Originally published 25 July 2021

The Belltown Inn is perfectly comfortable and I slept remarkably well.  I even woke up well, which is unusual for me.  After the normal morning things and getting packed, I discovered that the place I had planned to have breakfast (Biscuit Bitch) was fresh out (as announced by their sign proclaiming “Bitch, we closed!”), so I set off for the station a little early.  Taking the RapidRide E line, as instructed by the almighty Google, proved challenging as King County Metro had most unkindly not informed our data-mining overlords of a detour, putting me a couple blocks out of position.  Mastering the traumatic flashbacks to a time when King County Metro did the same thing to me at the age of 16, I relied upon eleven years of wisdom, experience, and a much better smartphone to get me to the station.  I dropped off my bag and proceeded to wander.

My wander took me to Occidental and Pioneer Squares, an absolutely delightful gastropub where I had a good chat with the bartender, and then, as a moth drawn to flame, towards the water.  At the water, I gazed longingly at the ferry boats.  Ah, my ferries.  I have missed my ferries.  I’m writing my thesis on ferries, but not these ferries.  Other ferries.  Have I mentioned that I quite enjoy ferries?  My ferry fix sated, I decided to do something I haven’t done in years: I went to the Seattle Aquarium.

The fish were fishy.  The jellies were jelly-y.  The octopus was octopussy.  The otters and seals were mammally  The birds were rather avian, however.  My favorite part was the salmon stream because it brings home the concept of their life cycles and the necessity of healthy riparian areas better than most anything else, which makes my little environmental educator heart happy.  But that’s not what I want to dwell on.  I want to dwell on the spirally, spindly corals and intricately bizarre sea cucumber I saw.

Recently, I had the privilege of revisiting the Maryhill Museum of Art near Goldendale, WA.  One of their current pushes is for ekphrasis—art that inspires art.  Seeing these creatures, this was the concept that came to mind.  Nature is art.  Its art inspires my photography, where I but merely capture what has already been wrought.  Its art has inspired countless generations of poets and painters and knitters and dancers.  Looking and these creatures with an artist’s eye bordered on the transcendental for me today; I may find some time in the Dakotas to return to my memories of them and write.

Wandering back to the station involved taking too many stairs up to Pike Place Market, nope-ing the heck out of an intensely crowded tourist trap, and finding the Link to take back to King Street (try diverting the light rail, I DARE you Metro).  I bought some shnacks at Bartell Drug across the street, claimed my bag, and waited for the train.  I watched it roll in, the conductor come triumphantly through the door, and I couldn’t understand a word he said because of the echo.  Eventually, I got the gist of where sleeper passengers were supposed to go; I went there, I boarded, I lugged my suitcase up a very narrow flight of stairs, and I gazed upon my accommodations for the next three days.

My first impression is that the room was delightfully cozy.  It is absolutely perfect for one traveler and would probably be fine with someone else if you enjoy them quite a lot.  While there is room for a full-sized suitcase, I found it is much more comfortable to stash the clothes I’ll need for the trip in the closet and put the bag back downstairs.  I have really only to places for improvement: it would be nice to have a way to lock the door from the outside (for when you go to dinner, the bathroom, etc), and it would be nice to have more than one power outlet.  Come to think of it, there may be another in the stowed upper berth, but I haven’t examined it thoroughly.

Crossing the Cascades took place in daylight, which was a major reason I chose a summer trip (at least for the first time).  Anyone who has driven US-2 to Leavenworth knows it is one of the most scenic trips in Washington, and the ability to enjoy it with a full picture window and someone else driving is a true treat.  One of the few downsides of a roomette is that your view is limited to one side of the train; along the water it was slightly a bummer, but I have no complaints about the mountains.  Just before coming into Leavenworth I went back to the dining car for dinner.  Dinner on the train is a three-course, restaurant-style arrangement, and included in one’s sleeper fare.  Tonight was lobster crab cake followed by tortellini with chicken and pesto cream sauce followed by an absolutely decadent chocolate torte.  The breakfast and lunch menus look similarly excellent.

Amtrak, by some dark alchemy, managed to seat three solo-traveling gays together for dinner and it was (to coin a phrase) fabulous.  One of us was a married, Indian born software engineer who shared stories that compared train travel in the US against the subcontinent.  Another was a freelance graphic artist embarrassed by his trust fund who talked about how bizarre it is to see homophobia at home in Portland.  And then there was I, who could talk rail history and poverty policy with equal ease (because, for some reason, we talked about poverty reduction at one point).  The moment realized we all batted for the same team was beautiful: a happy burble of affected lisps and limp wrists before laughter and a return to our normal mannerisms.  They were delightful gentlemen with whom to dine.  We only got up from the table when we arrived at Wenatchee, our first “fresh air” (i.e. smoke) stop of the night.

The last haunting of sunlight and warm, Eastern Washingtonian air awaited at the station.  Sadly, the platform was not long enough for me to get a picture of the full train, but I did get from the baggage car down.  Now we’re back on board and rolling towards Spokane.  I’m still debating whether I want to stay up; there’s a train bridge I’d quite like to see.  Glacier NP should be starting around 7:30 tomorrow morning, which, coincidentally, is when breakfast starts.  I’m looking forward to my full day on the train, which I fully anticipate being even more magical than today.

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