The Empire Builder, Day 1

Trip Start Jul 14, 2012
1
12
15
Trip End Aug 03, 2012


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Where I stayed
Chicago Union Station
Minneapolis, MN

Flag of United States  , Illinois
Monday, July 23, 2012

It was a day of Amtrak that started at 11:59p the night before.

Coach class from Pittsburgh to Chicago on the Capitol Limited.
Seats? Wide with plenty of legroom.
Pillow? It was an iPad, just without as much cushioning.
Cabin Temp? Maybe 27 degrees ... I am being generous. We had endured heat, heat, heat to that point everywhere we went, so we were ill-prepared for arctic weather. Also, the gentleman in front of us snored, wheezed, coughed, gagged and threw in a snort or five. Yet this same guy gave a disgusted look to a lady with a 2 year old who let out one cry. If he had said something, I would have had to say something, and, things having thus been said, it would have been ugly. Noah said he was awake for every stop we made and I think I may have slept through one.
Back to Chicago with time to kill before the big train. We did little in the way of specific activities, just floating around town being sufficient. We were both reminded of how much we really like this city. Amongst the gritty urban vibes of the Loop you still get this Mid-western down-home quality from the people that makes it unique Chicago. Still so much to see here -- aquarium, museums, great theatre and many restaurants. It truly was the highlight for both Noah and me and we hope to return soon.

The Empire Builder, our train to Seattle, began as a route for the Great Northern Railway back in 1929. It really seems like little has changed in the experience as you begin the journey. We waited in the Metropolitan Lounge for our conductor who walked through the lounge and shouted "Now boarding train 7, the Empire Builder, with stops in ...(many stops) ... All Aboard!" we then walked out onto the platform beside the train and walked the length of the train to one of the front sleeper cars and there we were greeted by Laura, a nice young lady from Seattle who would be our attendant for the journey. She wore the classic Amtrak uniform, but no little hat, which was disappointing, but dealt with. That was the only thing disappointing about Laura as she was readily available for anything we needed, turning down our beds at night and reconfiguring to seats during the day.

Our Roomette consisted of two seats facing each other, a little fold down table in between and a closet (within a closet!) that was literally 6" wide. The seats were plenty wide and the window provided ample opportunity to watch the land pass before us. After the experience on the Capitol Limited, we felt like this was luxurious.
Laura came by soon after leaving with champagne and sparkling cider. At this point both Noah and I thought this was going to be pretty cool. Carlo, Italian accent and all, came by to get our dinner reservation time and let us know the specials for the evening.
We then sat back and watched the America channel on the big picture window. I found my method of watching changed from time to time. There were times I would be looking at something specific, be it a small town or large corn field, then anticipating what may be coming next. Other times I took a very passive approach, my eyes settling on one region of the window and letting the passing scenery create a wonderful moving textured pattern of golds and greens and blues. It was during these times that I felt most relaxed, truly vacationing from the cares of life.

Noah was in charge of keeping us updated with where we were at any given point. He used my phone for google maps, the route map and schedule and the various updates from the conductor over the loud speaker. It is always nice to be able to pinpoint in your mind about where you are, just to get a sense of time and distance from where you came from.

We decided that we would try to get off the train as much as possible, given the close quarters and need to stretch our legs. Only some of the stops allowed it. At least we tried to get pics of the town signs as we approached the various stations. Noah wanted to make sure he could claim to have been in a particular state and felt just rolling over it was not enough. So we got out and planted our feet in Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Washington (although he's been there already) North Dakota was new for me, so that brought my total to 43 states visited.

Our first meal in the dining car was dinner. White cloth covered the tables, each one having booth seating for four. You are reminded each time by Carlo that if your party is less than four, then you can expect to be "making a new friend." I must say that this aspect of the trip was met with glee by neither me nor Noah. Just sounded like a ton of forced small talk while eating food. Yet, while not our preference, we both thought it was okay by the end. Our dinner mates this night were Jim and Jean, a retired couple from Tennesee. Both were delightful and told us some great stories about the many places they had lived. The food was quite good and would stay that way throughout the entire trip.
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