Sunday, May 30, 2010

Trip to Portland on the Empire Builder

Chicago to Portland - 46 hours on Amtrak

What? This is a running blog. But train rhymes with pain which is all about running so here's a brief report on our trip to Portland on the Empire Builder.

We easily picked up the tickets we had reserved on line at Union Station, Chicago and were directed to the Empire Lounge since we had reserved a sleeper. Nice area with comfy seats and free coffee and pop. We look around and quickly realize that we are the youngest people in the lounge! By a LOT. Oh well, I guess it’s retired folks who have the time to ride the rails.

We walked out on the platform got on the train and were directed to our little room. No nasty guards, no x-ray, no security checks. You get to keep your shoes and belts on. Very nice. Two seats facing each other with a table between if you want to pull it out and a nice big window. Our conductor, Charles, asks us if we’d be interested in a complimentary bottle of champagne. We were very interested.

We sipped our champagne as we slipped out of Chicago. A little later the dinning room steward came around asking us which seating we’d like for dinner. We took 7 PM, the last one.

Now the observation car and the bar are open and we are THERE! The observation car itself is awesome. Windows go up and part way over the roof. There are tables for 4 in one part and seats facing outward with small tables in between in the other part. A couple of bloodies, a game of gin and it’s our dinner time.

We are seated with another couple and they were nice to talk to. They were returning out west as that’s where they’re from. Dinner consisted of steak, baked potato, green beans, cheese cake, and coffee. All the meals are included when you take a sleeper and I think it’s a pretty good deal.

After dinner we sat some more in the observation lounge, had a glass of wine and then returned to our room. Charles made up our beds (upper and a lower) and we turned in with our books. I took the upper and it’s fine. I’m used to confined spaces from living on the boat but it didn’t have a window. Oh well, my turn to take the lower tomorrow night.

Slept pretty good. I tended to wake up when the train made its stops along the way but the gentle rocking under way is pretty sweet. I woke up when I sensed the sun shining below my bunk. We’re somewhere in North Dakota which looks a lot like Indiana. Lots of rain last night as these fields are all very flooded to the delight of the ducks. I head to the observation lounge and find that there is a fresh pot of free coffee in our sleeping car. Nice!

Breakfast was good. We sat with a young couple who were on their honeymoon. Eggs, potatoes, sausage, coffee, and a biscuit. Now we camp out in the observation car with books, computer, and playing cards. Still pretty flat but some bumps starting to appear. We might just stay here all day!

We just about did and although there isn’t much to see in North Dakota nor Montana this far north, it’s just so pleasant to have these giant windows and to watch the land slip by. Maybe I’ve been missing watching the water slip under my keel. This is a pretty good substitute.

We had a couple of cocktails and then a 7 pm dinner. Our table mates were a lady Chicago cop and her husband. She was really un-cop like and pretty fun. We enjoyed sharing Chicago stories. Great to find that a Chicago cop loves the city. I would think that would be important and not sure they all do. The best part of dinner was that we were going right through Glacier National park area with snow on the mountains. This is SO civilized. Cruising smoothly through the mountains, a glass of wine, and good conversation. Very special.

An after dinner cocktail and Charles turns down our bunks around 9 and we’re ready to hit the rack and read a little. My turn for the bottom bunk and the window that goes with. Around 2 AM I awake realizing they we’ve been stopped for quite a while. Oh yeah, this is Spokane where we split the train. The front part goes to Seattle and our back part goes to Portland. I go outside and walk around a little and watch them couple the engine to our lounge car. Small entertainments. I thought about staying up but instead hit the bunk and slept solid to about 5.

I like getting up early and having the quiet in the lounge and the early morning sun. Even better with coffee but Charles hadn’t made any yet. When he did Sue brought me a cup which was great. We’ve lost our dinner car - it went to Seattle! So we only get a cold prepared meal and coffee but still free.

We’re following the Columbia River now and it is just gorgeous. I guess this leads us right to Portland. We should be there in about an hour. We’ve been on time or ahead for the whole trip. I didn’t expect that!

Would I do this again? YES! I wish I had rigged it for us to return on the California Zephyr. Next time I’d:

Bring a pillow
Bring some snacks - they don’t mind you eating them in your room.
Bring detailed maps to monitor your trip. The ones on board are pretty small.

Actually, that’s it! Great trip. Great way to travel. This is going to make me hate the airplane ride even more on Monday.

1 comment:

  1. We thought about taking the train to Vegas earlier this year, but when I looked at the price, it seemed ridiculous. Just curious, what did this cost you?

    Rich P