[Amtrak trip] Boston to Chicago

07/23/2018
Day 1. Boston –> Chicago

Amtrak 440 Lake Shore Limited, Reserved Coach
Departure 1:20 PM
Arrival  9:45 AM (next day)

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from Boston to Chicago by Lake Shore Limited

After shipping the furniture and stuffs to South Korea in the morning, I grabbed a Lyft ride and headed to Boston South Station. The journey begins today: a trip from Boston all the way to Seattle with Amtrak USA rail pass!

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Boston South Station

1:20 PM Boston, MA

The first train I am taking is Amtrak 449, Lake Shore Limited, running from Boston to Chicago. The train was supposed to be full, but since Boston was the starting station, it was not hard to get a seat I preferred. I looked at the map and it seemed like the right hand side seats will have better view when I pass the big lakes of Midwest (will find out tomorrow morning!), so I chose to sit at one of the right hand side seat. I was planning to sit on a quite car, but when I asked the staff he said “no quite car on this train.”

There were signs saying ‘seats for groups’ that made me think the seats were for well… big ‘groups.’ But the staff assisted us (party of two) to sit on one of  those seats. I asked “are those not for groups?” and the staff kindly answered “yes, groups like two people groups.”

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Two or more persons = group

The train departed on time. I had to show to the staff both the USA rail pass and the reservation ticket. (Didn’t check the passport in my case.)

Lake Shore Limitied is an overnight train. I did not get a sleeping car because the price seemed too expensive. (USA rail pass holders can ride on reserved coach seats for free. You can pay extra dollars and upgrade the seats to business seats or sleeping cars.) Forgot the exact amount but the extra money was around 500 dollars, which was like five star hotels. If you reserve a sleeping car, you get free meals for the entire trip so it sounded attractive, but it was waaaaay over the budget so I decided to stick with a reserved coach seat for this train.

The reserved coach seats had more leg rooms than I expected, something like business class seats of DOMESTIC flights. Being 5’6″ (169cm), I could stretch my legs all the way. There are feet and legs rest too and the chairs recline to about 45 degrees. I had very little sleep the night before, so took some nice rest.

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Reserved Coach in Lake Line Limited

5:09 PM Pittsfield, MA

The speed of the train was perfect for enjoying the charming scenery of Massachusetts, not too fast nor not too slow. After having some fun… hmm, just looking outside the window, it came to my mind that it would be wonderful if I could track and record my routes throughout the journey. I did some research with free wifi on board and purchased an iPhone app called GPS Tracks ($3.99)

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GPS Tracks screen shot: from Pittsfield to Rochester

6:30 PM Albany- Renssenlaer, NY

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thirty minutes break at Albany, NY

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scenery of Mohawk river near Albany

Now the train was running alongside a river (Mohawk River according to my GPS Tracks.) After fiver hours from the departure, the train made 30 minutes stop at Albany- Renssenlaer, NY. In here the train was joined by travelers from New York City. People who were dying to smoke cigarettes hopped off the train and smoked on the platform. I stepped outside to stretch my stiff arms, legs, back… etc. Now the train was almost full and the staffs did their best to arrange the best seats for everybody.
The train turned off electricity here and I learned that you should not use toilets while electricity is off. One woman was saying she was sorry, could not flush because it was ‘off.’ Good to learn!
Train departed at 7:05 PM. I ate fried rice I bought from South Station (there’s also a reasonably priced dining car on board) as a dinner and went back to sleep.

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dining car on Lake Shore Limited

12:08 (+1) Rochester, NY

Woke up at around 11:00PM and went to the restroom to wash my face and brush my teeth. The structure of the washing basin was somewhat not suitable for washing faces, so I decided just to brush my teeth. Wet tissues I brought came in handy to wipe off some sunscreens from my face.
The train is now heading west. It stopped for about 20~30 minutes somewhere (to make a way for a freight train?) and had some slow moving times here and there, so at this point we are about one hour behind the schedule.
The train was a bit shaky and rattling, but most of the travelers seemed very comfortable, sleeping like babies. The car is as quite as any peaceful quite car. Only sound I can hear now is the whistles of hard working good boy, Lake Shore Limited.

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midnight at Rochester, NY Amtrak station

***Something I learned today***

  1. Good to carry wet tissues around
  2. Reserved coach seats on long trains are pretty comfortable
  3. Should not use the restroom on board when electricity if off
  4. ‘Group’ means two or more persons
  5. Amtrak Timetable come in handy. Good to know when and where the next stop is
  6. Amtrak wifi works pretty well, though sometimes unstable
  7. Temperature on board is pretty low (strong A/C), so very good idea to bring some kind of blanket (I brought one of those compact down blankets made for camping)
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Stopping stations of Lake Shore Limited, from Amtrak Timetable

[Amtrak US #6] making train reservations

After purchasing a USA rail pass and making a travel plan, it was time to make reservations for each train ride. The pass is just a proof that I can do 12 segments of ride within one month. To get a seat for the specific train ride, I needed to make a reservation in advance.

There are two ways to do it.

  1. To make reservation for each train ride as a trip goes on… one or two ride(s) at a time on the road. –> Better if you left your trip schedule to be very flexible.
  2. To make all the reservations at once, before your first trip. –> Better if you made detailed plan for the whole trip in advance. It’s mostly okay to change the reservations afterward, so there’s not too much risk. And it is a MUST if you are going for sleeping cars because they tend to get sold out fast (especially in summer.)

I pretty much finished to make the travel plan of the entire trip and decided to go for #2, to make reservations for the whole trip at once.

I somehow imagined I could do this online, perhaps maybe on Amtrak website. But I was wrong! Amtrak’s instruction on the website was to make reservations by calling them (1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245)), yes, over the phone. (Or you should send an e-mail if you are outside the US.)

This got me a bit scared because as a non-native English speaker, I wasn’t sure if I could complete the task. I had to make reservations for eight train trips and two thruway bus rides (transfer bus that you can ride with USA rail pass) and that seemed a bit too complicated task to finish over a telephone call. I am now living in the US, so I did not qualify for an e-mail reservation thing. Visiting an Amtrak station seemed like the easiest way, since I would be able to hand over to a staff the printed out timetable I made for my trip. One problem was that visiting the station was NOT stated as an option on Amtrak website.

I googled in desperation and found conflicting results. Somebody said that I should stick with telephone reservations, but another one insisted that I didn’t need to and I should just visit the Amtrak station to make reservations.

So, I decided whatever!… to visit the Amtrak station and give it a try. If they say ‘no,’ I will just make a reservation at the station with my cell phone, right? Moreover, I need to visit the station once anyway to pick up my pass, so why not at least ask?

The nearest Amtrak station from my home is (the beautiful) Boston South Station. I could  easily find the Amtrak office on the first floor.

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Amtrak office at Boston South Station

Luckily for me, there was not many customers at the office on the Thursday afternoon.  And more luckily for me, the Amtrak staff I walked up to was a really nice lady who was so very willing to help. I asked her if I could pick up my USA rail pass and make reservations for the train rides too. “Sure,” she said without a hesitation. Very relieved, I gave her my reservation number, passport, and the train schedule table that I made before.

She seemed a bit surprised to see so many lines of rides, but quickly returned calm and made each reservation one by one for me. The process took quite a long time, about thirty minutes in total. The lady had to struggle with some kind of Amtrak system problem and somebody came to help etc… but at the end the task was successfully completed. I came out the station with my new USA Rail pass, and tickets for the every train rides from Boston all the way to the west.

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The kind Amtrak staff printed out the whole schedule for me after finishing the reservation

But unfortunately, the story doesn’t end here. I needed to add one more train ride and make time change for another. So I visited the same station again. I thought it would be no problem at all but this time the staff was not too kind to handle the matter. There were more customers in line (like three or four, then later none) and the staff (a young man this time) seemed very annoyed that he had to do something for the USA Rail pass, making sounds of dissatisfaction with whatever he could. He wasn’t shy to let me know that he was unhappy to meet USA Amtrak traveler and told me “this is why we tell you to do it by phone.” I didn’t understand what ‘this’ was, but guessed it might be very hard to carry out the task related to USA rail pass by Amtrak software because he was saying ‘this’ while looking at the monitor and hitting the keyboard hard. I felt like a kiddo in a principal’s office and almost said I was sorry. But anyway, after like ten minutes I successfully got the new tickets!

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Ready to go! All the tickets for the one month Amtrak train trip

So for the train ride reservation, I suggest from my experience that:

  1. make reservation by phone or e-mail in advance if you are comfortable with phone calls. However, it doesn’t mean you have to do it by phone. You technically can make reservations at the station. Amtrak staffs can do this, but sometimes they don’t want to… so art of negotiation might be needed.
  2. if you are to visit the Amtrak office, choose the time that are not too busy… weekday afternoon for example.

And one suggestion for Amtrak: why don’t you make an easy online reservation system for USA rail pass so you can safe both staff members’  and travelers’ time?

[one drawing #19] whales

I went to whale watch for the first time in my life with New England Aquarium Whale Watch tour in Boston. Actually, I kind of tried whale watching about two years ago in Norway but the season was not quite right so only thing I saw were dolphins (no offense, dolphins!)

This time was different! We met about five huge whales and two of them even had so much interest in our boat that they circled around and teased us for about 20~30 mins. Whales were right in front of us, breathing out joyfully and diving back down to show their awesome (and huge) tails! People were screaming in joy and now it feels like a dream. I even could feel the water splash from the whales’ breadth in my face (didn’t smell nice, haha. 🐳 )

So on a way back home, I drew two whales with a pencil. I drew them out of a pamphlet they distributed on a boat. What an interesting world that such fantastic creatures are sharing Earth with us!

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Whales

This is an original drawing I copied from, the painting by Tom Freeman

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‘A Sanctuary Protects Stellwagen Bank’, Tom Freeman

And of course, here are some photos from the tour!

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