Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Time Travel in a Train

I traveled from Olympia to Salem by train yesterday and was excited to see parts of the Pacific Northwest with a new perspective. I arrived to the station in time to catch the train only to find out the train was running 40 minutes late. I sat in the sun and inside the station watching people, wondering where they were headed. I saw people bidding farewell and others anxious to move on. 

A sheriff appeared from behind a door calling out a name. No one looked up. She approached a young girl sitting alone and asked for identification. The girl matched the description of a runaway and a list of questions began to be asked. Apparently it was a mistaken identity, but for a moment the air was filled with tension. The Sheriff retreated back behind the door and the young girl went back to her phone to texting.

When I was sitting in the sun, an old man in a volunteer's vest came out to chat with me. 
"I'm surprised you're the only one out here sitting in the sun." He said as he raised his face towards the sun's warmth. "This is much better than our typical weather of clouds and rain". He went over to tinker with the gate and returned to let me know that the train wouldn't be much longer. I appreciated the information and watched him change the arrival time tile on the outside sign.

The train approached with a squeal and we boarded quickly. The ride was lovely passing woods and meadows. It was quite a contrast from the browns in California. Pine trees, rivers and Mount Rainier were the scenery as we traveled through Washington. I went to the dining car and ordered a beer, Black Butte Porter, and settled in my seat to write and enjoy the views.

Passing all the small towns in Washington was interesting. Football practices, truck stops,  school buses and Main Street America passed me by. It was a lovely picture. Train travel gives a perspective that driving doesn't allow. While on a train, one can stare out the window and enjoy the views that don't usually parallel a major highway.

My favorite part of the trip was watching the sunset through Portland and northern Oregon. The sun created silhouettes out of the evergreens, framing the sun with a jagged edge. There was smoke from a fire nearby creating a haze of pinks and oranges. The sky was lit up and glowing vibrantly. The train rode into the sunset which cast a ruddy glow onto into the train.

The ride ended in Salem where my sweet friend was waiting to pick me up. The station in Salem is quaint just like I imagined a train station would be. There was a certain nostalgia about the trip. Riding old school, quaint train stations and passing towns that I had never heard of before gave me a view into Americana. I felt like I was in a different time where things moved slower and people connected differently. For a few hours, the train allowed me to be completely present while providing a glimpse into the past. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Patriotic Me

I haven't done much travel in America. In fact, there are very common places and cities I have never seen. Travel is definitely one of my passions and perhaps I put all these American places on the back burner since I figured they would always be there. Therefore, I ventured off for places further away and collected passport stamps as a hobby. This was also true in college when I declared History as my major and signed up for all the classes covering foreign lands and distant conflicts. I later declared my minor as American Studies but never really went to any of the places I learned about.

But, this year, I am venturing off into America and seeing things that are incredible and even feeling a little patriot. My most recent trip was to Washington DC and I loved every moment of my visit. I arrived late one evening and was surprised by the intense heat and humidity. Grateful for my friend's air conditioning, I fell asleep hopeful for a weekend full of exploration.

The first place on my list to visit was the United States Holocaust Museum. I knew I would spend a lot of time there, so I decided to go while my friend was at work. The museum is not for the faint of heart, but tells such an important story. I spent so much time in each exhibit and found myself very choked up at the end walking through a hall of victim's pictures; I needed to sit down it was so overwhelming. There are many places to sit and reflect and a hall of remembrance where I lit a candle and watched an older woman, clearly upset, sit on a bench and weep. The most amazing part were the stories of survivors who spoke of the pain they went through but I did not catch a glimpse of bitterness or resentment. It is such a beautiful picture of resilience.

I was told by DC natives that after the Holocaust museum, I had to do something happy. So, I went outside and walked around the Smithsonian and up to the Washington Monument then followed the path to the World War II memorial, Vietnam Memorial and finally the Lincoln Memorial. I loved the ease of walking around and being able to see so much history. I sat on the steps of the Lincoln memorial and contemplated my day and offered gratitude for the opportunity to visit such a cool city and to my grandparents for coming to America so we could have such amazing freedoms. I don't think I really appreciated their story until that moment.

That night, we went to a Washington Nationals game and watched America's pastime wearing red, white and blue and rooted for the home team. I love visiting ballparks and this stadium was so much fun and they have great fans. It was such a fun experience and a really good game including home runs, extra innings and presidential puppets. 

The next day, we headed to see a couple more museums and monuments. We stopped in the National Gallery of Art and I geeked out over Degas and the Dutch paintings. But the highlight of the day was the Library of Congress. I have forever loved books and this was heavenly for me. The building is amazing and I was envious of the researchers sitting below at reading desks among the glorious collection of books. 

That night, we celebrated our friendship and birthdays, which are a month apart. We found a lovely wine bar with delicious food. It was so nice to sit for a while and talk to a friend who has become so dear to me. I miss having her in the same city as me, but am so happy that she lives in a great city where I can visit. We ended the evening dancing the night away accompanied by lots of laughter.

On my final day, we headed out for a late brunch and walk around the monuments on the Tidal Basin. The weather was cooler and there was a lovely breeze. I loved the Jefferson and FDR monuments. They each contributed so much as presidents and I think the monuments were beautiful and great tributes to these men. There are so many monuments and museums in Washington DC, I definitely need to return to see everything else. This trip has changed my view on American travel and I am excited to explore more domestically. I am grateful for the opportunity to see all the history and renew my sense of patriotism.