My Next Excuse for Riding Trains

I won’t be blogging about riding trains until November when I’ll be traveling to Wrocław, Poland to attend a meeting of the ISO C++ standards committee, but I’m starting to think about it, and I’ve worked up a possible itinerary that includes a three-day conference in Berlin the week before and a one-day conference in Wrocław afterwards.

As I’ve said before, I like to fly Icelandair across the Pond because I like to get off the plane and stretch my legs in Keflavík.  Also, because travel to these meetings is the only thing I spend my fun money on, I’m fortunate to be able to afford Icelandair’s Saga class if I don’t try to afford other stuff that I don’t really want that much anyway.  (Business class on other airlines would probably be out of my price range; and besides, I wouldn’t want to sit in an airplane long enough to get all the way to Europe in one fell swoop.)

Unfortunately, Icelandair serves Berlin only five days per week, so the eastbound trip doesn’t work well.  I’m currently thinking about going a day late and missing almost all of the first day of Meeting C++.  I could fly into Frankfurt instead and take an ICE directly from the airport to Berlin; but then I’d have to return from Frankfurt to get the round-trip air fare; and getting from Wrocław to Frankfurt by train doesn’t look easy.

Nokia will be sponsoring a one-day conference called code:dive that’s still not officially announced, so I don’t know when or where it’ll be.  My rough itinerary assumes that it’ll be in the same hotel the Monday after the ISO meeting, which could be wrong; so the westbound trip is still subject to change.

Update, 2024-04-17:  I’ve added another option for the first leg that saves a long layover in Chicago.  That train originates in Kansas City and is often delayed on the former MoPac west of St. Louis, so I’m a bit leery about counting on it:  missing the very first connection would likely destroy the whole trip.

I checked out train 318’s arrival times in Chicago and the likelyhood of making my connection back to the 1st of October, and it doesn’t look too dangerous; but I’m still not sure I’d want to chance it.  (If I look only at Mondays, which is the weekday I’ll be traveling, I never miss the connection on any of the 29 days; but it’s not clear whether the weekday actually has any effect.)  I probably won’t be making any reservations until the end of July or so, so I’ll check again then.  I’ll probably just stick with the Texas Eagle in any event since that will allow checking a bag all the way to New York.  (The Missouri-Illinois corridor trains don’t have checked baggage service.)

I’ve also been told that Nokia’s code:dive conference will definitely be on Monday, November 25th.

Travel to Wrocław in the Fall

I got an e-mail message last night giving the dates are for the C++ standards committee meeting in Wrocław, Poland, so I’ve made some preliminary guesses about what my travel itinerary might look like.  There are still some unknowns, however; although it’ll almost certainly be Amtrak between St. Louis and Boston, Icelandair between Boston and some city in Europe, and then one or more trains to/from Wrocław.

As I’ve said before, I don’t like flying very much; and so I take Icelandair to/from Boston, mostly because I like getting off the plane and stretching my legs in Keflavík.  Also, I can usually afford Saga Class on Icelandair if I don’t try to afford other stuff that I don’t really want that much anyway; but business class on other airlines is typically pricier.

We’ll see how it actually works out…

Kona Trip Report day 14

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2023-11-15 05:00−6:

As is often the case these days, I woke up well before the sun showed its face.  After the breakfast buffet, which was mediocre, I wrote most of the day 13 report.

10:00:

I checked out of the hotel and got a taxi to Union Station.  I gave the driver a twenty in the hope that that would make up for the short fare.  He seemed pleased with that and understood my mobility issues.  Canal Street was blocked off, so we stopped at the corner of Canal and Jackson, and the driver was happy to take my bags to the elevator down to the concourse.

I checked one bag on the Texas Eagle to St. Louis, then checked in at the Met. Lounge where I put the final touches on the day 13 report and published it.

13:15:

We started boarding train 21.  A redcap showed up right away and drove me and another couple to the gate where we had to wait about ten minutes, I guess because the crew weren’t really ready for us yet.

I had room 2 in the sleeper, a “roomette”, a pair of facing seats that convert to upper and lower berths at night.  It’s not like the roomettes of old, but more like the old ”open sections” except with walls and a door instead of curtains.

It was a pretty sorry excuse for a long distance train:  one engine unit, a sleeper, a diner/lounge, a coach-baggage, and an accessible coach.  Some of us train-riding geeks are worried that Amtrak is actually trying to discourage overnight travel so that they can discontinue the long distance trains.

13:55:

We pulled from Union Station right on time and, as expected, had some slow going on the Canadian National tracks to Joliet where it seemed to me we had a rather long dwell time; but we departed Joliet only six minutes late.

17:00:

The LSA called for passengers in the sleeper to head to the diner/lounge.  She had taken our orders for dinner earlier; and when we got to the not-a-diner, we found all the food already set out for us (and getting cold).  The food offered on the “flexible dining menu” isn’t worth talking about.

ca. 18:55:

Aside for some pretty rough track between Springfield and Carlinville, the trip from Chicago to St. Louis was largely uneventful.  We were never more than ten minutes late departing any station along the way; and thanks to schedule padding, we arrived in St. Louis early only to stop for a while just short of the station.  The conductor announced on the PA that we had to “disconnect the cars” — I guess we droped off a third coach that I hadn’t noticed and that would be added to train 22 in the morning.  They do that sometimes when they have lots of coach passengers between Chicago and St. Louis.  We made our final stop at 18:59, twelve minutes early.  We had shoved back onto the usual track, but at the far end of the platform, so passengers had quite a hike to the station.

After claiming my check bag, I still had one concern:  the credit card I had lost in Hawaiʻi was the one that I had used to get into the long term parking lot two weeks ago.  The station agent assured me that all I had to do was push the intercom button at the lot exit and somebody would “work with me” to get me out.  I was expecting to give my name and the last four digits of the card number or something like that; but as soon as I said that the card had been lost, they opened the gate and I was on my way.

As usual after returning on Amtrak after not driving for a couple of weeks or more, I drove home on city streets instead of blasting down I-55 and got home safe and sound around 20:30 or thereabouts.

Actually, “sound” might be something of an overstatement because it was a bit of a struggle to lug my luggage up from the basement (where my garage is) to my second floor apartment.  I even had to stop about half way and sit on the steps for a bit to catch my breath.  That was new to me and makes me worry about how my lungs are doing.  I’ll ask the oncologist about that on Wednesday when I finish my last chemotherapy session.  I might have to rethink my travel to Wroclaw, Poland next October or November.  We’ll see …


Follow-up, Thursday the 16th:

I went to the bank to report the lost credit card.  The agent printed out the last few weeks of transactions, and there were no bogus charges, so that’s a relief.  She cancelled that card and ordered me a new one which I should get in the mail some day between now and December 4th, at which time I’ll need to change the card I use for all of my automatic bill payments.  That’ll be a hassle; but it’s only a storage space, Verizon, and three utilities; and I have no one but myself to blame for that.

Kona Trip Report day 13

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2023-11-14 05:00−6:

I woke up for Omaha and had the usual breakfast at 06:30.

We were right on time until Burlington, IA where we had to wait for a while.  I gathered that the station track wouldn’t be available, so we had to wait for a westbound freight to get out of the way and a switch to get lined for an adjacent track.  IIRC, the train had to make some fairly precise spots to allow passengers to get to and from the station.  I didn’t record when we finally departed Burlington because I was in the diner for an early lunch, but we were out of the next stop at Galesburg, IL four minutes early.  (The eastbound Zephyr is discharge-only from Galesburg to Chicago and so doesn’t have to wait for advertised departure times.)

There are some pictures of my room on the train below the fold if anybody is interested.

14:25:

We arrived in Chicago 25 minutes early.  One couple and I had to wait a while for a redcap to show up, but we were eventually taken to the taxi stand.

I had made a reservation at the Hilton Garden Inn that’s just across the river and a couple of blocks further from Union Station.  I had expected to be able to walk to it, but I’ve become less mobile since then and so decided to take a taxi.

The driver didn’t know the address of the hotel and had to look it up on his cell phone.  We wound up going to a different Hilton Garden Inn that was a couple of miles away, which I knew was wrong almost as soon as we left the Union Station area; but the driver insisted.  It turns out that I should have asked for the “Hilton Garden Inn Chicago Central Loop”.  Oh, well.  I’m going to have to remember to write down hotel addresses for taxi drivers in the future.  This was the second time in a single trip that a taxi driver didn’t know how to get to a hotel from its name.  (The first was from SFO to the Hyatt House Emeryville.)

We finally got to the right place.  I had planned on giving the driver a twenty dollar bill to make up for the short fare; and so that’s what he got.  He seemed satisfied with that.

After checking in, I wrote the last three blog posts; and that was it for the day.

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Kona Trip Report days 11-12

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Today begins my trip home on Amtrak’s California Zephyr to Chicago, then the Texas Eagle to St. Louis.

2023-11-12 06:00−8:

I woke up after a really good sleep and had plenty of time to repack from flying to riding on a train:  basically just moving all the stuff that might have frightened the TSA folks — my scanner, a couple of power strips, various cables — from my checked bag to my carryon.

08:30:

After breakfast, I checked out of the hotel and walked the roughly two city blocks, mostly through a parking lot, to the pedestrian walkway over the tracks at the Amtrak station.  The elevators on both sides worked. 😎

When I got to the station, I found out that a BNSF train had several tank cars on the ground at Pinecliffe, CO blocking the Moffat Tunnel, and so my train would be bustituted* from Grand Junction to Denver.  That’s the really scenic part of the trip where I might have taken some pretty pictures.  The trip over the Sierra Nevada is scenic, too; but there are no stops where one can get off the train for a bit; and I couldn’t get any decent shots from the window of a moving train.

09:38:

We departed Emeryville about a quarter of an hour late but had picked up about half of that time by Roseville where I went to lunch in the diner.

They’re now letting coach passengers in the diner.  For a while after returning to “traditional dining”** on several of the western long-distance trains, the diner was for passengers in the sleepers only.  Passengers with coach tickets had to subsist with stuff from the snack bar on the lower level of the lounge car.

Shortly after Roseville, we stopped for quite a while.  I have no clue why, and there was no announcement on the PA explaining what the delay was all about.  We were about three quarters of an hour late out of Colfax.

I had dinner in the diner shortly after Reno and had the steak.  I had ordered it medium but got it rare.

We picked up a bit of time and were only about twenty minutes late out of Winnemucca where I went to bed.


2023-11-13 04:45−7:

I woke up in time for arrival in Salt Lake City which we departed just after 05:00, an hour and a half late.

The diner opened for breakfast at 06:30.  I had the french toast and pork sausage which was quite good.

We arrived in Grand Junction about 1:45 late, but ran right through it.  The plan was to wye the train east of the station to turn it to be train 5, the westbound Zephyr, and let the passengers off after that.  While wyeing the train, we had to stop and wait a while for each switch to be lined properly, as if nobody could anticipate that lining the switches would be required.  Go figure.  (That was Union Pacific’s silliness, not Amtrak’s.)

The diner had an early lunch for sleeper passengers only.  The coach passengers got box lunches that they could eat on the bus to Denver.

There were three busses, at least two of which went straight to Denver.  I guess one of them was for passengers bound for Glenwood Springs, Granby, and Fraser.

The bus ride on Interstate 70 was tedious but only lasted for about four and a half hours.  I did get a nice view in Glenwood Canyon of the track on the other bank of the Colorado River where I would have preferred to be. 😎

On arrival in Denver, a redcap drove me and some others straight to our sleeper cars and handled all the baggage for us.

This train, which had turned from train 5 earlier in the day, had the same crew that I’d had on my westbound trip a week earlier.  My TA, O. C. Smith, was very friendly and helpful; but he was looking forward to calling it quits.  This would be his antepenultimate trip before retiring.

The diner was open and serving dinner when we got to the train.  I had the pasta with the “plant-based meat sauce”, which was actually quite good; but I wasn’t really hungry and couldn’t finish it.

We departed Denver right on time; and I went to bed shortly after the first stop at Fort Morgan about quarter to nine.


*“Bustituted” is a term that some of us regular Amtrak riders use to mean that a bus is being used as a substitute for a train.  In my roughly three decades of riding Amtrak trains, I’ve been bustituted only twice before:  once from Seattle to Spokane where train 7 had turned to train 8 because 7 had gotten caught in a blizzard; and once from Pittsburgh to D.C. on what should have been the Capitol Limited, I don’t remember why.

**What Amtrak is advertising as “traditional dining” is nothing of the sort.  I can remember when at least four service attendants (SAs) would be waiting the tables along with the dining car steward, and there’d be a cook or two and a dishwasher downstairs (on double-decker Superliner diners) preparing freshly cooked food served on real, if thin, china.  These days, it’s a lead service attendant (LSA) and one SA waiting tables, and one cook preparing what, at least, isn’t the prepackaged, microwaved stuff that you still get on all the eastern trains, the Texas Eagle, and AFAIK the City of New Orleans.

Kona Trip Report day 10

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[OK, I’m in my hotel in Chicago, so I can start getting caught up on my trip reports.]

2023-11-11 04:00 UTC−10:

I woke up with plenty of time to get all packed for my trip home, and I was basically done with that before breakfast.

08:00:

We’ll be adjourned by the time I post this, so I can start talking about the meetings.

As I’ve said before, Monday morning was a plenary session which was mostly administrivia.  The real work happens in smaller breakout groups.

I mostly played hookey for much of the meeting.  Since my retirement a bit over a year ago, I’ve been disinterested but not uninterested.  (There’s no decision that the committee would take that would help or hurt me in any way, but I hope that I never stop learning.)

I’ve found that Zooming into the meeting from my hotel room works well and is easier given my current somewhat limited mobility.  I did Zoom into discussions of several papers that were interesting, and I might have some more to say about those when I get my thoughts together.

This morning is a plenary session where the breakout groups report, we take formal votes, and talk about future meetings.

10:00:

We finished after only about two hours, so I checked out of the hotel and, since I was running low on cash for tips, I tried the cash machine which, I guess, was out of money.  Oh, dear!  Oh, well; there should be a cash machine at the airport.

I got a taxi to the airport; but when I arrived, the United checkin counter wasn’t open yet, so I had to wait until about quarter after 11:00.  Checking in was a bit of a hassle because they wanted to see the credit card that I had used to make the reservation (which I had lost as I reported near the end of the day 4 report), but they found me when I showed them my passport.  I checked just one bag because, at KOA, walkers can be checked at the gate.  I remembered that I had Global Entry from my trip to Belfast back in 2018, and I had the card with me which was still valid through 2025, so I got TSA Precheck.

When the wheelchair arrived, I asked to be taken to a cash machine, which worked, and so I had a tip for the the wheelchair guy.  The wheelchair service plus the TSA Precheck let me zoom through Security; and I got dropped off at the gate.

We started boarding around 13:15.  It’s the same kind of plane that I took westbound, a 777 IIRC, with the first-class seats that recline all the way to flat for taking a nap.  The flight to SFO “met expectations”.

ca. 21:00−8:

The flight arrived just about on time.  It took a while for my walker to show up at the door to the airplane, and there was no record of me needing a wheelchair.  That eventually got sorted out — a good thing because I never would have been able to walk all the way to baggage claim even with my walker.  After claiming my one checked bag, I got dropped off at the taxi stand.

The taxi driver spoke only enough English to be able to do his job, and I speak no Chinese at all, so it took a little while for us to agree on where I was going. 😎  He didn’t know the address of the hotel, and I didn’t have it written down, but he was able to look it up on his cell phone.

22:30:

I finally got to the Hyatt House Emeryville, checked in, and crashed.

With any luck, later reports will be more interesting than this one.

Kona Trip Report partial

2023-11-11 22:30−8:

I’ve made it to the hotel across the tracks from the Amtrak station in Emeryville, but there’s no time for a proper day-10 trip report.  I’ve already lost two hours because of the time zone change, and I need to get to breakfast at 07:00.  The real report might have to wait until I get to my hotel in Chicago on Tuesday.

Kona Trip Report days 6-9

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I don’t expect anything special to happen between now and bedtime, so I’ll post this shortly before suppertime.  I can’t talk about the meetings yet, so this will be mostly about the hotel and the surrounding area.

Kailua-Kona, HI [wikipedia] is a town with a population of about 20k that’s the main tourist destination on the west side of the Big Island.  I’m staying at a hotel on the north end of Aliʻi Drive, the main drag along the shore, which is where most of the tourist stuff is.  At the southern end of the tourist area is the Royal Kona Resort where our group held its meetings until a couple of years pre-COVID.

Heading south along Aliʻi Drive, there are the Kailua Pier, then a beach where lots of surfers ride in, numerous restaurants, and shops that sell the unsurprising faux-Hawaiian kitsch.

Some pictures that I’ve taken in and around the hotel are below the fold:

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Kona Trip Report day 5

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2023-11-05 09:00−10:

The Kona meetings are starting half an hour earlier than normal:  08:30 on Monday and 08:00 Tuesday through Saturday; so they were half an hour into the Monday plenary by the time I was all set up and ready to go.  That was clearly stated in the agenda, and so it was entirely my own fault for not checking that beforehand.  Fortunately, the Monday plenary is mostly administrivia and I didn’t really miss anything.  I’ll get with the program for the rest of the week.

As usual, I can’t say anything about the meetings until adjournment on Saturday.


After the meeting on Monday, I went back to my room to get caught up on my non-meeting reading.  I have a WiFi hotspot I got from my cell phone provider that I use when traveling so that I don’t have to use any public networks, at least not in the U.S.  The hotspot’s battery was running low; and when I looked for its power cord, I couldn’t find it.  I’ll bet a dollar to a doughnut that, when I get home on the 15th, I’ll find both the hotspot’s power cord and the one for my laptop sitting together in some place “where I won’t miss them on the way out the door.” 😎  The bottom line is that I’ll be stuck with public WiFi networks outside the meetings until I get all the way home; and I’ll be totally offline for the entire trip on Amtrak’s California Zephyr.

The universal power cord that I bought for my laptop seems to be working just fine.  Indeed, I stupidly left it plugged in overnight and I haven’t fried the laptop’s power supply yet.  Aside from being careful when I insert the power cord into the laptop, I think I can quit worrying about that.

I had a bit of trouble connecting to the hotel’s WiFi.  For some reason, I have to use airplane mode instead of WiFi mode, which makes no sense to me, but it’s working.

[When I logged in to the meeting room WiFi to post this, I found that it’s a public network, too.  Oh, well…]

Kona Trip Report day 4

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2023-11-05, 05:00−8: (we’re off daylight saving time in the U.S. now)

Things got off to a good start today.  I stopped by a snack shop not far from the hotel’s front desk for breakfast and opted for a ham and cheese croissant, not really breakfast fare, but I wanted something more substantial than just a Danish.

07:00:

I had everything packed and was all ready when two of the hotel staff arrived at my room at 07:00 to collect my baggage and wheel me to the front desk where I checked out.  At the front desk, I was transferred to three hotel staff—I guess one was supervising…or something—who took me on the AirTrain to terminal 3 and all the way to the United checkin counter.  After checking in, I was left at a place where I awaited wheelchair assistance from an airport employee who took be through security, to the gate, and all the way to the airplane’s door.

The first class section on this plane had those seats that recline all the way, even allowing you to lie flat, which was a surprise.  The plane must be pretty wide because there were two such seats on one side of the aisle, four in the middle, and two on the other side of the other aisle.  I had booked seat 2D which was in the middle on the port-side aisle.

We pushed back from the gate about five minutes late but didn’t get very far when the whole airplane shook, and there was a sound like we had run over something.  We sat there for over half an hour wondering what the heck was going on.  One of the flight attendants eventually made an announcement saying that the drawbar that connects the front landing gear to the vehicle that pushes the plane back had broken and we had to wait for another one (which surprised me—seems like airports would have lots of those hanging around).  I was worried that we had lost our takeoff slot, but that turned out not to be the case.  We zoomed down the taxiway, held at the runway for less than half a minute while another plane landed, and were in the air about one hour after the advertised push-back-from-the-gate time.

They served us a late breakfast.  I opted for what was said to be scrambled eggs and sausage; but what I got was a pastry shell holding what was supposed to be scrambled eggs, but was nothing of the sort.  There was no egg flavor and no yellow yolk color.  There was lots of red and green in it, though.  It was edible, but IMO yet another example of food that was more pretentious than tasty.  The sausage was a bit mild, but otherwise OK.

The rest of the flight “met expectations”, and we touched down a bit after 13:00−10, just about half an hour late.  (Anyone who enjoys riding on Amtrak certainly can’t complain about that! 😎 )

ca. 13:30:

After a while, the equipment that lowered the wheelchair passengers from the aircraft door to the ground showed up, but it wouldn’t lower all the way.  Two airport employees, the operator of the equipment and I guess a maintenance person, kept trying and trying but couldn’t get it all the way to the ground.  The old saw about trying the same thing and expecting different results came easily to mind.  Finally, one of the wheelchair pushers noticed an external microswitch that hadn’t closed, so he flipped it up with his fingers and everything worked as designed. 😎

About that time, I noticed that the pocket I usually carry my wallet in was empty.  Oh, no!  My driver’s license, credit card, debit card …!  I distinctly remembered putting my wallet in the tray that goes through the TSA scanner at SFO, but I had no memory of putting it back in my pocket on the other side.  Suddenly my stress level went way up; and because I was wearing a suit* (not the proper attire for Hawaiʻi when it’s 80°F in the shade), I was now sweating like a pig.

Fortunately, I had enough cash with me to pay for the taxi from the airport to the hotel; and I was able to check in to the hotel because they already had the credit card info from when I had made the reservation, and I had brought my passport along “just in case” and so was able to prove that I was indeed the person I claimed to be.

My room wasn’t quite ready yet, so while waiting, I had occasion to reach into a front pocket, and lo and behold, there was my wallet.  I had stupidly put it in the wrong pocket in San Francisco (*duh*).  Please feel free to laugh at me; I don’t mind a bit being laughed at when I deserve it:  it’s a learning experience, and that’s a Good Thing. 😎

So I’m now stress-free, all cleaned up, dressed in more Hawaiʻi-friendly attire, full of a good supper, and ready for my meeting in the morning.


*I always wear a suit when I travel, partly because I guess (without evidence) that I get treated better, but mostly because I like having the coat pockets for all my stuff.