Sunday, July 20, 2008

Amtrak Adventure - Part 4

I’ll be taking a departure away from technology issues for the next few posts to submit a little online journal of my travel across the country with Dad on the Amtrak Coast Starlight and California Zephyr.
July 18th - California Zephyr

Slept much better last night. After waking up and enjoying a nice hot shower we learned that delays and rail work overnight now had us running more than 2 hours behind schedule.

A morning stop in Omaha gave us a chance to stretch our legs for a few minutes and take a look at the beautiful old abandoned Omaha train station. This must have been quite a sight back in the days when rail travel was a primary mode of transportation. According to Bob, its been boarded up for more than 20 years, but the building is still here so there’s hope it might someday be restored to some of it’s former glory.

Here in Omaha, Bob also took the opportunity poll us on what we thought was the most scenic part our trip so far. I’ll let you experience a little bit of Bob for yourself...

After our last breakfast on the train, Dad & I retreated to our compartment for a lazy day of reading and watching the Iowa farms pass by our window. Bob told us that our engineer would try to make up some time along the route, but that we would likely be delayed another 15 minutes as we pass through the flood area in Iowa and Illinois. After we crossed the Mississippi at Burlington, Iowa I was surprised to see how much water was still around even after 3 weeks. Many of these farmers must be devastated.

Once past the flood area we were running about 3 hours behind schedule. Stopping in Galesburg, Illinois we said goodbye to some of our Zephyr friends who’d been traveling with us since Emeryville. For the rest of us, it was on to Chicago.

The Chicago skyline was a bit of a contrast to the farms and small towns we’d been seeing all day. It was also clear that our Chicago-based Zephyr crew, who started here 6 days ago was glad to be coming home. They seemed anxious to see their families and take a few well-deserved days off.

We pulled into Chicago at 6:20 pm, only 2 1/2 hours behind schedule, and in plenty of time for Dad and me to catch the 8:05 Hiawatha train to Milwaukee. It also gave us time to explore the cathedral-like great hall of Chicago’s Union Station.

The Hiawatha was a fast commuter train that zipped us up to Milwaukee airport in only 80 minutes. At the airport we picked up a rental car and headed out to stay with family for a few days. Our Amtrak Adventure was officially over.

Overall, it was a great trip. I’ll definitely have to try this again. Next time I might take the Coast Starlight all the way up to Portland or Seattle. I hear the ride through the Oregon Cascades is really beautiful in the winter. We’ll see.

Surprises and Advice
If you’re thinking about trying a train trip yourself here a few things I learned...

1) Go first class. If you’re taking an overnight trip and can afford it, get a sleeper. Traveling this way is more expensive than air travel, but if you compare the cost of driving, hotels, and meals, you’ll find you might just save a few bucks.

2) Throw out the time schedule. If you find yourself worrying about why the train has stopped, or focusing on your destination you won’t enjoy the beauty that is around you. On the train it’s all about the journey and having a “we’ll get there when we get there” attitude. Besides, arriving 2 1/2 hours late after 4 days is not bad. I’ve had flights that are delayed even more than that.

3) It’s all about the people. One of the biggest surprises for me was all the interesting people I got to meet. Our Amtrak crew was great. I’ve already shared about Bob, but I must also mention Frank, the lounge car attendant/bartender, who looked like Dean Martin and sounded like Al Pacino. His regular intercom announcements always had us smiling. I was also surprised by all the interesting people we met at meals and in the observation car. Some were seasoned rail travelers who shared stories of other rail adventures and others were first-timers just like us. Don’t just sit in your room all day. Take the time to introduce yourself and get to know the people traveling with you. It might just be the best part of your trip.

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.


Martha said...

Wow! What an adventure! Thanks for sharing. I have some fun train stories from other countries, but only experience in US is from Seattle to Mount Vernon.

pilar said...

This is amazing, Dennis! I love the pictures and the observation car. I was impressed by the fact tha so many spectacular places exist that can be seen be hikers and train travelers. I'm going to go on a train trip one day too.

Pilar :)

Chicago Laser Hair Removal said...

Wow! this sounds really great Dennis! I really enjoyed the pictures.

I hope i get to go on a train trip someday!