Jun 19, 2008

Day 20 - Chicago to Flagstaff (Part 1)

What a day we were going to have on supposedly a quiet uneventful day.

We arrived in Chicago with 30mins delay. We were starving after having a light meal last night, so immediately rushed to the food court at the station.

Because of bad weather in the Midwest of the US, there are lots of areas that have been severely affected by flooding. When we checked if our train from Chicago to Flagstaff would be affected, although other trains were listed as affected an canceled, we didn't find ours on the Amtrak website. We weren't convinced, so we went to the customer service at the Chicago railway station to find out. We got some bad news. We have to do two stops as our train Southwest Chief cannot go through the affected area. I must say though that we were appalled by this woman who was not only unfriendly but also gave us very little information and didn't seem to care about travelers like us who have plans ahead. But the fact remained that we were going to do a bit of detour.

We decided to head into town to waste our time. Chicago is such a big city, and a little bit like New York. But this place is so badly-signposted. When I was trying to find things to do as a tourist in this city, I did not find many. Perhaps this is why they don't need to have many signposts for key locations, tourist attractions, etc.

Once we walked to the Art Institute of Chicago near the Grant Park, we found two podiums of sightseeing buses. Although we were going to take the Chicago Double Decker, the salesman was taking too much time with a lady in front of us. This allowed the guy from Grayline to poach us for their tour. Their tour was $4 cheaper, which may not be a huge deal but every little helps for tourists like us on such a long journey.

Although there aren't that many historic things to see in Chicago, mainly due to the famous fire they had years ago, there are certainly some stunning views and interesting buildings in this city. Both Teruko and I really liked the view of the city under blue sky we got from near the Adler Planetarium. We really weren't sure what we were going to do in Chicago, but it turned out that this double decker bus was perfect for the limited time we had in this city.

We spotted a live blues performance going on in a little park near the Sears Tower. Yes, Chicago Blues! Fortunately for us, they are doing live Blues in this park every Wednesday. It is a funny location, though, because they perform right in front of a normal office building. As a huge fan of Blues, I was delighted to be able to see real Chicago Blues performance live. It was an unexpected gift for me from Chicago.

After our quick tour of Chicago, we headed back to the Union Station. We then went to the information to see if they can give us more information about our trip. They didn't. All we got was the same story, and we weren't sure how much of a delay we would expect. This would be unacceptable in Japan, but it showed a huge difference in culture and mentality. At least the good thing is that Amtrak's trying to take us to our destination.

Our itinerary was changed from a single ride from Chicago to Flagstaff to two connections including bus. We first got a train from Chicago to Galesburg for 2hrs. Then we had to get off to catch an emergency bus service to Kansas City which would take between seven and nine hours. Although they knew what their plans were, they seemed rather disorganised as there was only one bus available when we arrived. In the end, we left Galesburg around 7:00PM. After driving for an hour and a half, we then stopped for dinner at Wendy's (yummy!) As soon as we made ourselves happy with food, we were back on road again. We did drive through a bridge over the Mississippi River that is severely affected by the recent flooding. We could tell the water was extremely high even in the dark. We were certainly fortunate that Amtrak decided to take us through somehow.

Our driver tried to entertain us passengers with a film 'War of the World', which turned out to be in my opinion an absolute shocker (not the driver's fault obviously.) I had never seen this film when it was out, and I was glad that I never bothered to spend money on it. Unfortunately, Teruko went to cinema to see it in Tokyo, and seeing a film at cinema is very expensive in Japan.

Thankfully, the film did me a huge favour in making me feel so sleepy. This meant that when I woke up we were in Kansas City. Amtrak held our train for us traveling from Chicago, although we were already 3hrs late when arrived. In the end, the train departed the totally dark and deserted Kansas City station at 3:00AM. Luckily, we are back on track again.

Teruko and I just hope that we will get to Flagstaff by the time we join a tour to Grand Canyon.

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