Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: USA Road Trip 2011

A day out by train

Our main programmed event for today was an excursion up the coast to San Juan Capistrano on the train, which I had been keenly looking forward to ever since Bruce first put it forward as an idea. This might seem to some people not at all typical of either California or America as a whole, but I knew that this country once had one of the greatest railway networks on earth and I was keen to sample a little of what was left of it for the first time. Before all that, of course, we had breakfast while watching what looked set to be all-day coverage of the 9/11 tenth anniversary. Most channels were focusing on the various ceremonies taking place to mark the sombre occasion, but at least one was re-running complete coverage of the day itself and how those terrible events unfolded in the media at the time.

We left in what seemed like plenty of time for the short drive to Union Station, yet somehow it turned into a last-minute rush with Bruce attending to the parking fee while I dashed off to the station's ticket hall, barcoded Internet printout in hand, to obtain our tickets from one of the automatic machines. We boarded our Pacific Surfliner train literally a couple of minutes before the 1035 departure time and took our seats in the upper-deck Business Class section. Phew - that had been just a little too close!

It was a scenic, coast-hugging ride for most of the way and we were on the right side of the train (which is to say, the left side ) to appreciate the beach views. The Business Class coach was busier than I expected, although with the supplement being so reasonable, perhaps I shouldn't have been surprised. Complimentary beverages and snacks helped pass the time. Ah yes, the time: 1hr 20mins to cover 66 miles. As I discovered in western Canada a few years back, you don't travel by train in North America if you're in a desperate rush! This route had a particular problem in that there was a steep single-track section just outside San Diego, where the train had to wait for one coming south. More generally, the entire network has poor separation from the roads. The sound of warning bells ringing at an interminable series of level crossings, just like in the movies, was a constant feature of the journey. But we weren't in a hurry and both enjoyed the experience as a change from driving.

Hugging the Pacific coastline
Seeing the train off on the remainder of its journey to Los Angeles, at San Juan Capistrano

Having seen off the train at the historic mission town of San Juan Capistrano, we walked the remarkably short distance to the main street and the mission itself. Dating back to 1776, this was one of several missions established in California by the Spanish. The site today contains some beautiful gardens and a fine museum, as well as the ruins of the original large mission church. There is also a small chapel which has the dual distinction of being the oldest building in California still in use and the only surviving church where Fr Junipero Serra, founder of the Alta California missions, is known to have celebrated Mass. We spent a good hour or so wandering around the various exhibits and gardens.

Leaving the mission complex, we took a quick stroll down the main street and easily located a suitable spot for a leisurely lunch.

Our train back to San Diego was due in at 1518, so we took a leisurely stroll in the direction of the station and spent some time taking a look on the other side of the tracks - very much in a literal, rather than figurative, sense in this well-to-do area. On the return journey, the Business Class section had few passengers and indeed we were the only two remaining upon arrival back in San Diego. We took a few minutes to have a quick look at the station before leaving.

Back at base after a superb day out, we settled into something of a DVD marathon, the main feature of which was the movie The Special Relationship, the third member of the trilogy in which Michael Sheen plays Tony Blair. In this one, Dennis Quaid also gave a credible performance as President Clinton. Bruce popped out at one point to pick up some nice Thai food from a nearby takeaway. By this time I was keenly aware that another phase of the trip, and indeed the trip itself, were drawing to a close.

Sunday 11 Sep

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