The Cardinal Train and Chicago

Hey, y’all! This is Sharon with Tourist in your Town! In this episode, I’m going to talk about the train from Cincinnati to Chicago and my first day in Chicago. I’m going to tell you about one of the most beautiful, hidden in plain site train stations I have ever seen. Also, why did I spend the extra money for a roomette? How glad was I that I did? And more importantly, what was my first beer in Chicago.

Cincinnati Union Terminal Station

Did I mention how my sister found me a hotel right around the corner from the train station? Literally, one right turn, one left turn. Boom! You’re there. My train was leaving at 1:15am, so I got there around 12:15am. The beauty of the train, y’all. No need to get there two hours early for security checks. Okay, now I’m going to tell you about Cincinnati Union Terminal Station. I am absolutely obsessed with it. It originally opened as a passenger station in 1933. It is an art deco dream. Built to service over 6 different railroads, it is huge! Service to the station declined over the years and in 1972 Amtrak moved into a smaller station nearby. In 1980, a shopping center called the Land of Oz opened inside the station. I bet that was gem. It closed in 1985. The building sat empty for several years. Then, in 1990, two museums got together and renovated the terminal, opening as the Cincinnati Museum Center. Amtrak moved back in in 1991. The building was completely restored to its former glory in 2018. It currently houses the Cincinnati History Museum, the Museum of Natural History and Science, Robert D. Lindner Family Omnimax Theater, Cincinnati History Library and Archives, Duke Energy Children’s Museum, Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center, and several food services. There is also an event space available. I’m telling y’all right now, this place is just beautiful. I could go on and on about the designers and the architecture. But this is a travel podcast, not an architecture lesson! But be sure to visit the blog to see pics! Unfortunately, I was not able to visit any of the museums as they were closed when I was there. Did I mention it was 1:15am? A quick note about parking. I parked right in the front of the lot, no other cars to be seen. I left my car there for a week with no issues. Also, it was free. But that could change. It seemed everybody else got dropped off. I am not lying when I tell you, there were no other cars in the lot. The Amtrak part is in the rear of the station. There are signs everywhere. Now here is where airlines and Amtrak are similar, if your bag is too big, it has to be checked. But the first 2 bags are free.

The train rolled in on time. It was a little rainy and we did have to wait for just a minute outside. No biggie, there were overhangs that kept me from getting too wet. Be sure to check out the video of the train coming into station. It’s on the blog! The sleeper car is in the rear of the train, so I had to wait alone. Which was fine. While everyone was wearing a mask, they weren’t doing a great job of social distancing. Okay, so why did I get a roomette for the 9 hour ride? First, I was traveling alone and I knew that I would never feel comfortable enough to sleep with a bunch of strangers around. Also, Amtrak requires that you wear your mask at all times in the coach area. I knew that I did not want to do that. I am glad that I spent the extra on the roomette. It was totally worth it. When you board, the sleeping-car attendants ask your name. They do not scan your ticket at this time. They tell you your room number and you can take your own bags back or they will do it for you, if you need it. A quick note here, they prefer sleeping-car attendant to porter. Once we got rolling, the attendant, I believe her name was Melinda, came back to check on me. She told me she would come by in a bit to get my breakfast order. Apparently, they bring your meal to your room on the Cardinal. There is a food service car, but it is not a dining car like on the Crescent. This is possibly because of the current pandemic. I did not understand this and when I got up, I went to the food service car myself for breakfast. When I came back, my bed had been broken down into seats. Which was fine. But this would cause an issue for me later. But you will have to wait until I get to the last episode of this trip to find out. Breakfast options were basics like oatmeal, muffin, yogurt, cold cereal, a breakfast sandwich, or omelet. I just had the yogurt and a coffee. But those were the free options for sleeper car folks. They had other stuff on the menu, like bagels and other snacks. After breakfast, I made my way back to my room. There’s a video of the actual roomette on the blog. It is a very small space. Great for one person or two people who really like each other. But I wouldn’t try to get much more than that in there.

We arrived in Chicago on time, about 10am. I had already ordered up an Uber and they were waiting for me. I went straight to my hotel, the Hilton at Magnificent Mile. I chose not to stay at an Airbnb or VRBO – vacation rental by owner, because it was actually a little cheaper than either. I did not want to rent just a room in someone’s space. Because of Covid, I did not feel comfortable with that. Also, it seems like a fairly safe area and almost everything I wanted to do was in walking distance Turns out this was a good decision on my part, since getting an Uber anywhere started at $35 and went up from there. Now, Chicago has public transportation and I hear that it is dependable and easily navigated. But, well, I just don’t trust myself. I’ve been known to get on the wrong train, going the wrong way. But if I get lost walking, I can orient myself fairly easily. Plus I get to take so many pics when I’m walking. The hotel allowed me to check in early. I have never had a problem with this at a Hilton hotel, whether it’s a Hampton, a Hilton, or a Doubletree. Plus I get points and can usually get a free night pretty quickly. The room was very nice. It was actually a suite, with a small living room, a bedroom, and a nice bathroom.

When I got to the room, I put all my stuff down and tried to take a nap. The neighbors had a VERY loud child. I started to ask for another room, but did not. Fortunately, they left that day. I never heard another peep.

At lunch, I headed out to find beer and food. A quick note about this area. It is hotels, a large hospital, and high end shopping. Restaurants were off of the main road, Michigan Avenue. And many of them did not open until later in the day. None of the restaurants listed on the Hilton websites was open. There was a sushi place that had to go only. I had to walk several blocks before I found Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap.

My first beer in Chicago was the Wigsplitter by 3 Floyds Brewing Company in Indiana. Nope, not a local brew. It seemed all the local breweries were offering up IPAs and the occasional Oktoberfest. We all know how I feel about IPAs. While I like a good Okt oberfest, I wanted something dark and bitter and foamy. I got the dark and foamy part. The Wigsplitter is an Oatmeal Coffee Stout made with espresso. It has an ABV of 7.7%. It’s dark and thick and very pretty. See pics on the blog. But it was a little rich for my tastes. I was looking for a beer that I could drink several of. This was not it. This was a one and done deal. My next beer was an Unfiltered German Lager from Solemn Oath Brewery in Illinois. It was slightly bitter and not in the way I like. It started out crisp and simple, but finished with a hoppy taste. For lunch I had the Charred Hot Link Sandwich. This is a charred hot link, a slightly spicy sausage, on a brioche bun, topped with cole slaw, jalapenos, and bbq sauce. It comes with fries. The jalapenos are fresh sliced and added a nice spicy finish. The fries were, well, fries. A decent lunch at what seemed to be a local favorite.

I spent more time walking around, taking pics. I like to spend time just getting my bearings and noting landmarks, so I can find my way back to the hotel easily. There was a nap. For dinner, I had spotted an Pub nearby, so y’all know I headed straight for it, like a homing pigeon. It was actually a sports bar and was packed. Timothy O’Toole’s Pub is definitely a local favorite for meeting after work, watching sports, or just drinking. I found a spot at the bar where I was not wedged in with a bunch of other folks. While everyone was wearing masks when entering and exiting. They seemed to forget all protocol when at the bar. Now, I’m about to blow your mind, I did not order a Guinness. I ordered an Oktoberfest from Revolution Brewing, located in Chicago. This is a traditional Oktoberfest which I actually enjoyed. The bitterness from the hops, listed at 25 IBUs, was minimal. I actually enjoyed this beer so much, that I bought a six pack for my room. I don’t know why, but I just don’t seem to be my normal hungry self when I travel. So, I just got a snack. I ordered the Pretzel Trio – local pretzels, beer cheese, IPA mustard, & honey mustard. The pretzels are cut up and toasted – see pics. They were delicious on their own. The mustards were both excellent. The beer cheese made me sad and I did not get beer cheese in Chicago again. Chicago is a great place for other things, I’ll tell you about those in later episodes, but not beer cheese. How do I know this wasn’t just a one off at this one place? Because the woman sitting next to me told me how Timothy O’Toole’s had the best beer cheese in Chicago. And then a guy sat next to me, saw what I was eating and also declared how great the beer cheese was. I finished off with a Guinness and went back to my room and slept like a weary traveler.

Thanks for listening! Be sure to like, subscribe, follow, and share with friends and family! Find me on all social media, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube, all under Tourist in your town. Visit the blog for some great pics of the Cincinnati Union Terminal Station. Stay safe, stay hydrated, and pack light, y’all!

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