Friday, January 7, 2011

Amtrak to Minnesota and Back

Foreshadowing the 2010 Amtrak Across America trip, I boarded the Empire Builder for the eight-hour trip to the Twin Cities. Southwest hadn’t started flying Chicago to Minneapolis yet, so this was $112 round-trip vs. $400 round-trip by air. I had decided not to drive – too big a detour – and I still wanted to see my loved ones there. This way I had a chance to do some of the reading for my class! My friend Paul met me at the station, late at night. It was remarkable how many people were going all the way west on the multi-day train; at the time I thought maybe I too would take a long train ride someday, but I had no idea I would be doing it the very next year!

The next morning, I saw my cousin Alexander and his family! They had moved to the U.S. just before I moved to Morocco, and were about to move back to the Netherlands. So we weren’t on the same continent for very long – but at least we were able to see each other once! What a lovely family – my, how the kids have grown since I last saw them in 2001! And of course the adults remain as young and beautiful as ever. We got pastry from a nearby shop, and Alexander made a rusk-and-aged-Dutch-cheese treat (the secret – margarine!). We talked, looked at pictures, and all too soon it was time to go. It had snowed overnight, so I was glad other people were driving!

Paul and I then went to the State Capitol in St. Paul for a tour. Most of the other people on the tour were students for whom it must have been a class assignment and their parents, which added an element of fun to it. A classical white building with a tall dome, and again, some interesting tidbits of state history. We then went to a place called The Global Marketplace. I was particularly attracted to both the Tibetan and the Hmong hill tribe products – maybe I should have bought more in Thailand, but it’s nice to know I can get them here too.

We then went to the Minneapolis Institute of the Arts; I’ve been to visit Paul many times and there are still many things we haven’t done! This is a nice museum, with a permanent collection that has a little bit of everything. We weren’t there long, but saw some Asian, some Prairie School, some period rooms, some Impressionists, and other random things. We were on the way to Trader Joe’s to get stroopwafels (Alexander’s suggestion) when I spied a bus shelter ad and we had to go around the block to photograph it. The message – “Never have to start sentences with ‘I should’ve’ ” – rings true for me. Paul, Tom and I had dinner at their favorite local French bistro. What a wonderful day!

On Sunday morning, the scheduled 7:50 didn’t leave until about 9:00 am; none of my trains in 2010 was significantly delayed. We did make up some of the time, and since we were traveling during the day, I saw some beautiful snow-covered country on the way back. With the Mississippi River, lakes, and glacial hills, it was a very pretty ride. My dining-car lunch companions were band instrument repairmen – very fun! I dozed a little and continued reading the book for my class. Dinner was back in Chicago with my friend Karen (we had to finish our Friday conversation!) and then I watched the Oscars with Edie and family – something of a culture shock, since I hadn’t seen most of the movies and didn’t recognize many of the celebrities (they didn’t either, though…). I went through the big green suitcase and found more laundry to do and got some dry cleaning together.

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