That time I took the train from Chicago to Seattle

You’ll notice I don’t really do the whole selfie thing much. There’s a reason for that, as I think you’re about to find out.

Right at the end of August, S and I took the Big Train (aka The Empire Builder) from Chicago to Seattle. We had a sleeper compartment. There was a buffet car and an observation car. There were fascinating people and steaks the size of my face. Basically it was a good old fashioned adventure.

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More to come on the details and specifics later I promise, but for now, I’ll take you on a detailed itinerary of where we went. Via the medium of the selfie.

We departed Chicago’s Union Street Station at 14:15 precisely, having introduced ourselves to our car steward Kevin and settled into our Roomette.

Here’s a classic mirror selfie, just after we’d boarded and our Roomette was still vaguely tidy. I can do a Roomette tour if anyone’s interested? It was a pretty cool little space. I got some photos. I could do a thing.

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The train makes numerous stops along its journey, but there are only a few that you’re allowed to get out at. You’re always given strict instructions as to when to re-board, and usually there’s no time to leave the platform. The car stewards all get off as well, and keep a close eye on you. If you stray, you may well get yelled at. And you certainly won’t miss the cry of “all aboooooooard!” which generally causes everyone to do that awkward half-run towards the nearest door in a panic. With some stations only being served by one train a day (this train), getting left behind is no joke. Especially when the entire town consists of the station, two houses and a dusty road. That’s going to be a long 24 hours.

The first stop we were allowed to get out at, somewhat nervously, was in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. It was only mid afternoon and we’d already waved goodbye to the entire of Illinois, our noses glued to the windows basically the entire time. At this point we were chipper, excited about the journey ahead, and thankful that someone volunteered to take our photo for us.

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Wisconsin passed in a blur and just before dinner we’d made it to a whole new state. Hi, Minnesota!

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The guy on the tannoy on the train liked to jazz things up a little. So this is WIII-NONAAAARRR! We weren’t really sure what to make of it after all that but we got out, took our selfie with the entire of the train watching us out of the windows, and hastily boarded before we got left behind.

Soon after this we were introduced to the wonders of the buffet car and things got even better.

Right after dinner, at about 10pm, we were informed that our next stop would be a long one. Welcome to the twin cities, St Paul-Minneapolis. I peered into the darkness to try and see as much of the city as I could, but despite having 20 minutes until the train moved off again it wasn’t long enough to go exploring. So I did anti-DVT star jumps up and down the station platform instead, again amusing the people watching me out of their windows.

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Oh and this, my friends, is the Horse Face. If you know me, you know the Horse Face. You’ll get more familiar with it, I promise.

Bright and early the next morning, having just awoken from a fairly fragmented night of sleep (trains are loud, yo) we were informed that we had an hour wait at Minot, North Dakota, and we could leave the station if we wanted to. Well, I have no idea if I’ll ever be coming back to North Dakota so I grabbed the opportunity with both hands – or should I say, rolled out of my bunk blearily, stumbled into some clothes, fell out of the train door and took this selfie.

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So attractive, I know.

We did indeed wander around Minot (rhymes with ‘why not’, not mee-no as I’d assumed. I was forever assigning European pronunciation to things that had no reason for it) and found several drive through ATMs which I’m still astonished by, a saddle shop, and the entire of the centre of town being dug up. Surprisingly, not much was open at 7.30am but we did get some stares from locals as we bounced around cheerily with our cameras whilst checking our watches every three minutes.

We made it back to the train without getting left behind, and I had a much needed shower.

Next stop after breakfast was Williston, also in North Dakota. Here there was a clock and the most giant taxi-bus-jeep thing I’ve ever seen. We had a few minutes to turn ourselves around so once again it was time for a few star jumps and back to the observation car for more commentary from a park ranger or two on the scenery as it slid past.

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Time for a new state! Here we are arriving in Montana. Our expressions here crack me up – turns out it’s hot on the plains and we just were not expecting it. Everywhere else we’d stopped since Winona had been pretty temperate, but Havre was like, 30 degrees Celsius. We walked around, saw an old engine, a statue of a Mountie, sweated a bit, and got back on the train. So hot.

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Sorry about the tongue. Which you can actually see the imprint of my braces in if you look closely. Which I expect you won’t want to because really. This is the internet but people do have limits. Ok, moving on.

Having travelled through the beautiful Glacier Park in the early evening and climbed steadily into the Rockies, we stopped again after dinner. We were still in Montana, but in the actual mountains this time. It had gone dark but all I could smell was pine trees. It was beautiful after a day of train air.

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Of course I ruined it with my horse face. There you go. Are you beginning to grasp why we don’t really do selfies?

After a slightly improved nights sleep (exhaustion and ear plugs) and passing through the entire of Idaho while we slept, we made it to our final state of Washington. With just two hours to go before arrival in Seattle, we were getting our excitement faces back on again…

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Also makeup is a miracle worker. Just saying.

There are no pictures of our triumphal mid-morning arrival in Seattle because I am not a completer-finisher, but here’s proof we made it. This is us up the Space Needle at sunset later that day, a building that I fell hard in love with. I can’t really explain why. I just think it’s the coolest thing ever.

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And there this fairly troll-y post ends; clouds, light drizzle and all.

I may come to regret this, but I think sometimes it’s good to remind ourselves that I we don’t need to take ourselves so seriously the whole time. This is the internet. Let your weirdo flag fly.

Who’s with me?

-Rachel

Linking up with Katy, Erin and Clare for Faraway Files

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54 Comments

  1. 17th October 2016 / 16:45

    Me, me, me, meeee!!! *flies weirdo flag* 🙂

    • 17th October 2016 / 21:06

      Yaaaaay! You’re already in my tribe Katrina but if you weren’t I’d be extending a freakishly long arm out towards you and your flag!

  2. 17th October 2016 / 16:46

    i agree – why be serious all the time – there is no point 🙂 also love all the selfies! too cute. and yes a tour of the car please 🙂 i love seattle something fierce. such an amazing city!

    xoxo cheshire kat

    • 17th October 2016 / 21:07

      Yup! Nobody’s got the time to work at work and then work at blog. Where’s the fun in that? I look awful in most of the selfies but they make me laugh and that’s all that matters. Tour coming right up! Seattle was just gorgeous. How can you not love that city?

  3. 17th October 2016 / 16:59

    Fun selfie post! It looks like you had fun at all of those stops! 🙂

    • 17th October 2016 / 21:08

      We had fun taking them, and trying not to feel self conscious as the (mostly older) train crowd stared on in wonder! We did have fun at the stops, most of them weren’t very long but we maximised!

  4. 17th October 2016 / 16:59

    Horse face is life 😂 So cool to hear about this train journey though! My family tried to do it a couple years ago from Seattle – Chicago, and stop off in glacier national park. We didn’t book it in time though and the prices were astronomical!! Looking forward to reading about it more 🙂

    • 17th October 2016 / 21:09

      Thank you! I’m glad someone understands me and my horse face 🙂 Such a shame your family didn’t get to do the trip, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but it was SUCH a fun trip. More in depth details coming soon! There’s just so much to write it’s turning into an essay… I hope your family manage to make the trip soon, and stopping off in Glacier National Park is a brilliant idea! I wish we’d had time to do that.

      • 19th October 2016 / 21:27

        Haha good news for you is bad news for me! Maybe I can use your post as evidence to my family that we need to try again haha

        • 20th October 2016 / 10:56

          Please do, use away! Not sure they wouldn’t find it totally off putting to be honest… but in all seriousness if you can find it for the right price I highly recommend it! Slightly more sensible post coming in the next couple of days…

  5. 17th October 2016 / 19:51

    I’m all about being my own weird self! 🙂 Flag flying.
    Horse face – haha…
    I love all your pictures together – you two are so cute.
    I have to ask, what kind of camera is that?

    • 17th October 2016 / 21:13

      Wooohooo! The flags are all coming out tonight 🙂

      The camera is a Panasonic Lumix GF7. It’s really a great camera. It’s mirrorless but takes magical photos that look more amazing than my husband’s DSLR (sorry S), it’s small, you can change the lenses, it’s got its own wifi connection so you can transfer images straight to your phone, there’s a flip up screen at the back for selfies (which we obviously need practice with more!) and it looks cute too. The battery life is a bit rubbish, that’s the only downside. I think you could probably get spares though. I know you’re a pro but I’d recommend it as a hobby camera. Happy to answer any more questions if you have any!

  6. 17th October 2016 / 20:21

    1) I’m an American and I assumed your pronunciation!
    2) Train travel isn’t much of a thing in Texas so this is fascinating to me! I totally want to see the sleeping car! And all the train info you want to share!
    3) Your selfie faces are so cute! Love the way you documented the trip!

    • 17th October 2016 / 21:15

      Oh good I’m glad I’m not the only one randomly ascribing French pronunciation to things! Long distance train travel like this isn’t really a thing here either, so I had an absolute whale of a time. With two whole requests for a sleeping car tour it’s coming right up! Plus a really long essay about the whole rest of the experience. It’s a monster but I just had the BEST time.

  7. 17th October 2016 / 21:41

    oh hey i do the horse face thing too. high five for weirdos!
    also i looked at your tongue because you told me to. yep. it was weird.
    i assumed the same pronunciation for Minot, however i live in KY and they have a place called versailles and they call it ver-sayles. like NO. they also have a cairo which they do not pronounce correctly either, but i’ve blocked it from my memory so i can’t remember how they pronounce it.

    • 24th October 2016 / 17:51

      Haha yay glad to find a fellow weirdo! Sorry about the tongue…
      I was oddly surprised by pronunciation, and I got so confused by the end that all bets were off. I completely mis-guessed how to pronounce Havre, because I keep thinking of Le Havre in France, and I’ve forgotten completely how US Havre is pronounced. Maybe like hay-ver? Also blocked from my memory because I was so confused!

  8. I took a plane from Seattle to Chicago last night and it felt exhausting. This definitely puts things into perspective, what a great way to see a lot of places. Do you find train travel to be affordable? I’ve only looked into it a handful of times and found it to be pricier than flying? So I’ve yet to take a train but I think a scenic ride like yours would be worth it

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:09

      Well I don’t actually know the cost because we paid for our train trip as part of a package deal, which sidenote I would never do again because I hate not knowing what each part of a trip cost me. Also our travel agency was rubbish but that’s another matter. Basically I’m assuming it wasn’t cheap – I think the coach seats aren’t too expensive and they’re nicer than first class seats in most airlines, so for one night or less I think it would be absolutely fine. However I’d say that really the train trip isn’t about getting somewhere, it’s the journey and the whole train experience that you’re paying for. Bit of a cliche but if you view it in that light, it might not be so bad? Consider that in the price of a roomette you get your accommodation, all meals and drinks (non-alcoholic) included for 2 nights and that might make it seem a little more reasonable? And you don’t need any spending money except tips (and for booze if you want it). I’d highly recommend it if you can make it work with your budget.

  9. Jen
    18th October 2016 / 00:47

    I love taking trains!!! We took a train from NC to NYC and it was such a fun experience.

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:10

      I am a new convert for sure! How long was that train ride and was it a sleeper car situation? I’m just to intrigued by having a tiny room on a train that I now want to do all kinds of sleeper train journeys!

  10. 18th October 2016 / 02:05

    Oh my goodness your train trip across the United States looks like so much fun, but that’s so crazy that they wouldn’t allow you to get off the train at certain stops because it was such a quick turn around. That’s so funny that one of your longest stops was in Minot because it’s such a small town! Our friends were actually stationed there before they got stationed in Italy and it was so tiny! Really cold in the winters, like you can get frostbit from just going outside, but it’s beautiful in the summer! I can’t wait to hear more about your trip!

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:16

      Yeah it was mildly stressful! There were plenty of places we could get out though, so I didn’t mind too much. No way you had friends in Minot! What a small world. Yep it’s definitely a tiny town, we walked around most of it in our hour stop I think! It was reasonable weather when we were there at the end of August, but I’m glad we took the train trip then because I am not on for instant frostbite!

  11. 18th October 2016 / 03:07

    That’s so cool! One of my travel goals is to take a train across Canada – it’s 7 days I think lol so it gets expensive! And hm I totes also have a horse-face but mine includes sticking my tongue out a lot haha

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:17

      Oh I really want to take that train as well. There were some people on this train who’d done that trip and they said it was even nicer than this one, so I’m now extremely keen! I’m glad to hear you have your own version of the horse face, we’re all weirdos in our own special ways, ha!

  12. 18th October 2016 / 08:50

    Loved this. I have never even thought about taking a train anywhere in the US let alone across multiple states!

    • 20th October 2016 / 13:36

      I hadn’t thought about taking a sleeper train in the UK either, until I took this trip. It really was a lot of fun, and a great way to see a lot of the country at once!

    • 20th October 2016 / 13:32

      I have never done a long journey like this before, and I really wasn’t sure how I’d find it- but I loved it! I’m now looking for more long train journeys I can take.

  13. 19th October 2016 / 13:37

    haha I don’t think this is weird at all – welcome to my normal! 😛 Even if you didn’t get to venture to far from the train a lot of the time, it’ cool you could mark each station stop th a picture to track your progress as you travelled! 🙂 I’ve never been very long on a train, I imagine it would be fun. My in laws just did a big train trip the other month actually. No fun selfies from them though!

    Hope you’re having a great week 🙂

    Away From The Blue Blog

    • 20th October 2016 / 13:30

      Yes! And there were cool little things at each station that kept it interesting. I think if I did it again I might get out and spend a day or two in Glacier National Park- it looked so beautiful! I want to do the long distance trains in Australia but they’re SO expensive 😟
      My week is a bit frantic but pretty good, thank you! I hope yours is going well 😀

  14. 20th October 2016 / 13:22

    Love the pics – so much fun! We are considering doing this in reverse but are unsure as it may be very challenging with a toddler #farawayfiles

    • 20th October 2016 / 13:31

      There was actually a family with a toddler in our carriage. They had the family room- I think it has 3 beds. Anyway the toddler seemed to do really well, I don’t have kids so don’t really know what I’m talking about but there was plenty of space to run around, new people to meet, and folk seemed a lot more tolerant of children vs say on a plane, as everyone was in the holiday spirit! If I can give any more info please let me know😊

  15. 20th October 2016 / 20:12

    Thanks for keeping it real Rachel! There is a time and place for keeping a straight face and I agree Whitefish Montana is not one of those places! Thanks for sharing the fun with #FarawayFiles

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:18

      Haha, my pleasure! If you can’t keep it real here then really what’s the point! Whitefish was beautiful, even in the dark – of all the places we went through that’s the one I’d want to go back to for a longer stop.

  16. 21st October 2016 / 01:22

    Three Cheers for weirdo flags!! I want to take an epic train trip like this sometime! it’s like nothing I’ve ever done and I think I would love it!

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:20

      Woop woop weirdo flag! It was a completely new experience for me too, and I thought it was fantastic. I encourage you to give it a try if you can. I hear the route from LA to Seattle (I think? It’s called the Coast Starlight if I remember correctly) is beeeaauuutiful. I’d love to do that one.

  17. 21st October 2016 / 02:32

    What a fun adventure! I want to travel more by train, but they can be so unreliable…

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:21

      Yes, so I hear, that being the consequence of Amtrak not owning the tracks they run on any more post-privatisation. All I can say is our train arrived a fraction early, but we had allowed space in our itinerary for delays. Not something to rely on if you have to be somewhere at a certain time, I think.

  18. 21st October 2016 / 11:00

    I’ve always wanted to do one of these long train journeys across America so loved reading about your experiences. I don’t do selfies either! Thanks so much for sharing this with us on #FarawayFiles

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:22

      Glad I’m not the only selfie-phobe! Having seen too many selfies from the other side of the lens it’s really put me off! Anyway, I’m glad you enjoyed finding out a bit more about the trip, it’s not the most conventional recap by any means but the basic message is I loved it and I’d recommend it to a non-selfie loving friend 🙂

  19. 21st October 2016 / 19:49

    I’ve always wanted to take a train in the States. I’ve only experienced trains in Europe which I loved. Thats a great picture o you two, you not look super happy. That’s a pretty awesome horse face I’m totally down to let my weirdo-flag fly 🙂

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:23

      Yay for weirdo flags! I’ve never even done long distance trains in Europe which I’m a bit sad about because I think a lot of them are being discontinued due to low cost flights. Which is just not the same kind of experience at all! I think these routes are loss makers for Amtrak too, so if you can, do it while they’re still running!

  20. 21st October 2016 / 22:01

    Do a thing! Do a thing! (A roomette thing. So curey-us) You know what? Taking an epic train trip like this is actually a dream of mine. It looks tough, but so much fun.

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:24

      Ok! Ok! I’ll do a thing!
      I had kind of steeled myself for this train trip to be a bit rough, but it was actually waaaaaay better than I expected. Perhaps the low expectations helped but I had a whale of a time. I so recommend it!

  21. 22nd October 2016 / 17:17

    This post cracks me up… I mean, I’m super impressed that you hopped out for each new state (and definitely love that you did)…. and the faces are exactly what I would expect on a journey of that magnitude. I don’t ever think about taking the train in the United States… I should really look into that for an adventure. I mean, I do it in Europe without thinking about it… why not here?!

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:26

      Haha I’m glad you enjoyed the weirdness! I’d never been to the US before this year so I was definitely not going to miss ticking some states off (except Idaho because even I am not dedicated enough to the horse face to wake up in the middle of the night for that). I think there are a few good routes left in the US, it’s a bit pricey but if you look at it as an experience then that might help the sticker shock a bit. I seriously had so much fun!

  22. 24th October 2016 / 15:40

    I’ve been in the mood for a long train journey for a while, this makes me feel like doing it … especially across the States as I haven’t even set foot over there yet…. Honestly I love the sound of obscurer places like Whitefish Montana. As for selfies, I don’t think there is a single selfie of me in existence so yeah I should probably loosen up and get my horse-face on…

    • 24th October 2016 / 18:28

      I’d never been to the States before this year either! I tell you what, it’s a great way to see a lot of the country at once for newbies like us, and you meet such interesting people. Way less stressful than flying, much better food, much better sleep (despite train noise… still better than trying to sleep in an economy seat!). It’s also given us an idea of where we might like to go back to again should we get the chance.

      And yes! Unleash the horse face!!

  23. 25th October 2016 / 09:05

    HAHA! I loved this goofy post – you are adorable and what a trip! I have never ridden the train that far in the States – everything is so far apart from each other and I do love a good road trip. But the ease of the train has an undeniable pull. P.S. I love the Space Needle too! I lived in Seattle for 6 years. Ahhh Seattle. Thanks for linking up and looking forward to your next post shared with #FarawayFiles – cheers from Croatia today! Erin

    • 1st November 2016 / 11:40

      Ha, thanks! Nothing like a bit of goof to keep things real. Things really are so far apart in the States, which is why this made so much sense for us. We could never have covered so much ground on a road trip, certainly not in so much comfort or with good, regular meals, either!

      Hello back to Croatia!

  24. 26th October 2016 / 08:05

    Thanks for the hilarious read. The photos as much as your words made me laugh out loud so many times! #FarawayFiles

  25. 27th October 2016 / 04:05

    Angel always thought that taking Amtrack for a long trip would be fun, but…since we lived there and owned a car…it never made sense financially for our long roadtrips in the USA. I did take the Amtrack between Grand Rapids, MI, and Chicago a couple times–once due to the fact that the car we were driving broke down in Chicago (transmission went out) and both Angel and I had to be back for work the next day.

    • 1st November 2016 / 11:45

      Oh yes it’s definitely more expensive than driving, especially with the price of fuel in the US being so low. That car breakdown sounds stressful, I’m glad the train was able to come to your aid in that situation!

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