A Travellerspoint blog

June 2006

Oh Lord, Stuck in Lodi Again

Adventures at Newark Liberty Airport, New Jersey

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View Work Trips 2005 - 2006 on GregW's travel map.

When I worked in California back in 2002, there was a small town just outside of San Francisco called Lodi. Whenever I saw the highway sign for it, I always thought of the song by by Credence Clearwater Revival called Lodi. I thought to myself, back in 2002, that the small town in California must be the place that John Fogerty was singing about. Recently, when driving in New Jersey, I came across another town that shares the name with the CCR classic. I don’t know which Lodi CCR got stuck in, but I like to think it’s whatever Lodi I happen to be closest too at the time.

The song contains the line, “Oh Lord, stuck in Lodi again,” which popped into my head as I arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport yesterday. It had been stormy all week, and driving in I could see streaks of lightning hitting all along the waterfront of Newark’s industrial port. I was assuming that my flight, at best, would be delayed. I arrived at the airport to find all the flights to Toronto cancelled. Toronto was getting thunderstorms, just like Newark, and no planes were going to be landing there tonight.

(An aside, as every good blog entry deserves some pictures, but I didn’t have my camera with me, I have replicated my adventure in stick figures).

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”How am I getting home now?” I think, looking at the big board with the cancellations.

As the Air Canada agent told me that I had been rebooked to fly out 2 days later on Saturday morning, that is when the line from Lodi jumped into my head. Partial the reason was because I was stuck in New Jersey, and there is a Lodi in New Jersey, so it’s fitting that way. But mainly the song popped into my head because of the last word, “again.”

The previous Thursday, I spent 2 1/2 hours sitting on the tarmac of Newark Liberty Airport waiting for my hour long flight between Newark and Toronto to take off. We were delayed because of thunderstorms in between Toronto and Newark. Due to the weather, greater spacing was required between planes, and so all the planes scheduled between the New York area and places to the north-west were delayed.

I was speaking with an ex-Air Canada pilot last weekend, and he said that the system, especially in the north-east USA and Ontario/Quebec area was basically close to it's limit. There was no more space to add planes into. More airports can alleviate gate crowding and takeoff slots on the ground, but can't help getting more planes in the limited air corridors that exist today. There is talk of a more flexible situation to move away from the current "air highway" system to open up more routes, but there's limits to that to.

Eventually my flight from Newark to Toronto was cancelled, and I had to wait until Friday morning to get out. That week, Air Canada was nice enough to put me up in a hotel (something they didn’t do yesterday, as they said the cancellation was weather related and therefore not their fault). We returned to the gate, deplaned and I spent the night in beautiful downtown Newark at the 5-star luxury resort Robert Treat Hotel, complete with luke-warm running water, lumpy pillows and a view of the park in which the homeless sleep.

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Beautiful downtown Newark provides multiple types of sleeping arrangements. For the business traveller, the Robert Treat Hotel. For the homeless, the sidewalk outside the Robert Treat Hotel.

In fairness, the Robert Treat hotel wasn’t actually that bad. Truth be told, I’ve certainly stayed at places that were a lot worse when backpacking. But I find that I hold my travel accommodations to a different standard when I travel for business. I want comfortable beds, free high speed internet access and a hot buffet breakfast. Strange how I demand so much more when it’s not my money.

One of the things that kept going through my head during both these events was the fact that flying from New York to Toronto with no delays is only 1 hour in the air, but takes 4 hours when you consider the time it takes from downtown New York to the airport, time to clear security, plane loading time, taxiing, the flight, and all same the stuff on the other end in Toronto. A high speed train, averaging 250 km/h from New York to Toronto via Albany and Buffalo would take a little under 4 hours. Which means it's a very viable option, if someone would build the infrastructure. It’s a hang over from my European adventures on the TGV (train à grande vitesse, French for "high-speed train").

Of course, to prove to me that even trains get delays due to weather, the same thunderstorms that have caused the delays over the past couple weeks flooded out train tracks in Pennsylvania, causing many of the Amtrak trains running in the Boston-New York-Washington corridor to be delayed. So I suppose no form of travel is perfect.

So, flipping back to yesterday and my second cancelled flight to Toronto in just a week, Air Canada didn’t offer up a hotel, so instead I called my travel agent and discussed options. I ended up getting the same hotel I usually stay in down here, the Renaissance Meadowlands in Rutherford, New Jersey.

Upon arrival to the hotel that I had just checked out of 10 hours earlier, I am given the keys to room 519, which turns out to be the Premier Fitness exercise suite. Walking in the door, I am faced with a bed, a desk, a TV and 3 pieces of exercise equipment. “In room exercise,” promises a placard that comes with the room.

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Is this an exercise room, S&M bondage chamber or my hotel room?

Of late, I’ve not been keeping up with my appearance or fitness, and have put on a few pounds and rounded out around the belly. It comes from driving to and from work every day (instead of walking) and eating out at T.G.I. Friday’s and Wendy’s for dinner every night. Alternating my gaze from my expanding belly to the elliptical walker and free weights, I couldn’t help but think that Marriott’s demographic profiling really failed this time. Of all the people to put into the Premier Fitness suite, I was probably not the best choice.

To further the irony, I went out and got 10 White Castle burgers for dinner, eating them in the shadow of the weight bench. At least I was drinking a Diet Coke.

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Oh, I don’t feel so good now.

So, here I am, stuck in Newark again. Driving into the office in Nutley this morning, I was flipping around the radio stations and happened upon the song “You and I” by Celine Dion on 106.7 Lite FM. The song, which contains the line, “you and I were meant to fly,” is used by Air Canada as the jingle in their commercials.

“You and I were meant to fly…”

…as long as it’s not out of Newark, New Jersey.

Oh Lord.

Posted by GregW 06:49 Archived in USA Tagged business_travel Comments (7)

Hiking Wild New Jersey

Mount Tammany and High Point State Park, New Jersey, USA

sunny 20 °C
View Work Trips 2005 - 2006 on GregW's travel map.

As I have said before, New Jersey has a bad reputation to being dull and ugly industrial landscape whose population is either gangsters or commuters into the city of New York. My initial impression of New Jersey hadn’t been much better. When I first arrived all I saw was the crowded highways that seemed to be falling apart into a potholed mess and the strip-malls with typical fast-food chain restaurants. I spent my weekends fleeing New Jersey, off to New York City, Washington or Boston.

Over time, though, my impressions of New Jersey started to change. I got off the highways and started to explore the back roads of the Meadowlands area, and found interesting slices of small-town America mixed with the urbanity of a big city. Grand, turn of the century homes sit down the street from newly built condos. Quiet suburban streets lead to busy main boulevards where Asian-fusion restaurants coexist with greasy spoons.

There is a famous New Yorker cover by Saul Steinberg that showed a map of New York and the rest of the USA. Across the Hudson River, Jersey is shown as a brown strip of dirt. The rest of America to the Pacific Ocean is shown as a field of green with a few mountains and a couple of "lesser" cities like Chicago, Kansas and Los Angeles listed in small black letters. The cover both showed New Yorkers opinions of themselves in relation to the rest of America, but also highlighted their vision of New Jersey – a dirty strip of dirt across the Hudson River. Click here to see a picture of the cover

If Rutherford and the Meadowlands area was more than what it seemed, though, what else might exist in that small, brown strip of dirt that the New Yorker cover showed?

During a meeting last week, I expressed my interest in exploring a little more of New Jersey, perhaps getting out and seeing some of the outdoor sites in the state. Jim, an employee of my client who had just moved to New Jersey from Michigan expressed an interest in doing the same, so on Saturday we set out to see what wilds New Jersey would hold for us.

We first went to Mount Tammany in western New Jersey. Mount Tammany is the southern most peak of the Kittatinny Mountains, and overlooks the Delaware Water Gap, a mountain pass where the Delaware River passes through the Appalachian Mountains. The Delaware River serves as the border between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. There are a number of Mount Tammany hiking trails. We followed the Appalachian trail until we hit the blue blaze trail, which climbs 1200 feet from the river up to the top of Mount Tammany.

Atop Tammany, we paused to take in the view and have a lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bottled water.

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As Jim and I ate lunch, we swapped stories of our lives and adventures. Jim told me how me migrated from Aspen to Indiana to California and then across the country to wind up in New Jersey. I told Jim of my adventure on Mount Kilimanjaro and my bout with altitude sickness.

"I feel sorry that you didn’t make it to the top of Kilimanjaro," Jim said, after I related the story of having to quit after the fourth day and come down the mountain.

"I don’t mind," I said. "After all, the story of being bounced down the mountain on a stretcher makes a much better story than reaching the summit and coming down without any issues."

After lunch, Jim and I headed down the Red Dot trail. About 15 minutes after leaving the top, we rounded a corner and saw 3 people standing around a teenaged boy wrapped in a tarp.

"Is everything okay?" Jim asked.

"He hurt his leg," one of the people said. One of the three bystanders was an EMT who had happened upon the scene. She had helped the boy as she could, and they were waiting for evacuation off the mountain from the rescue crew. They assured us that there was nothing that they needed, and that we were fine to move on.

Before we left, Jim pointed at me and told the group that I had to be evacuated off Mount Kilimanjaro. Jim spoke to the boy and said, "Greg says that it’s a great story to tell, so the good part about all this is that after it’s all over you’ll have a great story to tell."

We stepped carefully the next few miles, afraid of twisting our ankles. The round-trip hike was about a 4 1/2 mile hike with a vertical climb and then descent of 1,200 feet.

We arrived back at the car, and it was only half past one in the afternoon. "Want to go to the highest point in all of New Jersey?" Jim asked. How could I say no?

High Point State Park, in the state’s north-west corner, contains the highest point in all of New Jersey at 1,803 feet above sea level. There is an obelisk at the site that rises another 220 feet that you can climb and see views off in all directions. A young boy, upon arriving at the monument said, "it’s not a big as the Washington Monument," which it does look very much like.

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After climbing the monument, Jim and I headed off on the circular Monument trail. The monument trail is a gentle hike of 3 1/2 miles, which was good for my legs that were getting a bit rubbery after climbing up and down 1,200 feet back at Mount Tammany. The trail provides beautiful views of the Delaware River and the valleys below in Pennsylvania, New York State and New Jersey.

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This is usually the point of the blog entry where there is some conclusion. I really have none. At least not one that’s very snappy. Oh well.

Posted by GregW 17:41 Archived in USA Tagged ecotourism Comments (0)

Road Trippin’ in May and June of 2006

New Jersey, New York City, Washington and Boston, USA


View Work Trips 2005 - 2006 on GregW's travel map.

I haven’t updated my blog in a while, not because I haven’t been doing any travelling, but because I haven’t had much in the way of exciting events to write about. Sadly, that hasn’t changed. But I now have enough boring events to string together to make a full entry. So welcome back.

Summer in New Jersey

It seems that summer is upon us here in New Jersey. I work on a corporate campus in suburban New Jersey that has pretty, modern buildings in an idyllic grassy and treed environment. It has always reminded me of Europe, and I haven’t been able to figure out why. But it just hit me as I was walking along today – zebra crossings! The intersections within the campus have zebra crossings instead of the more standard North American double white lines to identify where humans can cross the street.

Exactly why pedestrian crossings are needed is a bit of a mystery to me, as there are few cars allowed on the campus, relegated instead of periphery parking lots. Beside for giving me some much needed exercise walking back and forth to my car every day, it provides a safe and quiet place for wildlife. I have on a few occasions seen cute little bunny rabbits hopping around in the bushes, and just the other day came across a falcon drinking water deposited in a puddle from a recent rain shower. I stood watching the falcon for a good 5 minutes before a security van, the driver interested in seeing the bird as well, drove too close and the bird took flight. The falcon flew low along the ground for about 50 feet, swooping up and landing deep in the foliage of a leafy tree.

It’s quite a shock to leave the quiet campus, get into my rental SUV and merge directly into thick traffic along one of the New Jersey highways.

Mr. Wesson Goes to Washington

The first weekend in May I travelled down to Washington D.C. from New Jersey. I drove down I-95 in my rental car, the windows down, sipping on Diet Cherry Pepsi and listening to U2 in the CD player. The drive is about 5 hours, and luckily other than just outside Newark and a few backups due to traffic construction, it was mostly open highway driving.

It’s been a long time since I took a solo road trip in a car. The last trip was probably back in 2004 when I was in Atlanta, and that was just a day trip to a nearby outlet mall to try and find a dressy linen shirt for my friend’s upcoming beach wedding. The last decent road trip probably dates back to 2002, when I would often set off on the weekend from St. Louis or San Francisco.

I’d forgotten how much I enjoy the road trip drive, which is strange, because I hate city driving. I can’t stand the stopping and starting and the constricted feeling of being surrounded by cars and constantly watching brake lights. If I can get out on the open road however, I am overtaken by a great feeling. It’s the same feeling that I have described in the past that I get sitting in airport lounges. The feeling that something new and interesting and originally is waiting for. It’s also the feeling of putting distance between myself and my weekday troubles. I don’t have to worry about due dates or project delays or resource constraints. All that can wait for Monday. All that is behind me, and each minute I put another mile between me and those issues.

Washington is a very interesting city. I’ve never been before, so it was all new for me. I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Embassy Row at 1600 Rhode Island drive, which was about half a mile north of the Whitehouse and the National Mall, and just a few blocks away from Dupont Circle, which is a trendy area of restaurants, bars and coffee shops.

I had heard many bad things about Washington, D.C, how it was a city that had been “handed” over to the poor, and was a rough and scary place. I didn’t see any of that in my wanderings, and felt perfectly safe at night, even walking back and forth from Georgetown, 2 miles west of my hotel. It was a very pretty city, and has more photogenic buildings and monuments than any place I have ever been. I could write all about them, but instead I present a few thousands words worth of pictures.

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Capitol Building, Washington, DC

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Vietnam War Memorial with the Washington Monument in the background, Washington, DC

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Teens from Illinois playing music in front of the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

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National Mall, Washington, DC

We are the Knights Who Say Ni!

Mid-month in May, I saw Spamalot in New York at the Shubert theatre. Spamalot is a musical written by Eric Idle, based on the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

King Arthur was played by Harry Groener, who I recognized from Las Vegas (the TV show) and Star Trek, and apparently he played the mayor on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. John Cleese, in obviously a recorded bit, played God. Otherwise, I didn't recognize anyone in the cast, though they playbill said that they had all been in Law and Order. Apparently every actor in New York has been in Law and Order.

The show was good - I'd give it 3 stars our of 5. The first act stuck pretty much to the movie, with a few changes here and there. Camelot is a lot more Las Vegas, the knights actually went there, there is a role for the Lady of the Lake, and we get to see where the knights are found. The third act (second act, sire)... right second act is very different from the movie (which, of course, means a different ending), though there are still the knights who say Ni!, Hurbert in the castle in the swamp who just wants to sing (stop it, stop it... they'll be none of that!) and the killer bunny. But these recognizable elements are reconfigured into a very different plot.

The songs were up and down. On the good side, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life has somehow migrated from the Life of Brian into this show. There is a song called "The Song That Goes Like This" which I enjoyed. Nothing else really stands out - they are alright, but not the kind of song you come out of the theatre whistling. In fact, you'll probably be whistling "Always Look On the Bright Side of Life," which you could all whistle now as you all know it from a completely different movie. There are a couple times when the show is mocking traditional Broadway "show" music, but it only half comes off because they do it so much that the joke starts to become tedious. There are only so many times you can make fun of the Phantom of the Opera by aping it before you are just doing a show that is Phantom of the Opera-ish. The Lady of the Lake's part suffers the most from this, as she is supposed to be a caricature of the traditional Broadway Diva role, but by her third song I was starting to think the Lady of the Lake was just a traditional Broadway diva role. There is only so much winking and nudging one can do before the joke grows tired.

The sequence, though, with the French guards taunting the English Ki-Nig-Hits is excellent. It ends the first act, and really brings the first act to a close strongly.

So, all and all, worth seeing. However, I don't think I'll go and see it in Toronto. It's not worth seeing twice.

Final note: the Playbill has a "fake" playbill for a Finnish Moosical, "Dik Od Triaanenen Fol (Finns Ain't What They Used To Be)," which is apparently "the story, in music and song, of Finland's transformation from a predominantly rural agricultural base to one of the most sophisticated industrial and entrepreneurial economies in the world." It's definitely worth reading these pages.

Happy Towel Day, Interstellar Travellers

May 25th is Towel Day, a day to celebrate the life and works of Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Why, you might ask, is it called Towel Day? I’ll let the works of Mr. Adams explain it to you:

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels. A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value—you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you—daft as a brush, but very, very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough. More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag [non-hitch hiker] discovers that a hitchhiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitchhiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitchhiker might accidentally have 'lost'. What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is, is clearly a man to be reckoned with.
- Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Boston

The first weekend of June, I decided to visit one of the other major east coast cities I have not seen, Boston. I’m glad to be working in New Jersey for the opportunity to strike all these “must-see” destinations off my list: New York, Washington and Boston.

By way of contrast to my self-driving road trip to Washington, I take the high speed Acela Express train from Newark, New Jersey to Boston. The Acela Express, while not up to the speeds of the TGV in France, has a top speed of 241 km/h, which is still pretty quick and it is the fastest train in North America measured by top speed.

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Interestingly, though, The Acela Express is not that much faster than normal train service in North America, due to constraints with the track, power supply and regulations. The Acela trains can do the entire trip from Washington to Boston in 6 hours and 36 minutes, which averages to 109 km/h. The fastest portion of the trip, from Washington to New York, is covered in 2 hours and 48 minutes, averaging a speed of 143 km/h. A non-high speed train, Via Rail Canada’s train 66, an express train from Toronto to Montreal (stopping at both Montreal’s Central Station and Dorval station) covers the 520 km between the two cities in 3 hours and 44 minutes, averaging 142 km/h, only 1 km/h slower than it’s high speed brother.

Based on the speed, I would have gotten a much more “high speed” trip had I reversed my plans, driving to Boston and the train to Washington, but things worked out much better for me the way I did it. The weather for the trip down to Washington in the car was beautiful. It was sunny and warm, and I had the window down and the tunes cranked, arriving back in New Jersey with a smile on my face and a driver’s tan (left arm red, right arm pasty white). On leaving on Friday for Boston, the weather all up and down the north-east coast of the USA was horrific. The rain was pelting down, causing rivers to burst their banks and roads to flood. The 20 minute drive from my office to the station took close to an hour as I strained to see brake lights and foot deep puddles through the flap of increasingly pointless wipers. Arriving at Newark Penn Station with a sweat soaked shirt and clenched teeth, it was nice to sit back on the train and let someone else worry about the driving.

The train, while perhaps not Paris TGV fast, is very comfortable and relaxing. I wasn’t able to get a window seat for the trip from Newark to New York (about 20 minutes, mostly underground), but in New York almost all the passengers got off, allowing me to switch to a east facing window seat for the ride along the coast. There is some pretty scenery along the way, with the train sometimes running right beside the ocean and through a number of quaint, New England sea-side fishing villages. The train is comprised of 6 cars and 2 engines, one at either end of the train. There are 4 “business class” cars, 1 café car and a “first class” car. The business class seats, which I took, are very comfortable and provide enough room to cross your legs, even if the person in the seat in front of you has fully reclined. There are massive luggage compartments above your head that will fit most suitcases, and luggage racks at either end if your bag is too large. One car is designated as a quiet car, where no cell phones or conversation is allowed for those that want to get a little rest.

I alternated between reading a book and staring at the scenery passing by, and the trip passed quickly. We arrived at Boston’s South Station 15 minutes behind schedule, but I didn’t mind. The sweat on my shirt had dried, my teeth had unclenched and I was ready for a weekend of relaxing and site seeing.

I used my Marriott Rewards points to book a hotel in Cambridge, right by the MIT campus and just across the Charles River from Boston proper. The hotel was very nice, and because of my status I got an upgrade to a suite room, with a separate sitting room and a flat-panel TV. My view looked out over the Charles River towards the south end of downtown, including a view of the famous CITGO sign that is visible in all the highlight reels of baseball games at Fenway Park.

On Saturday, Peter, who is a friend of mine from my days back at Andersen Consulting and a long time Boston resident, took me on a tour of the sights of Boston. Boston is full of historical sites related to the Revolutionary War, many of the details of which Peter (who was a history major) was able to provide to me (as an Canadian educated in the exploits of fur trappers and mounted police and not about Paul Revere and Samuel Adams). The only damper was the rain, which fell in varying strengths the entire weekend.

I was prepared for the rain, though, as I had the spiffy travel umbrella I bought for 10 Euros back in September in Paris. I’m not positive that I really know how to use an umbrella. I see other people walking around with umbrella held steady and level above them, keeping them dry. I find myself struggling with keeping my umbrella above me as the wind reaches underneath the lip of the umbrella and lifts it up and away from me. I get wet, my arms get tired and the umbrella gets battered. On Saturday night, the wind took its final toll on the umbrella, snapping 3 of the arms of the umbrella, collapsing the umbrella. I deposited the umbrella in a garbage can and calculated its utility to me. I bought it in September, used it perhaps 4 times in France, a couple times in Toronto and twice in Boston. 8 days of use for 10 Euros doesn’t seem like a fantastic deal to me. I think in the future I’ll stick with raincoats.

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Fenway Park and the Green Monster, Boston, USA

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The Holocaust Memorial in Boston. Glass panels etched with numbers, like the Nazis tattooed on the prisioners in the death camps

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Trinity church and the I.M. Pei designed Hancock Building

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The bar that was used as exteriors for the T.V. Show. The inside looks nothing like the TV show, and they charge you outrageous amounts of money to eat or drink there.

On Sunday, after a lovely lunch with Peter, his live-in girlfriend Kelly and her son Will and a quick site-seeing tour around downtown Boston, I caught the Acela at 4:10 back to Newark. The train was again comfortable, and we got a good clip going through Rhode Island that made it really feel like high-speed rail travel. I even caught a glimpse of a deer standing on an embankment watching the train roll by. The sun had finally come out, and people were walking along the beaches and sea-sides, stopping to watch the train speed by.

It’s been a great month of east coast USA travel, knocking off a bunch of places I’ve never seen before, seeing a good show, snapping some nice pictures, and, perhaps most importantly, falling back in love with travel by train.

Posted by GregW 16:41 Archived in USA Tagged business_travel Comments (0)

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