I love train travel - even the puny little trips that are mostly on my itinerary of late: 25 minutes to Salem, an hour to Providence, an hour to Worcester. There's no time to do much cross-country fantasizing on the Salem run, but give me an hour on a train, and I'm probably going to a bit of pretending that I'm going somewhere far away.
The Acela to NYC, which I take every year or so, is an excellent opportunity to play "big trip."
Growing up, my train trips were longer - from Worcester to Chicago to visit my grandmother, aunts, uncles, and cousins on my mother's side.
Almost everything about those trips was exciting - from breakfast in the dining car to the ice cold water drunk from the conical little paper cups. Ah! (I still remember what the New York Central children's menus looked like: it was turquoise, white, and black and the cover looked like the front of a train.) Me being me, I also used train travel to broaden my world view. At the age of 5, I figured out that Protestant girls got to wear shorts on the train, while Catholic girls had to wear dresses and patent leather shoes.
I haven't taken many super long train trips, but I have taken a few that have been memorable.
The overnight train in Spain where I caught bed bugs....The looonnnggg Irish train on which there was no way to figure out what car you needed to be in to exit at the pokey one car village train station we were headed to. (The conductor had disappeared; the bartender didn't know; no one could tell us. Finally, we saw a couple of old ladies gathering their belongings. They were getting off at our stop, and told us the secret to the right car.)
More recently, I was marooned on 9/11 in Orlando, Florida - or would have been, if I hadn't been able to get on an Amtrak train going north.
When my colleague and I left Orlando, the only assurance we had was that the train was going as far as Richmond, Virginia.
Beyond that, we didn't know if we were at war, whether Washington, DC was "closed" (let alone NYC), or what...
It was an exhausting and deeply moving journey, especially when we left Newark and could see the dark cloud that still hovered over much of Manhattan. (This was in the afternoon of September 12th.)
No, I don't do tons of train travel, but someday I do want to take the train cross country, and the train across Canada.
Given my fondness for train travel, I was interested in an article in yesterday's Wall Street Journal on the private railroad cards of John Ringling and Henry Morrison Flagler that are now part of the exhibit at the Flagler (Palm Beach) and Ringling (Sarasota) Museums in Florida.
Now restored to their days of yore elegance, "by the 1950s one had become housing for migrant farm workers, and another a fishing shack."
The Ringling name will be familiar to most - he was one of the Ringling Brothers of circus fame. Flagler, who'd made his dough as John D. Rockefeller's partner, was the founder of the Florida East Coast Railway, and is pretty much credited with creating the Florida tourist industry. Flagler's home away from home was:
...a "copper-roofed pleasure palace . . . containing a Victorian-styled, wood-paneled lounge, sleeping berths for visitors, and a private stateroom with bath for Flagler. There was a copper-lined shower, a dining area, and a small food preparation area with an ice box and wood stove."
The Ringling Brother's car is still being refurbished, but it is similarly grand:
The Wisconsin's interiors are mahogany and other woods, decorated with elaborate moldings and gold-leaf stencils. The 10-foot high ceilings are painted Viva Gold, Baize Green and Fiery Brown. There are toilets in each compartment, and the Ringlings had a private bathroom, including tub. The rear compartment in the 79-foot car is the observation room, which could be used as a lounge or office. There are also crew quarters and a kitchen.
Interesting that these rigs must have been the height of elegance and opulence during the Gilded Age of Rail Travel. One can only imagine what today's (or, I guess more appropriately, 2008's) tycoons would have demanded in theirs.
First of all, a single railroad car wouldn't be big enough for everything that would be needed: media room, soaking tub, game room, gym. Eat-in kitchen with restaurant-sized Gaggenau range and SubZero fridge. Walk-in closets (his and hers). Lap pool. Art gallery. Air conditioning and a fire place. Great room. Helicopter pad.
Who says they don't make tycoons like they used to? (Or like they used to up until last September.)
Anyway, makes me want to go somewhere on a train.