Fun with Amtrak

I firmly believe that, in Europe at least, trains are the best, most comfortable way to travel. Sure, for long distances they take longer than planes, but once you factor in the travel to and from the airport, the waiting, the security, the baggage carousel – well, it adds up. On a train, you arrive ten minutes early, get on, and go. There’s hardly ever any delays. The seats are also bigger. I’m almost 5’11”, and it’s nice to have a bit of room to stretch out.

In Spain, the major line is Renfe. There are the typical trains, which aren’ts slow, but certainly aren’t bullet trains. However, my absolute favorite way to travel is the Ave. The word ave in Spanish means bird. These trains go up to 186 mph. On the line from Madrid to Seville (in southern Spain, a journey of several hours), the line guarantees arrival within five (!!) minutes of the advertised time and offers a full refund if it is delayed beyond that time window. But only 0.16% have this happen to them! As you can see, they are quite reliable.

I had never ridden on the Amtrak from my hometown to Chicago before last year, when I went to pick up the boyfriend at O’Hare airport. The morning train was uneventful and we arrived early. There is no real station here, just a place where the train stops briefly to pick up any passengers that might be waiting there at 6:50am, the only time the train comes. Union Station in Chicago, however, is another story. I think madhouse would be an appropriate way to describe it. People are absolutely everywhere. There is a line to get on the train starting around 20 minutes before the scheduled departure. All of this chaos contributes to a general sentiment of stress and haste. I too felt the need to line up, even if it was entirely unnecessary.

On my first trip, we weren’t delayed, but once we left, we actually stopped and went backward. I kid you not. You may not find this crazy, but in Europe, they do. Their system is so well planned that things like that just do not happen. The second trip was similar, but our train was delayed ~30 minutes. After leaving, we stopped several times to wait for who knows what. We arrived home two hours late. This is not unusual. Unfortunately. I suppose we are so used to delays in travel (with airplanes and the like) that not many complain. But once you go Europen rail, you can hardly go back.

I guess it’s a good thing I’ll be heading across the pond in a few weeks. Yes, my visa came! I am very excited, more so because Mario is here, learning the American way of life: drinking milkshakes, eating hamburgers, and experiencing everything humidity has to offer him (i.e., bucketloads of sweat). September 7th—goodbye Amtrak, hello Ave!

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