Welcome to the UltraEscape

No home, no car, no worries. On the road since 1996, a TechNomad couple share their travel secrets and adventures.

Traveling North by Northwest via AmTrak

Our taxi arrived just as we handed over the keys to our Seagate cottage, ending a wonderful two month stay. Our next adventure was about to begin aboard the Silver Meteor.

The trip to the Jacksonville, FL Amtrak station went by quickly as we discussed the virtues of the Navy verses the Air Force with our part-time driver, a former marine engineer. Upon arrival at the station we proceeded to check in our bags. Then we sat down to wait...the train was two hours behind schedule and we had arrived two hours early. Our next destination? Chicago and beyond via Washington, DC.

Four hours later the Silver Meteor rolled quietly into the station. The uniformed conductor directed us to the proper car and assigned our seats. There were many surprises...as this was our first train ride in the US. Our comfortable coach class, recliner seats resembled those on a airliner, except there was lots of room between rows and the windows were much larger. Each seat had its own light, a tray table and adjustable foot rests.

Every attempt was made to seat travelers by destination, eliminating excess traffic and noise in the aisles. However, occasionally as a stop approached, a parade of smokers would follow the conductor as he went to assist arriving and departing passengers. Smoking is not permitted on the train, but is allowed on the platform at the various stops.

By the time we departed the Jacksonville area we were anxious to eat, so we headed to the dining car, after being reassured by fellow travelers that our carryon bags would be safe.

The dining car is only open during certain hours. Dining is organized by reservation times (usually every ½ hour) since it only contains a certain number of tables. We were seated with a very interesting couple from Grand Marais, MN. After making our dining selections, we learned they were retired teachers and regularly traveled through our area of the UP. We had lots to talk about. The food was kind of disappointing, more like airline food as opposed to fine dining but adequate. The bottle of wine we shared made things go down easily.

We returned to our seats, raised the foot rests, reclined the seats and dozed off, ignoring the call to happy hour taking place in the lounge/cafe car. We were provided with small pillows and carried our own stadium blankets. The ride was less jerky than expected, in fact it was very smooth, considering we stopped often throughout the night.

Daylight found us coasting through Quantico Marine Base along the Potomac River and into Washington, DC with a wonderful view of the Washington Monument, the Jefferson Memorial and the cherry blossoms. We rounded the Capitol building and drifted into Union Station in time for breakfast.

We had most of the day for sightseeing before transferring to the Capitol Limited, a super liner headed for Chicago. We were meet by relatives and headed out to the Corner Bakery, in the National Press Building on 14th street for breakfast. (The building houses the National Press Club where four generations of American and foreign journalists as well as the most influential newsmakers, including 17 US Presidents, have been or are members - located on 13th floor...)

Then it was on to mass at the Holy Rosary Church on Third Street, conducted entirely in Italian. No, we do not speak the language but we always enjoy a new experience. (They were visiting the church because their daughter is going to be a flower girl for a wedding that is to take place there).

This was followed by a personal tour of the local Univision TV Station, a leading spanish language media company in the US. We sat at the anchor desk, presented the weather in front of the green screen and examined the behind the scenes equipment.

We have visited Washington, DC many times so were not disappointed that we only had short glimpses of the Capitol, the Mall and other important buildings before returning to Union Station. We had intended to walk to the National Art Gallery but were short on time...as was pointed out to us by our friends from MN that we fortunately ran into in front of the station. They too were catching the Capitol Limited to Chicago.

This time we boarded a super liner, with a sightseeing lounge, dining car, upper and lower seating and on time departure. We were in the upper coach seats with a wonderful view of the city as we departed. We proceeded along a river, with a hiking trail along its banks then slowly chugged up into the mountains. The setting sun was beautiful and illuminated the wildlife: wild turkeys, deer and pheasants as well as domestic livestock. We enjoyed the mountian view until it was to dark to see the passing vista.

The following morning we sipped our coffee as we rolled passed a casino, White Sox stadium and admired the city skyline dominated by the Sear’s tower before backing into Union Station in Chicago. Our train travel was completed for this segment of the journey.

Beware...the luggage weight limit is strictly enforced on Amtrak. Our baggage handler in Jacksonville assured us that an extra pound would not be a problem as he checked our two suitcases through to Chicago. However, upon arrival in Chicago my suitcase containing all my travel clothes and my new gown for our upcoming cruise was not, I repeat not, on the turnstile...I was ready to have a panic attack! However, after a phone call downstairs the bag arrive with a special ticket announcing it was overweight! We quickly removed the ticket and hurried out.

As we left the baggage claim we ran into our friends from the dining car. They were traveling on to MN after spending the day visit museums in the city. We shared our travel experiences for a short time, then handed them a math problem to puzzle over (math major to math major), before picking up our rental car in the station parking lot and heading north via Wisconsin to the UP.

We can’t wait for our next train adventure. It was a wonderful, relaxing way to travel if you have the time. Have you traveled over night on Amtrak?

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