Our American Railroad Adventure – Part 1
I had fully intended blogging more this trip but I literally don’t seem to have paused for breath, trying to take in as much sight seeing as possible, educating Cameron and answering what feels like a million emails which still constantly flow into my inbox faster than I can clear them!
However I am now sat on an Amtrak train for the next 9 hrs so finally I have a bit of time to sit still and write.
This whole two week trip has been organised with Iglu cruises and hence we followed a set itinerary, in hindsight I would have definitely liked to have stayed longer in each city but nevertheless it has given us a great taste of some new places.
We flew London Heathrow to Chicago with British Airways, World Traveller Plus (Premium Economy). I was pleased to quickly discover that BA have now finally caught up with Virgin Atlantic in the cabin class and now serve champagne on boarding – always a big plus where I am concerned!!!!!
Our flight was trouble free and on arrival into Chicago our transfers were included and we were picked up in a huge SUV which was chauffeur driven by a very lovely man who had recently moved here from Dubai.
We stayed at the Hyatt Centric Magnificent hotel in downtown Chicago where we were greeted and checked into our hotel by a lovely receptionist whom Cameron quickly engaged in conversation and as a result she said to him “awww you are so cute I am going to find you a room with the best view” and Bingo, there we were with a penthouse room on the top floor!
We were awake very early the next day having not adjusted to the -6 hr time delay and Cameron had already decided he wanted to go to the Aquarium. We have already done the Dubai, Vancouver & Toronto aquariums this year and I was a little concerned he would get ‘fish overload’ but actually it is the opposite, I realised just how much he is learning and now identifying, not only about the fish and ocean mammals etc, but about continents, oceans, climates, environment etc and also understanding the impacts of global warming, plastic pollution and is already starting to understand the importance of ‘doing his bit’ to help save the planet. As well as being highly educational we also had a very fun day as well. I’m not a fan a performing animals, but yes I confess, performing Beluga Whales melted my heart!!!
Day 2 we visited the Museum of Science & Industry which I have to say was one of the best museums I have ever been to, it was very hands on and housed everything from full size steam engines, aircraft and submarines (and so much more!). An additional bonus of visiting just before Christmas was seeing their exhibition of ‘Christmas around the world and Holidays of light’. This was truly breathtaking and photos just don’t come close to doing it justice. Dozens of Christmas Trees each decorated in a theme for each country around the globe and a celebration of other festivals such as Hanukkah taking place this time of year. It was truly rich in culture, traditions and ritual. Anyone who knows me will understand my love of ritual, anthropology and celebration so this was right up my street on many levels.
We were due to check out of our hotel at 12noon the this day, but due to the fact our train was not due to leave Chicago until 8pm that night I took a leaf out of my son’s book and chatted up the nice receptionist who let us keep our room on until 5pm. We then had time for dinner in TGI Fridays before heading off to the Amtrak station. I am not really a city girl, but I absolutely loved our time in Chicago and would most definitely like to have stayed a few more days to see more.
Our overnight ride on the Amtrak sleeper train from Chicago to Memphis was definitely a highlight. Our sleeper cabin was small but adequate to sleep 3 people as the sofa turned into a double bed and then there was a single pull down bed above is too. A blanket would have been welcome as the cabin was chilly but we made do with two sheets and then put our coats on top of us too. Cameron was SO excited I didn’t think he would settle at all, but after excitedly staring out of the window watching the city lights for about an hour he announced that he was tired and was out like a light!
I wasn’t quite so lucky and didn’t sleep a wink. It wasn’t so much that the bed was uncomfortable (which it was) but what no one tells you about is that the train has to sound its horn at every single road junction, of which there were many! And being in the front coach behind the engine meant that the soddin horn was being sounded every few minutes for the entire 10hrs we were on the train, and trust me when you are trying to sleep it’s worse than chinese water torture!!
Cam was awake at 4am and staring out of the window again. We were in the middle of nowhere and it was perfectly clear night with no light pollution so we just cuddled up together and looked at the stars. This then led to me teaching him about the solar system and we started looking up information on Youtube. This is the joy of World Schooling – lessons at 4am, on a sleeper train, looking up at Mother Nature’s own planetarium.
The last 3 days have been an endless learning experience (for both of us), but enjoyable beyond words.
Our train pulled into Memphis Station bang on time at 6.27am, we found a taxi driver eagerly waiting on the station so within minutes we were on our way to the hotel. Arriving at The Guest House at Graceland was quite a magical experience, a huge Christmas Tree adorns the lobby and as we walked in they were playing Elvis’ singing ‘Silver Bells’ followed by ‘Oh Come all ye Faithful’. It was one of those magical moments which completely caught me off guard and brought tears to my eyes, a ‘commit to memory’ moment which I shall never ever forget.
Then there was a reality check – we are arriving at 7am in a hotel which has a check in time of 3pm, I need not have worried however as we were greeted by another lovely receptionist who not only found us a room immediately but who also gave us additional complimentary breakfast vouchers so we could go an get something to eat. I couldn’t wait to explore Graceland, but first things first, I needed a shower ….and a nap!