We jerked forward out of Union Station, Chicago, the train slowly picking up speed. In a matter of minutes we were zipping through a long tunnel. We came out into the sunlight with Chicago in our rear view mirror. Miles of corn fields and other fields of crops awaited our train as we barrelled down the tracks. Illinois gave way to Iowa and the flat agricultural land continued unabated, interspersed with small-town USA. It was gloriously monotonous.
There is no wifi on the train so make sure you have plenty to do. I did use my cell phone hotspot a few times to do some work that had to be finished, but mostly I had my face smashed to the window of our compartment because I could not imagine missing one minute of this ride.
Our compartment was not large but the fun of train travel is to try something different, right? And, let’s face it, it was a whole lot bigger than a seat on an airplane. The compartment has a nice long sofa and a chair, plus room to stow your suitcase above the chair. There is a teensy closet, big enough for about three outfits. The sink is right in the room, but that was part of the adventure. The bathroom is no place for sissies or people with tight-space issues. The commode and the shower are right together – there is even a shield to place down over the toilet paper so it doesn’t get wet while one is showering. Who thinks of these things?
When we had unpacked what little we did unpack, I went in search of hot water for my afternoon tea. Now, some might laugh or dismiss me outright, but there is nothing more rejuvenating than a nice cup of hot tea in the afternoon. As soon as I had my tea steeping, we checked out the observation car. It was pretty empty, but that was to be expected…most people do not enjoy agricultural land like I do, more’s the pity.
The observation car is a great place to while away some of those long train hours. It is on the upper tier of the train so one is elevated enough to see everything – and the floor to ceiling windows bring the outside in. Even better are the windows that curve up into the roof of the car. That came in quite handy later in the trip.
We had a seven-thirty pm dinner reservation in the dining car. Remember, I said that meals are included with a compartment. Well, as luck would have it, our train ride took place one week too early to have the full service meals that Amtrak is famous for. We were still on the “COVID Meal Plan” which, unfortunately, included a total of about six separate meals – one of which they ran out of at lunch on the second day. The meals were okay but not great. There were no white tablecloths and no cloth napkins. They used plastic utensils and paper napkins, as well as disposable containers the food came in – so, no, not even plastic plates. We were able to watch the sunset from the dining car as we ate our supper…and had pre-packaged brownies for dessert.
My husband and I retired to our compartment after supper and soon, Gregory, our room steward, came and converted our compartment into beds for the night. The top bunk folded down from the wall and the sofa pulled out into a bed for the night. If both people are very thin then both could fit together on the sofa bed, but hubby and I decided that no one would get much sleep that way. I happily climbed up to the top bunk…and promptly banged the fool out of my head on the ceiling. I was shocked. I am so short that my fifth grade students used to spend the school year coming into my room to see when they had grown enough to finally be taller than me! Anyway, word to the wise, even short people…er…vertically challenged people have to be careful on that top bunk.
I slept like the dead. The banging, jerking, stopping train did not deter me from a great night sleep. Hubby, however, had a very different experience. He does not sleep well in a different bed – something I sympathize with, but do not understand. He tossed and turned on the not-so-thick mattress, but he did have the cushioning of the sofa to help add layers to his bed. Not that it really helped him much at all. This is seriously something to think about if you have sleep issues. For those of us who can sleep anywhere, anytime, it is a non-issue.
By morning we had crossed through Nebraska and were in Colorado. We were up and going early to make sure we did not miss one minute of the next part of the journey – traveling through the Rocky Mountains. Some of the most glorious scenery in the country. Trust me. Just ask anyone who has traveled on the California Zephyr and they will agree. Best. Part. Ever.
Yes, I believe I will stop here for today and share next week about Day Two of the California Zephyr. I hope you will wander back by next Tuesday for more of our train trip across the country.