Amtrak. This time we'll be travelling all the way from Washington D.C. to Chicago; a journey of around 17 hours.
After making the relatively short journey from Richmond VA, I boarded the impressive double-deck Amtrak Superliner at Washington, and the previous article ended with my train pulling out of Washington's Union station. We were already 20 minutes behind schedule as we rolled through the capital's suburbs, and after a hot and humid afternoon, it was not surprising that we ran into a couple of really heavy thunderstorms.
Chicago's main station, also called Union, but that would be tomorrow and for the time being, I wanted to enjoy the now.
I described my "roomette" compartment in the previous article, but what I didn't mention was it was on the lower deck of the train. So not wanting to see things from track level, I decided to head up to the dining car.
Amtrak, so when she chanced to pass by my compartment, I decided to join her upstairs for dinner.
I was busy chatting and nearly missed the train pulling into the historic settlement of Harper's Ferry. I mentioned this town before, and the part it played at the start of the American Civil War, but it wasn't until we crossed the River Potomac, at a point just upstream from where it is joined by Shenandoah River, that I realised we were there.
I sort of knew what to expect, as a friend had warned me that Amtrak have recently abandoned their traditional "silver service" dining on certain routes. So passengers no longer sit down to a freshly prepared, three-course meal, but are instead "treated" to airline-style, pre-prepared dishes.
I sat there chatting with my new-found companion, and also with several other occupants of the dining car. With windows on both sides, and its prominent top-deck position, it was just the place to sit and admire the passing scenery.
northern Ohio and Indiana. During the hours of darkness, we had travelled through Pennsylvania, but I slept right through all that, including the train stopping to change crews in Pittsburgh.
I didn't turn in straight away as, along with a number of fellow passengers, Jamie and I were roped in by the dining car manager, to play a panel type game, called "Family Feuds." The manager told us that she and one of the stewards, arranged this game on most evenings, once food service had finished for the evening. It helped pass the time before they turned in for the night, and was a good way for people to get to know each other.
I had already decided to have a booze-free day, following the excesses of the previous three days, so wasn't bothered about missing out on the wine. I'd even forgone the earlier "Happy Hour". With the conversation turning to drink, Jamie told me that her favourite tipple was Stella Artois; a beer I didn't know was available in the States. I didn't mention that Stella is sometimes known as "wife-beater" back in the UK.
When I got back downstairs, I gave the attendant a call and he made up my bed. It was all very ingenious the way the two opposing seats slid together. The mattress, complete with ready fitted sheet and blanket, was then retrieved from the upper bunk. After a quick trip along to the toilet and washroom, I undressed and slid into my cosy and surprisingly comfortable bed. I latched the door shut, and was soon slipping into a restful sleep, lulled by the rocking of the train.
As mentioned earlier, I slept really well; the motion of the train helping to rock me gently off to sleep. I did wake a few times in the early hours, mainly to try and get some idea of where we were when the train drew to a halt. Some of these stops were due to having to give way to freight trains; more on that subject later.
I made it up to the dining car at around 7am, and found that breakfast was being served. It was a healthy option of sliced melon and other fruit, with a yoghurt to go with it. Personally I would have preferred something more solid, but I told myself the fruit and yoghurt would do me good; but not as good as the unlimited coffee, which was available from urns strategically situated in each coach.
We ended up running two and a half hours behind schedule, so I was pleased I'd changed my original plan, which was to travel by Greyhound Bus from Chicago to my sister's place, close to Cleveland. I'd initially thought that a couple of hours would be ample to make the connection, but a conversation with a friend, prior to my trip, had persuaded me other wise. Instead I'd booked a flight from Chicago to Cleveland, with a late afternoon departure.
Eventually we pulled into Union Station, which was journey's end. Alighting from the train I made my way to "baggage reclaim" where, just like at an airport, I waited for my suitcase to appear. I then made my way out to Chicago O'Hare Airport by means of the CTA mass transport system.
I spent six very pleasant and enjoyable days there, and after the travelling I'd undertaken, it was nice just to chill out and relax with the American members of my family.
I will be writing about some of these later, but for now I will just say that the beer scene in northern Ohio, is every bit as good as what I experienced in Virginia, earlier in my trip.