Big Sea to Big Sky


On Thursday morning, I boarded the Portland Streetcar to take me to Union Station and my trip on board the Amtrak Cascades. This intriguing service uses Talgo-built articulated trainsets that lean into curves in order to take them at higher speeds. It’s a sleek service that caters to business travellers and it’s pretty zippy too. I was in Seattle by noon.

If I had to compare Portland to Seattle, I’d say it’s like comparing Vancouver to Toronto. Of course, these analogies don’t hold up perfectly. Whereas Portland was a compact, progressive city (minus the craaazy real-estate market), Seattle was a more business-like, skyscraper city that wished it was Portland. Seattle has all of the things that make Portland great, from beautiful views, a hopping city scene, streetcars, LRTs (and even trolley buses, which Portland does NOT have), but they just don’t seem to put it together quite so well.

But that’s praising with faint damn. I wish I had more time to properly explore Seattle. Chinatown smelled great and deserved a dinner stay. And I also had a wonderful coffee at a place that was not Starbucks while I waited for my train to take me back east.

The Empire Builder goes east through the Cascades and the Rockies. Here, the mountains are more compressed, such that the trip through the scenery lasts less than a day. Still, it’s a beautiful run. We go through the Pacific Rainforest, mist-shrouded peaks, resort towns, and Glacier National Park. After Glacier, however, Montana flattens out. People who say that North Dakota is flat may be mistaking it for eastern Montana. At least, when we came out of eastern Montana, we had badlands to look at. North Dakota also seems wetter, since eastern Montana looks to be well within the Rockies’ rain shadow.

I’m typing this now in Minneapolis, having spent two nights on board a train. That’s a little bit much to take in a roomette, but it only makes me appreciate stretching my legs even more. And Minneapolis has given me lots to see. More on that tomorrow.

Have a look at my Seattle trip here, and my trip through Washington and Montana here.


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