Steve's Winter Wonderland Rail Journey
The is the second segment of my Winter Wonderland Rail Journey. The first segment was on the Amtrak Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle. This segment starts with a return to Portland on the Mt. Adams Talgo and finishes with my journey east from Portland to Chicago on the Amtrak Empire Builder.
If you read the review of the first segment of my journey prior to Monday, January 27, 1997, then you may want to go back and read the last section of it again. I added a prologue the following morning describing my arrival into Seattle, Washington. Click here if you wish to go back to that first segment now.
Special note about the travelogues of my Winter Wonderland Rail Journey: I know that these travelogues are overly detailed and I certainly don't mind if you just want to scan through for items of interest to you. There are a few reasons for why these travelogues are the way that they are. These are not written for printed publication. I'm not trying to reduce what I write to minimize valuable print space nor am I trying to write relative to a predetermined theme. These writing are pretty much a flow of conscious and experience. I like to include small details that are left out by most other travel writers because those are the things that interest me. You have a lot of places to turn to find out about the cities through which Amtrak travels or to find out about the sights along the routes. I've listed a number of those resources in the Book Section of this TrainWeb site. Before you take your very first Amtrak rail trip, how many places tell you where to power your notebook PC onboard, how to turn off the shower before you drown on the train when the directions don't work, or how to flush the toilet in the restroom on a Superliner II? By listing every detail of my trips I hope I am providing a resource that may one day answer just about every question you have about rail travel. I also hope my travelogues provide enough information to overcome any reluctance first time rail travelers may have. I have exchanged e-mail with more than one person who wanted to travel by rail but hadn't because they were afraid of insulting the staff because they didn't know who to tip or how much! One of my goals is to provide enough information to eliminate the fear of the unknown for first time rail travelers and get them on the train.
Friday, 1:43 P.M. (Pacific Time), 01/24/97, Portland, Oregon
I used 3 methods to wake me up in the morning to make sure I got down to the train station on time. The Talgo only runs once each day from Seattle to Portland and I certainly didn't want to miss it! I had my pager alarm set, the alarm clock in the hotel room, and told the front desk to give me a wake up call at 6:00 A.M. All 3 methods did work, but I almost would have been in trouble if I had relied on the hotel alarm clock. One time before I saw that the alarm was already set for 6 so I just left it. However, the previous person had set the alarm for 6 P.M. either on purpose or by accident. I made sure it was set to 6 A.M., but I still felt something was wrong. I studied it for a minute and realized that the current time on the clock was 1:15 P.M. and not 1:15 A.M.! Evidently, someone had set the A.M. and P.M. on the clock in reverse. I fixed that setting and it worked as planned.
I checked out of the Pioneer Square Hotel at 6:30 A.M. and took a taxi to the King Street Amtrak Station. Once again, the disappointment of the taxi driver is obvious. When a taxi driver sees someone leaving a hotel with luggage, I'm sure the first thought to his mind is a nice fat fare to the airport which is practically an hour drive out of the city. Unfortunate for him, I was just heading just around the corner. He knew his way and the fare was exactly $3 as I expected. I handed him a $5 bill and told him to keep the change. I heard him report in that he was available downtown. Also to his disappointment, the dispatcher replied that a lot of the units were downtown and it would be a while before he'd have a passenger for the driver. As a side note: With a map of Pioneer Square, it is a fairly easy walk between the station and the hotel. However, I have find that roller suitcases don't last very long if you pull them many blocks on public cement sidewalks. I've gone through my share of suitcase wheels and it is literally a "drag" once a wheel is broken! The savings of not having to buy a new suitcase every trip is worth the $5 cab fare. I now have a "computer" rolling suitcase that has heavy duty wheels, but this suitcase cost much more than a regular one and I don't want to take a chance on ruining those wheels even if they are heavy duty.
The King Street Amtrak Station opens at 6 A.M. every morning. There is a stand inside called "The Sitting Duck" that sells sundries, newspapers, magazines, coffee and other beverages. I think they also sell some hot pastries. There are also several machines from which you can buy coffee, beverages and all sorts of other food items. I wanted some Apple Juice, but I didn't see any machine that would change a dollar bill. Several would take dollar bills, but not the one with the Apple Juice. I've seen some vending machines that will change a dollar bill without requiring you to purchase anything. None of these machines appeared to have that function. Bring change with you if you want something from these machines when you are in Seattle! I did find I had 60 cents on me so I was in luck. I didn't see any other passengers in the station when I first arrived, but they slowly started to dribble in.
I went to the ticket counter, gave them my reservation number and they printed out my ticket. A little humorous item: When I went to sign the ticket, the pen had no point. Really no point. There was no ink refill inside the pen at all! The ticket agent was frustrated because this was the second time this had happened in 2 days. Do people really steal the inside from pens? I guess someone determined to steal would have to just settle for the inside since the rest of the pen was chained to the counter.
In the Seattle station there are 3 doors that lead to the loading platform. Unlike many other stations that I am familiar with, they are very strict in not allowing passengers onto the platform until it is time to board. They usually keep the waiting room doors locked. Also, the Conductors often collect passenger tickets and issue boarding passes right in the waiting room before the passengers even board the train. On a previous trip to Seattle I found one of the doors unlocked and I went out to the platform and took several pictures of the Princess Cruise Train. An Amtrak staff member saw me a courtiously told me that passengers were not allowed on the platform prior to boarding and then escoted me back to the waiting room, locking the doors behind me after I went in.
At each door there is a sign that has to be changed by hand to indicate which train will be boarding at what time through each door. This is pretty similar to what airlines do at the boarding counter. I was impressed that they seem to keep all the signs up to date in Seattle and continually change them for each train. In many stations I have seen all variable information removed from these signs so that the agents don't have to change them. I think a sign is almost useless if all it tells you is the name and number of the trains that goes through the station. Sometimes the time is posted, but it is only the time that the train would be in the station if it was on schedule. This is the way the boards are used in Denver, San Bernardino and Fullerton. If station agents could keep the latest departure and arrival status of every train up to date in the old days when there were a lot of trains through the station all day, why can't they keep the boards up to date when so few trains are running? Maybe Amtrak feels there are so few people that need this information that it is no longer worth the bother. Those who are interested can just ask the agent or call 1-800-USA-RAIL. In the old days, there were so many people in the station that posting the status on the board would be the only reasonable way to keep everyone informed. Most of the larger stations like Los Angeles and Chicago have gone electronic. I guess there are enough people in those stations to still use display boards to keep everyone informed. The bottom line is that I was pretty impressed that the agents in the Seattle station kept their manual signs right up to date.
I parked myself right next to the door that said "Train 753, Mt.Adams, Portland and intermediate cities." I wandered around and read some of the posted information about the Talgo train. I also had the latest issue of "Trains" magazine which had an article on the Northwest Corridor Talgo, including the Mt. Adams.
At 7:30 A.M. they announced that another Talgo train, the Mt. Baker International, would not be operating. It also has to go north out of Seattle just like the Empire Builder and I'm sure was cancelled for the same reason: track problems north of Seattle. Instead, Amtrak boarded those passengers onto charter buses.
At about 7:45 A.M. an instant mini-line formed right in front of me at Door #1. The people in the line waved to me and another person sitting near me that we should get to the front of the line. That was polite of them. I asked if there had been an announcement, of which I already knew there had been none. They said: "No, but there will be one any moment." I guess they've done this before! I went to the second spot in the line and sure enough, the Mt. Adams was announced!
In the Seattle's Amtrak staff organized way, they boarded the train based on destination. Everyone going to Portland would go into cars 8 and 9 while everyone not going that far would be boarded into cars 6 and 7. I suppose there is something to say for organization, but this seemed to result in fairly empty cars 6 and 7 and overly crowded cars 8 and 9. None of the cars were really crowded, but cars 6 and 7 had many empty rows while cars 8 and 9 had at least one person in every pair of seats.
I found a seat right in the middle of a big window on the west side of the train. From my figuring, that side should have a good view of Puget Sound and the Columbia River along the route. I was right about that and was rewarded with some great scenery along the route. I placed my backpack at my feet, my coat overhead, and my suitcase in a luggage rack at the end of the car. There was plenty of room for luggage. I don't require a lot of leg room, but if I did, there was plenty of room on the overhead rack for my backpack. There was even room up there for my entire suitcase if I wanted to lift it over my head!
There was plenty of room for everyone boarding the train. People traveling togehter were able to stay together. There was even a group of 6 gals and they were able to all sit together at the 2 sets of 4 facing seats at the front of the train. Most other seats on the train faced forward. I think the seats can be reversed, but I didn't check. The reason I assume this is the case is that the train is equiped with several television sets. Some of the TV sets were set up where the passengers could see them while other TV sets were facing the back of the heads of people! Thus, I can only assume the seats can reverse and face the other way, but I'm not sure.
Just my luck that a man with obvious psychological problems boarded the train and decided to sit next to me. Thus, I was just about the only person sharing a pair of seats in my car and it was with someone with significant mental problems. The person looked like a throw-back to the 1970s. He talked non-stop to everyone with whom he made eye contact on the train. Much of what he said was very personal information about himself that made others uncomfortable to listen to. Then, with anyone complaining, he started apologizing to everyone telling them he needed to take his medicine and explaining that he would calm down as soon as he had his medicine. He eventually did calm down. Whenever the Conductor came by, he would promise not to disturb the other passengers and he would sometimes ask the Conductor for permission to get up and go to the snack bar. I never saw a critical word from any Conductor or passenger towards this person. To the contrary, the Conductors were very supportive often saying things to him like: "You're doing fine. You are doing just O.K." At one point when he wasn't in the seat next to me, the Conductor came by and asked if he was bothering me and if I wanted him to be moved. For some reason I started to feel like this person's guardian. I told the Conducter that he wasn't bothering me and it would be O.K. for him to remain in that seat. Actually I would prefer to sit alone, but this person wasn't bothering me much more than having any talkative person next to me that wants to discuss issues for which I have no interest.
I hadn't eaten in the morning so I went down to the Cafe Car. The Car Attendant was very entertaining. They had the largest Danish that I had seen in my entire life for $2! I purchased one and ate it along with some coffee at the bar seat in the Cafe Car. The Cafe Car Attendant used me as a reference several times as people came into the car to order something to eat. I gave my rave reviews of the danish each time. It was definitely huge and tasted great, well worth the $2! Sometimes Car Attendants will microwave a Danish too long and hermetically seal the plastic rap onto the Danish. Not this Car Attendant, he heated it just the right amount.
There was excellent music playing in the Cafe Car too! This wasn't official music but was provided by the Car Attendant using his own CD player and speakers. He mentioned that he sometimes has to shut it off when he has a Crew Chief that doesn't like the "unofficial" music being played.
While I was there, I purchased a purple Talgo hat. Other than that, all they had unique to the train was a white Talgo hat. The Cafe Car Attendant told me they were changing the promotional merchandise for the train and he didn't have any more of the T-shirts.
My seat mate was sitting at the last chair at the Cafe Bar talking up his usual storm and still trying to locate his medication. A group of 6 ladies walked into the Cafe Bar and purchased 6 Bloody Marys. The youngest of them had just turned 21 last Thursday. They were all young and quite attractive. The Cafe Car Attendant was pretty good at flirting with them. One gal in the group was old enough to be my mother, but she didn't appear to be a chaparone or anything like that. After purchasing their Bloody Marys in the "to go" line, they all sat down in some corner seating for 6 people and had their drinks right in the Cafe Car.
After I finished my breakfast, I went further to the rear of the train to see what else I could find. Only then did I discover that the other half of the lounge car was for full sit-down dinner service! I could have had a full cooked to order Breakfast. The Stuart greeted me and asked if I wanted to be seated for Breakfast. I was sorry to decline and asked if she would mind if I took a few photos. After getting permission, I took a couple of photos of the full-service dining area. I then started to head forward on the train on the way back to my seat.
Directly ahead of the Cafe Car was a special section which I believe was actually part of the Cafe Car, but I'm not sure. The seats were a different color, appeared to have a lot more leg room and there were even single seats all by themselves. I asked the Cafe Car Attendant what this area was used for. He said they placed handicapped travelers in that area because it had ramp level access and a handicapped restroom. That made sense, but seeing how few handicapped riders the train has, it would make sense if they would also turn this section into a "Custom Class" part of the train. The seating in this section was definitely the best of the whole train, but this section appears to go just about totally unused except when the train is boarded by a handicap person.
I took several pictures of the scenery along the Talgo route. I imagine this is the same area I passed on the Coast Starlight last night, but it was too dark to see anything. I have only been along this area three times before by train. I went by it on my first trip on Amtrak in the family room with my kids. I was probably too fascinated by all of the scenery and too busy entertaining my kids to have taken many photographs of this stretch. Then, I was on this segment both north and south with my wife last June. I'm not sure why I didn't notice the beauty of the scenery at that time. Maybe it is just the huge picture windows of the Talgo that really draw ones attention to the scenery. With the Puget Sound and then the Columbia River off to the west of the train for much of the journey, this has to be one of the more scenic journeys in America.
I've been on trains with great expanses of boring scenery that could use a movie but didn't have one. Then there is the Mt. Adams Talgo from Seattle to Portland. It has a movie, but who needs it with such great scenery out the window? I mostly looked out the window while keeping my ears on the movie and an occassional glance to one of two TV monitors ahead of me.
The movie "Jack" was played on the train starting in Tacoma. My wife took the kids to see that movie, so I missed that one in the theaters. Guess I was just lucky. Usually the movies they play on airlines I've already seen or I didn't see it because I wasn't interested in it. They sold headsets for $3 each, but you were allowed to keep them for future trips. I was pretty sure that my headset for my railroad scanner would work for them movie, but I wasn't sure, so I purchased a headset for $3. I can always use an extra headset, especially for just $3! The movie started and the headsets for my scanner did work on the Talgo. When the man returned that was sitting next to me, I told him he could borrow the headsets that I purchased for the movie. He kept saying he wanted headsets but wasn't sure he could afford them. I figured it was worth my while to loan them to him if it might keep him occupied for a couple of hours. As it turned out, he fell asleep and slept through the entire movie! That was a relief to me and everyone around him.
The movie finished about an hour before our final destination of Portland, Oregon. My seatmate awoke and vanished to some part of the train unknown. One thing I forgot to mention was that everytime he left his seat, he left something behind that looked like a dayplanner. Each time he left, he asked me to open it and read it. He said it was the story of his life. I did open it one time but had great difficulty making heads or tails of it! It looked like a cross between a planning calendar and notes of ones activities. I saw very few sentences that completed a thought or made any sense at all. After one quick glance, I closed it up and put it back on his seat. I used the excuse that I was watching the movie so that I didn't have to contend with his continued insistence that I read his private journal.
More humor. The 6 gals at the front of our car became a bit intoxicated with all those Bloody Marys. Their discussion shifted to sexual experiences and performance of their husbands. They discussed this quite loudly including many re-enactments! When they all got up and headed off to the Cafe Bar for another round of drinks, the entire car errupted into laughter and discussion of the escapades of those gals!
We arrived into Portland and I tried to wait for the train to completely empty out. I wanted to take some photos of an empty Talgo Coach Car. My efforts were delayed because a couple of those gals at the front of the train were waiting for the remaining gals to return from the bar. Eventually enough people got out of my way so I could take a couple of photos.
On our way into the Portland station I noticed the Empire Builder still sitting there. This time, however, it looked like there were more Sleeping Cars, but I couldn't be sure. I took a number of photos of the Talgo train and then started to head through restricted area toward the back of the Talgo outside which I knew would get me close to the Sleeping Cars on the Empire Builder.
I did get to the end of the Talgo after going through an Amtrak only parking lot, more restricted area, and then some other railroad property. I wasn't quite close enough to examine the numbers on the Sleeping Cars. All I wanted to know is if one of the Sleeping Cars was the 0831 car. I already knew the 0830 car was there. If the 0831 car was in Portland, then I would have an excellent case that they should put me in that Sleeper since I was holding a valid ticket for a Sleeping Room in that car.
Unfortunately, there were a lot of service personnel on the platform and there were several mounted police officers going up and down in that area. I had no idea if the mounted police had anything to do with the station at all, but I didn't want to take a chance. Thus, I headed back to the station carrying my backpack and dragging along my rolling luggage.
There was a tremendous bank of phones in the station and I used a calling card to catch some messages that I was not able to return while I was on the Talgo. Then I found a "Parcel Check" area that would store my bags for $1.50 until I returned later to pick them up. I hung onto my backpack but checked in my rolling suitcase.
I went exploring around the station. I could not find a way to get anywhere near the Empire Builder Sleeping Cars without delving deep into restricted territory while surrounded by lots of Amtrak maintenance staff wearing hard hats and goggles. I'd stick out like a sore thumb!
Since I had almost 5 hours before the Empire Builder would begin boarding, I decided to explore the rest of the Portland Station. In my explorations, I saw a sign that said "Metropolitan Lounge". I must have glanced away for a few seconds as the next sign I saw just said "Lounge". I follwed the signs to the "Lounge" and ended up at a place that said "Access to the Restaurant and Lounge is from outside the station." That wasn't what I was looking for. Metropolitan Lounges are only open to First Class Sleeping Car passengers. I wasn't looking for a lounge open to the general public. I retraced my steps.
I found the "Lounge" sign where I had taken my detour. I looked around fairly confident I had seen a sign that said "Metropolitan Lounge". Then I saw it! It was in a little alcove that I had passed when I went all the way to the station doors that led out to the tracks. I had paused there briefly wondering if I should risk trying to mingle with the workers on the platform and make my way down the the Sleeping Cars. The "Metropolitan Lounge" was as effectively hidden fromt he public as you can get! You have to almost go to the platform were passengers are not allowed before you find the sign leading the way.
I walked to the door of the "Metropolitan Lounge", but it was locked. I tried pulling on the door handle, but it was definitely locked. After I stepped back, I heard a bunch of buzzes like the buzz that comes from remotely operated door openers. Then, I saw a doorbell to the side. That seemed the logical thing to do! Ring the doorbell to get into the "Metropolitan Lounge." I approached the doorbell, but the door suddenly opened before I got to the doorbell. The man at the door inquired: "Sleeping Car Passenger?" I said: "Yes." Then he said: "Well come right on in!"
The place was absolutely magnificent! The atmosphere and service was the epitome of everything that Amtrak is suppose to be! The decor looked like it had been revitalized to that of the period of the stations founding over 100 years ago. Everything was immaculate. The person in charge of the Metropolitan Lounge was Frank Lohr III whose title was "Metropolitan Lounge Representative."
He showed me where they had about 5 flavors of freshly brewed specialty coffee plus a refrigerator full of free beverages. Frank showed me the facilities of the Metropolitan Lounge including comfortable chairs and end tables everywhere, a color TV with headline news, telephones that can be used with a credit card on almost every end table, and a great view of the trains coming and going at the platform!
I explained about my ticket, that the Conductor had told me that I could use the Seattle to Chicago ticket from Portland. He told me he would take my ticket and take care of everything. This was much better than the response I got from Amtrak Vacations or the type of response I often get from a Ticket Desk which is to explain why what I want to do can't be done.
Frank looked up my itinerary on the computer and said: "It looks like there is something already here." My heart sank. I thought the jig was up. I thought he found the stupid coach reservation that Amtrak Vacations had made for me between Portland and Spokane for yesterday. But no. What he found was the answer to my prayers! Someone had completely fixed my record on the computer. From what I could tell, I didn't even have to have purchased my Talgo ticket from Seattle to Portland. If I knew the right words to say, I think they could have printed one out that was just waiting in the computer for me to pick up!
What the computer showed was my ticket from Los Angeles to Seattle, then a trip from Seattle to Portland in the morning, and then a change from Car 0831 to Standard (Economy) Sleeping Room #4 on through Sleeping Car 2830 of the Empire Builder all the way from Portland to Chicago! I don't know who did this, but whoever did the change had done the exact fix that I was trying to get Amtrak Vacations to do. I suspect it was the Conductor on the Coast Starlight from yesterday that made these changed arrangements for me. I told him what I was going to do and he said it was fine. I just wish he had told me he was making all the arrangements for me in the computer to make it "official"!
Since the computer had the new itinerary for me and the manifest for Sleeping Car 2830 had me down for bedroom number 4 all the way from Portland to Chicago, all they did was take a magic marker and write the change onto my ticket! On top of the excellent impression from the Metropolitan Lounge, I was extremely pleased with how my reservation turned out. Needless to say, I spent a very happy afternoon in the Metropolitan Lounge in Portland!
Once I got my ticket squared away, I went over to the Parcel Check area and rescued by suitcase. Sleeping Car passengers can leave their luggage in the Metropolitan Lounge area for free and have access to it at all times. I discovered that Amtrak set up a computer work area in the corner of the Metropolitan Lounge. It is an area with enough room for two people to work on their notebook computers. The area is like a standard office cubicle surrounded by 4 foot partitions. I brought my luggage and backpack into the computer area and set up my laptop computer. Much of this review was written in the time I spent in that area from 1 P.M. to almost 5 P.M. There are both electric outlets and phone lines to use your credit card to make modem calls from this area, though I did not use my modem at that point. I was just thoroughly impressed with the Metropolitan Lounge in Portland, much more so than the one in Chicago. If you have a Sleeping Car and you are spending any time in Portland, be sure to stop by the Metropolitan Lounge. You may have to ask someone for directions, but it is well worth the visit!
Friday, 9:20 P.M. (Pacific Time), 01/24/97, Pasco, Washington
Running right on time! I boarded the Empire Builder and went right to Room 4 on Car 2830. There was a half-bottle of wine and two wine glasses waiting for me. A short while later the Car Attendant came by and opened the bottle for me. It didn't take too long for me to finish off that half-bottle. Considering that all I've had eaten till then was a Danish, the effects were almost immediate. Thus, take advantage of anything extra I might say in this review since I tend to write a bit less reserved after a few glasses of wine, especially on an empty stomach.
There was no schedule or route guide in my room, but they were in just about every other room in this car. I suppose this was suppose to be an empty room until the last minute change was done to put me in here. I found some schedules and route guides by the coffee service area and took one of each. I guess I should be thankful for that. Wine and flowers were set up in my room and I'd probably have more difficulty trying to find my own free bottle of wine!
I just found out that the Empire Builder out of Portland normally does not have a Dining Car! Since we are doing the unusual thing of carrying all of the Seattle cars on this train, we have the Seattle dining car on this train too! The Chief of the train tells us this is a special treat. Since we have a Dining Car, dinner will be served on this segment of the route! We won't have a lot of people on board the train until we pick up all the passengers being bused from Seattle to Spokane so there is only one seating in the Dining Car.
I went to the Dining Car for that one 6 P.M seating and had the vegetable lasagne. I was a bit tired of white wine so I had a glass of red wine with the lasagne. Everything was very good! I was so hungry, probably anything would have been good. I also had the apple pie a la mode for desert along with coffee. The desert and coffee were also excellent. I sat with a native from Canada. We talked about the Canadian trains. According to him, VIArail no longer runs the southern cross-country train which I've been told is quite spectacular. However, the more central cross-country train from Vancouver to Toronto does still run. That must be the one that I am aware of.
This train is configured a bit strange since we have the Seattle cars on the end of it. The order of the cars is Sleeper, Coach, Lounge, Diner, and then more Coaches and Sleepers. Being mostly used to the Coast Starlight, I'm not used to a mixture of Coaches and Sleepers. Most trains have the Coaches at one end and the Sleepers at the other. In trains like that, they seldom ask for your Dining Car Reservation Slip. The Dining Car people know whether you are Sleeper or Coach just from which side you enter the Dining Car! I suppose there are a number of routes that have mixed consists since they are also combination trains. Examples would be the Texas Eagle/Sunset Limited and the California Zephyr/Pioneer.
Friday, 9:40 P.M. (Pacific Time), 01/24/97, Pasco, Washington
Oops! Even though we got here on time, we got stuck here for 20 minutes. On the scanner I heard the engineer say they got stuck here for 8 hours two days ago. I guess 20 minutes isn't bad compared to that!
An announcement on the train just said that running time from here to Spokane, Washington is 2 hours and 40 minutes. If we don't encounter further delays, that will put us into Spokane at 12:20 A.M. That is about 14 minuts past the scheduled arrival. Once we get into Spokane we are suppose to board the passengers coming in by bus from Seattle. Usually the Empire Builder segments from Seattle and Spokane meet in Spokane, get linked togehter and then leave as one train at 1:15 A.M. (all Pacific Times)
I'm not too happy with the Car Attendant yet. He did not come around at all to explain the workings of the bedrooms, even to first time Amtrak travelers. I usually have to wave off the long explanation since I've heard it so many times, but it is only right that they offer to go through the explanation to every traveler. I'm sure that many, like the couple across the hall from me, are first time Amtrak travelers.
I'm also bothered that the Car Attendant had that "another day another dollar" look on his face. There was no happy welcome of passengers to his car like I got on the Coast Starlight. The expression on his face looked like he was thinking: "Look at all these people getting on that I have to serve." I tried to strike up a conversation with the Car Attendant, but he showed just about no interest. Maybe he was just having a bad day. I'll see what tomorrow brings.
Saturday, 1:00 A.M. (Pacific Time), 01/25/97, Spokane, Washington
I'm not sure what time we arrived into Spokane. I slept much of the way from Pasco to here so I must have gotten at least 2 hours of sleep. It is dark and cold out, but there is a full moon making visibility pretty good for nighttime. I know I've mentioned this in previous travelogues, but it is a hint worth mentioning again: If you want to see out of the train at night, make your bedroom as dark as you can get it. That means closing your curtain and turning off all the lights in the bedroom, even the special blue night light. With no light inside the room, you will be able to see as much as is possible outside your room. On nights with a bright full moon you can see quite a bit even in the middle of the night!
I went downstairs to the vestibule and stuck my head out to get some fresh air. The door was wide open, but the platform was so deserted that I was reluctant to step out. They were servicing the train: refilling the water tanks, etc. Sometimes when they do that they will move the train down unexpectedly. During the day they will always give a warning so that no passengers will accidently be stepping on or off the train as they try to move it. But during the night, the only people out and about are a few unusual die-hards like myself who they usually don't plan for. Thus, I hung around the doorway just appreciating the fresh air. The Car Attendant walked by without so much as a single word and moved by so fast that I didn't even have time to stick my own "Hi!" in. Such a disappointing change from the Car Attendant on my last journey, or even from most of my travels!
I goofed up and made my room really hot. I usually like to keep my room very cool. Keeping cool is often hard to do because the Car Attendants tend to turn up the general car heat to avoid complaints by passengers that the car is too cold. However, just before I fell asleep I felt a chill over my shoulders and just meant to close the vent and cold temperature setting for a short while. Instead, the vent remained closed and the temperature setting remained up for the whole time I slept. Now my room is stiffling warm. I've re-opened my air vent and durned the room termperature dial back to maximum cool. I've also left my door open which usually helps bring the temperature down rapidly.
Saturday, 1:15 A.M. (Pacific Time), 01/25/97, Spokane, Washington
Looks like we are rolling out of the Spokane station right on time. I'm going to check the route guide and some books that I brought along for the sights along the route. If some of the major sights are going to be during the night, I might want to wake up for them. Even though there is not enough light to take pictures, there is enough moonlight to see quite a bit outside.
Saturday, 7:15 A.M. (Mountain Time), 01/25/97, Whitefish, Montana
The train arrived a little early at this station and we had to sit here for about 20 minutes to leave at the scheduled time. I woke up about 7 A.M., so I've certainly had plenty of sleep! It isn't quite sunrise yet so there isn't enough light for taking pictures. I decided to go to breakfast now rather than be in the Dining Car when there is enough light for photographs.
I sat alone for almost my entire meal. I had a couple of scrambled eggs, hash browns, biscuit, coffee and orange juice. The food was excellent. They offered me a side of bacon or sausage, but I passed on those. Like vacations on a cruise ship, most people tend to eat a bit too much on the train. I usually only have either breakfast or lunch on the train and try to avoid having both. I've had breakfast. Now I'll have to see if I can hold to my plan and skip lunch. I figure it is better to have breakfast than lunch as there is no light for taking pictures now but should be plenty at lunch time.
When I was finished with breakfast and only had some coffee remaining, 3 people were seated at my table. One was the same man that sat with me a dinner last night. Two of the people were from St.Paul-Minneapolis, Minnesota. The man that I had met last night was from Saskatchuan, Canada. All had spent a lot of time living in heavily forested areas. Since we are traveling through beautiful snow covered mountain forests right now, the discussion centered around that and how the wild animals have problems surviving in deep snow. They talked about the efforts that are made to put out food for deer to keep too many from starving when there is deep snow on the ground. I hadn't even realized that so much human intervention was needed to keep the deer population up during times of bad weather. I remained with that group and joined in the discussion until they had pretty much finished their breakfasts. By then there was enough light for taking pictures and I excused myself to return to my room.
Saturday, 9:38 A.M. (Mountain Time), 01/25/97, Essex, Montana
We seemed to have arrived close to the Essex station on time, around 8:45 A.M., but have been stuck here for a while. Our train had to be moved off to a siding to let a freight train go by. At some point we had to back up to switch across to another track. At the moment we are stopped and there is a freight train also stopped directly next to us, so I am not sure what is going on or how long we will be here. If we lose a lot of time, it will reduce the amount of scenery available during daylight today but will bring morning scenery into daylight earlier.
We finally started to move forward again at almost 10:00 A.M. putting us a little more than an hour behind schedule. I took a number of photographs of the Izaak Walton Inn. There was some pretty large snow equipment in front of it trying to clear away the deep snowfall. A little further ahead we stopped at the flagstof station of Essex. There was a van from the Isaak Walton Inn and it started to load up a few people heading for the Inn. I was taking pictures from the downstairs vestibule window since my bedroom was on the wrong side of the train. The people getting into the van waved to me and I returned the greeting. If you take this train, I would definitely suggest trying to get rooms on the north side of the train. More sights seem to be on that side during this segment of the trip, but according to the book Rail Ventures, most of the rest of the journey has the best sites on the south side of the train.
Heading east the south side would be on the right and heading west the south side would be on the left. In this east bound train my Sleeping Car has the even numbered rooms on the south side (which is the right side of the train) but it may be different on the train you take.
The Car Attendant just made an announcement reminding everyone that Smoking is only permitted in the last one-third of the Sightseer Lounge Car and not in the Sleeping Car a tall. Evidently someone had complained to him about someone in our car smoking in their room. The problem with smoking just about anywhere on the train is that these cars have a central air circulating system. Smoke produced anywhere on the train is soon sent throughout the entire car. For that reason, most Amtrak trains do not allow smoking anywhere on the train. Instead, certain stops are designated as "smoke stops" where the train pauses long enough for one to smoke a cigarette. Amtrak is trying to introduce a completely seperate Smoking Lounge on some trains. They don't have a seperate one on this train and I guess they had to compromise on one-third of the Sightseer Lounge Car because this train doesn't make many smoking stops.
After Essex, the train hugs the sides of canyon walls for many miles passing through occassional snowsheds to protect the track from falling snow and rocks. Off to the side in winter you will see endless mountains and valleys filled with snow covered trees.
Next to the train is a road that is totally covered in snow. We even passed two huge construction equipment size tractor plows. They were totally buried in snow! It looked like they had given up. We've also passed many "No Passing Zone" signs buried almost to the top in snow that had been plowed from the road. Because of the amount of snow on the road, I thought it was impassable. However, I've seen 3 tractor-trailor trucks go down the road so far. I've seen no cars on the road at all.
We just passed by 3 rail cars that were about 100 feet away from the tracks. They were facing perpendicular to the tracks and almost burried to the top in snow. There are also a few nearby houses almost up to the roof in snow!
All I see is white. Looking out both sides of the train there is nothing but white: white snow, white hills, white clouds! There is even a cloud of white being kicked up by the train as it races along the tracks. Every so often a fence pops up through the white. This is evidently ranching country. Once in a while some horses or cows can be seen foraging around the white trying to find some grass sticking up through the white.
Saturday, 11:10 A.M. (Mountain Time), 01/25/97, Browning, Montana
We just stopped across from a building with words painted on the side: "Blackfeet Industrial Park - Indian Industrail Capitol of the World" or words similar to that effect. Right outside my window were some horses and cows standing around a railcar parked on the track next to us. One small pony had himself backed right up to railcar. Without a second glance you would think he was getting ready to pull the railcar! I tried to take a few pictures of the horses right out the window. I'll have to wait for the film to develop to see how they came out.
Out my window to the right the land looks like flat plains forever. There are quite a few fenced areas so this must be more ranch country. There is quite a bit of cattle in some of the fenced areas.
We just passed a small obelisk that is alongside the highway. The obelisk commemorates the northmost explorations of Lewis and Clark when searching for a passage through the Rocky Mountains. I was talking to my children on the cellular phone when I suddenly saw the obelisk. I tried to take a picture of it but won't be sure until the film is developed if I got it.
Saturday, 11:30 A.M. (Mountain Time), 01/25/97, Cut Bank, Montana
We are running just about one hour late now. Cut Bank was a snow covered little town. Once we got out of town we were back to large cattle ranchs on big open plains again.
Saturday, 1:44 P.M. (Mountain Time), 01/25/97, Havre, Montana
While waiting to get off the train, I did strike up a short conversation with the Sleeping Car Attendant. When I arrived at the door, I found him just mumbling to himself about how cold it was. He said he saw a Northern Railroad engine out in the yard and wondered what it was doing there since the Northern Railroad had gone out of business 40 years ago. Then he told the few people waiting to get off that he was just going to open the door for a minute to let us out and would them close it. When I did return to the train I had to enter through the Coach Car next to us. The Attendant for that car stood outside and waited for all her passengers to return before going back in herself.
Cold! It was 25 degrees below zero and a slight wind blowing. I'm very thankful I brought a very heavy coat and gloves along. I stepped out and took a couple of pictures of the Great Northern Railway steam locomotive on display, a picture of the town, the station, a historical marker and several pictures of the Empire Builder train itself. There is a mailbox right on the station platform so I mailed away the next 3 rolls of film to be transferred to diskette. I already mailed 5 rolls of film from my Coast Starlight while I was in the Seattle station. In case you need to know, there are mailboxes right at the Seattle, Washington station and at the Havre, Montana station. After that, I went right back on the train and poured myself a hot cup of coffee!
The train left Havre at about 2:20 P.M., so we are still running about an hour behind schedule.
Saturday, 3:27 P.M. (Mountain Time), 01/25/97, Malta, Montana
Saturday, 4:27 P.M. (Mountain Time), 01/25/97, Glasgow, Montana
Looks like we made up about 10 minutes on our schedule. I had brought a couple of mini-bottles of red wine along on the trip. Thinking this might be a good time to enjoy them, I went downstairs to get them out of my suitcase. There was an older man down in the vestibule excersizing. At least, that is what he said he was doing. All I saw was that he was breathing very rapidly. I thought he was about to have a heart attack. He asked me if I had seen the deer we passed. I replied that I hadn't seen the deer and it was probably because they were on the other side of the train. I did mention to him the elk I saw when I was coming up on the Coast Starlight. He asked me if this trip was getting monotonous. I replied that it definitely was not getting monotonous at all for me. I'm relaying these comments to you just to let you know that not everyone will enjoy a many day trip on the train. Even if you like the first several hours of your train travel, you might not be the type of person that can go on enjoying it for days. If you are not sure you are the type of person that could enjoy living on a train for days, you might start out with a shorter train trip. However, be warned that the long haul trains are not the same as the corridor trains. Even if you take a short trip, make sure it is one on a train with Superliner or Viewliner Cars, a full Dining Car and a Sightseer Lounge Car. Don't judge whether or not you like train travel based on a ride in an Amfleet or Heritage Car!
Saturday, 5:14 P.M. (Mountain Time), 01/25/97, Wolf Point, Montana
Just got back from a 5:30 P.M. dinner. There were not very many people in the Diner. As best as I can tell, there are only 2 Sleeping Cars on this train. One from the Portland Section and one from the Seattle Section, which also originated in Portland because of the closed track between Seattle and Spokane. Many people cancelled their reservation who were originating in Seattle. I guess they didn't want to take the 7 or 8 hour bus ride. Thus, the Seattle Sleeping Car is pretty empty. The Sleeping Car our of Portland seems pretty full, but there is just one of those. So, there just aren't that many people who would be using the Dining Car.
The first 4 people to arrive into the Dining Car were all traveling alone, including myself, so we were all seated at the same table. In the direction I was facing there were 5 more tables which remained empty throughout my meal. I could hear talking from some of the tables behind me, but I'm pretty sure a lot of those tables were empty also.
The talk at dinner was cordial, but nothing too stimulating. The food was very good again. I didn't want to eat too much, even though I had skipped lunch. I had the vegetarian lasagne again with some red wine and then apple pie a la mode with decafe coffee for desert. Everyone at the table had the opinion that the food was quite good. The service was also excellent, but then the service personnel weren't exactly overworked with so few patrons in the Dining Car.
I don't often feel the urge to talk to other people, but I like to know there are people around to talk with when I have the urge for some human contact for a short while. Unfortunately, my cell phone isn't working for this particular stretch of the trip. When I was on the Coast Starlight, I felt I could talk to my Car Attendant for a few minutes whenever I just needed to find someone to talk with. Not on this train. I have no desire to talk with this Sleeping Car Attendant and I really haven't hit it off with anyone else on this train. Usually by this time I've met at least one person that I enjoy talking with and can look them up once in a while if I feel like talking to someone. It is pitch black outside now. I guess I'll either get back to working on the computer or get some sleep. (Isn't this all a bit fuzzy? Must be those two glasses of wine.)
Saturday, 9:14 P.M. (Central Time), 01/25/97, Stanley, North Dakota
We just moved a bit forward out of Stanley and now we are stopping for a few minutes. There is a lot of BNSF freight traffic ahead of us which the dispatcher is trying to get out of our way. As soon as that traffic is out of our way, it will take about one more hour to get to Minot, North Dakota which is a service stop for the Empire Builder. We will stay in Minot for about 20 minutes so the train can refuel.
Saturday, 11:10 P.M. (Central Time), 01/25/97, Minot, North Dakota
Looks like we might have lost another hour and become 2 hours late. I got out at Minot, North Dakota and took a picture of the train at the station and another picture of the "Minot" sign on the side of the station. It is really really cold out there! My ears still hurt from the cold and I was only out for about 5 minutes. I think this place is colder than Havre, Montana!
When I put on my coat and started toward the door, I saw the Car Attendant collecting some trash. I asked him if he planned to open the door. Reluctantly he said "Yeah. I'll be opening the door. Give me a minute." I went downstairs and patiently waited. Another passenger came down also wanting to get out. Eventually the Car Attendant came down and said: "Give me a minute. I've got to get my coat." He then went to another room to get and put on his coat and return before he finally let us out of the train. Keep in mind, all the Car Attendant then did was put a stool outside for us to step out and then he jumped back into the train and closed the door! The only problem with all this is that the amount of time the train stays in the station is limited, so any delay in getting us out the door reduces what precious little time we are going to have outside the train. Most Car Attendants take care of their passengers first and then, when they are not busy with their passengers, take care of their other duties on the train. I'm just not impressed with this Car Attendant at all. So far, the only thing he has offered to do for me is open the complimentary half-bottle of wine at the start of the trip! I feel like I'd be imposing on him to ask him to do anything for me and this is not the way a Car Attendant should make his passengers feel.
The train ended up staying much longer in Minot than it was suppose to. We just left the station now at 12:12 A.M. (Central Time). That means the train is now running almost two and one-half hours late. If the train doesn't make up some of that time, then I won't be into Chicago until about 6:15 P.M. tomorrow. I don't mind that. I'll get to see more on the train in the morning that I would have been able to see if the train was running on time and I won't miss much at the other end since there will still be some daylight as the train approaches Chicago.
Sunday, 8:03 A.M. (Central Time), 01/26/97, Before St. Cloud, Minnesota
I'm not exactly sure where we are but I think it is somewhere around St. Cloud, Minnesota. I woke up at about 6:45 A.M. (Central Time). It was still pretty dark out, but I knew the sun would be rising soon. I figured I'd go have breakfast before the sun came up so that I wouldn't be confined to the breakfast table later when some photo opportunities came along.
I was surprised to here an announcement over the P.A. system telling everyone to wake up because breakfast is being served. With the darkness still outside, I felt like they were making an announcement in the middle of the night. Usually no announcements are made on the train past midnight nor before 7 A.M. so that passengers that are sleeping are not bothered. Then, they sent one of the Dining Car service staff through the car announcing as he walked through that breakfast was being served. I guess they were pretty desperate to get breakfast on the road!
I was one of the first 6 people into the Dining Car and was seated with a man from the Coach Seating section that I had noticed on the train earlier. Then, two more people were added to our table, including one who I had sat with at a prevoius meal. The man next to me was quite boysterous. He flirted with the women service staff and joked with the male service staff. I suppose it did bring attention and maybe more service to our table than we would have received otherwise.
Much of the discussion at the table centered around spirituallity. That was a bit out of my realm. Not that I don't think about these things. I actually think about them a lot. But, my views on that matter are quite different than most people that I have met and it would probably take at least an hour just to lay the foundation of my views. Not wanting to appear to bring something to the conversation out of left field, I remained pretty silent during this discussion. I did feel a bit frustrated not being able to contribute to the conversation and I certainly wasn't upset when our table finished breakfast and headed back for their seats.
I passed through the Sightseer Lounge Car and one of the Coach Seating Cars on my way back to my Sleeping Car. I noticed that the windows were all fogged up in the Sightseer Lounge Car and Coach Car. I would be extremely frustrated if I couldn't see out my window at all on the train! Actually, I often wondered why the windows in the Sleeping Car never seem to get fogged up. I've seen them very dirty, as they are now, but never fogged up. Dirt doesn't seem to be a serious problem. As long as there is a decent amount of daylight outside the train, the dirt on the window doesn't seem to affect the quality of the photos too much. At least, not too much to an untrained eye like mine. There are heating vents directly below every window in the Sleeping Car. I thought these might have something to do with keeping the windows from getting fogged up. Mine is quite cold at the moment, but I have felt it get quite warm at times. So, I'm not sure why I have windows without fog while the Coach and Sightseer Lounge have fogged up windows.
Every Sleeping Car Bedroom does have a temperature control, but I have as yet to figure out what this controls. There is a vent at the top of the car that always blows cold air unless you close the vent, which you can do. The cold air coming out of this vent appears to be controlled by the Car Attendant and it is the same for the entire Sleeping Car. All you can do is open or shut the vent, and in the newer Superliner II Cars, deflect the air into different directions. There is also heating vents on the floor below the windows. At times, I can feel heat radiating out of these vents. It does not feel like warm air being blown into the room. It feels more like the air in the room is being heated by hot elements inside these vents and the heat just slowly radiates out of these vents. Best as I can tell, I don't have control over those heating elements either. A lot of heat is radiating out of those vents right now and I have my temperature control on maximum "cooler"! Then, there is a long vent that is directly below the window and goes from one end of the window to the other. That vent isn't generating any heat at all right now.
In summary, there is a heating vent on the floor which you can't control and a cold air vent at the top of the car which you can open or close and maybe deflect, but can't control the temperature. You can often get just the right temperature in your room by letting enough cool air in from the ceiling vent to offset the heat coming up from the floor. I'm going to experiment a bit with the temperature control and see if I can figure out what it does control.
Sunday, 8:37 A.M. (Central Time), 01/26/97, St.Cloud, Minnesota
Now we really are at St. Cloud and the train is running about 3 hours and 9 minuts behind schedule. That will put me into Chicago at about 7:00 P.M. Central Time if we don't gain or lose any more time.
It is not almost 9:00 A.M. and I've had my temperature control on maximum "warmer" for 20 minutes. I still can't figure out what it controls. For a while, the vent under my left window started to heat up, but that has already cooled down and even the heating vent on the floor has cooled down considerably! Best as I can tell, both of those heating elements seem to be under the control of a setting only available to the Car Attendant. I'll check this out again in the next train. I may have to assume that the control in my room is broken. The know is missing on it so I may also have to assume someone took it off since it doesn't seem to control anything.
The sinks in the pair of bathrooms on the left downstairs were half full of water. That isn't a good sign. I check to make sure the drains were open and they were. I used the single bathroom on the right downstairs which was working fine.
Mostly what I see outside is farmland covered by snow. I can only tell it is farmland because I can see the irrigation devices. Intermixed with the farms is industrial areas and suburban housing. There are also large fields from time to time which I can't tell what they are used for. They are buried in snow and have no irrigation devices. They could be either farmland or land to graze cattle.
Sunday, 10:35 A.M. (Central Time), 01/26/97, St.Paul, Minnesota
The station sign says "St. Paul Amtrak", but it serves both of the Twin Cities, Minneapolis - St. Paul. We've been sitting here for at least 20 minutes. I stepped off the train the moment we rolled to a stop. I asked my Car Attendant how long we would be here. Normally we are scheduled to stay here for 40 minutes since it is a full service stop for the train, including fueling up the engines. When trains are running as late as this one, they like to reduce the time the train stays in the service stop as much as possible. Thus, I asked the Car Attendant to have some idea how long I could stay off the train before I should start getting worried about getting back on again. His answer, as always, was: "At least 5 minutes." That I could have known without even asking. It takes at least 10 minutes just to fuel the train and I'm pretty sure they have a lot more to do before we will be ready to leave. As I said, it has already been 20 minutes and we don't appear to be anywhere near ready to leave yet. Most Car Attendants have a rough approximation of how long it will be before the train leaves. They will always quote you a time shorter than the actual, but their quote will be accurate enough that you aren't in a panic to return to the train the moment you step off. When I'm within 5 minutes of what I was quoted, that is when I hurry back onto the train. With a quote that the train will only be in the station for 5 minutes, I don't even feel like stepping off!
I knew his quote was an underestimate of how long we would be in the station by a long shot, so I took my chances to wander around the platform, the station, and take a couple of pictures. All the while though, I kept my eyes on which door I would head for in case the signal to leave came unexpectedly early. As I had guessed, there was no need to be so concerned. The train was in the station for at least a half hour. Once again I had to enter through the door of the Coach Car next to my Sleeping Car because my Sleeping Car Attendant had closed his door. He really doesn't like that cold air!
As a side note, the Conductor will holler "Board!" a few moments before they close the remaining doors. Sometimes you can't here that call, but the engineer does usually give to short blasts of the horn to warn everyone to get on the train. If you are in the station when you hear that, it is time to run for it! Those two blasts are sort of the last call. The Conductor will quickly look up and down the platform until everyone is onboard before giving the signal to the Engineer to go. If your in the station, the Conductor won't see you and he'll signal the train to go without you. Don't expect your Car Attendant to keep track of you. Unless you specifically tell your Attendant that you will be returning through his door, he will just assume you already boarded the train through another door.
An announcement was just made over the speakers that our expected arrival into Chicago is 6:30 P.M. and that connection information will be given later regarding connections affected by this late train.
Another point of information: Except for remote areas, my cellular phone has been working fine most of the way. A few of the areas connect your cellular phone to "Cellular Express" and require a credit card instead of letting your call go right through and billed through your cellular provider. Whenever that happens, I just hang up. One time when I tried to use a credit card with my cellular phone it got disconnected for two weeks. Another time that I used a credit card on my cellular phone, the call got through, but I paid about $20 for a 3 minute call. Ever since then, I don't use my cellular unless the call goes right through. In most parts of the country your cellular phone will work just like it works back home and you will not require a credit card to place a call.
Looks like somebody used Amtrak's Express Shipping to ship some big screen television sets. There is a forklift taking several "Clarity" TV sets in boxes off the baggage cart and placing them inside the stations freight area. There also seem to be about another dozen boxes of various size with various labels on them being transferred off the baggage carts into the station's freight area.
We are finally underway again at 11:01 A.M. Central Time. Thus, we are still 3 hours and 10 minutes behind schedule. By my calculations that would put us into Chicago at 7:00 P.M. They must have some slack built into the schedule if they expect to make up 30 minutes between here and there.
This train has been a bit rough on the starting and stopping. I think that is because there are so many cars on it. Besides the usual compliment of cars, there are also three cars on the end deadheading to the Chicago repair facility. The three cars are two Sleeping Cars and one Diner from the Pioneer.
From what I have been reading, it looks like under normal circumstances this train breaks up in Spokane when heading west. One set of Sleeping Cars and Coaches goes on to Seattle and takes the Dining Car with them. The other set of Sleeping Cars and Coaches goes on to Portland and takes the Sightseer Lounge Cafe Car with them. Since the Seattle section of the train has no Cafe Car from Spokane to Seattle, beverages, snacks and sandwiches are sold in the Dining Car and people can take them back to thier seats. Since the Portland section has no Dining Car, a free box lunch is delivered to passengers in the Sleeping Cars and everyone is welcome to go to the Cafe Car for beverages, snacks and sandwiches. Heading east, the two sections of the train join together in Spokane and everyone then has access to both a Sightseer Lounge Cafe Car and a full service Dining Car.
Sunday, 12:05 P.M. (Central Time), 01/26/97, Red Wing, Minnesota
Sunday, 1:40 P.M. (Central Time), 01/26/97, La Crosse, Wisconsin
Sunday, 2:20 P.M. (Central Time), 01/26/97, Tomah, Wisconsin
Sunday, 3:15 P.M. (Central Time), 01/26/97, Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin
Sunday, 3:34 P.M. (Central Time), 01/26/97, Portage, Wisconsin
Sunday, 4:02 P.M. (Central Time), 01/26/97, Columbus, Wisconsin
Sunday, 5:15 P.M. (Central Time), 01/26/97, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Sunday, 7:00 P.M. (Central Time), 01/26/97, Chicago, Illinois
We arrived into the Chicago station around 7 PM. I checked around the station to make sure there would be a place I could store my luggage when I returned to the station in the morning. I did find a luggage locker area which I will describe in detail in the travelogue for the third segment of my journey.
I took a taxi to the hotel provided to me by Amtrak Vacations, the "Best Western Inn At Chicago." Just like 2 of my other usual haunts, this place had recently become a Best Western and added the Best Western to the front of its name. That made it a bit difficult for the people back in my office to locate the hotel from directory assistance and for the taxi driver to recognize the hotel name. The other two hotels that I often use that became Best Westerns are the "Best Western Pioneer Square Hotel" in Seatte and the "Best Western Inn At The Square" in Jack London Square which used to be the "Thunderbird Inn." I guess the only way to get some major advertising and bookings through national promotion is for a hotel to join one of the major national chains like Best Western.
My room was on the 21st floor which was one floor down from the top floor. The room was simple but very nice. I had a double bed. It was an older style hotel that had been redecorated with modern furniture and decor. I did not like the fact that I had to pay 75 cents for every phone call even if calling an 800 number or using a telephone credit card.
There was room service in the hotel, but I really wasn't up for a full meal and the appetizer prices were almost as expensive. The hotel also supplied a directory of local restaurants and indicated which ones would deliver. Knowing that Chicago was famous for its deep dish pizza, that seemed the appropriate thing to do. Since I'm one of those people that love cold pizza for breakfast, the one order would take care of both dinner and breakfast for me! I noticed that one place boasted of having "heart friendly" pizza. I decided to forgo the immersion into real Chicago deep dish pizza and go for the "heart friendly" pizza. That pizza was a Spinach Pizza and I ordered it "stuffed" as opposed to flat. They called from the lobby when it arrived and I had to go down to the lobby to get it. The pizza was excellent! It had a ton of tomato sauce on top which is the way I like it and the spinach and cheese were stuffed inside. I did have that for dinner and breakfast and was pleased that I decided on that selection.
Before heading for bed, I opened the curtains to the window figuring the morning light will wake me if all else fails. Was I surprised! Someone had forgot to turn the sun off! Or at least that is what it seemed. With all the lights in the city of Chicago and the snow on the ground and low overcast clouds to bounce that light all around, it was like daylight outside! Light came flooding into my room from the window. I left it open like that and the room became about as light as it would be in early dusk. I fell asleep fairly quick and that was the end of that segment of my journey!Click here for the next segment of this "Winter Wonderland" journey.
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