An email from Amtrak the evening before told of a service disruption which was delaying the train from the west coast by so many hours that the company was going to provide a coach to take passengers from St. Paul to Chicago by road. It was a sensible decision by Amtrak to ensure that at least some of the passengers bound for Chicago would get there as scheduled, but it was a huge disappointment for me.
With no rail service between Jacksonville and New Orleans, I'd already had to accept that l couldn't go all the way around the US by rail, but this unexpected interruption meant that I wouldn't have traveled the whole length of the exisiting Empire Builder route, and I was fairly certain that the views from the highway would not be nearly as interesting as the views from the train.
Amtrak was vague about the reason for the service disruption so I wasn't sure whether it meant they were taking the train out of service altogether before St. Paul. I toyed with the idea of delaying our departure until the next day's train, but, given Amtrak were offering alternative transport, we would have had to buy new tickets.
Still required to be at St. Paul's Union Depot for the original departure time of 8.03am, we were delighted to discover that the train was still running, but three hours behind schedule, and it was up to us whether we took the coach or waited for the train. Given we had no onward connections to make, the decision required no thought at all!
We left our luggage in the Amtrak office and wandered, rather aimlessly I have to say, around the downtown area until we hit on the idea of revisiting a bakery that we had discovered the previous evening. Cossetta is a fabulous Italian food market and pasticceria on 7th Street West offering a mouth-watering display of pastries, cakes and ice-cream. I managed to resist the temptation to have cake for breakfast (why? I ask myself now.) but did stock up on some goodies for the train. If you ever are in St. Paul, I'd highly recommend a visit!
The station was built in 1926 but completely renovated in 2011-2012. It played an important role in the history of the area with as many as 20,000 people arriving and departing on a daily basis in the 1920's. Murals, 16 feet tall, depict scenes from different eras of train travel in the region.
The journey to Chicago took us alongside the Mississippi River for 140 miles until we came to La Crosse just over the Minnesota/Wisconsin State Line.
|Last look at the Mississippi|
No offense to Wisconsin, but the scenery was decidedly less interesting after La Crosse, mostly farmland with lots and lots of cows! It reminded me somewhat of England. Luckily, the journey across the state took under four hours, a short hop compared to some of the other states we have crossed on this trip.
Our eventual arrival into Chicago was four hours later than scheduled, but to my mind the delay was worth it for the satisfaction of riding the Empire Builder from one end to the other.