California Zephyr – Simply Breathtaking (Day 1)

California Zephyr is a passenger train by Amtrak between San Francisco Bay Area (Emeryville) and Chicago. It’s simply the most scenic train route in North America. I’ve known about it for several years, ever since I came to this country.

In the pandemic in 2020, Amtrak’s revenue fell sharply, and they came up with several promotions. One of them was “Buy one get one free” for Roomette. Roomette is provided on several long haul train routes, including California Zephyr. It is a very small room, with two comfortable seats, which can be laid out as a bed at night. It also features a bed overhead. It comes with free meals, 3 times a day. So it was a pretty good deal, and I didn’t want to miss it. We would go all the way to Chicago, spend a few days there and fly back.

Day 1 – Emeryville to Reno

We took a uber ride from San Jose to Emeryville Amtrak station in the early morning. There were several people waiting for California Zephyr. It was a pretty small station.

The train was late for about half an hour. We were greeted by Amtrak staff when we were looking for our car. Every car has one dedicated staff member for customer services. Our staff was a very friendly and nice black guy. He double checked our tickets, and showed us the way. It was a double decker, and our room was on the second floor.

The room was smaller than I expected. But it had a very dark curtain, and the door can be locked from inside, giving a lot of privacy. After we departed from Emeryville, the staff came over and asked if it was our first time. He started introducing all the services provided on the train. Due to COVID, the dining service would be by reservation only for lunch and dinner. Breakfast was still on the basis of first come first serve. Before lunch and dinner, food service staff would come to us and ask what we order, when to eat and also where – we had the option to eat in our room or in the dining car. Most of the time we ate in the dining car.

As the train leaving Bay Area, I was amazed how the train brought me to places that were not reachable by car. We saw a lot of homeless camps along the railroad in Oakland. Leaving the city, the train was super close to the bay – kind of closer to a big swamp.

Lunch time was close, and we went to the dining car. As I said, all meals were free for passengers with private rooms. The food was good enough for free meals 🙂

After Sacramento, the train went into Sierra Nevada mountains. That was the first highlight along the route. The railroad mostly follows along Interstate 80. I remembered the train got stuck in the mountains for over an hour, because a freight train in front of us broke down.

The view getting better and better as the train climbed higher. We decided to take a look at the famous panoramic cabin. The design of the cabin itself was amazing!

I haven’t got a chance to take out my camera yet. So I only had pics taken on my iPhone for the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Donner Lake
Truckee River and Interstate 80
Granite mountains, very similar to Yosemite National Park.

The last stop for the first day is Reno – the biggest little city. It was nothing exciting for me, but we got a chance to get out of the train and walk around. Unfortunately the station had nothing to see, and there were a few people smoking. We got back to our room soon.

The first night on the train was smooth. We knew there would be no cellular service and Wi-Fi most of the time, so we downloaded movies on my Chromebook. We started doing Harry Potter marathon. Train ride seems to be a perfect chance to do anything that you’ve been wanting to do but interrupted by every day life. And I really appreciate that.

Our staff came and asked us if we needed help to put down the bed. We said we could do by ourselves. You can’t say the bed was comfortable, because it was really small, and the “mattress” wasn’t soft. The upper bed has very little headroom. But my sleep wasn’t too bad. I woke up early in the morning, having no idea where I was.

Josh was sleeping on the upper bed and he told me he thought the train was gonna derail and we were all gonna die. He said the train was really loud, and was bouncing left and right, and he couldn’t fall asleep for a long time.

Day 2 experience coming…

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