Amtrak’s Cascades line runs along the North-West coast from Eugene, Oregon up to Vancouver, and is a popular route with people travelling in this area – it seems that even Americans can be tempted off the roads occasionally! In our original plan for the trip we would just have taken it from Seattle to Vancouver, but visiting Portland meant that we got to double our time on the Cascades, and it was really very pleasant.
Part 1: Portland to Seattle
Although not quite as generously proportioned as our long-distance carriage, the Cascades train was still much more comfortable than the average British rolling stock, and we settled in to enjoy the four hour ride. Most of the time the track was screened by trees, but every now and then we caught a glimpse of small towns, meadows and distant hills.
One of the most civilised things about the train, I felt, was that it had a cafe car with seating as well as an entire separate lounge car too. It was very nice to have a change of scene mid-way through the trip, and I also appreciated not having to carry a full cup of hot coffee back along the train to my seat!
Part 2: Seattle to Vancouver
We arrived back at King Street station bright and early for our 07:40 departure (very nearly via the airport as our cab driver was confused, but thankfully we noticed in time). Despite crossing vast swathes of Europe by train, I think this was the first time I’ve had to show my passport before boarding one (other than the Eurostar, of course, but that feels more like airport check-in than a normal railway station). The desk agent was also a little confused and we very nearly ended up in business class – sadly he spotted his mistake in time but we did get to keep the vouchers for free coffee!
The first part of the journey was alongside Puget Sound, where the water was almost completely calm, and the views spectacular. The bistro car attendant was possibly rather bored (either that or he had a quota to make up) as he made several cheery announcements over the PA system, enticing us with details of what he had to offer, including beer, wine and bloody Marys. If he had been serving mimosas we may have partaken, but as it was we stuck to coffee and the most enormous cinnamon bun for Tom.
As we approached the Canadian border the scenery became wilder and more beautiful. Back alongside the Sound the view from the windows could easily have been mistaken for some Scandinavian fjord, although several of the little towns we passed through were amusingly reminiscent of English seaside towns, even to the point of fish and chip shops. Most excitingly I saw a bald eagle perched on a rock by the shore, presumably waiting for its own fish supper, then we spotted several more of them circling over the water as well as one particularly dramatic bird at the top of a tree.
Arriving in Seattle things were a little chaotic as all the luggage was dumped at the very furthest end of the train, thereby making everyone battle their way down to collect their cases and then struggle back to join the line for immigration which snaked down the platform. Thankfully it was a sunny afternoon so waiting in line was fairly pleasant, it would have been most uncomfortable in bad weather, though after a hectic week of travelling we were eager to get to our hotel and start exploring the final destination of the trip.