Spring Break Day 4: Chicago Overnight and Amtrak’s Illinois Service

We arrived to Chicago just over an hour behind schedule, which is pretty impressive considering that we were three full hours behind schedule late Sunday night.  Chicago’s Union Station is huge, beautiful and undergoing some restoration.  We had a small issue collecting our baggage after we deboarded the train — all the bags come out in a carousel just like in an airport, the only problem is that our bags never came out.  Fortunately we were not the only ones — there were a couple others lingering around waiting for their luggage and eventually after the intervention of an Amtrak baggage attendant, our bags finally came out.

For our limited evening in Chicago we walked over to get some deep dish pizza and also made a stop for dessert at Magnolia Bakery — an outpost from New York City, but one cannot pass up their famous banana pudding!  We checked into our hotel to relax for the rest of the night, but first I also had to pick up a to-go order of a Chicago hot dog and fries – of course I had to!

This morning I wanted to go running along the Riverwalk and through the park, but the rain was just enough to convince me otherwise.  After 48 hours on the train, my body was really needing some activity.  Walking around with our luggage to our hotel helped, but I needed just a little more.  So I walked up the 22 flights of stairs back to our room instead.

We took a Lyft Line ride back to Union Station, and that was quite the adventure.  Lyft Line is basically like a carpool, so we picked up two different people en route, which added another fifteen minutes to our ride.  We allowed enough time to catch our train, but for a $3 savings off of the regular rate it wasn’t really worth it.  Plus the driver had this super strong air freshener that began to sting our eyes — we wanted to roll the window down but we didn’t want the rain to come in and we were close enough to our destination that we just toughed it out.

Our train ride today was down to St. Louis, MO on the Illinois Service, which is almost a six-hour journey that went by very quickly.  And when we arrived to St. Louis … rain.  Like lots of rain.  We took their light rail one stop to our hotel, but had trouble finding the lobby since it is housed in the old Union Station.  They’ve done a marvelous job repurposing the space into a multi-use venue, and the seating area just outside of reception is just grand — hopefully we’ll find some time to just hang out down there.

For the rest of our evening we got some happy hour small plates in the Central West End district and then spent two and half hours touring the Missouri History Museum because let’s face it, one of us really loves history.  And now it is time to turn in for bed since we have a big day tomorrow — no rain please!

Spring Break Empire Builder Day 3

At one point yesterday we are running 3 hours behind, but we have been able to make up some time and we are currently only running 1 hour late, which means we should get into Chicago after 5 p.m. tonight.  The conductor just made an announcement that this train will shortly be boarding tons of passengers, which will make it a full train. It is nice that Lisa and I have this private roommette to hang out in.  We have done coach class before and while it is fine for a full day of train travel, having sleeping first class accommodations is certainly worth it, though very expensive!

At dinner last night, we sat with a grandmother from Minnesota who was taking her 5th grade grandson from Portland to visit with family in Minneapolis for spring break.  What was pretty funny was that the kid was just bored out of his mind! He was complaining about not having internet service on his phone and although he brought some movies and books to read, he was just finding too much time on the train doing nothing.  Ah, to be young!

Lisa and I have thoroughly enjoyed this down time, to how’s the time while away as we are at the whim of the train schedule. The only things we really have to do our to answer the call for our breakfast, lunch, and dinner times. Other than that, we nap when we want to nap, and go to bed when we want to go to bed.  We both have fun just hanging out and listening to our audiobooks while we pass our Kindle game “Ticket to Ride” back and forth to each other and look out the window.

Spring Break Empire Builder, Day 2

Due to the nature of intermittent internet access, this will be an ongoing post as the train slices through snowy landscapes and sparsely populated areas of Montana and North Dakota.  It is Mountain Time here, which means it was 5 a.m. Pacific time when I woke up at 6 a.m. here. It was still dark outside, and I wandered through the sleeping coach class cars to the lounge car and settled in to watch the sunrise and wait for the outside world to awaken from its slumber.

For the next couple of hours I just sat here transfixed at the landscape before me, as I listened to an audiobook and took little mini naps here and there. Lisa was still at the back of the train sleeping, but she eventually joined me in the lounge car and we proceeded to the dining car for breakfast.

As morning turned into early afternoon, we had lunch and met a interesting couple from Indianapolis… The guy was quite the social character, and it’s 70 years old is still very active in cycling and skiing. Our afternoon was spent just lounging in the lounge car, reading our books and magazines and playing an electronic version of hey train game, which is fitting for our activity.


Spring Break Empire Builder Day 1

I love riding the trains. Especially one that can take us from Portland, Oregon all the way to Chicago, Illinois.  Lisa and I are on board Amtrak’s Empire Builder, and for the next 40 some-odd hours this will be our home. We have a teeny tiny cabin called a  roomette… It is basically two seats that face each other and in the evening they close together to form a bottom bed and then there is a bunk on top of us that is folded down. Guess who gets to sleep upstairs?

For our journey, our sleeping accommodations also include all food and drink, served in the communal dining car for breakfast lunch and dinner.  Of course we have also armed ourselves with plenty of snacks, including some wine. We also have audiobooks and podcasts, magazines, books, a cribbage board, games on our Kindle, and some movies downloaded on various devices. We are so lucky and grateful to be able to take a couple of days to travel across America in this fashion, in comfort and relaxation.  This is our spring break, day 1 and our entertainment is just sitting back and watching the beautiful scenery pass by our window.  We lucked out because we are on the right hand side to watch the mighty Columbia River glide by as snow-capped Peaks Loom large in the background.  Loving this train travel,  onward ho!

Winter Break Palm Springs, Day 7

Rest day / relaxation day.  Sleeping in.  Soaking in our hotel’s hot tub.  Getting a doughnut at a recommended donut shop.  Lisa wanted to get a haircut, so she got one.  We also visited the Palm Springs Art Museum at Palm Desert location.  Window shopped at the local Westfield Mall and along the Rodeo Drive of Coachella Valley — El Paseo.  Split a burger and fries at Habit Burger, which I haven’t had for over ten years.  Delicious.  Lisa felt like watching a holiday-themed movie, so we used our movie passes and saw a stupid but funny “Daddy’s Home Two.”  Super awesome happy hour at Las Casuelas Nuevas — queso dip, enchilada and steak nachos.  Oh man that was good!  And one more soak in our hot tub before calling it the night, our final night here in Palm Springs.

Log of daily expenses:

$4.10  Apple fritter donut and coffee
$6.66  Habit char cheeseburger and fries
$26  Happy hour

$31.76  Total plus $21 daily average for rental car