Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jax to Boston via Train

So this post tells the tale of my epic jaunt from Jacksonville, FL to Boston, MA aboard the Amtrak train and my subsequent visit with my New England family.


After waiting for six months for this day, my heightened sense of anticipation made it extremely difficult to sit still following my arrival at the Amtrak station. I was eager to hear the announcement to board the train. At last it came and after kissing Daniel goodbye, I wheeled my little lavender suitcase outside, scanning the signs above me in search of the sleeping car number 12. So intent was I in my quest that I sailed right by my destination.
“Good afternoon! How are you doing today?” inquired the sharply dressed attendant.
“Oh, I’m great!” I replied breathlessly, and kept right on walking.
“Ma’am, you’re walking too far!” he called out to me.

Turns out he was my porter, Joseph and the number 12 I was looking for was on the train car, not the overhead signs.
After directing me to my clean, cozy roomette, Joseph explained all the amenities and advised that my dinner reservation was set for 6:30 p.m.
I settled in, took pictures of the room, and shot a brief video out the window. Then I made my way along the shifting hallway to the dining car where I shared a delicious meal with a very nice lady traveling with her dad. A railroad man since 1947, he had many interesting tales to tell. They were on their way to Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon, a trip that would keep them on the rails for 14 days.

The train made a brief stop in my husband’s birthplace, Jesup, Ga. I had to get pictures of that and also snapped a quick glimpse of Savannah, one of my favorite cities.

The delicious meal began with a crisp salad and warm rolls. The entrée was scrumptious baked salmon and wild rice. While the tiramisu I chose for dessert was absolutely heavenly, it was probably a major contributor to my inability to sleep that night. Sensitive as I am to even the smallest amount of caffeine, I probably should have chosen the cheesecake instead.
After dinner, Joseph came by and converted the seats into a little bed. I was glad I’d brought the light blanket mother gave me for my birthday as it did become somewhat chilly during the night. There are controls for the room temperature but evidently I was not adept enough to master them.

Choosing to sleep in my comfortable tee shirt and sweat pants rather than change into pajamas, I closed the door and pulled the curtains tight, encasing myself in my private chamber. I stood upon the closed
commode to take a video of the roomette in its nighttime mode.
Before turning in for the night, I tried again to call Daniel but he didn’t answer the phone. At first I thought he might be in the tub but when he didn’t answer after several additional attempts, it occurred to me that our phone might be off the hook.
Snuggling down to read on my Kindle usually makes me drowsy but sleep eluded me the entire night despite medication. In addition to the effects of the tiramisu, the train whistle blared out at every crossroads and no amount of toilet tissue crammed in my ears could deaden the sound. I’ve heard people say they sleep well on the train, but I began to feel as if I were trying to rest atop a washer on an off-kilter spin cycle. Having my own commode and sink nearby proved a welcome perk of my cozy roomette, but next time I take the train, I will come armed with adequate earplugs and stronger sleep medication.
I completely forgot about the Rescue Remedy in my purse which would no doubt have remedied the situation in short order.


Despite my lack of sleep, I was up and at ‘em long before the 6 a.m. call to breakfast.
It was exciting to see the Washington Monument from the dining car. My dinner companions from the previous night had to eat their breakfast in a hurry as they were changing trains at this stop.
I shared a table with two ladies taking part in an America by Rail excursion that included a cruise to Maine. After I’d completed my meal, I excused myself saying I wanted to try again to reach my husband. Daniel still was not answering the phone and I made a mental note to have our yard guy Michael to check into the situation.
I waited until I thought Michael would be awake and called him. He didn’t answer so I left a voicemail requesting him to go to our home about noontime to tell Daniel that the phone must be off the hook.
Later Michael called to say he’d rung the bell and knocked on the door at my home but received no response. He said he’d try again later in the afternoon.

Turning my attention to the scenery passing by my window, I took many photos and short videos. My digital camera captured Baltimore, D.C., and Trenton. Whenever we’d arrive at a station, I’d quickly wake up my Kindle and attempt to do a Facebook update. The limited space available on the Kindle screen made it difficult to get the cursor where I needed it to be, and most of the time, just as I finally had the update typed out on the tiny keyboard, the whole thing would be lost as the page refreshed. Nine times out of ten I gave up and did my
updates via cell phone. I thought of this process as “keeping my constituents informed.”

Arriving at 30th Street Station in Philadelphia was exciting. I went to boarding school there as a little girl and worked there as a young woman.
But as excited as I was to see my old stomping ground, the anticipation of reaching NYC had me buzzing! I was so hoping we’d stop at Grand Central Station but it was not to be. Our destination was Penn Station, a major transportation hub in midtown Manhattan.

I rode the escalator up to the concourse and experienced a real letdown when I surveyed the scene. It bore no resemblance at all to the drama and elegance of the huge station I’d been dreaming of for six months.
I vowed then and there to find out what trains do end up at Grand Central and book myself on one of them at some point in the future.
After taking a bit of a hike to use the facilities and take a short video of an amusing animated display, I wandered into a shop where I purchased a pair of NYC tee shirts (2 for $15) and a few NYC postcards. A number of other souvenirs caught my eye but I resisted the urge to buy them.
Because the maitre d’ at breakfast had said that would be the last food I’d receive until I arrived in Boston, I decided to get something to eat while I waited for the next train. Big mistake! I spent $7.50 on a veggie wrap and $3.50 on a beverage. One bite of the wrap and I spit it out and threw it out. It was horrible! To quiet my growling stomach I scarfed down a few of the chocolate hazelnut wafers I’d brought with me.
As the time drew near to board the train for the next part of my trip, it occurred to me that I should have taken advantage of the two-hour layover to at least step outside the train station and see a tiny bit of the Big Apple instead of sitting in the waiting room like a scared bunny. How foolish of me to waste the opportunity to see midtown Manhattan!! When I take this journey next time, I will endeavor to schedule a brief layover.
Checking the clock, I realized it was too close to departure time to venture outside. When I grew tired of people watching, I turned on my Kindle for a bit of entertainment. I checked Facebook and read a bit of my Agatha Christie mystery, but soon the announcement came to board the train to Boston.

The seats were wide and comfortable and I was quite surprised when a voice boomed over the intercom that the dining car would be open for lunch! Since I’d already spent money to buy food, I decided to refrain
from dipping into my funds for additional nourishment. My brother Tony is an excellent cook and I anticipated enjoying one of his delicious preparations upon my arrival.
This proved to be an unwise decision. If I’d known I wouldn’t be having dinner until 8 p.m., I would definitely have bought something to eat. There’s something to be said for bringing an assortment of
portable snacks along when one travels.
My traveling companion for this leg of the journey was a young guy about 18 or 19 years old. I coveted his marvelous touch screen laptop! He was patient and courteous when I asked him to plug my phone in to recharge, and polite as he exited the seat to use the restroom.
As we passed various picturesque towns in Connecticut and Rhode Island, I was wishing I had the window seat so I could make better digital captures. My seatmate graciously pulled back in his seat each time I aimed my camera at the window, but it would have been so much better if I’d been able to just point and shoot. In answer to my wish, the pleasant young man left to join a friend who came aboard so I was able to move over for a better view.

It seemed as if we’d never get to Boston but finally they made the announcement that we were at Back Bay station. We disembarked onto a smoky, noisy platform that looked like something out of a B movie.

There were doors at either end of the station and I was unsure at
which one I was supposed to await my brother’s arrival. I called him on his cell and he gave me the street name, saying he was delayed with traffic.
I found the proper location and sat down on a bench with some other travelers to enjoy Boston. I watched the endless parade of sights and sounds that delighted my eyes and ears.

The most amusing passerby was a guy dressed as Peter Pan. Attired in green from head to toe, he created quite a stir as he made his way nonchalantly down the street, the feather in his green cap bobbing with each step he took in his green ankle boots.
I got a kick out of the bright green rickshaws and wished I could hop into one and go for a spin around the city.

My musings were interrupted by the arrival of my brother and after I greeted him and his two young daughters, I shot a brief video out the car window of the surrounding Boston ambiance. I loved seeing the little sailboats on the Charles River and marveled at all the beautiful old buildings. My camera was working overtime
capturing as much as I could.

As we zipped through the city, I fell head over teacup in love with Boston. There’s so much to see! I longed to explore Old Ironsides, take a ride on the swan boats or see the public gardens. I wanted to walk the freedom trail and shop at the Quincy Market. Of course, I’d love to take in a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.
My siblings have lived in the area all their lives so these things probably don’t seem very exciting to them but I wanted to see each and every attraction Bean Town has to offer and was very much looking forward to visiting the art museum the following day.
Once we left Boston proper, Tony made his way along the highway, checking with our brother Pasquale via cell phone for an alternate route when the traffic became too heavy. At one point near my niece’s house, he needed to make a left turn.
“Tony!!” I squealed when my brother narrowly escaped colliding with a truck.
“Hey, I’m a Boston driver!” he laughed.
My sister Rose and Mother greeted us at the door and soon my niece Melissa brought our darling Dalya downstairs. I was amazed at how much she’d grown since I saw her last year. We all settled around the
kitchen table to chat while we munched chips and dips. Melissa went out for pizza and it seemed like forever before she got back. I dug in eagerly, chowing down two slices in quick succession.

A lovely evening passed as good eats and homemade wine sparked lively conversation and laughter. Later on my brother drove me over to my sister Pam’s place and we arrived just as she was walking toward the
entrance to her building.
I managed to stay awake long enough to meet the tiny person I’d traveled 1,036 miles to see: the precious brand new member of our family, month-old Nevaeh Palmira.

I hugged my niece Kristy, congratulated the baby's mama, my niece Kerry, and met the baby’s daddy, Matthew.
Finally I could keep my eyes open no longer and withdrew to my sister’s comfy bed. Her lovely chubby cat Buddy must have known I was missing my own feline companions because he hopped up on the bed and proceeded to lavish me with kitty love. As soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out like a light with Buddy purring softly beside me.


Saturday morning Pam and I played babysitter for a while to dear little Nevaeh after her daddy said she’d been fussing since 4 a.m. We took over so he and Kerry could get some rest. I took a video of the wee babe and once she’d finally drifted off to sleep in her swing, Pam and I were able to slip off and make our way into Boston.
Traffic was bumper to bumper and a 20-minute trip took nearly an hour, but soon we arrived at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. As I beheld the imposing edifice, I couldn’t wait to wander through this great
treasure trove of art.

I must admit to being vaguely disappointed in the exhibition of jewelry I’d waited six months to see. First of all, it was crowded. One couldn’t really spend much time viewing each piece without people breathing down your neck to move into your spot. The lighting was not conducive to picture taking and what shots I did get off came out blurry. The most intriguing pieces of the whole collection were the
broaches made out of real hummingbirds.

Eager to see the rest of the exhibitions, Pam and I climbed stairs, rode elevators and walked up and down hallways, oohing and aahing at the many beautiful paintings and sculptures. Both cameras worked busily, capturing all the amazing works of art. I scribbled hasty titles and artists’ names in my notebook so I could identify each one later when the photos were downloaded.

To view a slideshow of all my pix from the museum visit
Here. It's best to set the controls (upper right hand corner) to SLOW so you have a chance to read the descriptions and get a full view of each item.

Over a delicious lunch in the indoor courtyard we caught up on the latest family news and then continued to explore various rooms and exhibits throughout the museum. It was fabulously exciting to be in the same room with paintings by Renoir, Monet, Gauguin, Titian and Rembrandt.

We never did get to see the complete textile and fashion collection, only an exhibition called “Global Patterns: Dress and Textiles in Africa.“
We also missed an exhibition of colonial embroidery, the photography exhibit and a short movie called “The Clock.”

With so much to see, the afternoon flew by and soon we had to hustle along so we could get to our brother Pat’s house. We nipped into the gift shop where I purchased some glossy postcards featuring some of the more well known artworks as well as an 8 x 10 print of a particularly beautiful painting of Boston Harbor. I eyed a cloth bag with a reproduction of a Renoir on it but decided the $30 price tag was a bit too much.
After snagging a passing tourist to take our picture on a bench in front of the museum, we walked back to the parking garage. Our validated ticket saved us money on the cost of parking. We agreed it was fabulous of our brother Tony to provide us the free VIP tickets, and voiced a desire to visit the great museums Italy one day to see more beautiful paintings.
The tom-tom malfunctioned a bit and I enjoyed an unscheduled detour through the neighborhood around Harvard, snapping photos of the historic buildings and interesting ambiance.

Eventually we arrived at my brother Pat’s house where the rest of the family had been busy since 7:30 a.m. doing the annual canning of the tomato puree. Thirteen bushels of roma tomatoes were preserved into
over 200 jars. This exhausting and time-consuming annual tradition provides enough puree to last the family an entire year.

I caught up with my sister in law Linda, hugged my brother Pat and brother in law John, greeted my brother Vinny and chatted with mother.
I saw my nieces Christina and Sonya, but was disappointed to learn I’d missed my nephew TJ and his little daughter Juliet. Rose had prepared a delicious pan of homemade spinach lasagna that filled the void left since my lunchtime salad.
A tired Dalya became restless and grumpy and Melissa decided to take her home. I took my niece up on her invitation for me to ride along back to her house.
When we arrived at Melissa’s, she went upstairs to put Dalya to bed and Kristy took a break from studying for her dental assistant midterms to watch “Something Borrowed” on the big screen TV. Melissa joined us when the little one was asleep.
When the movie was paused for a moment so Kristy could attend to something, Melissa inflated the air mattress on my bed in the toy room and then bid us good night. She was clearly bushed from her long day on the tomato brigade.
Kristy and I finished up the movie and then we called it a day, too.

Sunday was a lovely, relaxing family day that my brother in law John would later proclaim had been “just the way Sunday ought to be.”
Rosa and I chatted in the kitchen over homemade pancakes while Melissa took Dalya to spend some time with her Daddy. When she got back, I accompanied her to a nearby mall so she could get a neck massage. I bought a rather dull-looking Red Sox tee shirt that turned out to have a flaw in it and would need to be returned.
On the way home, Melissa picked her daughter up from her ex-husband. I focused my attention on my Kindle so I wouldn’t have to look at the sorry individual who had broken my niece’s heart to smithereens. For
the sake of my great niece, I vowed not to give in to the overwhelming desire to slap him in the face.
When we got back to the house, Rosa had prepared a lovely lunch and we enjoyed some lively banter with the gentlemen from Quebec who are erecting a storage building in the back yard.
After the lunch things were cleared away, my sister Pam arrived and presented me with a terrific Patriots tee shirt. (I wore it proudly all the way home on the planes!)
Melissa and I ventured out once again, this time to a neighborhood store called Bob’s in search of a Patriots hoodie. I found one I really liked but they did not have it in my size. This was probably just as well because the tag said $59.99. I suppose the official NFL sticker may have had something to do with this outrageous price.

I had admired Melissa’s New England Patriot pajama pants and the dear girl bought me a pair of them so the trip to Bob’s wasn’t a total washout. She also purchased a cute top to wear that evening to visit her new beau.
Back at the house, my brother Tony arrived with his two girls in their Boston Bruins shirts. Even their little dog, Izzy, had a Bruins shirt on! Obviously, ours is a very sports-oriented family.

My sister Mary and her son Matthew arrived next and all of us sat on the back porch talking and laughing and just enjoying spending a lazy Sunday afternoon together.
Dinner was yummy Chinese takeout eaten while we watched the New England Patriots on TV. I couldn’t stop shoveling shrimp fried rice into my mouth with chopsticks or munching on spring rolls dipped in hot mustard and duck sauce. We passed around the fortunes from the fortune cookies and I collected them with the intent of playing the lucky numbers on the Florida lottery.
Just after 60 minutes came on TV, Kerry and Matt brought little Navaeh to meet Tony and the girls, and several cameras were busy recording the event for posterity.
I had the opportunity to rock little Navaeh to sleep. As I held her against me, I could feel her tiny heart beating and it brought back sweet memories of when I rocked my own babies so many years ago. There is something deeply soul satisfying about holding a sleeping baby in your arms and I was profoundly grateful to have had that precious time to spend with this adorable little person.

One by one, the family members hugged me goodbye and as they took their leave, the house grew quiet. I showed Rosa and John my Kindle while they made preparations to begin their workweek the following
day. All too soon it was time to turn in for my final night away from home.

More family pix can be seen HERE.


For some unknown reason, Dalya decided not to sleep in as she usually does so I was able to have some delightful one on one time with my delightful great niece while Rosa got ready for work.
All was well until it was time for Rosa to leave. Dalya wailed her displeasure at her Noni’s departure and Kristy had to be awakened to calm her down.

Mother and I had a brief quiet period to visit while Kristy took Dalya down the street to the babysitter.
I showed her some of the pictures on my Facebook page and next thing I knew, Melissa was outside to take me to the airport bus. I had to bid my dear mother farewell, wishing I had more time to spend with her. It
always seems as if I no sooner arrive than it’s time to head back home.
My niece and I chatted amiably during the brief trip to the Logan Express hub and took our leave of one another with a fond embrace.
The bus was large and clean and the journey to Logan airport was pleasant. I made a mental note to take advantage of this service every time I came to visit my family. It saves a great deal of time and
After indulging in one last tourist purchase, a bright red Boston Red Sox tee shirt, I found the gate for my flight and settled in with my Kindle to wait for the boarding call.
The 2g-memory card still had some space on it so I decided to film the takeoff. Usually I’m grabbing the armrests and holding my breath during this procedure, but this time I forced myself to look out the
window. If I do say so myself, the resulting bit of video is quite breathtaking, although it does take too long to get to the part where we actually leave the ground. I’ve tried several times to upload the
eight-minute film to YouTube but I keep getting an error message. Very frustrating!
By the time we reached Atlanta I was super hungry. I decided to skip the veggie wrap this time, opting instead for hard-boiled eggs, Activia and potato chips. Not the most nutritious lunch but certainly more palatable than what I’d purchased in NYC.
The flight to Jacksonville was brief and uneventful and I read from my Kindle the whole time.
Daniel arrived shortly after I reached the ground transportation area and drove me home through the rainy evening.
With this trip completed, now I can begin planning for my next excursion: going to Philly in March to meet my two-month old grandson. After I spend time with Martha and the baby, I plan to treat myself to 24 hours in Philly, taking in the flower show and staying in a downtown hotel. I will probably fly up and take the train home so I can see what it’s like to ride Amtrak in the other direction.

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