A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: baecation2016

Last day, back in Chicago

rain 78 °F
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We detrained from the City of New Orleans, back in Chicago for 12 short hours. It was bittersweet, returning to the city where it had all started.

We aimed to get real deep dish pizza as we were mislead the first time around and to get good beer. Seeing as it was still Chicago Craft Beer Week, we figured that wouldn't be too hard to find.

As the forecast called for a pretty rainy day in the Chi-town, we opted for a more relaxed, low-key day as our trip was winding down.

We spent the day in the South Side at the Museum of Science and Industry. We saw some pretty cool exhibits and models, including an exhibits dedicated to transcontinental trains! How appropriate, huh?

Afterwards, we went to Hyde Park to grab lunch at Pizza Capri. We finally got our Chicago deep dish! This time with jalapeños and mushrooms. It was delicious and probably the best pizza I've ever tasted. Our waiter suggested we still try Giodano's and Lou Malnati's before getting too excited.
We got some fantastic brews from Chicago's Half Arc and Revolution brewing companies.


After a break in the downpour, we took a stroll the Hyde Park neighborhood. There's some pretty cool murals and shops in the home of the University of Chicago.

We walked to the south side of Lake Shore Drive to get a view of Lake Michagan to the east as the sun was setting to our west.

It was the perfect backdrop to the ending this trip.

In total, we spent 14 days traveling, over 6,200 miles by train visiting and passing through this beautiful country in all of its grandeur as well as flaws. Thanks for sharing our trip with us, we enjoyed having you along for the ride!

-- Claudia

Posted by baecation2016 22:45 Archived in USA Tagged food beer sunset amtrak Comments (0)

New Orleans!

A little nip from the Mississipp. . .

sunny 86 °F
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After three, nearly-continuous days (that’s 60 hours and 20 minutes, y’all) aboard some trains, it was like being born again to step off of that train in Louisiana! There were many moments when I felt the earth moving beneath me, but it was actually my body remembering the motion of the train. I regained my footing after a few hours though.

Instead of heading straight to our AirBnb, we decided to haul our backpacks on the trolley down to Bourbon Street for a drink.

Bourbon St is closed off to cars after a certain time of night, so people are free to roam the streets with open containers and really do as they please. So naturally, it didn’t smell too great in that neighborhood.

We found a bar that seemed reasonably empty and sat down for a few beers, and to take in the New Orleans atmosphere. There were throwback helmets of different football teams hanging from the ceiling—including the big, bad Buffalo Bills.

The bar itself was really neat. It had very high ceilings and original hardwood everything. It’s attached on one side to an Italian restaurant that we did not try. The beer was really watery and tasted a little funky, but after a few sips it was kinda not so bad!
So, we had a couple beers, got some late night food, and headed to our room.

The next day, we discovered that our AirBnb host had some cruiser bikes available for us to use! We found the closest possible breakfast place and headed out. We ordered breakfast from Buttermilk Drop, a fast-food restaurant/bakery. The food was SO tasty, but the portions were huge! I got the shrimp and rice breakfast, and Claudia got the shrimp and grits breakfast. I did my best, but I hate to admit I could not finish my breakfast plate.

Since we started planning this trip last year, I had been romanticizing the idea of getting matching tattoos to commemorate the experience. Eventually, Claudia agreed that it sounded really fun. So a few months ago, we sat down and came up with a design that we both really loved.
We tried to make reservations at a couple different parlors, but it kept falling through for one reason or another. So instead of stressing about the perfect place and price, we found an area with a few tattoo places in close proximity (the Lower Garden district) and hoped someone would have time for two walk-ins. Our new strategy paid off as we found Shaun Dubin, an extremely talented artist, at Idle Hands Tattoo Parlour NOLA who gave us an excellent deal.


I explained our whole story and Shaun was very sympathetic to our predicament. He did a quick mock-up of our rough sketch and we were under the needle before we knew it. Our new tats summed up our trip perfectly. It was exactly what we wanted!


Since we got our epidermal needle-points done early in the day, we had the rest of the evening to show them off around Jackson Square (and sample the local brews of course). On our way there, we just happened to be directed down St. Ann’s Street—which seemed to be the Gayborhood of NOLA!


The buildings and apartments were so breathtaking throughout the side streets. Fresh flowers and live palm trees adorned balconies all around us. The streets were paved with bricks and the sidewalks with colored slate tiles.

In the French Quarter, we went to Jackson Brewing Company. Here we ate a very rich dinner of leading with fried green tomatoes with a crawfish remoulade followed by fried oyster po’ boys. They were delicious!

Originally, we planned to travel to Avery Island, land of the Tabasco factory and plantation. However, it’s 2 1/2 hours away from New Orleans and we decided to forgo the trip in order to experience more of the city. Instead we visited the Tabasco Country Store. There were several varieties of Tabasco sauces to sample and more souvenirs than imaginable!

We continued to walk around the French Quarter and pick up souvenirs. The sound of the Natchez steamboat horn told us we were right by the Mississippi River. We rushed over and found a set of steps leading into the water. From there we watched the sun set to our left while the riverboats pulled in to our right. I had an amazing day in New Orleans.

The next morning we got up a little late and missed our intended bus into the French Quarter. We bought tickets to a Louisiana cooking class at the New Orleans School of Cooking. We showed up late and had to sit on opposite sides of the room. However, the class turned out to be very entertaining and delicious! It was a cooking demonstration run by a 75-year-old Louisiana grandmother. We got to eat all the food (corn and crab bisque, shrimp creole, bananas foster, and pecan pralines) and there was unlimited Abita beer. Even though it was 10:30 am, those beers went down very smooth. By the time we left, we mysteriously gained Southern accents and a love of talking to strangers.

The buzz wore off a little quickly on the trolley. What Google had predicted to be a 20 minute ride somehow turned into 35 minutes. However, we got to the train station sweating to board the City of New Orleans with 6 minutes to spare!

Now we’re off to the final stop on our long, long journey around the country. We will spend about 12 hours in Chicago and then get on our last train back to Buffalo and my kitty and turtle who I miss SO much. Here’s to some great views of the Bayou along the way!


Posted by baecation2016 11:39 Archived in USA Tagged food beer mississippi_river new_orleans steamboat french_quarter nola jackson_square pralines Comments (1)

Train(s) to NOLA

(2 trains taking 3 days, spanning 4 states)

sunny 81 °F
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In order to make it to New Orleans, we had to take 2 trains (back on Coast Starlight from Emeryville to Los Angeles then onto Sunset Limited from Los Angeles to New Orleans). In summary, it was really cool, but long. All the passengers got cabin fever and tired of the food.
So, I'll give you some highlights.

Pacific coastline
The Coast Starlight train hugs the Pacific coastline for 104 miles from Pismo Beach to Ventura! The views were breathtaking and hands down the highlight of the trip:

Thanks to our new friend Earle, the retired park ranger and train aficionado we met on our first Coast Starlight trip, keeping tabs on our connection to the Sunset Limited was easy using Amtrak Transit Docs. From this website, we learned the Coast Starlight was running early and we'd have not 1 but 2 hours to make our connection! Earle was a kind hearted older gentleman and my favorite passenger we encountered on this trip! He was just as excited as we were to see us again on Sunset Limited!

Passenger encounters and stories

Amtrak exercises community seating in the dining car. Heidi and I would sit on one side of the booth, while a set of complete strangers accompany us for our meals. While this can lead to some awkward pairings, sometimes Amtrak gets it right. The stories ranged from incredibly heartwarming to incredibly boring.
We met an 18 year-old boy from the MidWest that SURVIVED a ruptured brain aneurysm sustained during a soccer game. His mother recounted the agony of his 3 month PICU stay while her son proudly demonstrated the scar running along his left temporal region. Given that the majority of individuals die from a ruptured brain aneurysm, we were astounded to see that he had minimal residual deficits.
Many folks have learned that train travel is THE way to travel, so during our travels we run into each other. For example, we met Benjamin and Royce in Chicago, again in Emeryville, and again on the way to New Orleans. We met Earle in Portland and again on the Sunset Limited before he detrained for San Antonio. I thought that was pretty neat.


States on states on states
California has a diversity of farmlands, vineyards, and oil fields (interestingly enough). Thanks to our Rails and Trails park rangers, we learned about the flora and fauna of the state, NASA testing sites, hidden missile/warship sites, and so much more.
We also passed through New Mexico, some cool towns and cities in Arizona, a very LONG Texas and its border with Mexico (along with border control trucks that would occasionally follow our train), and finally Louisiana!
The towns along the train were mostly comprised of trailer parks. Aside from the poverty, I was struck by the numerous cemeteries. "cities of the dead". Since the water table is so high, no one can be buried underground in Louisiana!




New appreciation for trains
From the classic styles such as the Pullman car and the Parlour car, to the modern Superliners, I've concluded that trains are pretty cool.

They use less energy than cars and airplanes. They allow us to see how people live, work, and relax. They show us from where our food and goods originates, gets processed, and shipped. They bring complete strangers together for 3 meals a day. However, they should be high-speed like in Europe. Three days is a long time. . .

See you in NOLA!

-- Claudia :O)

Posted by baecation2016 11:53 Tagged trains and sunset coast coastline trails rails pacific texas amtrak limited starlight Comments (1)

San Francisco

sunny 63 °F
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San Francisco

While our time in San Fran was brief, we accomplished more sightseeing there than in any other city so far! But first, let me tell you about the fancy old train that took us there.

After waking up bright and early in our Portland AirBnb (we got a bit “overzealous” at Deschutes brewery and fell asleep quite early), our host Jen told us about a great breakfast spot just a few blocks away called “Mehryi’s” (pronounced Mary’s hahaha). So we loaded up our packs, french-pressed some coffee to-go, and set to walking. Since it’s a very small place in a somewhat remote area of Portland, the few locals inside were incredibly curious about the two girls with the giant packs walking into their secret spot. The food was so fresh and delicious, and as a bonus, our server was even “Feelin the Bern” if you know what I mean.

Our train wasn’t set to leave until 2:15pm, so we had a few hours to kill in the city. Those hours were DOA when we walked into Powell’s Bookstore. This store occupies a FULL city block downtown, and dedicates entire floors to certain genres. I could’ve walked around browsing in there all day, but it was also pretty depressing knowing everything I bought would have to fit into the pack on my back. So, I bought a small anthology of railroad stories to fit into my side bag and some souvenirs to remember the greatest bookstore of my life.

From Portland, we boarded the Coast Starlight Superliner headed South to Los Angeles. Having read about the train before, we knew we had to get the sleeper car for this trip. The Coast Starlight is the only train left in the Amtrak system with a working parlor car. This old gem includes a hardwood bar, wine and cheese tasting, and a movie theater in the lower deck. There are plush, swiveling armchairs in the viewing area, and a separate, fancier dinner menu with private seating. You get the sense that you are in old Hollywood, being treated like a star!

Even the waiting room for Coast Starlight made us feel like royalty:
We had a wonderful evening on that train, despite the quality of service not quite living up to the regal surroundings. Maybe we are just faster-paced, East Coast Yankees, but things seemed to take a whole lot longer than on our beloved Empire Builder.

We detrained in Emeryville, CA at about 8 am local time. That is the closest station to San Francisco, and it’s about a 25 minute drive from downtown. We were greeted by the lovely and talented Ayako Sawanobori, who had so generously offered to pick us up from the station in her Prius.

Since SF is only 7 miles by 7 miles, there are so many things to do even in a limited amount of time. Within 3 hours, we drank iced coffees from the original Philz Coffee walked along Baker beach to the Golden Gate Bridge,
had some brunch cocktails in Harvey’s in the historic Castro district, visited Dolores Park, and so much more!!


It was like going on a guided tour for free. I can’t thank Ayako enough for spending her Saturday morning showing us around.

It was such an extensive sightseeing journey, we were almost too tired to get tacos for lunch (almost)! There is literally a taqueria or cantina on every single corner of the Mission neighborhood, so it was a good thing we had Yaks to tell us which one is the best (La Taqueria on Mission St). Although the line outside the door kind of gave that away too.
The toughest part of seeing SF, for us, was the homeless people. When we found out that people are paying upwards of $6000 per month in rent, it became easy to see why so many people could not afford it. There are huge camps and tent cities everywhere occupied by people who just could not make it work. Every corner had someone sitting with a sign on their lap asking for money. It really took a lot of the bloom from the SF rose to see so many suffering in such a wealthy city that is doing nothing to help them. Seeing how comfortable everyone is with that status quo was hard to stomach.

Anyway, after tacos we headed to one of the “must-visit” places on our list: 21st Amendment Brewery. Claudia and I both enjoy several of their brews, and we wanted to see first-hand what kooky beers they would be coming out with next. large_A9775A55EE14E622464028ACC8B967DE.jpeg
Unfortunately, we didn’t realize that there was a SF Giants game about to start, and we were just a couple blocks from the stadium. So, it was really packed in there and we didn’t get to chat with anyone about beer. We bought a couple pints, pushed through the sweaty, swearing masses, and then quickly left that joint and headed to get some much-needed rest.

Since Claudia’s birthday was the next day and we knew we would be on a train for the whole thing, we decided to start celebrating early. We stepped out on the town and had a wonderfully SPICY dinner at an Indian restaurant named New Delhi. The hot chili sauce was so hot that the chef himself was the only one allowed to bring it to us. We hadn’t had very spicy food all week, so Claudia got a little over-eager and almost burned her cute little face off (It was really funny).

San Francisco was a real treat! I hope one day I can come back to ride the cable cars and eat Rice a Roni in Alamo Park with DJ and Stephanie Tanner.

Until then, it’s onward to New Orleans!!!


Posted by baecation2016 06:42 Archived in USA Tagged california san francisco coffee portland tacos coast_starlight Comments (0)

Seattle mornings, Portland nights

A tale of two cites, one crowler and Amtrak Cascades ride away

semi-overcast 48 °F

We seem to love our morning excursions so much better our nights! (Probably because we're well rested and sober, haha).
After our Airbnb host Rose (originally from Negril, Jamaica by way of the UK) gave us a ride, we arrived at Pike Place Market.
It was breathtaking.
Rose dropped us off in front of Beecher's Handmade Cheese! We could see the cheese makers were hard at work and the aromas were great. We ordered the Mariachi Mac and Cheese to tide us over until we found a breakfast spot. Needless to say, it was fantastic.


Strolling through the Farmer's market, we saw an array of fresh produce, seafood, and bakery items. Heidi and I were really looking forward to seeing the fisherman throw some fish around but alas, we didn't see any action.


We ate breakfast at the Sound View cafe (which was an apt descriptor, all the seating provided views of the Puget Sound). I tasted Northwest clam chowder, and it pains me to say this as a native New Englander but it was MORE FLAVORFUL than New England clam chowder. Ugh, okay it's over. Now back to breakfast:

Heidi got the crab cake frittata and I got the salmon and prawn omelette.

The portions were huge, the amount of seafood was generous, and given that the prices were fair. Most of the eateries in the Market were pretty expensive, so Sound View cafe was a great value.

Next we perused the flower shops, artists, and vendors. The flower arrangements were beautiful and pretty cheap considering what was going in them. I understand now why all the local business had such beautiful bouquets.


In a search for good Seattle coffee, we happened upon the world's first Starbucks:

Given our talks with locals, we just couldn't support a coffee purveyor that lead to the demise of local coffee shops and wholesalers (Seattle's Best Coffee was bought out by Starbucks). So we got a pound of coarse ground roasted on site at Local Color.

Overall, Pike Place Market did not disappoint. I could've spent the entire day there if we had the time!

A small hiccup in our travels to Portland turned into another fun adventure. Originally we planned to drive from Seattle to Portland. I made reservations at a car rental agency only to find out that I couldn't take one of their cars one way without more documentation. Heidi, my quick thinking cutie, recalled that with our Amtrak USA Rail Pass we get 8 segments and we only used 7 given our time constraints. So we just scored a "free" train ride to Portland! We had some celebratory craft beers at Old Stove Brewing Company and had a "Crowler" prepared for the trip. They pour 32 oz of your favorite draft into a can and seal it with their canning machine. After taking the underground downtown bus to King St Station, we were on our way!

Amtrak Cascades is an older train that makes several daily trips along the Pacific Northwest from Vancouver, BC to Eugene, OR.
We can never seem to escape large groups of field tripping school children (from Daley and Millennium Parks in Chicago to Pike Place Market) and our trip to Portland almost kicked it up a notch with middle schoolers! Luckily, Amtrak saw the writing on the wall and placed them in their own train car.
The trip was a quick 4 hours (sadly too overcast to catch a glimpse of Mt. Ranier, our Airbnb host jokingly said the best view Seattle folks get of the mountain are from the Internet), enough to drink some craft beers and get in a cat nap.


We made it to Portland! It was raining pretty heavy so Heidi and I protected our packs with rain covers (tucked away in a secret compartment at the bottom). We walked to Deschutes Brewery for dinner and more beers. There were a ton of great stuff on tap. I stuck to IPAs and Heidi pursued her new interest in Saisons. I ate a delicious burger with plums, bleu cheese, and cream cheese with a side salad adorned with IPA dressing. Heidi has never seen me eat meat so it was shocking for her to see how much I enjoyed it! Heidi had an Alaskan King Salmon with spatzel, mushrooms, and peas shoots. She loved it!

Even though we were kind of full, the lure of good ice cream led to a Lyft ride to Salt and Straw. The line was super long (out the door and onto the sidewalk) with eager patrons, but definitely worth the wait. Coming to get ice cream here was singlehandedly one of the best life choices I've made. It's up there with going to medical school and dating Heidi. We seemed to forget or refused to acknowledge how full we just were from dinner and all the beers. The quality of artisan ice cream cannot be captured in words. Heidi captured it in a dance (see my Instagram post @claudsee) and in a cute smile. Thanks SO MUCH to fellow Tufts track alum Megan Sears Caldwell and Jen Morse, my research mentor while at Duke, for the recommendations!


This morning is our last in Portland, we really want to do some biking and eat some delicious local food (". . but is it local?" -- Portlandia) before heading to our next destination by train. . . San Francisco!

Happy [train] travels,

Claudia :O)

Posted by baecation2016 08:08 Archived in USA Tagged beer market ice cream place seattle coffee portland pike cheese Comments (1)

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