Coast to Coast by Rail - Road Trip Q&A
When the opportunity to travel crosscountry by train is presented, there’s no turning it down. Our journey started in Los Angeles, CA and took us all the way to Washington, DC, with stops at some of iconic destination-cities on the way.
Our travel companion, Sankara Subramanian, Founder of “Be on the Road,” a popular travel brand and one of the top 10 travel blogs in India, was as glad to be on board as we were to host him. We hit the rails with anticipation and excitement. Sankara is the founder of a travel consulting startup, public speaker on travel, and a freelance travel writer with photography and writings in National Geographic Traveller India Magazine, BBC Worldwide, Economic Times, Jet Airways In-Flight magazine, The Times of India, and many more publications. His depth of knowledge and, similarly, his curiosity about the world at large, is astonishing and captivating to say the least, and travelling across the United States with him was an honour and a privilege. We asked him about his impressions of his cross-country USA journey and here is what he had to say.
Q: What was the most unique place you visited and why?
A: That place has to be New Orleans. This city with its rich French and Spanish history is so unlike the rest of the country. Its festive spirit, its food, its dangerous sounding cocktails, its taboos, the mighty Mississippi and much more make it my favourite city in the United States of America.
Q: What was the most delicious thing you ate on the trip and why was it so amazing?
A: Bourbon Bread Pudding in New Orleans. I am a connoisseur of good whiskey and absolutely love quality bourbon. I also have a sweet spot for delicious dessert. Thus, when you mix great bourbon with a great dessert, it automatically finds a way to the top of my favourites list.
Q: What was the most visually beautiful thing you saw on the trip and why was it so impressive?
A: Crossing Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana by train. It had been raining heavily and Lake Pontchartrain was brimming with water. When the train crossed the lake, we had water kissing both sides of the railway tracks and it felt like we had suddenly transformed from train travel to boat travel. This experience was quite surreal as you don’t often cross a mighty mass of water on a train.
I have never experienced this anywhere either at home or in any other country.
Q: Tell us a funny story that happened on the road or a surprising fact that you learned - specific to an experience you had, the USA itself, or the people you met.
A: I am sure you will break out into a broad smile when I tell you this.
When I visited Washington DC on this trip, it was my first trip to the capital city and like all first time visitors; I was extremely keen on seeing the White House, the seat of power and one of the most iconic buildings in the world. However, I was at a total loss when I stood in front of the White House. The reason…the image of the White House didn’t match the image of the White House that I have seen in the various movies. For some reason, I had visualised the White House to have a big white dome and when I was standing in front of it, I was frantically searching for that dome. It was only later that I figured out that I had confused the White House with the Capitol Building. Apparently, I was not the only guy with the flummoxed look. My American friend and other tourists shared the same look of shock!
Q: What were your impressions of travelling in the USA before this cross-country trip?
A: I had always known the United States to be a vast country, but having never stepped foot east of Texas on my previous visits, I was totally blown away at the sheer diversity in landscapes from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. From rolling surf on the West Coast to the super organised streets of D.C. and from the vast desert of Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico to the swamps of Louisiana, the Southern half of the United States is full of interesting landscapes, cultures, history and so much more.
But, the key thing that piqued my interest is that I came to realise that even though the United States is a fairly new country, it has quite a rich history and culture. This was something that I had never imagined as I had never studied American history in my school days and I was happy to discover it.
Q: What do you think an international traveller would find the most interesting about your trip?
A: We travel across country with the Millennium Train Project (MTP), which was quite a special experience. It is not every day that you travel in custom designed train cars from the classic era with open dome tops, private bedrooms, lounges, kitchen and more.
But, having said that, each location that I visited on the MTP journey was different. I felt like each day was a high. From the Hollywood life of LA to the vibrant colonial culture of New Orleans, from the quiet riverside town of San Antonio, Texas to the fishing town of Baltimore, Maryland and from the young festival crazy town of Austin to the capital of the United States, exploring each location was a journey in itself.
I think any international traveller to the United States of America would appreciate the diversity in landscapes, its vastly different locations and of course traveling by train as train travel offers a unique perspective.
Q: What advice would you give a traveller wanting to brave a cross-country trip by rail?
A: Go for it and I promise that you will enjoy every bit of it. It might be slower than road travel, but the unique perspective is something that you will enjoy. Personally, I would rather sit in a comfortable train car, see the scenery go by and make connections with locals than drive past miles and miles of desert.
Q: Is there anything else you would like to add about the trip experience?
A: Well, this MTP train journey was a one of a kind trip for me. Coming from India, I am used to train journeys, but this MTP train ride was in a league of its own and to experience this league with some great people and stunning landscapes was a treat for my senses.
This train trip has now piqued my interest and I am now keen on exploring the northern route from Seattle to Boston. Keeping my fingers crossed so that day comes soon!!
Please visit www.beontheroad.com to read more Sankara's travel blogs.