“Beyond the Rails” Flagstaff, Arizona

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“Beyond the Rails” is the name given to cities along the Amtrak Railway System that we have chosen to visit on our cross country train adventures.  These cities will also be featured in our soon to be published book  “All Aboard, Now What?”.

Follow these links to read more about  our adventure or to learn more about Amtrak’s USA Rail Pass system.

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Planning our cross-country train adventure, one definite must see on my list, is to visit the Grand Canyon!  A newbie to train travel, I quickly learned that you “can’t get there from here”.  Amtrak does not have a stop at the Grand Canyon, however, you can get pretty close to the canyon and for us that meant a visit to Flagstaff, Arizona.

Flagstaff, Arizona was one of the most pleasant surprises on our cross-country train trip adventure.  I love when your expectation of a destination is far exceeded by the reality of the location.  In all honesty, I expected a sleepy, quiet little town with nothing more than a bench to wait on at the train station.

I could not have been more wrong. Flagstaff is a bustling little city where I would love to spend more time.  Friendly, clean, inviting, walkable, Flagstaff is loaded with shops, restaurants and nightlife.  And most importantly, everything  is within a short walking distance of the train station.

If you have a car you will find large shopping plazas and grocery stores to restock your supplies just minutes away. Renting a car is a more budget friendly way to visit the Grand Canyon.  We had great luck and service from Budget Rental at 175 West Aspen, Flagstaff, AZ.  Less than a five minute walk from the train station.  For our family of five a $40 rental car and a great guide route from the Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce (adjacent to the train station ~ a one minute walk) made my goal of seeing the Grand Canyon a very exciting and pleasant reality.

Here is a map of the monuments, national parks and directions to the south rim of the canyon.

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 I’ll be the first to admit after twelve days on trains, I was quite happy to be travelling by car again.  We opted for route 1 below and we were able to see the majority of the list.

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In addition to the grand canyon, which was spectacular, we enjoyed the Wupatki Sunset Crater Volcano and Wupatki National Monument.  A photo/video montage of this adventure is in the making and will be available shortly, complete with teenage commentary about their mother’s driving!

Our best decision was to bypass the advertised train/bus/concierge opportunities of the popular Williams Junction train depot and to continue on to Flagstaff, AZ.  Flagstaff surpassed my every expectation, it is a larger, busier, more interesting city on the famous route 66 than I had originally anticipated.

Read more about our accommodations at the MoDuBeau Travelers Inn and Hostel and recommended places to eat!

Taking my Dogs on a Train Adventure?

It appears that our next train adventure could include our furry friends!  Well, maybe not my furry friends as they do not meet the size requirements and, well, truth be told they aren’t the best behaved dogs on leash.  Oh well, we love them anyways!

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Read more about bringing your dog on the rails!  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/02/12/dogs-on-trains_n_6672722.html

One Picture of One Star – Robin Williams

Our recent trip to California brought my family to the famous Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame.  My ipad wielding, digital children snapped picture after picture after selfie of every name they recognized on the sidewalk.

Being reared on film, I still possess the old school mentality known as “fear of wasting film” and was subsequently teased by my children for not taking more pictures.

Working on some travel writing this morning, one picture popped up in my automated picture scroll.   I had taken one picture on Hollywood Boulevard of one star, Robin Williams.  I remember telling my children about Mork and my favorite movie, The Bird Cage.   The picture that appeared in my automatic scroll this morning brought me back to that sunny afternoon.

My face wants to smile, but my heart hurts with the loss of someone who I never actually knew.  There are so many other  things I “should” be doing right now, however I feel compelled to write the message I believe my favorite comedian and actor would want this picture to say.

Live your life so that your star stops people in their tracks and makes them smile. 

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Rest in peace funny, funny, man.

A Moment in Time

Pre-Trip Melt Down and Mike’s Margarita!

It’s not a good trip unless there is a pre-trip melt down.   You know the kind where you completely lose it over being asked a simple question like “where’s the phone?”   Really, I have fourteen hundred things on my mind and you feel the need to ask me where the phone is?   We have five phones in the house complete with a handset locator button, but no, when we need something we automatically ask Mom, no matter what she is doing or where she is and thus began the pre-trip meltdown.

When asked for a phone, Mom was busy apologizing via email to the lovely hotel in Arizona that is sponsoring us for a free night, that she did indeed give them the wrong arrival date!

Add to this the following occurring in the same 10 minute span:

– Husband announces he needs new sneakers

– Daughter thinks she should get a hair cut

– Son buys a new MP3 player and it’s not working.

– Fighting ensues between teenagers over the desktop because everyone needs to either empty their photo cards, Ipads, Ipods or download music.

– Last load of laundry has one new dark t-shirt that bled.

– Mom is sneezing and realizing she has a sore throat.

– Apparently we do not have as many boxer shorts or socks as we first thought…

– Husband is irritable because he is still finishing work

– House sitter calls to go over their list of needs

– The dog decides to gack up something vile from the backyard right in the middle of the family room rug.

Last but certainly not least, Mom asks for a Mike’s Margarita from the mikes_margarita_meltdown_travelrefrigerator so she can decompress a little on the couch (with the absurd thinking that the alcohol will kill potential cold germs). Son trying to be helpful as he sees the Melt Down about to hit the spin cycle, brings her a beer, already open.

It’s not  that beer is a bad thing, I love a good beer.   I just wanted a Mike’s Margarita, it would have completely squelched my melt down, instead it brought tears to my eyes.  I couldn’t hide my disappointment, making my son  feel bad as he frantically stated,  “I thought you said beer”.

Since  it was open, I drank it, and went to bed.  Pre-Trip Meltdown over (I hope).

Floor Packing 48 hours Ahead!

Two days to go!  Five  people thousands and thousands of miles!  What to do in the last 48 hours…Floor Packing!

Floor Packing is the laying out of all items that will potentially land in a suitcase.  Note the word potentially!   Most of what is currently packed on the floor will be cut prior to the final zip!

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We are also in the don’t wear it if you want to bring it mode!   Six loads of laundry today and that’s it!   Anything else you decide to use in the next 48 hours will not be travelling with us!

Train travel is easier for a variety of reasons not the least of which is packing!  Two carry-ons per person (up to 50lbs each) and that does not include purses, laptop cases, etc… at no charge.   Additionally  you can pack food, drinks, water bottles and more.  Far easier than my last airline trip.

Floor packing rocks because you can see what is going in the suitcase right up until the last-minute.   If you pack to early you have to dig through to answer the question “did I pack????”

Also, when travelling with kids who are doing their own packing you can intercept potential hazards like a leaky shampoo bottle or too many shorts and not enough socks!

 

 

 

Excited vs. Panicked?

EXCITED MOMENTS               PANIC MOMENTS

I’m so excited!                              Oh my god we leave in 12 days.

Score on a hotel!                           Still missing 2 nights and a major city!

This is going to be great!             This is insane – I’m not bringing this family.

So much to see and do!                I can do anything for two weeks!

And it goes, moment by moment.   The planner in me is now in full swing!

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Love Me a Good Travel Book!

Yup, those are color coded pages for each city we are visiting as well as a type written itinerary of arrival and departure times complete with station addresses!   Even though all the information is on the internet at my finger tips,  I can’t plan a trip without flipping through a good travel book, complete with paper maps!

The city list is confirmed (with one exception) and what to do for a day suggestions are more than welcome!

Boston (Home) – Chicago – Glacier National Park- Seattle (4th of July) – San Francisco – Los Angeles –  (still deciding Flagstaff and drive to Grand Canyon or Albuquerque or Kansas City).

 

Do You Have a Bear Whistle?

bear_montana_ bear_whistle_travel“Do you have your own bear whistle?”

Hands down the strangest question I have ever been asked when booking a hotel.

Our train will be arriving at Glacier National Park, Montana  late in the evening.   The hotel owner will leave our keys, a flashlight and directions to find our cabin in a box on the front office porch.

It was the last question, that has me questioning my plans.  “Do you have a bear whistle?”   What? Are you kidding me?  I’ve never even heard of a bear whistle and I really don’t want to know why I might need one.

In fact, I can tell you with the utmost certainty that I do not need a bear whistle. If I meet a bear, in the dark, in the woods of Montana, I can guarantee you that I will scream and pass out.  Hopefully the scream will scare the bear and my passing out counts as playing dead, right?

Trivago – Goes the Distance!

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While doing hotel research last night and simultaneously listening to television noise, I was happy to see a commercial for trivago.   Curious, I logged in and I have to say I am very glad I did!

This has been the easiest, fastest and most accurate hotel search site that I have used and I have used quite a few in my travels.   Quick easy links to the best price on 8 of the top sellers from Priceline, Expedia, Hotels.com and more!  Ratings based on smiley faces and map links that were quick and easy.

In addition to the easy to use filters however,  my favorite feature is sorting by Distance!  Since we are travelling by train with only one or two potential car rentals, distance to the train station is key!   Instead of just searching Chicago, I was able to search Chicago Union Station and then sort by distance away.

Schlepping bags with a family of five after a long train ride… you better believe “walking distance” is a hotel bonus feature for this family!

Thanks Trivago for going the distance!

Important Amtrak Alert Triggers Paranoia

I’m not generally a paranoid person, in fact I think I run on the side of trust, even borderline naivete’.  So when I receive  an email from Amtrak not even 24 hours after we purchase the vacation we have been planning for 6+ months, I’ll admit I jump to the worst case scenario ~ call me paranoid.

I receive this by email “Important Amtrak Alert (Reservation number…” and expecting bad news that would be trip altering, I called the phone number as directed and reached Dwight.  He would go on to inform me that our trip will be interrupted.   Interrupted how? Stuck in the Midwest, no trip down the coast  of California on the Starlight, I have to change dates, we can’t go at all????

Dwight interrupts my internal paranoid questioning with the following statement, “Your trip on July 13 from Chicago will be interrupted.” WHAAAT does this mean, I cannot get to Boston from Chicago, I nervously inquired?imagesSFAXTFZI

Why no, says my new friend Dwight, you will disembark the train and board coach buses in Albany, NY for the final leg of the trip.

Oh, still not reassured however, I ask how many buses, will our family of five be on the same bus, can we bring all the luggage, will we arrive at the same time, do they pick us up at the train station?   My rapid fire questioning caused a slight chuckle on the other end of the line with Dwight answering each question in rapid fire succession.

So, I reiterate to Dwight,  all five of us will be on the same bus, headed to the same location and arriving at the same time as originally planned?  At this point Dwight is outright laughing at my paranoid inquisition but assured me that this indeed would be happening as stated.

I know that Dwight was thinking, I’ve got a crazy one this time, I could hear it in his voice.  With a sigh of relief, I asked if that was all the alert warning was regarding.  And the answer was yes.  Dwight informed me that ample coach buses would be waiting for us in Albany and we would arrive on time in Boston.

Well then, I said, we are good to go.  Stunned by my abrupt change of disposition, Dwight asked if indeed I was all set.  He then politely ended our call with a “You have a good day now and thank you for calling Amtrak” to which I replied, “I will, now that I know what constitutes an “Important Amtrak Alert message”.   I could see him smile as I hung up the phone.