This year’s annual Romance Writers of America’s conference was held in San Francisco–one of my favorite cities. My daughter decided to go with me, and now it’s one of her favorite cities, too.

I’m not crazy about flying so we decided to travel by train. We boarded Amtrak’s Coast Starlight at 9:30 a.m. and it pulled out of the Seattle station at 9:45. We had a small roomette, which has two comfortable seats and a small pull-out table during the daytime. All the comforts of home in less than twenty-five square feet! The sleeping cars are equipped with restrooms and showers, and complimentary tea, coffee, a variety of fruit juices, and bottled water are available all day. Taking a shower in a small stall on a moving has its challenges, but it’s definitely better than having no shower at all!

We had barely settled into our compartment when Jose, our car attendant, arrived at our door with two small bottles of California “champagne.” He also took that opportunity to tell us where we could find the dining car and the parlor car—meals for passengers with sleeping accommodation are included in the price of the ticket—and told us there would be a wine tasting event that afternoon. Tickets for the wine tasting were $5 and could be purchased from the attendant in the parlor car. And so we purchased two!

At this point we’d been on the train for less than an hour and were thinking we’d joined a non-stop party on wheels. And in case you’re wondering, we weren’t drinking champagne at that time of the morning. Not that we weren’t tempted. We actually brought the little bottles home with us. Here’s mine.

Later that morning, someone from the dining car stopped by our room to take our reservations for lunch. There are several seatings for lunch and dinner to accommodate all the passengers, and reservations are required.

The dining car has tables for four, so my daughter and I always sat with other people for our meals. At lunchtime we met a young couple from the UK. At dinner we sat with people from Portland, OR, and we had breakfast with a couple from Switzerland.

There’s no Internet service on the train but we could usually pick up a signal when the train stopped at a station. Here’s me in Portland, OR, getting a badly needed email fix.

The wine tasting was fun. We sampled four west coast wines—two reds and whites—Hogue Cellars Chardonnay (2006), Snoqualmie Whistle Stop Red (2006), Columbia Crest Shiraz Grand Estates (2006), and Columbia Winery Reisling (2006). They were paired with a variety of cheeses, also produced on the west coast, and crackers. I’ve never been a fan of white wines—to my palate they’re often a bit sharp and vinegary tasting—but the Columbia Winery Reisling turned out to be my favorite. At $25 a bottle, it was also the most expensive. During the tasting we sat with a nice young couple from Tacoma who were celebrating their ninth anniversary by taking a train trip to San Francisco.

At bedtime, Jose came to our room and turned our small space into bunk beds. My daughter graciously agreed to take the top bunk. She didn’t sleep very well but I sure did. After I’ve popped in the earplugs and slid the sleep mask into place, I can pretty much sleep anywhere.

Trains don’t always run on time, but the next morning ours pulled into Emeryville, CA, only about a half hour behind schedule. After a fond goodbye to Jose, we boarded an Amtrak bus that took us into San Francisco. The bus has several regular stops around the city—the Ferry Building, Fisherman’s Wharf, and the Westfield Shopping Center. Since the bus was going right past our hotel, the driver agreed to drop us off there. Talk about service!

We had arrived for our five-day sojourn in San Francisco, feeling like seasoned travelers. Instead of staying at the conference hotel, we were booked into an historic boutique hotel on Powell Street. On Thursday I’ll tell you all about it.

Until next time,

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