Like most great cities in the world, Chicago is like an Elephant. It's best eaten one bite at a time. So over the next few weeks please bear with me as between the karis and biscuits I post exciting details of this trip to Chicago which I hope will help you plan your next vacation to this phenomenal city.
Here's the first snapshot.
For whatever reason for most of my life my idea of transportation has been somewhat limited to air and road. Travel by rail was a knowledge that resided as a faint flicker in the distance. I knew it existed but our paths rarely crossed.
I am not referring to the hustle and bustle of the daily commute on the Metro or some sort of Mass Rapid Transit but rather the kind of travel where you choose to ride the train for a long journey v/s filling up the gas tank or googling for airtix on cheapo-whatsit.com
So when the thought of vacationing in Chicago with our dear friend SM was the books for this years family vacation, I came across an the article on the 52 most scenic railroad routes in the US. And lo and behold, The Capitol Limited between Washington Union Station and Chicago Union Station was on the list. Furthermore, I thought it would be a delightful experience as a family vacation where the vacation begins at the point of embarkation rather than at the destination as is so often the case.
We kept this a secret from the boys since they had never ridden the train before.
Following the historic B&O line through the Potomac Valley, past historic Harpers Ferry and the Allegheny Mountains into Pittsburgh, it then crosses into Ohio heading north to Cleveland, and then across Ohio and Indiana into the center of Chicago.You'll find all the details you need at amtrak.com
On the day of our departure we decided to arrive at Washington Union few hours earlier. This so we could spend time walking around this amazing building with its beautiful Classical Architecture, trendy boutiques and lively cafes.
Washington Union Station - Overlooking the beautiful staircases, boutique shopping and food court below
I of course couldn't wait to sink my teeth into one of the flaky croissants and coffee at au bon pain.
The train is a double decker and uniformed attendants who reminded me very much of the conductor in the The Polar Express we were guided all the way from the gates to our compartment.
Very clever the way they segregate passengers based on their destination and everyone in our carriage was getting off directly at Chicago.
Once we climbed the narrow flight of stairs in the train to our seats, Steve our Attendant laid down the 'rules of the train'. These are his words. I remember them fairly accurately because I found his delivery quite amusing -
- Every one in this carriage is travelling to Chicago and not getting off anywhere en route. Yes?
- No smoking. There will be no second warning. If you are caught smoking, the train will be stopped and you will be riding the Greyhound to your destination.
- Lights out at 10.00pm. If you wish to use your blackberries, I-phones or laptops (without headphones) or talk loudly to your fellow passengers you will do so in the Observation Car.
- I will return for your dinner reservations or feel free to use the Cafe car.
- If you need anything else, please contact me.
Speaking of seats, I was thoroughly impressed with the comfortable large reclining seats where we had at least 5 ft leg room and this is in coach! I couldn't believe how comfortable the seats were especially with the tilt-up-leg-rest. And so began our journey on the Capitol Limited, our first rail experience here in the US.
But the real highlight of the train was this -
In the daylight hours, Sightseer Lounge is the very best way to spend the day and enjoy watching the spectacular scenery roll past. With comfortable seating, it is an excellent place for kids to hang out as well. Connected to the Cafe car, we enjoyed an evening glass of wine while watching the sunset.
Dinner in the Dining Car, with its white cloth covered tables and red carnations in vases was inviting. The menu however is limited with 1 roast chicken, 1 fish, 1 pork and 1 'special' selection. The rolls were fresh, the sides unflattering. Noteworthy however is that the cost of USD 14 + change, per entree also includes a drink and coffee at the end of the meal.
On the return journey we bypassed dinner on the train by picking up a bagful of Thai takeaway on the way to the station. Best decision ever.
Breakfast is served starting 6.00am and was quite good - steer away from the omelet and stay with the more traditional offering such as scrambled eggs, oatmeal and French toast. Coffee is included in the price and all in all quite reasonably priced at about USD 25 for all of us.
The train winds along many rivers making for a wonderfully scenic route.
As we pulled into Chicago downtown and caught our first glimpses of the city, as I was gushing to Mr. Hubby about how fun this journey has been, the ever practical Mr. Hubby said "and the best part, no baggage fees".
As for me, I'm already planning our next train journey but I'll keep this one to myself lest Mr. Hubby remind me once again that he has only so many days of vacation in a year. Sigh.
~10 tips to make a fun trip riding the rails all the more fun~
- Bring blankets and pillows on-board! It's freezing at night.
- Dress warm, long sleeves and comfortable.
- Ladies, forget the high heels - I learned this the hard way - 10 trips to the loo in the bottom tier and my knees were singing.
- Bring snacks
- Bring games, books and a portable DVD player. Here's an excellent opportunity to catch up on films.
- Bring airline sized alcohol bottles and make your own mixed drinks for cocktail hour- at 6 bucks a pop from the cafe car those add up pretty quick
- Bring on-board take away for the evening meal - delicious and beats the bland grub
- Pack toiletries and plenty of wet ones if travelling with kids. It's amazing how many accidents the kids get into especially when you have only one change of clothes.
- Pack a spare change of clothes especially for the little ones - refer to #8
- Amtrak will check-in your baggage up to 24 hours before you ride the train for free! So save your money and don't store your luggage at the luggage room. It cost us 30 bucks for 2 hours worth - ugh!