Traveling to Totality

Solar Eclipse viewing hill in Du Quoin

Solar eclipse watchers on a hill at Du Quoin State Fairgrounds.

When traveling I often wonder what matters most – where I go or whom I go with. Two weeks before the solar eclipse I still had no plan. I wanted to see the solar eclipse in totality with someone I knew. I had procrastinated over the three-day, $800 dorm rooms offered at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. When I found someone who would do that, the rooms were no longer available. Then my lifelong friend Joan said she’d take Sunday off from her job at a casino in Joliet and drive down to southern Illinois with me.

It was my former neighbor and friend Dennis who convinced me that Eclipse colander experimentI must see the total eclipse. “It’s life changing,” he said. “Everything you thought you knew is put into question.” Okay, he had been drinking when he said that but he is not one to sensationalize.

Joan didn’t care if I had a plan. “We can always sleep in the car at a truck stop if we have to,” she suggested. While she’s on a tight budget, Joan was the right person to go with. She’s a lot of fun and easygoing. I found a tent in my basement and called the Du Quoin State Fairgrounds to see if they had space available. “Yes, we have lots of space. Just come. No need for reservations,” the woman on the phone said. This would be an ideal place within the path of totality. Du Quoin is about 20 miles north of Carbondale. We would avoid the anticipated traffic congestion and crowds being reported by news outlets. I had attended a rodeo at the fairgrounds so was somewhat familiar with it. Continue reading

Finding Inspiration on a Commuter Train

Commuter trainHeading toward Chicago on a Metra commuter train I didn’t notice the woman who sat down beside me until she said, “I hope you don’t feel crowded.” She had pushed a large piece of luggage toward her legs to clear the aisle. There was a Cub’s game that day and the train was packed with fans. The woman also held a small backpack. She was going somewhere beyond a day trip to Chicago.

I looked at her luggage and said, “No, don’t worry about it.” And asked: “Are you going on a trip?”

“Yes, through the Canadian Rockies on the train.” I got excited and immediately wished I was going with her. She was on her own, an adventurer, and up in years. I had to know more.

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An Overnight Train to Allahabad

Train arrives in Allahabad, India

The Bundelkhand Express #11107 arrives in Allahabad from Jhansi, India.

The train is late. We wait. It will transport us overnight to Allahabad (ALD) and into Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and one with the largest number of people living below the poverty line. My son and I have been in India for six days. We have yet to see anyone on top of a rail car. We don’t see unaccompanied children. The station in Jhansi is filled with young men, just as we have seen in the streets and shops. When I asked an English speaker about the lack of women out and about I was told, “Many women remain in the home with their families.”

It’s nearing midnight. The station has a waiting room for women only. A few elderly ladies dressed in colorful saris and some mothers with young children sit on the benches wearing forlorn faces. I don’t know if men and women travel in different compartments on this train. In Delhi, the metro trains had a women’s car. I chose to ride in one and found it comfortable – less crowded, less noisy and less smelly than the other cars. Will it matter to the men if I am sleeping in the same space as them? Will it matter to me?

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Train Ride to Orchha and Local Life in India

India passenger train vendorsMy 21-year old son Henry and I are ready to board the 10:10 a.m. daily Thirukkural Express at the Agra Cantt rail station heading for Jhansi. The train ride is nearly the same distance as Amtrak’s Downeaster that runs from Boston to Brunswick, Maine in the U.S.A. The timetables are comparable at about 3.5 hours.

A strong stench of urine wafts near the Express train car door. This is a mystery to me until later I observe a cow urinating on a station platform. Animals co-exist with the human population in India. At a snack stand in the station a monkey plays on the overhead pipes. Outside, a goat leans against the wall. Cows meander and dogs trot along what seems to be a familiar path. I like the daily reminder that we share this earth with many creatures.

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Train Travel to Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal visitorsThe Taj Mahal in Agra is one of India’s biggest tourist attractions. It is a beautiful building recognized as one of the wonders of the world. It is also a great place to people watch. People from all over the world visit the site. I happily agree to pose in pictures for those not accustomed to seeing ivory skinned westerners from America. Traveling to the Taj Mahal by train is easy, especially from Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport.

At the airport near Terminal 3 you can purchase a train token and board the Metro to the New Delhi Station (NDLS). The airport Metro train arrives every 10 minutes and takes approximately 22 minutes to reach NDLS. Security precautions require scanning your bags. At the New Delhi station, board the Bhopal Shatabdi Express. If all goes well you will reach Agra in approximately two hours.

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Train Trip on Sunset Limited to Houston & NRG Park

Sunset Limited Amtrak train

The National Football League is pitting the AFC champion New England Patriots against the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI (51) at NRG Park in Houston this weekend. Country music star Luke Bryan will sing the national anthem and Lady Gaga will perform during the Super Bowl half time show. But there are many more events planned throughout 2017 at NGR Park and in Houston. Here’s how you can get to and from Houston by train.

Amtrak’s Sunset Limited train runs between Los Angeles and New Orleans with intermittent stops three days a week.

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Travel to Washington DC Inauguration by Train

train station at Washington DC

Washington Union Station

Yes, you can still get a train ticket on some Amtrak routes to Washington DC to attend the inauguration of Donald Trump on Friday, January 20th. You will pay more this week than another time, but timing is important when traveling. Inauguration day in Washington DC is an event every American should try to attend some time in their life. If you wait for someone you really like to take the oath, you may end up never attending the event. One person witnessing history in the making can have a ripple effect. Stories get told and shared.

With an estimated 900,000 people attending this year’s presidential inauguration, train travel may be the easiest way to get there. Amtrak has released travel tips for the event encouraging passengers to allow additional time arriving at stations and citing limited access to entry and exit points at Washington’s Union Station. Minor stuff.

Washington Union StationWashington’s Union Station is across the street from the Capitol Building and the National Mall. You won’t need any transportation to get where you want to be. Signs will direct you to the event. There are still some hotels with rooms available that are less than a mile from Union Station. Washington has a great public transit system. However, closed streets will affect bus and car traffic, so take the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) trains if your feet get tired. The Smithsonian station stop will get you to the Mall from wherever you may have wandered. Remember to pack light and plan extra time for almost everything as the city swells with crowds.

Washington DC monumentIf you want to avoid or join the planned demonstrations, marches and protests here is the Washington Post guide with locations, time and dates. Here is the National Mall map to help orient you to the area.

Enjoy the train ride with your fellow citizens. You can tweet about your ride using @Inaug2017 and #Amtrak hashtag. I am @maryklest on twitter.

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Get Inspired at Chicago Travel & Adventure Show

Chicago Travel & Adventure showBefore planning my next trip I’m going to attend the Chicago Travel & Adventure Show being held at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Illinois on January 21 and 22. It’s open to all travel enthusiasts. Travel writers Rick Steves, Peter Greenberg Pauline Frommer and Travel Channel TV Host Samantha Brown will share trends and insights as keynote speakers.

Loads of informational seminars are available for anyone seeking travel advice from destination experts. Speaker and travel writer Roger Naylor will talk about the hiking options in Arizona. He’s already shared with me some of his favorite trails that are close to train stations. Travel photographer Ralph Velasco will show his photos from recent trips and talk about how images can tell a story. I downloaded his My Shot List app and find I’m more intentional with my camera while traveling.

Exhibitors from around the world will be there. Travel show exhibitors generously share insider knowledge on how to customize a trip for whatever you’re looking for. I hope to learn more about the best train travel deals, trends in rail travel, and interesting events near train stations in the U.S. that I can feature.

Taste of Travel Stage I’m looking forward to the Taste of Travel stage where creative chefs will be sharing food recipes inspired by culture and geography. At 3:15pm on Saturday, Belinda Chang, partner and director of wine and services at Maple & Ash in Chicago, will lead a wine tasting seminar. Chang won a James Beard award for Outstanding Wine Program. From 1:30 to 2:30pm on Sunday the Culinary Fight Club will pose home cooks, culinary students, executive chefs and caterers against one another.

Cultural dance performances from around the world will be featured at the Global Beats Stage. Apache Danforth will present Native American dances at 3:35pm on Saturday. Polynesian, Nordic, Bollywood and other dances will be performed throughout the two-day event.

If you like hands-on activities try scuba diving in a heated pool, ride on a Segway or atop a camel while at the show. Reasons to roam the showroom abound. Beyond inspiration you can put details behind your travel wish list and map out a plan.

Want to go to the Chicago Travel & Adventure Show? Here are the details.

Dates & hours: January 21 (10:00am – 5:00pm), January 22 (11:00am – 4:00pm)

Address: 5555 N. River Road, Rosemont, Illinois

Admission fee: $18 Buy Tickets

Get there by train

The Donald E. Stephens Convention Center can be reached via the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Blue line train, Rosemont stop.

Out of town train travelers can arrive at Chicago’s Union Station and get on the CTA Blue Line at the Clinton stop heading towards O’Hare.

Visitors flying into O’Hare International airport can board the CTA Blue Line train at the airport and get off at the first stop, Rosemont.

CTA trains arrive and depart every six to 10 minutes on weekends. Temperatures in Chicago can dip into the single digits in January so dress appropriately.

Lodging options within walking distance:

Hilton Rosemont: 5550 N. River Road

Embassy Suites: 5500 N. River Road

Hyatt Regency: 9300 Bryn Mawr Ave.

Crowne Plaza, 5440 N River Road

 

Restaurant options within walking distance:

Liberty Tavern, 5550 N. River Road

Basil’s Kitchen, 5550 N. River Road

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse 5464 N River Road

 

During 2017, the following cities will host their own Travel & Adventure Show. Each of these cities are served by Amtrak trains:

  • San Francisco Bay Area, February 11-12, Santa Clara Convention Center
  • Los Angeles, February 18-19, Los Angeles Convention Center
  • San Diego, March 4-5, San Diego Convention Center
  • Denver, March 18-19, Colorado Convention Center
  • Philadelphia, March 25-26, Pennsylvania Convention Center
  • Dallas, April 1-2, Dallas Market Hall

Let me know where you plan to travel this year.

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Train Trips Don’t Stop at the Station

Amtrak station in Orlando, FloridaLooking for things to do outside of your routine? Get on the train and head for the experience of your choice. Through my train trips I’ve discovered some of the best, most favorably reviewed places, activities and events located near train stations. I’ve done the research, talked with local experts and traveled to many places by train. In 2017 this blog will be devoted to train-centric details that let you leave your car behind and avoid airport lines but still visit some of the best food and wine festivals, wellness retreats, workshops, outdoor activities and conferences – fun experiences you can reach by train.

Train information is often not included in event travel directions. More than once I drove or flew to a place that was located close to an Amtrak station. I had to pay parking fees and cab fares, struggled through storms while driving and waited in lines at airports just because I didn’t know how to travel by train. Train trips don’t stop at the station. Want to go hiking in the middle of a winter? There are trails in Arizona, Florida and California that you can reach by train. Need a wellness break? Whether a spa, meditation center or yoga retreat trains can take you there.

Why train?

Sightseer lounge car on Amtrak trainWhen you get on a train all you have to do is breathe. Your routine is gone. It’s time to improvise and see the world. Train travel is a practical, efficient and environmentally friendly way to travel. Solo travelers, families, people of all ages and abilities can feel comfortable and safe when traveling by train.

It’s fun. You will hear stories from all kinds of people and share a few of your own. You always have the option to move around between cars and stretch your legs in the ample space provided at each seat. It may take you longer to get where you’re going. That’s part of the pleasure. You slow down. I love watching the landscape, sky and light change from the train. Read for hours uninterrupted. Meet people who are different from you. Discover ways of life in America’s countryside, small towns and cities.

Train trips are easy. Amtrak train schedules and ticket and reservation information can be found online.  Other rail excursions can be found online as well. When traveling on Amtrak a simple way to save money and support a strong national rail network is to join the non-profit National Association of Rail Passengers (NARP) organization. The $35 annual membership gives you a 10 percent discount on most fares.

Feel free to share your favorite train travel experiences near rail stations in the comments box below. Come back to this site often or subscribe to read about a new place, activity or event that is close to a train station. Traveling by train can be adventurous in itself. Your trip won’t stop at the station if you know where to go and how.

 

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What I Learned Riding Amtrak Trains During 2016

Amtrak trainI traveled many miles on Amtrak trains this year and talked with passengers to see what I could learn from them. Some were serious minded, others were funny. They were of all ages – seniors, parents, college kids and children. They were of all religious, geographic, ethnic and racial backgrounds. Here is a summary of some things I learned while traveling by train during 2016.

People like to be listened to

To start a conversation I usually asked some standard train traveling questions. Where are you going? Where are you coming from? Why did you decide to take the train? I was ready for quick responses, lengthy explanations and everything in between. Nothing about their physical appearance gave me a clue as to who would engage and who would not. Some were ready to talk from the get go, others needed time to assess why I was curious about them. Those who did open up to a stranger had something in common – they liked being listened to. Listening is a skill. It’s something that brings us closer to one another.

They love their families

Amtrak at Chicago Union StationMany of the people I met on the train were going to visit a family member or attend a family event. Chris from Yazoo City, Mississippi was returning from his daughter’s wedding. Grandma Laurie was on the last leg of a trip from Israel to Cincinnati to see her family. Tiquan was returning home for college break. An Amish family was heading to Iowa for a funeral. The effort it takes to participate in family life is worth it. That kind of love can’t be found anywhere else.

Train travel offers adventure

Trains travel through parts of America that cannot be accessed by cars or buses. Airplanes disregard landscapes all together. Train travelers expressed a desire to reduce chaos in their lives and slow down. They didn’t like flying. Josie was traveling alone to Harper’s Ferry to hike the Appalachian Trail. For Robert, even the bus was too hectic. He described the train as laidback. Jimmy was traveling to Wyoming to start a new job. It was his first trip on his own and out of the state of Florida. For a mom and her toddler son who wore a shirt with a train that included a cookie car, his first train ride was a thrill they wouldn’t forget. Adventure is in the eye of the beholder.

Disabled people have a choice

Blind man riding the railsThere were people I met who were unable to manage other transportation options due to a handicap. A military veteran of the war in Afghanistan with PTSD held his service dog in his arms. A blind man and his wife were going to Tucson from Cleveland to meet friends. The train allowed them to travel in a way that they were comfortable. Remember those who are capable when they have options.

Frustration outweighs optimism

When I board a train I bring my optimism with me. I wake up every morning and say to myself: “Let me love this day and everyone in it.” More than once while on the train people challenged my outlook. They did not love everyone. Their future was bleak. America had let them down. People talked about loveless marriages, business failures, crime, unemployment, and government dysfunction. This brought me to a prediction that many of my friends and news media believed unfathomable. 

Donald Trump would be elected president

It became obvious to me while riding on long-distance Amtrak trains that Donald Trump would be elected president. Had any of the campaign operatives, pundits and analysts taken such a ride they probably would have come to the same conclusion. I met a maintenance man who told me he was voting for Mr. Trump because: “He’s rich and a good businessman who will create jobs.” There was a single mom elementary school teacher from Arkansas who was fed up with the way things were going. “Trump will bring the change we need,” she said. An elderly lady from Jackson, Mississippi heading to New Orleans said she would not vote for Hillary Clinton. “It’s not a lady job,” she replied when I asked her why. Data is important, but it won’t tell the whole story when it comes to the human heart.

America is still the beautiful

People gasped at the beauty of America’s landscapes as the train traversed mountainsides, riverbanks, forests, open plains and bayous. Within these diverse terrains I believe we all found some solace. We had something in common. We chose to see it and we chose to listen to each other. We are free to choose.

Train tracks on Amtrak line

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