The USA Rail passes I had purchased gave us 30 days to take up to 12 rides (in Coach) on almost any Amtrak line, getting on and off anywhere we chose. Of course, we still had to make reservations to be sure to have a seat in the event that the train was full. Additionally, we were able to upgrade along the way if we wanted to, and if a sleeping berth was available. I had had to change my reservations more than once both before our departure and then along the way and on every occasion, we found Amtrak's customer service to be exemplary! I know I sound like a commercial, but I will gladly give them some free advertisement because it was that good! We are not inveterate travelers and I had a lot of questions to ask when I called and I never felt rushed or cut short; rather, it was quite the opposite and I was, and still am impressed!
As I said in Pt. 1 of this saga, the train was 2 hours late leaving Savannah and I was concerned that my Spark friend, Cathy (LECATES - fearless leader of the Almost Empty Nesters team) would be inconvenienced by the delay, as the traffic in DC is fairly hideous at times. But the train was able to make up quite a bit of time once leaving GA and I think we arrived at Union Station just about 30 behind schedule, so Cathy was able to avoid the worst of rush hour.
Planning what clothes to pack for this trip was a challenge because we were starting out in Florida, but would be making our way through DC, Chicago and Seattle before heading back to California. The polar vortex had been wreaking havoc in Chicago and DC was covered in snow when we left California, and who knew what Seattle would be doing by the time we got there! I knew we would need lots of layers but it all had to fit into two carry-on suitcases and be manageable for the two of us when combined with the several other bags of miscellaneous necessities (our pillows and travel blankets, our electronic devices, my 2 knitting bags, my CPap machine, and my purse) that had to come along. Needless to say, we were thrilled to see sunshine in Maryland!
By order of my husband, I need to tell you about our first contact with Cathy. By the time we had gathered our luggage and were headed toward the front door of Union Station, my cellphone was ringing. It was Cathy, saying that she couldn't find any place to park and she needed a bathroom SOON! We made our way to the front of the station and stood where we would be most visible and waited for her to find her way back. We soon saw a woman waving from a car quite a way back in the queue for loading and unloading passengers. Traffic was stopped, so we hurried to where she was and before the traffic could move forward, she had jumped out of the car, greeted us, tossed Steve the keys and she and I hustled back inside the station to find the ladies' room, leaving Steve to take his time loading the car! (First things FIRST, you know!) The reason I had to tell this part of our story is because my Prince said that I had to tell everyone that Cathy and I, upon meeting for the very first time, IMMEDIATELY had to do the "girl thing" and run to the ladies room together! We laughed later when Steve asked Cathy, "How did you know we were the right couple? You could have been giving your car keys to a stranger!" Cathy told him that, at that moment, she didn't really care! We can all relate, right ladies?
Here is a photo of the inside hall of Union Station in DC. (the restrooms are all the way on the other side!)
We had to run through this huge room...
and then through this room...
...to get to the Ladies Room!
Then back all the way out to this covered area just outside the front of the station where my husband was trying to wave cars past him as he waited for the two crazy women who had run off and left him standing out there.
We enjoyed the rest of the day in DC just walking the Mall, visiting museums, chatting and getting more acquainted. We spent most of our time Friday in the Holocaust Museum--that's not a place to rush through--then walked down to another museum to have lunch. I think I logged 12,000 steps that day, if I remember correctly, and we barely noticed with all the fun we were having. Steve insisted on riding in the backseat all the time and now I see why--but I don't know why he was taking pictures of the backs of our heads!
Cathy and her husband were delightful hosts and made us feel right at home in their guest room. In the four days we stayed with them, we walked the trail through the park and zoo, toured their town and saw the school where Cathy works and took a trip to Ocean City where we sampled some very decadent Thrasher's Fries, among other things. We went to dinner with Cathy's mother at a great little dinner house that is owned by some old family friends where they specialize in home-style Eastern Shore cooking. Everything was fabulous and we all ate too much--at least I did! Back at the house, Steve and I taught Cathy to play a couple of our favorite card games and then on Sunday we attended Cathy's church and met more of her friends. (Most of my pics of these days are on my Spark Page)
Monday was our last day in Maryland and it was as if we had saved the best for last--we were going north to meet the ferry from New Jersey that would bring Dianne (DIANNEMT), another friend and Empty Nester! We were SO excited to finally be able to meet face to face!
Do we look excited?
A happy trio~
Then it was, "Where should we go that we can sit and talk for a few hours?"
Panera was perfect!
The time flew by WAY too quickly! We talked and laughed and joked and ate and took pictures--Steve took some with Dianne's IPad that caught some wonderful expressions (that she said would be deleted as soon as she got home!)--and then it was time to take her back to the ferry, but first...
...that's right--a trip to the Ladies' room! (and aren't we all glad I brought my Prince so he could document it?)
Cathy and I both wished we could have kept Dianne with us a bit longer, or that we might all have been able to meet up with others from our team. It was not meant to be this time, but our visit encouraged us all to look for opportunities to meet up with some of our long-time online Spark friends. I think we all agree that it helped to cement our friendships even more and make them more tangible--and it showed my husband that the time I spend on the computer is time spent with real people who really care about me! What a treat!
Saying goodbye to Dianne wasn't as much fun as saying hello~
One more night to play cards with Cathy and then back to the train station. Next stop: Chicago!