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Amtrakís Cardinal Loop: Hoosier Fave Midwest Capital? Indy, Columbus, Pittsburgh

Amtrakís Cardinal Loop: Hoosier Fave Midwest Capital? Indy, Columbus, Pittsburgh

Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 06:03 AM
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Amtrakís Cardinal Loop: Hoosier Fave Midwest Capital? Indy, Columbus, Pittsburgh

Hello!

Iím sitting across the street from the handsome Indiana State Capitol building at present, with its striking blue-green dome holding columns holding an upper blue-green dome. Uniquely imposing.

This trip was my latest inspiration and incorporates a few of my favourite things: a sleeper train, new train routes, discovering new cities and seeing a dear friend in Columbus OH I havenít seen in forever.

What does this trip look like?
June 22 Washington, DC to Indianapolis (Amtrakís the Cardinal)
June 23-24 Indianapolis (Greyhound to Columbus)
June 24-27 Columbus OH (Greyhound to Pittsburgh)
June 27-30 Pittsburgh (Amtrakís the Pennsylvanian and Northeast Regional to DC)

I opted to not teach summer school again in Montreal so as to help my parents in northern Virginia with tasks around the house. Just as a quick plug, I have a new appreciation for the city of Falls Church VA, which I bike to from my parentsí place to pick up groceries, medicine and hardware supplies. The red brick sidewalks, farmerís market and parks with benches give Falls Church a charming almost small town feel. Funny, since I donít drive, I feel my northern Virginia existence these days is in stark contrast to most in the region (including myself when I lived in the area), whose world spreads throughout greater metropolitan DC rather than being localized to a specific community mostly.

*Amtrakís the Cardinal*

I had long heard that this 3 times weekly NYC-Chicago ride was one of Amtrakís east coast beautiesÖ and it did not disappoint. What surprised me given that Chicago is the final destination was how far south the train goes in Virginia, crossing into West Virginia at the level of White Sulphur Springs. Leaving DC a bit before 11am, I was amazed that we were only leaving Virginia at a bit before 6pm.

In fact, as I was mentally singing John Denverís ďtake me home country roads, West Virginia, Blue Ridge mountainsĒ admiring the towering deciduous tree-rich mountains surrounding, roaring rivers with rapids adjacent the tracks and bucolic grassy green valleys with odd farms and homes with porches, I mistakenly assumed on numerous occasions that we had already entered *West* Virginia when in fact the train was still in *Virginia*. And I was struck by the charming town centers in Virginia Iíd not seen before, from the local shops in Manassas and Culpeper to the red-brick tall building grandeur of Staunton Virginia to the occasional country store and enticing Main Street in some unknown town whose name I wish in retrospect I had looked up where there was no train stop.

There were only a few hours of sunlight for the actual West Virginia portion of the journey, whose steeply sloped verdant Appalachian (Blue Ridge?) mountains did not disappoint as the train straddled alongside either the wide and often rapid Greenbrier River for many miles between White Sulphur Springs and Hinton WV. Later along the Kanawha River near Montgomery WV, the lights from the riverside homes twinkled appealingly, making me think that one day I might want to use this train for a West Virginia adventure.

In summary, the Cardinal is worth considering for those who want a specially scenic train ride leaving the northeast corridor. For those who donít want to get a sleeper, you could make a day of it only going as far as Charleston WV (at which point it will be dark or getting dark). Another fun loop with a sleeper might be DC-Chicago on the Cardinal followed by Chicago-DC on the Capitol Limited train, two completely different routes.

*Thoughts on first time to Indianapolis and Columbus coming up*
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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 08:12 AM
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Thanks Daniel for starting a great trip report while still on your trip. The Cardinal is one of the few trains east of Chicago that I have not ridden. Why aren't you taking the Capitol Limited from PGH to Washington? I did take the Pennsylvanian from PGH to Harrisburg last month. It was the first time I rode on a single level Amtrak train since the trip on the Three Rivers from Chicago to Harrisburg many years ago.
If you enjoy seeing state capitol buildings, you can visit the one in Harrisburg which is about 1000 feet from the HAR Amtrak station.
The Pittsburgh Amtrak station is strange with an escalator down from track level to the waiting room/ticket/baggage office. I spent 4 hours there (8PM-midnight) waiting for the westbound Capitol Limited back to Chicago.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 08:40 AM
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Hi Tom,

Thanks for the heads-up about the Pittsburgh station. My reasons for taking the Pennsylvanian out of Pittsburgh were two-fold. First, the Capitol Limited is scheduled to depart at 5:15amójust sounded awfully early (Pennsylvanian leaves early, but 7:30 sounded better). Second, the Pennsylvanian is one of the routes Iíve never taken and Iíve taken the Capitol Limited a few times. I did debate it though as the Capitol Limited is faster and requires only one train; likely I would do that in future.

Thanks for reading this far! Best wishes, Daniel
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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 09:12 AM
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Glad to hear that you are enjoying your trip. John Denver sang:
Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
...

I agree with the first line but the second one is off when it comes to geography. You crossed the BRM in Virginia and the Shenandoah River in Virginia and the Shenandoah Valley and then crossed the border into WV and Appalachia. The BRM does cross WV but in the eastern panhandle farther north. I think the Shenandoah River is all in Virginia, but at some point, after crossing the valley, you would see a change in the land and that would be WV.

(am not intending to give a geography lesson here but just wanted to clarify where you were. Plus, I have always had my doubts about those lyrics so I just followed up on that and googled a bit.)

Last edited by mrwunrfl; Jun 23rd, 2022 at 09:19 AM.
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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 12:36 PM
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Hi mrwunrfulóThank you for commenting on John Denverís song. We used to visit the Shenanadoah River Valley when I was a boy, so from the lyric I presumed the river must go into West Virginia, so your comments are interesting to me.

TomfulleróTerrific that the Pennsylvanian stops so close to the Harrisburg Capitol building. That would make 3 state Capitol buildings Iím seeing this trip. (By the way, I did know Pittsburgh is not the capital of PA having been through Harrisburg lol and visited Pittsburgh aeons ago, I just wanted to include Pittsburgh in the title as itís a major part of this trip to get the audience who wants to check out Pittsburgh as part of a train trip. But if it gets someone reading this trip report who wants to correct me, Iíll be happy for the extra reader; the more the merrier 😊.)
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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 05:54 PM
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*Indianapolis*

Iíd been *through* the state of Indiana on a number of occasions. The Capitol Limited and Lakeshore Limited pass through the state between the east coast and Chicago. One family trip where we drove from Virginia to Minnesota when I was a teenager, we may have even spent the night at a highway motel in Indiana in transit. However, this trip, at 50 years old, was the first time Iíd ever spent the night in Indiana with the intent of exploring a community in the state, as well as my first time ever to the city of Indianapolis.

Amtrak was due to arrive in Indianapolis on the Cardinal at 5:15am; we ended pulling in around 6am. The train/bus station in Indy is one of the dingier ones Iíve seen, although it is centrally located downtown, so I decided to just walk to my hotel.

Other than the stately State Capitol building, which I found very aesthetically appealing, I instantly appreciated the canal, which especially comes to life in the afternoon and evening when the swan boats ply through the water and families and friends walk
on the sides and chat on benches. The canal is also
great as it gives a pleasant place to walk to access some of the cityís museums as well as the White River State Park, which has pleasant viewing spots to admire the moderately wide eponymous river.

The Indiana History Museum was free on Thursday, which I was happy about, as the museum I only found moderately interesting. I did like seeing the drawings of Indiana towns in their formative years. The Eiteljorg art museum drew me in more; I especially appreciated their collection of Bierstadt and Remington paintings, as well as others. Of note, the Eiteljorg Museum Cafe I found to be a cut above many museum cafes; their pozole soup of the day was exceptional.

Visiting a new city always brings some ilk of surprise. Prior to supper, the things that had surprised me most were minor, such as seeing a bird with a yellow-green tinge (I still donít know what it was, reminded me a bit of a big titmouse but the colouring was wrong) by the White River and noting that the squirrels had longer bushy brown tails, a tail colouring Iíd never seen before in squirrels.

After supper at friendly Loughmillerís Pub across from the Capitol, the waiter advised me to check out Monument Circle. I had read about the Soldiers & Sailors Monument but I had no idea how tall and impressive it is, or how iconic it must be for those who know Indianapolis. The fountains and artistry of the statues are exceptional. Cleveland has a monument of the same name but itís much smaller and thatís what I was imagining. Funny how ignorant I was.

The waiter also steered me to the Slippery Noodle, a blues bar founded in the mid-1800s. Prior to my post-supper exploration, I had found Indianapolis to be a bit sleepy; seeing Meridian Street pubs and street-life between Monument Circle and the Slippery Noodle showed me an exuberant and festive Indianapolis and made me mentally erase the ďsleepyĒ designation for the city.

Iím very glad to have discovered Indianapolis and this trip makes me wonder what other spots in Indiana might be worthwhile.

*Columbus, Ohio. Curious to see the offerings of Midwest capital #2 this trip*


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Old Jun 23rd, 2022, 05:57 PM
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Soldiers & Sailors Monument from lively Meridian Street

Indiana State Capitol

Swan boats in the canal
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Old Jun 24th, 2022, 01:47 PM
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Hi Daniel, The names Indiana and Pittsburgh gave me two nice memories so it will be fun to read your TR.

Have you seen the movie "Breaking Away"? That is memory #1.Thank you!
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Old Jun 24th, 2022, 04:51 PM
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Hi Tdudette,

IĎm just leaving Indianapolis now. I did an excellent tour today of the interior of the State Capitol; up there with the most beautiful Iíve seen and Iíve seen quite a few beauties in my years including those in Albany NY, Richmond VA, Trenton NJ, Springfield IL and Austin TX, all of which had top-notch tours and tremendous beauty. I also saw the Indiana State Museum on the canal todayówas excellent, lots of well-done interactive displays!

Glad the title caught your attention and hope it brought back some good memories of these places.

Best wishes to you for a great summer,

Daniel
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Old Jun 25th, 2022, 07:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Daniel_Williams View Post
Hi Tom,

Thanks for the heads-up about the Pittsburgh station. My reasons for taking the Pennsylvanian out of Pittsburgh were two-fold. First, the Capitol Limited is scheduled to depart at 5:15amójust sounded awfully early (Pennsylvanian leaves early, but 7:30 sounded better). Second, the Pennsylvanian is one of the routes Iíve never taken and Iíve taken the Capitol Limited a few times. I did debate it though as the Capitol Limited is faster and requires only one train; likely I would do that in future.

Thanks for reading this far! Best wishes, Daniel
My experience with the eastbound Capitol Limited was that it got to PGH late (left CHI late). I had to wait to pick up my bag that I had checked in CHI. I took the escalator up and got on the Pennsylvanian and we were underway by 7:35. One ticket agent was handling the baggage off the Capitol Limited and seeing to it that we got it before we had to get on the Pennsylvanian.
The farther back in the train you are when you go around the Horseshoe Curve the more likely you are to see the engine going around the curve.
After we left Lewistown but before we got to the world's longest stone arch railroad bridge, we had a tornado alert and the dispatcher had the train stop for about a half hour. It was nearly 3PM before we got to Harrisburg. At least I got to the car rental place before they closed at 5.
You might be able to get to see and photograph Independence Hall and other landmarks in your time in Philadelphia before your train to Washington.
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Old Jun 26th, 2022, 12:45 PM
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Always glad to read about train trips!
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Old Jun 26th, 2022, 05:30 PM
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Greyhound from Indianapolis to Columbus, which looked like an easy trip, turned out to be not easy at all. The 4:05 pm bus I was supposed to take had broken down and I was luckier than some as I was able to get rescheduled onto the 8:15pm bus, which would get me in after Midnight.

*Columbus, Ohio*

Not only had I never been to Columbus, the Ohio state capital, but my Ohio experiences have been very limited. I visited distant relatives in Sylvania for a few hours at 13 years old on the way back from a family trip to Minnesota and Cleveland for a few days in my late 30s and thatís it.

My best choice for this trip was booking a hotel right next to the charming German Village part of town. I loved the red brick streets and sidewalks, the gardens and architectural style of the historic homes of this neighbourhood. Supper at the iconic Schmidtís Sausage Haus was also an atmospheric special way to enjoy some spštzle and soak in German Village ambience.

Columbus was about visiting a dear friend from college. She brought me to the OSU campus where she works, where we admired the stately Orton Geological Museum building and took in views of campus and city from the 11th floor of the Thompson Library. From there, we continued to the North Market, which had an exceptional variety of cuisine from around the world as well as some unique and delicious varieties of ice cream on offer at Jeniís. A most beautiful excellent after-lunch stop was Topiary Park, which had the creative and brilliant idea of turning hedges into the scenes of Seuratís Sunday Afternoon in the Park on the Island of Grande Jatte.

Today, my friend and I met and rented CoGo Bikes from a station to get exercise while admiring the river views from the bike paths beside the Scioto Mile. I especially liked the LeVeque Tower when taking photos of the Scioto River, beautifully lit up in pink at night and right next to the handsome City Hall. I definitely give Columbus good marks for cycling as far as North American cities go. Kayaking is another activity people do along the water, as well as in nearby Dublin, Ohio; the relative calm of the water made this activity seem appealing.

Tomorrow, Iím planning to do a tour of the Ohio Statehouse and will report back.

*Next up: Final thoughts on Columbus and on to Pittsburgh*




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Old Jun 26th, 2022, 11:11 PM
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Topiary Park. A portion of the scene of Seuratís Sunday Afternoon in the Park on the Island of Grande Jatte.

Biking along the Scioto River is a great way to spend a day.

I felt that none of my photos captured the charm of German Village properly.
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Old Jun 28th, 2022, 05:05 AM
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*Parting thoughts on Columbus*

Iím sort of funny this way, but I always feel an ilk of sadness when I leave a location, and Indianapolis and Columbus were no exception. This feeling dissipates quickly, pretty much from the moment of leaving a destination and becomes replaced by excitement of wherever Iím headed to.

The Ohio State Capitol tour is yet another I would highly recommend doing. Like most US states, Ohio has a bicameral legislature and the House of Representatives I thought had a particularly beautiful room, with a touch on the chandeliers Iíd never seen before, statuettes sitting on the chandeliers themselves. I will include photos of the Atrium and a staircase surrounded by arches to give a small sense of the beauty of the Capitol. Donít be fooled and think because the building has a cupola rather than a dome that the interior will be somehow less; the interior is every bit as stunning as some of the most magnificent State Capitols Iíve been to.

After a tasty Indian lunch at the North Market, I wheeled my luggage to the bus station, taking lingering looks at the handsome century-plus old orange-red brick homes of German Village, reflecting on the fascinating history of the neighbourhood that I learned about thanks to a book my friend encouraged me to buy at the Book Loft, a fascinating labyrinthine space in the midst of German Village. In this book, I learned that there was even a German newspaper serving the South End Columbus Deutschsprachige Mensen, der Westbote, that lasted from 1843-1918. The arrival of World War 1 brought an end to that, and street names were changed, such as Bismarck to Lansing as a result of anti-German sentiment. It is a wonder and I am thankful the neighborhood survived, as Prohibition also brought an exodus from the German Village, as the breweries and saloons that were in some ways the lifeblood of the community could no longer function. In case anyone is wondering, I did make it to the institution Schmidtís (est. 1886) for supper, where I enjoyed their signature (donít know why they call it Bahama Mama?) sausage on a bun with green beans and spštzle as a side, followed by the decadent vanilla cream puff.

As I sat eating a buckeye while sitting on a bench near a splash pad that had a handsome view overlooking the Scioto River, as usual I was wondering when I might return. A buckeye is something I learned about this trip, an Ohio snack with peanut butter interior and chocolate coating, which frankly is quite reminiscent of a Reeseís peanut butter cup.

Greyhound seems to be having a hard time, as *again* my bus was cancelled, this time to Pittsburgh. However, I was impressed with how quickly the Columbus Greyhound staff rather efficiently arranged Uber minivans for the passengers to Pittsburgh, so kudos to them for that. Incidentally, the ride between Columbus and Pittsburgh is an attractive one, with the topography getting hillier as one moves into the hills of eastern Ohio and the steep landscapes of northern West Virginia and western Pennsylvania. Arriving in Pittsburgh from Columbus was interesting to me, as I remember how when I visited the city some 20 years ago from Baltimore, how I felt that Pittsburgh felt sort of Midwestern to me. Fascinating that coming from Columbus and Indianapolis, Pittsburgh seemed very east coast!

*Pittsburgh next*
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Old Jun 28th, 2022, 05:07 AM
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Ohio Statehouse

Ohio Statehouse
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Old Jun 28th, 2022, 05:29 AM
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TdudetteóI realized I did not answer your question. I had not seen (or heard of) Breaking Away. Thanks for pointing me that way!
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Old Jun 28th, 2022, 10:44 AM
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What a lovely Ohio State house, Daniel. Thanks for sharing the photos.

If you can find "Breaking Away" I do recommend it. Look for young Dennis Quaid and Daniel Stern among others.

Second memory is driving into Pittsburgh from a wedding and thinking how lovely the area was. Possibly the same route as you. We were only passing through so I'm looking forward to your TR. Thanks again.
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Old Jun 29th, 2022, 04:11 AM
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Felt I should also include pictures of the Indiana Statehouse interior as it was equally lovely as the Ohio Statehouse.


Tours leave from here.

All three column types: Ionic, Doric and Corinthian
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Old Jun 29th, 2022, 07:20 AM
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I do hope that you get the chance to see the inside of Pennsylvania's capitol building in Harrisburg. It is every bit as beautiful as Indiana's and Ohio's. I think there is at least one eastbound later train after the Pennsylvanian if you didn't want to spend the night in Harrisburg. Let us know about your Uber van trip from Columbus to Pittsburgh.
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Old Jun 29th, 2022, 05:57 PM
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*Pittsburgh*

So let me just begin by saying how utterly stunning Pittsburgh is. Sitting at the fork of the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers coupled with numerous colourful bridges, barges and pleasure boats as well as steep inclines adjacent the Monongahela River capped with Victorian homes, Pittsburgh offers such a singular beauty that I frankly struggle to even think of another city Iím even reminded of.

Although I had a layover at Pittsburghís bus station in 2011 on the way from DC to Cleveland, I had only paid Pittsburgh a proper-ish visit last in March 2002. I was living in Baltimore in 2002 and remember I had a weekend free, was feeling hungry for travelling somewhere new, arrived Saturday afternoon and was already leaving midday on the Sunday. Which had given me time for only the tiniest of tastes even then.

With 2 full days in Pittsburgh this time, I really got to branch out more. My first stop was Fort Pitt, situated at the attractive point by the circular fountain where the three rivers meet. Also the site of Fort Duquesne, touring the excellent museum, I came to realize that the fight for this strategic site was perhaps arguably as important for British control of North America as the Plains of Abraham in Quebec City during the mid 1700s during the Seven Years War (some may know it as the French & Indian War) as it gave the victor access to this key connector point of the Ohio River with its access to the Mississippi River.

The Fort Pitt Museum also gives a discount to the Heinz History Center, an equally excellent museum that had an exhibit featuring John Kaneís Pittsburgh-focused art, as well as one looking at the phenomenal number of innovations that took place in the Steel City. I didnít know for example that Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine in Pittsburgh, or that renowned Canadian Maud Menten of the important Michaelis-Menten equation in enzymology was a faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh or that Thomas Starzl, famed liver transplant scientist, was based on Pittsburgh.

The other museum I visited was the Andy Warhol museum. Do be aware that the T (subway) has a free zone, which takes one from the downtown to the North Side where the museum was situated; I bought a day pass and realized only too late that I didnít have to. I didnít know much about Warhol although I did recognize his name and some of his works; what struck me was how much access he seemed to have to exceedingly rich & famous people.

In my opinion, one of the best ways to appreciate the beauty of Pittsburgh is to take the Monongahela Incline funicular which has been operational since 1870. I appreciated the ride in 2022 every bit as much as I had in 2002 as the old-fashioned-seeming contraption hauled us up the steep slopes as one admired the skyline and the Monongahela River. This year though I had enough time that I walked at the top of the incline ride in the Mount Washington neighbourhood for maybe 20 minutes to the Duquesne Incline (est. 1877) and rode that funicular for the first time as well. I would definitely recommend the Duquesne Incline as you get a perfect vantage point from up high of where the 3 rivers meet.

All in all, Pittsburgh was a lot of fun and Iím glad I incorporated a 3-night stop here as part of my visit to my friend in Columbus.

*Pennsylvanian Train and Final thoughts on trip coming up*

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