The trouble with vacation is it always has to end

Well, I did it. No cars and no planes through an entire trip.

Even up to the end, there was always a chance I would have to cab it. Of the three trains going south from Mystic yesterday, I went for the latest one, the one that left at 7 p.m. and was due to arrive at Union Station at 1:30 a.m.

With Metro's late Friday and Saturday hours, that should have given me plenty of time to get home. But any major issues on Amtrak's or Metro's ends, or both, and I'd be taking a cab back to Silver Spring. And indeed, there was one moment where I thought I might be screwed.

I checked out of my hotel Friday morning and looked outside to see a downpour. My plans had been to go back over to Mystic Seaport for awhile (I bought a membership, which allows unlimited visits and other discounts, so I think it paid for itself), do a little shopping downtown, and then go back to the Captain Daniel Packer Inne.

Plans at least temporarily thwarted, I walked the short distance to Bartleby's Coffee Cafe to wait it out with a cappuccino and a close eye on weather.com. It was a cute little coffee shop, and obviously had a regular clientele. By 12:30 the rain was letting up, so then I headed over to Mystic Seaport. I wanted to grab a light lunch and check out the Seaman's Inne, the Seaport's restaurant.

I ate in the pub, and at the Seaman's Inne it's a nice place for a respite from outside, although not as great a space as the DPI. More importantly, after realizing that I couldn't remember the last time I'd had a serving of non-coleslaw vegetables with any meal, I got a delicious spinach salad, loaded with spiced pecans, cranberries, apples and cheese. Yay, nutrition.

Seaman's Inne.

I wandered the Seaport for awhile, checking out a few things I'd missed, and went for a ride on the historic steamboat SS Sabino. It just goes up and back the Mystic River for half an hour, so it's not an extensive ride, but it is a good way to see things from the water and check out the Sabino's historic steam engine.

It was, unfortunately, overrun with kids — some well-behaved, some out of control. I understand increasingly why my mom is in such demand as a substitute teacher — she would have had the out of control ones in line, I'm sure.

I wandered my way back downtown, checking out shops as I went. In Mystic, there are a lot of eccentricities, nautical items, organic items, jewelry, clothing, and art, with the occasional oddity like an army navy store thrown in.

Then it was fish and chips time. I'm beginning to develop this theory that the closer you are to the water, the better fish and chips taste. At the Captain Daniel Packer Inne, they featured a huge piece of really fresh North Atlantic cod, fried to crispy, flavorful perfection. The fries were good but not great, and many were fish greasy because they'd put the fish on top of them. But I mostly judge fish and chips on the fish, and it was very, very good.

I collected my bag from my hotel, and walked the few blocks back to the train station. I'd noticed when I came in that Mystic's train station was small, but it really sank in as I was waiting there, and, for a time, was the only person there. There's an Amtrak ticket machine in the station, but the station closes at 4 p.m., so Amtrak had mailed me my ticket in advance.

The tiny Mystic train station.

This is the only time I've taken a train where there's no announcment, and no one from Amtrak to direct traffic. Not that there was really traffic to direct — just myself and one other woman who came by later were waiting to take the train. At 7 p.m., an electronic voice announced, "Train approaching, stay behind the yellow line," in a continuous loop. I was already familiar with this, as it had happened three times previously, for two Acelas headed in opposite directions, and a regional train headed to Boston (not all of the regional trains stop in Mystic).

The woman and I gathered up our luggage and headed up the ramp to the train. Far more people got off than on — what looked like a mix of businesspeople coming back from Boston, locals coming back from trips, and vacationers headed in, perhaps for a weekend. One of the Amtrak people on the train helped us up the steps — no high-level platform here — and we were on the train and rolling.

I sat in the quiet car by accident at first, as it was the closest to where we got on. But all I was planning to do was edit photos and listen to my iPod, so I decided to try it out, and really liked it. It was very quiet except for some cell phone and other chatter when people got on in New York. The cafe car is available, too, if you need to make or take a cell phone call.

When I went to the cafe car, I did make a rookie mistake by forgetting to take my little seat ticket with me. This is the one thing Amtrak does not and should explain better — they put it overhead on the luggage rack by your seat and mark it with where you're getting off. And you're supposed to take it with you if you go somewhere like the cafe car as proof that they've already taken your ticket. The conductors also use it as they walk through the train to know who they should inform (or wake up) about upcoming stops.

As we rolled along, there were periodic points where we kept moving, but the overhead lights and outlet power would go off and then back on in the train. I had my laptop plugged in with a surge protector, so it wasn't a big deal, just kind of weird. It even felt a little classic, like we were part of a bygone era, as we rolled in to New York city, slipping dark and quiet through the night with the city lights off in the distance.

And then the train stopped, and the power was out for good. They announced that, as we could see, we didn't have power, but that the engineer thought he knew what the problem was, and it could be fixed in a few minutes. They'd make another announcement if it wasn't a few-minutes-fixable type thing.

Bullshit, I thought. I've flown enough times to know that things that cannot be fixed in a few minutes. We were going to be stranded on those tracks for hours. Or they'd tow us in somehow, as we were blocking the approach to Penn Station, and you probably can't do that for long. We'd have to switch trains, or get a new power car. I would have to take a cab home from Union Station — failure at the very end of my trip.

The lights came back on. They announced things were fixed. We started moving again.

Okay, apparently they really can fix things in a few minutes. The lights didn't turn off for the rest of the ride in to DC.

By about midnight, I was too tired to do anything else on my laptop. I dozed on and off all the way in to DC, got off the train, and headed for the Metro and home.

Today, I'm uploading lots of pictures. Everything from Sunday in Salem and Quincy is up at Flickr now.

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