Amtrak 2006 [Main] [Contact Us] [Events] [Family] [Fun] [Garden] [Misc.] [Photos] [Rett Syndrome] [Search] [Site Index] [Travel]

Friday, October 27, 2006: We were headed for a weekend in Denver, Colorado. Rather than fly both ways, we thought we'd take an overnight train on our way out there. Our adventure started at 5:30 AM when we arrived at the Indianapolis train station.
Shortly before the train was scheduled to depart at 6:00 AM, the train was announced and we headed up the stairs to the tracks.
Here's the view looking east down the platform.
We, however, were heading west, and here's the view looking that direction. This is the top of the stairs from the lobby below and the back of our train.
Tom's GPS came in handy quite a lot during the trip, even when traveling through our home state. The train takes a different route to Chicago than our car does, which honestly hadn't occurred to Debbie until the train started to leave the station. Here, we found ourselves in the mythical town of Pittsboro.
This portion of our trip was the Hoosier State route, which only offers standard seating. Seats must be reserved in advance, but are first come, first served when boarding the train.
When dawn finally came, we were met with an overcast day, which was probably the only thing that wasn't perfect about this trip.
It was fully light out when we arrived in Lafayette, Indiana, which is right next door to Purdue University.
The previous year, we had been sightseeing at this lovely train station, but this time we were seeing it from the train's point of view.
Most of the scenery heading up to Chicago was straight out of the movie, "Hoosiers," with grey skies, bare trees, and cleared corn fields.
Occasionally, the tracks would curve enough for us to see the engine and cars ahead of us.
The Norfolk Southern logo is pretty cool, isn't it? We passed a variety of trains, both stationary and in motion.
As we approached Chicago, the Maersk sightings began. Tom was the early victor in the game.
We passed New Comiskey Park, which is currently known as U.S. Cellular Field.
As we neared the Amtrak station in Chicago, we passed through the Amtrak Maintenance Facilities building, which is surrounded by cars and engines in various states of disrepair.
We arrived in Chicago just 30 minutes behind schedule.
This is the passenger car we rode in.
This is the buffer car between the passenger car and the engine. What's a buffer car? We're not really sure -- sorry.
Chicago's Union Station is in the heart of downtown Chicago.
The Chicago River is just a short block away, as was a convenience store and a deli, so we filled up on hot hoagies for lunch and bought snacks for the trip.
The overcast sky swallowed up some of the taller buildings.
Fed and well-stocked, we headed back to Union Station, home of the very cool font.
For the remaining portion of our trip, we had booked a sleeper car. Passengers who book sleeper cars and roomettes are considered first class passengers, and have a first class lounge to use while waiting for their train.
The lounge is huge, with comfortable seating, tables, and televisions. Free luggage storage is available, so we took advantage of it when we went out for lunch.
Soft drinks, coffee, tea, fruit, and snacks are complimentary, so we enjoyed some Diet Coke, cleverly disguised in these coffee cups.
The departures screen showed an ontime departure of 1:50 PM for the California Zephyr.
The departure time finally arrived, and we couldn't wait to get to our berth. The room was quite spacious, and we were so happy that we splurged on the full bedroom instead of one of the smaller roomettes for this special experience. We could have flown to Denver, but we had always wanted to ride a train overnight, so we decided to do it right.
A couch and tiny closet comprised the right half of the room, and a chair and bathroom filled the left half. The chair and the end of the couch faced each other, with a small, retractable table in between. The large windows provided a great view of America flying by.
Looking back toward the entrance, you can see the small closet and some of the room's controls, which controlled lights, temperature, and the volume of announcements. The grey slanted ceiling dropped down to provide access to the top bunk at night. Water, juice, coffee, and ice are available at all times in the center of the car.
Tom likes Amtrak!
Departing Chicago, there was another Maersk sighting, but surprisingly, it was the last one on our trip.
Outside our berth was a narrow hallway. If we kept our curtain open, we had a view out the other side of the train as well. This shot shows the bathroom. The tiny toilet room doubles as a shower room, with a handheld shower nozzle. The vanity outside contains cups, soap, tissue and towels. While the room was fairly small, it never felt cramped at all.
Our little mascot friend, Orchy, joined us on our journey. Here he is with the Illinois landscape in the background.
We made frequent stops, but they were quite short. The train moves so smoothly and quietly that each stop was barely noticeable. This cute little train station is in the town of Galesburg.
One of the highlights of the trip was crossing the Mississippi River between Alton, Illinois and Burlington, Iowa. She's a mighty, mighty river, she is.
The only downside of rail travel is the slight pang of guilt you feel as you ride by cars who are stopped at the railroad crossing and realize they're being inconvenienced by you. These fine folks were in the town of Burlington, as you can tell from the Burlington Hotel in the background.
Iowa provided more rural scenery, plus a welcome break in the clouds.
By the time the sun started to set, we had clear skies to go with the pretty Iowa towns we passed.
The dining steward had come by shortly after we settled in to get our preferred dining time. At 6:00 PM, we made our way into the hallway and headed toward the back of the train. Our berth was on the upper level of the train, which is the level where connections between the cars are located.
We were in sleeping car 0532, walked through 0531 with an identical configuration (half the top level consisted of roomettes facing each other across a central hallway and the other half was configured with bedrooms with the hallway on the side), then reached the dining car. Signs on the doors between cars showed the way.
Once seated in the dining car, we enjoyed the sunset as we waited for our dining companions, an older couple from California with many years of experience riding Amtrak.
Meals are included in the price of sleeping accommodations, and consisted of salad, bread, beverage, our choice of entree, and dessert (note: gratuities are not included, so plan on doing that for the great staff). Debbie chose pork shanks and chocolate mousse, while Tom selected beef tenderloin and cheesecake. Dinners are not prepared on board the train, but they were quite delicious.
After dinner, we visited the lounge car, which has windows floor to ceiling. "X-Men: The Last Stand" was showing on the televisions and there was a small concession stand selling food and beverages on the first floor. We stayed just long enough to make an unsuccessful attempt to photograph the moon in the clear night sky.
Heading back to the sleeper cars, signs indicated that only sleeping car passengers may enter. The train was configured so that standard class accommodations were at the back of the train, the lounge car and dining car were in the middle, and the sleeper cars were in the front.
After spending some time reading and watching the small town lights go by, we called our porter to make up our room for sleeping. The table and chair folded up, ...
... the couch slid out into a wide bed, ...
and the upper bed dropped down. There was a small ladder that hooked onto the edge to climb into bed, and there was a net made of seatbelt nylon that attached to the side of the bed and the ceiling to prevent any possibility of falling out of bed.
We fell asleep easily and hardly noticed when we stopped in Omaha an hour after retiring. No stop announcements were made at night. Individual passengers were awoken by train stewards if their destination was reached during the night. Around 6:00 AM, our steward woke us to announce that we were about an hour from Denver. We chose not to have breakfast in the dining car so we could enjoy the last few minutes of our sleeper car, including this gorgeous view of dawn in downtown Denver.
Daylight was growing as we bade farewell to our steward and our sleeping car.
Other passengers were disembarking here as well. We were glad to see that we weren't the only ones foolishly skipping the most scenic portion of the California Zephyr's famous route through the mountains to the coast.
Goodbye, Dining Car!
Goodbye, Lounge Car!
Denver's Union Station is truly grand. The waiting area features long rows of seats with recessed lighting and there is an Art Deco feel everywhere.
We looked longingly at the destinations our California Zephyr was going to visit without us.
But that was okay, because we were in beautiful Colorado and we had a weekend of Halloween and sightseeing fun ahead of us. However, that's a story for another day, because our train adventure ends here. [Main] [Contact Us] [Events] [Family] [Fun] [Garden] [Misc.] [Photos] [Rett Syndrome] [Search] [Site Index] [Travel]

Copyright © Deborah Schilling/Thomas Bundy