Train trip to DC, Chi, SA & BC

Old Oct 30th, 2017, 08:06 AM
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Train trip to DC, Chi, SA & BC

We had agreed that too many days or nights on a train was not for us. Nevertheless, we decided to break up a train trip to Washington, D.C., Chicago, Seattle and Vancouver, B.C.

The train from Deland, Florida to Washington DC was scheduled at 2:39 PM. I called the Star taxi a day before to arrange pickup at the airport. I had said they could pick us up in front of the airport. We arrived at the Marriott Courtyard Hotel to drop off the car and shuttle to the airport. The taxi finally arrived, but waited for us at the taxi stand. And so we learned for the first time that taxi and Uber cars pickup at the taxi loading station.

There was a mixup, which was due to my ignorance. I probably did not specify on the phone that I had purchased train tickets from Deland and needed transportation as part of the fair I had paid. Instead, the taxi put us on the meter and when we finally arrived in Deland, the amount came to $62. Inside the station, phone calls were made to the taxi company and ultimately I agreed to pay the meter fair so as not to cause further difficulty. It turns out there must be a ticket issued by Amtrak, which in turn allows them to reimburse the taxi company.

The compartment on the train, as you might imagine, was very small, but with a toilet (not enclosed, but with a flat wooden lid) and a fold down sink. We found that the upper berth has much more room than its counterpart on the auto train, though not as wide as the upper berth on the Canadian train.

There were four seatings for dinner. The dining car seemed to be understaffed but did their best to please everyone. Meals are included in the price of a ticket if one is in a sleeper. Alcohol, however, does cost extra. We learned that alcohol is not permitted on a Sunday while the train is passing through Georgia.

Getting up and down from the top berth involves stepping on the lid of the toilet, and then a shelf and then grabbing onto whatever handles and bars are available to hoist one’s self up. We have never been able to sleep on moving trains and this was no exception.

Delays overnight brought us into Washington an hour and a half late. This was good, because it was originally scheduled to arrive at 7:07 AM, which seemed much too early. As it was, we now had time for breakfast before de-training.

Union Station in Washington, DC is a very large complex, second only in size to Grand Central Station in New York City. Outside of the station, I contacted Uber for the first time and arranged for a pickup at the taxi stand. Inasmuch as this was my first experience with Uber, I did not realize I had ordered an extra large vehicle, and thus paid more than I could have. The learning experience continues.

We also learned that our credit card information is already on record with the Uber company, and no paperwork or money need be exchanged. A tip to the driver is completely optional and some drivers shy away from one.

Our hotel was the Comfort Inn, Downtown Convention Center, and was very nice. The room was large and available for us at 9:30 in the morning. Popcorn is available at noon and cookies at 4 PM. Coffee is available all day long. The hotel is about a 15 min. walk to the Smithsonian Museum of Art right next to Chinatown. After walking through the galleries of portraits, we went to lunch at Fudd Bruchers and then walked back to the hotel to take that well-deserved nap.

We had dinner with a cousin who lives and works in the city. We went to the Lincoln, which is a Spanish-Tapish restaurant. The portions were small, but the kale salad was as big as half of a football and very tasty.

The next day, October 3, was Virginia’s birthday. I almost forgot to give her the card I had brought with us. After a very good breakfast at the hotel, we walked to Ford’s theater, which was about 15 or 20 min. from the hotel, in order to take the hop on hop off bus tour of Washington. We had previously purchased tickets for the various tours within each city we were visiting.

We got off at a few places and marvled, in spite of the fact that we had been to Washington several times before, at how many important and or noted buildings, structures and memorials are located within such a small area.

We stopped at Arlington national Cemetery and saw the changing of the guard.

On our way back to the hotel we stopped at a food market, one block from the hotel for some supplies to snack on before dinner.

The concierge recommended an Italian and a French restaurant. After checking the menus of both online, we decided to go with our heritage. We had dinner at Tortino’s, which was only two blocks away from the hotel. It turned out to be special, indeed. Not only was the food superb, they served a tiramisu on a large plate with happy birthday written in syrup. I had just happened to mention the birthday when we were seated.

A woman at the next table from us, hearing us mention our coming stop in Chicago and the possibility of visiting the Sears Tower, mentioned that the John Hancock building was far better and almost as high, but with a spectacular view of sunset. She also suggested some restaurants in response to our query.

The train to Chicago wasn’t scheduled until 4 PM, so we got an Uber ride to Union station. I had looked online for luggage storage at Union station and found a private company at Gate A. When we got there, they advised that the cost was $68 but that Amtrak had its own luggage storage at Gate E. This information was not indicated in my online research. We asked at an information kiosk near gate E and was told to go to ticketing around the corner. I got online and the first person said to go to another window. It was almost like the Motor Vehicle Dept. They indicated the fee was only $40. However, the agent asked if we had a sleeper. When I advise that we did have a sleeper, he sent us to the Acela club. A porter directed us behind the information kiosk to the lounge to store our luggage and rest, read, use the computer etc. at no charge. It’s good to be King!

We walked out of Union station and around the US Capitol building and out toward the Washington Monument to the Natural History Museum. We enjoyed that, but afterward decided to call Uber for our ride back to the station.

For lunch we went to the lower level of Union station, which had many places to eat. There were also many stores to shop within the station. We finally settled down in the club to rest and await our train. It was only one half hour late.

The compartment on this train was similar to that on the first train but there was no toilet or sink. (There were three restrooms and a shower a mere 10 yards down the hall.) The seats in the compartment, however, did seem wider. That night as the upper berth was lowered, I found that there was enough room for me but I couldn’t get comfortable as the air vent was just above me and I couldn’t stay warm. Virginia got some sleep broken by the movement of the train. I finally got up around 1:30 AM and went to the lounge car. There were others there too. I still felt cold and got no sleep that night.

We arrived in Chicago about 45 min. late but de-trained orderly.

I was still new at Uber for I couldn’t seem to connect with the driver and ended up taking a taxi from Chicago’s Union station. It wasn’t bad inasmuch as it was not a long ride. Our hotel, the Thompson Chicago, is just south of Old Town at the tip of the Magnificent Mile, one block from Lake Michigan. Our room was not ready yet so we stored our bags and went for a walk. It was windier than we anticipated, as we walked near the lake. The John Hancock building was not far and we purchased tickets for a drink at sunset on the 95th floor.

The hotel called to advise that our room was ready as we were walking in that direction. Our room was on the 21st floor, just beneath the penthouse. There were great views of the city. The room was huge with a king size bed, sitting area, very large bathroom with robes, rich in texture and comfort.

We had lunch at a restaurant called Pisano’s. Virginia wanted to try deep dish pizza. The dish was very deep indeed. There were many pictures all over the walls, mostly of sports figures. One that caught my eye was of Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle in casual street clothes. The proprietor then showed us a picture of the Toots Shore softball team from sometime around 1950. We recognized Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Rocky Graciano, Frank Sinatra, Sid Caesar, Phil Silvers, Ernie Kovacs, Rudy Valley and Rod Steiger, among others. What a photo!

The afternoon was devoted to showers and naps and the search for a reasonably priced restaurant, which was not an easy task. Our hotel was in the restaurant district, and just about everything in the area had an expensive menu. More searching online, however, discovered the Cheesecake Factory in the lobby of the John Hancock building.

The view from the observation floor was impressive, but we couldn’t have that drink, as there was a private party in the bar. On top of that, the sun could not be seen setting due to dark clouds to the West.

Undaunted, Virginia managed to get a full refund and we enjoyed a wonderful meal down at the restaurant, then walked back to our hotel.

The next morning we had breakfast at The Original Pancake House, which was directly across the street from the hotel. This restaurant appears to be a gold mine, being the only full breakfast place around. It appears to do a capacity business all morning and closes at 3 PM. What a gig!

The forecast for the day included drizzle but we walked to the Big Bus Hop on Hop off stop next to the Hancock building. Our double-decker bus was there waiting and we went up to the top deck and bundled up until it did begin to drizzle. There is much architecture to see in Chicago with older buildings mixed in with modern structures. We rode the full 14 stops for a couple of hours and got off where we began.

I found that the battery for the camera had gone down, so we returned to our hotel to recharge it. While I was recharging, we went out to lunch. Down the street from the hotel is a place called The Goddess and Grocer with soup, salads and sandwiches to go. We bought and went back to our room.

Afterwards, we walked out for some exercise and to kill time until we had to leave to get back to hop on hop off bus. It will take us to the Navy pier, where we’ll have dinner and board the night and lake tours. Our tickets were for two days and included both.

It turns out that the last night tour leaves the peer at 7 PM, but the last lake tour leaves at 4:30 PM. There was no way we could make it leaving the John Hancock building at 3:45. So we reached the last stop, got out and tried to get an Uber. I found that it is difficult utilizing my cell phone to indicate a specific site to be picked up by the car. However, the driver finally found us and got us to the pier at 4:30, exactly. We just made it onto the boat. Inasmuch as it was included, we went, but the fog rolled down from the tops of the buildings until none of Chicago could be seen. The trip is only 45 min., and by the time it ended, we could just about see the bottom third of Chicago.

We walked up and down the pier area. We were outside until it rained and then walked inside. Ultimately we decided to eat at Margaritaville, one of the many places connected to the pier. Somewhere during the day, we had passed a gelato place and we opted to walk to it from the pier. By this time, the last big bus day tour had passed and the night tour made no stops. It is just a continuous loop through Chicago. The walk was supposed to take about 30 min. However, I can’t walk too fast and have to stop occasionally. It wouldn’t have been so bad except that it started to rain just a bit more than a drizzle. After that 30 min. we were still a distance away so I contacted Uber. This time we got the pickup spot right. We went to, Amorino Chicago for some wonderful gelato.

I’m still quite new at this Uber thing and keep learning. In Washington, DC, the decision was only what type of car, ultra big, regular or share. Each has its own price that you agree to before you ride. In Chicago, the options are wheelchair necessity, a cab with meter, or Spanish-speaking. I chose a cab with meter and foolishly thought I had to pay the fare on the meter. The first two drivers got a nice tip. The third driver was kind enough to tell me that payment was already made through my account. We were left wondering what we will discover on the rest of our trip. By the way, the Uber with the meter is much less than a regular taxi.

The next day, Saturday, the plan was to take the hop on hop off bus around from stop number 13 where we have been boarding to the end and then to stop number 10. From there we walked north to a laundromat we thought was in the area. Unfortunately, when we got there, it wasn’t and there were no other laundromats around. Cleaners couldn’t get our laundry back till Monday, but by then we would be on our way to Seattle. So we have to make do. Fortunately it was not critical.

Back to the hotel to bring back the laundry, lunch from the Goddess and the Grocer and Back to the Big Bus. A lot of people rode the bus on Saturday; many more than on Friday. We got off at stop number five for the Chicago Art Institute. We learned that if you can produce a Bank Of America Credit Card, admission is free.

We saw beautiful art, including many works by, Degas, Renoir, El Greco, Monet , and Manet. There were many other wonderful paintings by artists whose names I am not familiar with.

By the time we left, it was pouring rain. We had an umbrella and plastic ponchos, so we went out and across the street. We were thinking of taking the big bus back to the John Hancock building, but realized we would still have to walk the five blocks to our hotel. So we called Uber.

When we returned to the hotel, we showered, warmed up and got ready for dinner. We did not realize how early it was at that point so we went down to the bar for a drink and then across the street to a place called Dublin Bar and Grill. The place was much too noisy with very loud music. We next trotted back into the rain to the Tavern On Rush, which was very crowded but just a bit less noisy. The food was very good.

After dinner we went for a walk. That didn’t last long, for 45 min. later it started drizzling. So it looked like we were in for the night.

The next day was a beautiful morning in Chicago, but we had to pack and leave. Our train was scheduled for departure at 2:15 PM. The Chicago Marathon, however may delay our ride to the station.

We decided to leave the hotel earlier in case there was a problem on the route. The Uber driver found a way around the marathon route without a problem. We asked an Amtrak employee where to check our bags. He started to tell us but then stopped short when I mentioned we had a sleeper. It opens many doors.

Once we stored our luggage. We walked around outside Union Station and came across some of the marathon runners, so we watched a bit. Union Station is bounded by Jackson on one side and Adams on the other. Adams, it turns out is part of the original Route 66, which, as the song says: “winds from Chicago to LA, more than 2000 miles, all the way”.

We had lunch in the food court at Union Station and boarded the train early.

The Compartment on the Empire Builder is called a bedroom. It is larger, though still compact. It has a toilet and shower (one and the same closet), and a sink along with seats for four and sleeping accommodations for three. On its journey to Seattle, the train will pass through Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Montana and Idaho, before getting to Washington.

One of the advantages of train, versus plane travel is the ability to get e-mail. However, this is very slow, as the train moves from cell Tower to cell Tower. The room has a couch on the right side and a single chair facing it next to the window. When the beds are made up, the couch opens into a small double bed. Above that is the upper berth, which can be brought down so that the room may sleep three short people. Sleep, however, is something else. There are people who can sleep on a moving train and then there are us. At one point, we brought down the upper berth for Virginia to try to sleep in, but she soon came back down. I may try it next just to give us more room.

As the train travels West, there is not much to see, other than a lot of land. An occasional stop gives us enough time to get off the train for some fresh air and to stretch our legs. When we arrived at Minot, North Dakota, we learned just how much the temperature was dropping. Soon we would be moving from Central time to Mountain time. Perhaps as we approach the Rockies, there will be more to see. In the meantime, there’s land and many vehicles and equipment necessary to work land, and from the look of it, some may even be in working order.

We saw some snow on the ground in Montana and some mountains in the distance, but they were not the Rockies. After all the flat land, the miles and miles of cattle and sheep ranches, we were excited to see even a little bump in the earth from the window.

This is the third train of our journey and the menu hasn’t changed. The selections for each meal are limited so unless you try something you wouldn’t order otherwise, one pretty much has to order something they’ve had for one of the previous meals. The steak was just as good as the previous night.

Virginia fell asleep quickly as I climbed up the ladder to the top berth. To my surprise, I woke up more than four hours later. Success. It was a bit of a task climbing down and I decided not to press my luck. After a bit, trying to get comfortable in a chair, I fell back asleep next to Virginia in the lower berth.

Tuesday morning we had to set our watches back again. So we had gained another hour’s sleep. A double success.

The Rockies are all around us now but the train traveled 8 miles through a tunnel cut into the mountains. So much for enjoying the Rockies.

We were so looking forward to arriving in Seattle, and once again be able to enjoy the comforts of a hotel.

Throughout the journey from Chicago to Seattle one can see a number of poles strung with phone, electric or telegraph wires that look like they must have looked when telegraph wire was first strung more than 150 years ago. The landscape is also dotted with occasional homesites littered with what one can only describe as junk. Where are the code enforcement people?

It’s nice to see some fall colors. But not as much as we expected for the middle of October in the Northwest. Lots of trees, but not that much color.

We arrived in Seattle early as we have for most stops since leaving Chicago.

We Took Uber to the Mediterranean Inn in 15 min. time. Just as we remembered it. Lo and behold, the room was available. We cleaned up, unpacked and did some laundry. While waiting, we went across the Street to Safeway and got some things for lunch and the next two mornings, when will be out of the hotel early.

We walked down to the space needle and back. Then we looked up restaurants. The one we selected wasn’t where I thought it would be. I had looked up the directions but walked the wrong way. Thinking that one had closed, we walked to a Greek restaurant not far from the hotel. While there, we noticed a couple who were in the compartment next to us on the train, checking out the menu outside. We waved them in and had a very enjoyable dinner with our new companions. We were glad that we couldn’t find the first place.

We have a tour booked to see the views from Mount Rainier. We’re sure it will be cold, but just how cold is a question. The morning temperature for Mount Rainier national Park was 15°F, with snow and the high projected at 22°. We brought as many clothes as we could carry and reasonably wear with us while on Mount Rainier.

We were picked up at the hotel. The temperature in the mountains was indeed cold; in the 20s with snow all around and coming down. We bought sandwiches at one of the stops on the way up the mountain. Fog hid most of the mountaintop but we saw and walked through beautiful scenery, including so very many extremely tall pine trees, both snow-covered and not. At one point, it was snowing, there was fog all around us and the sun was shining all at the same time. The Tourist Center, however, was already closed for the season.

The tour van dropped us back at the hotel in time to freshen up and meet cousins who picked us up at our hotel and brought us to Chinnoock Restaurant, where we had a wonderful meal and cought up.

The next morning we had to get up early for an early train departure to Vancouver, British Columbia. We took Uber to the station, and got in line to check our passports and get seat assignments. Everything moved quickly. The seats were very comfortable with plenty of legroom. They also recline and have outlets under the tables and foot rests. Everything was quite efficient.

Passports were checked again once we were on the train and before we reached our penultimate station. We completed the declaration forms for customs as we were about to enter Canada. The dates required on the forms are in the classic European sense with the day preceding the month and year. It seems that is done in most places in the world outside the United States.

We thought we had pulled into Vancouver station, but then the train traveled backward quite a time before stopping by what looked like a bus station. There were no announcements. After a while people, all confused, began getting off the train. So we finally did too. We were only then directed to customs. Once through customs, we waited in line for a taxi. We had no service on our phones and couldn’t call Uber. Unfortunately, I did not think to contact my phone service, Tracfone, before leaving Florida to try to get service in Vancouver. Neither did we know that Uber doesn’t service Vancouver yet. It is due to begin next month. So, a taxi it had to be.

I have a credit card which doesn’t charge for international use and keep it with my passport, so I used that in the taxi and didn’t even think of the exchange rate for Canada versus the US dollar.

A Short Ride to the St. Regis Hotel brought us to a very busy area with countless stores over many streets and avenues. Our room is on the top floor (five) and once again it is a great room. The area around our hotel is a bit hilly, but not too bad. We had lunch at a local club and walked around for about an hour, getting a feel for the neighborhood.

We also discovered we had neglected to get service in Canada from Verizon on my iPAD. Fortunately, the hotel had free Wi-Fi, so we were okay.

There are many restaurants around, but most are a bit expensive, even at the rate of $.83 per Canadian dollar. We had passed the Lennox Pub earlier in the day so we went for Irish fare. I am not a big beer drinker, but I thought I’d try an ale. The Okanagan Springs Extra Pale Ale was just the thing to go with the Shepherds pie. Virginia enjoyed a half rack of ribs. All was fine, until the hockey game between the Jets and Canucks began. Then, most of the TVs were tuned to the game and the TV announcer’s voice was loud throughout the restaurant. Still, we had a good time.

Up in the morning and out to Vancouver. We walked down to the Vancouver Lookout to catch the trolley for the hop on hop off bus tour. It was a nice ride and it was good to get out of the cold for the temperature was about 40° with the breeze. We couldn’t take too many pictures from the trolley unless the driver stopped for more than a few seconds. Getting off the trolley meant waiting an hour for the next trolley to come by, which was unacceptable.

We made the entire loop and then went up to the observation deck of the Lookout where we could take as many pictures as we wanted. Afterwards, we walked toward Gastown and had lunch at the Bambo Café. The sandwiches were unique in taste and construction. It was quite a find. We continued walking to and around Gastown, stopping in a number of interesting stores, shops and boutiques. Most of the clothes and such are very typical for winter in Canada.

I managed to print our boarding passes for the next day’s three flights back home.

During our walks through Vancouver, we passed The Spaghetti Factory, with a menu that looked good. How can you go wrong with spaghetti? So that’s where we decided to go for dinner.

The restaurant was very good. The décor and menu selections were perfect. My only complaint was that the spaghetti was too aldente, even though I had asked it not be. But I ate the whole thing, anyway.

Then we walked back up to the Lookout to see the view from the 44th floor at night. That view cannot compare to what we saw from the observation deck of the John Hancock building in Chicago. However, I snapped away with my camera in blissful ignorence.

After we got back to our room at the St. Regis, we went down for a drink at the hotel bar. The hockey sports news was on, so it was a bit loud. They really like their hockey in Canada. We enjoyed our drinks. We had arranged for a taxi to pick us up to take us to the airport the next morning, so it was time for us to pack. The cab driver chose US dollars over a credit card. It must have been to his credit, or benefit.

It seemed everyone who takes a credit card in Vancouver as a handheld device, which is quite expedient. That is, if you know how to use it. Some are a little different and adding a tip constantly confused me. I had to ask for help each time. Having the credit card I had was good was indeed good and proved its worth.

Airport security in Canada is different from what we’re used to in the United States. They have it down to a science, however and all works smoothly.

The weather in Seattle caused the plane we were to board to be a bit late arriving in Vancouver and our gate was changed, but we didn’t have to move far because the new gate was right next to the one we were at. The plane was scheduled to leave at 9:26 and arrive in Seattle at 10:26. Instead, it took off at 9:45 and landed at 10:15. We didn’t even have time to finish the Bloody Mary they gave us. In the Seattle airport we followed the route to the tram, which took us to another terminal and then boarded our next flight with plenty of time to spare.

We had splurged for the flight from Seattle to Atlanta and had first-class seats. 4 ½ hours from Seattle found us with plenty of time to eat at a TGI Friday’s before boarding our next flight to Daytona Beach. The clock said 9:30 PM, but our body and head said only 6:30. We’ll probably get home after midnight and feel like it’s only 9 PM.

Four trains, three planes, four hotels, and a host of cars, taxis, vehicles and a lot of walking later brought us to an end of our adventure. None of it detracted from the adventure. They only added to it.
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Old Oct 30th, 2017, 09:36 AM
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Very nice report . . . MANY more people will see it if you re-post in on the United States forum.
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