Saturday 24th June 2017

Why is it I seem to book flights that are first thing in the morning. Do I hate myself that much? Not a good start to my morning as not only did the shower have no water pressure, there was no hot water. Cold showers at 3am… Sounds great doesn’t it? Even checking out of the hotel was a hassle. They had told us when we checked in we would miss out on breakfast but that coffee was available 24 hours, that the yoghurt fridge should be open & possibly some fruit too. Nope! The shuttle should have gone 24 hours too on demand. We got to the desk around 345am & there was no one around. 5 minutes later the lady came up as though we were putting her out & when I said we needed the shuttle “4am only”. So much for on demand.

We finally made it to the airport & check in was a mess. People everywhere! This was my first experience with Midway & it wasn’t off to a good start. The thing that made this experience off was that it was not like my other Southwest experiences. No one was there to help, there was no typical southwest customer service, just a typical airport experience of people in bad moods.

After dropping our bags we made it to security where everyone was using the precheck lane up until we joined the line then they opened the main checkpoint & people got confused. Finally got through the crowds & security safely to the other side. Time to find our gate which was on the other side of the airport. One of the last gates. It was strange to me that our plane came into a gate late last night & wasn’t yet on the gate if it had been towed off for either maintenance or something else. This day was getting strange.

Nothing really open down our end of the airport so stuck to what I had on me, but just stumbled around like a brainless idiot. Around 20 minutes before boarding the crew shows up, still no plane. They start asking questions, the gate agent looks around aimlessly, pretty sure this is going to end in a gate change. Seconds later the crew start packing up & heading off, low & behold the plane wasn’t moved it stayed on its original gate. So 10 minutes before boarding was due, they changed our gate to the opposite end of the airport. Sigh. We were going to be delayed.

Off we trekked to the other side of the airport and were the first two people at the gate, even beating the gate agent (who stopped for coffee apparently). By the time we started boarding we were going to be at least 20 minutes late.

Southwest Airlines – WN4652
Chicago Midway to Los Angeles
0610-0830
Boeing 737-700 (N7731A)
Economy Class – Seat 16F

Boarding: 0550 (Gate A17)
Push Back: 0652
Take Off Roll: 0656 (Runway 31C)
Top of Descent: 0827
Touch Down: 0857 (Runway 24R)
Shut Down: 0910 (Gate 10)

Boarding was introduced in the usual Southwest fashion, an explanation of how to line up correctly. There was a lot of people who did not understand how this works & it was the usual shit show while people tried lining up where they shouldnt. It all worked out in the end & we soon got onboard.

Took a seat towards the back, although my favorite seat was open I was scared I wouldn’t be able go use underseat space so left it. Rookie move Mal. After we settled in it was then wait wait wait. We were all on by 6:15pm so around 10 minutes late, but sadly we now had maintenance problems. Yep, gonna be late.

We waited & waited, eventually getting the ok to close the door almost 35 minutes late & being off the gate 45 minutes late. We had the usual Southwest speed taxi to the runway and had barely stopped when we were told line up & wait. As we got clearance to take off the two up front were not messing around, they planted the throttles & when wheels went up they pulled back and climbed out steeply. I don’t think I’ve ever had such a steep climb out on a 737.

As we climbed out the child in the row behind me continued to kick & hit my seat and then the guy in front of me reclined into my face, this day couldn’t get any worse could it? I spoke to soon. Shortly after leveling off I pulled my earplanes case out so it would be easy to grab when it came time to take them out. Well I apparently must have knocked it off at some point & it disappeared. I lost my shit at this point as those earplanes are painful after a while. By this point I had them in almost 2 hours & the pain was kicking in. I needed to keep them in something clean so they wouldn’t put dust or anything in my ears. I lost it.

Heidi smartly got a clean cup & lid from the flight attendant for me to store them in. She’s always smarter than I am. I always tend to lose my shit when I lose something (news flash happened twice on the flight, kinda was like a tired 2 year old). After that since I was trapped in hell I tried to catch up on as much rest as I could, didn’t get much. I napped a little but it wasn’t worth while.

About an hour out I went through my usual rituals getting ready for descent & we started to pass over the grand canyon. It looked good but awfully hazy today. Right on 30 minutes out we started our initial descent towards LAX & about 10 minutes later the pilots gave their warning. Quickish descent over the city & started lining up for the north runways.

Came in right over In n Out as the child behind me started screaming nonsense, and I mean screaming, at the top of his lungs. Did I tell you he was 6? How do I know, well he repeatedly told his parents he was 6. Ugh. Anyway as we touched down we had a fairly prompt exit from the active onto the taxiway, but we were way down the west end of the field. Standing out down there was the new Qantas hangar and boy were they big!! Qantas has to move down there after they pulled down a lot of the older space that American used for the Mid Field Concourse. QF though got the better end of the deal as AA got shafted with old facilities.

We taxied back towards Terminal 1 and as we approached Terminals 2 & 3 it was strange to see them filled with Delta aircraft. Guess the new move is working away. However sadly we were coming into gate 10 at LAX. The Tow in gate! Fun! The pilots came on and gave us a brief to say that we would take a little bit to get into the gate as we had to be towed in and to not stand up until the seat belt sign is off. Thankfully everyone did as they were told.

Not too soon later we were off the plane, into the terminal and waiting for our bags. They took a while but they showed up!.

Wednesday 21st June 2017

After collecting our luggage and making out way out of the station we headed to the street & the lick up points for ride share. We requested a ride and moments later we were being picked up. Off to the hotel we went.

Due to peak hour it took a while to get up to the hotel from Union Station but it was fine. We were dropped off in the driveway for our hotel, The Waldorf Astoria Chicago. The hotel was one of my work benefits so we had used it for 2 of our three nights. Check in was a breeze & within a few minutes we were on our way up to our suite. We had been upgraded to a Waldorf Suite on the top floor. The room was amazing, so much space. The view though was blocked by other buildings bit we could see glimpses of the lake.

After checking out the room and waiting a few minutes for our bags we got ourselves settled & then headed out to dinner. We decided to have some pizza the first night, so I let Heidi decide. She went with Giordanos which was only a short walk from the hotel. Sadly when we got there it was a 45 minute wait for tables & then it’s another 45-60 minutes for pizza. We waited it out and it was well worth the wait.

After waddling back to the hotel we crashed for the evening as it was getting late by that stage.

Thursday 22nd June 2017

After waking up & heading outside for a long morning walk along the lake, I had to meet a hotel rep in the morning so we took it easy to begin with. I headed down to Dunkin for some breakfast, Heidi had leftover pizza.

After getting to check out the hotel, including some amazing rooms like the Presidential Suite, we headed out for the day. We hopped the Red Line down to Millennium Park & checked out the sights. We took photos with The Bean & then worked our way down to the Buckingham Fountain. More walking as we made our way back through the city to Portillos for lunch.

Portillos is famous for its hot dogs & Italian beef. Since my allergy precludes me from eating Italian beef, I’ll stick to the hot dog. We got there & the waits were not to bad. We were smart & got a table first. I had forgotten how wierd the Chicago hot dog really is. It has so much stuff on it, you would think someone was drunk when they invented it. Still tastes good though. I surprised Heidi with a slice of their famous lemon cake which you can only get on rare occasions, luckily one of them was the day we visited. Heidi enjoyed her first try of a Chicago hot dog so that was good.

After lunch we went back out into the humidity & 90F weather. We walked back down to the river slowly before our 4pm cruise along the Chicago River. Time for the architecture cruise. I had done it when I first came & loved it. So much history & learning a lot about different styles of buildings. I thought Heidi might like it. Of course the minute we get on board the open top boat it begins to rain.

The cruise was great & I learned a few new things. Heidi did too after a while, to begin with it was a but too much information for her. But by the end of it we had both enjoyed it. After the cruise we walked along the riverfront for a bit, grabbed some dinner & hopped a train back to the hotel. We finished off a long day of walking by relaxing on the couch eating sandwiches from Hannah Bretzels, a flashy kind of subway that offered Pretzel Bread rolls. They were delicious!

Friday 23rd June 2017

Woke up at a normal time today & hit the hotels gym for a bit. After returning to the room & cleaning up it was time to pack up our stuff. We decided to leave our bags at the hotel & head out. We would come back later on & grab our stuff before heading to the other hotel.

We had breakfast at the Dunkin Donuts near us & then headed off to explore North of the river today. Started off with the water tower and then off along the waterfront to Lincoln Park. Heidi wanted to explore the park so off we went. She had earlier told me she didn’t want to see the zoo but the moment we got there she all of a sudden wanted to see the zoo. Sadly no time 😉

We took a long walk through the Lincoln Park neighborhood on our way to lunch. While not from Chicago, we wanted to give a sushi burrito a try. We found one at was once called Sumo Restaurant (since changed name) & it was delicious. I had the Angry Salmon & boy was it spicy,covered in cheeto dust too. After lunch Heidi & I walked back to the Red Line to jump a train over to the Magnificent Mile, for a donut, before returning to the hotel.

After collecting our bags & ordering a ride share, this is when things went awry. The driver that had been sent to us by the rideshare decided not to use the hotel driveway but instead park on the street out of view of us waiting on the driveway. The car looked run down & he had music blaring. Those two I can forgive, but the way he drove us to our other hotel was the killer. He ignored the directions on the app, he ran several red lights & stop signs too. A 35 minute rode took almost an hour. By the time I got to the hotel I was hot under the collar, literally too as it was stinking hot in that car.

We checked into our other hotel, the Sleep Inn Midway airport. A one night stay by the airport for our 6am flight the next day was all that needed. The room was booked as a name your own price on priceline & I got a relatively good deal. Although the hotel was basic it was pretty nice. We did get the typical priceline treatment of an accessible room. Not much in the way of options for food around the hotel but what they did have was a Lou Malnati’s close by. We choose to compare pizzas.

After an amazing dinner of deep dish we waddled back to the hotel to crash till the Weee hours of the morning.

Current Location: Country Inn & Suites Ontario Mills

Monday 19th June 2017

After a pretty relaxing morning and early afternoon Heidi and I were dropped off at King Street Station to check in for the train. This is where rail travel has it over air travel. There was very little in the way of hassle. We dropped our bags off, no ID check, no ticket check (though if you have it, that works as well). He made sure to confirm that we knew that we would not have access to our checked bags till we get to Chicago. I was surprised by this but he said that people think they deliver checked bags to their cabin… Nope! Baggage storage at the station was available for $10 per bag for 24 hours. Didn’t really want to do that so we just carried around our bags. Total time for check in, less than 2 minutes. Considering there is no security check you just walk straight out to the platform, man that was going to be an easy time.

Heidi and I went for a walk to get her a new water bottle as the one thing we left behind was her full water bottle. We took some time walking around the area and also sat outside in the sunshine to enjoy the last bit of outdoors for a few days. We watched as the train pulled into the station and then headed downstairs where boarding was about to be called.

Empire Builder
Seattle King Street Station to Chicago Union Station
1640-1550+2
Car: 0831 Bedroom: B

We followed the crowds out to the platform where we waited in line to get onboard. Our Sleeping Car Attendant, Mark, met us at the door, checked us off his list and then pointed us in the direction of our cabin. We had booked a Bedroom onboard and that meant we went upstairs and at the top of the steps we turned left (usually right but our car was reversed). The bedroom has a private shower and toilet and a large couch that spans most of the width of the cabin. That seat converts to a lower bed that is roughly the size of a large single bed. The upper bunk comes down from the ceiling. There was also a single seat opposite the couch against the window so that you could sit facing each other if you wanted.

We got acquainted with our accomodations and stashed all our gear. Compared to the roomette there was definately more space. Sure it was tight but it would be way more comfortable than being cramped in a tiny room. The good news with our room was that we would be facing the direction of travel, however because of that the views of the water on the way up the sound. Can’t win them all. I would rather be facing direction of travel than not as it is easier on th brain.

We departed the station right on time and shortly after were met by the Conductor to check our tickets, Mark to check on us and let us know functions of the cabin. Shortly there after we were met by Patti the Dining Car Attendant to take dinner reservations. All the meals are complimentary for sleeping car guests so we just needed to make a reservation. We took an earlier one so that we would be able to see things as we climbed up the Cascade range.

As we crawled north up the sound it was a great site to watch houses on the right and the water on the left. After picking up large groups of people in Edmonds and Everett the train turned east and off we went into the Snohomish Valley. A volunteer from the Trails and Rails program stopped by to say hello and explain how the program works. Two members of the Klondike Gold Rush National Park in downtown Seattle would be with us all the way through parts of Montana to give us commentary on what we would be going past. We talked about why we were going and why the train etc. The kinds of conversations you can have when you are stuck on a moving vehicle with people for 2 days. Most people we met were only going part of the way, to Whitefish or one of the stops in Glacier. We were going all the way though.

Not to soon later we were called to the Dining Car. You simply walked up to the dining car when your time was called and they would seat you at the first available table. It is community dining too so you are going to be seated with other people. Welcome to making new friends! We were seated with a couple from Bellingham who were really nice. Thankfully we hit it pretty good on the dining car roulette wheel tonight. The food was pretty decent to be honest. Is it going to be amazing 5 star dining quality on fine bone china. Nope! But the food was simple, delicious and of adequate size. Heidi likened it to Applebee’s style, I thought it was slightly better than some US Airlines domestic First Class meals (hi Alaska, i am talking about you).

We conversed over dinner as we climbed the Cascade range towards the top of Stevens Pass. Thankfully we wouldn’t be going over the pass but through it. Just as you pass under US2 to start climbing towards the pass the train plunges into total darkness. You enter the cascade tunnel and for the next 15 minutes, total darkness outside. At this point we were just finishing our dinner so it was fantastic timing. The people after us though, sorry folks, welcome to boring! Since we didn’t yet have the sightseer lounge (it was making its way up from Portland) the dining car was the only place you could see out both sides apart from the vestibules.

I had the Roast Chicken for dinner with a baked potato while Heidi had the Chicken and Bacon Fettuccine Carbonara. Both served with a salad and roll and followed by Dessert (of course I had some, who do you think i am!). It was a pretty decent dinner to be honest. The chicken was really moist and the salad although basic was pretty nice. Dinner was an enjoyable adventure, life was looking up on the train.

We finished off our night by having our beds made between Leavenworth and Wenatchee. The bottom bunk was large, it wouldn’t sleep the two of us comfortably but you could certainly lie together for a while. We watched a TV show as we approached Wenatchee and that is when Heidi decided to call it a night. I was planning on staying up till Spokane to watch the two trains get combined, but that didn’t happen. I took a stroll down the platform in Wenatchee but decided to call it a night. I did manage to wake up in Spokane and tried to get out on the platform but for some reason the doors were locked.

Tuesday 20th June 2017

We both woke up early. Sleeping on the train was a restful sleep, it wasn’t solid. The cabin got quite hot after all the power shut offs in Spokane and the pillows were not my style. Heidi slept pretty well, but i was on and off. Around 5am we both kind of woke up. We knew we wanted to be up early as we would be travelling through Glacier National Park for part of the morning after rolling out of Whitefish, Montana. We had planned to head to the Sightseer Car to enjoy the better views and listen to the Trails and Rails commentary.

This was where the morning was going to get interesting, time to use the facilities. The combined toilet shower is tight, really tight. I could barely fit in there but boy was it going to be interesting using it. I didnt do too bad but the water usage is funny. You turn a dial to set your temperature then push a button to ensure that you get water. It takes time to heat up but there isn’t anywhere to stand, so you kind of have to hope its not to hot or cold. The other thing you have to worry about is items that shouldn’t get wet. Towels are up high so that is fine, but the one that is most important is the toilet paper. Thankfully it has a plastic shield to stop it from getting wet, because otherwise you are in all sorts of problems.

After both of us had cleaned up we went back through the train to check out the sightseer car before breakfast. At this time (barely 630am) there was already people camped out in the car. More than likely people from the sleeper wanting more space. This was the first glimpse I had of coach. The leg room was massive! It sure puts even some International Business class seats to shame. Once breakfast started we moved up to the dining car to begin our first full day on the rails.

Breakfast options are very egg centric but it was still pretty decent. I went with a “Creole Grits Bowl” which was lacking shrimp but had eggs instead. Add on a side of bacon and you are in tasty town. Different server to last night but also a different breakfast companion. New discussions of course and after a filling meal, Heidi went to claim us some seats while I went back to the cabin to grab some stuff. Just as we were finishing up breakfast we pulled into Whitefish so I was able to step out for a few minutes and get some fresh air.

Once back onboard I went to join Heidi in the sightseer lounge as we started to go through the Glacier National Park. We spent a good few hours winding our way through the park, learning about the sights, the park itself and even a good portion of history. We made an unexpected delayed stop at Essex, Montana. Only meant to be there mere moments to let some people off but unfortunately we also had to wait for an Ambulance to arrive. It meant a good 40 minute delay. But it allowed me to read my magazine for a bit.

We headed back to our cabin after leaving Glacier National Park and settled in to some time alone, confined to the countryside passing us by. Heidi played games, I ended up working on the trip report. We were due to hit Shelby, Montana, right around lunch so we decided we would hit the platform for a few minutes and then have lunch. Just as we were pulling into Shelby Mark told us about one of the only wooden phone booths left on the Amtrak network. It can be found inside the station waiting room at Shelby. We ran down the platform as they only gave us 2 or 3 minutes and we were even told if they call All Aboard while we are in there to just go for the first available door. We made it back with plenty of time to spare anyway.

Lunch is a free for all, similar to breakfast, so no reservations were taken. Instead we apparently timed it right to get in lunch with no wait. We sat down immediately and a few moments later the whole car was full. Score! Lunch was pretty simple, I had a salad and Heidi had some quesadillas. Again a small chat with our lunch companions and back to the cabin for a small bout of TV and plenty of watching the world pass by. The next stop would be a large one as it was meant to be a catch up point, but I didn’t think it would be that likely. We were pretty consistently about 40 minutes behind.

We pulled into Havre around an hour late, but we were told we were not stopping long. Scheduled for a 20 minute stop to pick up supplies it was more like 5 minutes and then we would be back on the rails. But things were not going as planned for some people on the train. We already had a point where we had to offload someone to an Ambulance. Now we had a few people being taken off the train in zip cuffs by the local sheriffs. What happened!!! Our sleeping car attendant told us that the conductor onboard today has a reputation for no nonsense. They were not kidding, because to end up being kicked off the train is one thing, kicked off the train and in the hands of cops, wow.. What did you do!!

Sadly because of the cops we were delayed a good 15 minutes so by the time we got back going it was just not working out. We obviously had lost our right of way (or slot) across the tracks as we were now getting stalled a number of times. All we could do was just settle back and forget about it, this isn’t like in an airport where you have ways to perhaps get rerouted. Nope we were in it for the long haul.

We continued up the line through Montana for most of the afternoon. We should have reached the border to North Dakota around dinner but it looked like we were going to make it around bed time. Not a big deal to be honest as long as I had a chance to step off the train at some point. We pulled into Malta and there was a good crowd of 30 people waiting to get onto the train, all grouped together. Thing is, they were all Mennonites. I thought they were amish, but i was quickly corrected by Heidi and it was evident they would probably need to be split up. So that load took a while and put us further behind. It meant we had to back up, push onto the siding by the station and let a freight train go by. This meant we were blown. We would be pulling off the side for just about every freight train all afternoon!

By 430pm we were a good almost 90 minutes behind or possibly more! Guess its time to just chill out and relax! After a while we decided a change of scenery was necessary so headed towards the sightseer car. Sadly though all the seats were taken upstairs, but downstairs…. Wide open!! Downstairs in the sightseer car is the cafe, where you can buy snacks and drinks. A good option for people in coach who may not want a full meal in the dining car. Well we sat down there with a map figuring out how far we had to go. Helped out a few others as well.

Shortly our dinner slot was called and we headed to our final 3 course dinner of the train trip. Starting with a dinner salad while we worked out what we wanted. This time our dinner companions were the first we have had from outside the USA. A Swiss couple who did like trains, so we talked about that over dinner. This was the meal that I had been told I needed to get, Steak. The Amtrak Steak is probably the best deal for a sleeper passenger, as it normally costs around $25! They just added a Surf & Turf option too so that made it over $36! Well the fantastic thing was that it all came included. So the dinner came with a salad, roll, my steak, shrimp, veggies, baked potato and a dessert. Also my soda was free (first one of the trip, because we didn’t realise it was included). For dessert I rounded out my options and went with the Greek Yoghurt Cheesecake. I had managed to try all three desserts and by far the best option was the Lemon Tart, it was delicious.

We concluded dinner and headed back to the cabin for some more R&R. Shortly after returning from dinner though the whole reason for this trip finally occurred. We crossed the North Dakota border on approach to Williston. I was determined to get out on the platform but no smoke stop this time. As we were running behind they wanted to make sure we had as much time as possible on the rails, so it became a very short break. Instead we spent the next coupe of hours on the train watching as the sun set across the North Dakota plains. State #49 complete!!!!

We decided we would wait up till we arrived into Minot, North Dakota. This would be a fairly late evening by local standards (not by PST) but its not as if we had to be anywhere in the morning!! We still had a good almost 18 hours on the train still ahead of us. We even decided to sit back and watch a movie while we waited for the train to cruise east towards my first step onto North Dakota soil. When we pulled into Minot and I stepped down onto the platform it was all worth it! We walked around the small station for a little bit but jumped back on as they started to empty the lavatory tanks. The smell alone would make someone lose their lunch and considering most of the train was downwind it was better to be inside. When we started roll out, we both decided to head to bed.

Wednesday 21st June 2017

I awoke without the need of an alarm about 5am as the sun began to make a decent amount of light out the window. The full sunrise had passed but it was still in that nice light where it wasn’t too bright. I enjoyed watching the world pass by. I pulled out my phone to see if i could get a map location and it turned out we had just left Fargo not to long ago. That means we lost more time during the night 🙁 We were running around 2 hours late as we tracked through Minnesota. If we were running on schedule we should have been in Minneapolis St Paul before 8am. That didn’t look like it was going to happen.

I slowly made my way out of bed and after a while managed to convince Heidi that having breakfast before the crowds was worth it. This time I had a lighter breakfast than yesterday the crowds were not present. We ended up having a table to ourselves which was nice. Did not expect that at all! After breakfast we went back to the cabin and I watched the world pass by for a little bit. Being back closer to civilization meant I had the opportunity to catch up on the world, something I had not been able to do fully since we left Seattle. This would be a day of coming back to reality after spending the last day crossing a big chunk of the country.

Today’s route would be crossing the last parts of Minnesota towards Minneapolis St Paul (really St Paul as that is where the station is) and then heading South towards Chicago, following some of the Mississippi River as well. We moved down to the Sightseer car to enjoy a different perspective to some of the views as a change of scenery would be nice. The dining car still looked pretty empty as well so that was a nice change for them. I knew a few big groups were getting off in Minneapolis but others were going through to Iowa so that meant all the way to Chicago for them.

We apparently were not going to be too badly delayed as we started to pull through Minneapolis passing all the rail yards and the outskirts of the downtown area. Amtrak doesn’t use the traditional Great Northern Railways station in Minneapolis but uses the old Burlington station in St Paul. This old station has been around since the 20s and looked amazing! I left Heidi on the train (she didn’t want to hop off) and explored the station for a few minutes.

As we waited at St Paul there was a lot of people getting on and off the train. This meant that we were there a long time! It was a good 25 minutes while they loaded and unloaded bags to the train. Most of that time I spent on the Platform soaking up the sun! The craziest part of it all was the amount of people getting on and off. It took a good 10-12 minutes to get everyone off and they didn’t start loading people till everyone was off so they didn’t have traffic jams in the carriage doors.

As we pulled out of St Paul we were about an hour and a half delayed with about 8 hours on the rails ahead of us. It would be an easy day for us as we had no where to go and plenty of time to just relax. What was evident to me is that this is purely train country. Everywhere you look on the sides of the track in some of the towns was a lot of rail sidings. They were everywhere as you cruised along as well. Different companies, different kinds of cars as well. Must be nice!

Spent most of the morning in the cabin with Heidi playing cards or watching Macgyver. We had one off train stop in Winona and then before you knew it, its time for lunch! Our final meal in the dining car would be a free for all lunch. We didn’t mind waiting a bit so we put our name down once they called waitlist (after we crossed into Wisconsin). We ended up at a table with people we had not yet met, which was good. I finished off the trip with the famous Amtrak Burger, you can’t mess up a burger right? The burger was good but you could tell you were coming to the end of the journey when things started to run out. Dessert was one option, Vanilla Pudding. Dang (I still ate it).

We retreated to our room to while away the rest of the afternoon in relaxation as we came out towards Lake Michigan. From there we would cruise south through Milwaukee and into Chicago. We spent most of the time playing cards in the cabin. By the time we reached Milwaukee they expected us to be about an hour late. In the station as we pulled in was the Empire Builder heading West to Seattle/Portland, waiting to head out (mainly for us to get off the track). At the rear of the train were two private cars being hauled along the end. Next to us on another siding was another private rail car, this time way more flashy, an end of train observation car!

We pulled out of the station in good spirits, about an hour and a half from that point to Chicago. But little did we know that was going to change. There was one final stop before reaching the end of the line and about 15 minutes outside that stop we got bad news. We were stuck behind a Metra Commuter train 🙁 That train had to make every stop on the way in. Sadly we would have to crawl along behind him as there was no way for us to get past 🙁 In the end we would be just under 2 hours late.

As we got closer and closer to the city the bigger more iconic buildings could be seen. Willis tower was probably the easiest and you could see it from miles away. As we got closer and the peak rush hour took more into play there was so many Metra trains heading out. It was as if there was one going every minute or two. As we approached the station they announced the track to the staff so they knew exactly what side of the train to let people off and this also told them how close we would be to the station entrance. Thankfully for us our platform had us right by the station entrance.

We hopped off the train after finally arriving into Chicago. It was all over! The trip had taken a solid 48 hours! We were happy to be off, yet sad that part of the journey was over. We took a few minutes to check out the great hall of Union Station (and find the stairs from the Baby Carriage scene in Untouchables). It was a pretty magnificent looking building. Nothing like King Street Station. Once our bags finally showed up (they took a while) we claimed them and headed on out. Time to hit Chicago!

Current Location: Waldorf Astoria Chicago

Introduction

____________________________________________________________________________________________

It is almost the time for summer vacation here in the USA and that means that Heidi and I can finally take some time off together and get away from the world of work. This year though things are a little bit different. After heading home to Australia last year, this year we decided to stay here in the USA. I have visited 48 of the 50 states and I wanted to add at least one more state. Sadly though the two states I am missing are not the easiest to visit, North Dakota and Maine.

Originally we were looking at driving back across the country from Chicago and spending two weeks exploring some of the area. But sadly that was not possible as car rental companies wanted something in the vicinity of $3000-4000 for a one way rental. Yeah, no.

So we looked back at what to do and came up with a bit of a different idea. What if we caught the train? Amtrak’s Empire Builder runs a daily service between Seattle and Chicago straight through the state of North Dakota. The train has a number of stops in North Dakota including a full refuel and crew change in Minot. Score! So we could take the train all the way from Seattle to Chicago (or the other way around) and spend a few days in Chicago. But what to do for the rest of the time!

Heidi hadn’t seen Sylvia for a while so it was pretty easy to catch a flight down to LA and then spend some time in the area. We both like Las Vegas so that was a given, and with some time mid week we could probably head somewhere pretty decent as prices would be pretty good (as long as there wasn’t a conference). Heidi also wanted to take me to Joshua Tree National Park which could mean a small side trip to Palm Springs. That meant the trip was set. Everything was booked and I managed to get some of the hotels through work.

After a few back and forth changes thanks to schedule changes, hotel issues the trip was finally fixed up and we had a a pretty good itinerary that looked like this:

Monday June 19th – Seattle to Chicago – Amtrak Empire Builder 440pm to 3:50pm+2
Wednesday June 21st – Waldorf Astoria Chicago – 2 Nights
Friday June 23rd – Sleep Inn Chicago Midway – 1 Night
Saturday June 24th – Southwest Airlines WN4652 – Chicago Midway to Los Angeles
Saturday June 24th – Country Inn & Suites Ontario – 1 Night
Sunday June 25th – L’Horizon Resort & Spa Palm Springs – 2 Nights
Tuesday June 27th – Aria Sky Suites Las Vegas – 2 Nights
Thursday June 29th – Golden Nugget Las Vegas – 1 Night
Friday June 30th – Country Inn & Suites Ontario – 2 Nights
Sunday July 2nd – Delta Air Lines DL2515 – Las Angeles to Seattle

It was looking to be a pretty sweet trip. The train would be a solid 46 hours of being onboard. Originally we were booked in a Roomette which is tiny, no bigger than a single bed. But thanks to trolling the Amtrak site one night I saw the price of a Bedroom drop. It meant we could have a larger room for not much extra. We would be upgrading to a room the same size as our bathroom at home. Better than nothing right!

Some of the hotels we booked through work and it meant some pretty amazing hotels on offer. We couldn’t get the one hotel we wanted in Chicago (the Peninsula) but we got one that was still pretty decent. Vegas was going to be fun as we could actually rest on a 3 day stay and check out an area we hadn’t stayed before (the Golden Nugget is downtown).

Heading out on the train in a few days is looking like fun… can’t wait!

Today marks the day that I joined the group of so many people throughout the world.  I got married.  2 years ago I married the love of my life and I could not be happier.  Sure we have our ups and downs (doesn’t every one?) but I still cherish every moment that I spend with her.  She brightens my day and she makes me smile even just hearing her voice.  I may not get to see her some days due to work, and we spend days without seeing each others face in the light, but it doesn’t diminish our love for each other.


She is going to hate the fact that I am writing this for everyone to see, but I don’t care.  I still love her no matter what!  As days go by I get to spend time with her and each moment is as special as the last. Now with a house and a fur baby (the cat) life is pretty nice! What more in life could we ask for! 


Dearest Heidi, I love you. 

So Heidi finally got her way and she now has a cat. Yep that is right, she has a cat. We have a nice new cat (well new to us), her name is Darcy and she is a 2 year old Domestic Medium Hair. Heidi seems to love her more every day, but I don’t yet know what is going on with this cat.

Darcy seems to be warm to me, then a few minutes later will be scared of me. So confusing! But she is funny in what she does do. She is not really a jumping cat, but she will climb up to places. She likes to sit in the kitchen either on the seats at the Dining table or sometimes on the placemats on the dining table (not the table itself, just the placemats). She still hides (she didn’t leave from under the bed for almost a day when we got her) but not that much. Her favorite hiding places seem to be behind the couches, or under the buffet in the living room. She did love to hide behind the washing machine/dryer but we have stopped that from happening (i hope).

It is kind of weird to have a little white fluffball around all the time, but it is starting to become more commonplace. She likes to sit and watch tv with us, or just watch us in general. Which is fine because I don’t mind as long as she isn’t in the way, but as soon as I put my boots on, she scampers off (guess she doesn’t like big clunky foot malcolm).

I’ve never had a pet before, so it is interesting to have another mouth to feed (I gained one when I married Heidi… just kidding baby.. love you xx). Darcy really doesn’t cause much hassle as she eats when she wants and doesn’t seem all that picky… yet. She doesn’t make much noise which is good, but that also makes it difficult in knowing where she is, because she is so silent. I like to call her ninja cat because she just disappears at the drop of a hat.

Our little Ninja Cat

Our little Ninja Cat

So tomorrow is my birthday (at least in US time) and as I wind down another trip around the sun I have to think back at how much has changed.  5 years ago on my 30th birthday at this exact moment I was sitting in a theatre in New York at The Colbert Report.  It was an amazing experience and I loved every minute of it.  I went on to run around Central Park and also do some other crazy things on my trip.  I spent the evening of my actual birthday flying for the first time to Europe and that was a pretty amazing trip all on its own.

 

Back in Australia I used to look forward to this time of year due to the Ekka, but now over here in the USA it is more about SeaFair.  I can look back over the last few years at my birthdays and see the total variations for each one.  Each year has been different as well.  Last year was a pretty quiet one with just me and Heidi, yet I have had great times in the past with other people (brunch at Barrio with a large group of friends was awesome).

 

So this year as I start my 35th year, I am looking forward to plenty of fun tomorrow with my friends and my new American family…

 

Happy Birthday to Me! 

This trip has been pretty amazing. I can’t believe how much work has gone into it over the last 12 months or so. The planning, the organizing and then in the last month or so the execution of it all. It was so much work, but yet it was totally worth it in the end.

The trip itself was over 22,000 miles (22675 to be exact) and there was both good and bad parts. The good far outweighed the bad. The delays, losing my stuff, all bad. But yet it is fairly small things that happened and are fairly meaningless in the overall scheme of things.

The good outweigh everything here and make this trip the fully memorable journey that it is. Heidi and I had a blast in so many places and it was so good introducing Heidi and her parents to what felt like my entire family. We shared so many good moments and enjoyed doing it.

All of the trip has been sorted out now, putting things away, working out what I brought back and what I didn’t. I have fixed up the majority of my photos (still have all the spotting photos to go) and they are now online at the following links:

Circling the Pacific
Circling the Pacific Pt 2

It is split up thanks to Picasa but otherwise everything is good to go! I loved every minute of this trip and can’t wait to go back to both Australia and Japan again!

Friday 29th July 2016

After saying farewell to our ANA crew we headed to immigration. About 10 steps out of the jet bridge I realized I was still wearing my cardigan from onboard. No one stopped me & there was plenty of staff to do so. Guess it’s mine now! Immigration lines were long but Global Entry was empty. I had problems figuring out how to use it since I had never done it before so the CBP guy came over and gave me a hand. Once u figured out what go do it was easy and helped a lot.

Global Entry didn’t help all that much as we were quickly through immigration but stuck waiting for bags. It wasn’t a huge long wait and before we knew it was off to customs (which was a non event as usual). After customized headed to baggage recheck where after waiting in line for a significant amount of time we were able to check our third bag in (since the other two were good to go). The walk to T3 was a few seconds & waiting at pre check was non existent.

Stopped by the Centurion Lounge for a sticky beak before heading to the United Club. Unfortunately the club had no empty seats so we went to the gate (which changed again) to wait it out.

United Airlines – UA424
San Francisco to Seattle Tacoma
1440-1650
Airbus A320 (N855UA)
First Class – Seat 2A

Boarding: 1405 (Gate 62)
Push Back: 1431
Take off Roll: 1450 (Runway 01R)
Top of Descent: 1600
Touch Down: 1625 (Runway 34L)
Shut Down: 1632 (Gate A8)

Pre boards were called and then Group 1 which was us. However due to the gate lice we had to push our way to the gate. Pretty sure my camera bag smacked someone blocking the line. That will learn them! Once onboard we found our seat (old worn out legacy United First Class) and waited as the cabin filled up.

Once things died down a little we were offered a drink of choice for our PDB. I just had a water because I was really feeling tired all of a sudden. We pushed back early and had a fairly quick taxi to the gate. I know this because of the timing, not that I saw much of it as I fell asleep twice.

Takeoff roll had us the winner as the UA 320 next to us never took off and most of the climb to cruise I was on and off asleep. Ugh! Once we were at height and the seat belt sign was off I hit the can and informed the crew of my broken seat…. Fun!

Drinks and the snack basket was offered and I took a cookie, banana & a fig bar to tide me over till dinner. I had spent most of the last 48 hrs eating so food was not that high on my list of important things to do. Coffee on the other hand was so I made sure to have as much as I could.

Pretty soon we were on descent to Seattle as we passed over Oregon. The captain came on and told us we were just to the south of Portland (and we were) and we began a fairly on and off descent. We must have done some slow downs as well because we started doing some S Turns just around Olympia. When we left SFO destination winds should have had us landing South Flow however we started a North Flow approach. We were wheels down over Tacoma and started to descend down over Federal Way (passed over Heidi’s parents house) and Des Moines. We touched down on the far left runway (the 3rd runway) and spent a good 5 or 6 minutes taxiing over to the terminal side. We also had to taxi over to the A concourse which added more time.

After pulling into the gate, we had to wait as they “have a problem with the jetbridge so they are getting someone to come look at it” (or so they said). What I really think is that whoever was working it didn’t know what they were doing and screwed things up. We got off after only a 2 or 3 minute wait. Not bad at all considering. As we were getting off I got a text update from United saying that the bags made an earlier flight so they were already here and to go see a staff member. Made a brief stop at work, and then down to baggage claim. Our bags were in storage and they had to pull them out so we could go. Even with that hassle we still made a 5pm cut off for Lyft’s half price deal and made it home shortly after! Well and truly done!

Friday 29th July 2016

We began our journey back to the airport by first taking a Yamonote Line train back to Tokyo Station. It was a bad start as we went to an entry without escalators to the platform and then to make things worse than having to lug my suitcase up steps. We went to the wrong platform but didn’t work it out till almost to the top. Got ourselves back on the right platform and it was ok.

We made it to Tokyo Station and weaved our way down to the N’EX platforms and made it just in time for the 12:03pm train to depart right in front of us. Now we had a 30 minute wait till our scheduled train. We waited on the platform for a while and unfortunately seating was lacking so we had to stand. I ended up eating my Ekiben and repacked it all before we even boarded as I wanted to make sure I had it packed away securely.

We boarded the train for our quick hour long ride out to the airport and unlike the train the night before, this one had free wifi! Made the ride a little bit less tiring. It flew by and before I knew it, we were at Narita Terminal 2-3 Station. Once we left the station Heidi and I got ourselves ready to disembark.

Once off the train and out of the station we made our way up to the check in counters for ANA First Class which is in the Z section. The “ANA Suite” check in was a very private, sectioned off area and while we waited for our staff member to check us in (it was kind of complicated with bags etc already through checked etc). From there it was through a private security channel and into the immigration area. Immigration was heaving and again took about 20 minutes or so to get through. We watched as a couple of Asiana staff paniced when people were still in line as they were trying to close the flight.

After clearing immigration we headed off to the ANA Suites Lounge (they don’t have suites, they just call it that) for an afternoon of plane spotting and relaxing. The lounge had fantastic views of the airport runways and a great relaxing atmosphere. Plenty of food choices and both buffet and cooked to order options. The first thing I did was get my stuff situated, camera set up and leave Heidi with the gear while I went off in search of my usual Tokyo spending habit…… Kit Kats!

I knew exactly where to go as there were two stores close by that always seem to have all the different varieties. Wasabi is always the hardest one to find and today was not my day. I did manage to get the usual Matcha and Sakura, I also managed to pick up some Strawberry and also some Hokkaido Melon (which I have never seen before). Decided against the big boxes of the Strawberry and Blueberry Cheesecake ones, due to space. They would have to wait until next time.

Back to the lounge to settle in with some Pork Cutlet curry and some treats. The desserts on offer were pretty delicious yet strange. I tried an Edamame cake thing that was delicious yet disturbing at the same time. Lots of good photos this afternoon with numerous Oneworld and Star Alliance liveries but the two big hits this afternoon were the BB-8 777-300ER (parked next to our gate) and a Pakistan International A310 (don’t see those very often). After a while we decided to head down a little early to get in some steps and stretch before we were stuck inside a tube for a while.

All Nippon Airways – NH8
Tokyo Narita to San Francisco
1710-1055
Boeing 777-300ER (JA783A)
First Class – Seat 1K

Boarding: 1636 (Gate 55)
Push Back: 1709
Take off Roll: 1731 (Runway 16R)
Top of Descent: 1020
Touch Down: 1046 (Runway 01R)
Shut Down: 1112 (Gate 94)

Plenty of gate lice today as the airport just seemed to attract them, however we hung back till we saw people approaching the First Class lane, then we hurried over to get our spot in line. You could spot the americans a mile away as they were the first ones in line at each lane, no matter how long they had to wait. All wanting to vie to get the most amount of overhead bin space.

We actually boarded a few minutes before the posted time (which is rare for Japan, as usually it is extremely punctual) and we were the 2nd and 3rd people into the Cabin. Lots of photos and greetings and Heidi was given a personal run through of the seat. The crew seemed to love Heidi on this trip (and so they should because who wouldn’t right?) and they spent a good 10 minutes showing her everything. I declined to be shown as I just watched along as Heidi got the royal treatment.

Everything was laid out at the seat waiting for us including a sweater, pyjamas, blanket, slippers, headphones and the piece de resistance, a Samsonite Amenity kit. Rimowa it is not, but damn sure it is good enough! I stashed it all away when I could and spent a good portion of time fighting off the cabin crew from unwrapping it all. We eventually pushed back and started the long way out to the active. I missed a picture of the traditional farewell bow from the ground crew (dammit) and got a few good shots of some of the Star Alliance aircraft spotted around T1.

We made it out to the end of Runway 16R and as we turned the GE90s powered up (I may have made a mess in my pants as usual when I hear that noise so close 😉 ) and towards the sky we went. The climb angle felt steeper up front and as usual with Narita departures, it was a little bit bumpy (though not the worst). Once the seatbelt sign went off, I jumped up to grab my stuff and stash a few things. Phone charge on, glasses and laptop out, shoes off and stashed. Time to settle!

I worked a bit on the trip report before the crew started the dinner service. The menu was presented and drink orders taken. Post Departure beverages were served with an amuse bouche of a few items. The menu looked good tonight and there was no way I was going to turn down the Japanese Menu. All 10 courses of it!

The meal began and it was all so good. Exactly as I remember having it in business a while back. The courses were so well plated, physically beautiful yet delicious at the same time. Course by Course kept on coming and a lot of them were served together at the same time. I ended up having some green tea with the latter courses and it complimented the food well. After all of that I was offered the choice of dessert and I selected both the japanese and one of the western options. The western option was a good cleanse but the japanese dessert was just simply amazing. A mixture of red bean and matcha… my two favorite things!

After dinner the crew made up the seat into bed mode and I relaxed into the rest of the flight. I gave it 10 minutes or so of watching a movie before giving in to the sleep. I lay down on the bed and tried to take a nap. The seat was pretty comfy in bed mode with a thick mattress pad and a nice doona as well. The blanket was soft and comfy if you needed it. The pillows just were not big enough for my liking, but isn’t that always the problems on most flights. The rest of the seat was great there was ample storage and thankfully ANA had not removed the overhead bins.

I got just under 2 hours of sleep before it was getting pretty bumpy (although no seatbelt sign ever came on). So I went back to enjoying my movie as the sun came up outside. Time to start waking myself up as the time outside was similar to a time I would be getting up in the real world. This journey was slowly coming to an end and unfortunately I was getting a little bit sad 🙁

As one movie finished and another one started the smells of breakfast began to waft throughout the aircraft. Time to get myself slowly ready for the impending rush of people wanting to do things. The last part of the flight flew by. The crew offered breakfast items from the menu and also from the snack menu. I took a couple of different options that were mostly breakfasty since it was that time of the day. I did go against the grain and got a pork cutlet sandwich just because I wanted to try it. It was worth it though because it was delicious!

As we started descent the crew came by to give us a little gift full of lots of ANA star wars jet goodies including playing cards and some other random stuff. The cloud cover was pretty thick below until all of a sudden it cleared and we turned so that SFO was in a spot I couldn’t see… typical. After that we had to track almost down to San Jose before turning back North to line up for a landing. We thankfully did not come in on the same runway that Asiana crashed (they had a L landing we had a R) and we touched down nice and easy. Pretty good right?

We pulled off the active and headed towards the taxiway where we then parked for another 10 minutes or so waiting for our gate. It was United 747 central on the ramp as I saw at least 6 in all different states (at the gate, on the taxiway, being towed). By the time we hit the gate, they did not have us waiting long before the first class guests were ushered to the door. They held back Business class and made sure that we were first ones off the flight. That was nice of them. Heidi and I grabbed our gear and headed for immigration… it was good to be back home… kinda.