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When Sophia, my sister, casually suggested taking the train for our San Francisco to New York trip in February, I could not shake the idea out of my mind. I began researching online—blogs, reviews, forums, news—and discovered Amtrak’s California Zephyr, the train which experienced travelers say is the most beautiful train trips in all of North America.

The Route

San Francisco • Salt Lake City • Denver • Chicago

The California Zephyr takes you from the City by the Bay, the High Sierras, the Utah Desert, Glenwood Canyon, through the Continental Divide, over the front range of the Rockies to Denver, and across the American heartland through Midwest’s Windy City.

Scheduling intentionally placed the trains in the grandeur of the Feather River and Rocky mountains during daylight hours, while the Nevada deserts and plains states were crossed at night. This practice allowed passengers the most breath taking views of the route during the daytime.

California Zephyr Route

“Two days in a train!” Most people we know thought it was a crazy idea. Some of my friends wondered how a couple, who has been married since forever, could survive being in tiny space for so long. “Why not just fly?” they’d say.

Taking a flight is definitely much cheaper in comparison to the California Zephyr ticket that we booked. An aircraft will also transport us to our destination in just a few hours. But how much of mainland America will we be able to see from the sky?

The History

American-Rails.com

On Saturday, March 19th, 1949 the California Zephyr made it’s only appearance in San Francisco proper (because its station is located in Emeryville, CA). The first eastbound run began at 9:30 am PST the following morning on March 20th, 1949 and was immediately splashed by the railroads as “The most talked about train in America”.

Every female passenger onboard was presented a lavish corsage of  orchids flown in from Hilo, Hawaii for the occasion. To add to the festive atmosphere, the Western Pacific Employee Band was present to supply music for the departure. Thus a legend in passenger train history was born.

One Way Fare: San Francisco to Chicago

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It has taken me several weeks to make up my mind before allowing Masood to finally purchase the ticket. One day I’d tell him to go ahead and book the train tickets, the next day I’d tell him to wait while I think about it some more, and yet the following day I’d give him a list of reasons why splashing on this trip was worth it, trying to convince myself more than I was convincing him. We had to take the Superliner Bedroom, there was simply no other way we were going to do this, and it costs much more than an economy direct flight — $1961 vs $500!

Bedroom Rates

The fare also includes checked baggage service for 2 Bags – 50 lbs each, and meals.

The Superliner Bedroom 

The two main reasons for booking the Superliner Bedroom are privacy and comfort.

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California Zephyr has double-decker cars providing a better view of the passing scenery. All Bedrooms are located on the upper level of the double-decker Superliner train cars, the rooms being 10-plus feet above the platform means no one at the station stops can see into your room so you can keep your curtains drawn.

I wear the hijab so the privacy of the bedroom allowed me to remove my headscarf and travel comfortably. The room has a door with curtains and a lock so those are also plus points. And there’s a private bathroom. You can easily and quite conveniently made wudu and offer salah.

Bedroom Facilities

Unlimited Juice and Coffee – While Supply Lasts

snacks

Dress Rack, electrical outlet and switches:

coatrack

A tiny sink with mirror (and lights!) and the door to a bathroom with shower:

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The lower berth:

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The sofa converts to a nice and spacious bed. The upper berth is narrower and climbing the ladder is tricky if you have a large body frame. Masood slept on the upper berth and said it was okay for him. The lower berth, being wider, was very comfortable.

The pillows are flimsy so if you can, bring your own pillow. And the blankets are, well, scratchy. So if you can, bring your own blanket as well. But if you’re an international traveler like us, don’t bother with the additional luggage and make do with what Amtrak provides.

Also, the partitions between the bedrooms are paper-thin, therefore, anything but a very subdued conversation can be overheard by whoever is in the adjacent bedroom.

Fresh towels, toilet paper and soap are provided. The bathroom is the same size as those in the aircrafts, except that Amtrak provides a shower head as well. The width of the bathroom wall is shoulder-to-shoulder, so imagine the talent and skill required to take a shower in a moving train. But I’ll forever be grateful for a private bathroom for such a long trip and will be willing to pay for it.

The bedroom is generally a safe place to leave stuff, but I think it’s still not a good idea to leave valuables lying around. Remember, the door locks from the inside but not outside.

You can find videos on Youtube should you wish to see the room and amenities in more detail.

As a hijabi Muslimah, I would say that the Superliner Bedroom is definitely worth the money, specially if you’re taking the entire west coast to east coast trip. 

Being able to stretch your legs and sleep comfortably during your journey assures that you reach your destination fresh and well-rested.

Also, it’s worth noting that even at premium prices, these bedrooms are still very popular and if you want one, especially on more popular trains such as the California Zephyr, book well in advance!

In the next posts I’ll share my thoughts about the dining car, the inclusive meals, Amtrak’s customer service, pros/cons, tips, etc.

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Ahmed drove skillfully up and down the mountains, passing several towns along the way. The sun shone relentlessly and, without the sunglasses on, it was almost painful to look outside. The SUV’s air-conditioning was set on the lowest temperature. I wondered how people traveled on camels back then.

We were out for an excursion since nine in the morning, right after breakfast. By noon, it felt like we had been outside the whole day, our body demanding water every few minutes and absorbing it all.

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At one point, none of us actually cared where Ahmed was taking us. We just let him lead the way. We saw more camels walking on the road, much to my fascination. We’d wait for them to walk to the side of the road, and when they chose to ignore us, we’d honk. It didn’t really matter to them for they  still took their own sweet time anyway.

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We eventually stopped at a place called Tawi Atair. “There is sinkhole here,” said Ahmed, parking the car, careful not to hit any of the cows. We looked around. “Where exactly?” To which he replied, “You walk down.” I wasn’t too concerned about the walking part as much as I was with walking down. This meant that I will have to walk all the way back up, and it was just too hot to contemplate that. But I can’t leave without seeing the sinkhole, so we smiled, pretended it was a fine spring morning, and walked down the path that led to the sinkhole.

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The sinkhole of Tawi Atair, one of the largest sinkholes in the world, was possibly formed after the collapse of pre-existing cave’s roof. It is 692 feet (211 meters) deep.

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The imposing vertical walls of the sinkhole contain multiple dripstone formations – stalactites, stalagmites and others. These formations are located at different heights, which meant that earlier, when the ceiling of this sinkhole had not yet collapsed, there used to be a cave, and this cave had eroded downwards.

But this structure is special not only due to its size; deep in its depths lives a unique type of fish.

Garra dunsirei Banister, 1987

Photo credit: biolib.cz

Categorized as “endangered”,  a recent estimate of total population size is less than 250 individuals. This species is known only from one locality, in a sinkhole at Tawi Atair and was discovered by researcher of Arabian caves, Andy Dunsire. The species is only found in pools 200m down the sinkhole. Specimens were collected from a side passage.

This unique organism lives only in this cave and there are no other freshwater fishes in 600 km radius. The Garra dunsirei Banister has very small eyes and seems to have weak vision. In the total darkness of the cave, this fish uses tentacles and other senses, not vision. It is pale yellow, some 3 – 6 cm long.

Meanwhile … 

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One can’t really see much of the sinkhole except its walls, but it’s still an impressive place to visit. There is a huge tamarind tree laden with sweet, ripe fruit. Alas, it was beyond our reach. I wonder if the sinkhole ever filled up with water when it rained heavily.

This place is also great for bird watchers. I’ve seen several beautiful colorful birds flying over and inside the immense space, their coos and twitters echoing between the vertical walls of the sinkhole. I’ll remember to bring a zoom lens on my next visit to Oman.

While we were busy peering down the sinkhole, Masood was busy photographing his toy.

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Posted in Salalah | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments
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I think it’s safe to say that everyone looks forward to their yearly holiday. For a week or two you get to remove yourself from the hustle and bustle of the city and your stressful job and instead lie on the beach at a luxury hotel in Dubai, catch a tan and let all of your worries slip away.

However, it’s important to look after your overall health while you are away on holiday and not slip into bad habits in order to return home feeling rested and refreshed. In this article we are going to look at five simple and easy to remember holiday health tips that you can apply to your next vacation:

Don’t Skip Meals 

Just because you skip breakfast or lunch does not mean that you can enjoy a larger meal later on in the day. It is more detrimental to your health to skip a meal than it is to eat a proper meal at breakfast, lunch and dinner, simply because you will arrive at your next meal starving and – most probably – overeat. Rather eat normally during the day and try not to eat more than you normally do if you are eating at a buffet. Lastly, don’t deprive yourself of a treat every now and again – it won’t be the end of the world if you have a slice of cake as long as you don’t overdo it.

 Opt for a Healthier Option 

Holidays are the perfect time to try all of the new, exciting and local cuisines on offer, and with so much to choose from, there will always be the temptation of wanting to try absolutely everything – whether it’s healthy or not. But instead of over indulging in all of the unhealthy local foods, try to opt for a healthier option every now and again to give your body a rest. Your body may not be used to eating so much food that is high in fat, for example, and by eating too much of those food you will start to feel sluggish and bloated. To stop this from happening, choose to eat a salad or another healthier meal option at least once a day.

Get Moving 

Most travellers take the opportunity to do absolutely nothing while on holiday, choosing to sleep in, lie on the beach, or put their feet up for the majority of their time off. Although it is wise to give your body and mind the rest it needs, it is also advisable to use some of your time off to get moving. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should take time out of your holiday to go to the gym, instead it means taking the stairs instead of the lift, doing a couple of laps in the pool while you’re cooling off, or taking the chance to walk off your lunch while sight-seeing. 

Free Your Mind 

Resist the urge to check work emails. It will keep your mind clear and allow you to decompress. This is your time away with your friends or family after all. It also helps to dedicate a few minutes solely to yourself, in a quite spot, to meditate and relax your mind and body.

Get Enough Shut Eye

Holidays are the perfect opportunity for you to rest and catch up on some much needed sleep you are deprived of back home. The stress of work or late night shifts can really affect your body clock, and your holiday provides you with the ideal time to reset and get back to normal. This doesn’t mean that you should be in bed by 8pm every evening, instead let your body tell you when it’s tired, and when it is time to go to bed. Also refrain from setting an alarm on your phone, instead let your body wake up naturally by itself when it is fully rested. There will be exceptions – for example if you have booked a day trip – but set aside one or two nights or mornings to let your body boss you around and tell you what it needs.

By following the five tips above you will return home feeling refreshed and rested, ready to go back to work and take on the world.

This is a guest post written by Ibtisaam Ganief.

 

 

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