Chicago Here We Come!
We arrived at Penn Station collected our tickets right through to Seattle, checked in our bags and had a 40-minute wait for the train. They didn’t announce the platform number until 10 minutes before the train was due to leave and when they did an enormous queue formed out of thin air! Fortunately, when the gate opened the queue moved really quickly and we were directed to our roomette. We stowed our hand luggage, sat down and the train was moving, right on the dot of 15.40.
Our roomette was fine but not quite up to the standard of Queen Mary 2. We had 2 really big comfy seats and air-con; we also had our own loo! It was a master class in best use of space and looked as if it must have been designed by someone with a nautical background – maybe a submariner! Robert our steward, came to introduce himself and said he would be with us all the way, apparently not many people do the trip to all the way to Chicago by train so we were a bit of a novelty. Next Dennis the dining car steward came to take our dinner reservation time, we ended up going for 17:15 on his recommendation, he told us that the 19:00 slot gets “mighty busy” when another train joins at Albany. Then it was time to settle down for our 959-mile trip to Chicago; about the same distance from Lands End to John O’Groats. We were due in at 09:45 Friday.
The run up the Hudson river was spectacular. We soon left the urban setting of NYC and were into countryside. The river is still quite wide and was literally by the side of the track (Carl, it was just like Dawlish but for much longer!) We went for our dinner reservation and sat at a table with a young couple from the Bronx. They were heading to Cleveland for a friend’s wedding and were due to arrive there at 03:27! We had a good chat, they were asking us questions about the Brexit situation and we asked them about the Trump situation! The girl was a Bernie Sanders fan and was not happy he didn’t get the nomination.
After dinner we went back to our cabin and took in the view. The train stopped in Schenectady where Kim spent a semester in 1982, as part of her degree course, we could just spot the roof of one of the college buildings in the trees. When the train picked up speed it rocked around quite a lot so we decided that we would have to get the cabin ready (fold the chairs into one bunk and lower the other one from the ceiling) when we stopped in a station. So at Syracuse we transformed our roomette into our sleeping quarters. Once the roomette is in night mode there is only room for one person to stand up, so if one of you wants any privacy, or wants room to undress the other one has to go for a walk. I went up in the top bunk and when up there it was cosy, Kim says she wants to try it next time. There was quite a bit of movement as the train sped through the night and the driver kept sounding the whistle (just as atmospheric as the fog horn on the QM2) so it was a disturbed night but still better than flying!
When we woke up we were running about 45 minutes late and were in Toledo, Ohio. Kim remembered spending a night in the bus station there on her own in 1980 when she travelled from Boston to Detroit by Greyhound Bus and here connection was cancelled. Before we could get dressed we had to return our cabin to day mode to create some room to move, once we were up we headed for breakfast at just after 07:00. We shared our table with a chap who lived in Norwich! He was over here working for a couple of weeks and was going to see a friend in Chicago, and had got on at Buffalo. After breakfast we settled back in the roomette to watch the countryside of Ohio and Indiana speed past, it was great.
We arrived in Chicago at about 11:30 but had to change the time zone so it was actually 10:30. We waited for our bags and having consulted a map discovered that the hotel was quite close so we decided to walked with our suitcases. Thanks Margaret, our Christmas present cases are really doing the job! Having been on the train for 19 hours it was great to walk for a while and to get some fresh air. We got to the hotel but could not check in straight away so had a drink and passed away some time. First impressions of Chicago are good, a lot less crowed than New York and clean and modern; although the temperature was much the same as in NY it is more comfortable here, it must be something to do with Lake Michigan which is right in the city. When we got our room we had a shower (we decided not to use the communal shower on the train!) then went out to explore and found the tourist information office in Macys! For lunch we found a pizza joint and ordered a small deep dish pizza which was plenty big enough for us to share – deep dish pizza is a big thing in Chicago.
The Palmer House Hotel is very grand, a real Chicago institution and even though we were upgraded (again J) the room doesn’t come with Wi-Fi or a kettle; so Steve it is just like going back to the old style Premier Inn!