Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Across America by train

Two weeks today my brother and I leave for a month-long trip across the States.  This trip has been long-planned and includes cities I have wanted to visit for, in some cases, decades.  It seemed sensible to make use of my long summer holidays and go to as many of those places during the same holiday, rather than a week here and a week there over a few years.  Another influence was reading Stranger On A Train by Jenny Diski, which recounts her circumnavigation of the USA using Amtrak. 

Richard and I fly to New York where we’ll stay with cousins in Brooklyn for three days.  It will be my third trip to NYC so will be less about the touristy things and more about hanging out with family and visiting the holy grail of bookshops: Strand on Broadway, with 18 miles of books.  I also hope to get some good thrifting and vintage shopping done.

Then it’s a train south and after 30 hours I’ll arrive in New Orleans.  I’ve longed to visit since I was about 20 and started reading Anne Rice and Poppy Z Brite.  Never mind that their New Orleans’ are populated by vampires and mass murderers, they made the whole place sound steeped in mystery and history.

From New Orleans I catch Amtrak’s Sunset Limited service to Los Angeles, a journey that takes two days and two nights.  A quick change (LA doesn't hold much interest for me) onto another 12 hour journey to San Francisco, on supposedly one of the most beautiful stretches of railway in the world.

San Francisco is where I’ll spend a couple of days tramping up and down hills, finding out about the LGBT history in the Castro district, doing more thrift shopping and visiting Amoeba Records to buy lots and lots of music.  Richard and I hook back up here and go to Yosemite National Park for a two day hiking trip.

A train north takes us both to Eugene, Oregon to visit my friend Sarah and her family, then onto Portland.  I’ve been intrigued by this hub of alternative culture for years now.  Portland is or has been home to such indie luminaries as The Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, The Cribs, Gossip, The Shins, Modest Mouse, Sleater-Kinney…. the list goes on and on.  I read a great feature in the Guardian travel section a few years ago about vintage shopping in Portland and as it’s also home to one of the biggest bookshops in the WORLD, Powells, it was always a given the city would figure on this trip. 

Finally Seattle, a city that for anyone who was a teenager in the early 90s has a similar allure to that of San Francisco for children of the 60s.  Bands like Nirvana, Mudhoney and Pearl Jam and films like Singles made this rainy corner of the US the centre of the alternative universe for a few short years.  I’m looking forward to putting on a plaid shirt and visiting the new Nirvana exhibit at the Experience Music Museum.

So as you may have gathered, my trip has essentially been planned around music, books and shopping.  I’m taking a laptop so will be blogging as I go about the places I visit, the people I meet and the things I buy.  I can't wait!

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