Is this the world’s most underrated train journey?


Washington DC’s palatial Union Station CREDIT: AP

By: Anthony Horowitz/UK Telegraph

A book tour of America is a true rite of passage.Everything is arranged – hotels, flights, limos – and you travel huge distances but see almost nothing; mainly bookstores and schools. If what follows feels confused and a little brusque, I’ve captured something of the experience.

I arrive in New York and stay at Loews Regency Hotel, a bright, friendly place with large rooms, close to Central Park and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where I spend a couple of hours before jumping in a car for the 3½-hour drive to Connecticut. The traffic is murderous but it’s a beautiful journey with the autumn leaves turning. Sadly, only two people have turned up to hear me talk. A bad start.
Then it’s off by Amtrak to Philadelphia. I had no idea American train journeys were so enjoyable. Watching the sleek, silver engine pull in at the platform with its bell clanging, I feel I’m in a Hitchcock movie. Sadly, Penn Station – which was gorgeous – was torn down in 1963, something The New York Times rightly called “a monumental act of vandalism”. Now New York has its very own Euston and it’s put to shame by the seriously handsome terminus at 30th Street, Philadelphia.

An Amtrak train pulling into Penn Station in NY

“Watching the sleek, silver engine pull in at the platform with its bell clanging, I feel like I’m in a Hitchcock movie” CREDIT: GETTY

This is, incidentally, all I see of Philadelphia. No Independence Hall or Liberty Bell for me. I have two schools and a bookshop to visit.

I leave early the next morning, back on the train. The next station, Washington DC, is more like a palace than a railway terminus. I sign stock at Politics And Prose, one of the country’s most respected bookstores, but then have 90 minutes free. My media guide drives me past the Watergate apartment block, which gives me a certain frisson, then we snatch a walk on Theodore Roosevelt Island on the Potomac river, which is lovely.

The US Capitol building in Washington DC

The US Capitol building in Washington DC CREDIT: PIGPROX – FOTOLIA

I visit an extraordinary school: Discovery Elementary in Arlington. It is very new and brightly colored, purpose-designed for the child of the future. There’s even a fairground slide from the first floor to the library below! That evening I give two talks at the Spy Museum. I manage to glimpse its exhibit on Bond villains which, since I’m writing the new Bond novel on the road, is inspiring. The nearby Kimpton Hotel Monaco is hip and zany; I love the leopard skin-patterned toweling robes.

I then have a morning off in Washington. It’s such a handsome city – no building can be higher than the Capitol – and no matter who occupies the White House, it remains a classical, cultured place.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s