Chicago

Grace_Chicago_4Chicago - The Windy City.  Read about our (brief) time in the city - the food, the architecture, the music and the culture of this metropolis in the heart of America.

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Los Angeles

OSCAR!The city of angels... and home to Hollywood's brightest stars.  Find out what we did in the heart of tinsel-town.

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Dodge City

Dodge CityDodge City - Home to Wyatt Earp and legends of the old west.  Follow along as we spend some time kickin' up dust and tumbleweeds in Kansas!

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Austin

HenriqueAustin8Austin - Music capital of the world and the state Capitol of Texas.  Follow along as we explore the food and music of this great southern city.

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Albuquerque

RATTLESNAKE!

Albuquerque - Before Walter White started making the "blue stuff" in Albuquerque, it was home to Buggs Bunny's numerous wrong turns. Oh, and rattlesnakes.  Come with us as we explore this jewel of the Southwest U.S.

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St. Louis

Hannah_St.Louis7St. Louis - The gateway to the west and home to great blues, this city sits on the shore of the mighty Mississippi.  Follow along as we explore the history and culture of this amazing city.

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Amtrekkin' 2015: A Sense of Place

Cheesecake

 

I love cheesecake, so when our dining car waiter from breakfast, Tony Clemente, called me over and gave me a few desserts to share with the group, I thought for a moment that he had read my mind. Then I remembered that there were three desserts on the menu, but still, his choice of cheesecake was on point. Earlier that day at breakfast, my normal indecisive self couldn't choose what I wanted to drink, finally stating "I'll have water, for now." From then on, Tony couldn't stop laughing. He was the type of person that fed off of the laughter of others, and as he landed joke after joke about my odd response, the group couldn't stop. I couldn't help myself from smiling as I ordered off the kids menu, again making him laugh because of the specific age requirement. I told him I was twelve of course, and my two slices of french toast couldn't have tasted better. Later, after breakfast, he walked by our group as we worked on friendship bracelets and blogged, and dropped off another water, "for now" I assumed. As our dinner reservation approached, I got caught up talking with another passenger, and before I knew it the everyone had already made their way to the dining car. Overhead I heard Tony calling my name, and saying the whole group was waiting for me. He knew my name and everything, and as I excused myself and walked through the cars to get to dinner, everyone I passed laughed because they now knew who I was. Some people can be so serious all the time, but Tony's jokes made the train ride a little more tolerable

The Best Part of St. Louis

 

The barbeque house is so crowded we have to squeeze past full tables and bustling bus boys to reach the register and order our food. Standing in line, I peer over the shoulder of the woman sitting near me to see what she and the rest of her party ordered. The pulled pork looks good, but I decide on the turkey, which looks delicious even though the little girl with a purple ponytail holder is procrastinating eating it, and- ooh! Is that the applesauce? Cold, chunky, and with a healthy helping of cinnamon on top, this must be by far the best option on the menu. Forget the famous barbeque- look at that applesauce!

I go ahead and get the turkey sandwich, partly because I like turkey but mostly because I need a main dish in order to get the applesauce as one of two sides. I consider asking if I can have both of my sides be applesauce, that even to me that seems a little overkill and I don't want to get so much that I end up not being able to finish it all (because what a waste of applesauce!), so I get chips, too.

Back in the cool air and hazy sunlight that hangs over our table outside, I put my backpack on the ground to clear a space for the applesauce when it comes. And, you know, the rest of the food, too. Two servers emerge from the interior, both laden down with multiple trays. They call one order after another and each is claimed until there are three left.

"Turkey sandwich!" I look up, but I don't know if anyone else ordered a turkey sandwich and I can't afford to be given the wrong order because what if they didn't order applesauce so I wait until he says again, "Turkey sandwich with chips and applesauce!"

"Right here!" I pipe up cheerily and he sets the order down in front of me, with the turkey on one side and the chips and applesauce on the other but that won't do. The applesauce is in front of the chips and I can see it right there tempting me but I don't want to rush into it because then I'll just be disappointed with the rest of the my meal, so I swivel the tray around and resign myself to leaving the applesauce for last.

The chips are good and the turkey is great, but when the time comes the applesauce is amazing. One bite in, I think that I would travel all the way to St. Louis for no other reason than for this applesauce. It's as good as it looked, maybe better, and I try to go slowly but somehow I eat all of it much too quickly and then it's gone.

Rollie asks the table which was better: this barbeque, or the one in Austin? I say that the applesauce alone makes this the best place I've ever eaten. The others seem to agree with me, but they were saying something about barbeque? I don't know, they must not have ordered the applesauce. It's quite sad, really. They missed the best part of St. Louis.

The Upsetter

 

Everything about St. Louis was a roller-coaster of emotions. It was the last city of our trip and everyone was just ready to get into their own bed and sleep until someone dared to wake them up. We arrived at the hostel, and you could just tell that this was the night that everyone would sleep with one eye open. We walked up to what seemed like the front door, and no one answered. After searching the area for a while, we found a sign that said "Hostel Registration" with arrows pointing into a dark alley. That's when the first bell went off.

After some investigation, the office was found and we received room keys. The building was actually an amazing concepts; there were a bunch of older, tall, brick buildings that had dorms to stay in. It looked like it could have been a very vintage place to stay. We walked up the stairs to our dorm and opened the door. Just inside the door was the first room that housed a couple of bunk beds. The bunk beds looked as if they were slightly unstable and had the potential to crush you in the middle of the night. In the hallway, there were lockers lined up against the wall and on the left was a bathroom with two showers, and two toilets, one of which was out of order. The toilets had swinging doors that you would see in a saloon in an Old Western movie and the shower curtains were hanging on by their last threads. Through the hallway you got to the other room with various beds of all shapes and sizes. The assistant manager still hadn't gotten our rooms ready because he was sick and had been laying in bed all day. This was the second bell.

Outside, while we waited for some stragglers to get ready, some of us experienced the love of four cats that were roaming around the backyard. They prowled between the broken down van and under the creaking staircase. My first question was if the were neutered or spayed, or were there a bunch of tiny kittens hiding under the cracked picnic benches?

We left our suitcases in the room and brought everything else to a coffee shop that was close by to write and eat breakfast. About halfway through our stay there, Matt had to return to the hostel. Will went with him, and, as he tells it, when they arrived their dorm room was open, another guest was in it, and the assistant manager was nowhere to be found (Ding! Ding! Ding!). Nevertheless, Rollie and Dr. Barnes decided that we would not be staying in that fine establishment any longer.

After lunch, we returned to the hostel, had a stand off with a goose, gathered our stuff, and made our way back to the bus station that we had gotten off of in the first place to get there. The bus ride was a short one to a very nice hotel that we would be staying in that night. The beds were big, and soft, and we all had a working toilet and shower.

I'd like to thank everyone that made this experience a possibility. Thank you to the assistant manager for being sick and not really caring about our safety. Thank you to the male guest who was still in the boys' room when Matt and Will returned. Thank you to whoever unlocked their door. I had the best night of sleep in weeks because of all of you.

My Misconceptions

I have a confession to make: Before this winterim, I didn't really know or heard of Amtrak travel. The only experience I have with trains was when I was 8 and saw The Polar Express. So, I was expecting to see a big, antique kind of train. I was expecting upright / bench sort of seats, with nothing but the scenery to look at.

I was surprised to see what an actual Amtrak train looked like. There's a lot more to do on an Amtrak than on a plane. You can get up out of your seat any time you want, and you actually have foot space, which you don't have on a plane. You can also walk to the lounge car, get food, and chat with other people on the Amtrak. There's even a dining car if you're feeling extra fancy. The bathrooms on the Amtrak are pretty similar in size to what you would get on a plane, but there's more of them so you don't have to wait. You also have access to your luggage whenever you need to change clothes.

36 hours on the train from Los Angeles, California to Austin, Texas gave me the chance to relax and think; think about how much of this country I haven't even seen. I really wanted to travel the US before I went to college, just to get a feel for the country and what it's like to truly explore and to see what's out there. This winterim fit that profile perfectly.

There's no wifi on the Amtrak, which is a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing in the way that it gets me out of my chair and go socialize and meet new people in the lounge car. It's a curse in the way that I don't get my daily dose of Netflix. There are, however, outlets at our seats, which airplanes do not have. I was so wrong about train travel. This trip has encouraged me to travel by amtrak more because although it may take longer to reach your destination, it's the journey that counts, and being on the Amtrak sure beats sitting on a plane. I've learned so much that I didn't know about amtrak travel. It's a different way to travel and to really take the time to enjoy your journey, whatever the destination.

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I'm so tired, I can't sleep

 Dodge City may have a period accurate replica of a main street from the late 1800's, but nearly every little Texas town we pass seems to have a street just like it, though still in use. This part of Texas is also basically Ohio, except warmer,greener, and with way more graveyards. Why are there so many dead people here? These have been my observations in my first half hour of conciousness. Our last night in Austin wasn't particularly restful since the bar right below our room was packed full of noisy drunks who really really loved it whenever a new song with heavy bass came on and we had to stay up to pack and put away laundry late into the night. (By the way, a very sincere thank you to Dr. Barnes who also stayed up very late doing everyone's laundry. ) Everyone groggily got ready this morning, waited for a bus on the absolutely deserted streets of Austin, and then waited at the train station for our miraculously punctual train. After boarding, I read for a while and then fell asleep with a cup of coffee in my hand. In my hand! That either speaks to my impressive caffeine tolerance or my lack of sleep. Or the density of Anna Kerenina. (Why does everyone in that book have like four names?  Why?) The trip to St. Louis is an overnight one, so here's to hoping that I manage to sleep this soundly tonight.

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