Saturday 24th June 2017

After picking up our luggage (I managed to get Heidi’s bag before she did then spend several minutes waiting for her to realise this) we headed out to the shuttle bus pick up area. It was time to play Shuttle Roulette! Which bus will show up first or how many spins of the wheel till it finally hits your number! It was about 10 or 12 shuttles in before a National shuttle showed up. It looked like everyone from Terminal 1 was heading to either National or Alamo today. The Rental Shuttle filled at Terminal 1 and headed on back to base. So that was easy!

We got to the National lot and as usual it was like a kid in a Candy Store. I wanted a Hemi Challenger so badly and there was several there, but none of them had anything that would make our week or more of driving easier. So we scrapped that plan and tried to find something else. There was a 300C but it had a good dose of miles on it (over 10k), plenty of SUV options (although a lot of those were being picked by other renters at a fast pace) but there was an Infiniti lurking in the Premium Aisle. So I went up and asked what was the chance of getting an Infiniti with no upcharge. Apparently pretty good because a few minutes later we were driving away in a fairly new Q70. I originally thought it was a Q50 (which is the more luxury version of the Maxima) but it was a 70 which is the luxury version of the Altima. It was enjoyable.

We headed over to Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles for some Brunch with a friend. Even though there was lines when we got there, the wait was not long and we were soon enjoying some of the best fried Chicken I have ever had. I mean it… it was DELICIOUS!

Sadly the weather turned to crap after Brunch so I didn’t end up doing any plane spotting so we waved goodbye to my friend and we headed off to Ontario where the weather was hopefully going to be better. It was and without much traffic we were out there in good time. We settled into our hotel to fix up some errands for the afternoon (aka unpacking, laundry, re packing, sorting out messes etc).

We had dinner that night with Heidi’s best friend at Souplantation. I wish they would bring this chain up north, it would make my wife super happy! We wanted an early night as we would be up early the next morning to get moving before it got too hot.

Sunday 25th June 2017

We packed up all our stuff early and had breakfast right as it opened at 7pm. We wanted to be done early and then in the car for the 2 hour drive out to Joshua Tree National Park. Temperatures were set to reach 115F by around 3pm and that meant we wanted to get in and out before that time hit. No way would the park rangers let us go out on our own in that kind of temperatures, they would be stupid. One thing about Joshua Tree is that there is no water, food or anything in the park. Once you enter, you are on your own. Nothing is available apart from some basic drop toilets and trash bins. Everything needs to come in with you. Food, water, maps, Gas, everything.

To get around that food problem we packed a few MREs we had for just this purpose into a box and shipped them down to Heidi’s friend. That way when we met up for dinner we could pick up our box and we didn’t need to carry the food with us all over Chicago. So we had food covered and the water we picked up a full slab at target the day before. We had enough Gas in the car to get us through the day as well. So off we went!

We checked in at the Visitors Center in Joshua Tree township first. The rangers there gave us a good guide as to what to see and where to go. They pretty much planned our day for us. Two small hikes of around a mile round trip each. They should take about an hour each at a half decent pace in the heat of the day with plenty of stops for water. Add on a number of other visits and we were set. Joshua Tree was pretty in a desert landscape kind of way. Lots of rocks and ridges, plenty of trees around (the desert kind) and some random lizards and other animals.

The Keys view lookout was pretty awesome too and gave a great perspective of the whole Joshua Tree valley. We ended up finding some shade under split rock in what was almost a cave to enjoy our lunch. It made the heat a little bit more tolerable. After a final walk through what was meant to be an “Oasis” but was not, we headed back towards Palm Springs. We both enjoyed Joshua Tree!

Palm Springs was back to civilisation, if you can call a bunch of old people that. We wanted to rest and relax in the afternoon before heading to a happy hour for dinner. Sadly Heidi’s favorite place had changed menus, so we had to come up with another plan. We checked into our hotel, the L’Horizon Palm Springs. We almost didn’t check in as you couldn’t see it coming from the direction we did. We drove straight past it, even with the SatNav. The hotel was built way back in the 50s for the man who directed Lassie. He wanted a house for himself and a number of private bungalows for his friends. Now the hotel has been remodeled and still maintains plenty of that 50s style. It is adults only as well so that made the smallness feel so much better.

The hotel was stunning but boy was it hot! The rooms are mostly glass to the pool area so you can enjoy the pool view, but during summer, that isn’t realistic. Big heavy black out curtains try to keep the heat out but it doesn’t fully help at times. Sometimes on days like today the heat will bake up to the 120F mark and heat those windows. The heat emanating off those windows behind the curtains was killer! We still relaxed while we could and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

We headed to Tommy Bahama’s for dinner (and just made happy hour by a few minutes). Who would think that a store would have a restaurant? It was pretty cool and their Pimento Cheese dip stuff was like crack. No need for chips just give me some bread and slather it allllllll over it (I may or may not have done that). After Tommy Bahama’s we headed to downtown Palm Springs to enjoy some Ice Cream/Dole Whip before returning to the hotel. I was so dehydrated/out of it that I passed out on the bed early.

Monday 26th June 2017

We woke up pretty early today with the idea that if we wanted to go out and do any walks or hiking it needed to be early. At 6am when we got up the temperature was a mild 86F and we knew it was only gonna get hotter as the day went on. We headed out to the Coachella Nature Reserve which was just outside Palm Desert and was a true Palm Oasis with a rumoured 1000 untouched palm trees. We enjoyed a 2 mile morning hike through the reserve in amongst a lot of trees and shrubs. We saw some Jackrabbits, lizards and plenty of birds. It was a nice morning and way better than the oasis we saw the day before.

After the hike we were going to go to Costco but apparently Palm Springs doesn’t decide to do anything till after 10am so that plan was bust. We instead went to enjoy some breakfast and I had my first German Pancake. It looked huge but really wasn’t. It was so thin, almost crepe like, that it really wasn’t at all as filling as you would think. If you didn’t have it so spread out, it might equal maybe 2 pancakes. Still super tasty though! While at breakfast we made our plans for our one true day in Palm Springs. Morning by the pool, some resting time around the resort. Mid afternoon we would run a few errands (and bring it back to the hotel if need be). Then we would hit up Costco for some gas and supplies before grabbing a date shake at Shield’s Date Garden.

Rather than have dinner tonight we would take something to go and head out to the Salton Sea just out past the Coachella Valley in the hopes of seeing a decent sunset over a lake that actually sits below the water level. Part of the attraction of the area is that fact that it is meant to have plenty of abandoned areas. But when we were out there, it really wasn’t. That was a little bit disappointing. We tracked all the way down to Salvation Mountain though and it was pretty yet disturbing at the same time.

We backtracked back up towards the top end of the Sea to find a spot for sunset. Just off the side of the road we found a nice spot to watch the sun set behind the mountains and with all the dust it was pretty stunning. Once it was down it was back on the road, back to the hotel to a comfy bed. Tomorrow brings new adventures!

Current Location: L’Horizon Resort and Spa Palm Springs

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
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
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



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!