Wednesday, July 16, 2008

A train with a view

So with much relief we're back on our beloved train, the Sacramento station platform got old very quickly. And we’re not moving until we get off the train for the very last time, so we're going to make the best of the rest of our journey. We look at the itenary for the rest of the day and decide the Cheese & Wine event in the New York observation carriage sounds a tad more scintillating than some talk on the history of the American railroad. I appreciate that not all the passengers would agree with me and would possibly strike me with a sleeper or something but then the clue is I write a blog about food not rolling stock.
So the "steam-heads and cheese dodgers headed for the domed roof of the Copper Canyon Observation car and M and I swayed and gently staggered the entire length of the train to New York.
This was the first time we'd been to New York, we'd clicked with Mark on our first night in the Seattle baby grand piano bar car when he ever so deftly whipped up a couple of Kir Imperials so we hadn't felt the need to be disloyal.
But it was a great spot and the back of the train had panoramic picture windows to allow us to admire the magnificent scenery developing around us. And what a revelation this was, we entered a national park hitherto unknown to me called Shasta National Forest and it felt like we were the only ones there.
The train track cut a swathe through the secluded forests and over the bridges spanning the verdant valleys past sparkling rivers and the odd American bald eagle. And as the wine was poured the beautiful scenery continued mile after mile after mile.
We chatted to the Chicago contingent celebrating a special birthday by taking this train journey. Only recently (and I ashamed many months after I drank wine in this gently swaying bar (or was that us?)) I discovered a small white plastic bull formerly attached to neck of a Spanish wine bottle in my handbag. How I ended up with it remains a mystery, I suspect the Spanish concrete factory loving architect had more than enough a felt like sharing his bully booty.
The afternoon stretched on, observations on some of our fellow passengers were exchanged, I'm naming no names but stars of this conversation just had to be the man who travelled with nothing more than a briefcase for a week's trip (a clothes hating accountant perchance?) and the unusually hirsute-ly favoured lady with the outfit that was quite curious on the first night but when we saw it every other day was clearly such a favourite with her that she had stashed away multiple versions of it or really she only possessed one outfit. Well it saves on packing I guess.
As the conversation, red wine and tranquil rivers continued to flow, the miles of idyllic scenery rolled by our windows. If I was back home now we would have run out of country and plummeted into the English Channel but we're in Big Country now. Apparently 1.2 million acres of big country I found out later – this is indeed a huge park!
As we snaked our way around the forest one of the action shots we were all trying to capture was the front of our 21 carriage train from our vantage point in the last carriage. And despite the abundant wine I think I managed to grab the shot I desired.
The cheeses weren't as bad as I feared because excuse my ignorance of American cheese because all I could think of was Monterey Jack or cheese that can be squeezed from a tube. And yes I know the English have also committed more recent processed travesties in the name of cheese but if you can forgive the modern aberrations we've committed but only focus on Montgomery Cheddar, creamy Double Gloucester, crumbly Cheshire and Wallace and Gromit's favourite Wendsleydale to name a very small few. But I have to be honest I'm not always true to my British cheesy comestible roots when constructing a cheese board and seem to be veering towards my current fads of eye-watering expensive hence elegant wedge of the finest truffled Brie and also a good hunk of Grana Padano. Though I always ask in cheese shops if they have any Flower Marie, which is a stunning English cheese but sadly rare so generally I'm told that they do not have any. But I don't know much about American cheese but none of the cheeses looked like it could have 'string' in the name so I figured I had nothing to fear. But really the wine was the best part of the cheese and wine event.
It was just the perfect way to spend our last afternoon on the Grandluxe train, meeting new friends, sharing the odd bottle of wine and swapping our memories of the trip so far. As much as I loved the places we’d explored both old and new, I would have appreciated more time to enjoy the process of travelling by train. As we didn’t have many miles to cover much of the journeying was at night, good for navigating around the train easily but o so for scenery watching. In fact due to our impressive size of train we were often relegated to the dullest of sidings whilst ‘parked up’. It was with some sadness we tore myself away from this comfortable hideaway and made our way back to our cabin to change for dinner. Not that you have to change for dinner, in fact I believe some passengers didn’t change at all from one day to the next but any chance for a little sparkle, M and I are happy to oblige.
Thank you to the Shasta National Forest for reminding us why we love to holiday by train so much – you get to enjoy both the destinations and the getting there. And no-one apart from the most avid of plane-spotters can really enjoy the process of airport travel at the moment, especially international travel – unless of course you have a fondness of queuing and a predilection for being frisked! This is so much more civilised, no mad rushing just being fabulously pampered whilst pootling around the countryside – just bliss!

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