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Taking America by Amtrak

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In 1997 I took a trip to the USA. I travelled alone and didn’t want to spend half my trip at or going to and from airports, so I mostly took the train – Amtrak. It was lovely to travel slow, enjoying the scenery, chatting to local and international travellers and doing something a little different.

I started with a stay at Orlando to enjoy Disneyworld – it didn’t disappoint. If you love rollercoasters and the movies and learning, Disneyworld has it all. From there it was on to New Orleans, where the highlight was a night time ghost tour and a psychic reading. The train wasn’t all plain sailing, mind you: train travel can find you at out-of-the-way stations waiting for a taxi or, if you’re lucky, a bus service that connects to the city you’re visiting.

My next stop was Memphis and we arrived late at night; there was quite a line at the telephone to order a taxi and sharing was essential to avoid a very long wait. Of course, my focus there was Graceland and I was impressed by the estate and how they manage to get so many visitors through the doors without chaos. The home of the King is worth a visit and really draws a crowd!

On then to my favourite city, Chicago. It had a Melbourne feel – but maybe that was just because the train arrived in the middle of the city and it all felt very safe and normal. I could have stayed there a week or more with its beautiful buildings, the lake, the attractions and theatre. Luckily, I had a good coat to wear because it is indeed the windy city and when there is ice in the wind you need to wrap up! I sought out places I would recognise from movies I’d seen: the art gallery, the river and bridges, Sears Tower, the Picasso Bull.

Chicago, IllinoisSource: Getty
Chicago, Illinois. Source: Getty

Halfway along and my next leg took me to Niagara Falls, Canada via Buffalo. I have some regrets that I didn’t go to New York City, but it just seemed too big a place for me to go alone. I was well into the snow by the time I hit Niagara Falls, but for once the cold didn’t bother me. What a spectacle! Stunning in its power and size, I’m so glad I crossed the border to see the whole thing. I think everyone I met there was in a good mood – I can see why it’s such a popular destination.

With friends to visit in Maryland and Denver, I took to the air for the next leg and my friends ferried me around to see Gettysburg, the Amish communities in Lancaster County and sights of Washington DC. Though I’d enjoyed meeting new people all the way along till now, it was lovely to relax into familiar conversation with friends. Meeting new people can be very tiring! In Denver it was all about the scenery, snow and mountains. Heavy snow restricted activities, but it’s always good to have a rest day too, and off to the Mall we went.

Source: Getty
An Amish horse and buggy in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Source: Getty

My final train leg was from Seattle to Los Angeles, after side trips to Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. Seattle looked like it had a lot to offer and I wish I’d planned a few more days there to enjoy the parks, hills, water and maybe some whale watching. I was looking forward to the long final journey down the west coast, but poor planning meant a lot of it was in darkness. No matter, I saw plenty of lovely Oregon lakes and hills while the light held, and had treated myself to a sleeper for extra space and service on the Coast Starlight.

Source: Seattle
Seattle’s skyline, including the famous Space Needle. Source: Getty

I don’t know if things have changed since I travelled, but if you have the time and plan well ahead it’s a wonderful way to see a lot of the USA and enjoy a great travel experience.

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