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Travel Day 1 - Trains and Automobiles, but no planes - Richmond, IN to Somewhere in North Dakota

Date: June 16, 2022

Susie and Dad drove from Richmond to my place to swap over to my car and then head out for Chicago. I drove the first leg of the trip. We allowed for plenty of extra time so we were able to make a couple of stops along the way.

Our first stop was in Lafayette, IN. When I started to pull into the Meijer, Susie urged me to reconsider so our first U-turn of the trip in the Meijer drive way put us back at the Starbucks! It was dad’s first ever visit to a Starbucks. He decided against coffee as he’d already had his cup for the day but he did try a cheese danish. I splurged on a Java Chip Frap and a ham and swiss croissant. Susie had a white chocolate mocha (her usual).

Selfie of Frank, Kara, and Susie
Our first selfie of the trip

We headed back out again with me driving to Merrillville. We stopped to switch drivers and pulled into a Chick Fil A. Susie grabbed us four mini breakfast sandwiches (this is four chicken nuggets - each on its own tiny little bun) and three waters. We shared our little snack and then headed back out with Susie now in the driver’s seat.

We arrived at Union Station in Chicago around 11:00 local time. We unloaded the bags and helped dad get them inside of Union Station. We left him there with the bags while we headed to the parking garage near where our hotel is at the end of the journey. This is a garage that I’ve parked in before so I’m reasonably comfortable with its safety level. Susie and I then took a Lyft back to Union Station to reunite with dad.

We debated a bit about how to get to the Amtrak ticket area but decided just to take the elevator right beside where we’d left dad. We headed downstairs where we walked under the street and into Grand Hall. Union Station has two entryways - one more modern and one that is in the original building. We had been in the more modern part which was much easier to unload to. This path worked quite well. We just followed the signs to the Amtrak ticketing area where we could check in.

There was a CRAZY line at the ticketing area - this picture does NOT do it justice.

Luckily, I’d pre-printed everything before we left. So, I just scanned our ticket voucher at the one self-service scanner and it spit out our three boarding passes. (More about why you would need to stand in line in my Amtrak details post at the end of this whole series of posts.).

Boarding passes printed - no lines!

With our boarding passes in hand we headed to the Metropolitan Lounge. You get access to the Lounge if you’re in a sleeper car (us) or if you have status with Amtrak. The lounge has plenty of comfy seating and there are some complimentary snacks and drinks that you can choose from.

Dad and I standing in line to enter Metropolitan Lounge. 📸 by Susie

Susie and I both decided to explore the Grand Hall of Union Station. Dad went and checked it out too but he's not as selfie crazy as the two of us apparently are 🤣.

Susie headed to the food court in the train station to get us some lunch - salads all around from Chick Fil A. We enjoyed these until almost the time to board our train so our timing worked out perfectly.

Trains board in pretty quick succession so they started calling trains right around 1:00 local time. Ours was the third one to be called.

The Empire Builder - that's us!

Everyone lines up in the hallway outside the lounge and we “follow the leader” to the track.

Lined up and ready to go to our train

At the track area a uniformed Amtrak attendant tried to get us all lined up on two sides of the hallway - which we assume was one side for Seattle bound folks and the other side for Portland bound folks. How does one train go two places you ask? The Empire Builder is one train until Spokane where it separates and then becomes two separate routes to those two cities. This was a bit of a confusing process since many folks, like us, are not frequent Amtrak’ers. See my upcoming post on all things about Amtrak for some important terms they used and to help you feel more confident than we did. It’s simple after you’ve spoken the Amtrak language for a day so hopefully we’ll make it easier for you.

We navigated down the track to our sleeper car - number 730.

We had two rooms - a roomette and an ADA accessible room. While a roomette would accommodate two people and the ADA room would also accommodate 2+ people and we were only three people, the ADA room provided a LOT of extra space and was the only way we could have easily sat together and chatted without disturbing everyone else near us (although one of us was sitting on the commode to achieve this). Again, more on rooms in my Amtrak post.

Susie and I dropped our stuff into the Roomette and then we all settled into dad's ADA room which had more space and allowed all three of us to be seated...although that meant one of us was on the commode. Susie drew the short straw for the first part of the journey.

Before we knew it, we were underway - and exactly on time - right at 2:15 Chicago Time. Our, we're rolling out commemorative selfie!

Away we go!!!

The train ride is QUIET - you hear a bit of train noise but not much at all. The train motion is another story. The stopping and the starting is actually very smooth. We barely felt the train start moving as we were taking the photo above and pulling out of the station. That said, moving around was a little different story. While it was not too difficult to navigate within our own car, there is a lot of motion as we’re traveling - think bumps and sways. Heading up the stairs and between cars to get to the dining car was a little challenging at times. Passengers who had berths on the upper floor also had to carry their luggage up those steps - which turn! I've got a photo in tomorrow's post to give you an idea of what the stairs look like.

A dining car booth ready for dinner service

Speaking of the dining car, as sleeping car passengers we were able to have dinner - either served in the dining car or delivered to our room. We opted for a reservation which I think was at 7:30 in the dining car. If you watched the trip video (full video here), you hear us talk about how the timing was perfect since we were crossing the Mississippi as we were eating dinner (link right to that part of the video).

Dinner was tasty. They were out of the Coconut Shrimp but had Crab Cakes and, darn, there was no lemon cake so I just HAD to have (my fave) carrot cake! We each decided to try one dish we wanted tonight and swap tomorrow. I can't honestly remember who ate what which night but here are some photos of yummy food.

The train makes lots of stops - but most are very short. Just long enough to load/unload the required passengers. Mostly all we can get at those stops are a few shots out the window. You should be able to click any photo below to see the full image.

There are also a few “fresh air stops” where you can get off the train for a few minutes and walk around outside. You only get one of these on the first day of this trip and it’s not until late at night in Minneapolis/St. Paul. We were already in our jammies for this part of the trip.

Susie decided to bunk on the top bunk in dad’s cabin rather than the roomette as it provided more open space and was less claustrophobic. I’ll give some thoughts on how we slept to kick off tomorrow’s post. I’ll end this by saying that my rule for “crediting” a state to my visit list is that I have to stay overnight in that state. Sometime during the night we entered the state of North Dakota so I’m calling this an overnight in North Dakota so I get to tick it off my list. More on how it counts on dad’s list tomorrow.

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