Chicago is the largest city in Illinois and the third largest city in the United States. To visit Illinois, you will probably fly into Chicago O'Hare Airport, one of the busiest airports in the world! It's a very large place and rather intimidating, especially to foreign travelers and smalltown citizens. Just remember, there are plenty of people in uniform whom you are able to approach & ask questions & directions. The signs throughout the various terminals are well positioned & easy to read. Just act as though you know what you are doing!
If you take a train into Chicago, it will be on the Amtrack and will come into Union Station, one of the last grand American railway stations. Daniel Burnham (Chicago's famous architect) was responsible for this wonderful complex that was incorporated in two different buildings on either side of Canal street & connected to each other by a tunnel.
My photo is of the large waiting room known as The Great Hall located in the West Side Building. The East Side Building was the concourse with its glass vaulted concourse, but it was demolished in 1969 & replaced by office buildings.
The station has 2 sets of tracks, 10 leading northbound & 10 leading southbound. It was renovated in 1992, and in 2002, Union Station was designated a Chicago Landmark
Many people decide to drive to Chicago, & that is a frightening ordeal, especially during rush hour. Chicago is a hub for transportation; thus, there are several large highways leading into the city.
From the West
North and Northeast
Lake Shore Drive
Dan Ryan Expressway
Chicago Skyway from Indiana
See what I mean? It boggles the mind
This is pretty basic information, but I'm surprised how many people in the US don't know it...
The US interstate and highway system does make sense and even without an atlas you can figure out your general direction and area if you're lost.
The odd numbered roads run North to South
The even numbers run East to West
The higher numbered North/South Interstates are in the Eastern US (I-95, for example runs from Maine to Florida) and the lower numbers are on the West Coast (I-5 from the Canada/Washington border to the California/Mexico Border)
The higher numbered East/West routes cross the country from the North (I-90, I-80) and the lower numbers are in the South (I-10)
Interstates with 3 numbers indiciate a spur or beltway, in most cases...if you're thinking about taking one of them, keep this in mind:
If the 1st number is odd, it goes into a city, if it's even, it goes around a city (like 395 into DC or 495 around it) Depending upon the time of day, you may be better off sticking with the original interstate. I find this to be especially true with I-85 through Atlanta...
The principle highway system follows the odd numbers: north/south system; even numbers: east /west. There were the main roads for quite some time until the Interstate system was put into place.
A lot of times, they parallel interstates...a good one to take is US rt. 11 which straddles Interstate 81 for a long time (NY state to Tennessee and then I-75 and I-59 to New Orleans.) A lot of that drive is very scenic, but
In the east you'll find that taking a highway rather than interstate will eat up a lot of your time--you'll hit every small town and with that, every single traffic light and signal. In the west, it's a great option in some of the not so populated areas of Kansas, Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana, etc...
State Routes don't make as much sense--sometimes they do follow this pattern, but don't count on it.
If you're not in a hurry and don't want to drive, definitely consider Amtrak. Lots of people from the US don't really think about it as an option and train travel is certainly less popular here than it is in other parts of the world. That could be because in the east, it's expensive. The Acela is a "high speed" train through the megaopolis region and pretty much if you can drive there in a reasonable time, but opt of the train, it's going to be pricy. Longer distances are extremely low priced, though. You can find specials that will take you across the country for less than $150. There's also 30 day passes and extended options like that so you can stop where you want to. I enjoy the train if I don't need to be anywhere at a certain time. I like the people--many are not from the US--I like the room (I always just take coach b/c I'm small and can fit comfortably in the seats), I like the sightseer car and the lounge...all good things:)
However, remember to take your own food and drinks with you. It will save you a ton of money in the long run and let me tell you, three days on a train...you're going to get sick of the options available onboard and the times you can eat.
I agree with the reporter, Frank Clines who said, "The D.C. Metro is one of the wonders of the Western World. It's still as pristine now as it was when it opened over twenty years ago." As a visitor to Washington, I was amazed at the efficiency, reliablity, and safety (not to mention cleanliness) of this city's subway system...Of all the large cities that I have visited, it is, by far, the best.
Part of the reason it remains so clean is that the trains themselves are constructed from "graffiti-resistant material". Also, the organization itself is efficient; even the maps that they hand out are easy to follow. This subway is built deep underground because of Washington's swampy terrain. Thus, you have to ride long escalators to reach most Metro stops. But, what the heck, they are fun. If you have an opportunity, take a look up when on the Dupont Circle escalator. I'm sure that you will agree that it is really something.
One of the reasons that I was so surprised about the great Metro is because I had read that the city of Washington was notoriously bad with public services. They supposedly have poor snowplowing services as well as trash pick-up.
Note: Remember not to throw away your ticket. You will need it
I just wanted to include positive comments about this wonderful city.
If you wanna save money (although sometimes you can get really cheap airfares), it's best to travel by bus! I didn't see many other bus companies, except Greyhound and Peter Pan. The prices of both are almost the same. Schedules are pretty convenient and these buses will take you from one end of the States to the other! Buses are equipped with toilets and will most likely show a movie during the trip. Always watch out for pick-pockets at the bus stops...
Having a Car is essential in America. There is no way around it. The distances can be vast, public transportation seems to be restricted to the the cities and some very rare overland lines ... try to find a train, it's a challenge.
So if there are cars, there are roads. Most of them are also very excellent.
Highways can have up to 5 lines (in one direction).
Now, how do I drive there? That is what I learned about it:
Once you are on the road and on a spur, you just stay there. There is no fast lane changing like in Europe, you can also overtake on the right - as long as you stay on your line. If there actually is a slower driving vehicle in your way, then you can change.
Drive as fast as the others do (which can be up to 10 miles more than signaled).
Driving around in Amerika (especially on the overland roads) is a lot more relaxing than say in .. Europe.
No "always on the left side" drivers, no nervous lane changers, no pushers from behind.
You see ... I liked it.
travelling america by bicycle makes you see all the little places in between the big sites that you would just drive past if you were in a car and it makes you meet some of the coolest people in th US.
your bicycle creates a lot of positive attention and i have been invited to join people all along the coast because they could see i was doing a long tour and were interested in hearing about it.
this is definetly the best way to explore america.
Amtrak is a more comfortable alternative to Greyhound. Think about it, if you get put next to a passenger you don't like, you can always try to find another seat in another car or escape for a time in the dining car. CAUTION: don't eat the food! Go to Harris-Teeter or some other supermarket and pack yourself a meal fit for a king before taking a long train trip. Unlike Europe, the trains are seldom on time. North of Washington's Union Station, Amtrak owns the railroad track so the on-time rate is pretty good in the Northeast corridor. South of the Potomac River, the railways are owned by freight companies and Amtrak has to give way to them. It was on Amtrak in November, 2004 that I learned the term civilised minute. Just outside of Ashland (on a short jaunt from Alexandria, VA) into Richmond, the conductor said we would be in Richmond in 10 civilised minutes. By my estimation, 1 civilised minute is about 90 seconds. Therefore, 10 civilised minutes are 15 regular minutes. Conductors on Amtrak's Carolinian (running through Richmond from New York to Charlotte) joke, "If it gets there (Charlotte) an hour late, it's early."
I have traveled both to and around the United States by Amtrak train. Paradoxically I think that it is both the most comfortable but most inconvienent way to travel around this huge country. Why this is the case is the fact that schedules are not exactly all that convienent for those traveling great distances across the United States. Train connections between to points considerably distanct can be infequent. Often there is only one train per day and it might through the point of departure at anytime such as 3am. However the routes between the large East Coast cities are suitable for travelers. If you are traveling from New York to Washington, then I highly recommend the train.
Another problem with Amtrak is that it can be expensive. A train from Toronto to Chicago is only about $50.00 less than a flight by plane providing that you book the flight a few weeks in advance. I have taken this particular train trip and I actually had a good time. I planned the trip on short notice so the cost of the flight was way too much. At thirteen hours that journey was the longest train trip I had ever taken. However the fact that the trains are quite comfortable with large seats and a restaurant compartment, I actually enjoyed the journey. There was one minor problem and that was that the train arrived in Chicago about one hour and fifteen minutes behind schedule. Sadly this is another of Amtraks faults. They are often late.
Finally I never had any of these problems while traveling along the Eastern Coast and as I said before, I highly recommend this way of getting around to plane travel.
For a long time, many residents of New Jersey and Delaware wanted a fixed connection between the two states. However, the shipping industry's strong opposition and its political clout on Capitol Hill postponed the inevitable construction of the Delaware Memorial bridge until the late 1940s for opening to traffic in 1951. The shippers were opposed to any bridge on the Delaware River below Philadelphia because of fears the bridge would be built so low as to obstruct larger vessels. For 17 years, there was only one span, but a second one was completed in 1968 at nearly twice the cost of the original. The bridge spans 2150 feet (655 m.) across the Delaware river from Wilmington, Delaware to Pennsville, New Jersey.
Another good transportation option in the U.S.A is the trains.The National Railways company it is called "Amtrak" and you will find train stations in almost all small,medium or big cities inside the United States.
There are many diferent trains it depends of the speed and where you wants to go.I was a little bit surprised to learn what expensive is use the trains in the states,many times it is more expensive that use a plane,if you compares with prices that we got in Europe,exatly in Spain.
As a little example this is the price for a return ticket from New York to Washington D.C Union Station with the train "Regional Service" the price is of ....$152
There are a few kind of trains:
Picture of an old train taken at Flagstaff train station (Arizona)
Renting a small plane like the one on my picture may be a good idea if you are travelling and visiting huge land extensions or National Parks.I rented that one while I was visiting the Grand Canyon National Park.
The price is of $74 for a 40 minutes flight,and really I enjoyed very much this trip and the views were awesome!!!.Also there are small planes from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon.The company I choosed it was: AIR GRAND CANYON,there are a few of them there to choose from and also in rest of the country!,
I was 3 times in America, each time travelling around in a Camper.
This is really easy here, you will find lots of campingplaces, mostly no need to book ahead.
The one exception would be in highly touristic areas, when you are there in the shool holidays...
The Campers can be really big ones, too, ther is obviously no space problem in America and even in the Cities you still find big enough praking spaces
Amtrak is the only nation wide passenger train system in the USA.
Amtrak started in 1971 as a government bailout of private railroad passenger trains. Those companies continue to operate freight service and own the track. As the lines in most locations continue to be owned by railroad companies that now only operate freight trains Amtrak is not a priority.
See also "Why is Amtrak so Expensive", below.
There are only so many seats and most routes operate fairly infrequently. Sometimes daily, sometimes three times per week, and sometimes frequent. Even frequent Northeast trains get sold out. Don't expect to just show up at the ticket counter and be able to board any train. The ticket price is usually far more expensive than if you purchased ahead of time.
Buying tickets online is fairly easy. Once you make a reservation and payment you are given a barcode and reservation number. Scan the barcode at ticket machines in major stations and it will print your tickets. Sometimes "QuickTrak" machines are in a bad mood. If scanning your barcode doesn't immediately produce a screen to review and print your ticket move to another machine.
If your printer has trouble and can't print the barcode or you loose your print you can print later by going to the "My Trip" section of the web site and enter your reservation number.
Small stations require purchase of the ticket from the conductor.
What are the Cars Like?
Usually better than airline coach but there variety. Some of the cars ride a little rough as they are over 50 years old. Superliners used on many long distance routes are over 30 years old. One state is rebuilding cars from the 1950s for their regional Amtrak trains. Washington and Oregon use Spanish Talgo trains quite different from anything else. California has regional cars (naturally called "California Cars") based on Superliners but a different interior layout.
Problems with track are felt pretty strongly on top levels of Superliners, and it may be a good idea to have motion sickness medication available if prone to this, or try to request a lower level seat. Usually it isn't necessary but there is some rough track in places.
My tip About the Empire Builder and Coast Starlight in Oregon and Washington helps expand information on Superliners and trains with them.
Some routes only have a snack bar rather than a full dining car.
Meals are included with long distance sleeping car bedrooms.
Coach passengers pay extra for snacks and meals. Meal reservations in the coaches are usually in 15 minute intervals. There is no guarantee that a particular time slot will be available so if you need to eat at a particular time it may be best to purchase meals in the snack bar or bring your own food.
You are not allowed to bring your own alcoholic beverages.
What is the Deal with Delays?
Coast Starlight = Coast StarLATE
Lake Shore Limited = Late For Sure Limited
and many other jokes abound about the railway network to operate passenger trains on time.
As noted in the second paragraph Amtrak operates trains over lines owned by freight railroad companies or sometimes by commuter railroads. Priority for those entities are their own trains. Frequently Amtrak trains wind up waiting for very slow freight trains or frequently stopping commuter traffic.
Some routes do better than others. Find on time performance of various trains on the Amtrak web site. Routes -> Historical On Time Performance, then select the train or service to see how often it has been late in the past. Some are good - 90% or better. Others are terrible. It all has to do with how badly crowded a particular line is, and how good the particular company that owns the line is at operating its traffic.
It is all part of a railroad network horribly under capacity for the amount of traffic.
Why is Amtrak so Expensive?
There are relatively few trains, and in general there is not enough equipment. Trains can and frequently do sell out, especially during peak travel season. Thus, the "yield management" formula for tickets - the closer the train is to being sold out, the higher the ticket price.
It really saves a lot of money if you can book your ticket early as that prevents the ticket formula from going into effect. Instead, you get the standard price.
Example: During 2009 and early 2010, standard ticket between Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington was $29. If many of the seats had sold out, this price would be $39, and if even more seats were sold out it would be $49. A few seats priced in the $52 range. Buying early enough guaranteed $29 even on the popular trains.
A VirtualTourist forums posting asked about getting from Washington DC to Lancaster, Pennsylvania as Amtrak was overpriced. I looked at the web site and found the Amtrak price was $117 for the desired day - but it was only two days away. Checking a month into the future yielded a price of $50. Greyhound buses, which were suggested as a cheaper alternative, were $46 and took an hour longer. Again, planning ahead pays off if you are able to do so.
What is the Deal with Luggage?
Some stations have checked luggage available, and in this case you can have your larger items put in the baggage car. Some of the stations do not have any staff to handle luggage and thus checked luggage is not possible. In some cases, the station is only open during very limited hours and checked luggage is not a possibility for certain trains.
Many passenger car types have lots of space for luggage, and generally you will not have a problem finding a place for most standard sized suitcases. The amount of space depends on the type of equipment, and some of the older stock don't have very large overhead luggage racks. Other cars have luggage racks both above the seats and at the end of the car so that quite large carry on items may be accommodated.
If your suitcase or bag is slightly oversized than the limits posted on Amtrak's web site for luggage size restrictions, chances are you will not have any problems finding a space for it. Sometimes, fairly large bags may be accommodated as hand luggage - especially in the equipment with luggage racks at the end of the car (i.e., Cascades Talgo or certain Superliner or Northeast Regional trains) but it is best to not depend on being able to cram your refrigerator sized bag into the hand luggage area unless you are reasonably familiar with the train and what type of equipment is usually assigned to the route and the available luggage space.
What about Luggage Storage?
Many people have asked about where to store luggage in various cities. Almost always, Amtrak stations are suggested as a possibility but almost always this is not a correct suggestion. As a general rule, Amtrak luggage storage is only for Amtrak passengers, and it must be arranged with the Amtrak checked luggage counter in the station.
As an example, here in Portland, Oregon the charge is $5 per parcel per day, and only for Amtrak passengers. Various facilities in various cities will have different policies.
I Don't Understand the Amtrak Web Site
The current setup has two different areas:
The area on the left side of the home page is best used by those who already are familiar with Amtrak travel and just want a quick way to get what they want. "Tickets" is for making a reservation. "Status" is for those who are wanting to check the arrival or departure status of a train. "Schedules" is for quick lookup of a train schedule without starting a ticket reservation. "My Trip" is for those who already have a reservation code - from here you can enter your reservation code and make reservation changes, reservation cancellations, print the bar code required for ticket printing at the "QuickTrak" ticket printing machines, etc.
The main part of the web page is helpful for those who are less familiar with Amtrak and its web site. "Timetables" gives the printed format timetables for various routes, if you happen to know the train name or service name that serves the area you are interested in taking. "Stations" gives a lookup list of the stations in the Amtrak system, including those that are operated by a Throughway connecting service (bus, boat, or sometimes a train by a different agency or company). There are ways of finding a station by region or a list of stations. "Routes" provides a list of the various Amtrak routes and regions and includes an interactive route guide. If you are not quite certain where the nearest Amtrak station is, or are otherwise not quite certain where you want to go or how to get there, the interactive route Atlas under "Routes" is a good starting place. "Deals" lists various discounts and other special promotions, including a link to some vacation packages. "Plan" includes an assortment of other information about planning a trip on Amtrak, including a basic introduction to things ("Planning and Booking"), station information, on-board the train information, and various other items useful for those unfamiliar with train travel in the USA.
There are several ways of getting discounts on Amtrak. These include American Automobile Association (AAA) membership cards (10% discount) plus student discounts, veterans discounts, etc. These are entered into the system on the web site after the reservation is made, but before the payment is made.
Many discounts are not available on top of other discounts. For example, on a recent local trip I could pay $25 seasonal special, or $28 using full ticket price and AAA discount. It is not possible to get the seasonal special rate and discount again using a AAA membership discount.
Amtrak Guest Rewards is a system that works similar to airline mileage system. There are many partner shopping systems through which one can obtain points to use towards free travel.
Go Dolphins! This Dolphin RV proved to be a $aver$ in the hotel department. There was a lot of money invested in gas, but we could afford more now that the RV had freed up some $ each night as we looked for a campsite that had full hookup.
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