Oakland and the Zephyr

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We pulled into Emeryville, CA — a subsection of Oakland, as far as I can tell — at 8:30 in the morning, and set about dragging our enormous suitcases behind us to the Sonesta Hotel. It’s a lovely hotel and I would use it again, but when they say it’s within walking distance of the train station, I’m not sure if they really mean the same thing we meant by ‘walking distance’! But we made it there, and the very kind desk agent not only got us a two-queen room from the beginning, so we wouldn’t have to move in between our day and evening bookings, but he even pre-checked us in for the evening so we wouldn’t need to come back down at 3 and do it then. We just had the room from 9am onwards, no muss and no fuss. We were both pretty exhausted, and I was grateful.

A wide river seen from the window of the train; the grass in the foreground is mostly brown, with a little green
The Sacramento River delta near Emeryville

We rested for a while, as I thought a lot about whether there was any sensible way to see my friend Stef after all. Eventually, I texted them to see whether they were willing to come out for a very limited-for-protection visit, and thankfully, they said yes! We agreed on a time later in the afternoon, and then M and I went out to find lunch.

The hotel itself, while it serves breakfast, doesn’t serve lunch or dinner; at least not on weekends. So we walked to a nearby diner, which turned out to have good food but exorbitant prices — we paid $85 for two breakfast plates, including a pastry and a couple of drinks. And then I tripped on the sidewalk on the walk back to the hotel, spilling the drinks all over the place (and me).

I was all right, apart from being frustrated at losing the drinks. We got back to our room and ate the rest of our food, which was at least good enough to feel like it wasn’t a disappointment. A little more rest and it was time to meet Stef — outdoors, and wearing masks, but at least it was a chance to see each other.

We all sat on the benches in front of the hotel for a while — it was a bit chilly for me, but quickly forgotten when the company was that good! Eventually, Stef took us to the nearby Target (with the car windows open, and masks still on) to get M lactaid pills, which we hadn’t had enough of at home to bring with us. When Target didn’t have the right flavor, Stef dropped us back at the hotel and then went to get their own prescriptions… fetching the correct form of lactaid at the same time. They brought it back to the hotel, and I took it and said goodbye. It wasn’t the visit we’d been hoping for, but I felt a lot better just for having seen him.

A train approaching the platform. We see the locomotive head-on; it is silver on the bottom and blue on top, with a white Amtrak logo. Its headlights are on. The cars it is pulling are silver.
The California Zephyr approaching the platform. All Aboard!

The hotel room had a decent bathtub, where I spent most of the evening, and found myself too tired by the end of it even to eat. We were going to order Chinese, from a restaurant of Stef’s recommendation, but I only ordered enough for M and then I went to sleep early. We had to wake up by seven anyway — at 9am it was All Aboard for the California Zephyr!

We got on board and settled into our separate units across the hall from each other. When the snack car opened, I took M there… both to get food and to see the observation car, which is right above it in the double decker system of the western train routes (east of Chicago, they have to use single-level trains because the tall ones won’t fit through older, shorter tunnels). After that, I admit that I went back to my own room, closed the doors, pulled down the bed, and took a nap. I wasn’t quite awake yet.

A hillside partly covered with snow. There are small conifers in the foreground; the hillside behind them appears to have suffered a recent wildfire.
Aftermath of a recent wildfire in the Sierra Nevadas

M, meanwhile, was making much better use of their time. They spent quite a while in the observation car — where I joined them when I woke up. Back to our rooms for lunch — I love the dining cars, but it’s still just a little more risk than we want to take yet, to sit next to strangers and take our masks off to eat — and then I settled in to my own seat to look out the window and trade cool photos with M, and research options for the music playlist that I’m putting together, of train songs. I’ll list the playlist songs here when I’m finished with the train portion of this trip!

A river with steep banks rushes over a rocky bed. There is a long wooden platform parallel to it on the far bank, which is sparsely wooded with conifers and grey shrubs.
The Truckee River, near Floriston.

The night was rough. I was just anxious enough about the rising elevation that even though it didn’t actually hurt me noticeably, I couldn’t sleep very much. Tomorrow is the best and worst day of the trip. We’ll be going through the full beauty of the Rockies, spending all day in what they legitimately call the prettiest route in America. It’s also the highest part of the route, so we will get to see whether the elevation bothers me at 9,000 feet. But I don’t intend to think about that unless it’s a real problem. I’m just going to listen to my new playlist, and look out at the mountains.

in the observation car, curved windows overhead show the sky; through the closest side window one can see a shallow lake surrounded by cliffs
In the observation car.

2 responses to “Oakland and the Zephyr”

  1. FreyjaRN Avatar


    When hubby and I lived in Oakland, we did some of our best shopping in Emeryville. IKEA is there, and their cafeteria has good food at a decent price.

    I’ve been on the Empire Builder. I only wished for seat belts to make me feel more secure. The legroom is even better than first class on a plane, and you don’t need to stay on your seat the entire time. What I think is funny is that I have a cousin who’s an engineer with Amtrak.

    1. Steve Avatar

      Train is absolutely my favorite way to travel. Always has been. Air comes in a fairly distant second; it was closer before the Plague Years.

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