After only 2 nights in the sleepless city, the West was calling... The train from NY Penn Station to Chicago takes about 19 hours, leaving in the afternoon and arriving the following morning. It's very scenic traveling north along the Hudson and there's a 45 minute layover in Albany for fresh air & stretches.
Your best bet is to come prepared with some food & entertainment. Wi-fi will supposedly come to all trains in 2016 and there is none on long-distance trains for now. It's better to gaze out the window anyway. You can track your progress and read the Amtrak route guide with factual tid-bits. Or observe the eclectic crew of characters - anyone willing to travel 19 hours by train probably has an interesting back story. If you don't meet anyone at your seat, there's a good chance you will at dinner if your posse is less than 4 people since the tables in the dining car each accommodate 4 and there's not often room for a quiet dinner for 2 - at least not on well-traveled routes. The food's pretty good, though of course over-priced.
The seats are so spacious that I could stretch out for a good night's sleep. It helped that I was exhausted from keeping up with the Germans at McSorley's and was actually looking forward to doing nothing but sit & sleep on a train. I woke up refreshed and ready to carpe diem in Chicago! Only had to wait 2 hours while Christian pieced the bike together...
The Great Hall in Chicago's Union Station is absolutely beautiful, reminiscent of the grand old railroad glory days. Penn Station in NYC also possessed this beaux-arts grandeur and was considered a masterpiece of this architectural style before its tragic demolition in 1963. At least Grand Central was saved thanks to Jackie O. and the newly formed Landmark Preservation Commission.
I continued to be amazed by majestic architecture upon exiting the station and wondered what took me so long to visit Chicago. I want to live here for a bit (I also wonder how many times I'll say that on this tour).
With our bike back in one piece, we cycled through downtown to the lake. I dipped my manicured toesies into a Great Lake for the first time. Twas chilly and a chill scene on the waterfont. Sam & I debated the merits of backgammon versus chess while Christian fiddled with the bike. It was another great view to enjoy while waiting for the German bike technician.
We then saw the skyline from an awesome and unique perspective when Sam took us stand-up (or sit-down as in my case - it's not that I was scared, I was just relaxing) paddle boarding. We went in the lagoon just off the lake since it's much calmer. The lagoon is right near the free zoo. I love when a city has such marvelous outdoor activity options and access to green space. Not to be outdone as I complimented NYC's High Line converted green space, Sam led us down the Bloomingdale Trail. I was mildly disappointed it didn't end at Bloomie's since I missed stopping at my SoHo sanctuary the previous week, but we got to use our sweet new bike lights from Light in Motion.
The next day we were on a boat and the $41 for the Chicago Architecture Foundation's River Cruise was totally worth every buck. I was a dollar short.
The tour was excellent even on a rainy day.
The boat bar even had a great local draft. My favorite local beer is Lizard King, Mosaic Pale Ale by Pipeworks Brewing Co. I also thoroughly enjoyed the craft brews & food at Revolution. Join the Freedom Tour & get your revolution on! Sam's favorite beer from the region is 3 Floyds Brewing Co.'s Zombie Dust out of neighboring state Indiana. Floyds has a brewpub featuring seasonal menus comprised of local farm food and the house beers.
It was a short yet satisfying first hoorah in Chicago. The Art Institute is a cultural highlight and the symphony was rehearsing in the Frank Gehry designed concert shell in Millennium Park. We reached the bean just as the sky broke open in a downpour. The storm was so quick that I missed a great photo op of the bean in pouring rain.
We went out with a bang in Chicago, listening to some great live music at Kingston Mines. Next time, I'll hopefully hear Sam and his band Mason Cos play a gig!
After the 19 hour journey to Chicago, our next 7+ hour leg to Minneapolis seemed to fly by. To travel these distances by train, we are using Amtrak's USA Rail Pass. The price comes out to ~$50 per segment and considering 1 segment could be Chicago to Seattle, I'd say that's a damn good price for a comfortable ride and world class scenery. We hung out in the lounge car.
As evening turned to night, we reached the Great River. The train paused on the bridge for a beautiful sunset over the Mississippi.
Another dawn, another day and we awoke in Minneapolis in the house of Uncle Jeffrey. Minnesota has more than 11,000 lakes and therefore must have at least as many bike paths. Minneapolis is a wonderful cycling city. Though I've visited my Minnesoter family many times before, I hadn't been there recently and this time I saw it through another perspective. I used to be a bad tourist - ordering the appetizer sampler at Hard Rock Cafe and checking sites off the top 10 list. When I visit places now, I think of how it would be to live there and what makes it special: the people, food & beer culture, the environment for cyclists and public transit. Aspects that contribute to the overall quality of life.
Minneapolis scores pretty high. You immediately notice how clean it is and, with less than 3% unemployment, how wealthy it is in comparison to other cities. There isn't really a rough hood. The city center is easily accessible from the suburbs and the suburbs have beautiful, unique houses – no cookie-cutters here! The people here seem to be very active – probably have a lot of pent up energy from the winter months. Everyone's playing in, on or around the lakes.
Minneapolis grew alongside Chicago with the railway boom. As passenger rail declined in the 50's and 60's, former rails are gradually becoming trails. The Rails to Trails Conservancy Organization has a lot to work with in this area and has already created an extensive network. We clocked some mileage on the Dakota Rail Trail and the Mississippi River Trail.
We did a great loop one day from the 'burbs east to the great river, north past the university, to Day Block, then south again via the 3 lakes.
Day Block is a great brewery we went to that is named for the historic building it occupies. With a fairly recent change in the alcohol laws, more breweries have opened their doors to the thirsty masses. At Day Block Brewing Co., we loved the red ale. The menu looked fantastic with lots of locally sourced, organic, and homemade goodies. We snacked on spiced peanuts with candied bacon bits. I like my beers with bits.
The beers from 612 & Surly were great for a happy hour break during our evening lake laps.
Lastly, top of your day with homemade ice cream from Sebastian Jo's - it's like a wish come true.