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Saturday, September 8, 2018

Train travel in the US

Travel Surprise, 2017, USA: Few people vacationing in the US use the railways there. In all my years, I've come across only one person who travelled by train from Seattle to Washington DC and recommended it. I did not have that many days to spare and so I decided to go on a shorter, more popular route, from NewYork's Penn Station to Boston's Backbay, a four-hour journey through the north-eastern coast on an Amtrak. I had booked the ticket a month in advance for $49. My ticket did not show a seat number. I discovered that in Amtrak trains they have free-seating. I took my place opposite a pre-teen boy who was travelling alone. Nearly three months into my pregnancy and suffering from debilitating nausea, I decided to put my feet up on the two-seater and stretch out like we'd do in an Indian train. Only, the Americans, don't want you to do that so the bar below the window juts out to make it very uncomfortable to rest your head on. I made a pillow of my backpack and lay down to watch the ticket-checkers (TCs) who were sitting across the aisle opposite me - all white and seniors and the only ones who were having interpersonal conversations. The rest of the people, including the boy, were plugged in: earphones, laptops, mobile phones. It turned out that in the entire compartment, I was the only one at leisure to take in the breathtaking beauty of the New England countryside. An elderly TC decided to become my guide, brought me a bottle of water and cup of coffee from the pantry and pointed out to the lake from which they get the best lobsters, his childhood home, the wild roses, etc. Accustomed to trains in India where all doors open at all stops, I was shocked that in the Amtrak they announce how many doors shall open at each stop. You have to move with your bags towards the doors that shall open. We disembarked in Boston in pitch-darkness because the tubelights at the platform were not functioning and had to find our way out with the light of our mobile screens. How I missed the little lanterns at tiny Indian stations! Later, when I narrated my journey to an aunt, she exclaimed, "They let you put your feet up and travel like that? Nobody does that you know!" Well, I sure did and it remains one of my favourite travel journeys.

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