27 March 2014
Our morning was ridiculous only because of the hour. I had to wake up at 3 am to make sure everything was packed and ready to go by 4. Then Jennifer sat in the lobby of our borrowed apartment building while I hiked a dozen blocks across town to drop of the keys in the dead of the morning. Afterward, we caught a taxi to the train station, thinking that getting there a full 90 minutes early was a bit silly but, you know, better safe than sorry. Turns out we timed it just right: once we got our bearings in the little station, we had exactly enough time to fill out our customs forms before lining up at ticketing and immigrations services, and then, quick as you please, we were on the train!
So, lucky timing and, despite the absurdly early hour, everything went as smoothly as I have ever experienced on travel, especially considering this was international travel.
I wrote a bit about this in my last rhapsody about Amtrak, but now that I’ve crossed a border aboard a train, it bears repeating: I can’t image why anyone would ever choose to drive or fly long distance. Having lived overseas — and being travel-lovers in general anyway — my wife and I have gone on our share of international journeys together. We’ve had the occasional “random” search or nearly-missed connection, and there was the whole week-long stranded-in-Amsterdam saga, but for the most part, we’ve been extraordinarily lucky in how smoothly our travel has gone. And even considering that, we have never once experienced this kind of ease checking in or passing through customs and immigration.
For example, at the airport, you have to arrive at least an hour early — two hours for international travel — because that’s how long it takes to fight the crowds, get checked in, run your baggage and then yourself through at least one level (sometimes two or three levels) of security, get scanned, poked, and groped, hike a few football fields to your gate, and then wait around for your boarding group to come up so you can finally squeeze onto a cramped little plane.
At the train station, ticketing and immigration and security scanning (no xrays or groping, just a conveyor belt for the bags) took all of five minutes, total. And that was it. Once we were through, we walked the length of the train and boarded our car and we were done. No crowds, no interrogations, no long treks through the terminal or long waits for boarding groups. A few minutes to get our bearings, 10 minutes to go through our receipts and fill out the customs card, and five minutes for boarding. The rest of our 90-minute early arrival was spent settling in on the train, finding the toilets, grabbing coffee from the bistro card, setting up the free wifi…. All in the comfort of the train.
As for driving: the weather was off-and-on rainy, sometimes heavily so, but we didn’t have to drive in it. The scenery was gorgeous, and we both got to enjoy it because neither of us had to keep an eye on the road. And at the border crossing, while all the cars lined up to inch through the customs gates, our train simply slowed long enough to pick up a gang of customs officers, who then came to us to check our passports and collect our customs cards while we rolled merrily on down the tracks! Easy peasy.
When we weren’t coastline-gazing or snoozing, Jennifer read a book while I got some writing done (more easily done thanks to the power outlets in the seats, another feature I love about the train) — I did some blogging and started chipping away at a new chapbook project I had an idea for while visiting the Vancouver Art Museum. I also had an idea to do a photo series called “As Seen from the Train” — not terribly original, probably, but I’m a window-watcher and the scenes from the train are quite different than what you’d see out a car window or from a plane — so I took a ton of photos of the passing scenery. I’ll post those photos, as well as some from Vancouver, in a couple of future posts, so stay tuned.