There are probably five great train trips in the world (one in the U.S., one in Canada, one across Russia, one in China) but the most fun is the one straight across Australia from Sydney to Perth. (When that plane was lost last fall and rescue planes flew from Perth, at least I could picture where they were.)
The Sydney station is smart, clean, and people are so helpful. (Sydney has done things with water that San Francisco probably wishes it had.) This trip is taken twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays, but the schedule may have changed. It leaves at the decent hour of 2:30 p.m. This would be after you have seen the Opera House, walked the Jail district called “The Rocks,” visited Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair and walked the friendly streets of Sydney.
I’d suggest springing for a compartment on the train, because the trip takes three nights and days. (They keep your larger luggage in a storage room. The berth is six feet long; your door won’t fully open if the bed is down.) A courteous steward will check with you early. “Do you want tea before breakfast tomorrow, mum?” I said yes. Then he warned me: “I’ll bring the tea and some biscuits by at 6 a.m., mum.” I nodded, knowing the tea would be tongue-scalding hot; the Brits and Aussies certainly make it truly hot.
I paid roughly $750 U.S. for the ticket, which included all meals in the Queen Adelaide Restaurant, where you have the same table partners throughout the trip, which makes it really nice. Beer and wine are extra; tea and coffee available at no charge, day or night. (Price is undoubtedly higher now, but so worth it.) Here are some dishes in the posh dining room: Beefsteak Euabalong with oyster mushroom garnish. Roast spring jumbuck, Barramundi and teriyaki glaze, mango desserts, truffles, tiramisu ice cream wedge, Vienna nougat. There was an avocado pear and bush tomato coulis salad. (I don’t know; don’t ask, and it’s their spelling.
All cars are non-smoking, with a tiny walled-off section for each lounge for smokers.) Both smoking areas were full, so I joined the young Japanese boy sitting alone in the empty first class Queen Adelaide Restaurant. Another young man was a GQ writer, who was in West Africa with the Peace Corps, and the one thing he wanted, after macaroni and cheese and peanut butter, was a subscription to GQ. And now he wrote for that magazine to find out why people took trains. Why didn’t they just save money and go ask people in the nearest Amtrak station? Or better yet, I thought, how can I get his job?
And there was the Inner Peace Lady. I thought she said Greenpeace, and I had moved into my Protest-Nukes-and-Save-the-Whales mode when she started talking about crystals, self-actualization and The Celestine Prophecy. I thought she’d said Celestial Prophecy, but after we got that sorted out, we had an extensive New Age discussion. But for an Inner Peace person, she was the angriest person I think I’ve ever met.