[Amtrak trip] 24h in Chicago (1)

Day 2. Chicago
Amtrak 440 Lake Shore Limited, Reserved Coach
Arrival  11:15 AM (1.5 hour delay)

3:00 AM Passing Cleveland
The Amtrak train from Boston ran, ran, ran… and arrived at Cleveland around 3:00 AM. The train was still whistling like an owl. Another 30 minutes break was given but at this time not many people got out. I went back to sleep as well.


Dawn at Lake Erie, right after Cleveland station


6:00 AM Amtrak Coffee
The Sun has started to come up. Only then I realized the train had been running right beside Lake Erie for a while. It looked like an ocean to me, endless water stretching far toward the horizon. The dawn came with gray fog delivering dreamy and unrealistic scenery. I could not go back to sleep. Ate left over fried rice from the night before as a simple breakfast and drank $2.75 coffee from the dining car to kick off the day.

10:50 AM–>9:50 AM (!)
I was so very curious about when the time would change… you know, from eastern time to central time. I did some research and learned that it should be around La Porte, Indiana. Coming from South Korea with only one time zone, I have never experienced a time change on the ground so I got excited. I wanted to capture the moment of the time change. And then, I was drawing something on my sketchbook, Bam! the time was not 10:50 AM but 9:50 AM instead.
I felt like it was a good deal because I have earned an extra hour of my life. But then I realized that it is now two more hours of train ride instead of one. 😛

11:30 AM Arrival at Chicago
The train arrived at Chicago one and half hour late. Looking at the map, I was waiting Lake Michigan to be seen through the window but after passing White Sox baseball field, the train just glided into Chicago Union Station. I have heard that the station is beautiful but too bad it was under construction.


Here comes Chicago!


On a train going into Chicago, White Sox Stadium


Chicago Union Station

I bought 3 days public transportation pass ($20.00+$5.00 card deposit) that can be used both for buses and subways. After 30 minutes bus ride I checked in at Holiday Inn Express near Magnificent Mile. The hotel was compact, clean, and well equipped. I liked it because it had a refrigerator! (Is it only me who feel like hotels are getting rid of refrigerators recently?)

1:00 PM Navy Pier+Chicago Deep Dish Pizza
Chicago is known to be THE ‘foody’ city. I had made a reservation for a  4:00 PM architecture tour so decided to go for a simple lunch. The first lunch should be symbolic, right? So I went for Chicago pizza, the deep dish pizza at Giordano’s Pizza at Navy Pier! This way I could enjoy both pizza and Navy Pier at once.

Navy Pier (built in 1916) used to be (until last year) the most visited spot in Chicago (now it is Millennium Park.) 9.3 million people visited Navy Pier in the year 2016. Built as ‘Municipal Pier’ for recreational purposes, it was used as a training site for the World War I soldiers and was named  ‘Navy Pier’ to honor the men and women who fought for the country. Over the time “the facility has evolved into a premiere entertainment and exposition center”, according to their website. The view looking out to the horizontal line of Lake Michigan was magnificent.


View from Navy Pier


View from Navy Pier

We didn’t wait long to be seated outside at the restaurant (Giordano’s Pizza at Navy Pier.) However I was told that I must wait 45~60 minutes for deep dish pizza. Of course, I chose to wait! After drinking about 1.5 glasses of Diet Pepsi, I was blessed with deeeeeeep, stuffed, delicious CHICAGO deep dish pizza.


Deeeep dish pizza at Giordano’s

4:00 PM CAF Architecture Boat Tour

Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF) offers architecture boat tour ($47.00, 1.5 hour) from spring to late summer. The ticket sells out fast, so I made an online reservation  for 4:00 PM tour  on the day before.

The boat went up and down the Chicago river and the docent told us interesting stories about the famous Chicago buildings. According to the excellent docent Ross, Chicago “goes nuts about architecture” and Chicago is like “Grand Canyon of architecture.” It surely seemed so! I could learn a lot about the past, present, and future of Chicago architecture.


View from CAF architecture boat tour, El train and ‘Upside Down’ building (150 North Riverside)


(from the left) Corn buildings (Marina Towers), a building by Mies van der Rohe, Trump Tower


Very very big sign in front of Trump Tower Chicago

7:05 PM Baseball game at Wrigley Field

After finishing the architecture tour, we went to the famous Wrigley Field to watch Chicago Cubs vs Arizona D-back baseball game. The subway was very convenient and the ballpark was surprisingly close to the subway station (Red line: Addison), only about one minute walk.


Wrigley Field

Everybody was wearing Cubs bluish something except us. The ball park (opened in 1914), second oldest in the US to Fenway Park in Boston, was truly unique with ivy trees climbing up the red brick fences. After over-eating Chicago deep dish pizza, it was impossible for me to go for a hot dog. Instead, I drank a can of beer and ate a small cup of ice cream to get one of those cute little blue souvenir cup with red ‘C.’

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Souvenir cup ice cream at Wrigley Field

We sat near a big group of Javier Baez fans wildly shouting out his name. I also rooted for Cubs (despite being a Red Sox fan), but unfortunately Cubs lost to D-backs five to one.

*** Things I learned today ***

  1. The automatic doors between the cars on the Amtrak trains have ‘open’ buttons at the bottom too so you can kick open the door while carrying two cups of coffee from a dining car.
  2. Amtrak trains are often delayed, so no tight planning on the day of arrival.
  3. On a boat tour, a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are must (on a sunny day.)
  4. At Wrigley Field, they don’t check your ID for beers unless you are under 35 (not like Fenway Park or Yankees Stadium where you get ID checked even if you are over 70!)
  5. The train whistles pretty much throughout the night, so it is better to sit as far from the front as possible (if you have a choice.)

[Amtrak US #5] planning detailed schedule

After drawing the BIG PICTURE on how I wanted to travel the US (with 30 days of USA rail pass), now it is time to make more detailed plan. You have to make reservation for the each train ride, even if you have the pass (will get back to this is later posts) meaning you have to know specific date/time of the trains you want to ride.

I sort of decided the starting date to be July 23rd and ending date to be around one month after that. According to the big picture I want to visit about ten cities (including Grand Canyon), so that means I will spend 2~4 days in each. Sounds simple enough, right?

Well… I don’t know if there’s an easier way, but for me it was a bit complicated task to finish (took whole afternoon.) Maybe it was because I started from punching in the cities on Amtrak reservation site, to find out the best choice of train to hop in. For example, I punched in Boston–>Chicago on July 23rd like this.

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 8.32.23 AM

This route was no problem because there’s only one, daily train from Boston to Chicago. I HAVE TO take THE train. But this kind of searching became a problem later because for some of the route, the train was not there everyday! For example from New Orleans to Houston the train leaves only Mon, Wed, and Saturday.   So if you punch in, for instance,  Sunday as a starting day you get something like this. Notice of ‘no train available’ and only one alternative. I felt like ‘hmm…. what if there’s better alternatives?’

Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 8.43.13 AM

You can play around with Amtrak reservation system punching in random dates, but for me, it did not seem efficient.

Then I found the old fashioned Amtrak time table booklet!

It is a bit ironic because yes, it is old fashioned booklet but Amtrak does not print the hard copy (one that you can pick up at the train station) anymore (at least it seems… making many people furious <related discussion>.) But the good new is that you can still acquire free pdf booklet of the national timetable on Amtrak website. ***Here is downloadable link of June 2018 version of the Amtrak System Timetable***

It is 139 pages pdf of booklet that you can search cities easily by ‘ctrl/cmd+f’. I am a ‘paper’ person so I also printed out the whole booklet.


<Amtrak System Timetable> printed out

The book has every timetable of Amtrak trains and connecting buses run by Amtrak (you can use a USA rail pass for a ride on these buses.) The chapters are sorted by regions (Northeast, East, Midwest, West, Pacific Northwest, and California) and in the first few pages (‘Amtrak Service Location’) all the cities are listed alphabetically with the page(s) to look up the schedule.

Ok finally, here’s how I constructed the detailed schedule. I will display the steps by example of <New Orleans–> Houston> route. (*I used the free Adobe Acrobat reader for the example.)

  1. (Done before) Draw the big picture and sort out the cities to visit.
    For me it is: Boston–> Chicago–> New Orleans–> Houston–> Tucson–> (by rental car: Sedona–> Grand Canyon–> Las Vegas)–> LA–> San Francisco–> Portland–> Seattle
  2. Look up the name of the city for the train ride in the ‘Amtrak Service Location’ pages (pp. 3~12) . Either departure or arrival city is okay. I looked up ‘New Orleans’ and it has four pages to look up (58, 69, 70, 87.)Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 10.39.21 AM
  3. Punch in the pages () in the pdf reader. I found the route connecting New Orleans–> Houston in page 70. Oh, it is the same train that goes from Houston to Tucson (my next ride)! I can easily the train only runs on Mon/Wed/Saturday ()Screen Shot 2018-07-06 at 10.49.02 AM
  4. Write down in separate paper or document file the departure/arrival cities, departure date and time for the ride. In my case, it is July 30th (Monday.) You will have to use this paper/document to make reservations for the ride.For this ride I wrote down (in a piece of paper):
    July 30th (Mon) New Orleans 9:00 AM –> Houston 6:18 PM
  5. Repeat 1~4 until you have the complete schedule!

Later I made neatly arranged spreadsheet to take to the Amtrak station where I picked up the USA rail pass and made the reservations for each ride. Will get back to reservations on later post and for now, here’s the schedule I made using the above steps. The letters look kind of small below, but you can look up the spreadsheet here in case you are interested😁!


[Amtrak US #4] Drawing the BIG PICTURE



While preparing for a trip, the most exciting moment for me is the time looking at the map to choose which cities to visit and what roads to take.

For 2018 Amtrak trip, the starting point for my planning was the map that Amtrak provided on their website.  This interactive map is called ‘Amtrak Travel Planning Map.’ (***I don’t know why, but this link doesn’t seem to work in mobile devices. Will update if I can find the mobile version of the interactive map. Again, Amtrak is not the most user friendly company!)

The map is useful to kind of draw a BIG PICTURE in your head. For instance, my starting point is Boston so I could check where to the railroads extend from Boston. I could go South (to New York), North (to Maine), or to Northwest (to Chicago). I decided to go to Chicago because my final destination is Seattle and it seemed pretty reasonable to head Chicago if you look at the map (plus, I visited NY and Maine many times already.) Then from Chicago I could go further Northwest to North Dakota and Montana, but then my trip will end too soon! So I decided to go South to New Orleans…. and so on.

This is my BIG PICTURE of Amtrak trip 2018!

<BIG PICTURE for Amtrak trip 2018>
Boston–> Chicago–> New Orleans–> Houston–> Tucson–> (This part I decided to travel with a rental car: Sedona–> Grand Canyon–> Las Vegas)–> Los Angeles (Thruway Bus, which is Amtrak USA rail pass covered Greyhound Bus… meaning free with USA rail pass)–> San Francisco–> Portland (Oregon)–> Seattle (then back to South Korea)

Screen Shot 2018-07-04 at 6.23.14 PM

Really, it is just like a starting point and much more details had to be decided later. For example, I had to decided whether I would stop by Cleveland (the hometown of Indians and Cavaliers -good bye King James!-) before heading to Chicago. I decided to skip it for this trip because I had looooooooong way to go and it felt like too much time on Midwest.

My itinerary is a bit unique because I am not coming back to where I started. Well… I think every traveler is one of a kind so there might not be something like THE ‘answer sheet.’ But for a guidance, I borrowed the book <All Aboard> from the library and skimmed through it . It is a nice little guidebook that gives you a motivation and basic info about train trip (like you get free meals if you pay extra for roomette, which I will get back to later.) There seem to be a few more books about train trip like <Tourist Trains Guidebook> , but I haven’t read it yet.


<All Aboard> by Jim Loomis

These are the suggested itineraries from <All Aboard> FYI. The routes are mostly loops that one can come back to the starting points. The lovely titles of the itineraries are from the author (Jim Loomis, he runs great website about train trip in US.)

»Big City Tour: Chicago-Washington, DC-NY-Boston-Chicago
»Glaciers to Glitz: San Francisco-Seattle-Chicago-San Francisco
»A Western Triangle: Los Angeles-San Francisco-Portland-Santa Fe-Los Angeles
»Big Mountains, Little Towns: Los Angeles-Santa Fe-Galesburg-Granby-Davis-Los Angeles
»Oh, Canada!: NY-Toronto-Vancouver-Seattle or San Francisco
»The Santa Fe Trail: Chicago-Dodge City-Santa Fe-Grand Canyon-Los Angeles-Chicago
»The Ultimate Round Trip: NY-Washington DC-New Orleans-San Francisco-Seattle-Chicago-Boston-NY
»Semigrand Tour: Seattle-Chicago-New Orleans-Los Angeles-San Francisco-Seattle
»Fall Colors I: Philadelphia-Pittsburgh-Chicago-Washington DC-Philadelphia
»Fall Colors II: NY-Saratoga Springs-Ticonderoga-Montreal-NY


[Amtrak US #3] Buying the USA rail pass

According to Amtrak website, there are at least two ways to buy USA Rail Pass. 1) buying it online at Amtrak website 2) buying it from travel agencies who have access to Amtrak.

As a heavy online shopper, I chose to buy it online. Buying the pass online is pretty much like other online shopping. However, NOT like other stuffs that are delivered to your mailbox, Amtrak does not send you the pass but you will have to pick the pass up at Amtrak station later.
So purchasing the pass is more like purchasing the right 1) to pick-up the pass at the Amtrak stations later 2) to make reservation for each train ride with the info that you will obtain after making the reservation. (I will come back to making reservation for each train ride in later posts.)

Purchasing the USA rail pass can be made here. This is the first page you’ll see when you visit the website.

I chose ’30 Days: 12 segments’ pass ($689) and clicked ‘Purchase Now’ and was led to here eventually. 


Amtrak is not the most user friendly company (WHY!!!! 😱). As you can see, this page can be pretty intimidating especially if you have not decided details of the trip! I will share what I know+what I did.

1) Choosing the pass.
It is pretty easy. You can choose which pass is right for you. (post about choosing which pass it right for you)

2) When is your first day of travel?
If you have fixed the starting date of the travel, you can just state the date. However, I wasn’t 100% sure what date I was to begin traveling (I only had an approximate range.) In this case, you don’t have to be super specific about the date… unless it is way too off (like one year.) I don’t even understand why one needs to put this down, because when I got the actual ticket I did not find any info about this date.


I chose July 23rd as starting date

There are still the rules to keep in mind. According to the e-mail I got later:

<all travel must be completed within 330 days of reserving the first travel segment or within the selected travel duration of the pass once the first travel segment is reserved, whichever comes first. Pass prices are subject to change and are not guaranteed until actual travel reservations are made.>

In short, you have to finish the trip within around one year after the purchasing of the pass or before your pass’ duration ends (which is obvious, you have to finish the trip within 30 days if your pass is 30 days pass…hmm….)

3) Where and when will you pick up your pass?


So many stations to choose from!

This one really got me confused. How will I know for sure which date I will pick up the pass? Life is so busy, right? It can sound even more problematic when you are an international traveler, coming to US and you are not 100% sure which train station is the best for the ticket pick-up. What I can say is that you can be pretty flexible about the pick-up date. I KNOW it because I put in ‘May 25th’ as a pick up date but I went to the station (South Station in Boston in my case) on 29th… and it was just fine! There is a fine print on the page saying ‘NOTE: If you do not pick up your pass by the date you specify, your pass will be canceled’, but my pass was safe and alive. (The lady at the station didn’t seem to care at all about this date.)

I am not sure if you can change the pick up station though. (I will add the info to the post if somebody gives me a feedback on this?) I have a feeling I can be flexible too, because it wasn’t like they have a printed pass waiting for you or anything. They print the ticket only after you present them the ID and the reservation number.

After you are finished with selections on these three factors, rest is just like other online shopping. You sign-in/sign-up for Amtrak account or you can choose to pay with a guest account. Amtrak accepts most of major credit cards, including Union Pay, JCB, and UATP(?).

Well.. this was about purchasing the pass online. There is another way of buying the pass, by contacting travel agents who sell Amtrak tickets. Considering all the hassles, it sounded nice if I could ask an expert about details. However, I have not succeeded on finding the mean to search for Amtrak agent near me. Perhaps, if you call Amtrak (1-800-USA-RAIL = 1-800-872-7245), they might be able to tell you.


[Amtrak US #1] All aboard!

I am planning one month of Amtrak train trip next month.
As a Korean studying in the US for one year (Aug 2017- Aug 2018), I wanted to explore the US to the fullest. How foolish I was to think that I could experience the US in just ONE year!
I have to get back to work in South Korea by Sep. 1, 2018 and realized that there are still so many cities that I want to, or I have to visit. Chicago, New Orleans, cities in Texas, Sedona, Las Vegas, San Francisco… 😓😓😓There was no possibility that I will visit all these cities before I go back to Korea.
Then I found out there is USA rail pass, just like Eurail pass in Europe, designed for train lovers who want to travel across the US states via train!
I bought the pass through Amtrak website, and have finished planning the itinerary about 2~3 weeks ago. Also made reservation for the each train ride (yes, you have to make reservations for the each trip even if you have the pass… will get back to this in following posts.) It surely wasn’t easy, but wasn’t impossible either.
In this blog I am planning to share my one month journey across the US, starting in July 23.
I am planning to add on ‘how to prepare’ tips, itinerary, city info, experiences on the train, pros and cons, and etc. I have never written a travel blog or travel book by myself, so the info I post might not be 100% correct (though I will try to be as accurate as possible). In this case, just let me know by writing in comment section or sending me an e-mail (sky4994@gmail.com) and I will correct the info as I go along.

This is my Amtrak USA rail pass that will accompany me for one month of travel