Seattle to Vancouver by Train

A train has to be one of my favourite modes of travel. Perhaps not battling for breathing space on the tube, but relaxing in comfort on a long distance train is hard to beat in my book.

 Travelling across an international border by train takes things to a higher level. It’s quite a few years since I went inter-railing across Europe, when there were still border crossings to navigate, but I still vividly recall the mixture of excitement and apprehension at reaching a far-flung border patrol in Eastern Europe at the dead of night.

And so I booked us onto Train 510, leaving Seattle King Street Station for Vancouver, at 7.45am on a bright Tuesday morning in July.

Four tickets cost us $126, which I thought seemed pretty reasonable, especially as it meant we didn’t need to spend another few hours waiting in airports.

There was, however, a pretty strange system to board the train. Rather than being allocated seats in advance, so that you can simply walk onto the train at 7.45am, we had to arrive at the station an hour before departure to check-in our luggage and receive a seat allocation. This was straight-forward enough to do, but it meant waking the kids slightly before their natural rising time, which is always a risk before a long journey.

Our wait in Seattle station was livened up by a very talkative Kiwi, who was making his way home to Vancouver Island. We chatted about New Zealand, which we hadn’t long departed, and inevitably drifted onto the subject of Rugby, which you are almost bound to do whenever meeting a true Kiwi. I couldn’t help but feel a tad envious of somebody lucky enough to have a New Zealand passport and a Canadian visa.

We boarded the Amtrak service and left Seattle on time, camera at the ready to capture the passing scenery as we journeyed north to the Canadian border. In between taking the kids on journeys to the buffet car, I spent most of the journey trying to master taking photos while moving at high-speed.

Seattle to Vancouver train

Seattle to Vancouver train

I just about managed to get a picture of a golden eagle, perched on the shore, but you might need to look quite hard to see it.

Golden eagle on the beach

Otherwise the journey was one long masterpiece, and it was only a shame that we couldn’t have spent longer exploring this stretch of coastline.

Seattle to Vancouver train

Seattle to Vancouver trainSeattle to Vancouver train

Border control was at Vancouver station, which caused a slight delay getting off the train, but it still felt incredible to be walking onto Canadian soil at just after lunchtime, having spent the morning in America.

Summer in Seattle

I’m not sure why you’d want your dinner to be chucked through the air, but a large crowd was baying for more fish flinging. We’d arrived at Pike’s Place Market and stumbled upon the fish counter. Huge specimens of fresh fish were in the process of being hurled, from the front of stage fish monger, to some brave men working behind the counter, who were being required to receive the weighty and very slippery-looking catch.

Pike Place Fish Market

Pike’s Place is the home of Starbucks, but we didn’t feel the need to pay homage to a chain of coffee shops, so instead we stayed and watched the fish throwing. We had to battle to get out of the crowd once our time was up, and the rest of Pike’s Place was seething with people browsing stalls of fruit, vegetables, flowers and assorted homemade objects.

Pike Place Market

Fresh cherries in Seattle

The view from the back of the market was worth the trip alone, with distant snow topped mountains framing a glorious view of Puget Sound.

We’d stopped for breakfast in the welcoming sounding Crumpet Shop. The crumpets were homemade and extremely tasty, but there was an almost overwhelming array of potential toppings to navigate. The kids played it safe with raspberry jam. I couldn’t decide and was feeling adventurous, so I opted for a savoury option of green tomatoes, with a helping of maple butter for pudding. This was more food than I needed for breakfast, but I felt like throwing caution to the wind.

The Crumpet Shop, Seattle

Fully sustained for the day ahead, we spent the morning exploring the stalls of Pike Place and then headed out to Space Needle. We got way laid for several hours in the Children’s Museum, which was stacked full of opportunities for the kids to explore and pretend play.

Space Needle, Seattle

The Chihuly glass exhibition was incredible to look at, but the edge was taken off it by worrying about whether the kids were about to touch / break one of the very expensive looking sculptures.

Chihuly Glass Exhibition, Seattle

With the crumpets walked off, we headed for the best pizza in town at Serious Pie. One of the major benefits of having children is that we don’t usually need to reserve a table for dinner. Eating bang on 5pm every day tends to ensure that we beat dinner rush hour.

Serious Pie was seemingly so popular, however, that a queue was forming as they were opening up. We were seated at a shared table, which caused an initial flurry of confused looks. Any apprehension that we might need to speak with strangers over dinner was soon overcome. Surely one of the best things about coming to America is how friendly everybody seems, and we were soon swapping holiday stories and life plans with a totally unknown family from California that just happened to be sharing our dinner table.

We went back to Serious Pie for dinner on our second day in Seattle and sat next to the same family again. I don’t think they were stalking us, but the pizza was very good and our second night felt like a family reunion.

Our brief stay in Seattle coincided with some beautiful summer weather, and on the basis of our experience, Seattle looked like a great place to live. The downtown area was vibrant, with buildings that were old enough to provide some character. The football and baseball stadiums were walkable from downtown, which is surely how it should be.

Steep streets of Seattle

Back To Reality

Around four months into our new life of not working, we’ve made the decision to come back to reality after six months of travelling. This is shorter than the full year we’d originally planned.

Before embarking on a year away, the kids were worried about missing school, missing their friends, and not having enough toys to play with. So far, they have loved most of the places we have visited, and have coped well with the constant changes of scenery and lack of routine.

But having never travelled for such a long period of time, choosing to go away for a year was always a slightly arbitrary aim. Six months now feels right.

This does mean, however, that our original itinerary goes out the window. After Australia, the plan was to spend a couple of months exploring the USA and Canada, followed by some time in Central America and back home via South East Asia.

We already had flights booked from Sydney to Los Angeles, via Hawaii, so we still intend to spend some time on the West Coast, but we’ll then skip back and finish our trip in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka was near the top of my wish list for this journey and I can’t wait to take the kids to see some real life elephants and enjoy curry for breakfast.

Aloha

Crossing the Pacific from Australia to the USA, it would have seemed a shame not to drop into Hawaii for a spot of beach time.

I’d booked our flight to Hawaii before we left the UK, because you need an exit flight confirmed in order to enter Australia. I don’t understand this rule, since if you were determined to hide in the outback then I’m pretty sure you could simply cancel your flight or not turn up at the airport.

It was a ten-hour flight from Sydney to Honolulu, although we managed to arrive before we took off, courtesy of crossing the international date line.

After landing in Honolulu, we were quickly submerged in tropical trees as we headed to the quieter east coast of O’ahu. It quickly became apparent that we were driving around the remnants of a giant volcano, now carpeted with a green baize of foliage.

Despite the rising temperatures and a local time of 10am, we were all ready for instant sleep by the time we arrived in our new home, in the small village of Ka’a’awa.

I had big plans to visit Pearl Harbour one day, but we spent most of the week luxuriating on the beach and enjoying the novelty of genuinely warm sea water. The kids couldn’t quite believe the sea could reach the same temperature as their bath. Even Anja managed to dip her toes into the water, having avoided any contact with the sea since our first couple of weeks in New Zealand.

Family travel blog

RTW family travel blog

RTW family travel blog

The east coast of O’ahu seemed relatively undeveloped, with none of the high-rise hotels of Honolulu and few visible tourists. Most of our days on the beach were spent with locals, enjoying a long weekend camping by the shore. Entire extended families appeared to have decamped for the weekend, setting up miniature villages on all available patches of grass.

Once the long weekend had passed, we had our pick of the best spots on any of the local beaches.

Family travel blog

Sunset beach on the north-east coast was our personal favourite. Travel brochure quality golden sand, some nice gentle waves for the kids to ride, and a small reef within ten metres of the shore for some leisurely snorkeling.

Family travel blog

RTW family travel blog

I did eventually manage to drag the kids off the beach for just long enough to pay a brief visit to Pearl Harbour, but only on our last day as were heading back to Honolulu airport and they didn’t have much choice but to join me.

I was pleased that we at least paid our respects, and the kids were in stitches because I tried to enter the active naval base through a military check-point. My UK driving licence was not sufficient to gain entry to the military base, so we had to settle for the tourist car park, which had less stringent entry criteria.

RTW family travel blog

A site of such historic importance no doubt warranted a more extensive visit than we managed, but with a plane to catch we only managed a whistle-stop tour.

Finally, I need to make a special mention for Uncle Bobo’s. When we first arrived in Ka’a’awa the food options appeared limited to a 7-11 store attached to the local petrol station. Whilst I am sure that 7-11 offers an excellent range of food in case of emergencies, the thought of a weeks’ worth of spam sushi wasn’t that appealing. Fortunately, in stepped a small barbeque joint called Uncle Bobos’. I got the sense that the restaurant had almost got too popular for its heavily over-worked owners, but we couldn’t get enough.

Next Time

Heading for the US of A and then Canada, that is assuming we’re allowed in and haven’t been caught in one of Mr Trump’s latest security initiatives. We’re visiting Seattle and then catching a train to Vancouver.

I am also currently in the midst of revising our travel plans. We have decided to head home after six months rather than our original plan of travelling for a year. Logically we should head east across the USA or Canada to complete a neat circle of the globe. However, we’ve decided instead to spend some time in Asia, so I’m scrambling to find the cheapest and least painful way of getting from Vancouver to London, via Asia.

Goodbye Australia

It seemed somehow fitting to end our tour of Australia in Sydney. In the city that you might assume was the capital, if you hadn’t paid too much attention in geography class.

The site of the first British colony in Australia, only 230 years ago. Selected due to its extremely accommodating natural harbour, which now provides Sydney with miles of expensive river front properties and a perfect setting for its two most iconic buildings.

RTW family travel

The opera house may be the most familiar building in Sydney, but for me, the harbour bridge dominates the scene. Built in the 1920’s to provide a road and rail link between Sydney’s central business district and its northern suburbs, the bridge has become an iconic landmark. You know you’re in Sydney when you spy the towering arched framework, which forces itself into view around almost every corner.

RTW family in Sydney

A visit to the Rocks museum, tucked away in a small stone warehouse down a maze of side streets, offered a glimpse into the effort that went into building the bridge. A black and white video was playing on loop, showing the extreme disregard for health and safety that prevailed in 1923.

Thousands of working class men were offered lucrative employment opportunities when construction started. But the money on offer was partly danger money, with a days’ work involving heavy manual labour on partially built steel girders, hanging hundreds of feet over the river below. Not the place to be if it should get a little wet, or windy, or both.

16 workers died during the building process and it seems surprising that the figure wasn’t even higher given the conditions.

Family travel blog

Manly

We were staying in Manly, around ten miles down river from the city centre. Manly harbour is the site where Captain Arthur Philip received a spearing from one of Sydney’s original inhabitants. It’s now a trendy commuter suburb, where one bed flats cost eye watering amounts and you’re not short of options for a morning coffee or afternoon gelato.

RTW family travel blog

To blend in with the locals, we decided to arrive in style by catching the commuter ferry from Sydney harbour. After an effortless train journey from the airport that directly connects to the harbour terminal, we set sail under warm blue skies. There can’t be many better daily commutes and it sure beats my usual run up the M4.

We made this same ferry journey twice a day, every day we were here. It was worth leaving the house just to stand at the front of the boat, enjoying a cooling breeze and watching Sydney’s incredible coastline unfold.

RTW family travel blog

Sydney Aquarium

Lexi loves an aquarium and we had high hopes for Sydney’s offering. After a journey involving two ferries, we pulled into Darling harbour and stood in line to be unburdened of some cash.

We learned that Octopus have eight hearts and blue blood, and that Dugongs are distant relatives of elephants and require feeding every ten minutes. That may seem excessive, but to be fair they only eat lettuce all day, which must get a bit boring.

RTW family in Australia

After several hours underwater, exploring everything from sharks to starfish, we eventually had to surface for some lunch.

Luna Park Take Two

Set almost directly beneath the harbour bridge, it hadn’t taken the kids very long to discover that Sydney was home to another Luna Park. We’d spent the whole day in St Kilda’s Luna Park during our stay in Melbourne, so it seemed unlikely that we’d escape another visit.

Luna Park is an old fashioned amusement park, but with modern day prices. We got good value out of our day in St Kilda, because the park was relatively quiet and the kids were able to go on most of the rides together, without having to muster up a brave adult to accompany them.

The park in Sydney had a different combination of rides, and Lexi was too small to go on anything exciting without a responsible parent in tow. This was unfortunate, because it meant I also had to go on some rides to keep Kiera company.

The kids did love the indoor play area, which contained a variety of wooden slides and some genuinely antique looking games.

Both kids seem to have inherited my competitive streak, so they particularly relished the opportunity to nudge some smaller kids down a spinning wheel contraption, to claim the title of last child standing.

Goodbye Australia

We arrived on 9th May and left on 3rd July, with our eight weeks spent touring around a fair-sized portion of the country.

Western Australia already feels like a slightly distant memory, but we won’t forget our first kangaroo spotting expedition, or the many hours we spent in Kings Park and Hilarys Harbour.

It was great to spend some time with my family in Adelaide. Hopefully next time will beat the previous 25-year gap.

As hoped, we all enjoyed the slightly cooler climate of Tasmania, with its laid back friendly atmosphere and the charming cobbled streets of Hobart.

Melbourne and Sydney were both cities where I could imagine spending more time in the future, with so many possibilities we only scratched the surface with a few days in each place.

I’d also like to take on another long distance Australian drive at some point, but on a more leisurely timetable than our RV relocation deal allowed.

But the kids have started to speak with an Australian twang and have memorised the timings of their favourite programmes on the ABC kids network, so it’s time to move on before we need to apply for a residency visa.

RTW family adventure

Next Time

We’re heading across the Pacific, with a stop off in the sunny island of Oahu, Hawaii. I can’t imagine we’ll often be passing by Hawaii, so it seemed an opportunity not to be missed. I’m hoping to visit Pearl Harbour, but I think the family may have other ideas in mind, possibly involving sun tan lotion and some inflatables.   

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