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The beautifully restored, pre-Civil war Martinsburg hotel was spared a torching by General "Stonewall" Jackson.
We move on toward Harper's Ferry, the starting point of the Lewis and Clark expedition and the site of the first railroad crossing of the Potomac on the first structural steel bridge in the world. There is so much to see in this place that lies at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, but the journey doesn't end here, so we whoosh past the town and into the Harpers Ferry Tunnel. Like rabbits poking our heads out of a top hat, we magically arrive in Maryland once we emerge on the other side.
Just one more stop before DC, so I scurry back to my bedroom to prepare for departure.
A Shooting Star — Silver Meteor
It's still snowing in Minnesota. I can't help but feel grateful (and secretly smug) about the sunshiny 75-degree day I've just spent wandering DC. Slightly sunburned and with sore feet, I'm ready to climb aboard the Silver Meteor and resume my journey to Savannah.
Originating in Boston, the Silver Meteor traverses some of the largest cities on the eastern seaboard, navigating her way down to the lush and history-filled south, until reaching her final destination of Jacksonville, FL.
We're barely underway before it's time for dinner. A boy of three in the booth next to mine begins a game of peek-a-boo, leaning around his mother and grinning at me, then giggling and hiding when I wave at him.
After a delicious flat iron steak, coffee and cheesecake (which I hardly ever eat) I wander back to the Café Car where I meet two men who are chatting amicably. Pedro is the more animated of the two, both in dress and banter. He tells me he has 13 kids, 30 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren and that he's returning home from a month-long visit with them all in Long Island.
Savannah bound at sunset aboard the Silver Meteor.
"Too much stress!" he says, "so I jumped on the train." Pedro is a Vietnam Vet who feels safer traveling by train than flying. "Plus, I get to meet a lot of people," he grins, nodding at the man to whom he'd been talking.
As it turns out, Robert and Pedro only just met in the Café Car, but like most folks on the train, there's a willingness to socialize that doesn't seem to exist elsewhere. Robert is on his way to Florence, SC, to see his four-year-old granddaughter.
"I'd rather kick back and ride [the train] than drive. It just feels good to relax," he tells me. "Plus, it's a kinder, gentler world when people can meet and just talk."
When I return to my room, my attendant, Shawn, is busy folding down my bed for the night. We chat about his nine-month-old baby while he works.
"When does a parent stop worrying about their kids?" he asks.
My own kids are 28 and 21. "I'll let you know," I tell him.
It's early morning in Savannah when we arrive, and the sky looks cranky. The forecast is for strong winds and rain, not weather that bodes well for my plans — beach day on Tybee Island, dolphin-spotting evening cruise, and a weekend exploring Savannah's squares, monuments and River Walk. I keep my fingers crossed, hoping things improve.
Like his co-workers, Silver Meteor Sleeper Car Attendant, Shawn Watt, delivers service with kindness, humor and always a smile.
Despite blustery rains the first day, the sun eventually won the tug-a-war with the clouds, and the weekend in Savannah was lovely.
Worn out from walking, I'm happy to be waiting in the Savannah Amtrak station as the sun fades and the Silver Meteor's whistle signals her approach.
Doris, my dinner companion this night, is headed to Long Island, NY, returning from Jupiter, FL. She takes the train twice each year, spending six months in both locations with her husband. But Doris hates to fly, so while her husband flies the airlines, she rides Amtrak.
Roughly the same age, the miles we cover on the train echo our conversation about our passage through life. The changes that happen so quickly — marriage, kids, grandkids — and the bits of wisdom we somehow (miraculously) managed to collect along the way. We share photos of our families and rave a bit about the cheesecake. (Which we barely touched, I swear.)
I realize how profoundly grateful I am for this opportunity every time I meet someone new on the train. As we journey toward the horizon, encounters like these constantly expand mine. "Safe travels" we wish one another. "Sleep well."
Overnight we'll pass through South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia, through towns rich with history — colonist settlements, Native American lands, the front lines of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, and many other places of historical significance. I wish for a month to explore the plantations and homes of Charleston, visit the battlefields of Fayetteville and walk the Liberty Trail in Richmond. Next time. [continued...]