Monday, May 24, 2010

Portland to Denver via Sacramento

The Starlight train is definitely the nicest of the amtrak trains we rode. We were invited for wine and cheese in the sleeper car lounge, which they served wines from california in a much nicer lounge car finished in wood and brass as opposed to the plastic and cheap pleather of the coach class car. We went below the lounge car to the theater which was playing the Princess Frog and then a 60 Minutes special about a savant blind pianist who could play and transpose to any style, anything he had ever heard and also these fuel cell type boxes that power google and other data centres that they hope to use to decentralise the power grid someday.

It was really hard to sleep that night, and I ended up sleeping behind the last seat in our car with my head against the back of the train and my feet extending under the person sitting in the last seat. With my head right next to the door between the cars I would awaken overtime someone would open it and have a hard time trying to get back to sleep because of the constant noise and inability to roll over easy. Shalom was able to sleep a bit better because she had both of our seats to herself.

The next morning when we arrived at Sacramento, while detraining I noticed some guys sleeping in the small arcade beneath our car (really old games) because it was one of the few places with enough floor space to lie down out of the way.

We detrained and checked our baggage for $3/bag with the station and walked around the capitol of California. We spent most of our time at the Temple Coffee house. I watched the last episode of Lost while Shalom caught up with friends on facebook. Then we walked around the capital gardens including the rose garden and vietnam memorial. We even found a Kiwi Christmas Tree/Pahuta Kaua.

Back at the station I tried to upload pictures from our camera while Shalom grabbed some Portabello Sandwiches for dinner.... our last on the train.

Sleep was easier as we were looking forward to getting off the train for good. Waking up just outside of Colorado and enjoying the canyons along the Colorado River (including Rafters who seem to have tradition of mooning the train as it comes by). Many places there were no roads, just the train and the river in a canyon. Very beautiful. We even got to ride through Moffett tunnel passing the Gemini lift at Winter Park, though all the snow had long since left.

Ken and Elizabeth met us at the station and we had Cuban food before they dropped us off at the Smith's in Boulder where Kelsey is staying. We hung out for a bit catching up before crashing in a real bed and deep slumber. It's good to be back in Boulder.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


After being on the train since Sunday afternoon, we were very ready to get to Portland! While the views in Montana were spectacular, the scenery in Washington was still quite lovely. We rode along the river which separates Washington from Oregon. It's a huge river that is used as a shipping channel so we saw lots of industry and logging. The river carved through the terrain creating magnificent vistas that captured our imagination inspiring mental images of hobbits and elves. :-) At last we arrived in Portland around 10am to deceivingly appeared to be a bright, sunny day. We locked up our luggage, leaving our rain gear behind, and headed to a Chinese garden for tea.

Before we even had our first sip, the clouds rolled in and the rain began to pour down. Little did we know, it would become the predominate theme of our stay in Portland.

We ignorantly thought that it was simply a passing shower and proceeded to drink another cup of tea while we waited for the rain to cease.

And another cup...and another cup...Finally, surrendering hope for reason, we tucked our tails and made plans for avoiding the rain by taking a taxi to our accommodations at our friend, Ruthie's house. While there we were able to savor the experience of a much needed hot shower and the stillness which the constant motion of the train never allows.
When Ruthie got off work, showed us some projects which the VBC (Village Building Convergence) had completed last year in various parts of the city.

There was a "Cat Castle" with a built in aquarium and several interestingly shaped art benches complete with roofs to protect from what we now know is the ever-present rain this time of year. Many of these structures were made out of cob. Another fun idea they implemented was a tea stand which was basically shaped like a small tree with a table around it.

There were cups hanging from the "branches" and a thermos of hot water on the table along with several varieties of tea. Perfect for neighbors to come and enjoy tea and conversation together in a strangely intimate but open environment. The intersection next to the tea stand was painted with flowers and other art, and caddy-corner was a children's playhouse stocked with toys. All of these were publicly accessible and created and maintained by members of the community. This area was called Share-it square.

We went for a walk down by the river, enjoying the many gardens people had in their yards, a closed amusement park, and a roller rink (complete with practicing roller derby girls) before heading to dinner at a Mexican food joint. It was busy, and the food was good, but you had to remember that it was not texmex in order to not be surprised by the combination of flavours. Tired from a long 4 day 3 night train ride, we were quickly ready for bed and slept well in Ruthie's living room.

Thursday, May 20th

Ruthie had to go to work, of course, so we ventured out into the neighborhood to see what we could find. We discovered a very authentic and quaint little French Provence Bakery.
We enjoyed a leisurely breakfast there and our only regret was that we weren't able to partake of more of their delicacies. We had borrowed some of Ruthie's permaculture magazines to peruse through so we read interesting articles about people bringing communities together through public gardens and how villages in Africa would teach their children about agriculture by singing instructional songs when they were digging wells.

We decided to brave the weather and dodge our way through the showers to the Grotto to see their beautiful gardens.
While we were there it started hailing along with the rain. We spotted a terrified baby bird in the branches of a bush near the path so we rescued it and brought it under the cover of the nearby restroom building until the hailing stopped. It was so cute and didn't even try to run or fly away from us. It seemed to sense that we wanted to help it. Speaking of rescuing, Ruthie came and rescued us with her car shortly after and took us to The Blossoming Lotus for dinner. They have amazing vegan cuisine with a lot of raw food options.

Friday, May 21st

We spent the morning catching up on a few things (including this blog). When you're always on the go, it's easy to let things slip by the wayside until it takes way too long to get caught up. We vainly hoped yet again that the weather would clear up enough for us to enjoy be out, but it showed no signs of relenting so we donned several layers of clothes with our rain jackets over them all and tried out the bus system. Now our overall experience with the public transport in Portland was great, but the first bus we took had problems with the transmission and we had to get off and take the next bus. No big deal and we were on our way again without too long of a wait. The closer we got to our destination though, (The Rose Gardens ) the harder the rain fell until it was even too much for our little rain jackets, so as soon as we got off the bus, we took shelter in a little hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant and drank tea until the weather was a bit more cooperative.

On our hike up to the rose garden, we came across the Holocaust memorial. Scattered about somewhat carelessly were, at first glance, an old suitcase, a doll, and some eye-glasses left on the sidewalk. Closer inspection of these tattered and left behind items revealed that they were made of brass and part of the memorial. The walk to the memorial itself had more of these items, including a teddy bear, a broken violin, and a journal... each tattered and broken. This memorial reminded me not only of those that died, but the indifference that led to such terrible and appalling things being done by humanity against humanity. Afterwards, we went to the rose garden itself and were a bit saddened by the few number of roses that were in bloom. It is the Nation's test garden, so they try and make new rose varieties and choose a winner each year. In part of the garden they showcase all the winners back to the early 1900's. The few roses that we were able to see had little scent, which is my favorite part of experiencing roses. The rhododendron, however, were bursting with flowers all over the place so that made it all worth it. We have to admit, as much as we dislike tramping around in the chilly rain, it sure does produce beautiful, lush vegetation all over Portland. We walked towards the arboretum and avoided the Japanese Garden and Zoo as we would have to pay to get into those, and with the on-again off-again rain, we decided to just stick to walking amongst the trees.
That evening Ruthie and her boyfriend, Matt, came to get us and we went to an Ethiopian restaurant. Coconut water for Matt and Chris, and teff flour bread with spicy lentils, spinach, collards, cabbage, and carrots. You eat teff with your hands, no silverware! Afterwards we went to their house and played a game with scrabble pieces, in which each team gets 21 tiles and races to use all those tiles to construct a crossword puzzle. If you want to exchange a tile, you have to get three in it's place. It's a simple game which I remember seeing some of the Amish playing when we were on the train in Montana. We played until our eye-lids could no longer be kept open and then went to bed and slept soundly.

Saturday, May 22nd

We were excited to be able to go to the Farmer's Market this morning and it did not disappoint us. There were lots of stalls with produce, gorgeous flowers and locally made food. In the middle there was a tent set up with a cooking show going on and on the end there was a band playing a fiddle and cello. We got a flat of strawberries, some rainbow carrots and container of lentil soup to heat up for lunch. Afterwards, Ruthie took us to her favorite coffee shop called, "Legare's".

Jonathan, the barista, was an artisan with a passion for his art. The durian smoothie he prepared for me was amazing to taste as well as look at. It had starfruit, dried hibiscus, and gold flakes arranged on top of a wonderful mixture heavy with the thick rich pungent durian fruit. He also made a passionfruit smoothie for Shalom with was just as wonderful. He sources most of his products from organic sustainable sources, thought not as local as Ruthie would like. He likes oriental flare in his food and some those products do not grow in the Portland area.

Afterwards we went to Powells bookstore downtown. It's a bookstore that seems to have many local publishing houses with small run books as well as old books next to new ones. Not something you normally see in a large book store. It was several stories with a coffee shop on the first floor and rare books on the top. We lingered for more than an hour wrapping up with tea and coffee.

That evening we went to McMinimans Theater, which was an old school transformed into a bunch of bars and a theater. We watched Shutter Island in what used to be the gym, before perusing through the numerous bars, my favourite of which was the boiler room. Tired from a long day, we slept very well our last night in Portland and with Ruthie.

Sunday, May 23rd

Ruthie said that breakfast at the Tin Shed is an experience that should not be missed so we went there on our last day in Portland. We knew it would be a great place when we saw the line of people on the waiting list! It took about half an hour to get in and by the time our breakfast came, we were ready to devour it! Chris got the "naughty" plate and I got the "nice" plate. :-) His was biscuits with gravy, scrambled eggs, hash browns and veggie sausage. Mine was fruit, scrambled eggs, hash browns and sweet potato french bread. In case you were wondering, there was nothing left on our plates when we left. We went back to Ruthie's to get packed up and then we had just enough time to walk over to see a neighbor who teaches about permaculture. His yard was filled with all sorts of edible plants and they try to grow year round when the weather permits.
We said goodbye to Ruthie and caught the bus to the train station, getting there just in time for the last call. (Whew!)

Location:Portland, Oregan

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Montana By Rail

We continue to ride the Empire Builder thru Montana most of the day. It's a huge state.

We met Andy who was a film maker who was spending some time in Glacier Park. Going over the continental divide via train is relaxing.

We saved our one diner car meal for dinner and sat with Lindsay, a girl we met in the observation car, and with another lady who was on the sleeper car. Lindsay was a somolea from Chicago who was headed to Saint Mary's Resort in East Glacier Park.

It was a 5 month seasonal job she got from craiglist. After talking with us she wasn't sure she'd be heading back to Chicago when she got done. We recommended she 'research' places to live for a few years.

After saying goodbye to Lindsay and Andy, we later said good-bye to the majority of Amish folks as they got off in Whitefish.

The mountain air was fresh with the moist fragrance of pine. It was nice to get some deep breaths of fresh air. The air inside the train cars is heavily conditioned (and often cold) which seems to sap all the water from the air and causes your throat to become dry. Especially when you've been on for 3 days. The chairs are small so we decided to take turns sleeping in the chair so we could get into a fetal position on our side, or on our back putting feet against the window. If we slept together, one person would need to be close to the window ac vent. So I slept for an hour or so around 10pm, and Shalom went to sleep around midnight. I let her sleep there the entire night, and hung out with a some uranium drilling guys one of whom was 7' tall. He had to lean and crouch to walk around in the car. I can understand why he prefers to work outside, free from roofs. When we got to Spokane around 1am, half the train split and went to Seattle (including the meal car) and our half headed toward Portland. It took about an hour for them to detach from us and give us a new engine. Once underway I went to sleep on the floor of the lounge car, as it's the only place where you can lay down without curling up into a ball.

Monday, May 17, 2010


We arrived in Chicago a few minutes early around 8:30am after a fitful night's sleep. Someone had told us that it cost $20 to lock up our luggage, so we weren't sure what to do, but when we looked at the lockers, it was only $3 an hour for up to $9 a day. Not cheap, but a whole lot better than $20, so we decided it was worth it not to have to lug our stuff around Chicago. We finally got in touch with my friend, Amanda, and decided to meet up for lunch around noon, so we set out exploring. We walked over to Millennium Park/Grant Park area and saw the "Bean" and lots of pretty flowers.

The 'Bean' is a big silvery object that resembles a kidney bean from outer space, as seen in a couple of photos we took.

We walked over to the lake, but it was really windy and chilly so we didn't stay there long.

We met Amanda at a restaurant called, "Greek Islands" and we caught up on each other's lives over some yummy Greek food. It was fun, but all too short as we had to get back to the train station to catch our ride to Portland. Lots of Amish on this train including an adorable baby that Chris fell in love with. We struck up a conversation with 3 of the boys and they told us about their beef farm and a visit from a Samoan who gave them necklaces similar to the one Chris wears that's from Fiji. We saw some deer and red winged black birds and had a gorgeous sunset over the Mississippi river as we passed from Wisconsin into Minnesota.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Washington DC

We couldn't get comfortable at all on the train last night, so we didn't sleep well at all. We got into DC around 10am and walked over to our hotel. It was nice to just relax and get settled in. We decided to walk to downtown and then take the metro back. We walked to the Capital but it was closed off.

There was some dignitary coming out in a limo. I didn't recognize the flag on the front, but there were lots of police and snipers surrounding the car. Just like in the movies! :-) We worked our way through the roadblocks to the Library of Congress.

It had really beautiful frescos and sayings of famous people painted on the ceilings and walls.

We continued on to the Botanical Gardens which was spectacular.

Chris took a lot of pictures of the different ferns and flowers.

Then we walked across to the reflecting lake where there was a mama duck and her adorable little ducklings!

We continued on down to the Washington Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, stopping by the memorials for the Korean and Vietnam Wars.

Washington DC

It was getting time for dinner by then so we walked over to Foggy Bottoms and had dinner at the Froggy Bottoms Pub which had decent food for really great prices. We were delighted to discover a Trader Joe's nearby so we stopped for some groceries and took the metro back to the hotel.

Friday, May 14th

Chris wanted to stay at the hotel, so I went solo today. I walked over to the National Geographic Museum where they had an exhibit about helping the 90% of the population who are in developing countries and need clean water, shelter and food. It was really interesting and made me want to get involved with stuff like that. I walked along Massachusetts where some of the embassies are and then went to Trader Joes to get some lunch. I ate it on a bench at a nearby park. After a few minutes I heard a lot of chirping noises and when I looked up I saw a birds nest and an adult bird coming to feed the babies. After lunch I walked over to the zoo to look at the Panda bears, but I was disappointed when they weren't in a spot where I could see them. There were zebras and a few other animals, but part of the zoo was closed off for construction, plus it closed early, so I watched an elephant eat some hay and bamboo for a few minutes and then left. I took the metro over to the white house and got a couple of pictures and then met up with Chris. He'd found a juice bar so we went and relaxed there for a few minutes and got refreshed with some yummy juice. We wanted to go to the apple store, but when we got to the address, it was closed down. So we walked over to a hotel that was having live jazz and had tea. Right after we arrived it started dumping rain, so we stayed for a couple hours until it let up and then went across the street to an all you can eat seafood restaurant.

Saturday, May 15th

Market Day! Washington DC has one of the best Farmer's Markets we've ever been to. There were lots of stalls of food, clothes, jewelry etc. We bought a bunch of strawberries and peaches and ate them for lunch. Then we went over to the American Indian and the Space Smithsonians. They had waaaay too much information to take in, so after a little while we gave up and went back to the Froggy Bottoms Pub for dinner and retreated to the hotel room.

Sunday, May 16th

Our last day in DC and we didn't have a whole lot of time because we were meeting a friend of Chris's Dad at 2pm, so we just went to the Spy Museum. It was really interesting and we wish we'd had more time there. It was funny because about 10 minutes after we got there, the fire alarm went off and we weren't sure if it was for real or just part of the whole act because we'd just been given our new spy names and histories to memorize for our spy experience. It did turn out to be real, however, so we had to go outside until the firemen could check everything out and make sure it was safe for us to go back inside. We met up with Johnny Lopez (a childhood friend of Chris' father) and his wife Sue at the train station and enjoyed talking with them until it was time to catch the train to Chicago. We were happy to see that it was a double decker again and we settled in for the evening.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Greenville and Shalom's Family

Thursday, May 6th

We went for a walk around the neighborhood and then picked up Shalom's grandmother from the airport. We spent the day hanging out with family.

Friday, May 7th

Shalom's cousin graduated from college tonight so we all drove to Orangeburg, S.C. (about 3 hours from Greenville). It was good to see the extended family again. A couple of them Shalom hadn't seen in about 14 years so we had a fun family reunion.

Saturday, May 8th

We slept in and then left around 10 to go have brunch with the family. After we ate we went for a walk. My cousin's dog, Tillman came with us and when we walked by a pasture of mules, he ran up to the fence and they started running away. Then a few minutes later another group of mules came up to the fence and nuzzled Tillman and then he even rolled over on his back to show he was friendly! Then he ran up to another mule a few yards away and that one started hee-hawing really loudly for about 10 seconds. It was so funny! We drove back to Greenville in the afternoon and had dinner with some old family friends.

Sunday, May 9th

We went to church this morning and the pastor's dad spoke a good message about God helping you through tough times. We took the moms out to lunch afterward to celebrate mother's day.

Monday, May 10th

Chris wanted to get some work done so Dad dropped him off at a coffee shop in the morning. We hung around the house in the morning except for going for a walk. I read a book about simple living which had some good thoughts, a lot of which we are already putting into practice. After lunch we went downtown and walked around. There was a cute little garden area for children that had lots of different plants with little explanations about what they were good for and how to use them. We also saw some baby geese that were really cute. Some wild strawberries were growing beside the path so we picked some for a little snack. We picked up Chris and went home and called YWAM to have our interview. The lady said that she would send us our acceptance letter as soon as she got an arrival date from us!

Blue Ridge Mountains

Tuesday, May 11th

We were gonna do the Blue Ridge parkway today, but it was cloudy and rainy and too foggy to really enjoy it. We did go to a little mountain town though, called, "Brevard" and walked around. We stopped in front of a Mexican restaurant to check out their menu and the waiter came out to see if we had any questions. He assured us that the food was great and came in big portions. He was really funny so we went in and he took good care of us. After lunch we walked around the town and then we drove to the Cradle of Forestry which was a Forestry school started by Biltmore to take care of the forest on his land. They had kept some of the old buildings up so we could tour the school house and cabin and supply building. It was interesting to walk around and see how they lived. The air was really fresh and clean, too! We went home, had dinner, watched a movie and then we bought our plane tickets to go from San Francisco to Vancouver on June 12th and then from Vancouver to Kona on June 18th.

Wednesday, May 12th

This morning we went to the home of Carl Sandberg who was a famous poet and his wife raised goats and sold the milk and cheese. Their children donated the home and property to the State. The house was closed for renovations, but we could still go and see the goats. One of them had just been born on Saturday and she was still a little wobbly on her legs but she still jumped around and entertained us! We also went for a walk around the lake there which was really pretty. Then we drove to Hendersonville and found a cute eclectic cafe called, "Never Blue" and had some fun tapas for lunch.

Afterward we walked around town and then went home and packed for our train ride to DC. Dad and Mom took us to the station and when we walked up to the window to pick up our tickets, we were told that there was no record of our reservations in their system! The guy did find them but they were for the next night and he said it would cost $30 each to change them to tonight. He felt bad and told us to call information and explain that there had been a mix up and ask them to change the reservations without the fee, so Chris called them but they didn't budge. So he went over to the window to pay for it but there was some malfunction that kept the credit card from being processed. So Chris called them back and explained the situation and they finally switched our reservations for free. From now on we're gonna make sure we pick up paper tickets before our trips so we have physical proof of our reservations.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

New Orleans to Greenville - A bad day on the train

We got up early and took a cab to the train station. This train was single level and didn't have a glass roof in the observation car, making it not as comfy. The train attendants were also rude and quite strict about useless rules. We went to the sitting car like we'd done before and began to eat our fruit. The train attendant then came by and told us that we couldn't have any personal food out in that car and that we had to put it away or go eat it back at our seats. We thought maybe she didn't see that we had bought some coffee and that's why she was being silly about it. However, a while later, another couple sat across from us eating meals they'd bought at the cafe along with a bag of chips they'd brought with them and the attendant came by and told them to put their chips away. We still managed to sneak eating our grapes when she wasn't looking. :-)

We decided to eat our first dinner in the dining car and we were seated with a nice couple from California. They were telling us about their lives and that they had a nice place on a hill with some fruit trees and a little garden. We tried to go back to our seats afterward, but someone had taken them so we moved to some other chairs. We told one of the train attendants and he indicated that we needed to be in the assigned seats and he left to go try to figure something out. While he was gone, the train stopped and the people occupying our seats got off so we moved back to our seats. A few minutes later the guy came back and told us we had to move a few rows back to some other seats that he'd gotten assigned to us! So I just really wasn't impressed with this whole train ride. The good news is that the train arrived pretty much on time around 11:55pm. Glenn and Terry were there waiting for us so we went home and went straight to bed.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A night in the Crescent City

Shalom riding on the train.

NO FIRE.... That's what I like to see at a fire department.

Sunset over the Crescent City.

Hippie Gypsy! A store just for us!

Chris get's a taste of a New Orleans Classic.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Austin to New Orleans

Taylor dropped us off at the Austin terminal and provided us with lots of yummy food including fresh fruit, coconut, ice-cream, and juice. (Thanks Taylor) The train was over an hour late, delaying the rest of the trip, but we finally got underway just after 8pm.

We had to change trains at around midnight, and we got a personal escort and luggage transfer in a golf cart that rode between the trains. Once we got settled in, we went directly to sleep. It wasn't very comfortable, but we made it through the night. I (Chris) woke up at 5am and wandered around the train, getting off in Houston for about 10 minutes. One of the train cars has windows all around even on the ceiling.

I got some coffee and sat in that car facing the sunrise and started a conversation with a military contractor named John. He provided training on military vehicles including tanks, humvees, and other land vehicles. He spent much time abroad, including Afghanistan, Germany, and Western Europe. Shalom joined us later and we had Taylor's fruit for breakfast.

Later the train stopped because another train had to undergo emergency repairs on the track in front of us. While we were stopped, one of the attendants was interested in the iPad and took the time to write the following into notepad:

"""Next to us is a small chicken farm and turkey farm with two guineas... The rooster seems to have had his way with all the chickens that their backs are raw and pink. It appears painful.. If I were a chicken I would try to escape...."""

She was an interesting lady, gruff yet friendly at the same time. The other train was soon repaired and we were on our way leaving the strutting turkey and other friends behind. Farms roll by as we drive across the plains of Texas, sometimes running into McMansion housing developments coming seemingly out of no-where.

Life on the train makes you slow down to a more reasonable pace. There's no rushing around. Just sitting and looking out the windows, watching life go by while chatting with your fellow train riders. Kind of like people used to do back in the day, sitting on their porch swings and talking to the neighbors who passed by on their evening strolls.

Now that things are quiet and we are underway, I'm going to get back to learning about how to write programs for the iPad.