordinating colors certainly helped make the packing easier, not caring if you wore the same top twice within a few days, be willing to rinse out some of your items in the sink, and not always having your shoes match your outfit gave us the freedom to move around easier as well as for me, being responsible for what I bring.  It truly felt liberating.  Try it sometime

AMTRAK’s South West Chief

We were finally on the last leg of our three part train trek around parts of America.  We enjoyed almost all aspects of the trip so far, perhaps with the exception of one of us having to climb into the upper, narrow bunk bed and the train whistles at night when going pass a crossing.  The South West Chief was originally  operated by the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway until AMTRAK took over passenger rail service in 1971.

southwest chief

Los Angeles, along with Chicago, has a lounge of first class passengers and we took full advantage of it.  When you enter the front of Union Station, walk straight back and near the rear, turn right and then go up the escalator.  There are chairs, a few tables and chips and soft drinks as well as coffee. There is an attendant sitting at the desk to help us with any questions you might have.

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 11.50.20 PM

As lounges go, or at least as compared to airline lounges, this wasn’t too much but it was a nice place to hang out and eat the few snacks that they had.  Because of the way that the station and tracks are laid out, when it was time to go to the track to board our train, we were driven there in multi-row golf carts.  If we had chosen to walk, we would have had a long way to go including going under a tunnel to get to the other side of the tracks.

IMG_1013

We weren’t sure if we would get dinner since we weren’t scheduled to leave Los Angeles till 6:15.  As we boarded we found out that we would get dinner and as the attendant came around, we signed up for one of the first sittings at 7:00.  Same menu that we had on both the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight.  Blogger Hubby was quick to let our table mates know how good he thought the seafood cakes were, which he had again!

We went to bed early because one of the stops in Arizona, early in the morning around 5:45 AM was Winslow, Arizona.  It seemed like I was humming the Eagles song” standing on a corner in Winslow, Arizona” all night while I was trying to sleep.  Unfortunately, I woke up about 5 minutes after we passed it.  At breakfast we met a couple who had just gotten on the train.  The did the option of going to the Grand Canyon through the Grand Canyon Railroad.  Although they had a good time, they were exhausted because they had to leave their hotel at 3:  AM to be at the train station at 4:00 AM – unfortunately, the train was late and they had to wait about an hour for the South West Chief to come by.  Although they loved the canyon, they wouldn’t recommend going by train other than the convenience of being very close to the rim.

For us, we enjoyed seeing the change in scenery across America.  Here are a few scenes that we passed on our last day on our train trek.

IMG_1046IMG_1037

IMG_1042As I mentioned, our train, unbeknownst to us, was running late but what we found out on every line is that they build time into the schedule so they very rarely arrive late at the station at the end of the line.

Our final stop was Albuquerque.  Our train trek was over but now our New Mexico part was beginning.  It was 11:00 in the morning, the sun was shining and we were excited.  We gathered our bags, left the train and walked out front to get a taxi to the airport to get our rental car.  Problem was – there were no cabs.  I tried calling one cab company but no answer.  I tried Uber but it was surge pricing very high.  Finally got a cab company who would send a cab out to the train station in 10-15 minutes but no guarantee that we would get it.  After half an hour, one came but there was a little disagreement on how got to ride.  The other couple and us came to an agreement that we would share it since we were both going to a car rental at the airport.IMG_1047

We closely examined the car, loaded our bags and headed north to Santa Fe.

Would we do this again – yes!  We’d like to do the California Zephyr route which is San Francisco to Chicago traveling through scenic Colorado and the Rockies.

This entire train trip took 65,000 of my Ultimate Reward points that I had transferred over to AMTRAK (no longer available to do it) and remember, traveling first class included all of our meals.  I used points to stay at the Holiday Inn and Suites in Chicago the night before our train trip, also for the Weston Bayshore in Vancouver, points for our night at the Hilton Doubletree Checkers hotel in Los Angeles.  We paid for our night at the Seattle Grand Hyatt and used a Diamond upgrade for our Emerald Suite.

Up next, Land of Enchantment – exploring Santa Fe, Taos, Albuquerque and its environs.

REMINDER: I’m getting together a group for a cruise around the southern tip of South America.Come join us on March 5, 2018 (that’s right – 2018) on Holland America’s Zaandam, a vessel with about 1450 passengers as we board in Valparaiso, Chile as we cruise among the fjords, through the Strait of Magellan, Beagle Channel, visiting the southernmost town in the world, Montevideo, Paraguay and disembarking in Buenos Aires, he home of fine leather and the tango.  With a group, basically in name only, we received the lowest rates and amenities. .  Leave a comment and I’ll respond privately to you about this cruise or contact my travel agent, Michelle, at michelle@mccabeworld.com and tell her you are in Jane’s group!

Coast Starlight Train from Seattle to Los Angeles

Traveling by train is not quick.  You will not get to where you want to go fast.  Train travel can be expensive but for some of these routes, it is much less than airfare for these remote locations.  Train travel is a lazy, relaxing way to sit back, and watch the scenery go by while you are going to your destination and enjoying the ride.  That’s something that most people don’t say about airplane travel.  You have the opportunity to meet people, share travel stories, get recommendations  if you are stopping in their hometown.  Train travel is almost a luxurious way to travel because you are not rushing.  It’s a throwback to other times for most of us.  Rooms are small, even the large bedroom that we got very very small.

In our "large" bedroom" on the train.  It was the same setup on all the trains.
In our “large” bedroom” on the train. It was the same setup on all the trains.
hallway where our bedroom was located
hallway where our bedroom was located

We began the second leg of our Train Trek across America in Seattle when we went to Seattle’s King Street AMTRAK station to board the Coast Starlight. We had heard so much about this leg of our trip that I wondered if it lived up to the hype. After reading this, you be the judge.  If you missed our first leg, you can read about it here.

At the King Street Station, there is no lounge.  Like airports, there is a dedicated line waiting to board for first class passengers. You need to look at your ticket for it to tell you which car you are on and which room. Our ticket said 1130 D which translates into train #11, car 30, room D. You need to remember this information because you will use it in the dining room to charge your meal to your room (remember, your meals are included if you are a first class passenger).

We settled in and went exploring. We had heard that this train was different and we wanted to find out how it was different. One car behind us was the Parlor Car which I don’t believe any other long haul train has. This is exclusively for first class passengers and it has padded, swivel chairs so you can look our the windows. This is similar to an observation car with the windows at chair level and on top as well. There are 12 of these chairs as well as about 8 tables.

comfortable chairs in the parlor
comfortable chairs in the parlor
tables for eating during dining hours in the parlor as well as the wine tasting.  We would play cards here as well
tables for eating during dining hours in the parlor as well as the wine tasting. We would play cards here as well

You can make meal reservations in the parlor car and they have a different menu that what we had on the Empire Builder or what we would have on the SouthWest Chief. Excited that we would have something different, I quickly signed us up for lunch. BIG MISTAKE. Nothing is prepared fresh, or at least as fresh as it could be on the train. I ordered a salad which was mainly arugula and sliced red cabbage with a salad dressing that was not to my liking – and I like most salad dressings. Blogger Hubby had the chicken salad sandwich and he said it was a “nothing kind of sandwich”, pre-made who knows when. There was another choice and it too was a sandwich. Lesson learned – eat meals in the dining room.

The parlor car is also where they have wine tastings for $7.50 for three tastings and an offer to buy a cheese platter for $10. The first day it was 2 wines from Washington and one imported wine from Argentina. The second day it was 2 wines from California and the same imported wine from Argentina. Although it was nice to do this, it could have been presented and run better. After we were served our wine, the parlor stewart disappeared. Sometimes there were long waits before pours. You decide whether you want to do this or not.

tasting a Washington State wine
tasting a Washington State wine

 

We left Seattle about an hour and more late. They had to put sand on the train for us to spray in the tracks where we would potentially have problems climbing elevation and possibly slippery tracks.

Once we started moving we were glad that we were in the comfortable parlor car seats as we admired the beautiful scenery that was unfolding before our eyes. We crossed smaller rivers, traveled along the Columbia River, climbed mountains, saw Mt. Shasta and just took in the sights. We certainly understood why Oregon is called the Evergreen State as we traveled southbound. What surprised both of us was that there was still snow on the ground.

Through the Cascade Mountains
Through the Cascade Mountains

On all of the trains, there are some longer stops where you can get off the train, go in the station or just stretch your legs on firm ground.  Here we are in Eugene, Oregon where the waffle sole was invented and Nike was begun.  The longer stops are called “smoke stops” as there is no smoking on the train.

One of our stops, Eugene, Oregon.
One of our stops, Eugene, Oregon.

As we traveled through California we stopped at Salinas which is nicknames “America’s Salad Bowl” and marveled at all the rows and rows of crops that were growing and being harvested.  We could quickly spot the red strawberries that were growing on the plants and wished we could have reached out the train window to grab some.

Salinas, California - America's Salad Bowl
Salinas, California – America’s Salad Bowl

Further down the coast, south of San Luis Obispo, came the sheer beauty of this coast.  There was nothing between us and the shore.  With colors ranging from deep green to tans and browns, it was breathtaking and made us glad that we were seeing this from the train – we could have never done it by automobile as there were no visible roads to our eye.  Mountains in the background, sand and ocean in front of us as we were zipping along on this stretch of track that this train route is noted for.

Pacific Coast
Pacific Coast
IMG_0990
Pacific Coast south of San Luis Obispo

There is one point in this section that you go around a curve and can see both the front of the train as well as the back of the train at the same time.  Of course, I wasn’t able to photograph it but here is the front of the train.

The front of the Coast Starlight train
The front of the Coast Starlight train

Every train has a different personality with different crew. Also, each of the trains we rode had the same menu yet with different cooks, the same food was different on the trains.  Blogger Hubby loved the seafood cakes which were a combination of shrimp and crab meat.  He thought that was the best on the menu.  I had the signature steak on al three trains and the Coast Starlight had the best steak by far.  Salisbury Steak, the special on all the trains, was hit or miss.  We didn’t try the pasta with the overcooked veggies.  The herb chicken was also good.

We arrived in Los Angeles around 9:00 PM and took a cab to our hotel with an attitude from our cabdriver since our hotel, the Hilton DoubleTree was only a few blocks away.

As a reminder, everything on this trip with the exception one hotel night was booked using points.  Your meals on the train are included in your first class fare/miles.

Leg two of our epic train trek was now in the books.  Next up, what to do near the train station during the day.

Seattle – Our Layover and What We Did

We chose to continue our trip after we got off the Empire Builder and took the AMTRAK bus to Vancouver. We had about 4 hours between our arrival in Seattle and our departure. Not one to miss an opportunity to explore, we were off.

In the terminal in Seattle, if you go to the ticketing counter, they will help you in holding your luggage. They do this because the room where the locker is store is not always manned. The cost is $4 per piece .

King Street Station, Seattle
King Street Station, Seattle

We left the train station and walked down to Pike’s Public Market. We were so hungry because that morning on the train, the breakfast was open from 5:30 AM till 7:00 AM. With all the time changes, it was not a problem getting up for breakfast at that time.

What I love about Pike’s Market are the flowers that they sell and have arranged in bouquets. They are so fragrant, so colorful and so inexpensive. One of my favorite flowers is the peony and you could get a beautiful arrangement with white peonies, dark purple irises, purple delphiniums and other beautiful filler flowers for $10!

Rows and rows of beautiful floral bouquets many featuring peonies and irises
Rows and rows of beautiful floral bouquets many featuring peonies and irises

Pike Market is known for a fish stall that throws the fish to the wrapper once you have selected your piece to bring home. It gets very crowded and when a fish is thrown, loud applause follows in appreciation. It is a sight to behold and if you haven’t seen it, look for a crowd around a fish stall.

IMG_0776
A new meaning to the term “flying fish”

IMG_0768

IMG_0769

We found Pike Barbeque inside the market – only 7 stools but worth waiting for a stool – do not attempt to eat this sandwich on your lap. It is juicy with lots of sauce on it. In fact, they dip the top bun in sauce before putting it on the sandwich. Being from Virginia, I am somewhat of a barbeque snob but this was very, very good. We shared the brisket sandwich and I was licking my lips and fingers afterwards.  If barbeque is not your thing, go downstairs and you will find a restaurant that serves local fish as well as Dungeness crab. There are many other choices for lunch so walk around first and find what you want.IMG_0775

What I like about this area is the complete diversity of shops although many are associated with food in some ways. There was a Russian restaurant, Turkish, cheese making, a pear store, hot dogs and so much more. I wish I had a larger stomach and larger clothing so I could have a sample of all of these tempting tasty treats.

For those that may be coming to Seattle for the first time and have a little more time, please allow me to make recommendation – go down along the waterfront and take the cruise to Tillicum Village on Blake Island for the Native American Dinner Show. The ferry ride out to the island is beautiful and the native story and the salmon dinner (you can request chicken at time of booking) is delicious. Walk around the island before or after the show.  This will be one of your highlights of your trip.

at the Wharf
at the Wharf

We walked back to King Street Station in time for our bus to Vancouver. Since we took the bus up to Vancouver and the train back to Seattle, I’ll write a blog post comparing both means of travel.

All Aboard – AMTRAK’s Empire Builder

This trip was booked last December transferring points from my Ultimate Rewards account to AMTRAK.  This is no longer available.  You can read about it here.

We left the Holiday Inn and Suites and walked directly to Union Station going in the entrance that I described in my previous post. Inside the lounge is a checked bag room where we ditched our bags so we could still walk around the city and get some breakfast. You do need to show your ticket once you enter the lounge.

Entrance to the lounge
Entrance to the lounge
early morning at the lounge in Union Station, Chicago. It will get much more crowded the closer to departure.
Early morning at the lounge in Union Station, Chicago. It will get much more crowded  closer to departure.

The lounge that we used will be closed in a few weeks and a new lounge will be opened, probably around the second week of June. The new lounge will have showers, more seating, and will be located in the Great Hall. In the lounge were hot and cold drinks and snacks like potato chips, pre-packaged breakfast rolls and nachos.  Here is a link to the new lounge.

After checking our bags, we left the station and headed to the French Market which we had discovered the day before. I had one of the best breakfasts that I’ve ever had – a freshly made crepe filled with fresh strawberries, crème fraiche, and almonds. Delicious !  Blogger Hubby had the crepe with lox, cream cheese, tomatoes and red onions. There were tables at the back of the market and outside for you to sit and enjoy your food.

The best breakfast ever!
The best breakfast ever!

With no bags and still a few hours before we needed to be back at the station, we walked around the city more. We walked over the to canal where tourists boats took passengers on a city tour.

IMG_0574We found the Chicago Cultural Center and went in – free admittance is always an incentive. They have two beautiful rotundas and one was by Louis Tiffany. This building was the former Chicago Public Library.

IMG_0577Close by was Millenium Park and the Chicago Art Museum – both worth walking to and through.  Throughout the park we saw a number of fountains, sculptures that we found very unique.IMG_0585

 

IMG_0591Did you know that the famed Rt. 66 begins in Chicago?IMG_0593

Throughout the city were beautiful tulips in bloom as well as other sidewalk arrangements in concrete planters – some with pussy willows which I hadn’t seen in a long time.   Another building that we saw was the Board of Trade building – very unique with huge eagles at the top corners of the building almost looking like gargoyles.

When we returned to the lounge, it was crowded and difficult to find seating. There are two screens on the walls – one for arrivals and one for departures. You will see the same name of trains so be sure you know what you are looking at. For example our train, The Empire Builder was arriving at 3:00 yet our train, the Empire Builder was leaving at 2:15.

Traveling in a sleeper, we had priority boarding. They will call you and open the door to the track. Everyone stops at the first car to see if it is theirs. If you are going to Washington State, keep moving. Our train splits in Spokane during the – the cars at the end are going toward Portland and the cars in front of the dining car are going to Seattle. That clue will tell you where your car will be.

Our Room – To get to our room, we entered the train and had to walk up a narrow stairway. If you have a large suitcase that you won’t need in your room, you can leave it on the first floor in the luggage area. We had the larger bedroom and they were denoted with a letter – we were in “D”. The smaller rooms had numbers. That tip might get you in the correct corridor since you can go left or right at the top of the stairs.

The lower level had rooms as well though I think they were smaller rooms, community showers and extra toilets (we were warned that there is no ventilation in the community bathrooms). Yes, train bedrooms are small. We knew that and expected it. The bathroom is a combination toilet/shower. To take a shower, put down the lid on the toilet and turn the water on. Since there is a lip to get into the bathroom, the water stays in the bathroom. You do have the option of using one of the community showers if you want something larger. Tip – put down the lid to the toilet to prevent it from crashing down in the middle of the night when you hit a rough patch of tracks.   We propped open the bathroom with a backpack so we could see the blue nightlight in the bathroom. Again, we didn’t want the door slamming in the middle of the night.  To get more air or less air, look to the ceiling to open or close the vents.

IMG_0605

Tip: If you are charging electronics, you might want to bring an extension card as one outlet is on the wall by the sink mirror and the other is on the wall by your head. You don’t want your electronics dangling as you recharge them.

We didn’t sleep well the first night because the train was always blowing their horns due to all the train crossings that we were passing.  You’ll get to know the whistle – 2 long, 1 shorter and 1 long.  Sometimes it seemed as though when the first set of whistles ended, the next one began.

The top bunk, which I had, was doable.  In the fact that there isn’t much turn around in and the ceiling was about 2 feet (or a little less) from my bed.  Getting up wasn’t a problem but getting down was (for me) as trying to turn around to come down the ladder was difficult since there wasn’t much room to turn around in.  I ended up putting my foot on the corner of the vanity and then the other on Blogger Hubby’s bed.  Not pretty but I did it.

We both brought carry-on luggage and a backpack. I would not bring anymore than that as they only place to store the luggage is under the bench sofa and chair in the room and a very small shelf above he chair. The rooms are small and compact and for just two nights on the train (or longer for us since we are continuing on) you really don’t need much. My concern in packing is whether the train ran hot or cold – I found this particular car on this particular day ran right in the middle. I have on a sleeveless top with a lightweight sweater and long pants though in the evening it did get a little cooler but never, in my mind, cold.  We’ve been told the Super Chief runs very cold.

IMG_0598

OBSERVATION CAR – had both seats and booths with a table. Downstairs was a lounge car where you could buy snacks as well as sit at one of their few tables. On our train were two Park Service Trails and Rails volunteers that gave a small narrative when we were going by a few things. If you brought your National Park Service passport book, they will stamp it for you (I had mine). Tip: there are some seats with 110 volt plugs so you can charge your electronics there as well. TIP – I turned on my Google Maps app while in the observation deck to see where we were and what we were passing.   There is no train wifi so I was careful how much cellular data I was using.

IMG_0113

DINING CAR – When you first board, stay in your room because a dining steward will come by and you can make reservations for dinner. Dining is about on par with airline food. For dinner I had the signature steak which was okay, baked potato and very overcooked medley of veggies. The salad was very fresh and served with packets of Paul Newman salad dressing. Second night I had the herb chicken which was much better and Blogger Hubby had the seafood shrimp/crab cakes and he thought they were very good.  Dessert was a good portion, neither too large or too small. All of this is served on plastic plates rather than the china that AMTRAK used to serve food on. Your first class accommodations include your meals on board and a drink. Beer and wine are a separate charge and they are available in the dining car. One thing to remember, although your meals are included in your accommodation if you are a first class passenger, you need to remember to tip the wait staff in the dining room. It also appears that the menu is the same on all the trains with a dining room. TIP: your first night when you leave Chicago, sit on the right side of the dining car as you are going forward and sit so you are facing forward. We had the 7:15 dinner and you could see the sun setting over the Mississippi – a bright orange ball and it was beautiful. Unfortunately we were not sitting on the correct side or facing the correct direction to get a picture but it was beautiful

Two rules that are strictly enforced on AMTRAK – no smoking and you always must wear shoes when walking around the train.

NOTE:  If you do plan to experience the Empire Builder, I strongly encourage you to download this PDF of the train route.  It gives you information on the train as well as the stops that it makes.  It’s interesting to know a little information about the cities that you are stopping or passing through.

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 5.40.08 PM

We have met very interesting people on this journey so far either at meal time (4 to a table) or in the observation car.  We were the only ones doing a train trek.  Many were going to or from vacation, family celebrations or just as a means to travel.  I was very pleasantly surprised at how much room there was in the coach section with leg rests and room between the seat in front of you – so unlike air travel.

More to come tomorrow.  If you have any particular questions, drop me a line and I’ll try to answer as soon as  can.

All Aboard…..

 

My Planned Cross Country Trip on AMTRAK using Miles

As some of you may remember,  I attended the Chicago Seminars last month.  One of the seminars that I sat in on was a talk by Bike Guy who told us about the trip he and his family did on points.  Now, that’s not unusual at all, particularly with this group of travelers,  but how he did his trip was – by using points to book his trip on AMTRAK.  He was able to get  AMTRAK points by transferring points from his Ultimate Rewards account (points you receive by using your Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Ink ) to his AMTRAK account.

amtrak_logo_25

This sounded interesting to me since we had done some train travel this summer while in Italy and we were  anxious to try it here in our country.  I had done a fair amount of long distance train travel when I was twelve years old and younger but not much since there.  I was even more excited about a possible trip when we found out that there would be changes to the AMTRAK reward program as of January 24th  When changes come to reward programs they are usually never for the best and this one is the same.  Additionally, the last day to transfer points into my AMTRAK account is December 7th.  Luckily Blogger Hubby and I work well together in planning a trip with each of us working on different aspects and then coming together with a plan.

To explain what is happening in case you also want to take a trip, let me explain what the reward program is now.   Currently, the United States is divided into three zones and there is a redemption fee for traveling within the zones. Traveling in one zone is 20,000 points for a bedroom for 2 people. The points are for the accommodation and not per person.  The change will be that no longer will  AMTRAK have zone based redemptions but rather based on ticket price.  What we were planning to  to book would require almost double the points after January 24th. We knew we needed to act fast.  Here is a link to the current redemption rates.

zonemap

First of all, we needed to determine what kind of accommodation we wanted on the train.  You could travel coach (not for me for this distance); roomette with two seats during the day  (size is 3.6′ x 6.6′ ); bedroom with a couch and a chair in the day  (size is 6.6′ x 7.6′); a bedroom suite which is two bedrooms opened and combined ; or a family bedroom (size 5.2 ‘ x 9.5’).  We knew we wanted the bedroom as it was a little larger than the roomette and had the toilet and shower within the room.  All tickets booked with sleeping accommodations include all your meals while you are on the train.
Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 9.26.02 PMNow that we knew what our accommodation need was, it was time to plan our itinerary.  As you look at the map, you’ll see some cities are on the border of two zones.  You can use those cities to your advantage and they will be in whatever zone helps you the most.  Some of the cities are Detroit, Toledo, Atlanta, Denver, Albuquerque, El Paso, Wolf Point, Port Huron and Cincinnati.  Knowing that, we planned our trip to take advantage of those cities where it was practical for us.

After a few itineraries, we came up with the one that we liked.  Blogger Hubby is going to fly to Chicago from our summer home in Michigan and I will fly there from our home in Virginia.  We’ll get in the night before just to give us some peace of mind.  I don’t want to worry about delays, etc that would prevent us from boarding our train.  From Chicago’s Union station we will take the Empire Builder train through the northern part of our country through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana including through Glacier National Park, Idaho and Washington.  We’ll travel along major portion of the Lewis and Clark Trail.

empire builder empire builder

Not content to end this portion of our trip in Washington, we will continue on using AMTRAK bus to Vancouver, British Columbia. Using our Starwood points, we booked  a Westin Hotel along the seawall and opposite of Stanley Park, the 1100 acre park that cruisers see when they are entering the harbor in Vancouver.   Following two nights in Vancouver, we will get ourselves down to Seattle to spend a night there before boarding our next train.  We could have used the AMTRAK bus again but that only gave us 35 minutes between the bus’ arrival and the departure of the train – too close for me.

AMTRAK has a partnership with the National Park Service and on select routes and select day they will have a ranger on board presenting different programs depending on the day of the week.  I wanted to ensure that we would have a ranger on our train but the 2016 schedule had not come out yet.  Even though we are going to travel mid May, that might be too early or we may be just in time.

Once we get back to Seattle we’ll board the Pacific Coast Starlight train to Los Angeles.  AMTRAK states that it is “widely regarded as one of the most spectacular of all train routes, the Coast Starlight links the greatest cities on the West Coast”.  We’ll go along the Pacific Coast during a stretch while in California.  Again, this has the ranger program and we will find out later if we are in time for this program as well.

When we reach Los Angeles we’ll have a overnight before boarding the Southwest Chief train the next morning for Albuquerque.  We chose Albuquerque since it is on the divide between two regions and it only costs us 20,000 points since it is in one region.  I’ve also never been to Albuquerque so it seems like a great place to spend a few days.  Perhaps Blogger Hubby will get me up in a hot air balloon – you never know.

All this, not including our hotels and meals while not on board the train, only cost us a total of 65,000 points. This is a great redemption of our points.  If we had to pay for our fare, this is what we would have paid:

Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 10.54.29 PM Is this something you are considering?  Would a cross country train trip entice you?  Obviously it does us and we are very excited about this very relaxing, unplugged time viewing the majesty of our country from the comfort of our room and observation car.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Verona, Italy, Juliet’s Balcony and Aida

We left Venice on the morning train to travel to Milan for our next four days.  We planned to get off the train in Verona in an attempt to see more of Italy than just Rome, Florence, Naples, Milan and Venice.  Some of the smaller cities interest me because I think that they be more authentic and less touristy.  For these reasons we decided to explore Verona and the fact that it was another UNESCO World Heritage Site added to our desire to explore this city.  The city has been in existence since 1 BC and has flourished for over two thousand years incorporating the old with the new.

We departed our Milan bound train car and walked into the Verona station.  Our first course of action was to find the luggage locker area.  At 5 euros per bag, we shoved as much as we could into our bags, checked the hours of the luggage locker, found out what time the trains to Milan (our destination ) were and then we headed upstairs and out of the train station to find the tourist information counter.

Our train ride from Venice to Verona
Our train ride from Venice to Verona

We really didn’t do any homework about visiting Verona and were traveling somewhat blind.  As we waited for the bus to take us downtown, we were befriended by another American couple that were probably our age.

P1030673

We got off when they did and were amazed when we saw a Roman amphitheater similar in appearance to the Roman Coliseum only much smaller.  This was the Arena and it was located by the largest piazza in Verona, Piazza Bra, convenient to the buses and public restrooms.  The Arena is the third largest amphitheater in Italy after Rome’s and Capua’s. The Arena could seat 25,000 spectators in the 44 tiers of seats while they watched gladiator shows.  While we were walking around, we even saw a gladiator ourselves!

A surprise finding this in the Piazza Bra in Verona. We didn't know that they had a Coliseum.
A surprise finding this in the Piazza Bra in Verona. We didn’t know that they had a Coliseum.
Our own gladiator!
Our own gladiator!

What was even more amazing to us were all the huge props outside the Arena. I never expected to see a huge Sphinx or Egyptian soldiers. I couldn’t stop taking photographs as I walked all around the Arena. What I found out is this is where open air operas are performed in the warmer months and they were getting ready to perform Aida about a week later.

P1040397

P1040416

P1040414

P1040398

P1040396

Verona is the scene for three of Shakespeare’s play – Romeo and Juliet, Two Men of Verona and The Taming of the Shrew.  The one thing that I really wanted to see was Juliet’s balcony.  Before you get upset, I know that it is a work of fiction however there is Juliet’s Balcony and a statue of Juliet.  With our map we were able to locate it.  It was very crowded.  I was somewhat upset that many, many people were all over the Juliet statue rubbing their hands on her breasts.  To me they were sexualizing this innocent love story by what they were doing to her and it left me very unhappy.

P1040428

You might be able to see the statue of Juliet a little to the right of the center
You might be able to see the statue of Juliet a little to the right of the center
The "famed" Juliet balcony
The “famed” Juliet balcony

P1040425

By now it was getting hotter and we were thirsty and hungry.  We headed off to the Piazza Erbe where we refilled our water bottles at the spigots by the fountain.  It was Friday and the market was in full swing.  We were lucky that we found cups of fresh fruit being sold.  Each of us buying a cup of delicious melons, pineapples, and apples quenched our thirst and revitalized us.  I’m sure we weren’t the only tourists at the Piazza but to us it felt more like a neighborhood than a tourist destination.

Piazza Erbe with the white tents of the market area.
Piazza Erbe with the white tents of the market area.

As we walked back to Piazza Bra to catch the bus to go to the train station, we saw the original 3rd century Roman gates in the original city walls.  I am constantly amazed at the age of some of the structures in Europe even though I know logically that Europe is much older, at least in civilizations, that we are.

P1030683

If you have an opportunity, explore some of these other Italian cities.

Arriving in Venice – Riding the Vaporettos and our B&B

After somewhat of a hot evening on the overnight train from Vienna, we arrived around 8:30 AM at the main train station for Venice – Santa Lucia. We walked from our train car into the station that was brimming with activity, people rushing to their trains so they wouldn’t be late for work, tourists rushing to get on the train to take them to the airport.  We too were rushing to get to our next adventure – this time in northern Italy.

From all the advice we were given and had read prior to our trip, it was suggested that we purchase our vaporetto (water ferry) tickets online so we could save some money as well as long having to stand in the long line to purchase them in Venice.  We did just that at this site, printed out the confirmation number and was told where we could redeem our tickets once in Venice.    I believe we paid about 30 Euros each for unlimited vaporetto rides for 48 hours.   As we were walking out of the train station on our way to redeem our tickets, a very nice American couple came up to us and asked if we were just arriving.  They very kindly gave us the rest of their 7 day pass indicating that they had over 48 hours left.  It was very sweet and giving but we had just purchased our tickets though they were not validated yet.  We kindly thanked them, took the tickets and hoped for a refund of our tickets.

We found the station on the canal for the #4 vaporetto which would bring us to the stop for the B&B that Blogger Hubby chose.  I REALLY wanted to choose where we were staying in Venice but I needed to let him do some of the planning.  After all, how bad could it be?  One of the first things that I noticed about Venice, and you may call me an ignorant American, was that it didn’t smell.  I had been warned by so many people about how smelly Venice is so I was very pleasantly surprised that it didn’t.

Riding on the vaporetto we enjoyed the breezes that came our way form being out in the open on a boat.  That got to be a regular theme for us and we really enjoyed it.

Most vaporettos had forward facing seats with an aisle in between - this one was different than the usual
Most vaporettos had forward facing seats with an aisle in between – this one was different than the usual

We got off at our stop and after I took a photo of the stop so we could show if we got lost or needed to get back here we began to try to follow the directions we had received.  Almost immediately we were lost looking for the first street to turn into.  We walked up the sidewalk where we got off the boat and then turned around and found it.  The name was on the side of the building that we couldn’t see from the direction we were walking along.  We were told to turn left at the first square, bear left then right and after a  little bit of backtracking, we finally found the Ca’ Bella B&B.  I walked into the main lobby and the decor, to me, was different than what I was expecting.  It looked like they had a chandelier with pink and blue pacifers – really, that’s what I thougt.  This is their picture of the lobby on their website:

Ca' Bella website lobby picture
Ca’ Bella website lobby picture

Doesn’t look too bad but now here are my photos from the lobby and yes, I know the lighting is different but so is the furniture, etc:

Ca' Bella - my photo
Ca’ Bella – my photo
and from this angle where their picture had chairs
and from this angle where their picture had chairs

That was part of the problem with this little place – there was really no place to sit and perhaps meet other travels..  The “little garden” area was just that – we had a little patio table for two for our breakfast.  The manager, Krystina, was very nice and helpful though for dinner suggestions we were sent to her friends that owned restaurants.

The first night’s dinner was so bad that Blogger Hubby insisted we only go to restaurants that had pictures of their meals.  I was salivating for some fresh bruschetta – you know, the chopped up fresh tomatoes with some basil and olive oil on top of some really good bread.  Are you in agreement with me?  What I got was tomato paste like substance spread over a thin toasted slice of bread.  Absolutely disgusting 😦  He had a fish stew that he didn’t feel was too good either though he ate it all up – after all, he is a charter member of the “Clean Plate Club”.  Me, I left the tomato paste bread behind.  We also found out that if you sit for dinner, or lunch, there is an extra charge, sometimes about 3 euros per person, that is for the bread, silverware, napkin, etc.  Some restaurants that are further away from the touristy areas do not charge it.

As we have found during our entire trip, it was another hot and humid day in Europe. We are finding that we will go out in the morning, have lunch and then go back to our room till it cools down, generally just before dinner.  We know that we are missing time in some of these great cities however, the high heat and humidity is not my friend and I tend to get a little (mind you, I said a little) grouchy and whiney and uncomfortable.  When we were in Singapore back in 2013 I did have a heat related episode where my skin got bright red, and I couldn’t cool down even with a wet towel around my neck.  I’ve been cautious ever since then.  We just do what we need to do to stay as comfortable as we can.

Now that we have checked into Ca’ Bella, it was time to go explore Venice.

 

The Budapest Zoo, the Local Train and the Overnight Train

Waking up we knew that if we were going to do anything we needed to do it early because of the heat and humidity.  After looking at some of our options we decided to go to the Zoo.  We often do this and enjoy seeing the different zoos around the world.  Our favorite to date is the zoo in Singapore where they do not use any fences. I knew nothing could surpass Singapore so I was anxious to see what the zoo in Budapest would be like.

Again we headed to the subway, was able to get sign language directions as to what line, where to switch and where to get off.  We arrive at the zoo just before a large camp/school group did.  We were able to pay our admission, grab a map and off we went.  There were a number of “special” houses that didn’t open till 10:00 so we needed to wait about 15 minutes before they did.  What a disappointment.  Many times there were no animals in the cages or special exhibits in buildings.  We kept looking for the animals but didn’t see many. We did make it over to the seal show and that wasn’t too bad.  The interesting part for me was the music they played during the show – Cotton Eyed Joe, a traditional American country song. Here we are at a zoo in Hungary and this is what they were playing!  Disappointment with the zoo kept adding up and we decided just to leave.

P1030619

We went back to the hotel and just hung out in the lobby reading and staying nice and cool.  Our train to Vienna was at 4:05 and since we were just a couple of blocks from the train station and we had our “real” tickets, we left the hotel at 3:10.  We got to the train station and didn’t see our destination on the boards.  While I watched the luggage, Blogger Hubby went to find out what track we would be departing from.  He came back rather quickly and said we were at the wrong train station.  The option he was given was to take another train to the correct station.  As we started to go down to the lower level, I told him that I thought it would be better if we took a cab to the other station.  That was what we decided to do.  We quickly got a cab, showed him our ticket and motioned to him to take us to the station.  We were leaving the city, or at least it appeared to us we were.  Initially we thought it would be about a ten minute ride but instead it was more like 25 minutes.  We began to get a little panicky – would we make out train?  Rain starts pouring down, lightning is in the sky and now people are beginning to head home, leave work – just more people out than there was a little earlier.  Finally at 3:55 we pull up to the train station.  We needed to find our way, go up elevators, go up some stairs – I motioned Blogger Hubby to go ahead while I went a little slower lugging my heavy suitcase.  I needed to keep my eyes on him so I wouldn’t get lost.  The minutes are ticking away.  I finally find him at the top of a staircase that I have to go down and the escalator is not working.He motions me to go down while he carries my suitcase down the stairs.  We hurriedly get on the train and exhale a sigh of relief.  A minute later the train departs the station and we are on our way to Vienna.  Lesson learned is to always check to make sure you are at the correct station.  We actually though that the train clerk that we went to the day before would have told us but then, we didn’t ask, we just assumed.

The train we are on is an Inter-City which means it is a slower, more local train and not as new as the other train.  With the rain, the windows could not be open as the rain was coming in the train car.  Hot, humid and exhausted from our rush, we just leaned back and thanked our lucky stars that we made it.

P1040176

We arrived at our train station in Vienna and we had several hours to wait till our connecting train to Venice.  Lots of food choices at the train station.  The ATM wasn’t working and although we had a few Euros, we wanted more to bring with us into Italy.  I left the station and walked around outside till I found an ATM machine where I used my Charles Schwab debit card that has no foreign transaction fees or ATM fees (they reimburse your account).  I returned to the station and found that our train was already on the track.  We decided to go up and get settled, make sure we were in the right car and correct room – sometimes for us we flounder trying to determine the car number and we wanted to give ourselves a little more breathing room since we had just had a big rush in Budapest.    We had booked a double sleeper and we wanted to get settled and explore a little.  I had traveled by train quite a bit when I was a child and I was looking forward to reliving my memories of traveling in a Pullman car.

Imagine my surprise when we entered our room to find out that it as super tiny. It was bunk beds, which I had expected but I didn’t expect the room to be so narrow.  With both suitcases in the room there was hardly any room for a person.  There was no room to store our suitcases.Panic settling in again.    Blogger Hubby was able to climb up on the his top bunk and put his suitcase on a shelf over the door but what to do with mine?  The stewart came by and lifted up the bottom bunk and showed us a small space for my suitcase and we were able to squeeze in it.  With Blogger Hubby and I both standing in the room, there was no space.  I have never been in such a tight quarters……ever!

P1040182There was no place to sit other than in our respective beds.  The room was very hot and humid and we reported it to the stewart.  What did he do – he opened the window but it was so loud when we were traveling that I knew I would never be able to sleep.  It seemed like heat was coming out of our vent but in reality, nothing was coming out, no circulation of the hot and humid air.  He agreed to put us in the next room and so it began all over again…..bringing down the suitcase, lifting it back up in the new room, putting the lower bed back up, taking the suitcase out and then going into the new room, lifting up the bed, putting suitcase in and then putting bed back down…..and so on and so forth.  We were so hot and exhausted, not what I would call a good start to our train adventure .

We did receive a “goodie” bag in our room with slippers, a bottle of water, a snack and since breakfast came with our room we were given a menu where we could check off six items to be delivered to our room.  The room did not have a toilet so we had to use the one down the hall.  I began thinking that I had made a mistake in booking this sleeper car – it was not what I expected. Hopefully you can see how narrow the room was.   Nevertheless, we were able to get some sleep, breakfast was delivered close to the appointed time and we made it to Venice on time. Would I travel by train again – maybe but I would be a more intelligent train traveler.  I had noticed that one room at the end of the corridor was more in a L shape and it had a chair in the room even with both beds down and a small bathroom.  I found our that theirs was a triple for two people.  Lesson learned.

Next up – our arrival in Venice.

Our Day in Nuremberg, Germany

When I booked our KLM flight using 25,000 American Express Membership Reward points per person for a one way flight I knew that I wouldn’t be able to get a flight directly to Prague from Amsterdam. When that happens the best advice I can give is to look for alternate cities that might be close to where you want to go.  For us, it was Nuremberg, Germany.

Nuremberg was a city that I have never been to.  All I knew of it was that it was the site of the famous Nuremberg War Trials that were held after World War II as well as the parade grounds where the Nazi soldiers would march around as a show of force.   I began looking at other things to see and do using Trip Advisor as my guide.  I knew there were a lot of Nazi related buildings to see but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to see them or not. Since we were not going to be there very long, we actually decided not to do the Nazi tour and instead focus on the city as it is now and also to see it as the medieval major city that it was.

I’m so fortunate that we were able to spend a night here as I probably wouldn’t have vacationed in Nuremberg.  Nuremberg Airport is a small airport and we had no problem getting around or finding the ticket kiosks for the trains outside of the airport.  A German gentleman who was on our flight decided to “stay” with us as we purchased our tickets and directed us to the appropriate track.  We have found that people are friendly and helpful particularly if you ask for help.

We stayed at the Holiday Inn Hauptbahnhof which indeed was a few short blocks to the train station where our bus for Prague would depart from.  We did not use points as the rooms were not very expensive and it was a good opportunity to earn some points and there was also an IHG promotion going on.  The room was fine and it would be what Americans would call small but I believe it was an average size for European hotel rooms.

When I asked the person working the front desk for a recommendation for dinner she was quick to recommend Barfuber located in the pedestrian mall area inside the old walled city.  It was a lively spot and one that seemed to attract many local residents as well as a few tourists. I had the fried dumplings and Blogger Husband had roasted pork with gravy and a bread dumpling.  Portions were more than ample, the beer was delicious and we had a great time here people watching.  If in Nuremberg I would definitely recommend this restaurant.

IMG_1729

IMG_1713

P1030244

The next day we arose bright and early and after having a good breakfast at our hotel we took off to walk around the city.  We had a 4:40 PM reservation on the bus to Prague so we were anxious to see as much of Nuremberg as we could.

I was really amazed at the intact wall that went around the older part of the city.  I’ve been in other cities that were walled, but this one was spectacular since it appeared to me that the entire wall was intact and not just a portion.

P1030259

One of the entrances to get inside the walled portion was also the entrance to the Handwerkerhof where many of the items are handmade, especially those involving metal.  If you were to be here in December, this would be a very popular area for the Christmas markets.

IMG_1717

P1030248

P1030252

Since we were up and out early none of the stops were open but we did do some window shopping and planned to come back on our way back to our hotel.  We then walked toward the open air market…the  Hauptmarkt where fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, cheese, food trucks, soaps, etc all for sale.  Apparently we were there during the harvest of the white asparagus and I was told Germans love their white asparagus!

P1030267

We continued walking and headed toward the castle admiring all the buildings and scenery on the way.  Like almost all castles, it is an up hill walk but as you were walking up there were spots to stop and view Nuremberg from an elevated position.  I still am amazed at the number of terra cotta tiled roofs  – roofs that I had only previously seen on our south.  They certainly added color to the landscape.  After walking around the castle it was a much easier descent back down to the street.

P1030286

 

P1030273

We headed back to the Hauptmarkt for some “looking” and “buying” and perhaps lunch as well.  We found the sandwiches we wanted and took them to the bridge over the Pegnitz River which ran through the pedestrian mall area.  It was a beautiful spot to eat our lunch.  The buildings along side of the river or even in the middle of the fork of the river  seemed like they came out of a fairytale.  What do you think?

P1030261

P1030275

P1030281

P1030282

P1030301

I’m so glad that we were able to spend some time in Nuremberg and it is a city that I would love to come back and spend more time seeing some of the sights that we didn’t get the chance to see during our 24 hours.

To get to our final destination of Prague we looked at traveling on a train or, as suggested on Trip Advisor, to take a bus. Hmm, buses just aren’t my thing but the train required a layover and a change where the bus would be a direct route from Nuremberg to Prague and would take about 2 hours less than the train.  I figured I could “suck it up” for a few hours and if it were really bad, then it would give me fodder for a great blog.  The bus left from the train station and it was a double decker bus.  It was wonderful.  There were probably about 15 of us on the bus and we all had plenty of room.  As I mentioned, it was a direct bus that took us through the countryside on our way to Prague.  I was amazed at the hundreds and hundreds of solar cells that were alongside the highway in Germany.  Again, this was a rural area dotted with farms except for all the solar cells.  I wonder why our country hasn’t adopted this idea of harnessing solar power?  We had arranged with our hotel in Prague to send a car to pick us up and as we got off of the bus, there was a gentleman holding a sign with our name on it.  We jumped in his car and off we went to our hotel in Prague.

Trains in Europe

I’ll be honest….we don’t have much experience with  train travel in Europe.  We have taken a train from the cruise port into Rome as well as from the airport in Amsterdam into the city and then a local one for a day trip from Rome to Sienna and from Florence to Luca.  We have wanted to expand our train travel experience – the kids seem to do it all the train and if they could, why couldn’t we?

With our upcoming trip we will be taking a bus between two locations as well as several trains including an overnight train. We need to be in Prague and I just couldn’t find a flight on the date that I wanted however, there was a flight to nearby Nuremberg and that is what we are going to do.  We fly overnight on KLM and will be able to spend the day in Amsterdam.  A short train ride into the city and we’ll enjoy strolling around, sitting at some of the outdoor cafes and I hope being able to visit the Rijk Museum since it was closed the last time we were in Amsterdam.   Later that day we’ll take a commuter hopper flight to Nuremberg.

P1030554

We have booked a hotel room at a Holiday Inn Express that is near the train station.  After doing a little touring during the morning and afternoon we’ll get on a bus to Prague.  Bus travel wasn’t something that I had thought of until it was suggested to me by members on Trip Advisor.  Apparently the bus has a direct route to Prague while the train is longer since there is a change of trains with a layover at one of the stops. So, we are doing the train.  We purchased our tickets online from a Czech site to save money.  It was suggested that we do that since the Germans tend to have transportation strikes and we didn’t want to risk it.

train 1

Our cruise on the Danube finishes in Budapest and after we spend some extra time there we’ll head to Venice.  This is where our real dilemma happened.  Do we take the night train from Vienna to Venice or do we take the ten hour train ride during the day and see all the beautiful scenery?  After going back and forth we decided that we wanted the extra time in Venice as we had only scheduled two nights there.

 

train 2

After we leave Venice, we’ll be on the final leg of our trip but still more train rides to come.  We’ll take the train from Venice to Milan with perhaps a stop in Verona to see the famed, but fake, Juliette balcony in Verona.  Once in Milan we’ll be taking regional trains to go up to Lake Como and Lake Maggiore and, if I can talk Blogger Hubby into it, the World’s Fair in Milan this year.

We are fairly new to train travel and we could not have done all this without the help and guidance of Mark who is known as The Man in Seat 61   All he asks for all his help is a donation, if you can, to UNICEF’S Syrian Appeal.  He knows train travel all over the world and is willing to share his knowledge and expertise.  Not only did I read his blog but I also emailed him more than a few times.  He told me how far out I should purchase the tickets from, which sites and about how much it would be.

What has been your experience use the train around the world?