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The New York-Chicago Amtrak Cardinal is named for the state bird of each state of the train's route from Virginia to Illinois.

Riding on that New River Train

A Holiday Outing from West Virginia to Philadelphia

by Colleen Anderson

Charleston, West Virginia

Want to get into the holiday spirit? I did, so I booked a trip on Amtrak's Cardinal from Charleston, West Virginia to Philadelphia for a few days of shopping, museum-hopping and sightseeing in the big city.

Snow flew and fluttered beside the train, and the white-dusted mountains resembled a Christmas postcard scene for the first part of the journey, as the train wound its way through the dramatic New River Gorge, a national river. There's probably no better way to view this (actually) ancient river and the historic coal towns scattered along it. Inside the train, I was warm and comfy, writing my own Christmas cards.

Philadelphia's 30th Street Union Station is a wonderful welcome to the urban experience: the huge, glittery building is beautiful, historic and amazingly convenient for travelers, since it is also a main stop for Philly's commuter train system. Here, I found I was literally minutes away from the Reading Terminal Market, a massive cornucopia of fresh food and ethnic specialties, as well as Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, outstanding museums, fantastic shopping and Macy's holiday light show, a 50-year-old tradition.

Five days in Philadelphia: my gift to myself. I toured the very rooms where the US came into being. I ate wonderful foods, including an authentic Philly soft pretzel with yellow mustard (buy it at a newstand) and a memorable meal at Ta hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant in Philly's Mount Airy neighborhood (Zagat rates it among the best in the city). I spent whole afternoons in some dazzling museums, marveling over everything from Philadelphia's famous mummers to Egyptian mummies.

Riding home, sated and sleepy, I especially enjoyed the New River Gorge and the approach to my home at night. Now the darkened West Virginia hills were dotted with light displays. The twinkling lights seemed to welcome me home and, as the train pulled into the Charleston depot, I affixed a stamp to my last Christmas card.