April 10, 2016 Chicago IL
The first trip of 2016 is a short one. We have been on hiatus for a while, enjoying one of Minnesota’s milder winters by staying home. We made one or two short, local MN trips during the winter along with numerous MN activities, and, we have replaced our 2001 Saturn (226,000 miles) with a new Subaru Legacy. However, the Legacy will have to wait a while for a road trip.
This first trip was planned for us to ride Amtrak as paying passengers, something we have not done for probably 15 years. As readers of this blog know, Ed is a volunteer with the Trails and Rails program jointly offered by the National Park Service and Amtrak. His journey only goes 2/3 of the way to Chicago and Chris does not participate. So, we put our money down and headed out early this morning.
The Empire Builder arrived in St. Paul an hour early (6:43 AM), a real departure from its 2015 on time (not) performance. We had arrived around 7 AM by bus and were able to board the train by 7:10 to get our seats. Seating is on your own, not assigned seats. We grabbed two coach seats, left our jackets at the seats and snagged a table in the observation car on the river side for most of the trip and with Chris seated looking forward (an important priority). The Empire Builder left Union Depot in St. Paul at its scheduled departure time of 8 AM for the 8 hour trip to Chicago. We had three main goals; a successful train ride, a journey to the new Pullman National Historic Site in Chicago, and a visit with my cousin Sue.
Goal one has been accomplished. Both of us enjoyed the ride. The MN portion (obviously) is more scenic than the WI portion as it parallels the Mississippi River most of the way. Trees are just beginning to leaf out although Chicago is a bit ahead of us on that score. Birds were everywhere, boaters were out on the river. In Red Wing there must have been 20 eagles roosting in trees in a small area near the local Marina. (Well maybe a few were turkey vultures but most were Eagles.)
I did not give my Trails and Rails “spiel” to Chris but instead noted the topics I present in various areas along the route. Most of the topics she is familiar with, having heard me discuss them, or going to some of the same lectures I attended, or read the same books.
The observation car was our home for 2/3 of the ride, with its expansive windows which are great for viewing up and down. The coach seats are comfy with plenty of leg room. The train was not crowded today and empty seats were frequent. The observation car, unlike in the summer, was never full.
We spent more time observing than socializing. We did manage some conversation with a number of Canadians, from Saskatchewan and Winnipeg. Our lunch companions (you are seated to fill up tables and thus you automatically meet others) were from just north of Seattle. The two women are fans of National Parks. Their week-long journey will stop at numerous NPS units and will start off tomorrow at Pullman National Historic site. We may see them again. We swapped stories of parks we have seen and have yet to see. While the lunch menu is brief, our burgers were quite tasty.
Union Station in Chicago (the name is quite similar to Union Depot in St. Paul)is large with many Chicago commuter trains as well as Amtrak trains that head out all over the country. We decided to walk to our hotel, about 1.5 miles away. It was sunny and 48 degrees F-although Chicago is always windy with the numerous skyscrapers. We are staying at a Hampton Inn in the River North district.
Dinner was at Andy’s Jazz Club, with Dana Hall group playing.
Ed and Chris April 11, 9 pm