Our Voyages: Train Trip Across America

IMG_9542Two weeks ago we finished our NYC adventure with a 60 hour train trip across the United States. We couldn’t have predicted it when we booked the tickets in February, but it ended up being a helpful bridge between NYC and CA. It distracted us many times from the fact that we were leaving a city we had fallen in love with and friends we had become close to. The idea of taking a train across the country was planted by my dad about six months before we even left for NYC. Rob and I dismissed it initially, assuming that you couldn’t do something like that in 2015. Then a Lyft passenger mentioned she had taken her boyfriend on an across country train trip and had a blast. That helped pique my interest and I started considering it more seriously. It seemed fitting to end our time in NYC with a cross country expedition since that was how it started over a year ago. The Excursion

NYC Penn Station => Washington DC Union Station

  • This leg took about three hours.
  • We checked our bags in DC to be transported through to San Francisco.
  • We hung out in the Amtrak Lounge, enjoying free goldfish and noticed that our fellow passengers were at least 50 years older than we were.

Washington DC Union Station => Chicago Union Station (Capitol Limited)

Union Station Chicago

  • Our first overnight leg. It took about 17 hours.
  • Saw a lot of beautiful fall colors in Virginia and West VirginiaIMG_9348
  • We spent the first five minutes sitting across from each other in our roomette just staring at each other. Neither of us knew what to do and I was a bit nervous this was how we would spend the next three days.
  • There was a five hour layover in Chicago so we took in some sights, worked out, and grabbed a healthy lunch at Whole Foods.
  • Our first night’s sleep was a bit rough. The sounds and movement of the train weren’t as lulling as I had hoped. There was also the unfortunate incident of the old man, the bathroom, and me at 3am. Lesson learned: sometimes people forget to lock public bathroom doors.

Chicago Union Station => Emeryville Amtrak Station (California Zephyr)

  • This was the longest leg of the trip, taking about 40 hours.
  • From Chicago to Denver we saw a lot of plains and fields that seemed to go on forever. It was interesting in the beginning but after a few hours it got repetitive and slightly boring.IMG_9523 (1)IMG_9374
  • Denver to Salt Lake City had some of my favorite scenery. We climbed through the Rockies, chugged alongside rivers, and disappeared into tunnels for minutes at a time.

    River through the Rockies

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  • Salt Lake City to Truckee, CA had scenery ranging from large, intricate mountain ranges in the distance to beautiful old redwood trees right next to the train.IMG_9549 IMG_9383

All of the sightseeing was done from the viewing car of the train. While we made several stops along the way, we didn’t stop longer than about 7 minutes at a station and that was only at designated smoke stops. Most stops were only a minute or two long so there was no time to do anything more than step out, stretch your legs, and get a breath of fresh air before the conductor yelled “All Aboard” and we were off again.

The viewing car.

The Accommodations  We had a roomette on both the Capitol Limited and the California Zephyr. Our roomette came with two seats facing each other, a tray table that could be pulled out in the middle, a narrow closet, and one shelf area for storage. In the evening, the car attendant pulled the seat bottoms together to make the bottom bed and pulled the top bed down from the ceiling. When the room was in “bed mode” there was only enough floor space for one person to stand. We had to get really good at coordinating with each other while we were getting ready for bed.IMG_9517

There were multiple bathrooms and one shower that we all shared with the other roomette guests in our car. To have your own bathroom, sink, shower and a little more floor space, you could splurge on an actual bedroom (we paid $1000 and the room would have been $2000). I think the next time we take an extended train trip, (yes, we’ve already talked about taking the Pacific Coast Starlight from LA to Seattle next year!) I would pay more to have the room. I didn’t like sharing the bathrooms and especially didn’t like brushing my teeth in the shared bathroom. I didn’t mind sharing the shower. It was the size of a regular stall shower so there was plenty of elbow room and it had a room next to it to change. I would probably use the public shower even if we had our own.

The Journey  A fellow journeyer said that he thought of plane travel as a means to an end and saw train travel as an end in itself. He described perfectly how I feel about our trip. The goal obviously was to get us back to CA, but all of the beautiful scenery we saw and the characters we met, made the trip itself its own amazing end.  

All of our meals were included in our ticket price (excluding alcohol and snacks that could be purchased in the snack car) and the experience of eating each meal in the dining car was probably my favorite part of the trip. I enjoyed making a reservation for dinner, and I had a lot of fun chatting with each of our different meal companions. They were all kinds of different people. The minister who ordered a bottle of wine for dinner, the couple who brought their own spice, Peri Peri, with them everywhere because they love spicy food, and the guy who overshared about his divorce. We were even impressed with the food. There wasn’t much variety, but everything was done very well. We both had one of the best steaks we’ve had in awhile on our last night. They were able to cook it to the exact medium rare that we love, which we weren’t expecting from a kitchen on a train.IMG_9548

We spent our days working, taking in the passing scenery and playing card games. After the first rough night of sleep, I purchased earplugs which enabled me to sleep deeply the second and third nights. The rocking and swaying of the train ended up being very relaxing. I honestly enjoyed our experience and would love to share it with our friends and family in the future. There are many other lines that Amtrak offers, in different parts of the country, and I hope to travel on them all someday.IMG_9538

Happy Hour

Sunrise and Coffee

Arriving in DC

Creating a Meaningful Life: Taking Art Classes

CAML- ArtI’ve been a bit slack with my meditation since returning from our various trips and vacations but I am excited to get back into a routine with that. It was really fun to share all the different places I meditated in during the last month, but I also want to try something new. My next journey on the path to Creating a Meaningful Life is going to be taking art classes! I was never patient enough for anything art or craft related (except drawing floor plans for my dream homes) and I don’t have a natural talent for it so it was never something I pursued when I was younger. In the last couple of years though I have participated in the popular BYOB paint nights that are popping up all over the country. These events have been fun, and I have been pleasantly surprised that my finished products haven’t been too hideous. I realized that I enjoy painting and creating something that I can put on my wall when I am done. Since I have never had any formal training in it, I thought it would be fun to take a class and learn the basics like color mixing, and working with different mediums. That way I can confidently start making things for myself and others outside of the paint night atmosphere. So, I will be taking a Foundation Art in Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture at the Creatively WILD Art Studio in DUMBO, Brooklyn for six weeks.

The classes don’t start for another couple of weeks, so until then I am going to take a little break from this series. I will begin posting about this journey on September 10 and will continue sharing what I have learned and my progress for the six weeks following then. I can’t wait to see what taking an art class is like!

Are you doing anything new this fall to create your own meaningful life?

Creating a Meaningful Life: Learning to Meditate

meditationMy sister came into town this past weekend which made the 4th of July holiday more special, but it meant that my daily meditation became less daily and more sporadic. I got a few minutes in when I could, mostly on subway rides around the city, but not as much as I would have liked and I found myself missing it. I finally got back into my routine at the beginning of this week and tried out a few guided meditations. I loved them and that surprised me. I was sure that having someone talking, no matter how soothing, would distract me too much, but it was actually the opposite. Having someone tell me what to do, what to focus on and saying it all in an ultra smooth voice really helped me find that concentration that I had been lacking while trying other techniques. I did the Breath, Sound, Body Meditation, and the Loving Kindness Meditation that I found in my initial research. And because I am not a great sleeper, I also tried the Body Scan for Sleep Meditation to help me turn off my brain before bed last night. I was surprised again at how well it worked. It made me so relaxed that I fell asleep before the meditation was even done. I still woke up once in the middle of the night so it didn’t completely solve all my sleep issues, but it was a really great start!

For the next week I had originally planned to try a combination of the techniques that I have been working on for the last three weeks, but the guided meditations went so well even just after a few times, that I am excited to keep trying them. It feels really good to feel like I have finally found my groove in this journey of learning to meditate.

Creating a Meaningful Life: Learning to Meditate

meditationA professor in college once told our class that you’ll know you found the right partner for you when you like who you are when you’re with them. It made me realize that the Sonja I had been in past relationships was not a Sonja that I liked. When I met Rob, I finally was able to see what my professor had been talking about. He is patient, caring, genuinely kind, always looks at the world with a cup half full mentality and will go out of his way to help anyone. I inherited a lot of these qualities from my mom, so they have always been there. But for a long time they were buried beneath my shell of anger, impatience, jealousy, and selfishness. Over the last five years a lot of these qualities have been unearthed by simply being around him and subconsciously mimicking how he lives his life. In the last year or so I became more consciously aware of how exhausting it is when I am in a bad mood, impatient, angry, or just generally in a bad mood. While a good portion of the time I like the Sonja I have become, there are still times that the other Sonja rears her ugly head. I decided to make more of an effort to be a kind and positive person. Life is too short to be spend it angry or unhappy. The Happy Vibes posts were my first step in working to be more positive, more of the time. And I have noticed a change. I take time each day and week to think about a moment I am in and appreciate it for making me happy. This change has given me motivation to find other ways to learn how to be present in each moment, and to find the positive in any situation. So when Rob mentioned he’d heard a segment on Smart Passive Income about morning routines and meditation, I was intrigued.

Now while I do try a lot of different ways of improving my life and health (like taking creative writing classes, not drinking for two months or doing VB6) I always approach them with skepticism. Before fully committing to learning how to meditate, I wanted to try it a few times. I’ve spent the last month practicing sporadically. I did a quick search to find a few tips and techniques and have been trying them all out to see what seems to work best for me. I haven’t noticed a significant change in my overall mood yet, and honestly it is not easy. However, the few times I have done it, I have really enjoyed it. I have felt light, happy and calm afterwards. I have been able to get to a point in each session where I feel weightless, as if I am floating, and I really love that feeling. At this point though, I haven’t been able to hold that feeling long. It has inspired me though, to practice more consistently, and research more tips and techniques.

My goal is to meditate for 10 minutes every morning to start my day off feeling light and happy. I’d also like to use meditation as a tool in specific situations that stress me out or make me feel angry, to calm myself down and look at whatever the situation is in a more positive light. As I move forward in this journey of practicing meditation I will share with you the techniques I try, which ones work best for me, and if I see a change in my overall mood. For the next week my goal is to meditate each morning using the counting breath technique. If meditation is something you have wanted to try, I invite you to try the techniques I try each week and tell me how they work for you. I would also be interested in tips and techniques from all of you since this all new to me. I can’t wait to share this new journey with you!