Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Back on the Adirondack

En route on Amtrak No. 68, The Adirondack—Right now, we’re passing Lake George, just went by Crown Point, which fell during the Revolutionary War shortly after Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain Boys surprised the British by taking Fort Ticonderoga, a few minutes ahead, “in the name of the great god Jehovah and the Continental Congress.” It’s just past three in the afternoon and we left Montreal at 9:30 this morning, which tells you that this train doesn’t exactly highball its way to New York.

As with the train we took to Montreal, this one is filled with Montreal Jazz Festival attendees, which may be why U.S. customs took almost 1½ hours to clear us at the border. We’re also running late because the northbound train was late in reaching the siding at Westport, on Lake Champlain, where each train must wait for the other because there are no other places for them to pass. I’m not sure why they were late, given that there’s a long stop at Albany, which I hope our train will shorten in order to make up some time.

All of which sounds pretty ridiculous when discussing an 11-hour train trip that covers 381 miles. I figured the major stretch on the old Delaware & Hudson route, which begins north of Schenectady, would be the slow part and I was right. Part of the cause must be the condition of the roadbed, and also that the route is curvy. Having said that, I’m entranced by the beauty of Lake George, with its islands and the Adirondack backdrop out the other side of the train. Lake Champlain is more formidable—at times, you think it might be another of the Great Lakes where you can barely see Vermont on the far side—but this stretch from Ticonderoga to Whitehall is spectacular.

I do wonder if this train is normally this crowded—a sell-out both ways. By Amtrak’s standards, especially if you buy a ticket well ahead of travel, this trip is a bargain. There’s a café car that’s not much different from the ones on the Northeast run between Washington and Boston. No old New York Central or D&H dining cars on this day train—as in all-day. And no observation car as may be found on some of the Western routes and the famed VIA Canada Toronto-Vancouver Canadian route. Nothing fancy, not even Amtrak’s pale imitation of the old Pullman car: business class.

We’ve had fantastic weather on this trip—sunny and clear every day, which I suppose gives a somewhat misleading impression of both Montreal and this North Country of New York State. On the right I keep seeing still water and verdant meadows with mountains in the background, right out of one of those Frederic Remington paintings of the Adirondack scene. All you need is someone out there in a canoe.

You do get to see Albany, with all those wonderful old buildings such as the old D&H Gothic marvel, modeled after the Weavers Hall in Ypres, Belgium, or even the old, massive and overdone State Capitol. Rocky’s Stalinesque Mall looms in the background and then it’s over the bridge to Rensselaer, where the station serving Albany is actually located.

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