Varna Trip Report, days twelve and thirteen

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[day 1]
[day 2]
[day 3]
[day 4]
[day 5]
[days 6 & 7]
[days 8 & 9]
[day 10]
[day 11]

2023-06-19 05:30−4:

There wouldn’t be enough time for breakfast in the hotel restaurant before I would want to check out, but there was a kind of coffee shop that opened at 05:30 where I got a Danish pastry to hold me over for a while.


I checked out of the hotel and caught a taxi to South Station.

I had originally booked the accessible bedroom in the Lake Shore Limited’s Boston section; but because of track work, my reservation had been changed to a bus from Boston to Albany-Rensselaer where I would board 449.  Since I would rather ride a train than a bus, I changed my reservation several weeks ago to Northeast Corridor train 171 to New York and then the Ethan Allan Express train 291 to Rensselaer.

The station is actually in Rensselaer, NY, just across the river from Albany.

I arrived at South Station fairly early intending to head to the Metropolitan Lounge to let somebody know that I wouldn’t be on the bus to Rensselaer.  I was worried that my reservation from Rensselaer would be cancelled when I was a no-show for the bus.

The lounge hadn’t opened yet because nobody had showed up, so I went to the ticket counter to explain my concern, but the guy I talked to had no clue what I was talking about.  The Met. Lounge opened up a few minutes after that, so I went up there and the lounge attendant assured me that everything was OK with my reservation and that I wouldn’t be expected on the bus.  Since I had a same-day sleeper ticket on 449 out of Rensselaer, I was allowed to wait in the Met. Lounge, have a cup of coffee, and get caught up on the Internet.  I was hoping for another sweet roll or something, but Boston’s Met. Lounge doesn’t put out breakfast-style munchies, just chips and such.  That’s not up to the standards that I remember from earlier trips.


About fifteen minutes before 171’s scheduled departure, I headed down to the train.  The biz.-class car was the first one I came to, so that would be the last car on the train.  The quiet car was right in front of that, then a bunch of coaches, and the café car all the way in front.  I wasn’t about to walk the whole train just to get to the café, so no breakfast for me except for the Danish I’d had back at the hotel.


We departed right on time.  I had a seat on the fireman’s side, so I got to look at all the boats along the shore (when Amtrak’s Shore Line is actually running along the shore, mostly just in eastern Connecticut).


The trip to New York City was uneventful, and we arrived a couple of minutes early.

I had the redcap take me to the baggage checking place where I checked one bag on train 49 all the way to St. Louis.  The baggage guy didn’t want to do that because Amtrak’s reservation system doesn’t recognize 49 as a connection to 449 even though it’s the same damn train departing Rensselaer.  The redcap was helpful to me in convincing the baggage guy that it would be OK.

Once I was rid of my larger bag, I had only my walker and the smaller bag that I’d have with me on the next train, and so I thanked and tipped the redcap.

I went to the Met. Lounge hoping that the attendant would be able to give me a coach seat on 49 which would give me more time in New York to compose this post, but she was a newbie and couldn’t be convinced that 49 and 449 were the same train, so I’m still on 291 from New York to Rensselaer.

The Met. Lounge in New York is fancier than the one in Boston, but none of the food looked appetizing.  I guess I’ll have a late lunch from the café on 291.

ca. 14:00:

Train 291 started boarding and I didn’t need redcap assistance to get me to the train, but I asked at the redcap counter for directions to the elevator down to the track 5 platform.  I’m glad I did because I never would have found it without knowing where to go from the start.  I boarded 291 with only about five minutes to spare.

291 has a café car like the ones I’m used to on the Chicago-St. Louis-Kansas City corridor trains:  a café counter in the middle, tables at the end of the car nearest the coaches, and very comfortable 2-1 biz.-class seating on the other side.  All the 1-up seats were taken by the time I boarded, but I wound up with two seats to myself for the whole trip to Rensselaer.


We departed New York on-time.  The café didn’t open until 15:20, so there was no time for anything real to eat.  I just had a coke and a bag of pretzels.


After another uneventful ride, we arrived in Albany-Rensselaer about four minutes early.  I made a beeline to the ticket counter where I was assured that I still had my accessible bedroom on 449 even though I wasn’t on the bus from Boston.

There’s a little coffee shop in the Rensselaer station where I had some mac and cheese and a hotdog…not much of a meal, but it was the best that they could do for me.

I’ll have about a two-hour wait for 449.

ca. 18:30:

Boarding 449 started.

It turned out that the 449 equipment had deadheaded from Sunnyside Yard in Queens today, so I probably could even have gotten in my room in New York; but there was no way I could have explained that to any of the ticket agents there.  (I find it a bit disconcerting that J. Random Passenger knows more about Amtrak operations than Amtrak employees do.  Oh, well…)

The 449 sleeper is all the way in the front of the train, so I had a bit of a hike.  As expected, I’m in a Viewliner I accessible bedroom; so I still have no idea what the Viewliner II arrangement is.

I elected not to have dinner from the “flexible dining menu”.  The café car is the next car back, but I didn’t really want anything from that either.

We were basically on-time all the way to Syracuse where I went to bed a little bit hungry, which is probably good for me once in a while.

2023-06-20, ca. 05:00:

I woke up for the stop in Cleveland where we were running about one hour late.

The TA hadn’t made any coffee and didn’t have any extra bottles of water out:  we were supposed to go to the café which was the next car back, so that was OK.  I also got a rather large blueberry muffin for breakfast which was just as good as anything that the TA would have brought me from the “dining car”.

Dolly:  “The Americans have something they call muffins, but they’re just tea cakes with raisins!”
Miss Marple:  “The Americans certainly have a lot to answer for.”
— Agatha Christie, The Body in the Library


We stayed about one hour late for the rest of the trip; and thanks to schedule padding, we arrived in Chicago about half an hour late.  I had thought that they might have shortened the dwell time in Toledo, but that didn’t happen.  In any event, I had plenty of time to make the connection to the last train of my trip.

ca. 11:30:

I opted for a slice of pizza from Sbarro’s for lunch.


The Texas Eagle started boarding, and we departed right on time.  We didn’t get delayed on the Canadian National tracks between Chicago and Joliet this time, and stayed basically on-time all the way to St. Louis.

For some reason, the café car didn’t open until 15:00, already twenty minutes passed Joliet.

I had popped for a roomette in the sleeper on train 21, so I’d be comfortable on my last leg of the trip, and I’d at least get one of the reheated meals in the “diner” for supper.  When the LSA showed up making dinner reservations, he apparently was a newbie as well, and my TA, who I guess was also qualified as an SA, had to help him with filling out the food ticket.  I opted for the baked ziti and meatballs.

TA – train attendant, the crew who assist passengers in the sleepers and coaches.
SA – service attendant, the food service crew.
LSA – lead service attendant.

After a while, the LSA showed up again to say that my dinner selection wouldn’t be available.  Since we had just started the trip, it’s not like they ran out; and I have no idea what their excuse was.  I decided on the short ribs and mashed potatoes which turned out to be not too bad.


Nothing much out of the ordinary happened on this leg either; and thanks to schedule padding, after a brief stop to align a switch which hadn’t been set correctly to get us on the right track, we arrived in St. Louis about twenty minutes early.

It took about half an hour for the checked baggage to make it to the baggage claim area in the station, but I finally got my bag (the baggage guy in New York had done the right thing after all) and drove home on city streets rather than blast down I-55.

About all I could do when I got home was some minimal unpacking.  I listened to the Cardinals’ game on the radio (they lost again) and crawled into bed, which is why writing this report and posting it had to wait until the next morning.

I still owe the blog a report about how the meetings went in Varna.  2023-07-12:  I got sidetracked by the cancer business and don’t really remember much about the meeting.  I’ll try to do better after the next trip in November.


  1. billseymour says

    There are a couple more tidbits that I probably could have added to the main post.

    Shortly after posting the above, I checked an Amtrak-related e-mail list that I frequent; and one of the participants noted that Amtrak was running baggage cars on the rear of many of the eastern trains, instead of between the engine and the passenger cars thus reducing somewhat the various engine noises for the passengers.  I responded:

    I can’t explain it, but I can report that it works the same way on the Lake Shore Limited.  On the trip that I just ompleted, the baggage car was on the rear; and the 449 sleeper was right behind the engine.  Also, the car was oriented with the door in front, so my accessible bedroom was as close to the engine as it gets.

    I’m used to the various railroad noises, though, and didn’t mind; but I can understand why others might be bothered by them.

    The response that I got back is that it actually makes a bit of sense for the Lake Shore to reduce the switching needed in Rensselaer.  Eastbound, the Boston section, which doesn’t carry checked baggage (shame on Amtrak!), can just pull away, and the dual-mode (diesel-electric/straight electric) engine can be added to the New York section for running into Penn Station.  Westbound, the dual-mode engines can pull away from the New York section, then the Boston section just runs around and shoves back onto the train from New York.  These days, as expected of generic MBAs, Amtrak Management is all about cutting costs, not increasing revenue.

    I later posted:

    Near the end of the final leg of my last trip, my room was on the fireman’s side, so passing through Mitchell, Illinois, I looked for Lenox Tower and it wasn’t there any more.  I hadn’t noticed that two weeks ago when I started the trip since I would have had to have been on the engineer’s side to see it and didn’t make the effort.

    Does anybody know when the tower got torn down?

    I used to find it interesting that the St. Louis terminal still had one working railroad tower.  Oh, well…

  2. Katydid says

    Welcome back, and thanks for the updates. It was an education to read about your travels.

    I noticed that your meals were very carb-heavy and light on fruits and vegetables. Is this typical for train travel, or was this your personal choice? Carbs are easy to store and keep for a long time so it would make sense that’s what they keep on trains. I suppose it would be easier to pack on water or whatever you required on a train.

    It seems like there are fewer problems with lost/misrouted luggage on the trains than in the air. Do you think that’s true? Also, I was pleased that you mostly had the assistance you needed, when you needed it.

  3. billseymour says

    Katydid:  Amtrak has healthier, including vegetarian, options, even on the “flexible dining menu”.  I just have a really crappy diet, and at my age it’s not likely that I’ll change.

    About the second part of my comment:  Lenox Tower was torn down two years ago.  I wasn’t traveling then because of COVID and had no clue.

    Also from the article, I find that it hadn’t been a working tower since 2018.  The old interlocking machines were marvels of their time but couldn’t compete with modern computer controlled interlockings.  I guess, as a computer guy, I should celebrate that; but I have a great fondness for the technology of the 19th and early 20th centuries:  all the interesting bits are on the outside and you can see how they worked. 😎

  4. Katydid says

    Vegetarian diets can be extremely unhealthy. I just got back from a gathering that was catered vegetarian. Plenty of empty carbs and simple sugars. Breads including pita bread and ranch dressing, cupcakes, cheese pizza, frankenfoods like “vegan wings” and “vegan blue cheese” that were mostly a bunch of corn oils, brownies, a salad of carrots, corn, and peas, etc. etc.

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