Sunday, June 15, 2014

Planes, Trains & Automobiles --- February Vacation 2014

This trip was almost as much fun to plan as it was to take.  Katie wanted to check off a few more states & her older siblings had all traveled by train between Chicago, IL & Springfield, MA before she was born.  I don't ever need much nudging to organize a train trip so we started to talk about what we could do.  David wasn't excited about going both ways via train so we looked at flying 1 way & taking the train one way.  We each traveled with 1 carry-on as we knew that space on the train would be limited.
Here are the details to maximize the number of states visited (CT, IL, WI, IN, MI, OH, PA, NY, MA).
Feb 15 - flight from Hartford, CT to Midway Airport on Southwest Airlines [used free flights that we'd earned]
Picked up a rental car from Hertz [AAA discount was the best deal we could find]
Started driving to Wisconsin
Visited the AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, WI [highly recommend]
EAA AirVenture Museum
Stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites [good choice since it included breakfast]
Best surprise of Wisconsin -
Leon's Frozen Custard in Milwaukee --- DELICIOUS!
Feb 16
Breakfast at the hotel & headed for Michigan
Drove through Indiana & over to St Joseph, MI
Will leave off lunch location as it was just ok
Arrived in Chicago to check into the Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront
Welcome to Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront at the Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront in Chicago, IL
This beautiful hotel couldn't have been more lovely (especially from the 21st floor)
David headed off to drop off the car & we settled in for an incoming snow storm
Feb 17
What an exciting day in Chicago.  We experienced Thunder Snow & headed out for lunch at Lou Malnati's for Deep Dish Pizza.  We'd answered a survey for Wyndham & had been given a gift card that we used for this meal.  It was so much fun walking around Chicago with the snow flying.  For anyone that lives in Chicago layers are definitely the way to go.
Feb 18
It was still pretty snowy, but we were ready for an adventure.  We stopped the Corner Bakery Cafe for breakfast [so good] & started walking to the Chicago History Museum (not to be confused with the Field Museum).
  I had purchased tickets for this Museum using Groupon & it was a very interesting place with exhibits focused on the City of Chicago.  There was a photography exhibit of photos taken during the 60s & 70s by Vivian Maier.  It was very insightful.
We had another Groupon for O'Brien's Restaurant which was within walking distance of the History Museum so we enjoyed an excellent lunch before heading back to our beautiful hotel.
Feb 19
We didn't have firm plans for this day so we took the bus to the Navy Pier.  We were disappointed as there really wasn't much there, but would imagine it's a great place to go when the weather is nice.  We decided to walk back from the Navy Pier & found ourselves at Millennium Park [home to The Bean].  It was a sunny day (but chilly).  People were out enjoying lunch, taking reflective photos & adjusting their scarves.
We walked back to our hotel & thought about dinner.  We had picked up some dining magazines & found an ad for Carson's BBQ on North Wells Street.
Carson's Wells Location
 It was a historic restaurant & didn't disappoint.  David & Katie wore bibs to eat their ribs.  I enjoyed the most delicious cole slaw I've ever eaten along with pulled pork.  It was a filling meal & a great way to experience the food in Chicago.
Feb 20
We knew that this was going to be a very LONG day.  Our train wasn't scheduled to leave until 9:30 at night & we had to check out of our hotel earlier in the day.  We decided to check out & store our luggage at the hotel.  We went to the Field Museum for the entire day.  It was one of the highlights of our trip.  The special exhibit was from the Columbian Exposition from 1893.  I loved seeing all of the artifacts & interesting stories that went along with this exhibit.

After exploring ever nook & cranny of the Field Museum (& staying until closing) we headed back towards our hotel.  We had made a change to our AAA Amtrak Reservation when we found that it wasn't that much more to book a Pullman Sleeper for the overnight trip from Chicago to Cleveland.  I'll save that story for a little later.
We enjoyed a hearty Italian meal at Bella Bacino.  Our hotel had 20% coupons for this restaurant.  It's ALWAYS a good idea to check with the hotel regarding recommendations or discounts.
After dinner we retrieved our luggage & headed to Union Station via taxi.

We checked in & because we were taking a sleeper we were sent to the Waiting Area for Pullman Passengers.  I'm sure that in the past this was probably a very swanky place to wait for the train.  At this time it's a little rundown, but there are chairs & tables, things to drink & you are directed to your coach when it arrives (which for us was at the very front of the train so involved a hike [another reason to take a carry on]).  We had booked a B sleeper unit.  This was a very TINY space.  We entered & the beds were up.  There were 3 seats facing a sink.  The bathroom/shower [yep - it's all in one itsy bitsy space] could be accessed by folding up one of the seats.  We were arriving late so our steward told us that she'd set up our bedding.  There were plates of grapes/cheese & crackers & bottles of water in our cabin.  We were offered wine, but were too tired to partake.  David opted for the top bunk (which folded down from the wall) & Katie & I shared the bottom bunk (seats folded flat).  We settled in for the night & the attendant promised to wake us up prior to arrival in Cleveland.  It was certainly an adventure!
Feb 21
We arrived in Cleveland & spent a few minutes stretching after we exited the train.  We took a local taxi (with a very exuberant local taxi driver) to the airport car rental area to pick up our rental car.  Once we had our rental car we stopped at Cracker Barrel for breakfast (using a gift card that we had).  We planned to go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH as it opened at 9 a.m.

Upon arrival we saw the front of the Hall of Fame swarming with SWAT officers (including K-9s).  We wondered what we were seeing, but found out that it was only a photo shoot.  Phew!  The Football Hall of Fame is more than you'd expect & we spent several hours there.  Even seeing the busts of the inductees along with the Super Bowl rings is something you don't want to miss.  Note - there is a discount if you buy the tickets for the Football Hall of Fame & Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a combined ticket.
We checked into our hotel (which I won't mention by name since we moved out after 1 night).  We took Katie to Outback Steakhouse & the food was delicious.
Feb 22
Day 2 in Ohio & we were headed to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  We didn't really know what to expect.

I would say that anyone that enjoys music or history should make a trip to the Hall of Fame.  It wasn't that interesting to Katie, but David & I thought that the artifacts were amazing & they move people through the museum very well.  We sat & watched videos of American Bandstand & reminisced.
We moved to the Crowne Plaza Hotel & wanted to pick up some food for the long trip tomorrow.  On our way to the grocery store we saw a Big Boy Restaurant.  Katie had never been (or heard of) a Big Boy Restaurant so we took her to a part of our childhoods.  The food was mediocre, but it was fun to see the chubby guy with plaid overalls.

Dropped off the car & worked on getting some sleep before a long day tomorrow.
Feb 23
5:30 a.m. departure from Cleveland, OH on Amtrak 448 to Springfield, MA.  It was the Lake Shore Limited & we settled in for a long day.  It was a wonderful trip & I think anyone would benefit from seeing the US in this way.

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