Day Four: The Sixth State

This morning came with a wakeup call stating that we were nearing the Twin Cities, and would be pulling into Union Depot St. Paul.  I was eager for this stop, as the train stays at the station for about 45 minutes there and you can get off and walk around for more than a couple minutes. I have been determined to get a newspaper at one of these little hop off stops, no place had such a novelty, so I figured the Twin Cities, big place, must have a paper at the station.  Beautiful station, shades of the glory days of rail, but shades of the new millennium as well, and no newspapers.  Am I really that out dated that I'm the only one who still needs a printed, tactile, hard copy paper in the morning? I love my "Idaho Statesman" in the morning at home, and whatever the local paper is when I'm traveling. The day just doesn't start right when the "device" is the first thing I have to read.  So my old school nostalgic vacation had this big flaw, no newspapers.  Forget trying to find a postcard, another grandpa-type communication medium I also use on the road, when you can actually find such a relic.

From St. Paul we headed into Wisconsin and out the window we noticed a bald eagle flying by as we passed along the northern sources of the Mississippi River.  Then we saw another bald eagle, and another. We were spotting convocations of eagles out our window. Yes, I had my e-thesaurus with me...I'm not that much of a relic, groups of eagles are indeed called convocations.  It turns out we passed close to the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, MN.  They seemed to be everywhere as the Empire Builder followed the shoreline of Lake Pepin and the various waters that form the Big River.

We spent much of the day in the Observation Car, birding and listening to nearby gossip and conversations...much more sporty.  The convocation of passengers on the Empire Builder is a study in diversity.  Today we had lunch with two visiting Russian Nordic skiers, watched and listed to a group of Amish guys playing chess and speaking in rich Pennsylvania Dutch, and uncomfortably observed a kind older woman visiting from China sit through a conversation with a drunk from Oregon.  The saving grace for her, was she couldn't understand a word he was saying.  It seems to be mandatory that every significant transportation conveyance have at least one obnoxiously loud chowder head on board. 

We pulled through Milwaukee after lunch and entered our sixth state, the Land of Lincoln, Illinois.  The Chicago skyline started coming into view miles away from Union Station, and the Russians, the Amish, and everyone else looked out at an impressive Windy City metropolis, likely for their first time.  The Empire Builder was finishing its journey from the west coast, and Sinatra's "My Kind of Town" started playing in everyone's head, at least it did for us relics.  We stepped off in bustling Union Station at 3:35pm, 20 minutes early.  Who says the trains don't run on time?

In Chicago, Anne and I schlepped our bags about ten blocks to the Palmer House Hotel, a Chicago icon. The Palmer is part of the Historic Hotels of America collection, which we love to stay at as they make us feel a little younger. The magnificent lobby of the Palmer House is a sight to see no matter where you are staying in Chi-town. No dining car tonight, we wanted fresh seafood and found a great place called Nick's Fish Market Grill in Merchandise Mart.  We walked over from the Palmer, about 15 blocks, but UBER-ed back, making sure we get every possible mode of transportation worked into this trip.  We will be ready for a day of razzmatazz in Chicago tomorrow, if we can sleep in a motionless bed tonight.