Winding Down our Train Trip

For the first time, I had a seatmate for a few hours. She got off in Little Rock and my fingers were crossed that no one took her place. I like my space! No such luck as an older man got the seat next. We both slept a little but it wasn’t comfortable at all. My neck was really stiff by morning. I amused myself by taking crappy nighttime photos out the window.

We made it through the night. Not much sleeping going on but weโ€™re heading into the home stretch. Should arrive in Dallas in about 2.5 hours. ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿ‘

After we passed through Longview, Miles texted and asked if there was a stop between “where you are now” and Dallas. I said yes, Mineola was next. He was wondering if Elle could get off there. I asked, “Oh, no, is she miserable?” I could just imagine she was texting her parents saying “get me off this train!” But he said no, not at all, he hadn’t even heard from her. He just thought it would be easier than driving all the way to Dallas and back. I said I would ask so I got up to find the conductor and presented the problem. He was very nice and said it was fine to do that but I couldn’t get off with her and she’d have to make her way to the terminal by herself. Elle was okay with that so I told Miles that she could get off there if they could pick her up. He said Sarah would come for her and would just barely make it around the same time that the train pulled in. Suddenly we had to pack Elle up and say goodbye, which was totally unexpected and not the way we thought the trip would end. But I know her parents wanted to see her and although she wanted to hang out with the rest of us, she was ready to get home too. When we got to Mineola, the conductor met us at the door and was nice enough to call out to the woman running the little train depot there that “this young lady is getting off by herself so please help her get to the right place to meet her parents.” The woman nodded and gestured toward Elle to come with her so I felt better about leaving her alone. I texted Sarah and she was almost there and texted Elle who said she was also texting her mom. I went back and moved to the seat by Ally for the rest of the trip. Not too much later, we made it into Dallas, whew! We certainly did not need our sweatshirts any more in the hot Texas sun.

What a great trip we had! We will all have lots of happy memories of time spent together, the good, the bad, the funny, the hilarious, the interesting, the silly, the excellent adventures!

Do Better, Amtrak!

Okay, our happy mood has its first test. The Texas Eagle was shortened during the pandemic and lost its observation car, where you could hang out at tables, play games, watch the scenery etc. We discovered this on our trip up. Itโ€™s still missing so we went to the cafe car to play a card game and were told we couldnโ€™t stay, even though itโ€™s totally empty. I asked what we were supposed to do for the duration of this trip and the only answer is to stay in our seats and complain to Amtrak because the crew agrees with us but โ€œthey donโ€™t listen to us.โ€ So I have tweeted at Amtrak and texted them, but no reply. We are fine and have things we can do, but part of the appeal of a train trip was to be able to hang out together, not just sit in our seats for 21 hours. Blah!

Rolling Along

The girls have been “vlogging” throughout the trip, giving little recaps of our activities. Wish I could upload some of their videos here–they are pretty cute. Anyway, they recorded one more story from the train and we headed back thru St. Louis on our way home. Spirits remain high with 15 hours to go! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Springfield and beyond….and we are really glad we brought our own food this time!

Views from the Train

We have a different crew from the trip up and they donโ€™t seem to care about announcing smoke breaks like the last one did. ๐Ÿคฃ We were stopped at an intersection for at least 15 minutes, blocking traffic. People were getting out of their cars and wandering around, wondering what was going on. Later we heard there was a medical emergency on board and a passenger had to be taken off. Hopefully he/she is doing okay!

Goodbye, Chicago

This was the best trip ever!! We had such a great time, the kids loved everything about it and even the train ride up didn’t seem so bad in retrospect. They were all really sad to be going, but Grandpa and I decided it’s good to “leave them wanting more” instead of staying so long that they started to get weary or bored or missed home too much. ๐Ÿ™‚ We went to our nearby Starbucks for a little consolation treat this morning, then walked over to Eataly to buy some provisions for the train, assuming that the dining car is still “out” and we’d be stuck with Rachel and her microwaved meals otherwise. We grabbed some Subway meals for “later,” planning to get fast food lunch at the train station. Then hung out in the hotel lobby for a little longer till we called a Lyft and made our way to the train station.

Got to the station in plenty of time, but OH MY GOSH, it is so much bigger than the Dallas station and we had NO idea where we were going. I had to ask two different people where to find our train. The station was packed and it was a confusing nightmare to get to the right waiting area. We no longer had time to grab some lunch without being worried we’d miss the train! Got boarded first, thankfully “family groups” are given a bit of priority so they can try to seat us together. Since we had our Subway sandwiches, we decided to go ahead and eat those for lunch and save our Eataly food for later….maybe even get some microwaved meals from the cafe car after all. haha

Dallas, here we come….

Millenium Park and The Bean

We couldn’t skip a trip to The Bean! The kids enjoyed posing!

We then wandered through the several parks that are connected to one another. Elle remembered Maggie Daly Park from a soccer trip a few years ago. She really wanted us to go find the huge playground, so we did. The signs said the equipment was for kids “12 and under.” Elle is 13 and Ally is 14 but I told them they could pretend they were 12. They tried the slides and ran around a little bit. Suddenly they were very glum, realizing that they had outgrown the playground scene. Elle said, “I feel like my childhood is over!” I think she had a slight existential crisis. The two of them sat on the grass and talked about how they were getting too grown up. Elle said the playground seemed “SO MUCH BIGGER” last time she was there. Bless their little hearts!

We walked around some more and they found a man selling light-up balloons. They both got one with their spending money and cheered up pretty quickly, then found some cotton candy, which made things even better!

From there we walked through a lovely garden till we came to the Sullivan Fountain, which was pretty awesome, too. After a very long day, we took a Lyft back to our hotel and crashed. ๐Ÿ™‚

Navy Pier

The kids were very excited to go to Navy Pier! We had our Chicago Pass which allowed us a ride on the giant Ferris wheel as well as some additional rides. Elle was very nervous about the Ferris wheel and wasn’t sure if she wanted to get on it. We told her no biggie, she could skip it if she didn’t want to ride. With some encouragement from her cousins, she decided she would give it a try….and of course she ended up loving it.

Next they wanted to ride on some swings that whip you around in a circle but it was closed due to high winds. We thought it was a little odd that this ride was closed but the Ferris wheel was not…??? We did ride the carousel; well, the females did. The males were too cool for that.

After wandering around a bit more, we decided to eat at Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville” restaurant on the grounds. First off I went to use the bathroom and was directed to the back of the bar by some workmen who were hanging lights on the ceiling. There was no one in the bar but I guess it was not open yet. I used the toilet, thankfully only #1, flushed, turned my back on the potty while I washed my hands, kept hearing water running, turned around, and the toilet was spewing water up into the air! OMG! It totally freaked me out. I jiggled the handle hard and it finally stopped. There was water everywhere! I came out and told the workmen I was really sorry that apparently that toilet is not working properly and I caused a flood in the restroom. They looked at me and one of them said, “oh, yeah, you’re not supposed to go in there!” I said “that’s where you sent me!” They basically just looked away and I sheepishly headed back into the restaurant to tell the rest of our group what I had done. They got a good laugh about that!

When we finished dinner (and laughing), we thought we’d walk to Millennium Park and the famous “Bean.”

Architectural Boat Tour

After our shopping morning, we walked back to the hotel to meet up with the guys and head for the pier for our previously arranged architectural boat tour. Rich and I were very interested in doing this activity and I think the kids were sorta “blah” about it but were humoring us. Once we got going, they loved it and it ended up being almost everyone’s favorite thing we did. Our guide was fun and engaging and told us lots of facts about various architects, architectural styles, and the evolution of Chicago architecture over the decades. After the big Chicago fire, the whole direction of city planning and building changed into something more progressive and dynamic.

It was a little breezy but sunny and nice outside. The kids were very attentive and learned a lot. We all especially liked the “city within a city” where people’s cars had to be valet parked backwards so the cars wouldn’t go off the edge (with or without people in them) into the river!

Girls’ Morning Out

Ally and Elle were dying to go shopping and had some money to spend so we set out to find a few stores while the guys stayed back and watched a movie. Honestly, they missed all the fun! ๐Ÿ™‚ Last night we had walked around and found a couple of stores and a shopping mall but they were all closed…who knew things closed at 7 PM in Chicago?! So this morning was our chance to check things out and the girls were certainly not disappointed! We found several cute/fun stores and they enjoyed trying things on and buying a couple of items to take home. I had fun just watching them having fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

Hop On/Hop Off

Before we left Texas, we purchased some “Go Chicago” passes which included four items we could do in two days. The first day we decided to get the lay of the land on a Hop On/Hop Off bus tour and then we’d go back to some of the things that piqued our interest. Well, we also had some things in mind that we wanted to do, but this was a good start. Everyone got up early in good spirits and feeling better. Our hotel had breakfast so we went down to get something to eat before striking out for the bus station. It was such a beautiful sunny day! We wandered around, taking in the views before we found our spot to get on the hop on/hop off. We decided we’d ride the whole loop to see everything from the bus and then get off at the Shedd Aquarium when we got that far. Our driver was amusing and told us lots of fun Chicago stories as we rode around. About halfway through, I really needed to use the bathroom and we were getting kinda hungry so we decided to get off and have some lunch before resuming the rest of the tour. That’s why they call it hop on/hop off, right?!

We went to Portillo’s for lunch and had Chicago dogs or beef sandwiches, all very tasty. Had a potty break and then walked around the neighborhood for awhile because we had to wait for the next bus to come by.

Back on the bus! We got off at the Shedd Aquarium, which was AMAZING, but my phone died so I didn’t get many photos. We got to pet sturgeons, starfish and stingrays–super cool! We saw a beluga whale show and the girls got splashed by the whales. Aidan loved the sea otters and wanted to take one home. ๐Ÿ™‚ We saw a bunch of different fish and the dolphins were very cute. A favorite stop!

Really, really, really great first full day in Chicago! We love it here!