CALL IT A NO-HURRIES WEEKEND. THE object is to take a getaway but to go slowly, engaging in a meditation of movement and enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
That is the answer to those who wonder why anyone would take a six-hour train-and-bus ride from Washington to Virginia Beach when Southwest Airlines offers one-hour, nonstop service from BWI Marshall Airport.
A curse upon those who insist that the trip begins when the traveling ends. Getaways are supposed to divert the daily grind -- when we navigate the city's congestion-clogged roads en route to work, zoom to the pharmacy and bank before they close, dash to church or our child's soccer practice or to the mall, with hopes of finding a good parking space.
Why not be chauffeured, taking in scenery in a way that few can while driving along Route 295 or Lombard Street, en route for a weekend of relaxation along Virginia's shores?
That was my plan for a $500 weekend getaway that began at the end of Friday's workday and ended late Sunday evening. The plan was to take it easy, slowly, with no stresses or obligations.
And in this country, going slowly means going Amtrak.
In terms of high-speed service, the quasi-government-owned rail system doesn't endear itself to those seeking an alternative to air travel. Not only is it slow, but it makes frequent stops in cities you've never heard of unless you ride Amtrak. When I need to get anywhere fast, I avoid Amtrak like trans fats.
But in this instance, it's perfect: comfy, reclining seats in a cabin that's spacious enough for moving around with windows large enough for gazing out at the scenic route. The rhythmic sounds and soothing shimmies of the rail car along the tracks eases your mind and takes you on a mental journey as well.
The thought of all things rail travel took me back to my childhood days, when the fascination for trains was buoyed by the thrill of riding them. The reminiscence was so pleasurable that I didn't fret over standing in a crowded line at Washington's Union Station, waiting for a scheduled 5:50 p.m. departure that was more than an hour late.
A passenger in front of me phoned Amtrak's automated service to see how late the train would be. She said a recorded message inadvertently stated that the train had left 30 minutes earlier.
As I said, no hurries.
Ultimately, we made our way onto the train, and the excursion as I had planned it began. First, I went through a collection of magazine articles I had never gotten around to reading, then a couple of chapters of a book. By then the sun was setting through central Virginia, and I looked out as we snaked along next to back roads and over streams.
My eyes fixed on sights I would have otherwise missed had I been doing the driving: a group of kids playing merrily atop an old, rusty car; a flock of sailboats drifting beneath a bridge; a man fishing in solitude on the edge of a still creek.
Occasionally, my serenity was derailed by momentary distractions -- such as the passenger three rows behind me who blabbed on a cell phone. I wouldn't say she was loud, but by the time her conversation was over, I knew about her entire family -- including the forgetful cousin whom she feared wouldn't be there to pick her up.
At one point, I was so tired of listening that I got up and headed to the dining car -- something you can't do aboard US Airways. After a quick bite, I returned to my seat for a 15-minute nap that ended up lasting an hour and a half.
The train made up for its lost time, but still reached the final destination -- Newport News, Va. -- well after 11 p.m. From there, passengers headed to Virginia Beach had to transfer to a free commuter bus.
That trip lasted just over one hour, and it was made enjoyable by a passenger-friendly bus driver (she declined to give her name, more on that later), who turned the ride into a late-night tour of the Hampton Roads area, the cluster of shoreline communities in southeastern Virginia that dot the James and Elizabeth rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. We learned that the city of Norfolk is home to the world's largest naval base and the North American Headquarters for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization).
"When I left here to pick y'all up, the moon was just above the river," she said. "It was so pretty from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Let's see what it's like now." The moon had set to where only a top portion remained visible, but its glow beamed a path and illuminated the waves in the dark waters. It was a sight to behold.
The driver talked with just about every passenger. When I told her I was writing a travel story, she told me that Virginia Beach overall was faring well, and that new hotel development along the waterfront would ultimately do away with a strip of properties that were badly in need of overhauling.