Among the Palms in Palms Springs

img_3535To get to southern California, we could have continued on the Amtrak train from Eugene, Oregon to L.A. But the train arrives in downtown L.A. around 9 PM, if it is on time. We did not want to get there so late at night. Nor did we want to fly to L.A. and then have to drive somewhere in a rental car.

So, instead of flying to L.A. we opted to fly to Palm Springs. Flights from Eugene are easy and relatively cheap. We found an Air BnB offer online that sounded attractive: a private little house in a resort at a reasonable price. Picking up a rental car at the Palm Springs airport, we drove to Sky Valley, perhaps a 30 minute drive by the light of a gigantic moon hanging low over the desert. img_3544

Here we had a park model mobile home: small but with a kitchen, sitting area, bathroom and bedroom. Best of all, it is in a gated resort with several gorgeous swimming pools that are filled by mineral hot springs. One pool is almost as warm as our hot tub. You can rent units here for as long as you like. We see many license plates from Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia! (http://www.skyvalleyresorts.com/sky-valley-resort)

The Palm Springs valley is a strange place. Baren hills rise sharply against the blue sky. Endless scrub brush covers the valley floor. Towns like Palm Springs, Desert Hot Springs, Sky Valley, Indio, Palm Desert, Cathedral City and many more have grown into almost one large urban sprawl. However, the sprawl is low and the same color as the desert. Even shopping malls must have a building code so that everything blends nicely into the natural environment. And there is lots of empty land left all around.

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The visitor centre at the Nature Reserve is a palm log cabin!

Towering palm trees are everywhere. Too bad that the Santa Anna winds come howling down the mountains regularly. But the clear blue skies, the sun sets, the wild flowers, all make for a wonderful stay in this desert environment. Snow birds and movie stars make this area their home. There are lots of retirement homes and elderly care facilities, and I can’t blame them for wanting to be in this great climate. img_3548

img_3549Kees goes hiking each day in desert trail areas and nature preserves. We’ve walked through amazing palm groves at Coachella Valley Preserve (http://coachellavalleypreserve.org) I have never seen palm trees this size! We walked to one grove where the palms formed a solid wall, towering high above us. The trail led to a pond surrounded by these California fan palms. You can buy fresh palm dates in road size stands! img_3537img_3554

TRAINS, PLANES AND AUTOMOBILES TO OREGON

img_3533We have traveled to Oregon by plane and many times by all kinds of automobiles, including cruising the famed 101 in a red convertible. We’ve done it in moving trucks and campers. But I had never done it by train. 

So this time we wanted to travel south by train. Ultimately, on this trip, we have to get to Los Angeles but didn’t want to just fly there. We wanted to visit friends en route so opted for the Amtrak Cascades choice. We booked tickets well in advance. The train leaves Vancouver BC at an ungodly hour (6:30 AM) so we had to stay overnight in Vancouver. We found a Best Western on Kingsway which was a 5 minute taxi ride from the station the next morning.

The Amtrak train is not exactly the Orient Express. Pacific Station is grand and a conductor with a real train cap on greeted us. But that’s where the luxurious feeling ended, even before we climbed onboard. It’s just a train, comparable to traveling on the Greyhound bus. Not bad but a bit dingy. If the person in front of you reclines his airplane-type seat, he lands in your lap with a mighty bang.

Crossing the US/American border was a piece of cake on the train. Just some immigration officers who walked down the isle and barely seemed to look at passports.

We needed coffee and breakfast. The only option was a cafeteria counter which sold cold clammy sandwiches and burritos. So, not overly impressive. But it was fun to see the Washington landscape roll by. Just the Washington landscape though. As soon as we reached Portland, Oregon we had to get off the train and board a bus for the last 2 hours to Eugene. I cannot figure out the Amtrak schedule. Some trains seem to continue but usually you need to travel part of the route on a bus. Don’t ask me why.

gq2pe9zirht0fzmoxu62In Eugene, we stayed right in town in the gorgeous Campbell House B & B. It’s not so much a B & B as it is a small boutique hotel or city inn. The original house dates back to 1892 and is nicely redone. Lots of rooms, a large breakfast room and pretty grounds surrounding it all. Breakfast was served between 7:30 and 10:30, perfect. Lots of great choices and everything homemade.  We enjoyed fresh fruit, scones, bacon and eggs and more. Our room was a bit small with spotty wifi. Being in the historic ‘Carriage House’ wasn’t terribly sound proof so we heard our neighbors coughing and talking. But at night we enjoyed sitting by the fireplace and using the great wifi of the main house.

Best of all, at Campbell House, was the staff. I have seldom met nicer, more hospitable people. The cook was amazing and all the staff was incredibly friendly and accommodating. When they found out that we run our own B & B, they even sent us a large bottle of champagne, which added a very special touch to our stay. From Campbell House you can walk all over town. Too bad the view is largely obstructed by the only high rise in Eugene. (https://www.campbellhouse.com) img_0573

Having lived in Eugene, we enjoyed walking around the campus. Our favourite bookstore is here: Smith Family Bookstore has endless isles with floor to ceiling books, piles of books teetering everywhere. One of those iconic places where booklovers like to go.

There’s a fabulous wool shop, Soft Horizons, if you happen to be a knitter. A great, funky movie theatre called the Bijoux. And we took in a Duck women’s basketball game, together with 7,000 other Duck fans dressed in green and yellow. img_0569

One of our favourite places to eat in Eugene is the ever popular Oregon Electric Station. If you can’t get in, walk down the street to the Steelhead for great pizza.

But by far the best place to be, at least for us, in Eugene, Oregon is a small Italian restaurant named Mazzi’s. We lived in Eugene as students in the 70’s and Mazzi’s was there then. We had no money but whenever we had something big to celebrate, we’d go to Mazzi’s. Mazzi’s is still in the very same spot. It hasn’t changed much. The decor is the same, the menu is pretty much the same and it is still as wonderful as ever. We meet a large group of old friends at Mazzi’s. Fabulous, and it is always packed which shows me that it’s not just us who love to come here (http://www.mazzis.com)