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Day 45 - All good things have to come to an end...

As all great things have to come to an end, at some point, so does this journey. I woke up in Sacramento this morning, California’s capital. Well I had woken up many times during the night as I didn’t get the best sleep on the aisle seat. However, somehow I had managed to fall asleep again. I still could remember some of the station stops the train did during the night like in Klamath Falls, OR, Dunsmuir, CA, Redding, CA and Chico, CA. It felt good to be back in California, it was almost like coming back home. Also the train had made up the delay during the night and was almost on schedule again. Soon after I had gotten up I went to the launch car in order to get some breakfast. After Sacramento the train did stops in Davis, CA and Martinez, CA before reaching Emeryville, CA. Soon before Emeryville a beautiful view opened up towards San Francisco and I could see the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco. At 8.20 am we reached Emeryville where my journey had begun exactly 45 days ago when I had boarded the first train there, the California Zephyr to Denver. After a few minutes the Coast Starlight did its next stop at Oakland Jack London Square station. Running along the bay we reached San Jose, CA about an hour after we had left Oakland. Most of the following morning the train was running through the endless farm lands of Northern California. I stayed all morning in the launch car and spent the time with writing. The next stop Salinas, CA was reached well ahead schedule but the departure got delayed by more than 15 minutes due to a medical emergency. The ambulance had to be called. Soon after we had left Salinas the dining car attendant came in order to collect orders for lunch. All spots had been filled with sleeping car passengers and I was put on the waiting list. I was sitting in the first car right behind the diner and was therefore number one on the waiting list. Still I didn’t expect to be called to the diner any soon. Therefore I got a little snack from the launch car cafeteria. I had just opened the package when they announced the first seating and the parties on top of the waiting list. I had to rush to get the snack back to my seat together with my PC and camera. I was just downloading pictures from the camera to my computer. I had my obligatory Veggie Burger, now for the last time. After lunch I returned first to my seat, just to find another fellow passenger that had now gotten the window seat next to me. I finished my snack and went back to the launch car where I could sit by the window and enjoy the beautiful Central Californian landscape. The next stop was in Paso Robles, CA which we reached about 30 minutes behind schedule. Before approaching San Luis Obispo, CA some breathtaking views opened up and the train took some very sharp turns. As I was seated in the middle of the train I could see both ends of the train at once. After we had left San Luis Obispo I got some company at my table in the launch car, a very friendly older gentlemen from Simi Valley. We had some interesting travel stories to share and once we got closer towards Santa Barbara he pointed out many interesting spots along the tracks as he was very familiar with the area. He was very inspired by my 45 USA Rail trip and got very interested in doing a similar trip in the future. Once we reached the coast the scenery became indescribable beautiful as the train went very close along the coast. Closer than any road, even the Pacific Coast Highway, would ever get you. We had a short stop in Santa Barbara, CA before we continued along the coast. Soon before we reached Oxnard, CA we left the coast behind and went inland. From Oxnard is was about two more hours to Los Angeles. The train did some last stops in Simi Valley, CA, Van Nuys, CA, Burbank-Bob Hope Airport, CA and finally at 8.40 pm about 20 minutes ahead time the Coast Starlight pulled into Los Angeles Union Station.  After 215 hours on the train and 10.110 miles on the rails I was back in LA. I claimed my bags and was then off to the bus that took me to my apartment.

Coast Starlight at LA Union Station

Day 44 - Alvar Aalto in Portland

I woke up earlier than I had planned but stayed still in bed for a while enjoying the retreat and the fact that I didn’t had to get up in order to discover another new city, busy running around all day. After a shower and breakfast I packed my bags and got my camera ready. After all, I still had a little bit of sightseeing to do. As I had already mentioned in earlier posts one purpose of this trip was to go and see architectural works of the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, whose work I had been following for quite some time. It was again a beautiful sunny day. Did I already mention how lucky I had been with the weather during this entire trip? I went across the campus in order to have a closer look at the Alvar Aalto library. I did first the exterior shots, looking at the building from any accessible angle. Thereby I also met the janitor of the building who had some interesting stories to share about the building. After I had gotten enough pictures I went inside in order to discover the interior. I have seen almost all libraries designed by Alvar Aalto but this one was probably the most beautiful. I also had a little chat with the librarian and was sharing the link to my blog with her. After I had seen all the publically accessible rooms of the library and taken pictures I went back to the guest house. I finished packing and changed the linen of the bed, as it was requested by the house rules. I think this has been the first time that I had changed the linen myself in a hotel.  However, as the entire guest house was run on a non-profit base and the accommodation rates were rather low, I didn’t mind. After I had taken my used linen and towels to the collection point in the hallway, I left the room. At least I didn’t had to clean the bathroom. I deposited the keys in the lobby and left the guest house at 11 am. I ordered a cap back to the railway station in Salem and I was promised that it will be at the abbey in 15 minutes. I made my way down to the parking lot. I was waiting and waiting but no cab showed up. After 45 minutes I called the taxi company again and they apologized for the delay promising that the cab should only be minutes away. After another 15 minutes finally a yellow cab showed up. Luckily I wasn’t in a hurry. The driver was very nice and told me many interesting details about Salem and the area around. The ride back to the station took almost 45 minutes, as we had agreed on a flat rate of 40 dollars, the driver didn’t had to go too fast which was nice because the conversation was really nice. After I had arrived at the railway station I checked in my bag. The station agent told me that the train was supposed to be on time which was almost a surprise to me. Still I had about two hours time so I walked towards the city center of Salem. I passed by the Willamette University and stopped by at the Oregon State Capitol. I went further downtown in order to find a place to eat. After lunch I walked back to the station. Salem is this kind of typical American town which is often shown in the movies. Very nice and people are very friendly. I got back to the station just in time to see the departure of train 14 the northbound Coast Starlight which was about two hours delayed. I got back to the station about 30 minutes prior to departure. It seemed as if the southbound Coast Starlight train 11 was still on time. However, once the train was scheduled to arrive the announcement came that train 11 was expected about 30 minutes late, due to track congestion. The train approach the station a few minutes after 4 pm. Boarding didn’t take long and I got, as usual, an aisle seat assigned. I had asked for a window seat but that didn’t help. Not to mention how happy this made me. The afternoon went by and while the train was running through beautiful Oregon landscape we called at Albany, OR and Eugene-Springfield, OR. From some distance the forest fires and the smoke could be seen from which the cap driver had told me. It had been a very dry year and there had been hardly any rain in Oregon. At some point I left the aisle seat behind and switched to the launch car finally being able to enjoy the beautiful landscape. The scenery was really amazing, passing by large lakes and forests with the Cascades in the background while the sun was just setting. I also had very nice company in the launch car, an educator from Portland. We had such an interesting conversation about environmental issues, cultural differences and the importance of education. It was really interesting to hear about her experiences as a high school teacher. While we were talking I got some dinner from the launch car. My new acquaintance had a 9 pm dinner reservation and while she went to the dining car I returned to my seat. With about 1 hour delay the Coast Starlight called at Chemult, OR. Some freight train was the reason for our delay. I spent the evening with some writing before going to sleep on my wonderful aisle seat.   

Mount Angel Abbey Library designed by Alvar Aalto

Salem station

Coast Starlight approaching Salem

Day 43 - Visiting Portland

I had another early departure on this morning as I it was again time for me to leave Seattle, after two wonderful days. I got up at 6 am and after a quick shower I had breakfast in the dining area of the hostel. After that I went one more time upstairs to pick up my stuff and left the hostel after check-out just a bit after 7. I walked the short distance to King Street Station and checked in for train 501 Amtrak Cascades, a regional train service that runs between Vancouver, BC and Oregon. The train was a brand new Talgo tilting train that reminded me a lot about the modern trains we have in Europe. However, as it is with all modern trains also the seats in this train weren’t really comfortable. The train departed at 7.24 am, 6 minutes before the time printed on my ticket. Luckily I had been at the station on time. The first station stop in Tukwila, WA came up after just 15 minutes followed by a second one in Tacoma, WA. Soon after Tacoma we got an amazing view of Mount Rainier in bright morning light. Soon after, the train followed the shore line providing breath taking views of the sea and the Cascades Mountains in the background. Further stops in the state of Washington followed in Olympia-Lacey, WA, Centralia, WA, Kelso-Longview, WA and Vancouver, WA. Finally the train crossed the state border and entered Oregon. We reached our final station stop Portland, Oregon almost 10 minutes ahead of schedule. Before leaving the station I put my bag into storage. I then started walking towards downtown. I passed first through Chinatown and had a brief look at the Chinese Garden. I then turned towards the Willamette River walking alongside the embankment. I passed by the Maritime Museum of Portland and the Salmon Street Spring. I then turned headed towards downtown and eventually ended up at the Pioneer Courthouse Square. There I was listening to a free lunch concert that took place on the square. After the concert had ended I got hungry and went for lunch. After lunch I went further south until I reached the Portland Art Museum, where I spent most of the afternoon. The collection was really great. I started with contemporary art in the basement before seeing great works of Modernism followed by sculptures and Minimism. I then went to see the photography gallery featuring great works of Ansel Adams and many others. In the second building there were collections of Asian art and classic paintings as well as drawings. I wasn’t expecting to find so many great works of art in this very museum. After I had gone through the entire collection it was time to head back to the station. On the way back I still got some groceries. I arrived at the station well in time and still had some time to wait until train 507 Amtrak Cascades was boarding. I picked up my bag and had some dinner before I got on the train. The train came in on time from Seattle departed however slightly delayed from Portland. This Cascades train had better seats than the one in the morning and was obviously one of the older models. Train 507 did one stop at Oregon City, OR before reaching Salem, OR at 7.27 pm, about 15 minutes delayed. There were no taxis at the station so I had to call one. Luckily the abbey had provided me with a number of a local taxi company. First it seemed as nobody was picking up the phone and I started to get concerned about getting stranded in the middle of nowhere because there was just nothing around Salem station. Then however I reached the taxi company and they sent a car that came after about 15 minutes. The taxi driver was really nice, he knew the way to Mount Angel pretty well and used a much shorter route than the navigation system proposed. Still the ride took quite a while and was more than 53 dollars in the end. However, this was the only way to get to the Mount Angel Abbey. The ride itself was nice, passing through large corn fields while the sun was just setting. I arrived at the abbey just at twilight hour. Before entering the guest house I took a short walk around, also in order to have a first look at the Alvar Aalto building for which to see I had come all the way to Salem and Mount Angel. A monk checked me in at the guest house and showed me the way to my room. After I had put my bags into the room I went outside again to have a closer look at the abbey and its surroundings. I liked the place as it was so peaceful and quiet. After a little walk I went to sit down for a while on a bench just enjoying the beautiful view from the hill, while it was finally getting dark. Once back in the room I went to sleep soon.

Amtrak Cascades Seattle to Portland

Portland Union Station


Maritime Museum of Portland

Lunch concert at the Pioneer Courthouse Square

Portland Art Museum