[amtrak trip] arriving in Tucson

8:00 PM: Arriving and hotel checking in

I arrived in Tucson at late night, good for me that the hotel was close to the train station. I had hard time deciding between two hotels near the station. One was Congress Hotel and the other was AC hotel (by Marriott.)

Pros and Cons of two hotels were too clear. It was just which one to choose from.

Congress Hotel (est. 1919!!!!)
Pros: historic, extremely affordable. extremely close to the Amtrak station
Cons: too old, no elevator, very loud at night because of the night club inside the hotel (the hotel even sent me an e-mail to let me know that the hotel should be quite loud at night)

/A room at the Congress Hotel

AC Hotel
Pros: new, fairly close to the Amtrak station, quite, chick
Cons: expensive (about three times more expensive than Congress Hotel), not a lot of story to it

/A room at AC Hotel

I first made a reservation for Congress Hotel but decided to change it to AC  Hotel at the last minute after reading carefully the email sent to me by Congress Hotel. I have never experienced a hotel sending an email warning that they are sooooo loud. I kind of got scared like ‘oh my god, it must be awfully loud that the hotel itself confesses beforehand!’ Also, I had these huge luggages for one month of train trip, so I wasn’t sure if I could carry them to the second floor without an elevator.

So, I ended up spending quite a $$$ for the night at AC Hotel Tucson.

Anyway, when I arrived at Tucson station, I was pleasantly surprised by its vintage-ishly chick atmosphere. The first impression for me was that ‘oh, so many light bulbs here and there.’ I kind of have this (very unscientific) prejudice that the more light bulbs, the cooler a city. Tucson was full of light bulbs everywhere: from the train station to the bars, to the cafes, to the hotels and to the restaurants.

/Warm lights at the historic Hotel Congress

10:00 PM Tiger Taproom

The AC Hotel was about 7~8 mins from the Amtrak station. I was pretty tired after the long train ride. I just threw my luggages and headed to the bar next door, the bar at the historic Congress Hotel (Tiger’s Taproom.) It was about 10:00 PM when we grabbed a seat at the outside table. It was like an early evening at Tucson, that young ones with loose and cool outfits started to come out for some local beer and small talks. The muscular bartender was like one out of an 1980’s movie, wearing a white, sleeveless shirt with a white cotton towel resting on the shoulder. And of course, there was live music to cheer the warm air of Arizona desert night. 

/Outside seats at Hotel Congress’ bar, Tiger Taproom


/Live music (with light bulbs!) at Hotel Congress’ bar, Tiger Taproom

*****Amtrak trip: full list*****



[Amtrak trip] From Houston to Tucson

After enjoying the three days in Houston, it was time to head to Tucson, Arizona. The departure time for the train was 6:55 PM. This train ride was supposed to be very special to me because it is the longest ride (about 26 hours) during this Amtrak trip and it was the only train ride that I would be staying on the sleeper car.

Other than this trip, I just used ‘reserved coach’ seats. It was free with Amtrak rail pass and the legrooms were spacious enough for me to have a good enough rest. However, on this train ride from Houston to Tucson (Sunset Limited,) I chose to try a sleeper because it was looooong ride, meaning the upgrade fee should worth it especially considering that all meals are free for sleeper car passengers.

The upgrade fee to use ‘roomette’ type sleeper for this ride was $338. This amount was for the entire roomette that up to two people could stay. If you are traveling alone, you wouldn’t be staying with a stranger but use the whole roomette by yourself. If two people are traveling together (like us,) one should be using the lower bed, and another the upper. In either case, the upgrade fee is the same.


Roomette on Amtrak Sunset Limited

I made a reservation for the roomette about two months ago, by visiting the Amtrak office in Boston South Station. The sleepers are known to sell out fast especially during the summer vacation season, so I booked for it as soon as I could.

When I arrived at Houston three days ago, the train was about two hours late due to some kind of construction that made our train detour. It was the same train that I needed to take to go to Tucson, and as expected, the train arrived about 1.5 hours late this time too. Passengers at the (tiny) Houston Amtrak station got pretty frustrated because the only staff at the station would tell us she had no idea where the train was, or when it would arrive.

When the train FINALLY arrived around 8:00 PM, sleeper car passengers were allowed to board first. The room number was already printed on the ticket. We were advised to find our room on the first floor. I was excited+nervous to see my first sleeping car and dashed to the sleeper ‘#13.’

It was very very small room with minimal decoration. One thing that caught me surprised was that there was only one outlet for electricity! Every coach car had two outlets per two adjacent seats, so on this matter the coach seats were better. I wished I would have brought one of those multi tabs, but I didn’t, so I had to manage to switch between my gadgets.

And I also found out there was no wifi on the sleepers either. This kind of shocked me too because when I asked the Amtrak staff a few days ago (when I was on a coach car) about the wifi, he answered “only in sleepers.” I am still not sure it was only us who didn’t catch wifi or the entire car was ‘off.’

After dropping the luggages+baggages down, we went for our first free meal on this ride. We were advised by the staff to head to the dining car as soon as we got into the train because it was getting close to the closing time (for the dining car.) I didn’t want to starve whole night so hurried to the dining car.

I was informed if number of people on your group is less than three (one or two,) you must share the table at the dining car. Ok, I was expecting this, but sharing the table with strangers was never easy for me, considering my poor English speaking ability! We were party of two and the staff advised us to sit side by side. In front of us were empty seats  at first, but the seats were soon joined by very nice middle aged husband and wife. I nervously greeted “hello!” and they greeted back to us with a nice smile. And then the silence followed, and we were saved by a menu given by the waiter. I chose Angus beef steak (‘Amtrak Signature Steak,’ $25) because… it was the most expensive one on the list!

And then again, a few awkward minutes of silence passed by… everybody just looking out the window.  The sunset was beautiful and I accidentally (?) shouted “wow!” After my brave action of breaking the silence, the conversation naturally evolved to “where are you from?” and stuffs. It was nice little chat and the food was better than my expectation. For sleeper car passengers, even desserts and tea/coffee were free, but one has to pay extra for alcoholic beverages (beer $6.00~7.50, wine $7 per a glass etc.) I learned by googling, that I should leave gratuity according to the original price of the meal so I left $10 in cash on the table. Other people seemed to be doing about the same.


Angus beef steak as a dinner


Seats at Amtrak dining car (soon to be filled by strangers)

***dining car menu in case you are interested (click to enlarge)

After my first experience ever of having dinner with complete strangers, I headed back to the sleeper. It was getting late and I was so tired after walking a lot around the city of Houston, so immediately got ready to go to bed. If I needed to, I could have asked the train attendant to make bed for me. However, there was an instruction of the wall about making beds that seemed pretty simple. We managed to do it ourselves without any problem. I chose the upper bed without contemplating about anything. I climbed up the simple ladder, turned off the light, and crawled inside the blanket which seemed very new and clean. The train was keep moving and I realized the bed was shaking with the train, up and down then right to left and down and up. Despite the rattling of the bed, I fell asleep fast.

I hoped for waking up in the morning without waking up in the middle of the night, but unfortunately, I woke up around 2:00 AM. I never had any problem with closed space in my life  but I suddenly panicked and felt stuffy in my chest because the ceiling was so close (like 30cm from my face) above. I adjusted myself to face the open space on the right hand side, which made me feel a little better.


Roomette with beds installed


Upper bed at the roomette


Shower room that sleeper passengers can use

After half sleeping for a while, I decided just to get up around 5:30 AM. The train was passing around San Antonio, which was still Texas. The breakfast was from 6:00 AM so after washing my face, I headed to the dining car again, now for free breakfast. There was also a shower room in the train. It seemed very clean and there were plenty of towels and everything but I was not brave enough to take shower in the shaky train so I decided to pass this time and go straight for the breakfast.

While having egg omelette as a breakfast (again with very nice middle aged gentleman and lady,) I realized the scenery had changed a lot from Houston. There were definitely less trees and more sands. I even spotted some whirling sands ascending upward. The gentleman sharing the table kindly taught me that special things were called ‘dust devil.’

After the breakfast I moved to the observation room, because I didn’t like the feeling of being trapped in the small space and also there were more outlets there. It was amazing to see the scenery changing to desert, and more surprisingly it was STILL Texas. Later I found out Texas was about seven times larger than my home country, South Korea!

The train ran and ran and ran across this huge state. I had four meals during the 26 hours of train ride (dinner-breakfast-lunch-dinner.) The sun went down and came up and started to go down again and it was still Texas! And then we touched the border of New Mexico and finally crossed the border of Arizona.

When the train was near Sunland Park, NM, we could see the huge wall lining up along the border between Mexico and the US. Passengers took pictures like crazy, thinking that the walls were the world famous Trump wall. However, the gentleman we were having a lunch with told us the wall was already there before Mr. Trump’s presidency. Naturally, the conversation started to point toward the topic of politics, which was not the best theme to share with strangers so it quickly gave a way to more fun stuffs like the experiences on the train.


Looking out the border wall near Sunland Park, NM


Looking out the border wall near Sunland Park, NM


Looking out the border wall near Sunland Park, NM

Now I was definitely on the desert. I was so excited because it was the first time for me to see the real desert this closely. I exclaimed “wow” too many times and the nice lady told me she found my reaction very interesting because she thought the scenery of endless desert was the most boring thing in the world. We laughed and wished each other the best of luck while traveling. After having four meals straight with strangers, I found myself not to be too scared of talking to people I didn’t know. It was even a bit fun to guess who my next meal companions would be.

The train finally arrived at Tucson around 8:00 PM. I was to stay in Tucson only one night and head north to Sedona, Grand Canyon, and Las Vegas by a rental car. I thought of Tucson as just a passing city, a city with not too many interesting things to see, which proved to be 300% wrong!

***Amtrak trip: full list***

***Here are some pictures from Sunset Limited train from Houston to Tucson. They are all ‘day two’ pictures because it was already too dark when the train was leaving Houston on the day one.

Day 2, morning: Pecos River, TX
Day 2, morning: between San Antonio, TX and New Mexico
Day 2, morning: between San Antonio, TX and New Mexico


Day 2, afternoon: near Sunland Park, New Mexico


Day 2, afternoon: near Sunland Park, New Mexico


Day 2, afternoon: near Sunland Park, New Mexico

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Day 2, afternoon: near Sunland Park, New Mexico

Day 2, evening: near Peloncillo Mountain Wilderness, New Mexico


Day 2, evening: sunset near Sierra Vista, AZ 


Arrival at Amtrak Tucson station

[Amtrak trip] 24h in Houston (2)

After the quite interesting first day in Houston, I was excited to discover more attractions of the city. I started the day by putting on my proud dark-pink NASA t-shirt that I purchased the day before. I had to take the Amtrak train to Tucson at 6:55 PM, so I couldn’t be too lazy. After having a simple breakfast, I decided to head for the museum district that every guidebooks seemed to be praising.

According to its website, Houston museum district has 19 museums over the four walkable zones. I never thought of Houston as an art city like NY or Chicago. But looking back, it was obvious that Houston has such good art museums because it is usually the riches who are good art collectors, and Houston is not short of the riches, it seemed.


The Menil Collection’s main building (under construction until September, 2018)


The Menil Collection’s main building (under construction until September, 2018)

The first museum I headed to was the Menil Collection. Like Whitney Museum, Guggenheim, or J. P. Morgan Museum in NY, the founders of Menil Museum were the rich people, the late Mr+Mrs Menil. The main building of the museum that is so famous to have precious artworks from all over the world was under construction (until September 2018.) But I did not hesitate to go anyway because I really wanted to visit the Rothko Chapel, a project also commissioned by Menils, that is right beside the main building.

I took a bus (#82, day pass $3) to go to the Chapel. Maybe it would be more appropriate to call it a ‘chapel’ with a small ‘c.’ It is not intended to accommodate any particular religion. It is just a place to find something ‘spiritual,’ whatever that word means to an each visitor. Not like many museums in NY, it was free. I was grateful about the generosity of Menils.


#82 bus, not many bus riders in Houston it seemed

Like many travelers visiting the US, I had this stereotype about the museums founded by the riches. A family gets or is rich that they have so much money to spend for something valuable. Buying something like a handbag wouldn’t work, because they would need to buy sooooo many of them to spend all the money. So they decide to buy art works, that are known to have so many digits on their price tags. After collecting considerable volume of collections, they build a museum as a goodwill to the society. Then I (the tourist) go, and enjoy them for a reasonable ticket price, right?

However, these Menils were a bit different. They didn’t stop at BUYING the artworks. They called the artists and asked them to do some project for THEIR museum. They would build a building for the projects, so fitted to the style of the artists. You know, like Medici family of Renaissance Italy used to do.

And there the Rothko Chapel was. The building so solemn and tranquile with the paintings of Mark Rothko covering every walls. Fourteen huge paintings were hung on the walls of the high ceiling chapel. Perhaps it is more appropriate to say that the walls were built for the paintings. I always adored Mark Rothko’s paintings, but being inside the building overwhelmed with his paintings was nothing like seeing one or two painting of him (with other artists’ paintings nearby.) It felt like being captured inside the artist’s mind. It was a bit depressing to learn that Rothko committed suicide not long after finishing the project and he didn’t get to see this beautiful chapel.

Inside Rothko Chapel. credit: http://www.rothkochapel.org


Sculpture right in front of Rothko Chapel, dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr.


Sculpture right in front of Rothko Chapel, dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr.

Anybody was allowed to stay in the chapel (as long as one doesn’t take a picture), so I stayed for a while and headed outside for a very secular activity, a lunch. On the neighborhood, there wasn’t many restaurants but the restaurant run by the Menil, Bistro Menil, was close by. The interior was beautiful and the food was casually tasteful (cheeseburger $16.)


Bistro Menil

After the lunch, I visited a few more museums also on the so called Menil Campus. Cy Twombly Gallery, Dan Flavin Installation, and Byzantine Fresco Chapel were all jaw dropping projects, all commissioned by Menils. Every museum was free, again, as long as you don’t take photos (they were very strict about this rule.)

At this point I finally looked up who these Menils are (yes, I had no clue who they were) and found out they got rich from the oil and finance industry. It was interesting that NY Times actually called them Medici of the modern society.


Inside Cy Twombly Gallery. credit: http://www.menil.org

Byzantine Fresco Chapel


Flavin Installation. credit: http://www.menil.org

I had a few hours left before heading to the train station. There were so many interesting and small museums on museum district, but I decided to finish my journey in Houston by visiting the representatively large museum in the district, The Museum of Fine Arts. It was huge museum with well curated artworks (and of course, super strong A/C.) It curated whole range of artworks, from old time European to cutting edge contemporary 3D printer produced sculptures. Personally, I especially enjoyed the artworks by Edward Hopper and Henri Matisse.

It was especially interesting to see another example of what the riches can do for artists. There were a huge artworks by Henri Matisse and Fernand Léger, that Nelson Rockefeller commissioned for the fireplace in his Manhattan penthouse! Wow!!! How nice it would be to look at the empty wall of your new penthouse thinking ‘hmm… I should call that Matisse guy to paint it for me’ (I can do this thinking too, of course except the penthouse part, haha) and then REALLY order the artwork tailored for the space!

Thanks to the city and the riches, the Museum of Fine Arts was also free. On my way out, I visited the museum gift shop to buy a magnet to give my mom (=the magnet collector!) and colored pencils to use for my drawing practices, thinking ‘well, maybe it might be super cool to be super rich!’ Money surely cannot buy everything but it certainly CAN buy something, I learned in Houston.

I took a bus back to the hotel to collect luggages, called Lyft, and headed to the very tiny Houston Amtrak Station. Next destination would be Tucson, the city of cacti. 🌵


Painting by Henri Matisse, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston


Painting by Pablo Picasso, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston


Oh, let’s have Matisse paint the fireplace!…thought Nelson Rockefeller


…or Fernand Léger!


Painting by Frederic Remington, the Fine Art Museum of Art Houston


Painting by Edward Hopper, the Fine Art Museum of Art Houston


The Fine Art Museum of Art Houston


3D printed artworks in The Fine Art Museum of Art Houston


3D printed artworks in The Fine Art Museum of Art Houston


3D printed artworks in The Fine Art Museum of Art Houston

[Amtrak trip] 24h in Houston (1)


Space Shuttle and its carrier 747 aircraft in front of Houston Space Center

Frankly, I did not expect much from Houston. People I know had been telling me negative things about the city. One friend told me I would be wanting to leave as soon as I arrived because it should be so hot and humid. Another person said the city did not have much thing to enjoy as a traveler. However, while staying in Houston for two nights, I found it quite contrary to my negative prejudice.

First, Houston was the coldest city I have encountered during this trip. Of course, the temperature was high and yes, it was humid. But the A/C was absolutely stronger than any other city I’ve visited. Moreover, I encountered a few rain showers in the afternoon that cooled down the city  dramatically. It was like pouring cold water to a sizzling pan.

And the second point, ‘not-much-to-enjoy’ (aka ‘boring?’,) was certainly not true. I truly enjoyed the world-famous Houston Space Center and well curated museums established by the Southern philanthropists. So here’s how my first day in Houston went by.

8:00 AM Breakfast at hotel

I started my day with a simple breakfast (more like snacks but sufficient for me: bananas, breakfast bars, coffee etc.) provided by the hotel, Club Quarters Houston. The hotel chain primarily serves its member organizations, then opens up its rooms at reasonable price when there are some rooms left. The hotel was very clean, and the location was also good. The best thing for a long-term traveler like me was the free Whirlpool laundry & drying machines (six of each) on the basement.

9:00 AM Houston Space Center

Right after the breakfast I headed  to the place I have been wanting to go for decades, NASA Space Center Houston! I usually prefer public transportation but this time decided to rent a car, because it was 30 mins by driving but 1.5~2 hours by bus. Yeah, the Lyft driver was right about Houston being the city of car, car, and car.

Before I go, I signed up online for the annual membership. There was close to zero possibility that I would be able to visit the center again within a year, but after doing some research I decided it would be better deal to purchase the membership because of: 1) reasonable pricing ($90 for two persons) of the membership  which includes general admission (general admission is $29.95 per one person) 2) fast track privilege for the (two) tram rides that is the essence of the Space Center visit 3) 10% discount at the gift shop and restaurants and 4) free parking ($6 without the membership.)

I printed out the temporary membership card at the hotel and drove 30 mins to the Space Center. As soon as I was entering the parking lot, I was greeted by the huge Space Shuttle (real size mock up) and its carrier Boeing 747 airplane (original.) Space Shuttle was on top of 747, just like the good old days when they flew together across the country. When the Space Shuttle (now retired) landed on Earth, it had to be carried by other vehicle to its home in Florida. It was fascinating to find out that moving the space shuttle by another airplane was the result of one enthusiastic outside-of-box thinker, John Kiker.

As I entered the main center, I headed straight to the tram station. There are mainly four parts to the space center visit (all included in general admission): 1) inside museums (where you can touch the moon rock!) 2) Space Shuttle and Boeing Carrier (inside and out) 3) tram ride to the historic  mission control center 4) tram ride to astronaut training center. I jumped to do the one of the tram rides first, because the weather report said it would be raining hard that afternoon, and when it rains hard the tram tour would stop.

Thanks to the membership, I could ride the tram to the historic mission control by waiting only about ten minutes. The non-members’ line was very long, looking like a good 40 mins wait. The open-air tram took us to the historic mission control room after about 10 mins ride. It was interesting to see longhorns looming around the center. It’s Texas, for sure there are longhorns, right?


Longhorns looming around Space Center Houston

I didn’t know what to expect at the ‘historic’ mission control room. I thought it would be some kind of mock-up with cheesy mannequins and stuffs. But I was so wrong (again.) It was very genuine and real. It was THE real control room that was used from 1965 to 1998. The room was where the historic words from the first moon lander Neil Armstrong’s were received in 1969 (“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”) The room had also received the desperate call from Apollo 13 saying “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”

NASA preserved the room so well that it even had ashtrays on the observing room that we the visitors were allowed to stay for a while (The observing room was originally built for the families of astronauts on mission.) The guide told us that they were preparing for 50th anniversary of moon landing (1969) next year and hot debate was going on regarding whether to allow visiting people to smoke in the control room, just like the old days.


Historic Mission Control Room at Houston Space Center


Historic Ashtray at Historic Mission Control Room at Houston Space Center

As we were coming back from the control room, rain started pouring down, literally soaking us all like in a shower. We jumped into the icy cold air-conditioned museum building as soon as the tram driver dropped us off. We had brief lunch at very good cafeteria on the first floor while trying to dry ourselves.

It kept raining so another tram to astronaut training center was not running. I took that opportunity to look around the museum itself. There were various spacecrafts, satellites, and pictures that tell the challenging history of America’s ongoing journey to the space. One of the most popular artifacts was, of course, the moon rock that you can touch. It was small black rock, maybe size of two quarter coins. It was surprisingly soft like a velvet (maybe too many people have touched it?)


Space Center Museum



People touching the real moon rock at Space Center Museum

Around 3:30 PM, right before the closing time, the weather cleared, and tram started to run again. I dashed to the tram line and headed to astronaut training center. Not like historic control room, the training center was being used by real astronauts right now! Visitors were allowed to follow the long corridor upstairs with glass windows and watch astro-people (not just astronauts but also mechanics and administrators) working. It was interesting to learn that the US is (seriously) preparing for the Mars man landing! The guide explained to us that it is planned in early 2030s so the astronauts in the future are likely to be 7 to 16 years old now. That meant I was certainly excluded, but who knows? There are also biologists working hard to turn back aging………😳


Astronauts training facility at Space Center Houston


Astronauts training facility at Space Center Houston


Astronauts training facility at Space Center Houston


Astronauts training facility at Space Center Houston

I ended my Space Center tour with a one more visit to the space shuttle and the very well stuffed gift shop. I bought those cool ‘NASA’ t-shirts that every tourist was wearing and NASA stickers for my MacBook.

6:30 PM Dinner: Gorgeous Texan Barbecue at Killen’s

On a way to the hotel, I had a dinner at Killen’s Texas Barbecue, the famous Texan Barbecue restaurant. Woods that would be used to smoke the meat were stacked right beside the restaurant building. I hurried inside and ordered one-pound bone-in beef short rib. It was a single huge rib ($22,) smoked so black outside yet moist and juicy and chewy and almost melting inside. It was nothing like any Texas barbecue I had been tasting outside Texas. The mind soothing side dishes, collard greens and cole slaw ($8 each) were perfect match to the tough-guy style barbecue rib. A glass of local Karbach draft beer upgraded ‘perfect’ to ‘more-than-perfect.’


Killen’s one pound barbecue rib


Killen’s one pound barbecue rib: juicy inside


Woods used to smoke meats at Killen’s


Killen’s menu

I drove back to downtown Houston with a happy scent of barbecue smoke still lingering in my hoodie, thinking ‘who said Houston was boring?!’

On a way to Space Center, Space McDonalds (?). Who said Houston was boring?

***Amtrak trip: full list***

[Amtrak trip] New Orleans to Houston


Sign on the wall of Amtrak Houston Station

9:00 AM Departing from New Orleans

After three jazzy days (and nights) in New Orleans, it was time to leave. The driver/guide who took us to plantations the day before had said “no matter what you ask, New Orleans will say ‘the answer is love.'” I was sure that I would miss the colorful, vibrant, and smiling city of New Orleans. I downloaded some songs by Louis Armstrong as memories and headed to the Amtrak station.

My next destination was a totally different city, the city of (wow!) World Series Champions, Houston! (New Orleans doesn’t have a Major League baseball team.) Appropriately, the train number of Amtrak train (Sunset Limited) from New Orleans to Houston was ‘1’, yes, ONE. I have no idea how Amtrak numbers its trains, but the route of ‘one’ train definitely is the longest one I have ever seen, 48 hours! The train (only leaves on Mon, Wed, and Saturdays) runs from New Orleans all the way to Los Angeles passing Houston and Tucson etc.  I was heading west and planning to go to LA as well, but surely wasn’t brave enough to take the 48 hours train ride. So I decided to get off at Houston: only 9.5 hours ride.

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Routes of Sunset Limited

New Orleans was the starting point of this looooooong train. Like the trains before, Amtrak staff gave out the seat numbers as people were getting on the train. We got the second to last seat from the back of a coach car. The last seats were for crew members. For the next nine hours, I could not help but listen to the conversations between two Amtrak employees, mostly about the heavy workloads that they have to endure. They argued about how hard oneself worked, and how another didn’t.

The train started the long journey as the the rivers, wetlands, and swamps of Louisiana were folding. The water was green, abundant with water plants. I could hear people shouting “look, alligator!” here and there, but I could not spot one. One woman said “wherever there is a water, there is an alligator.” (!)


On a way from New Orleans to Houston: Lake Charles (Louisiana)


On a way from New Orleans to Houston: Lake Charles (Louisiana)


On a way from New Orleans to Houston: El Dorado (Texas)


On a way from New Orleans to Houston: Trinity River (Texas)


This train too had an observation car where you can look out the windows. The views of Southern states were fascinating so I spent about two hours in the car. Not like the train from Chicago to New Orleans, where the observation car was very loud like a party car, the train from New Orleans was very quite with people observing the sceneries of Mississippi River and Lake Charles. The train kept running westward as the weather changed from sunny to rainy to sunny to cloudy to sunny again.


Observation Car in Amtrak Sunset Limited


Observation Car in Amtrak Sunset Limited


There were a couple of more things I learned on this trip, about the long distance Amtrak train.

1. Dining car and lunch box option

Passengers on a reserved coach could have meals at dining car too. Food at dining car for sleeping car passengers are all free, and coach passengers need to pay for the meal if you want to dine in the dining room.
To use the dining car, you need to make a reservation first. The crew will announce that coach passengers should come to the dining car to make a reservation after they take reservations from the sleeping car passengers. (So it might not be possible to get the best time slot for your choice, if you are coach passenger.)
In case of Sunset Limited I took, the dining staff announced if anybody would go for an ‘early bird’ takeout option around 1~2 hours before the regular meal time (10:00 AM for lunch for example.) You can get a lunch box with something similar to angus beef burger, chocolate chip cookies, water etc. at around $15.00 which seemed like a good deal (I packed a simple lunch before I got into the train so didn’t have chance to try one though.)
In the dining car, you have to share a table (the Amtrak crew described it in such a friendly way as “you will make new friends.”) If you are not comfortable with eating with strangers, lunch box seemed like a good idea. (Below is Amtrak dining car menu, in case you are interested. Click to enlarge.)

2. ‘No Wifi’ is common
There was a free wifi on a train from Boston to Chicago. Most of the train I took on the east coast area offered free wifi. I figured that the train tickets are so expensive, it is obvious that Amtrak offers a free wifi. I was so wrong! Apparently, free wifi is only a thing of an east coast train.
The train from Chicago to New Orleans didn’t seem to have wifi but I didn’t bother to ask because it was a night train and I slept for the most of the time. On the train to Houston I asked the crew if they have a wifi and he answered back “only on business and sleeping cars.”
However, three days from this train, I took a sleeping car and there was no wifi either. I needed to use a wifi and my mobile phone data plan was running out, so I had to upgrade my plan for more data to use hotspots.
(another) However, trains often run through remote lands so ‘no service’ or ‘4G’ on cell phones are very common. Then you are doomed to read a book. 😛

8:00 PM Arriving at Houston

We arrived at Houston around 8:00 PM. It was about 1.5 hours late because the train had to go around the city as we got closer to Houston due to some construction or something. I was excited see the skyscrapers of Houston as the train slowly approached this big city. Being delayed wasn’t something unexpected, the thing that surprised me was the size Houston Amtrak station. It was so small! It was smaller than any ordinary subway station in NY. I thought “oh, it must be a temporary one.” I was wrong!


View of Houston from the Amtrak Station



Unexpectedly small Houston Amtrak station


Unexpectedly small Houston Amtrak station

I called Lyft to go to the hotel (Club Quarters Houston) and the first thing the driver said was “Gosh, I didn’t know there was a train station here.” I asked him where the ‘real’ train station (not the temporary one) was, and he said “no, no, this must be the real one.” He added, “nobody rides a train in Houston. Nobody uses public transportation in Houston. There are very fancy metro, and you will find there are so little people there. And nobody walks in Houston. It is car, car, and car.” Really?

It was only about 5~10 minutes drive from the train station to the hotel. After dropping the luggages, I went out for a late dinner to one of the casual restaurant nearby and grabbed a beef brisket taco with a glass of local beer. The hotel was near the ‘central’ metro station, and interestingly enough the street was quite empty. ‘It is only around 9:00 PM, where is everybody,’ I thought, or is 9:00 PM too late for Houstonians? As I walked back to the hotel, I witnessed a gentleman with a very formal suits running into a building with a brown bag meal.  Is everybody just working? I shall find out!


Very quite night streets of Houston


***Amtrak trip: full list***