Firstly an apology that this post is almost 24 hours late – lack of wifi on the overnight train is to blame although I did actually write this on the train last night.
Quotes of the day:
‘It’s a bad sign that I’ve started singing the Star-Spangled Banner’ – Becca
‘I need some insulin’ – Mike
‘Good evening gentlemen’ – the welcome from our waitress in the dining car
‘Dining is communal. You will make a friend’ – Amtrak dining car announcement
So, another sunny day in Washington DC and unfortunately our last. We both feel like we could spend another week here. We’ve really loved it!
After another American breakfast (this time at Kramer Books in the Dupont Circle area – another of Afshin’s recommendations) we went to the Phillips Art Collection on 12th Street. This was a great little gallery with art from the impressionists onwards, including many works by Picasso, Cezanne, Klee, Kandinsky etc.
We returned to our apartment to get ourselves prepared for our first overnight train from Washington DC to Chicago. We had one last binge on milkshakes for lunch from Good Stuff Eatery near the Capitol building before rolling to Union Station.
Union Station is a really impressive building. When it was opened in 1908 it was the biggest railway station in the world.
Taking a long-distance Amtrak train is a lot like taking a plane (obviously without the flying) and quite different from the many European trains we’ve taken in the past. You have the option of checking your baggage into a baggage car so you don’t need to worry about it on the journey. Also you wait in a lounge before going through a boarding gate.
The train itself is huge. It consists of around 10-12 carriages and all, except the baggage car, are double-deckers. Our ‘superliner roomette’ is on the top floor of one of the sleeper carriages. The train has a dining car, a café car with a sightseeing lounge on the top (it has huge windows from floor to ceiling), and a cinema. Unfortunately it doesn’t have wifi, hence why this blog post is late going up. There were a lot of staff on the train. Each sleeping car has an attendant. Ours was called Larry – he was very friendly and we had many conversations during our journey about London, the American civil war etc. The lady running the café kiosk was particularly humorous – enticing us with various chocolate bars, confectionary and pizza types via the tannoy or singing ‘choo choo’ as she walks up and down the train.
Larry came round to welcome us after we had settled into our compartment. A dining car attendant then came round to make our dinner reservation – meals and refreshments are included in the price of a sleeper car ticket. Dinner was a starter of salad and a roll, a choice of six main courses and a choice of four desserts. Meals are quite basic and clearly just reheated in a microwave, but sitting in the dining car is fun as everyone is seated with strangers. Conversation seemed to flow quite easily, although we weren’t allocated any friends this time around.
The other travellers were interesting – there were several Amish families and we probably brought the average age down by a good 20 years or so. The sleeper compartments were really small and you slept long-wise to the train (the opposite way to European sleepers). There were two seats facing one another which slid down to form the lower bunk. The upper bunk was pulled down from the wall.
The route from DC to Chicago passes through the Civil War territory, including Harper’s Ferry and Martinsburg. The total journey takes 18 hours, covers 780 miles, enters another time zone (putting us another hour behind), and crosses 6 states – Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
See you at the other end!