April 10, 2013
As if this spring snowstorm wasn’t bad enough, my flight back into Minneapolis this week was cancelled as a result. Knowing that the weather was only going to get worse over time, it looked like Jörg, Allison and I were going to be spending a few more days in Chicago than anticipated.
We were scrambling to look for open flights on different airlines, and even considering renting a car and driving into the storm head-on when Jörg had an idea – what if we took a train? He might as well have been speaking his native German at that point. It was such a strange question than I didn’t even know how to react. I just stood there shaking my head and stammering. “Is there… Where does it… How does it…?
I’ve only traveled by train in Europe, and I’ll be honest, I’ve never really considered it an option for travel in the U.S. Long story short, we booked a one-way ticket on the Amtrak from Chicago to St. Paul and it was nothing short of magical.
After some pointers from a helpful booking agent, we booked two private rooms that provided more room to work and, as we found out later, bumped us up to the equivalent of first-class. Free internet, snacks and beverages as we waited to board, free champagne after being seated and, the best perk of all, complimentary dinner in the dining car.
We made our reservation and wandered down the narrow hallways to the dining car at 7:15 p.m. We were promptly seated in a comfortable booth with stunning views. With the sun setting, the bluffs were on one side of us, and the river was on the other – it was incredible. We enjoyed a surprisingly tasty three-course dinner, and toasted to not being on a cramped airplane.
One of the great things about the train was the relaxed environment. You don’t take the train because you’re in a hurry to get somewhere, and you pick up on this slower pace of life from the staff and from other passengers. I found it incredibly relaxing and it made the experience so much more enjoyable.
Another highlight was the staff. From the booking agent to the porter, everyone went out of their way to make sure we were enjoying our trip. The staff skewed quite a bit older (it turns out that a career with the railroad has some great benefits and most people stick around), and I found the older employees really added to the mystique of the railroad – there’s something about being on such an old form of transportation that makes you reflect on the past.
Jörg, Allison and I are already planning our next train excursion, and I highly recommend you consider giving Amtrack a try. My recommendation: Start with a day trip to test the waters. Oh, and another tip: You can bring all the food and booze you want onto the train with you…. just saying.