Amtrak Makes a Comeback
I love train travel. Maybe it’s just in my blood—one of my great–grandfathers worked for the Erie–Lackawanna Railroad in the early 20th century. Maybe it’s because I ride a train up and down the eastern shore of the Hudson River every working day. Or maybe it’s just because at an early age I fell hard for the lonesome whistle of a passing locomotive. Whatever the reason, riding the rails has always been my preferred way of getting from Point A to Point B.
So I was heartened to read Ron Nixon’s piece in the New York Times reporting that Amtrak has staged a comeback, especially in the Northeast Corridor between New York and Washington, where it now accounts for 75 percent of travelers. Amtrak, a for–profit corporation established in 1971 and subsidized by the U.S. Department of Transportation, reports that annual nationwide ridership is at an all–time high of 30 million. Since 2000, when the company introduced its high–speed Acela trains, it has steadily grabbed Northeast market share away from airline shuttles due in part to rising airfares, heightened airport security in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and the overall hassle of delayed flights and surface transportation to and from airports.
I can personally attest to the glories of commuting on a train—in fact, much of what you read in Budget Travel has either been written or edited from a window seat on Metro North’s Hudson line. Unlike airlines, Amtrak offers the traveler power outlets, Wi–Fi on select routes, and the ability to use mobile phones throughout the trip.
Ready to ride? Amtrak’s fares from New York to Washington D.C. start at $49 one way. And of course trains operate other well–traveled routes across the U.S.: A midweek overnight on the City of New Orleans will get you from Chicago to New Orleans for $117, and the Pacific Surfliner coasts from San Luis Obispo, Calif., to Los Angeles midweek for $40.
Tell me about the last time you rode a train—and whether you’re ready to hop aboard again.
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Proposed $7 Billion Redesign for Washington's Union Station: Crazy or Inspired?
One of most iconic sights in Washington, D.C., is Union Station. Rebuilt in 1988, the Beaux Arts-building has become a favorite rest stop because of the prettily decorated vaulting roof of its main hall and the spacious food court on the basement level. But Union Station has also become the second-busiest Amtrak station in the country, after New York City's Penn Station. Growth has been rapid, with more people taking the train between DC and New York than taking the plane -- the statistical reverse of a dozen years ago. Amtrak believes the station needs to expand to cope with demand. Surprisingly, Amtrak has put forward a plan for renovating the building that will cost $7 billion. Behind the historic hall, which would stay as it is as a "front door" to the station, Amtrak would build a glass-enclosed structure, replace the current parking garage, and double the number of trains the station can handle over the next 20 years. Slate magazine has pointed out that the project is "insanely" expensive. The $7 billion pricetag is a lot more than similar projects elsewhere have cost, such as the roughly $1.2 billion the U.K. spent to renovate its St. Pancras rail station to handle Eurostar trains to Paris. That said, images of the planned makeover are pretty. One of the biggest changes would be to copy Europe's style of having passengers board trains from underneath a glass roof instead of in a dark tunnel. What do you think of the proposed renovation? SHARE YOUR OPINION IN THE COMMENTS. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL Is High-Speed Train Travel the Way of the Future? The Guys of Mad Men Think So! (19 comments) Amtrak Loses $32 Per Rider on Average (52 comments) America's Most Scenic Train Rides
Italy's Cinque Terre Bounces Back Almost One Year After Floods
On October 25, 2011, a rogue rainstorm struck Italy's Cinque Terre area, causing floods and mudslides that nearly destroyed the scenic seaside villages of Vernazza and Monterosso—the other three towns, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore were not affected. Remarkably, their communities came together—with little to no assistance from the Italian government—and managed to rebuild the two towns in time for the summer tourist season. The majority of the restaurants, B&Bs;, and hotels are now open, but check this list of re–openings from Vernazza, and this list of re–openings from Monterosso, before you go. For more information and updates on which Cinque Terre hiking trails are still undergoing construction, click here. I visited Italy in May with my family, and the best part of our trip was the time we spent meeting the locals and wandering the five beautiful towns that make up the Cinque Terre on Italy's northwestern coast. We found out firsthand why European tourists had always visited this part of Italy, and why Americans were just starting to flock to it as well. The Cinque Terre even made Budget Travel's list of most beautiful paths, where hiking trails reign and cars are few and far between. SEE THE PHOTOS: 13 Travel–Inspiring Scenes From Italy's Cinque Terre. I recently shared my travel tips for visiting Rome. Here are three tips for visiting the Cinque Terre area. Invest in a Cinque Terre Train Card. For about $12 per adult, the Cinque Terre Card gives you unlimited access to the trails, including the super-scenic Via dell'Amore walk as well as unlimited regional train rides between Levanto and La Spezia until midnight. Just remember to sign the card and validate or stamp it before you board, and you're good to go. The daily train card costs $7 for children ages 4–12, and $10 for anyone over age 70. Families can save by buying the family card for roughly $32, as long as you're traveling with two adults and up to two children under age 12. Stay in the five Cinque Terre towns, or just outside them. In an attempt to experience more everyday Italian live, we chose to stay in Levanto, one town north of the five towns, and use regional trains (included in the Cinque Terre Train Card mentioned above) to get around. During the summer months, Levanto turns into a major European beach destination, best known for its surfing. It was only a five minute train ride to Monterosso, and twenty minutes to Riomaggiore, the southernmost Cinque Terre town. There were also a number of boat options to reach the five towns, but be flexible, since the phrase "on time" is relative in Italy. Don't be afraid to talk to the locals, even if your Italian isn't so great. When we finally arrived in Levanto after a long train trip from Lake Como, we were tired, hungry, and lost. Dragging around an over–sized suitcase each wasn't helping either. My sister approached a group of women with baby carriages, and asked for directions in as much Italian as she could muster—at which point one woman waved us over and proceeded to lead us clear across town to the front door of our B&B;, La Rosa dei Venti, where we were greeted with open arms by the owner, Mama Rosa. The amount of kindness shown to complete strangers like us was overwhelming, especially when Mama Rosa gave us a kiss on each cheek and told us we should have dinner at her favorite restaurant, La Loggia, a place we never would have found without her. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL 5 Beautiful Reasons to Love Venice City Passes in Italy: Worth It or Not? Secret Hotels of Italy
Have You Ever Gone On A Regional Food Quest?
Last weekend, I drove up to Maine with a car full of friends. Sure, we wanted to see rocky beaches and pristine forests and boat–filled harbors, but let’s face facts: we were really in it for the seafood. And more specifically, the lobster rolls. In a sense, we were on a food quest, with the express purpose of trying as many different iterations of the same regional specialty as possible in one weekend. Think of it as a shellfish odyssey. But you can’t go into a food pilgrimage without a solid game plan. Here are tips for making the most of your dining quest: Do your research to ensure variety: One of the major dangers of a food quest is that you run the risk of getting sick of the key dish really quickly. How many Philly cheesesteaks can you eat before hitting a Cheez Whiz wall? How many bowls of chowder? Slices of key lime pie? Do your homework early and look for dishes with creative twists on the classic. We found modern takes on the lobster roll at Cape Elizabeth’s Bite Into Maine, which lets diners top their sandwiches with wasabi, chipotle, or curry powder. Ask non–foodie locals: Sure, the award–winning chef at the neighborhood locavore favorite will have outstanding food recommendations. Or the guy behind the counter at the cheese store. Or the sommelier. But don’t be shy about asking locals who have nothing to do with the industry where they like to eat. We got some under–the–radar finds from a lighthouse keeper! Take both sides in restaurant rivalries: Most cities with any remotely serious food scene will have a legendary restaurant rivalry. Which side do you choose? New Haven clam pies—Sally’s or Pepe’s? Philly cheesesteaks—Pat’s or Geno’s Steaks? The list goes on and on. If a restaurant is popular enough to warrant a rabid fan–base, it must be doing something right. So instead of choosing, go to both and then pick your team. Break up your gluttony: As much as you think a vacation can be based around a sandwich (I sure did!), don’t forget to feed something else other than your appetite. We achieved that by picking lobster spots in scenic locations with a view, such as the The Lobster Shack at Two Lights, which looked out on rocky shores and a white lighthouse. Have you ever gone on a foodie quest? What did you eat and where? MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL America's Best Food Regions 5 Secret Restaurants in Barcelona World's Best Street Food
London After the Olympics: New Attractions and Affordable Hotels
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