Monday 4 August 2014

The California Zephyr: Chicago to San Francisco

My first long distance train ride in the US was a 12-hour trip to the East Coast with the Gorgeous H that I wrote about in an earlier blog post. During my recent visit with family, my train-loving sister talked me into yet another train ride this time to California. 

Our journey started in Cleveland, the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, where my sister and her long-suffering husband, the Doctor A lives, an overnight in Chicago and finally the Can-I-survive-two-days-in-a-minuscule-cabin-with-my-energizer-bunny-of-a-sister-train-trip. Yup! You read it right. It was going to be a much longer train ride across some of North America's scenic countryside. 


First stop, city of the famous deep dish pizzas! The Gorgeous H had some business to attend to in Chicago so we decided to stay over night and take the next day's train to California. Perfect plan or so I thought (more on that later) as I get to visit some more of the city's sights and most importantly satisfy my craving for their famous stuffed pizzas. 

The Langham, Chicago. Luxe all the way! Got the room at
half-off using Hotwire. I love Hotwire!

View of the Chicago River from our room. More photos
of our room in our Facebook page.

Millennium Park and Deep Dish Pizza

Now for the later part. As luck would have it our train from Cleveland was delayed almost 3 hours coming into Chicago because of freight train traffic. I later found out that Amtrak shares the tracks with freight trains whose companies own the rail tracks. Ergo freight trumps passenger trains! Hmmm.... Quite a different scenario from European rail transport where passenger trains are given priority over freight trains.

And because of our train's delay plus my sister's business running long, we only had time for a quick visit at the Millennium Park which was totally okay with me because I had my fill of deep dish pizza for dinner!

The Crown Fountain (left) and Cloud Gate sculpture (lower right) at the Millennium Park. It was
nearing closing time at the Art Institute of Chicago (upper right) so we just dropped by their 

museum shop. Another reason to go back!

After having tried Lou Malnati's from a previous visit, I have been craving for Chicago's famous 
stuffed pizzas. My sister and I decided to try another famous pizza maker, Giordano's. 
Can you spell Y-U-M-M-Y-L-I-C-I-O-U-S?! No wonder the windy city is known for their 
deep dish pizzas.

The California Zephyr

This is it! We were booked on Amtrak's California Zephyr leaving from Chicago's Union Station. 

Chicago's Union Station

One advantage of train travel is the generous allowance of their checked-in and cabin bags 
unlike with the airlines. And with my sister's propensity for bringing the whole house with her 
every time she travels, it's no wonder she loves taking the trains. 

We booked a roomette on the train that included all our meals through out the trip. We also
got our own cabin steward who was ready to wait on us hand and foot, haha! NOT!
(I'm missing Vincent, our cabin steward on The Orient Express).
Anyway, our roomette also got us complimentary access to Amtrak's Metropolitan Lounge while
waiting to board our (delayed!) train. 

The California Zephyr is a double decked train. Our tiny roomette was located on the upper deck 
of one of the train's sleeping cars. We didn't have our own WC this time (boohoo!). But there are 
common WC and shower facilities at each car. Surprisingly clean if I may add. But I still had 
to bring my trusty bottle of alcohol with me on each visit.

So long Chicago! Until the next time!

And Off We Go!

One of the highlights of the train's route was the climb up the Rockies. Unfortunately a week before our trip there were mudslides up in the mountains because of torrential rains. Well, that effectively closed off that part of the rail tracks so our train had to be re-routed. Nevertheless we still experienced some striking scenery along the rest of the train's route. 

Crossing the Mississippi River

Somewhere in Iowa.

A brief stop in Denver.

More Colorado scenery.

At first I thought the white stuff was snow, turns out to be salt deposits.

Start of the Sierra Nevada.

Small town America in Truckee.

Now those are snow on top of the mountains.

Donner Lake

Approaching Emeryville/San Francisco station, nearing our journey's end.

It was another memorable adventure with the Gorgeous H! If you want to test your relationship with a sibling or any loved one for that matter I say share a tiny space on a long distance train. I'm pleased to say though we survived the trip and did not end up tearing each other's hair out (barely! Haha!) Kidding aside I do love my sister to bits! 

So, now I can declare that I'm a certified cross-country-coast-to-coast "trainer". Is there such a term? 

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