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Amtrak cross country day 6

We made it to Seattle!!! The train rolled in this afternoon at 1:20pm… Only 2 1/2 hours late. Breakfast aboard was nice. We ate with a British couple who were interested to try my grits, which were “quite lovely” and yet told me the biscuits were really scones and a tea time food.  They were nice and pretty funny.  For the rest of the day we mostly napped or did some schoolwork and coloring. I am exhausted.  Didn’t sleep well last night.  We are on the top floor of the train and I could really feel it sway around the curves, which woke me up panicking the train was falling over.  I get wierd like that on tall busses too.

One highlight of our train day was getting to know our room attendant Tashi. He is from Tibet and was so excited to hear we had visited his country. He spoke concern about the Chinese digging in the sacred mountains too much. When he learned Avi’s middle name I think he decided they were soulmates… Calling him Tenzin all the time. He was also excited for me to know that Tenzin is a very popular Tibetan name especially because it’s the Dalai Lama’s name. He even brought us our lunch to go since the kids were sleeping and not hungry at 10 am when they announced it was now or never. Later as the ride was ending he brought each of the kids a special sparkling cider and chocolate. Tashi made the trip so nice and personal; quite different from other trains.

I grabbed our bags and loaded up the stroller off the train, got a cart and picked up our bags at the carousel.  Then, we took a taxi to our hotel near Sea-Tac.  I had planned on just taking the Link Light Rail, but with the extra box we acquired in Boston (since my suitcase was too heavy) I just don’t think I can handle it all.  Taxi driver was nice, and our hotel is super nice.  The Marriott Sea-Tac.  It has a super cool indoor atrium pool that we spent a long time in after resting in the room for a while. 

In the evening we talked with Bryan on the phone and then walked out to find some dinner.  By this time I was feeling pretty yucky.  My belly was feeling odd since the train, and now I also felt so exhausted I figured it was just a bad nights sleep.  Well, there are absolutely no restaurants around here.  There are a ton of hotels, but no restaurants.  I guess everyone simply eats at their hotel or is here just to get on a flight the next morning.  Our choice was a 7-11 or going to the airport. So, we walked to the airport which is just down the hill.  I found the AMC counter where we will check in on Sunday morning for our flight and then noticed the USO sign, so we went there.  It’s a pretty nice USO with a family room with toys, showers, sleeping areas, books, computers, etc… Plus, food.  So the kids had a hotdog, string cheese, apple, and chips.  I looked at the tuna sandwhiches, but the wierd taste in my mouth said “don’t do it”  and I grabbed an apple.  We spent another hour or so playing in the family area and then walked back to the hotel.  I felt really gross now and actually puked before my belly settled.  Time for a good nights sleep.

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Amtrak cross country day 5

Well the kids and I just settled in at the East Glacier Amtrak station. Watching some Fantasia 2000. Its 900 pm and we have until 1100 pm to wait to catch our 645 pm train. Excellent. I actually appreciated a bit of that extra time. We got to visit a few more sites, but now that the sun has set I’m ready to hop aboard and snuggle into our Roomette. I guess this way we can sleep in and not rush to
get off in the morning. In fact, we will likely enjoy lunch… Maybe even dinner… On the train between here and Seattle.

Anyway…. Today was nice. Not as crazy amazing and glorious as yesterday but still quite lovely. We slept in, which with the time change means we got up at 730. Watched some TV, packed up the car and checked out of our lovely little cabin. The weather was noticeably cooler with a bit of broken overcast sky. We drove a few miles up the road to the Two Medicine part of the park where we road the 45 boat tour around the lake. The boat driver was funny, told us a bit of history (the little wooden boat was hand built for the park 88 years ago), and then he opened it up to questions. There were many good ones. Then Zoe got into the act and asked when the lake froze could she ice skate on it and do animals fall through the ice and get cut. You could ice skate, he said, if you cross country skied in about 8 rough miles and then braved the 100 mph winds across the lake. “most people don’t” he said. Avi liked the first part of the boat ride and even went out on the bow with me. He got antsy after a bit so I needed to bust out the carrots to keep him seated. The clouds grew and the temp dropped but we braved another short hike to Running Eagle Falls. Avi loved it and ran the whole way- even across the log bridge. It’s not far but was enjoyable and the waterfall is super cool coming through the cliff at the bottom.

After that we were hungry and I wanted to go up to the Many Glacier northern section of the park, so I took the indirect but less winding road to Browning. This is a pretty slow (im being nice) town in the heart of the Blackfoot reservation that is adjacent to the park. There was a Taco Johns drive through which became necessary since both children were asleep. The 40 mile drive from there to Many Glacier was incredible. I thoroughly enjoy the high prairie with the mountains in the background. It is simply gorgeous to me: my favorite landscape. Don’t think the kids would have been as impressed.

They woke as we arrived at Many Glacier just as a torrential downpour began. We ate what was supposed to be a picnic in the car and then the rain stopped! It was wonderful. Cool. Overcast. Moist. So we walked a good bit of the Swiftcurrent trail across from the big old chalet lodge. The kids then just wanted to play in the picnic area. Having checked the train prior I knew we already had two extra hours so it was fun to just chill out. The weather seemed at the verge of raining but didn’t drizzle until we left. The clouds looked like smoke coming from inside the mountain. Zoe picked a bouquet of wildflowers and kindly distributed one to each prairie dog hole. Avi kicked dirt and threw rocks into the holes. Adding to our wildlife count was a big mama deer and two babies that wandered very near to us, plus a bear the size of a penny sighted up the mountain. There were also lots of squirrels and chippys. Many Glacier proved to be the location for animals.

With our days plans in the bag we began our drive back to East Glacier, however, the train schedule now showed 3 hours late so we stopped at the visitor center in St Mary again to watch the video and listen to more of the animal sounds. As a bonus we got to Skype with Bryan from my phone in the car. Another side trip found us down the most beautiful valley EVAR – Cut Bank . It was open and green, forested along the river and had huge cliffs and mountains rising up around it. Plus, there were horses and cows. Avi loves cows… In a crazy way. He Squeals “cows” at the sight of any! This is mostly on the reservation with a tiny campground and trial access to Glacier. Back in East Glacier town we checked our bags in at the train station … An hour after our train should have left. And then we spent a while looking around the lodge and town before grabbing hotdogs to go from the gas station. The rental car lady dropped us off back at the train station and here we sit…. Waiting. Ugh. Well, a huge thunderstorm started so that is cool. We will be snug in our bunks soon enough. Tomorrow- Seattle.

Amtrak cross country day 4 – Glacier NP

So this will be a blog filled with words like “amazing” and “spectacular” because Glacier National Park is both amazing and spectacular.

After we woke up in our East Glacier cabin we walked down a block to the Dollar rental car. Well I was shocked out of my gourd to find our rental to be a new 2011 Outback just like our car in Korea! Dark gray though. I put in Avi’s car seat that came with the rental and Zoe’s little booster.. We loaded up and drove north.

The drive to the park entrance at St. Mary is about 31 miles and was already simply gorgeous. The mountains rise up in the west and the rolling plains stretch out to the east. The mountains are just so amazingly huge and dramatic compared to the grassland. We stopped so many times to simply get pictures. At one point there was a crystal lake reflecting the mountain so we stopped for pictures and found wild blueberries! Yum. As we drove Zoe even mentioned how pretty it was and how she was happy I planned this trip. The weather was also so nice and warm. The sky was so deep blue. It was spectacular. And we weren’t even to the park yet.

Once we finally got to the visitor center I was so thrilled to get my passport book stamped. The center focuses on the receding glaciers and Blackfeet Indians. The kids loved listening to the Blackfeet animal stories in the audio displays. I am glad to be seeing the glaciers before they disappear. Our adventure for the day was to drive the Going to the Sun road through the heart of Glacier National Park and then looping south along the wild bear wilderness and lewis and clark national forest. Again the scenery was amazing.

Once in the park we stopped for a hike to go see Baring waterfall and play in the water before we gained too much elevation. The hike was great! It followed the rushing water downstream most of the way and veered through the woods for a little bit before opening out onto a log bridge at the base of the falls. I let Avi and Zoe walk for the first section along the water so they could put their hands in and feel how cold the water was. Avi then rode on my back in the kid carrier – he fought getting in it but then seemed to enjoy himself once he understood what was happening. It was only a half mile hike but very fun. Zoe ran most of the way down! At the falls we got some pictures and then the kids spent a long time throwing in rocks and having a snack. Hiking back up to the car was slower but Zoe didn’t complain. She stopped a couple times for water and we talked about the plants. Avi walked for a ways too and then sat down refusing to budge so I got him on my back again. He was hot and tired I think because he cried about it for a few minutes and then almost slept. As soon as I put him back in the car he was sleeping. Zoe and I enjoyed many of the other pull outs along the road up to the continental divide. The road wasn’t super crowded so we could simply pull out, look over the edge, take a picture and move on.

The highlight for Zoe was her chance to touch snow. This was the thing we had been searching for all day. There were still some huge patches of snow on the mountain but none yet along the road. There is a hike at Logan pass – the high point on the road – out to a viewpoint and a huge field of snow. When we arrived up their I realized why our drive had been so enjoyable and people free. They were all here! It was a crowded mess. The parking lot was full and folks were parked all along the roads. Not for us. Plus Avi was still sleeping so getting him out and into the kid carrier for a crowded hike didn’t sound like fun. Instead we kept along the road and found an awesome snowbank pullout with no one around!!! Zoe loved it and claimed that winter is her favorite season… and how far away is it? She even ate some of the months old snow under the crusty top. Too funny!

After that we continued our drive down the west side of Going to the Sun road. This is where a ton of other people are… Stuck in traffic. There are crews fixing the road so it is a giant back up. We just happened to get the timing right and only waited 5 minutes for the one way to be our direction. As we came out the other side I could see people over there had been waiting the half hour we were warned about in the visitor center. Now both kids were sleeping so I enjoyed the drive down on my own. The west side of Glacier is certainly not as dramatic looking since it is forested. The openness of the plains on the east side afforded us instant views. Over here you are mostly in the forest – a beautiful thing in its own right. You are also along a gorgeous rushing river called McDonald creek. Not a creek. I got out to see it a couple times and Avi woke. So now he and I had fun stopping to see the water at the pull outs. After we exited the park we drove along route 2 back to East Glacier. This drive is also quite pretty through a steep treed valley with the big Middle fork of the flathead river. There were tons of rafting group shuttle buses along here. The river did look super fun to kayak! Eventually Zoe woke so we used one of the boat launch access points as a break place. The kids ran around on the rocks, waded in the calm creek that was joining the river, and played in the sand. Zoe collected some special rocks – that SHE will be carrying in her bag. Avi mostly got to be a complete mess smearing sandy dirt all over the big rocks. We watched the train go by a couple times. That will be our route out tomorrow evening. Hopefully it’s close to on-time as I would like to see the scenery!

Back in the car we rolled into East glacier exhausted. That drive took all day!! Hung out in our cabin a bit before walking across the street to Luna’s for dinner. I had a bison burger. The kids scarfed their food, too. Hungry! Then we played for the evening. There were kid playthings out back at Luna’s and a nice green space in front of our cabin. I sat on our little porch planning tomorrow while they messed around til dark. I’m excited to see more of this park tomorrow. It is incredible!!

Amtrak cross country day 3

All day on a train gets a bit old. Especially if that train is running late and especially through north Dakota. I woke up this morning pretty tired. Zoe wasn’t liking the top bunk without a window and so she joined Avi and I on the bottom. Well that was too crowded so I moved up, but then Avi woke and wanted me. I squished back down and then slept with Zoe at my head and Avi snuggled reverse on
my legs.

They were not too early to rise either. But when they did they were eager to go get breakfast so we went down to the dining car where breakfast and lunch are first come first serve. It was full so we got a number and wandered two cars past to the lounge/ viewing car. The top level has walls of windows that curve up to show the view out the ceiling. The bottom level was the snack bar. We found some seats up top and watched the prairie go by. At this point we were just nearing Fargo which we should have blitzed through overnight. Seemed our 3 hour delay from Chicago had increased to 4. Eventually our number was called for breakfast so we hustled back to the dining car and enjoyed pancakes, bacon, eggs and I downed the coffee. Both Avi and Zoe were pretty hungry. Eating in the dining car is the hardest place to behave but they do OK when there are enough tractors outside or when they can draw on the paper tablecloth. Zoe will occupy herself stacking the syrups and jellies and even making conversation with our table mates. we sat with a retired Navy couple that were taking the train from Virginia to Seattle and then going to Vancouver to start a cruise to Alaska and continue as a land tour. Sounded like so much fun!

Our fun for the next hour was taking a shower. Once we returned from breakfast I gathered our stuff and walked down the hall to the shower cubical. There was a changing room area with towels and a bench. Avi loved opening and closing the door to the shower until we all stuffed in and got the water going. It was a bit bumpy but felt great to get cleaned up. The kids took turns holding the shower and spraying all over. It was great fun.

After that we returned to the Roomette for a couple hours. Spent the time playing with our toys, and doing school time. Zoe is working on her educational workbooks and travel water colors. Avi is matching vehicle sticker shapes in his book and identifying drawings I make. It was fun. When lunch announcements came we were involved in watching g Pollyanna, so we delayed. After a bit Avi and I walked up to Dining car and got a number. 45 minute wait! By the time we were called, it was 130pm and Avi was tired. Lunch was slow to serve and Avi was a challenge. He wanted to go to sleep on the floor. Squealing at cows out the window was distracting enough to wait for the food to arrive. The couple we sat with we’re so nice and had a lengthy conversation with Zoe about her incredible table drawing that included details from flowers to planets. Avi was still losing it so we took a few bites of food and the kids each grabbed a slice of pizza. We left early. Back in the room we all fell asleep quickly.

Nap. So good! In the afternoon we got early dinner reservations and had a much better experience. After that we took our sorbet dessert to go and enjoyed it in the lounge watching the prairie pass. It really is pretty and amazing. Every now and then would be a gorgeous river valley and then it returned to grasslands. The other thing we tried to spot were old abandoned pioneer houses. Later we explored the train walking to the end and returning to our room. For the afternoon we occupied ourselves walking the train, playing with toys, and watching a few shows on the computer. We were all looking forward to the stop at Havre MT because its a chance to get out and get some fresh air. At this point though, the train is at 5 hours late! We walked up to the coffee/drink station and for some juice. There was an announcement that Havre was soon so I took the kids downstairs and Avi lost it. Complete breakdown over going downstairs. In the room he was screaming his head off even after the train stopped and the door opened. It took him crying it out for about 8 minutes before he would even let me hold him without going limp. Then he finally realized we were going outside and turned back into a happy kid. Zoe was great. We were close to the door so I could see her go out and come back in to check on Avi before he was ready. Ahhh fresh air!!!

When we returned to the train I asked our room attendant about our stop : East Glacier. About 3 more hours. Ugh. I looked at my clock: 945pm.. The train was 6 hours late!! Earlier I had called our hotel and rental car to arrange for a ride to the hotel. We will pick up the car in the am. I got all our stuff packed up and got the kids to sleep. Our attendant said he would wake us but I set my phone alarm to 1230 am and slept. Woke with a knock on the door. 20 minutes to go. I got the kids shoes on and gathered my stuff. Woke Zoe and we arrived!! Finally!!! Just off the train the air smelled so amazing… Cold and piney. The mountains. Can’t see them but I know they are here. A guy named Dave had our name and hotel on a placard, and the car parked on curb for us. After our luggage got off the train we loaded into the car. The drive to the East Glacier motel was short. We are in cabin 5. It’s adorable. Little flower box out front, cute little bedroom, and a kitchenette out the back. We all got back into bed. Avi had a bit of a fuss, but Zoe and I talked to him and he quieted to sleep. 1am.

Amtrak cross country day 2

Well Zoe, Avi and I slept pretty well last night on the train from Boston. I woke early when the sun came in our window and stared at the corn fields and farms for a long time. Once the kiddos woke we headed back down the train to the dining car for breakfast. The food on the train is tasty and portions are large. The servers are busy and stressed out though. Seem like they needed two dining cars as there was always a line. The kids and I get priority seating as first class passengers, but I still had them squash with me on one side of the table to make room for others. A mother- daughter duo from CA sat with us. Zoe picked the French toast and ate about half of the giant kid platefull. Avi and I shared a scrambled eggs, bacon, grits platter. Mostly he ate bacon.

Back in our roomette we had time to play as we watched the corn fields slowly turn into city. Our room attendant had put our bed back into two chairs so it felt roomier again. Avi and I colored and played with his train sticker book. Zoe spent the morning wedging herself into the overhead storage and arranging her stuff. Soon the traffic and sights outside were more interesting so we packed up and watched the city approach. We were in Chicago!

I loaded Avi into the stroller and hung our overnight bag on it. Zoe carried her bag as we walked off the platform and into Union station. We followed signs to the lounge; I was told we could store some bags there for free as sleeping car passengers. Sure enough the first class lounge has a bag check, so we dropped off our overnight bag and the kids’ toy bags before getting outside to explore the city.

outside we walked just under a mile directly east to the city park along the water. Along the way was a giant construction zone full of mighty machines that Avi soaked up. I think this was a highlight of the whole trip for him. Eventually we walked on to the park and it was kind of crappy. Not only are all the grassy areas trapped behind hedges but the big fountain is also fenced of. Plus there were workers everywhere putting up fences and tents for an event. We stopped in a tiny patch of the only shade available and had a snack while I used the phone to find something better. Aha. Just north a couple blocks was a play fountain. Zoe was a trouper as we trudged on in the heat, but she said “if I would space-A to here I would skip chicago”. Agrees the city is not finding much love from us today. But it turned out to be well worth it. The big fountain was basically two giant cubes with water rolling down them separated by a huge 1/2 inch deep infinity pool. Zoe ran off happy as a clam which got her in trouble since I said to stay close. It’s the first I have had to punish her since we got started. Not acceptable to be out of my sight and boundaries on a trip. Then Avi slipped on the ground and bonked his head. Poor guy. Our rough start was rewarded, though, with a great afternoon of play at the fountain. The rest of our time was a blast and helped burn some energy. In fact Zoe and I needed to keep Avi awake long enough to get some lunch and walk back to the train station. Another glance at the machines digging was a good sleep-preventer.

So my plan was to stroll into the first class lounge around 115pm, get a snack, bathroom break, and be ready to board at 130. Then we would nap on the train. Perfect timing . Perfect plan. Perfect doesn’t exist with Amtrak. Our train was delayed because something was wrong with the dining car. Ugh. Avi zonked out in the stroller and Zoe quickly fell asleep on one of the cushy lounge seats. Plan ruined. Luckily they slept for about 2 hours after which we finished watching Marmaduke. At that point there was still no word on our departure time and Avi was screaming to get moving so we went upstairs to the food court for some ice cream. When we got back it was time to board!!! Almost 3 hours late.

Out on the platform we had to walk 10 cars down – which is pretty far- to ours at the front of the train. We are just behind engine. This is the Empire Builder which goes all the way to Seattle. The Superliner cars are double decker. Our sleeper is another roomette but it’s a bit older style than the one we had last night. The bunk folds down and doesn’t have a view of the window. The storage isn’t as genius. The biggest thing is that it’s not outfitted with a little potty and sink. That was cool. Ours is down the hall. The window is still nice and big. Zoe claimed the bunk again, but once night came it was a bit too dark for her so she and Avi are sleeping on the bottom while I crawl up.

We came back from dinner in the dining car and spent an hour or so playing before making up the bed in bottom. On this train we were asked to reserve a dinner time. The dining car attendant came around to make those arrangements. Our choices were 630 ish or 830 ish. I definitely took the 630 seating and we arrived promptly after spending our first hour on the train getting arranged, spilling pretzels, and Skyping with Bryan. At dinner a singe guy was seated with us. I worried at first that it would be miserable but he was super nice and thought the kids were fun. He is an acupuncturist from Missoula. Neato! Zoe ate all her salad and a hotdog for dinner, Avi ate a bun and I had the crab cakes. Yum. For dessert was raspberry sorbet and raspberry cake!

Back here in the room I’ve enjoyed watching the scenery even though we are on a lower level. Seems a lot quieter down here since the main connecting hallways are upstairs. Its good the kids are away from the crowd as they has a song and dance ‘party’ with their little flashlights. We are still running about 2.5 hours late, though i
Im sure they are trying to make it up. I was able to see the Wisconsin Dells – a pretty cliff lined river – as the sun set. Now the kids are asleep so I’m going to climb up to my bunk for the night. Tomorrow we are on the train all day to East Glacier!

Amtrak cross country day 1

Whew! What a way to travel. I’m sitting on the bottom bunk if our Amtrak roomette while the kids watch Marmaduke on my computer. We are on the Lake Shore Limited riding from Boston to Chicago where we switch train for another evening to Glacier NP. We just finished with dinner. It was in the Dining car – 7 cars back down the train; past 2 seating cars, one cafe car and then 4 more seaters. Since we are in a sleeper car we are going first class and all meals are included! I had a delicious steak and the kids had grilled cheese. We ate with a lovely couple from Bloomsburg IL who were returning home from a visit with their daughter. The kids did good. Zoe played with her ponies and Avi his cars while we waited. And there was a wait! Dinner is served in courses- bread, salad, main, and dessert. We were fill by dessert time so I skipped that and came to the room.

We were directed to go down to dinner by our room attendant just after departing Albany. The train stopped there for an hour or so while they hooked up the other train that came from New York. It merged with us and more than doubled the size of the train. I don’t even know how many cars are after the Dining car. There has to be at least one more sleeper from NYC. We got out at Albany briefly to run around and get some fresh air. Before that Avi was playing with his new little tractor while Zoe worked on art projects. We had recently woken from a nice long nap.

The upper bunk is where Zoe decided to sleep. It raises and lowers but we mostly keep it down since she likes to hang out up there. The lower bunk goes together by lounging the two seats until they join and then plopping a thin mattress on top. It’s nice and comfy and made for a great nap. The beds are arranged so that when the train is moving we are traveling feet first which feels nice and also means the window is wide alongside the bed. There is a lower window by the bunk for Avi and me and a window up top for Zoe. Her view is nicer over the trees so they both played up top spying for cows together before dinner.

Beside the beds is about a foot and half of other space before the wall and sliding door. The wall and door have windows, though, so it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. It’s just enough space for a little potty with a fold down sink above it and mirror up top. That is all beside the seat that goes backward. Beside the other seat is a trash can and hanging storage area. There is also some more storage in a cubby that Zoe can get inside of from her bed. Its essentially over the hallway. She likes being a monkey and goes back and forth. We don’t have a ton of junk with us. Just my purse/ laptop bag, a grocery bag with clothes, and the kids each have a small backpack of toys an coloring books. I also have a our Korean stroller folded up in the hanging storage place.

When mom and dad, Bethany, granddad and Tom dropped us off this morning I had one big old suitcase that I dragged behind the stroller. When I checked in a super nice red cap guy helped me take the luggage to weight check and it was 20 pounds overweight! The guys out there were so helpful and gave me an old box to throw 20 pounds worth of books and diapers into. They taped it all up and made it another checked bag for me! After that we were escorted to the first class lounge to hang out for the morning. I didn’t realize we got such treatment when I booked this! There were free snacks and drinks and comfy seats to hang out for the hour before we could board. Our porter even came up to get us when it was time to get on the train and helped me to our room #8. We settled in and the train was off. Super exciting to be on our way. The kids spent a bit of time playing, but soon after we rolled out it was lunchtime. We are highly encouraged to eat when our attendant tells us too since the cafe and dining cars are reserved for first class at certain times and we’d have to compete with the minions in normal class otherwise. So, we go when we are told.

Lunch was in the cafe car since we hadn’t merged with the NYC train that brought the dining car. It was good- a salad or wrap. The kids mostly ate the chips and squealed as we passed lots of other trains heading out of the Boston suburbs. It’s fun to be on the train! So easy for me to sit and play with them, or walk up and down the aisles, or simply nap. Way more relaxing and fun than flying or driving. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow holds as we transfer in Chicago to a new double decker train. I’m glad my heavy suitcase and newly acquired box are transferred for me.

We are off to bed. Our attendant just checked on us and said breakfast is 6-8 am with the train scheduled to be in Chicago at 945. She will wake us at 7. Now books and sleep time.

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