Days 11-14 – where to start…

We’re finally back on the radar after an epic train journey right across the USA from East to West. We’ve travelled a huge distance since we last posted – more than 2200 miles from Chicago, IL to Seattle, WA.

Day 11 – Chicago, IL morning and Empire Builder part 1

Our last half day in Chicago was spent going up the Willis tower to the skydeck (a glass box which sticks out of the 103rd floor). We finally had reasonable weather that day after the storms we had a couple of days earlier. It was a great view up there and we got some great pics of the skyscrapers in the downtown area.

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We had lunch at Lou Mitchell’s diner where route 66 officially starts. The diner was great, portions were HUGE, and it was very much a classic American diner experience. I ordered a salad assuming it would be a lighter option. I was wrong. 

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We decided to break the epic train journey from the East to West coast by stopping off in Minneapolis, Minnesota for a night. We travelled coach class on this stretch – an 8 hour train ride, arriving late at night at St Paul/Minn station. You get much more room compared to on a European train and the seats recline quite a long way. Again there were a lot of Amish families travelling.

Day 12 – Minneapolis and back onto Empire Builder

We had our first night in a hotel in downtown Minneapolis and spent the rest of the following day shopping at the Mall of America. This is apparently the biggest shopping mall in America with an aquarium, indoor theme park, cinema and loads of eating places. We made a really good start on our Christmas shopping there – clothes are so much cheaper over here, especially brands like Hollister and Abercrombie. 

We nipped around on the trams and buses in Minneapolis easily, We have come to the conclusion on this trip that the Americans do do public transport and they do it very well indeed. It’s a shame it is so underused in a lot of places. Fares are cheap and services run frequently. We’ve been really impressed!

We had dinner at Barbette’s Bistro, which was great, classic French food. We headed back to the station to pick up the Empire Builder train again from St Paul/Minneapolis right across to Seattle. This time we booked into a sleeper compartment as we were going to spend 2 days on the train.

Day 13 – Empire Builder part 2

Another great experience of long-distance train journeys in America! We met some really interesting people on the train – a lady going to visit her daughter away at university in Seattle, a few Canadians from Vancouver and people visiting family on the West coast. All meals and drinks were included in our train fare and we ate communally again. We experienced our first ‘hospitality hour’ in the dining car which was a cheese and wine event. I tasted wines from Washington state and even won a bottle on the trivia quiz which I shared with others at dinner. We spent most of the daylight hours travelling through plains, plains and more plains in North Dakota.

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Unfortunately we got to Glacier National Park after dark – one of the bits of the journey we most wanted to see. We laid on the bed in our compartment with the lights off looking at the forests, mountains and stars.

Day 14 – Seattle, WA

We woke up to some of the most stunning scenery yet – the snow-capped mountains, forests and rivers of Washington state. It was really beautiful.

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At breakfast we were seated with a young guy from Lowestoft! He had been working on a farm in North Dakota since April and was travelling for a few days before flying back to London.The train arrived just over an hour late into Seattle’s King Street station – not bad considering the distance it had travelled.

After dumping our luggage at our hotel we explored Pike Place Market. This market is great – lots of craft and food stalls.

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Also the very first Starbucks store is right across the road. Seattle seems to be quite a foodie destination. We had seafood for lunch, sitting out looking across the Puget Sound (the expanse of water along the coast of Seattle). We spent some time exploring the really interesting little shops around the market area and then wandered up to the Seattle Center – the location of the 1962 World Fair where the touch-tone telephone and microwave were first revealed. The monorail still exists to transport people from the downtown area. We went up to the observation deck on the Space Needle just before sunset. The views were incredible! You could see right across the Canada, across to the Olympic mountains and to Mount Rainier in the south. 

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We really like the feel of Seattle so far and it is one of our favourite cities so far. We are looking forward to exploring more tomorrow and are already wishing that we are staying here for longer!

Becca x

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Becca & Mike will be spending their honeymoon on an epic Amtrak adventure across the USA. We plan to take in the sights of New York, Washington DC, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle and San Francisco.

When is it?

We are going for 3 weeks in November (9th-29th) 2013. We will be posting regular updates on this blog so keep coming back to check out our booking progress and also how much fun we will be having whilst we are there! We also wanted to write a blog on our trip to help others who are looking to organise something similar.

Where did this idea come from?

Mike took Becca on her first overnight train to Berlin back in February 2009 and Becca’s been hooked ever since! Becca blames her love of trains on her Dad – as Sam (Becca’s brother) once said “why does every family holiday have to involve a cathedral and a steam railway?”

We’ve travelled to Spain, Italy, Copenhagen, Budapest, Bruges by rail and always try to take the train at least one way on our holidays. Since then we have been frequenters of the Man in Seat 61 website and we’ve always dreamed of doing one of the more long-distance international routes on there.  This seemed like the perfect opportunity!

Our wedding giftlist

We’ve lived together for about 4 years now and therefore didn’t need any of the traditional household stuff so we decided to put together a really different giftlist. The first weekend that Becca was out of hospital after her back operation last year we sat down with a big pile of guidebooks and the Amtrak website and planned out a rough route. Becca then put together a website via the Zankyou platform. We decided that we would pay for the flights and hotels ourselves but that we would ask our guests to contribute towards our spending money. We worked out a rough cost of various things like meals, entrance to museums and galleries etc and then put these amounts up on the website. They ranged from £2.50 (a chilli halfsmoke in DC)  to £25 (part of the ticket cost for our longest train journey). We broke the bigger items (like the all-important train tickets) down into £25 units.

Take a look at our giftlist here: http://mikeandbecca.zankyou.com/uk/wedding-list/index

The plan is to have a photo taken of us doing each thing which we will then convert into a personalised thank you card for the people which bought us each item.

It was a massively time-consuming process but it is really personalised and will mean that we can afford a once-in-a-lifetime trip that we wouldn’t otherwise have done!

So a HUGE thank you to all our friends and family who have contributed so generously to this!

Further info: http://www.seat61.com