Category Archives: North America

Amtrak to San Francisco, Part 6: Mountains, Mormons and Home

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series Amtrak to San Francisco


It took a whole day to travel from Denver to Salt Lake City, but this was by far the best scenery (predominately the Rocky Mountains) we got to see as we travelled though mountains, tunnels and deserts getting a chance to admire the beautiful scenery of Colorado and Utah. It almost made up for the one- to two-hour delays that I regularly had to wait for Amtrak’s trains. Almost.


It’s not a good sign when you message your friend who has been in Salt Lake City for a year, asking for tips and the best places to go and he simply replies ‘stuff to do in SLC is a hard one, it’s quite a boring city’. With this knowledge in mind it was no surprise that by 2pm I’d run out of stuff to do. Don’t get me wrong, Salt Lake City is a beautiful and fascinating place — a shiny clean city in the middle of a desert. The Mormon section of the city, a massive area called Temple Square, is a fascinating place to explore with free tours and visitor centres to observe the Mormon religion. The Mormons themselves seemed friendly and were more than happy to answer any questions, but I kept feeling I had to make excuses to leave as they offered me Book of Mormon after Book of Mormon.

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Amtrak to San Francisco, Part 5: Omaha to Denver

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Amtrak to San Francisco


The 20-hour train journey from Chicago to Omaha was made worse upon arriving at Chicago Station and finding out there would be a 2-hour delay, which felt like delaying the inevitable slog of a journey. This seemed to be a recurring trend with Amtrak trains, with the average delay being at least an hour — a trend which, I found out later from my Omaha Couchsurfing host, was typical of Amtrak. Luckily, despite my delayed train which arrived at 1am instead of 11pm, my host was understanding and answered the door to his massive house, greeted me warmly and showed me my bed before swiftly going to his own.

On the advice of my host and a Lyft driver I decided to spend my day in the apparently world-renowned Omaha Zoo. While I was originally sceptical of paying $20 to spend my day looking at animals, this was by far the best zoo I’ve ever been to; and I don’t have a particular fondness in my heart for them. The Desert Dome itself is incredible: a looming dome filled with a chunk of barren desert, housing snakes, birds and lizards as well as an After Dark section filled with extraordinary creatures which only thrive in the pitch black of night. I easily managed to spend four hours exploring the zoo before heading to the next recommendation from my Lyft driver and host.

The Desert Dome © Jeff Lowe c/o Fine Art America

The Old Market felt like something you’d typically expect of the Midwest — cobbled streets, old wooden store fronts and searing 30° heat. Omaha itself felt like a very quiet, residential place where you could happily retire safely and in peace but with the knowledge that you wouldn’t have a lot to do. Having said that, travelling to a city where there doesn’t feel like an awful lot to do made me think — what would I recommend if tourists came to my hometown? I’m from Chelmsford, Essex and while it’s a pleasant enough place I think I would struggle to recommend a tourist enough to fill their day in my city. Compared to the big cities like London, Los Angeles and New York there is definitely a relaxed and sometimes mundane quality to the quieter places like Chelmsford or Omaha, and this put things in perspective if I ever felt bored in the last few days of the trip. But in some ways Omaha had a nice relaxed pace of life compared to the frantic cities I’d been to on the East Coast, and ending with the Midwest and the smaller cities was the best way to end the trip. After a pleasant meal in the Twisted Fork I made my way to the station to what I knew would be another unpleasant 8-hour overnight trip to Denver.


Sites: 3/5

Food: 4/5

History: 2/5

Accommodation: 4.5/5

People: 4/5

Overall Experience: 3.5/5



Having learnt from my first overnight Amtrak train experience I made sure to make the necessary sleeping adjustments (wear a jumper, use a towel as a blanket, put earplugs firmly in) and to my surprise it wasn’t too bad. Despite the mid-20s heat I decided to walk to my hostel and was able to walk past the Colorado State Capitol and get a sense of the city. Based on what others had told me, I gathered that the thing to do when in Denver was to travel to one of the surrounding areas like Golden or Boulder because apparently there wasn’t a great deal to do in the city itself. However, maybe due to exhaustion or just laziness I decided upon dumping my bags to go to the Western Exhibition at the Denver Art Museum. While this was a bit of a disappointment as the exhibition only showed clips of some of the iconic Westerns without any more explanation than a sentence about them, the rest of the museum kept me busy until closing time at 5pm. After going to see Alien: Covenant (entertaining but not fantastic) I chose to call it an early night and wake up refreshed for a day exploring outside Denver the following day.

For the first time in my whole trip the temperature dropped to an extreme 10°, a welcome difference to the average 30° I’d suffered with until then, and this made me reconsider if it was best to travel to Golden — a remote place about an hour away from Denver. Luckily I decided I might as well considering I only had a few more days of the trip left and I’d regret not making the most of it if I didn’t. Top of my list for Golden was a tour of the Coors Light Brewery, which to my delight I found out was free but then to my horror found out included a one-hour queue. However, 20 minutes into the wait there was a call from the organiser for anyone wanting a single ticket for the tour, as there was a spare space on the next bus. As I appeared to be the only person queuing by themselves, I sheepishly raised my hand and probably made 40 people angry as I walked past them to the front of the line. Finally, travelling alone had paid off!

The tour itself was fairly interesting and there were plenty of samples to try which was a bonus too. At one point when the tour guide was asking which sample I wanted and I replied, she looked shocked for a second and, noting my English accent, she proclaimed “I did not expect that!” I found this surprise and fascination was typical when travelling through the middle of America (apart from the diverse Chicago), like when I said a simple ‘Hello’ to my Lyft driver in Denver and he replied instantly with “Wow, you have an accent there!” This response was interesting as it suggests that these areas don’t have such a diverse range of visitors and residents compared to the coasts, with even residents surprised I was choosing to visit their city. And, without meaning to offend those who live in Omaha, Denver or my next location, this may indeed be why people outside the area don’t visit as much: there are not a lot of tourist-friendly attractions to keep you entertained. My days in these places often felt like finding places to kill time compared to the overwhelming amount of things to do on the East Coast and in Chicago. However, if I thought I had it hard enough finding stuff to do in Omaha and Denver, it was nothing compared to my next destination: Salt Lake City.


Sites: 3/5

Food: 4/5

History: 3/5

Accommodation: 3/5

People: 3.5/5

Overall Experience: 3/5


Amtrak to San Francisco, Part 4: The Windy City

This entry is part 4 of 6 in the series Amtrak to San Francisco

After a very unsatisfying sleep on the train from Washington D.C. I groggily awoke to find myself surrounded by majestic skyscrapers which reminded me visually of New York, but atmospherically of Philadelphia, where the pace of life was less hectic. I had arrived in Chicago.

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Amtrak to San Francisco, Part 3: Baltimore and D.C

This entry is part 3 of 6 in the series Amtrak to San Francisco


Of all my designated stops, I must confess Baltimore was the one I was most apprehensive about. This says something about the effect of popular culture and people’s instinctive prejudice against certain places; I naively based this trepidation on knowing that The Wire was set there, and after what a few people at the Philadelphia hostel were saying about it. But at the same time I had the upbeat and infectious opening song from Hairspray, Good Morning Baltimore, in my head so I was conflicted about what to think. Perhaps this plays into why I liked Baltimore as much as I did as I was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

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Amtrak to San Francisco, Part 2: Philadelphia

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Amtrak to San Francisco

Of the eight stops I was allowed on the 15-day Amtrak train journey from East to West, my first stop was Philadelphia. Knowing virtually nothing about the city except that it is home of the Philly Cheesesteak and the Liberty Bell, and with nothing other than references from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and the Tom Hanks film of the same name, I was at the mercy of a few suggestions from a friend who had lived there for a year. Continue reading