USA June 2014
Having spent a week in deepest darkest Arkansas doing railway related things our railway related things then took us on a journey across the USA from St Louis, Missouri, via Chicago, and ultimately to San Francisco. While the journey was marred a little by Amtrak’s late running it was certainly worth the while and some of the scenery is stunning. A stop-off at Salt Lake City to do a trip into Nevada was a welcome break in the middle of the 4500km trek!
Air Canada – Booked through Expedia – £680.45
AC857 1205 Heathrow – Toronto
AC780 0810 San Francisco – Montreal
AC864 2005 Montreal – Heathrow
Chicago – Chicago Parthenon Hostel, 310 South Halsted Street, Chicago, IL, 60661
£51 for one night
A 7 minute walk from the main Canal Street entrance of Union station. The front desk is manned 24/7 so we had no problem getting in at stupid o’clock. As we were leaving before breakfast the following morning we managed to negotiate a deal which saw the credit card fee and tax knocked off the bill, saving us more than enough to spend on breakfast the following morning at the station.
The rooms at the Parthenon were nothing spectacular at all and actually quite the opposite; rough around the edges, a little shoddy, sparsely decorated and not that clean really. The room had three beds in it and we were assured that we would be the only two people in it, having paid for a twin room to ourselves anyway. It wasn’t an en-suite room and the bathroom was down the corridor, which housed the toilets, sinks and shower facilities in one room. Having never stayed in a hostel before the facilities were as expected and for the sake of the few hours we’d be using them for they more than sufficed and the Parthenon isn’t a bad option at all for a short overnight stay.
Springdale – Residence Inn, 1740 South 48th Street, Springdale, Arkansas, 72762
$89 midweek nights, $69 weekend nights – $56192 total for 6 nights
A single bedroomed suite with sofa bed in the lounge at the discounted A&M railroad rate. The lounge was spacious with a fully equipped kitchen, table, coffee making facilities and HD TV and the bedroom with queen bed had its own TV, sink and bathroom. Both rooms were air conditioned and Wi-Fi was free throughout the hotel. There seemed to have been a little confusion when I booked the room about whether breakfast was included in the rate, which wasn’t mentioned on my booking confirmation, but as we were told the breakfast times at check-in we didn’t bother asking about it and just took it that it was included; whether it actually was supposed to be or not remains to be answered but we had no problems at all.
St Louis – Sheraton St. Louis City Centre Hotel & Suites, 400 South 14th Street, Downtown St Louis, MO 63103
£71 for one night
As the hire car drop-off was in the Sheraton lobby we changed our original booking on Booking.com and actually saved about $15 in doing so as well. The room had two queen beds and was massive, it had a lounge room attached which was equally as massive. All the mod-cons were accounted for and the only complaint I had was the fact you had to pay for Wi-Fi if you wanted to use it.
Ely – Bristlecone Motel, 700 Avenue I, Ely, Nevada, 89301
£47 for one night
A large room with two queen beds, small bathroom and large separate washing area. The room had air-con, large TV and a microwave, along with coffee making facilities and free Wi-Fi. We’d originally booked two nights here but as our Amtrak train was so late the hotel cancelled off the first night for us, through Booking.com, after the cut-off period and didn’t charge us for it.
San Francisco – Hotel Howard Johnson, 190 El Camino Real, San Bruno CA94066
£151 for two nights
A 20 minute walk from the new Caltrain San Bruno station; not the one shown on Google Maps!
Check-in was quick and the room we were given was clean & sizeable with air-con, two queen beds & flat screen TV. Breakfast was included and Wi-Fi free throughout the hotel. Free transfers are offered from the hotel to nearby San Francisco airport.
Purchased through Amtrak’s website during an online sale!
350 1404 Detroit – Pontiac
355 1740 Pontiac – Chicago Union
301 0700 Chicago Union – St Louis
302 0640 St Louis – Chicago Union
5 1400 Chicago Union – Salt Lake City (California Zephyr)
5 2305 Salt Lake City – Emeryville (California Zephyr)
Tickets purchased at the departure station. Tickets are available for all types of journeys and some include cross transfer between the various UTA modes of transport; the excellent value day passes allow up to four people on the same ticket and are valid on the whole UTA network, including Frontrunner for just $15!
Tickets purchased at the departure station. Everything is based on zonal fares but there are day passes available for various zonal combinations; all available from the ticket machines on every platform.
Sunday 15th June 2014
Having spent a week in Springdale, Arkansas, we were St Louis bound in our trusty hire car and thanks to the early finish at Springdale we were in Sheraton Hotel in St Louis, Missouri, just after 1900; which was a massive bonus.
We’d originally booked a different hotel in St Louis but when we figured out the hire car drop-off was in the Sheraton lobby we changed our booking on Booking.com and actually saved about $15 in doing so as well. The room had two queen beds and was massive, it had a lounge rom attached which was equally as massive. All the mod-cons were accounted for and the only complaint I had was the fact you had to pay for WiFi if you wanted to use it.
Food that night was at the Hard Rock Café in the old St Louis Union station building complex. The whole place has been developed with food places but there’s also plenty of historical bits dotted around the place. Food at the Hard Rock was excellent and plentiful; there was a decent selection of beer as well.
We weren’t late out of bed that night as we had an early start the following morning.
Monday 16th June 2014 (Only 3045km to Salt Lake City; it shouldn’t take long!)
With the Sheraton being over the road from St Louis Gateway statin we didn’t have to get up a long time before our 0640 Amtrak departure to Chicago and even when we did arrive at the station only 20 minutes before departure boarding hadn’t commenced; and only did so 10 minutes before departure.
We were glad to find train sporting 8400hp for the run to Chicago. As we only had a plus 1h40m at Chicago for our long distance run on the “California Zephyr” to Salt Lake City we were hoping for no issues en-route and were quite glad to find us departing over the correct bridge from St Louis and not heading over the freight bridge as we had done the previous week on the inbound journey.
We had a decent run back to Chicago and were only 35 late arriving, which is almost respectable for Amtrak by the look of their current reliability. This allowed us ample time for lunch in the food court upstairs before heading to the Amtrak departure lounge for sleeper class customers. Inside which was rammed with people, the departure screen giving a clue as to why; the Texas Eagle due away at 1345, the California Zephyr due away at 1400 and the Empire Builder due away at 1415 were all showing delayed, apparently due to mechanical issues on the shed outside the station. The arrivals screen wasn’t much better with the inbound Texas Eagle due in at 1352 expected at 1500, the inbound Empire Builder due in at 1555 expected at 2100 and the pick of the bunch the inbound California Zephyr due in at 1450 expected at 0300 the following morning!
While everyone waited, in a room that probably looked very much like the common waiting area next door, at least we were treated to free drinks and nibbles before boarding and thankfully our train was the first to be called out of the three delayed on the screens.
We’d travelled long distance in coach class on Amtrak and decided that as we were on board for 31 hours that we’d get a roomette this time, which included all food on board in the price and should at least guarantee a decent night’s sleep. There wasn’t much space in the roomette once the beds were put down but during the day there was enough to relax and chill in the privacy of your own space.
Our 1608 mile journey kicked off at 1439, 39 minutes late and only went downhill from that point. The big problem being was that our arrival time into Salt Lake City was 2305 the following night and the later the train got the more rancid our overnight plans got; what we needed was the train to be either bang on time or 6 hours late!
Before we’d even departed Chicago the restaurant car staff had been round to hand out dinner reservation times to the sleeping car passengers and we were left to relax and enjoy the evening before being called to dinner at 1930; very civilized it was too. The steak on board was very good, probably the best meal I’d had on Amtrak and a journey on any Amtrak train with a restaurant car, without having the cheesecake would be sacrilege!
Having been up early we weren’t late out of bed; the train being over an hour late by the time we did call it a day.
Tuesday 17th June 2014 (Welcome to Denver, Colorado; here’s 4 hours to discover it!)
It was immediately evident when we got up for breakfast that we were nowhere near where we should have been and it was explained over the public address system that we’d lost time overnight due to speed restrictions of 25mph on the UP operated tracks en-route and also due to a tornado near Omaha, Nebraska, which had apparently wiped out a small town and left one person dead.
We should have arrived into Denver, Colorado, at 0715 but breakfast had been long finished in the restaurant car by then and we eventually arrived 3 hours late after some delays getting through the UP yard at Denver and then having to draw round a wye before propelling our train across the main lines into the newly opened Denver Union station; which Amtrak had only been using since the 28th February 2014.
There were building works going on all around the station area and it looked very much like Denver was going to introduce either a commuter line or light rail system with the amount of platforms the station would have once completed. While the train was being serviced, and the locos fuelled, we had time to get some photos before re-boarding and taking up seats in the lounge car for the journey through the Rocky Mountains towards Glenwood Springs, CO. All the windows of which had been cleaned by the cleaning crew, with very long brushes, and just as everyone got settled and was ready for departure did the conductor give us all a 4 hour extended stay in Denver! He announced that Union Pacific had closed the line about an hour out of Denver for 4 hours and that we’d be waiting at Denver Union until it re-opened. Everyone was allowed to do as they pleased in the 4 hours but must make sure they were back on board within the 4 hour timeframe. This was not good news for us at all as at 7 hours late it could potentially result in us not getting to the Nevada Northern Railway in Ely, Nevada, for the 0930 train on Wednesday morning at all.
With no real choice we went to have a walk round town, just like most of the rest of the train. Greeting everyone at the end of the platform though was the train conductor who was actually telling everyone to be back with the train for 1300 and not 1500 as previously advised; it seemed that UP may well have us away earlier than they’d originally anticipated; which was a little better news for us. However whatever happened our booked hotel in Ely that night was going to be of no use at all. We’d anticipated arriving at about 0300 in the morning as it was, after the 236 mile drive from Salt Lake City and arrangements were in place for the key to our room to be left under the mat outside it so we could get in out of hours. As it now stood the room was a pointless requirement so I borrowed the conductor’s mobile phone and rang the Bristlecone Motel to let them know. The woman answering was fine with what I’d told her and was even going to ring Booking.com to get the first night of our two night stay cancelled off at no charge; this was a massive bonus as we shouldn’t have been able to cancel it on the day and while using some free WiFi in town the e-mail from Booking.com came through confirming the modification to our booking and cancelling the first night free of charge.
Denver didn’t offer us much in the way of things to do in the short time we had there but the view of the station front was well worth taking pictures of. With everyone back on board we actually departed Denver at 1315, 6h10m late, and then sat in the yard at the opposite side of the main line for almost an hour before heading up the pass to the Rocky Mountains. Due to the heavy rains UP had been having problems on one of the tight curves that headed up the pass and had been shoring it up and re-ballasting while we waited at Denver; evidence of which could be seen as we ambled by at slow speed. There were plenty of UP folk about and the moment we’d passed by men were out on the tracks behind us with a gauging stick to check if the tracks had moved at all.
Even though we were late, the run through the mountains was cracking. The scenery was different during the three stages of the journey and quite spectacular in places, my favourite part being the run through the canyon, with rapids flowing in the bottom, towards the end of the pass between Granby & Glenwood Springs, CO; the latter part of which we enjoyed from the confines of the restaurant car, where we found out that two people had actually missed the train in Denver and had to get some road transport to Fraser Winter Park to catch us up!
As UP had shafted us at Denver it seemed like they’d done their utmost to keep us going through the mountains and the only thing we actually stopped for, other than at booked station stops, was a train heading in the other direction which was already sat waiting for us but too long for the loop; thus preventing us having a clear run through it. Once it had got going it was plain sailing from then; all 9 of the engines in its consist were powering away as it climbed away from us, that was the two on the front, three a third in from the front, three two thirds in from the front and the one on the rear!
In light of the train’s lateness we obviously had an extra night on board and were praying that nothing went wrong in the night to result in us losing any more time. We’d arranged with the coach attendant to make sure we were up 30 minutes before Salt Lake City and had also set our alarms for 0500 just in case. Our California Zephyr was a little over 6 hours late when we went to bed, having been over 7 hours late at one point……..
Wednesday 18th June 2014 (Welcome to Salt Lake City; where are all the taxis?)
I was awake at about 0430 and after about 15 minutes of wondering where we were my curiosity got the better of me; especially as we’d been stood the whole time I’d been awake. I found the conductor in the adjacent dining car who told me that we’d been stood waiting for a UP train, which was about to pass us. It had reportedly had something hanging down from its consist and the crew had been to rectify the issue before it could proceed and clear the section ahead. We were approx. 30 minutes from Salt Lake City and had been stood for almost 45 minute by the time we got on the move; our train having clawed back quite a bit of time only to lose it on the doorstep of Salt Lake City. We ultimately arrived at 0520, 6h15m late.
For us this arrival time couldn’t have been any better; it was almost perfect for the time we needed to get from Salt Lake City to the airport, collect our hire car and then drive the 236 miles to Ely, Nevada. Any earlier and we’d have been out of bed earlier than we needed to be for a decent night’s sleep and any later and we’d have been pushing it to get to Ely for 0930.
As it was taxis at Salt Lake City became our sticking point that morning. There were only two in the parking lot, one was already about to go and the other wouldn’t take us to the airport. In the end we managed to get on that randomly turned up to send a second to collect us; this one would have been ours had I actually been able to fin Vic at that point but he’d gone wondering off round the Greyhound Bus Terminal to try and find some transport. In the end the same taxi driver returned about 10 minutes later and took us to the airport; the one he’d ordered for us not having turned up at that point. The journey took about 10 minutes and cost just under $20 on the meter. This was ultimately claimed back through the car hire company at the airport who paid up to $20 taxi fare for you to get to them.
Hertz soon had our car ready and we were Ely bound by just after 0630, which taking into account the fact we would go back an hour the moment we crossed the state border from Utah to Nevada meant we had about 4 hours to get to Ely for our 0930 train.
Once on the I80, less than a mile from the airport, we only had two turns to make before we’d be at our destination in Ely. The scenery en-route was nothing short of spectacular and exactly as I’d expected from a Nevada landscape. Heading out of town we passed snow-capped mountains in the distance, these gave way to a more arid landscape but still hilly and as the I80 reached the brows of certain hills we could see where we’d end up 10’s of miles in the distance as the road headed down into the plain and then back up the other side. The highlight of the journey had to be the Bonneville salt flats, between Salt Lake & Wendover; it was like a total white-out on both sides of the interstate as we passed through the middle of them.
It was a very simple journey, if not a boring one in the sense of the straight drive but we pulled off the I93 and onto the road which led down to the Nevada Northern Railway’s East Ely station at about 0900. Just poking out from behind the station as we approached was the orange nose of the railway’s 1948 built Alco RS2 #105; the one and only reason we were where we were at this point in time. The railway had agreed to put the RS2 out on the two days we’d be visiting, the obvious caveats applying, and when we’d originally asked #105 required some repairs to a water leak, which looked to have been fixed; especially as it was actually running when we got out of the car, and was also attached to the stock; definitely a good sign!
With half an hour to spare we collected our pre-booked tickets, the booking having been made on the railway’s website with a round trip costing $27 per person, and then got the cameras out to photograph the RS2 to death before departure!
The whole Nevada Northern Railway Museum site is situated on the outskirts of Ely, Nevada, and looks just like a scene you’d find in a western movie with old style buildings and wooden water towers and loading bunkers; it was certainly a very fitting look for a museum, which obviously had been part of a working railroad in the not too distant past.
The train for the day was formed of a bright yellow caboose, open air flat car and two coaches, both of which had started life in the Chicago suburbs as commuter cars over 100 years ago! The train we were travelling on was the only train of the day and was billed as a “Keystone” service in the timetable, running from Ely to Keystone and return. For some reason #105 had been shut down prior to departure but spluttered back into life a few minutes before departure; throwing a plume of thick black Alco clag into the air as it growled back into life!
The train was propelled out of the station and into the yard at the south end of the station limits before heading via the “avoiding line” and up the grade towards Keystone. The line speed was quite low and as such didn’t yield any prolonged thrash from the RS2 as it climbed its way to Keystone but when it was given a bit it certainly sounded the part and only needed a notch or two to be pouring out black clag everywhere. At 66 years old the little RS2 seemed to be in decent shape, even if on tick-over you might have been given a different impression and during the northbound run we had a crew swap half way, the second crew seeming a bit more hungry for getting the power handle to notch 8 quicker! It turned out that both crews were on Railroad Reality weeks at the Nevada Northern and this was their train driving experience day.
At Keystone there is a wye and the trains heads straight round the curve onto it upon arrival, at the end of which is a ghost village, erected by the railway for their ghost train experience. The train then reverses round the northern part of the wye to rejoin the main line and head back down the hill to Ely. The rails are visible in the distance as they head away from Keystone although there is a stop sign ahead and a pile of dirt over the tracks preventing the railway from running any further.
Despite the glorious weather it had been a cool morning and we’d actually needed to change out of our shorts for the journey, and put our jackets on to ride in the open air car! By the time we arrived back into Ely though the sun had warmed the air up sufficiently for the jackets go be surplus to requirement.
Included in the ticket price is a tour of the Nevada Northern’s shops; which is optional. On arriving back in the yard the train is then shunted straight to the shops, where people taking the tour are dropped off, before then drawing forward and back into the station to drop everyone else off. Once off the train the tour is given by one of the railway’s very knowledgeable chaps; the guy giving our tour gave the impression that he used to work at the railroad when it was operational and back during the steam days too.
Inside the shops were every other loco, both steam and diesel, that the railway owned, other than three stored Alco’s round the back of the shed. The list is as follows:
EMD SD9 #204 – operational but on its 90 day exam
Alco RS3 #109 – out of service requiring repairs to cylinder liners and stripped of its batteries
Baldwin VO1000 #801 – out of service
Baldwin Lima Hamilton S-12 #802 – out of service
GE ???? #??? – undergoing repairs? (some sort of 25 ton?)
GE 75-ton #80 – out of service
GE 85-ton #81 – out of service
Baldwin 4-6-0 34942 1910 #40
Baldwin 2-8-0 1917 #81
Alco 2-8-0 44604 1909 #93
Alco RS3 #13 – ex Leighigh & Hudson River then SMARCO
Alco MRS1’s #2080 & #2081 – both donated to the railway, intact, but with a caveat that they are not used for hauling trains!! One may well donate cylinder liners to RS3 #109, assuming 251 liners fit a 244 power unit?
We spent most of our time inside the shops shying away from the group tour and getting our photos. We also snook outside and went round the side of the shed to get some sneaky pictures of the stored Alco’s outside; something we later did with permission when the sun was better in the afternoon.
Having finished our tour and got the photo’s we needed we headed to the Bristlecone Motel, which was only a mile away from the station. The woman at reception remembered speaking with me the previous day and was thanked for allowing us to cancel the previous night off without charge. The room we were given was a large room with two queen beds, small bathroom and large separate washing area. The room had air-con, large TV and a microwave, along with coffee making facilities and free Wi-Fi. It was nice to relax in somewhere bigger than a 6×3 room for a change!
Having chilled for a bit we ventured out to get some food and ended up using the Silver State Restaurant on Highway 50, only about a mile from the hotel, then we headed over to the Nevada Northern Railway again to see what was going off and attempt to get back round to the rear of the main shed to get more pictures of the stored Alco’s as the sun had gone round far enough to be on them in the late afternoon.
The RS2 #105 was found in the main yard area by the station being used for attaching/detaching training with the four guys on the “Railroad Reality Week”. Despite our initial intentions to just sneak round the back of the shed to get our photos there were still quite a few folk around the shed so we asked someone as we approached; and it wasn’t a problem at all to head round the back where we took all the time we needed to get the photos we wanted.
There wasn’t a great deal to do in the small town of Ely of an evening, other than gamble on the slots! We opted for a few beers at the Ramada Copper Queen Casino and watching folk gamble, before settling for food at the Twin Wok just over the road, and only round the corner from the hotel. Talk about wanting to tidy up around you, the place was quite full when we entered but the staff were so keen to get people out the food was out, eaten and plates taken away almost instantaneously!
After another beer we were more than ready for a good night’s sleep after our double Amtrak overnight.
The Photos En-route from Salt Lake (Utah) to Ely (Nevada)
The Photos at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum
Thursday 19th June 2014 (What to do in Salt Lake City?)
A leisurely morning really, although due to the Silver State Restaurant being a little busy we had to wait over half an hour for our breakfast, and rush it down, before heading over to the Nevada Northern Railway for a second trip with RS2 #105.
Unlike the previous morning the sun actually made it quite warm and it turned out to be a scorching morning on the open air coach; which was a lot more frequented than it had been the previous day. We did the same run as the previous day, up to Keystone, this time the “Railroad Reality Week” guys were left behind to do something else, leaving the regular crew to drive the RS2; the trainees were better at giving it what for!
Obviously we gave the shops tour a miss when we got back and made a quick-ish getaway once we’d filled the car up; we were Salt Lake Airport bound to drop the hire car off. The return journey didn’t seem as tiring as the outbound had and we stopped a few times en-route to get some photos of the Nevada landscape.
Dropping the car off was efficient enough and well signposted, with the airport being just off the I80 and very convenient really. Rather than get a taxi back this time we’d figured out that we could use the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) TRAX (Metro) from the airport to North Temple where it interchanges for the UTA Frontrunner train service to Salt Lake Central.
UTA offers a cracking value ticket which is simply titled a Group Pass, which costs $15 and is valid on the whole UTA system on the train, light rail, bus & street car systems after 0830 for the remainder of that day; we bought one from the ticket machine on the TRAX platform at the airport station, with no hassle at all.
The afternoon was simply spent doing railway related things between Salt Lake Central and North Temple; much to the bemusement of the UTA staff that kept seeing us get on every train departing towards North Temple for the 2 hours we were riding about!
Cranking finished for the day I used the free Wi-Fi at the Greyhound bus terminal next to Salk Lake station and found our Amtrak California Zephyr to be over 3 hours late so with that in mind we walked the mile or so into town to the Squatters Pub and Brewery, which was quite full for a midweek night. I can recommend their Respect Your Mother Amber and the food was cracking; just what we needed to top the day off and prepare us for another night on Amtrak. We opted to walk back to the station via the roads and not through the park as we had done on the outward walk; although those dosing on the grass would have had a rude awakening as every inch of grass in Salt Lake City seemed to be getting a watering courtesy of the City’s sprinkler system!
The Amtrak office at Salk Lake City didn’t open until 2200 and was quite full by the time we arrived after 2300. There was no queue at the counter though and we managed to change our travel arrangements, to get us from Emeryville to San Francisco, quite easily. Rather than getting an Amtrak California train to Oakland and doing the Bay Area Rapid Transport (BART) to San Francisco and then trying to get to the Caltrain station at San Francisco we paid $2 more and booked on the connecting Amtrak bus from Emeryville, which terminated at the Caltrain station in San Francisco, taking the hassle factor out of things, especially with the “Zephyr” being late.
Amtrak GE P42’s #96 & #122 turned up with our Emeryville bound California Zephyr at approx 0135, 2h30m late. Boarding wasn’t done until everyone had got off the platform and even then none of the roomettes were ready as a large party of folk has just got off at Salt Lake City and they all had to be made up from scratch before people could board. We weren’t far off 3 hours late by the time we departed. There was no messing about in our compartment, beds were made, bags stowed and doss…….
The Photos at the Nevada Northern Railway Museum
The Photos en-route Ely, Nevada to Salt Lake, Utah
Friday 20th June 2014 (None of this is on my map…..)
We were up for breakfast; of course it would have been rude not to be when it wasn’t costing anything! After which we settled for the run through Reno and over the Donner Pass, a very scenic journey indeed.
After lunch the familiar site of Martinez soon approached in the late afternoon and we were treated to a nice sunset over the bay as we approached Emeryville, where we arrived 3 hours late. The connecting bus was waiting outside the station doors for us but wasn’t in a rush to go anywhere, mainly due to waiting for checked luggage to be got off the train; which then had to be collected by the owners as the guy that usually did the transfer had refused to do it after being pushed the previous day!
Whilst we had plenty of time to make the 2040 Caltrain from San Francisco to San Bruno we managed to miss it by less than 10 minutes thanks to all the drop-off’s being completely wrong for the Caltrain stop. Despite the bus entering San Francisco over the Bay Bridge, which isn’t far from the Caltrain station at all, it then heads away from the Caltrain station and drops off along the piers first, before having to negotiate the San Francisco one way system to get back to the Caltrain station; the result being us missing the 2040 train by minutes and the next one not being for an hour!
Subway on the station had to suffice for our evening meal as there wasn’t much else on offer within walking distance of the station. Tickets on Caltrain are done by zones and a single to San Bruno only cost $3; San Bruno being the last station in zone 1.
Our Caltrain from San Francisco dropped us off 11 miles later at San Bruno; which was where the confusion began! We’d got off at the correct stop yet none of the surroundings were on the map I’d printed out. Thanks to the very good offline Mapdroid app we soon figured out what the hell was going off. It turned out that the Caltrain station on Google Maps was actually a temporary one and the new one, the one we’d just got off at, had opened only a few months previous (according to the hotel receptionist when we got there). The annoying thing about it was that we were over a mile from the hotel, instead of only 2 blocks and a 20 minute walk followed our arrival.
The Hotel Howard Johnson San Bruno was expecting us and thankfully hadn’t given our rooms away when we arrived at almost 2230. Check-in was quick and the room we were given was clean & sizeable with air-con, two queen beds & flat screen TV.
The Photos over the Donner Pass
The Photos arriving into Emeryville, California
Saturday 21st June 2014 (The longest day)
Having decided on a not too early start we did breakfast at the hotel before spending the morning, and most of the early afternoon doing railway related things, ultimately ending up in San jose, which was in zone 4, so our day pass cost $18 from the ticket machine on the platform at San Bruno; a bargain really, especially as an Amtrak single from San Jose to Oakland cost us $17 later in the day!
Returning back from San Jose on Amtrak California actually worked out better for us as we transferred to the BART at Oakland Coliseum and did it through to Embarcadero. Fares on the BART are listed on the ticket machines and when buying tickets you actually load them up with the amount you need on the ticket machine; which caused us a bit of confusion initially, before it was explained to us! The cost from Oakland to Embarcadero being $4.80.
The afternoon was to be spent sightseeing in San Francisco and we had grand plans but in the end got quite confused by the public transport system maps when trying to get to the Golden Gate Bridge, which we hadn’t realised was actually 7 miles from the Bay Bridge, which we photographed first.
Thank god for Wi-Fi in the Ferry Building, which gave us a few options on how to get to the Golden Gate Bridge by public transport. The most sensible to us being the Golden Gate Transit bus No’s 10, 70, 80 or 101, all of which depart from the Transbay Terminal. We got on at a stop en-route and strangely it cost $4.80 to get to the Bridge and $4 to get back. The bus dropping off at the stop just before the toll bridge and picking up on the opposite side of the road, the bus stop clearly visible as you get off on your way there.
Unfortunately some of the footpaths beneath the Golden Gate Bridge were closed for regeneration so we were pretty limited as to where we could go once there and wary of the time, and not wanting to get back too late, we didn’t hang about as we got out photos from both sides of the bridge in publicly accessible locations by just following the footpaths.
The bus journey back to the Transbay Terminal was quicker than the outward journey had been and after getting a few more photos of the Bay Bridge we used the Muni Metro to get back to San Francisco Caltrain station; on board which you have to pay the driver if you don’t have a ticket!
Our Caltrain delivered us back to San Bruno again and as we watched it leave San Bruno we watched the last train we’d do on the trip disappear into the distance; our trip officially over at that point.
On the way back to the hotel we found a decent Thai restaurant for food and then it was time to pack and get ready for the long-haul home the following day.
Sunday 22nd June 2014 (The long way home)
As the hotel did free transfers to the nearby airport we booked onto the 0608 minibus departure; having agreed that the 0508 was just way too early but that the 0608 was a little later than we would have liked for our 0810 flight!
We were told that the time to the airport would be about 10 minutes, what we weren’t told is that the minibus would pick up at other hotels first and then stop at all the domestic terminals at the airport first! Still we arrived with plenty of time to spare, having checked in online at the hotel the night before and got the hotel to print out boarding passes for us. Strangely though I was told, once I went to get my bag out of the back of the minibus, that I couldn’t get that myself as there were cameras everywhere in the airport and the driver had to get it for me; I was a little confused at that point what the cameras were actually going to do to me if I did, god forbid, get my own bag out of the minibus! Needless to say I got it myself and had a few words to say about the “not being able to myself”!
Even though Vic needed to check his big bag in it wasn’t long before we were queuing for security. Once through there were hardly any places to eat, which I thought a little strange for an International airport, so I waited for food on the plane; that was until we discovered a trolley service on board our international, 5 hour, flight, everything on which, other than tea/coffee/water, you had to pay for! I was glad to land in Montreal and get something proper down me!
The flight from Montreal to London was a lot better than the one from San Francisco to Montreal and we had seats right at the back of the plane away from everyone and everything. Food on board was included this time, despite the shorter flying time, and all in all it was a decent flight which had us at Heathrow in good time the following morning.
Monday 23rd June 2014 (It’s always good to be back)
With no issues at the airport, and even I got straight through security without my passport being scrutinized, the underground delivered us to Kings Cross with plenty of time to spare, but not too much, for our 1035 back to Doncaster; and by arrival at which even the spinning around on Caltrain seemed like a distant memory let alone the excellent week we’d spent at Springdale. Regardless of where you’ve been though it’s always good to get home………