Sunday, January 07, 2018

North to Alaska, sorry, Portland...

We were tired of the cold of New Hampshire, so it was time to head north for the weekend, using the Amtrak Northeaster service, which runs between Boston’s North Station and Brunswick, Maine.

I am, I must admit, not hugely impressed by Amtrak. Their rolling stock is primitive by European standards, their locomotives underpowered and speeds embarrassingly low for the most part, which explains why Americans don’t use them much. And, upon arrival at the Dover Transportation Center, the news that there wasn’t any news about our train was slightly disturbing. It turned out that a switch had frozen near Exeter, New Hampshire, blocking the line, and trains were being rerouted. The previous train, due two hours earlier, was yet to arrive.

What to do? Portland is only an hour away by train, and not much further by car, and there was a debate about whether or not to drive. We were having the discussion when, good news, trains were moving and we would only lose twenty minutes or so.

One thing that must be said about Amtrak is that their carriages are warm and cosy, and you wouldn’t have guessed that it was minus 16 degrees outside. And so we made our way north, into Maine.

At Portland, I was surprised to notice that the platform is only really long enough to handle one carriage, thus all passengers exit the train through one set of doors. Portland is a terminal station but, like so much of Amtrak, is built to the cheapest scale imaginable, a rather bleak concrete platform with a little shelter and not much in the way of facilities. The only saving grace it has is that, as a Transportation Center, you can connect to long distance buses to further points across Maine and the surrounding States. But it’s quite a way from the downtown area, in a neighbourhood that doesn’t encourage walkers.

We grabbed a cab, driven by a friendly Sudanese guy, and headed for our hotel.

The Press Hotel is the former headquarters of the local newspaper, and is described as a “lifestyle boutique” hotel. I have no idea what this means, but there are newspaper references everywhere, old typewriters liberally distributed about the place, and interesting features abound. All very hipster...

It is, still, very cold...

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