Tuesday, November 13, 2018

North to Chicago: All Aboard the City of New Orleans


For over thirty years my husband and I have been riding the City of New Orleans from Memphis to New Orleans for football games, cruise departures, and long fun weekends in the Quarter. Last month we finally departed when it was time to go to sleep after catching the train north to Chicago instead of at the crack of dawn traveling southbound.

roomette car

We settled into our roomette which is a private space with a door and a couple of seats that the attendant comes by to magically turn into a couple of bunks complete with sheets, blankets, and a harness looking operation for the top bunk that is supposed to keep the person up there (me)from rolling out onto the floor during the rocking back and forth overnight. If you are claustrophobic fight hard to get the bottom bunk.

When I first got myself settled it felt a bit mildly distressing but I took a moment to think about how exciting and magical my 10-year-old self would have thought it was. Read my post about the strategy of reframing. I remembered how much fun it used to be to hide in small spaces as a kid. I fell asleep in no time and the worst part of the whole thing was having to climb down in the middle of the night to use the bathroom at the end of the hall.

I thought of all the old movies I've seen that had amusing train scenes. Scenes of folks sleeping in berths with just curtains for privacy and using the shared restroom.  I was glad I had some context to put this adventure into. My husband was less amused when I put my foot in his face in the dark at 2 A.M. 

When we woke up we headed to breakfast and were seated with a sweet older lady from the Chicago area. I propped my phone up while waiting for our food to catch a time-lapse of the passing Illinois countryside as the sun was coming up.


I jumped up from where I was sitting to get this pic at the Kankakee stop because it's in the song, The City of New Orleans.

All along the southbound odyssey
The train pulled out at Kankakee
And rolls along past houses, farms and fields...


Once we arrived in Chicago we packed up our stuff we stepped off the train and into Union Station.


chicago train station

chicago train station

We stopped dead in our tracks. What a palatial building! Memphis tore down its own beautiful marble train station to make way for a post office during some sad mid-century city planning debacle. NOLA's station is also a pretty sad affair. But this!

amtrak metropolitan lounge

Also, being in a sleeper car affords you entrance to the Metropolitan Lounge, where you can store your bags and grab a gourmet coffee and fancy oatmeal.

union station


union station

Yes. Fancy oatmeal is a thing. 

Since we had about four hours between trains I thought it might be worth trying to go to the Sky Deck at the former Sears Tower, now Willis Tower. Trip Advisor didn't give me much hope warning about  2-hour lines to buy tickets, more time in line for the elevator, and 40-minute lines to get time on one of the ledges. Since it was right around the corner we decided we'd just walk over and see what it looked like.

chicago landmark

It looked like no line. FYI a cloudy Wednesday morning is a really great time to try it. The elevator ruined me for all other elevators that take so long to go up like 4 floors. You are whisked up 103 floors in 60 seconds. There's even a fun video on the ride to show you all the world landmark heights you are passing as you go along.

willis tower

The doors open and there you are at what feels like the top of the world.

sky deck

We jumped in a line for the nearest ledge where the ledge assistants tell you that you only have 60 seconds on the ledge. There were maybe 20 people in the line but as there are a few ledges it went really quickly. What can I say? I love a good photo op. 

the ledge

I was looking forward to doing this but when it came time to take that first step, which looks to your ancient brain like you are stepping off a building, I balked. My husband held my hand since apparently the primitive part of his brain is broken and he jumped right out there.  My modern brain quickly adjusted to this new and weird information (don't trust your eyes) and then I didn't want to leave!

sky deck

Yes, it's surreal. 

sky deck

While we were on the ledge we noticed no one was behind us waiting. We got plenty of time to get all the picks we wanted. Okay, obviously that I wanted. It's like the ultimate photo booth! 

sky deck

 Everything about this trip just kept working out like the clouds parting for a glimpse of a beautiful blue sky over the city.

sky deck view

We still had time for martinis and sushi for lunch at a great place we happened upon on the way back to the station called Hot Woks Cool Sushi. Once again our timing was perfect! It was practically empty when we were seated and when we left there was a line out the door.


Next, we hit one of the many bars in the train station and chatted with the locals most of whom apparently were on their lunch hour. I guess the 3 martini lunch is alive and well in Chicago. I overheard my husband tell the guy next to him "Your train station is nice than our airport."

Embarrassing but true.

Also, everyone we met in Chicago was so nice! It felt, well... southern except things moved a little faster. 

We headed back to the lounge to grab our bags and get ready for the next part of our train adventure as I marked the Sky Deck off my impromptu bucket list.

What's on your bucket list? Also, how much of a trip do you plan ahead of time?

Happy travels, Y'all! 


Friday, November 9, 2018

Fall Break on the Alabama Coast

The answer is that there isn't anything much cuter than a baby at the beach. Though I'm partial to this particular baby and this particular beach. It was this kid's first trip to the beach and what with it being the first born child for them, grandchild for us, and first nephew for Uncle Snarky it was a bit of a production.

I documented our march to the Gulf. We were an attention-grabbing lot as it were but why had I not thought of banners, and a marching band, or at least a fanfare of trumpets to round out the scene? Either the baby was super adorable or we made a spectacle of ourselves because people put down their books and pointed and smiled.

"Oh, that's the first grandbaby for sure."

Thank goodness the kid likes the sand and the water. Personally, my entire goal at the beach is to prevent getting salt water in my eyes but it didn't bother him. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

I know I had more to say, but what was it?

Help me, Y'all. Instagram is rotting my brain.

#orangebeach #florabama #beachbaby #familyvacay #fallbreak

See what I mean. I've forgotten how to write with like actual words and what not. Hence, pictures!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Little First Time For Everything List

On our last day at sea as the Triumph crossed the gulf on its way back to New Orleans, we soaked up the sun with a bit of sadness that our trip was drawing to a close. The night before I had gone to the salon to get my hair cut after seeing how fantastic Debi's hair turned out. The Scottish stylist, Emma knew exactly what I wanted before I finished explaining. She gave me a great cut and just when I thought she was finished she went back in and cut out what looked like enormous swaths of long hair.

There was a gasp from my entourage. We'd all been the cheering section for Debi when she got her hair cut and now they were there to be my moral support. There was a lot of hair on the floor. It looked amazing when she finished blowing it out and curling it.

It has never looked remotely like that one time since I returned home. 

Our last day at sea was extremely chilly compared to the other days. A cold snap had swept south while we were away so I was glad I'd made the most of the waterslide the day before. We spent our last day reading, laughing, and semi-packing. Packing to go away is so exciting. Packing to go home is always depressing. 

I decided since I've never been on a cruise without my husband before I would make this a trip of other firsts.

I kept a list in my travel journal: 

Girls' Trip Cruise

Having my picture made with the captain.

Getting my hair done.

Going to the dance club. (every night)

Having bacon at all 3 meals one day.

Shopping for jewelry while doing tequila shots

Doing the Cuban Shuffle in the ocean.

Getting a henna tattoo.

Dance party in a Mexican taxi.

Eating a Guy's Burger Joint burger. Ahem...on the daily. 

Trying almond and chocolate tequila.

Going to Guest Services myself to get my bill straightened out. (usually my husband's job)

Salsa lesson.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Girls Trip: Departing NOLA Aboard the Triumph

 Our ship set sail on St. Patrick's Day, but the first order of business that day was shopping on Royal Street. It's my favorite street in the Quarter full of unique little gift shops, antique stores, and art galleries. We picked up some goodies and headed back to the hotel for our car and drove to the Port. I'd never parked in the Cruise Parking before but it was the easiest thing ever and the porters come right to the car to get your bags out and whisk them away.

After we parked we headed down to get to the escalators to go up and through security and check-in. As I stepped onto the escalator I started to cry. My crew was worried about me and I could hardly talk to tell them that they were tears of joy. First I knew how much my bestie, Debi was going to LOVE cruising, but also I appreciate every single wonderful thing that I ever get to do and don't take anything for granted. So I had a little moment as we headed up to get in line.

My girls totally got me. 

Check-in was easy peasy and before we knew it we were on the ship with drinks and food. Later as the ship sailed down the river Debi asked me if I wanted to split a burger from Guy's Burger Joint. "Oh sure. Why not?"

Y'all. This was my first burger in 7 years. 

Apparently, the answer to yesterday's question: Who are we? (for me, at least)  is someone who listens to rap and eats beef.

Did burgers always taste like this? Is Guy putting crack in the burgers? Is it so good because I haven't had one in so long?  I should probably just confess that I had one every day. 

After organizing our things for the week we headed out to dinner and a show. Then we settled in at karaoke. The fun thing about karaoke is that some of it is surprisingly good and some of it is, well...awful. The best thing is when the bad singers are having the most fun and the crowd tries to help them out by singing along. Karaoke became a nightly event for us.

 I need to tell you a funny thing that happened. 

One of the bad singers was a young guy who took his shirt off in the middle of his song which was hilarious. Later, while someone else was singing a guy in the crowd yelled: "Dude, take your pants off!" Someone in our party didn't hear it and my friend pointed to the guy and repeated what he said.

Just in time for a man to turn around.  All he heard was "Dude, take your pants off."  and to see her pointing in his direction. He looked a startled as she tried to explain, but you can't unring that bell. Whenever we saw him afterward he was known as No Pants Guy.

"Look, No Pants Guy is over there."

"No Pants Guy is here with his sons."

"No Pants Guy's sons are laughing and pointing at us."

Any trip is enhanced by a running joke. They tend to be among the "You had to be there" stories but I know you are my people. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Girls Gone Mild: Our Girls' Trip Begins

I have a fun hangover. But it's Saturday, and I'm keeping up with my three posts a week one of which has to happen today. Last Friday my oldest friend, Debi, and I, her daughter, Casey, and niece, Maggie drove to New Orleans to catch a cruise to Mexico the next day. This was what Maggie wanted to do for her 21st birthday.

Here's a secret: if you ask me to go on a cruise I'm in. No occasion necessary. 

We rode down in a driving rainstorm the entire way listening to rap. Now, if you had asked me before I got in the car if I liked rap I would have said no and probably made a face like you were asking me how I felt about root canals. I can't even imagine what I would have said if you had asked if I wanted to be in a car for 7 hours listening to it.


By the time I got out of that car, I had started a new Spotify playlist that included Nelly and Juicy J. According to Debi's Fitbit, she had taken 7 thousand steps in the backseat of the car. You can't sit still when listing to Lil Mama and Ludacris. Just sayin'.

We kept looking at each other and saying "Who are we right now?" 

No. seriously. Who. Are. We?

We arrived in The Big Easy, checked into our hotel, and headed out to the Quarter in search of food, drinks, and beignets. We happened upon a restaurant called Deja Vu and fulfilled everyone's po' boy requirement. While we were settling our bill a Saint Patrick's Day parade went right by and we racked up several handfuls of beads.

We also ran into some ladies dressed like bees and a man dressed as their beekeeper. Not sure what the connection is to Irish saints but if you've been to New Orleans you know that things don't always have to make sense. Like all the men in kilts. Only in my mind did I say, "Wrong country, guys." Details aren't all that important in party mode.

Next up was the legendary Cafe DuMonde. Afterward, I had hoped to take them to the Bombay Club but that secret is apparently out and it was packed to the brim. My next choice was the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone, but it was also filled to overflowing. We managed to snag some drinks from the bar and sit in the beautiful lobby and chat nonstop.

I did mention it was a girls trip, right? 

Y'all I actually lost my voice from so much talking! The rest of the week I sounded like a cross between Bonnie Raitt and James Earl Jones.

The communication only stopped when we collapsed into our beds that night and dreamt of palm trees and glimmering seas.

Just kidding. We all had the weirdest dreams that night. 

*black and white photo compliments of Maggie Murray
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