windy city, part i

My husband and I just returned from a smashing trip to the Windy City. It was, for the record, windy. I’m breaking the review into a few posts, to keep things short and readable. Enjoy! We are already planning our return trip…

[Arriving for our first train at 1:15am (it leaves at 1:40am)]: “Yeah, we’re expecting it at about 3:00 – it’s running a little late <A LITTLE??!?!?!>…”

The Charlotte Amtrak station can only be described as ghetto. The pebbly walls, the linoleum floor, the general color of everything…beigey brown. And it’s *one room*. Everything looks grody.

There was a small child on our train, cruelly confined by his parent to an uncomfortable train seat and expected to sleep quietly for all or most of the eight hours to Washington, D.C. The older gentleman behind us was dying of tuberculosis, coughing up enormous amounts of phlegm and muttering his last will and testament under his breath.

Happily keeled over at a right angle, using my husband’s comfortably-padded leg as a pillow, I awoke to one of the most glorious sunrises I’ve ever beheld, shining in red and purple glory over the rural countrysides of Virginia.

Once awake, Joshua regaled me for an hour on the great and important Civil War history that had taken place in the very towns through which we were traveling. Oh, the things he could tell you…and me…

We debarked early, in Alexandria, to meet my dear friend Shirby for lunch. It was a lovely time of conversation and brief sightseeing in the charming little town of Alexandria. We even walked through the old Torpedo Factory, which has since been turned into an art museum of sorts. We lingered long over a delectable lunch at the Chart House (highly recommended, if you ever visit Alexandria), finishing the meal with their signature dessert, which is a molten chocolate cake you must order before your meal (or at least 30 minutes before you want to eat it) – it takes so long to make. It was unspeakably good.

Shirby drove us back to the train station to board our train, and we were in the midst of goodbyes when we remembered that we did not actually need to get on the train at that time, and certainly not in Alexandria, as our next train left from D.C. at 4:00pm. Rather, we needed the metro to D.C. It was a good thing Joshua caught this before Shirby inadvertently left us at the train station, as it was quite the hike to the metro station – not so much in distance as in large fences, downhill slopes, and concrete walls.

While it costs $2.75 per person to ride from King Street to Union Station on the D.C. metro, you must add an extra $1 to your ticket, just to exit the station upon arrival.

We boarded our train about 15 minutes before its scheduled departure time. The steps up to the second level, where the sleeping compartments are kept, were exceedingly small and steep. We slid open the pocket door of our “room” to find a blue couch-type double trainseat, a miniature sink with mirror, and a little chair by the window. There was a rounded door leading to the smallest of small bathrooms built in the style of an airplane bathroom, but smaller. All it contained was a toilet, with just enough space to stand up in front of it, which was handy, because there was a drain in the floor and a shower head above. Yes, the bathroom doubles as a shower. (!) The couch is one bed, and above it, when you’re ready, a loft bed folds out. It was a comfortable little room, considering the fact that it was onboard a moving train.

A pleasant man took our dinner reservation. At the appointed time, we swayed down to the dining car. It is an entire train car of restaurant booths. Each booth, like a restaurant, can comfortably fit four people, two on each side. The place was practically empty. Meals are complimentary for sleeping-car passengers. This is not as exciting as it sounds because, as Benedict Cumberbatch (playing Sherlock Holmes in The Hound of the Baskervilles on BBC) remarks, train food is always disappointing. And it was, tasting very much like airplane food disguised as something a bit nicer, and served up on a plate with a real fork, as opposed to those unwieldy boxes and packets on an airplane.

The most surprising part of our dining experience was the unexpected addition to our party. A single woman walked into the dining car and, for some inexplicable reason, even with all the empty tables and even with the woman’s age, which was certainly much closer to that of the couple dining at the opposite table than to us, the waitress seated her at our table. Next to Joshua. Her name was Sherry, and she was from Arkansas. She seemed to be, from our extensive conversation, a conservative Christian. We had a fine time talking to her, but it was a bit odd, all the same.

And that, plus a happy and cozy evening in our tiny little train room, was the end of Thursday.

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