Denver’s Union Station undergoing LEED Gold makeover

The historic Union Station in Denver, Colorado, will soon be undergoing a major restoration project that will turn it into one of the most progressive transportation hubs in the United States.

According to Inhabitat, the project is aiming for LEED Gold certification and will preserve the train hub that connects the Amtrak system with regional modes of transport, like Colorado’s celebrated FasTracks light rail system and local bus lines. The restoration will also include the addition of a 130-room Oxford Hotel-affiliated boutique hotel, a retail center, and six public plazas.

The new Union Station is projected to bolster the reputation of Denver’s LoDo (Lower Downtown) District as a model for urban revitalization. Short for Lower Downtown, LoDo was the first settlement in the greater Denver area and is now one of the most happening parts of the city, with breweries, cafes, galleries, and creative businesses taking over the district’s Victorian and turn-of-the-century buildings. The new Union Station is scheduled to be completed in 2014.

[via Inhabitat; Flickr image via Cliff]

Mooning Amtrak annual event in California July 9

If you’re traveling through California by train next month, keep your eyes peeled for some special scenery in Orange County. On Saturday, July 9, exhibitionists, daredevils, and the just plain childish will gather in Laguna Niguel, drop their pants, and moon the passing Amtrak trains from early morning to late night. According to the excellent travel site Wish You Were Here, the event started 32 years ago as a bar dare (as these things do) at the Mugs Away Saloon and now draws thousands each year to participate in some good old-fashioned mooning.

You don’t have to participate to join in the fun, but we think going to watch a mooning event without participating is even weirder than joining a crowd of strangers to show your bare buttocks to a train of people. The event keeps going past 8pm, when the night mooning begins, which the official site claims is “more authentic” but does require additional lighting.

Check out all the details for the 32nd annual Mooning Amtrak here.

For more fun with trains, check out today’s Manhattan User’s Guide (not just for New Yorkers) for railroad history links and info.

Photo courtesy Flickr user Chuck “Caveman” Coker.

Five reasons you should take the train to Colorado [MOVIE MOMENTS]

Around 15 years after reading Atlas Shrugged for the first time, the moment I was waiting for arrived: the movie came out. If you missed it, there’s a good reason. Unlike big-budget flicks, this $10 million “effort” opened in only 299 theaters, with the prayer hope outside shot that word of mouth among the philosopher’s novelist’s propagandist’s writer’s followers would cause demand to surge and lead to the sort of financial success that would make Ayn Rand proud.

In a movie about trains, of course, there was a travel angle, as high-powered business folks zipped across the country to investigate the root of all evil and find ways to protect themselves from “looters” (i.e., government and people looking for handouts). And since the book ultimately points toward Colorado, as the rest of the movies in the planned trilogy will, the travel angle becomes even stronger.

Let’s look at five travel moments from the recently released film; some are good for a chuckle:

1. The airlines failed: okay, setting the movie in 2016 meant that there would be certain challenges, as rail transportation would have to be made a viable long-haul alternative to air transportation. Using an oil crisis based on Middle East instability was a clever way to go about this. To have a bit of fun, I’d have used poor service and operations as the driver for airline collapse. It’s at least as realistic as blaming an inconceivably severe spike in oil prices. And, the “Objectivists” working the flick could have taken pot shots at unions, bailouts and a paucity of ambition.

2. Dare to get lucky: if you can make a train go 250 miles per hour, you deserve a little “rail-high club” action. And if you built the bridge that made it possible, you’re first in line. It really is that simple. The sex scene that followed the train travel moment on the recently renamed John Galt Line shows that (a) some people are proud to reward personal achievement and (b) sex between two stiff and awkward people will be, well, stiff and awkward.

3. Road trips can be fun: of course, they really should have a purpose, such as dashing off to Wisconsin to look for a space-age engine. Nothing beats driving there from Wyoming to check out an abandoned factory, even if the time does pass faster on the big screen than it would in reality. When you get back to Wyoming, after the return trip, nothing tops a meal prepared by a former philosophy professor who has “dropped out.”

4. Remember you reading material: I’m still shocked that Dagny Taggart, the flick’s protagonist, stepped off a train and picked up a newspaper. I know, right? Are they still going to be around in 2016? I guess the prospect of finding a newspaper five years from now is about as realistic as doing so after a long train ride (though, in fairness, she only schlepped from New York to Philadelphia).

5. The best destination in the world: in half a decade, you’ll only want to go to Colorado, it seems. Well, you won’t want to go there if you’re lazy, stupid or more interested in political results than cash in the bank.

SPOILER: Atlantis is in Colorado, so leave your dive gear at home.

[photo via World’s Biggest Writing]

GadlingTV’s Travel Talk – Thailand Part 10: Kanchanaburi

Gadling TV’s Travel Talk, episode 40 – Click above to watch video after the jump

In the first half of Travel Talk’s grand Thai expedition, we’ve tamed elephants, explored Bangkok’s temples, eaten scorpions, taken in a Muay Thai match, and witnessed a train running directly through a bustling market. Now, we’re taking you to explore a lesser known province of Thailand for a closer look at the culture and traditions of rural Thai life.

Kanchanaburi isn’t the first place you might think to visit when planning your trip to Thailand- but in many ways, that’s its charm. We explore this peaceful oasis just outside of Bangkok. The town promises to change dramatically with the recent reopening of the Three Pagodas Border Crossing to Myanmar, and we stayed in a massive 5-star resort that’s anticipating this very change. Exploring the local landmarks, we got a chance to walk across the Bridge over River Kwai- of classic hollywood fame.

If you have any questions or comments about Travel Talk, you can email us at talk AT gadling DOT com.

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Hosts: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews

Special guests: Joom, Tum, Nikki- the champion bartender & Richard- Dheva manager and businessman extraordinaire
Produced, Edited, and Directed by: Stephen Greenwood & Aaron Murphy-Crews
Special thanks: Tourism Authority of Thailand, Trikaya Tours

Travel Talk took Thailand by storm on invitation from the Tourism Authority of Thailand. No editorial content was guaranteed and Aaron & Stephen were free to openly share all adventures that they embarked upon.

Holiday trip? Consider rail travel

Unlike Europe and Japan, the United States isn’t known for its high-tech, efficient rail travel. Which is a shame because, as I recently discovered, taking Amtrak is sometimes a better way to travel this big country of ours, and generally speaking, it has a lower carbon footprint per passenger than driving or flying.

You definitely need to have time to spare for long distance trips, although with the epic waits at some airport security checks, you may well come out ahead on shorter routes. Amtrak offers a lot of promotions and deals on its website, and children two to 15 ride half-price. The train can also be more fun for kids, and help save the sanity of parents who dread the airport schlep and subsequent whine-fest.

When I lived in the Bay Area, I’d sometimes take the train from Berkeley to my brother’s place in Truckee, in North Lake Tahoe. Given that it’s a three-and-a-half hour drive in perfect weather, assuming you leave at the crack of dawn to avoid traffic, the five-hour rail journey isn’t a bad idea for a winter trip. Note: Depending upon route, make sure your trip doesn’t have a connection by bus, which can considerably lengthen your trip and detract from your comfort. That said, I’ve ridden Amtrak’s motorcoaches in the past and found them pretty nice. They’re a far cry from the filthy, stinking, hell-on-wheels that is Greyhound, and at least there are increasingly excellent options on the East Coast for short-distance bus travel.

Still, I’d never done an overnight on Amtrak, mainly because I hate to take 17 hours to travel somewhere that’s a two-hour flight away. But on a recent trip from Chicago to Washington DC, the train was running $85/o/w for a coach seat. At the time, even with the additional cost of a sleeper, it was cheaper than airfare, so I went for it.

The only part of the Midwest I’d visited prior to Chicago was Wisconsin, so the train also provided a great way for me to see a new part of the country. And it would be relaxing…a mini-vacation, if you will, where I could escape traffic and the electronic leashes of Blackberry and computer (Amtrak’s AcelaExpress commuter trains are currently the only ones equipped with Wifi).

The Capitol Limited route took me from Chicago’s bustling downtown Union Station, through Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia. Getting a ticket is as simple as booking online, which I recommend doing in advance if possible, although you can also purchase them at the station from an agent or kiosk, and over the phone or your mobile device. Long distance routes have various sleeping options, ranging from one-to-two person roomettes to bedroom suites that accomodate four adults. For future reference, I suggest you book at least a month ahead on the more popular routes, to ensure you get a sleeper. I selected a 3’x6″ x 6’x6″ “Superliner Roomette ($128 additional fee, including meals).” The Superliner is a double-decker; the roomette a private cabin with sliding doors and curtains, windows spanning the length of the compartment, climate control, a garment rack, fold-down table, and two very comfortable reclining seats that fold into upper and lower berths. Unlike the single-level Viewliner car roomettes, there is no sink or toilet.

Compared to the airport, the train is a stress-free snap. Arrive at station, print out ticket, go to private waiting room, check bag, read, eat free snacks. When it’s time to board, you’re led to the correct platform, and you climb aboard. Tip: If you’ve got a lot of luggage or a really heavy bag, get some assistance. Trains are a lot longer than you’d think, and my back was giving me the metaphorical finger by the time I staggered to my car, lugging my corpse-size duffel.

The friendly conductor showed me to my cozy roomette on the second floor. There was a clean bathroom just steps away, as well as a coffee/water/juice station (included with fare). The shower was downstairs; I was expecting the worst, but it was clean, the water hot and plentiful.

The sightseer lounge cars have huge windows and tables, so I spent the first couple of hours watching the sun set over Indiana. FYI, some routes, like the West’s Coast’s Pacific Surfliner, Coast Starlight, and Amtrak Cascades, and the California Zephyr in the Rockies, are justly famous for their scenery. Amtrak also provides a stop-by-stop guide for its routes, so you can learn the historical and cultural significance of each.

As for dinner, I’m pretty sure I harbor a repressed childhood trauma from an airline chicken breast, because while I think nothing of eating dog, goat testicles, or witchetty grubs (or, probably, human flesh), I can’t deal with meals produced for mass transit. So I bypassed the dining car, because it just smelled unappetizing, and the plates of food didn’t look much better. Instead, I brought my own travel picnic with me. To do otherwise in a city with dining and grocery options as fantastic as Chicago’s would be a shame..

What I really love about Amtrak is the fact that it lets me enjoy transit for transit’s sake, which is something I don’t often experience domestically (probably because I’m always flying or driving). Like riding the bus in foreign countries (my favorite way to travel, and inevitably a fascinating cultural immersion), the train allowed me to just zone out. I had the time and privacy to read, doze, think, daydream, and watch the world go by. At 9pm, the conductor came to turn down my bed. I slid between the sheets, and watched the starry Midwestern night slip by. The rhythm of the rails lulled me to sleep.

In the morning, I sipped my coffee and marveled at the brilliant fall foliage in Maryland and West Virginia. I arrived at DC’s centrally-located Union Station feeling far more relaxed (and free of neck-kinks) than any flight has ever left me. Thanks, Amtrak. rriving