Just completed another rail adventure to Omaha, Nebraska using the national passenger service we call Amtrak. To get to Omaha from Providence, two change of trains is necessary: New York and Chicago.
Wednesday July 23
Roger Lapierre takes a few days off from overseeing L'il General Store operations to accompany me on this 3,000 mile round trip to the Midwest. We board Amtrak's Northeast Regional to Richmond, Virginia in Providence at 10:10 am. Today we get off in New York to connect with our 3:40pm train to Chicago. With a 2 hour layover in Penn Station, NYC we walk over to the Tracks Raw Bar & Grill for a wine and beer. This Penn Station eatery specializes in Long Island harvested oysters, so we enjoyed a few to blend in with the rest of the clientele.
A draft Guinness & David Bruce merlot $14.00; oysters $2.25 per. Why do so many people make Tracks a regular stop? Maybe the 105 foot long mahogany bar - one of the longest bars in New York City - and a CD jukebox with over 2,000 songs!
The Lakeshore Limited pulled out on time taking the Hudson River route passing Sing, Sing prison, West Point Academy, the state capital at Albany and then west on to the overnight trip to Chicago.
Our 8:30pm dining room reservation paired us with men from Toledo and Green Bay as they were returning home from a New York City visit. Our dinner selection was chef's choice of short rump steak with a red wine sauce, baby carrots and pearl tomato couscous. We selected a Kendall Jackson Cabernet and Sam Adams Boston lager to compliment our dinner choices. Dinner for two: $50.00.
After a leisurely dinner experience of food, drink and conversation, we retreated to our coach seats for the overnight jaunt to Illinois.
Thursday July 24
The Lakeshore Limited never had a chance. Heavy freight traffic using the same tracks put the train behind schedule all through the night. The 8:40am arrival was instead 11:40am as train #45 crawled into Chicago's venerable Union Station.
We did enjoy an extended breakfast on board, however, of French toast, juice and coffee.
Yes, I cheated on my no wheat diet because all those strangers in the dining car did know they had a Woonsocket celebrity on board. Breakfast cost: $10.00.
Next we boarded the San Francisco bound California Zephyr (train #5) to connect to our Omaha destination. Our 2pm departure put us in Omaha at 10:55 Thursday night.
Our hotel of choice is a downtown Hyatt Place hotel just 3 blocks from the train station.
Our two night stay cost $119 per night with breakfast and shuttle service from train station to hotel.
Friday July 25
So why visit Omaha? Omaha played a central role in the history of transportation across America, earning it the nickname “Gate City of the West.” Construction began from here on the eastern portion of the first transcontinental railroad. It has been home to the Union Pacific Railroad since the company began, and ranks eighth among the nation’s 50 largest cities in per-capita billionaires and Fortune 500 companies. Its most prominent businessman is Warren Buffett, the “Oracle of Omaha,” who owns Berkshire Hathaway , a large holding which include GEICO, Dairy Queen and large shares of Coca-Cola and the Washington Post Co., among others. Other companies based here are insurance giant Mutual of Omaha and ConAgra foods which packages well known products like Hebrew National, Slim Jims, Hunts tomato, Swiss Miss and 20 other brands.
So after breakfast we ventured out to discover Omaha and walked around Heartland of America city park. The 15 acre park features Missouri River overlook paths, lagoons, picnic areas, waterfalls and a spectacular park fountain with its 300 ft. water spray.
Next we walked over to The Durham Museum, a beautiful Art Deco structure opened in 1931 as Union Station to serve as the showplace for the Union Pacific Railroad. Considered one of Omaha's most unique treasures, the renovated art deco building offers an exquisite look at Omaha's and western pioneer history. Throughout the museum, you'll find exhibits that teach you about Omaha's neighborhoods, notable citizens, and interesting historical sites. Exhibits include restored train cars, 1940s store fronts, numerous artifacts showing the history of the region, and the Byron Reed collection which includes some of the world’s rarest coins and documents. There's plenty of serious American history of how frontiersman and the US government pushed back indigenous
Indians off their land by force or under-priced real estate transactions to make room for settlement of Omaha and the Nebraska territory. The Omaha Indians were immediately subjected to American colonial pressures for assimilation on the reservation that intervened in all aspects of their culture and society. While contending with uninterrupted assimilation pressures in the twentieth century, the Omaha's today continue to be significant participants in issues of tribal sovereignty, economic development through casino gaming, negotiations over the repatriation of human remains and burial sites.
Getting an understanding of the region's history took all day at the Museum, so we took a lunch break to think about what we witnessed.
Down the street to a local favorite is Billy Frogg's Bar and Grill. This funky bar served us a pitcher of Nebraskan draft craft beer with a Philly Steak sandwich and my choice was a old fashioned burger with lettuce, tomato, onions, jalapenos and pickles. It weighed in at about 1.2 lbs. ; total bill $35.00.
We walked (struggled) back the Durham Museum to finish the rest of exploration of regional history.
After a 2 hour nap in early evening, we choose the Jackson Street Tavern as our Omaha beef experience. This very popular restaurant was filled with locals enjoying Friday night dining complete with live piano bar to lift the experience. Our wines were Josh Cellars cabernet, North Coast and a Coppola Votre Sante Pinot Noir, California at $8.00.
Our steak selection (always beef in Omaha) was the recommended flat iron fillet with roasted potatoes and green beans, $25.00. The hand cut portion was among the best we ever tasted. Dessert was white chocolate creme brûlée with fresh berries and Lithuanian apricot torte with whipped cream layered with delicate pastry at $6.00.
After dinner we enjoyed sitting on stone wall plaza looking onto busy Howard Street and 10th watching horse drawn carriages, street musicians and night strollers walk by this busy intersection. Even though I don't smoke, I may been spotted enjoying a Dominican cigar to top off the evening.
Saturday July 26
Since our Chicago bound train was running behind schedule, we had time to eat breakfast at the hotel and use the Hyatt Place complimentary shuttle to the terminal. The 8:45am departure sends us back home for a leisurely ride over the Missouri, Platte and Mississippi rivers while enjoying the Iowa farmlands of soybeans and corn stalks in between. Quite relaxing I might add! Our return trip is again aboard the California Zephyr and carries passengers from San Francisco who boarded the day before. After an hour's layover in Chicago, we board Amtrak train #30, The Capitol Limited to Washington. This 14 car caravan is sold out as it begins it overnight destination. For dinner we simply order Angus Steak burgers with cheddar cheese, lettuce, tomato and red onion; coffee,tea or milk is included for $10.50.
The Capitol Limited train runs daily between Chicago and Washington, D.C. From the south , you follow the historic B&O line on your journey through the Potomac Valley, past historic Harpers Ferry and the Allegheny Mountains into Pittsburgh. Cross into Ohio heading north to Cleveland, and then across Ohio and Indiana into the center of Chicago.
Sunday July 27
Sunday opens to arrival in Pittsburgh , a city that offers nice eye appeal as it winds into the downtown train station. Downtown Pittsburgh is compact, featuring 30 skyscrapers, 9 of which top 500 feet. U.S. Steel Tower is the tallest. The Cultural District comprises a 14-block area of downtown along the Allegheny River. It is packed with theaters and arts venues. Yes, US Steel is the big player with corporate offices in the city while the steel making plants are nearby. Train #30 snakes along the Allegheny River into dense green landscape offering passengers impressive geologic formations, specular views of the mountains above the Pennsylvania roadbed and striking rock outcrops with some beautiful picture taking opportunities. The ride between Pittsburgh and Washington is worth the price of the ticket. Amtrak fare for this trip was $478 per person, but we used a promotional "companion fare " (buy one, get one free) that reduced our cost $239.00 each.
Amtrak 's Capitol Limited was named after the former Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’s flagship passenger trains -- for many years the choice of travel between Chicago and Washington. Amtrak began service on this line in 1981.
In Washington, we changed to a Northeast Regional Amtrak train up to New York and finally to Providence. On the final leg up to Providence, the main focus was snoozing, daydreaming and occasionally visiting the cafe car which for "healthy" choices like cheeseburgers, potato chips, cracker & cheese tray, wine and beer. My estimated weight gain: 6 pounds. We arrived at midnight Sunday, ready to take on the broadcasting and retail industries Monday morning.