Monday, May 30, 2016

Arrival at Williams, Arizona

I snagged this off the Internet
We had been on the train for over twenty-four hours when we got to Williams Junction.  It was 10:30 P.M., and we had spent over thirty-six hours without much sleep, just a little catnapping.  There was nothing at Williams Junction except a railroad crossing sign and a mini-bus that awaited us.  Two other passengers embarked with us:  an older lady in a wheel chair accompanied by her granddaughter.  The driver loaded the four of us and our luggage into the van and, with a warning that our first stretch of the way was going to be a very bumpy dirt road, we were off.  Within ten minutes, we arrived at the huge Grand Canyon Railway Hotel and were very soon in our room and off to dreamland.

It was one of the nicest hotels I've ever had the pleasure of staying in, and they seemed to have everything well coordinated.  I handed the lady at the desk all the vouchers I had printed off for meals and the train to the Canyon, and she gave us tickets in return.  The building across the street with the green roof is a gift shop and restaurant, The Grand Depot Cafe, where hotel guests eat.  I would NOT recommend the restaurant: The buffet items were allowed to run out, and much of the food there seemed like it had been there quite a while; but it was paid for already, so we suffered through.  If you click on the link, you will see the reviews, most of which are negative.  Oh well, we got our bellies filled up after a good night's sleep (and Keurig coffee in our room) and were ready to board the train.  We were told to put our luggage on the cart in the lobby and it would be waiting for us in our hotel at the rim of the Grand Canyon.  We sat through a gunfight between the town sheriff and some outlaws (yawn), then boarded the train.  A young lady stood at the front of the car and gave us facts about the train and the area as we headed toward our destination.  After a two-hour ride, we got off the train and onto the bus that would take us to various locations on the rim.  But first, lunch at Maswik Food Court.  The food was better than at the Train Hotel, so that's something  We visited with a another couple who were seeing the Grand Canyon for the first time.  The husband had suffered a stroke some years before, and didn't get around too well; he seemed to be just one step from falling all the time.  All the other guests from the train who were spending the night at the canyon would stay at Maswik Lodge, but the lady who put together our trip wanted us to stay at a hotel or lodge right on the rim.  So after lunch and our two-hour rim tour, we checked in at the Thunderbird Lodge, built in the 1960's.
Check-in, though, wasn't done where we were staying, but several yards away at Bright Angel Lodge.  The rooms at Thunderbird were in no particular order, and if we hadn't run into the cleanup crew in the hall, we might never have found our room.  We did have a view of the canyon from our window, which was nice.  As promised, our luggage was there waiting.  And again, Keurig coffeemakers in the rooms!

El Tovar
We were on our own for dinner that night and breakfast and lunch the next day.  We found THE place to eat, the sort of place Cliff and I never frequent because if it were anywhere but the Grand Canyon, you'd have to dress up.  El Tovar isn't as expensive as you'd expect, either.  If you visit the Grand Canyon, eat NO PLACE ELSE!  
The food at El Tovar is superb and the service is impeccable  
We were on our own from 2:30 P.M. Sunday until 3 P.M. Monday, so we had quite a bit of time to enjoy the Grand Canyon and various places of interest around the rim.  The free shuttle service takes you from one spot to another and, during busy times, runs about every five minutes.  Don't be surprised, though, if there's standing room only on all the shuttles after 10 A.M. when the tour busses start arriving.  And don't be surprised, after you look around and listen to conversations, to realize that Americans are a minority at the Grand Canyon.  I heard all kinds of languages being spoken and saw more young oriental folks than I've ever seen in one place.  The oriental countries must be very prosperous places to live, because a lot of them can afford to travel the world, it would seem.  

To be continued...

Oh, a note about our lost luggage:  I have not seen it yet, but remember, UPS doesn't often deliver on weekends, and never on holidays.  I would hope to receive it tomorrow.  I'm waiting to post a review online for the hotel in Williams because whether or not I receive my luggage will affect the review.  The man in shipping said he would email me the tracking number but I never received it.  Perhaps he took down my email address wrong.  I won't hold it against him (and the hotel) UNLESS we fail to receive our stuff.  

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Our first day on the train

After spending our first night-time hours on the train not sleeping (except for brief minutes of dozing), I finally saw the dawn shedding some light on the world moving past our windows.  Now I could see signs telling me what towns we were passing through, and at 6:30, when they announced that breakfast was ready, loudspeakers that had been silent all night came to life.  From this point on, announcements were made telling us what stop was next, whether it would be a long enough stop for smokers to de-train and have a few puffs, and so forth.

Imagine my delight when I discovered a fresh pot of coffee in our sleeper car!  It was surprisingly good coffee, too.  In fact, this trip was a treasure as far as coffee goes, because the two hotels in which we stayed were equipped with Keurig coffee makers in every room.  For an addict like me, that made up for other inconveniences such as lost luggage and a sleepless night on the train.

Breakfast wasn't a gourmet delight, but there were many choices offered, and considering the conditions under which the cooks and waiters work, it was wonderful, much better than what you find in motels that offer breakfast.  The other meals were great, and since our meals were paid for, we could choose anything on the menu.  The steak was very good.  Twice I opted for a nice big salad with chicken strips for lunch.

After finding the coffee that first morning, I returned to our roomette and told Cliff he might as well climb down and play footsie with me on the lower bunk.
  No, he didn't go to sleep.  He was only trying to get comfortable.  

He looks sleepy, doesn't he?  After breakfast we tried reading on our Kindles, but neither of us could concentrate very well.  As you can see, I was taking notes to help me with blog entries when I got back home.  Unfortunately, the notes ended up in the lost luggage, so I'm having to rely on memory.  There was a friendly man we saw often in our car who must have been a train attendant.  He never really told us what his duties were, but he said he was training the lady on our sleeper car who was an attendant.  He seemed to enjoy his job immensely.  At one point, he was paged on the P.A. system:  "Crazy Tom, please report to the dining car."  It was he who came around to see what times we wanted to eat our next meals as we headed west.  We would choose a time, he'd hand us a piece of paper with the time written on it so we wouldn't forget. 

Time sort of drags when you're riding a train for twenty-four hours one way, so we really looked forward to meals to break the monotony.  There is an observation car where anyone can sit, so we went up there a few times; but it was often filled to capacity.

That's Crazy Tom, explaining to Cliff how something works (because my husband ALWAYS wants to know how stuff works).  We learned to get off the train every chance we got... another way to break up the day and stretch our legs.  

We saw the verdant plains change to dessert-like conditions with snowcapped peaks in the distance.

We saw hills rising out of flatlands.  Crazy Tom told stories about civil war battles and Indians, over the P.A. system.

We saw towns we didn't know existed.  Who knew there was another Las Vegas?  

Sometimes depots are in tiny towns that are hardly towns at all.

Now there's a town we've heard of!  I think Bugs Bunny used to say something about taking a left turn in Albuquerque.

When we went through Garden City, Kansas, I thought about two Facebook friends I've never met face-to-face who live there, and left a Facebook "hello" to one of them, Char.

This shows all the stops made by the Southwest Chief.  We boarded in Kansas City and got off at Williams Junction.  We met a lot of people who were headed from one coast to the other, which would probably take the better part of three days... maybe longer.  Click HERE for all the details on the Southwest Route.  

To be continued...