December 11, 2021: On Board the Empire Builder
The time was 10am. I was almost done packing when I remembered to pack some more belongings. After an hour of checking and double checking everything, I was ready for an epic trip across the country. In the evening, I would board a train that goes for about 2,500 miles and traverses more than halfway across the continent. The train would leave at 4:40pm and I wanted to be at the station at least half an hour early. At around 3:50pm, I left the house and took a ride to downtown Portland where the Portland Union Station is. I was debating on taking public transportation there, but I decided that downtown Portland’s safety has very much plummeted since the pandemic. The Union Station was in an area of Portland with homeless tents scattered everywhere.
At around 4:20 in the evening, I reached the Union Station. The Union Station is a nice, older building with architecture dating back to the late 19th century. As I enter the building, pull out my ticket and check in. I then sit down and wait for the train. There were around 100 other people boarding. After around 30 minutes, I realize that the time is close to 5pm and the train is late. Just then, a massive, double decker train arrives.
I pull out my ticket for security to scan. I then walk to the train and sit down at my seat. All the window seats were taken so I had to sit by someone. It was nearing the Winter solstice and the sky was already dark. At around 5:30, the train started to move. At around 6:00, the train came to a halt as another train needed to pass. The largest reason why Amtrak has delays is because Amtrak shares its lines with other freight trains. However, the freight trains got priority so we had to wait. Soon, the train started moving fast. We were already close to 2 hours behind schedule.
One of my favorite aspects about the Empire Builder train is the lounge. The upper deck is covered in glass windows for passengers to look outside and enjoy the scenery. The lower deck has a small food court where people can purchase food and drinks. Passengers who have roomettes get free food and drinks. The roomettes can be very expensive and cost anywhere between $500 to $1000 on the journey. However, the roomette offers some luxuries that are worth the high cost. You can relax and sleep peacefully on a bed instead of a seat. You get wonderful views on the countryside and wilderness in the privacy of your room. Roomettes have bathroom facilities too . The food is free and people can even bring their own alcohol on board as long as they drink it in their room. People in roomettes can lock their room don’t have to worry about their valuables being stolen. I ended up spending roughly $150 on the regular class seating so I had to wear a mask for almost the entire trip as I was traveling during the pandemic when mask mandates were still there. Most of the trip, I didn’t eat much as I wanted to avoid using the public bathroom.
The train would make its way over the Columbia River gorge and then go upwards into central Washington state. The train would soon reach Pasco and then up to Spokane. When the train reached Spokane, a window seat finally opened up. I took the opportunity to sit by the window. I never got to see any scenery since everything was dark. I spent much of the train trip listening to music. Once the train reached Pasco, many people disembarked the train. This gave me a chance to move to a window seat. I continued listening to more music until around midnight when the train made its first break in Spokane, Washington. Many people and I got off to enjoy some fresh air.
The weather was foggy and around 35 Fahrenheit (2 Celsius). There was fog and wind and was very dark. The temperature felt colder due to the wind. The Spokane central station was dark and foggy which gave an eerie ambience. I took a few pictures before everyone was told to board the train. Once I sat down back in my seat, I decided to call it a night and sleep in my seat. The train would move eastbound through Idaho and into Montana.
December 12, 2021: Montana is Massive
At around 7:00am Mountain time, I woke up and see everything in the train is still dark. I had a difficult time falling back asleep despite trying my best. At around 8:00, daylight finally made its arrival. To my pleasant surprise, I was greeted with snow capped mountains. The train stopped at Whitefish, Montana and there was another short break. I got a chance to walk on some snow and ice. The weather was around 30 Fahrenheit (-1 Celsius), but the sky was overcast and the air was windy. I didn’t feel terribly cold since I was wearing a good jacket. It was nice breathing some crisp cold air. After half-an-hour, everyone boarded back on the train. I took my belongings and moved to the lounge where a few passengers were enjoying the scenery.
As we traversed the massive state of Montana, I watched the beautiful snow capped mountains turn into high desert. It was cold so there was still snow on the desert for it to stick. The train would continue on for some hours until we reached Havre, Montana. Unlike Whitefish which looked like a nice mountain resort, Havre looked bleak and miserable. The “snow” on the ground was icy slush. Stepping in that was not a pleasant feeling as my shoes got wet and my feet felt very cold. Once we boarded the train again, I took off my shoes and changed my socks. Fortunately, the train was well heated so my feet felt comfortable shortly afterwards.
Montana is the fourth largest state area-wise after Alaska, Texas and California. The state very much spans horizontally. People would realize just how massive Montana is when traveling across the state. I’m not sure when the train crossed the Idaho-Montana border, but I’m guessing around 4:00am and 5:00am Pacific time and Mountain time respectively. It was dark when we entered Montana, and we were still in Montana when the sun set at around 5:00pm. The train would soon cross into North Dakota at around 7:00pm and 8:00pm Mountain time and Central time respectively. The state border was also the time zone border. Once we crossed into North Dakota, I started feeling a little better as we were getting closer to Chicago. The next break would be Minot, North Dakota. Minot is a large military town so there were a lot of army folks either being dropped off or being picked up. The train reached Minot at around 10:00pm Central time.
There were a few interesting passengers I talked to during the train ride today. One was a person who took another train from California up to Portland and then from Portland to Chicago. Another was a person who worked at an army base in Minot, North Dakota. I had some fun and friendly conversations with them for roughly an hour.
As we reached Minot, I had to use the restroom badly. I felt cold as the temperature was around 20 Fahrenheit (-7 Celsius) and there was lots of snow on the ground. I went inside the Minot station to warm up a little and use the bathroom. I was however scared that the train would leave without me so I made it quick. The train left Minot at 11:00pm and continued eastbound into Minnesota. We were in the same time zone as Chicago, where the train would stop. Through the entire duration of traversing through North Dakota, it was dark. I had a difficult time falling asleep for some reason but eventually I did.
December 13, 2021: First Time Seeing Sunlight in a Long Time
Despite the cold and bad weather, the train traveled quickly. When the sun rose, we were nearing the Twin Cities, also known as the Minneapolis area. As we neared Minneapolis, I decided to have some breakfast in the lounge. Seeing blue skies and sun for the first time in more than a month made me delighted. All the houses were covered in snow and the rivers were icing up. The train passed by Minneapolis and came to a temporary halt at the St. Paul Union Depot, which is the central train station for Minneapolis and St. Paul. This was the last break before reaching Chicago and there was about 8 hours left of the journey.
I went outside the train and touched the powdery snow. I even threw a few powdery snowballs at the train. I was born in St. Paul but my family moved out when I was 6 months old. This was the first time I have been to St. Paul and Minneapolis since I was a small baby. Minneapolis is a wonderful city that has recently gained some infamy by racial riots and racial unrest.
I went back on the train and the train made its way southbound to Chicago. As the train went across the river and into Wisconsin, the snow started to disappear. Quite soon, the scenery was a mix of green and brown. The scenery was surprising since it was December in Wisconsin. Nothing like the brutal cold and snowy landscape that the Midwest is stereotyped with. The train came to a brief halt in Milwaukee where a handful of people got off. I took a few pictures of the Milwaukee central station. At this point, the train would be in Chicago in an hour. The train sped the last 80 miles (130 km) and we finally reached the Windy City at around 4:00pm.
Eventually, there are a bunch of suburban areas before the train reaches Chicago. As the train got closer to Chicago, it slowed down until it reached the Chicago Union Station. Once the train reached the union station, everyone started to disembark as this was the end of one massive train journey. I was delighted that I managed to make it through the entire train journey from Portland to Chicago. Chicago for December was surprisingly warm as it was 50 Fahrenheit (10 Celsius). I grabbed my suitcase and had a bit of a difficulty getting out of the union station. I asked some locals and they were very friendly. After leaving the building, I realized where I was carrying my suitcase and there was a half mile walk to my hotel. The walk was quite brutal as I lifted 55 pounds (22 kg) all the way and took breaks every minute or so. I finally reached the hotel and gave out another sigh of relief.
The hotel I was staying at was the Hyatt Centric Chicago Loop. The Loop is what Chicago’s city center is referred to. It’s a wonderful hotel with a rooftop bar. The rooftop bar is only open during the warmer months of the year. I went in December but the weather was abnormally warm and friendly. Hotels are cheap in Chicago in the colder months but expensive in the Summer and holidays when all the festivals are taking place. Most tourists tend to avoid Chicago in the Winter as the weather is horrid. I took off my jacket and immediately took a shower. I hadn’t showered in 2 days! I put on a new set of clothes and get ready for the evening. I settled my belongings down and decided to walk around the city.
The main tourist attraction in Chicago is the Sears Tower. The Sears Tower is 1,450 feet (442 meters) tall and has a famous observation deck. The observation deck is 1,350 feet (411 meters) high. The Sears Tower is also called the Willis Tower, but everyone refers to the famous skyscraper as the Sears Tower. When it was completed in 1973, the Sears Tower was the tallest skyscraper in the world at the time.This visit however, I decided to pass the Sears Tower since I was there with my family back in Labor Day weekend in 2018. It was extremely crowded and we waited nearly 2 hours to finally reach the observation space. There are other tourist attractions such as Millenium Park and Magnificent Mile I wanted to explore.
The first thing I wanted to do was check out the Chicago Christkindl Market, also known as the Chicago Christmas Market. I stayed there for around an hour and enjoyed some warm Gluhwein and boozy peppermint chocolate. As I went to a table to enjoy a gingerbread cookie, I had a friendly conversation with a local who I shared the table with. After this, I decide to walk immediately north to Magnificent Mile and check out the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and warm myself up. I had some boozy coffee and tiramisu. I enjoyed it and it was the first time I felt full during this trip. This was a Monday so there were not a lot of people there. The lines were quick and I stayed there for 40 minutes.
To burn some of the calories I consumed, I decided to walk around the Magnificent Mile area and see the vibrant Christmas lights and decorations. The entire area looked wonderful as I walked by cheerful and busy streets and restaurants. I was feeling quite full so I decided to call it a day. Being a little tipsy from the Glühwein and cocktails didn’t help either. Although the time was only around 9:00pm, I decided to walk back to my hotel and fall asleep. I walked across the famous DuSable bridge back into downtown Chicago and towards my hotel. I didn’t have a good night’s sleep the previous night so I wanted to catch up on some sleep.
December 14, 2021: Chicago is… Warm
I woke up at around 8:00am. The weather was sunny and surprisingly warm. I got ready and headed to the breakfast lounge where I had some coffee and a sandwich. After this, I grabbed my sweatshirt and headed over to the lakeshore. I was wearing a sweatshirt in Chicago… in December. I was bewildered at how it was currently warmer and sunnier than Portland. I walked across the loop and to where the land met Lake Michigan. From there, I walked over to Navy Pier. Navy Pier wasn’t open yet and all the outdoor attractions were closed since it was nearing Winter. There were very few people there and I could enjoy the liminal space of such a large and normally busy attraction.
From Navy Pier, I walked around 4 miles on the lakeshore path until I reached Wrigley Field. Wrigley Field is a tourist attraction on its own as it’s where the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago White Sox play. Chicago has a lot of history in baseball and it’s the busiest area whenever there is a local baseball game. I walked around the stadium and took a few pictures. To get back to the loop, I would need to take the L-train. Chicago’s public transportation is quite wonderful and costs $5 a day to use for all trains and buses. I rode the L-train back to the loop where I decided to have a quick lunch at the Chicago Christkindl Market. I had some potato pancakes and a beer. From there, I walked a couple miles back to my hotel and decided to relax for a bit.
I reached my hotel at around 1:00pm and stayed there until 3:30pm. I got ready and decided to check out Millennium Park and the Lincoln Zoo, where Chicago Zoo Lights take place. Today the zoo lights were free. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know a ticket was required for all admissions because of the pandemic. I would be in for a disappointment. Anyways, I get ready and walk half a mile over to Millenium Park. There is a very popular and weird attraction there called Cloud Gate, also known as the Chicago Bean. It’s a massive mirrored bean where people can walk through and see all sorts of reflections. This was a Tuesday in the colder months of the year so there weren’t a ton of people there.
I stayed there for half an hour until the sky got quite dark. From Millennium Park, I take the L-train over to Lincoln Zoo for the zoo lights. I was in for a disappointment as I reached the zoo entrance. They required people to have tickets and tickets were sold out for that day. I was a little disappointed but I would return the next day. The zoo lights admission for this day was free but the next was $5. I didn’t mind paying the extra money though.
Fortunately for me, the area was next to some nice restaurants. Chicago is famous for their deep dish pizza. The deep dish pizza is basically a pizza pie with lots of cheese, toppings and tomato sauce. I head over to Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder Company where I order a small deep dish pizza. The pizza tasted amazing and quickly fixed my appetite.
To work off the carbs and calories, I decide to walk all the way over to Magnificent Mile and then back to the loop. After reaching Magnificent Mile, I decided to check out this place called Three Dots and a Dash. However, the place was full of people and I felt lousy being by myself. I head out and make the walk back to my hotel. As I am walking back, I start feeling raindrops fall on me. I often pay close attention to the weather forecast whenever I’m traveling. Rain was predicted for that night. I reach my hotel at around 8:30pm. I knew I was checking out the next day so I spent the next hour cleaning and packing. Once the time was close to 10pm, I decided to call it a night and fall asleep.
December 15, 2021: A Weird Day in the Midwest
I wake up at around 7:00am and get ready. This time, most of my stuff has already been packed. However this time, I would not want to walk all the way from my hotel to Chicago Union Station. I planned to buy a metro ticket and take the bus to the union station instead. Plus that ticket will be good for taking the local buses and trains for the rest of the day. I have a quick breakfast and coffee at the hotel lounge. Then I start packing up my belongings. The time is around 10am when I am ready to leave. I pack my suitcase and exit the hotel. The sky was overcast and the ground was wet. However the temperature was ridiculously warm. The high temperature for this day is said to be 66 Fahrenheit (19 Celsius). In Chicago… in mid-December!
I walk over to the nearest L-train station. I purchase a daily ticket there and walk one more block over to where the bus stop is. After a couple minutes, the bus arrives and picks up a short line of people waiting. I hop and get off a few minutes later. Once I reach the union station, I head over to the union station lounge. The lounge is a very nice area reserved for Amtrak passengers traveling in business, first and roomette classes. Otherwise regular guests would have to pay $40 to use the lounge. The lounge has a bar that is open from 8am to 9pm. There are lots of comfortable couches for patrons to comfortably read a book, sleep or listen to music. To gain access to this lounge, I paid $70 extra dollars traveling from Chicago to New York City on business class. That extra money would eventually be worth it. The lounge also features a suitcase storage where I went to store my suitcase. The weather wasn’t very good but the warm and Spring-like temperatures put a lot of people outdoors. Pictured below is the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority) card.
From the Union Station, I decide to have lunch at a place called the Time out Market. I saw this food place on Google Maps and decided to give it a try. The walk from the Union Station to the Time Out Market was short. Once I reached the food market, one Indian restaurant that caught my attention was Bar Goa. I was craving some Indian food already. At Bar Goa, I had some Butter Chicken. It wasn’t the best food I’ve ever had but it was quite good. I don’t think it was worth $16 though.
Once I was done with lunch, I decide to take the L-train to Millenium Park again to see a few more attractions. There were definitely more people at the park and at the Bean. It was afternoon and temperatures were ridiculously warm for December. Keep in mind that Chicago winters are usually very cold and it’s not uncommon to have some days below 0 Fahrenheit (-18 celsius)!
From Millenium Park, I crossed the river and headed over to Magnificent Mile. I was feeling like having a boozy milkshake so I decided to head over to a place called Jojo’s Shake and Bar. I had a nice boozy chocolate milkshake. The owners were very nice and decided to give me a glass jar with their logo on it. I kept the jar safely zipped up in my sweatshirt pocket. I stayed there for roughly an hour.
The time was close to 3:00pm when I decided to leave the bar and walk over to the Lincoln Park zoo and see the Chicago zoo lights. The walk was not very pleasant as there were high winds in the forecast. However, I very much wanted to see the zoo lights. When I got there, the time was already 4:00pm and the zoo lights had just opened. I went in and took some pictures.
I was able to take some pictures of the massive light displays. The zoo was fairly empty given the zoo lights had just opened and it was a weekday. I walked around the Chicago Zoo for around an hour. I briefly checked out the bird and reptile habitats. After looking around the entire zoo, I decided to have a boozy hot cocoa to wrap up my visit. I then took a bus from the zoo to the Chicago Union Station where I would be leaving Chicago.
I reached the Chicago Union Station close to 7:00pm. From there, I would catch a train to New York City with a stopover in Albany, New York. I am traveling through business class so I have free lounge access. I take advantage of this and relax in the lounge. Before heading up to the lounge, I take the glass mug from earlier in my jacket pocket and put it in my suitcase. I sit on a couch in the lounge and listen to my music for sometime. At around 9:00pm, I got ready to board the Lake Shore Limited. I head over to the bathroom and brush my teeth. I grab my suitcase and backpack and head over to the bathroom where I brush my teeth. I then went to the ticket booth where I showed the workers my train ticket and walked over to the train stop. I see a train that spans many cars. I walk a long way to the business class where there are a few people sitting.
The Lake Shore Limited is an Amtrak train that goes to two destinations: Boston and New York City. The train splits in two at Albany, a small city in upstate New York. The train car I am in is part of the half that goes to Boston. This means I would have to transfer at the Albany train station where I would board another train going to New York City. The other half does not have Business class seating. Overall, the Business class is worth the upgrade since all non-alcoholic drinks are free. I set my belongings in the overhead bin and sit in the seat. The time from Chicago to Albany is around 15 hours assuming no delays. The time was already close to 10:00pm when the train started to depart from Chicago and headed into Indiana. The train lights dimmed indicating it was late at night so I fell asleep.
December 16, 2021: On the lake Shore Limited and Empire Service
I woke up at around 6:00am Eastern time. By then, the train was already in Cleveland, Ohio. After some time, the train would travel into Pennsylvania and upwards to upstate New York. What was surprising about upstate New York was how there was no snow at the time. Upstate New York is one of the snowiest regions in the US as the winters get lots of precipitation. Unlike Chicago and the Midwest, New York’s winters don’t get as cold temperature wise and the wind blows eastwards. This leads to a lot of snow piling up.
The train would make its way through upstate New York and eventually into Massachusetts where it stops at Boston. However, I was supposed to get off at Albany which is near the New York – Massachusetts border. During the rest of the train ride, I met a few interesting people. The train eventually reached Albany where it would part ways. Even though I would have to wait almost 2 hours to catch the next train going to New York City, I was okay with having a nice break. At around 2:45pm, we were finally in Albany. I grab my backpack and suitcase and leave the train. The train tracks are below a walkway that goes into the union station. I take an elevator and go into the union station. The train station was quite cozy with a large coffee shop inside. I ordered some coffee to keep me awake. I spent the next few hours waiting patiently for the next train. Finally at around 4:30pm, the train headed southbound to NYC shows up. This train is the Empire Service.
At the station, there are a hundred other people waiting to get on the train headed to NYC. We all get our tickets scanned and head down a staircase where the train tracks are. I board the Empire Service and sit by a window seat. I tuck my suitcase above and sit comfortably on the comfy seats. A couple minutes later, the train departs Albany and the sky gets dark. The route the Empire Service takes from Albany to NYC is along the Hudson River. There are 3 other stops along the way: Poughkeepsie, White Plains and Yonkers. Poughkeepsie is the halfway point between Albany and NYC. By the time the train reaches Poughkeepsie at around 6:00pm, it is already very dark. We still have about 90 minutes left of the journey. The train was able to breeze through the rest of the way.
White Plains and Yonkers are part of the greater NYC area. NYC is known for being one of the wealthiest, most important and influential cities in the world. It’s the commercial capital of the world. NYC has a population of just 8.4 million. However the greater NYC area has around 21 million people. This includes many other cities in New Jersey, Connecticut, and the state of New York. When people think of NYC, they think of the Statue of liberty, World Trade Center, the subway, Empire State Building and Time Square. There are 5 boroughs or governing areas of NYC: Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. However only 2 of them are very commercial and have the most tourism: Brooklyn and Manhattan. I did briefly go through Queens when I would go to the JFK airport to fly out of NYC. The main or central train station for NYC is the Pennsylvania Station. Pennsylvania Station is the largest and busiest train station in North America handling the majority of the train traffic heading in and out of the NYC area. The entire train station also sits below the famous Madison Square Garden arena. Getting through the Pennsylvania Station would be the hardest part of the entire trip as I was completely new to NYC and it was very busy even after rush hour. The other main station is the Grand Central Station. The Grand Central Station is the second busiest station in North America and one of the most famous train stations in the world. Famous for its architecture and history, the Grand Central station is a tourist attraction on its own. However Amtrak stopped service there in 2018 and I decided to pass it on this trip.
For the last 5 miles (8 kilometers) for the train ride from Albany to NYC, the train went underground. I was able to see part of the skyline before then. Eventually the train slowed down and came to a halt. We were finally at the Pennsylvania Station. From the Pennsylvania station, I would need to take two subway lines to my AirBnb. AirBnbs are popular in major touristy cities as hotels can be very expensive. For around half an hour, I navigated through the massive Pennsylvania Station until I was finally able to get on the A line. The A line would take me to Lower Manhattan. From there, I would get on the L line. The L line would take me to Williamsburg which was where my AirBnb was. Carrying my heavy suitcase was not a fun experience. At around 8:30pm, I finally reached my AirBnb where I met the host. He was a very friendly guy. I settled down and checked the weather.
On the first night in NYC, I decided to visit two places. McSorley’s Irish Pub and Times Square. McSorley’s is one of the most famous pubs in the world. I very much wanted to visit Times Square for the midnight minute. At around 9:00pm, I left the AirBnb and took the L line to Lower Manhattan. From there, I walked almost a mile to McSorley’s where I enjoyed a few drinks. From there, I would walk 2 miles (3 kilometers) to Times Square.
The time was already 10:30pm but there were so many people out on the streets. The weather was also surprisingly pleasant. I made my way up to Times Square in Midtown Manhattan. The entire place was crowded on a December Thursday night. Imagine how crowded it might be on a Summer weekend! I took some pictures of Times Square and stayed past midnight. I saw the Midnight Minute which I thought was mediocre. Once that was over, I took the subway back to Williamsburg where my AirBnb was. I reached my AirBnb back at around 1:30am the next day and went to bed shortly after. The AirBnb happened to be very hot so I had some trouble sleeping.
One scam that tourists need to be very aware in very popular and crowded places are crooks dressed up as cartoon characters. One thing that caught my attention at Times Square were some people cosplaying in Elmo characters. They will come up to unsuspecting tourists and ask to take photos with them. Stay away from these kind of people and don’t pay any attention to them! If the victim falls for their trick, then they will take a bunch of photos and then demand a large sum of money afterwards. That is how these crooks make money.
December 17, 2021: Walking Across Brooklyn and Manhattan
I woke up at around 8:30am and got ready for the day. Today was another nice day so I wanted to go out and explore. I left the AirBnb and decided to walk from Williamsburg to downtown Brooklyn. However the walk was a bit excruciating so I decided to take the subway line. I got off near downtown Brooklyn where I headed over to a Scandinavian coffee shop called Konditori. From there, I tried to navigate my way to the Brooklyn bridge. Unfortunately for me, I was in the wrong area and couldn’t find the walkway entrance. I spent around 20 minutes trying to find the entrance to the Brooklyn bridge. Not wanting to use any more time, I Instead walked over to the Manhattan bridge which was far less crowded than the Brooklyn bridge. The bridge was around a mile long and I walked over to Manhattan. In Manhattan, I walked across Chinatown until there was a fancy looking place that caught my attention. That place is the Museum of Ice Cream.
The Museum of Ice Cream was overall not worth the money, unless you are some influencer who likes bright colors. The place itself looked very colorful. I got a pass and got to explore the factory. It was awkward being a grown guy by myself there. I got a pass with the alcoholic add-on. The alcoholic add-on was an additional boozy ice cream shake. The entire visit cost $62 and took around an hour.
From the Museum of Ice Cream, I walked a long distance over to an attraction called The Edge. The Edge is an observation deck 1,200 feet (365 meters) above ground. I came at sunset so tickets were expensive. Tickets to the observation deck are around $35 normally. For the sunrise and sunset, tickets are around $50. It was cold and windy but there were still many people there. I got to see the sunset and take a few pictures there. I took a few pictures without people in the way. Angles and timing are everything for a photographer. Before this trip, I did some research on the best observation decks in NYC. The Edge is NYC’s newest tourist attraction completed in early 2020. However because of the pandemic, it wasn’t open to the general public until Summer 2021. I decided to visit this attraction instead of the Empire State Building since the crowds there might be very long.
Once it was dark, I decided to travel back to Lower Manhattan and check out a place called Raclette NYC. Raclette is a Swiss dish where cheese on a wheel is melted and the melted cheese is served on a dish. It’s a European restaurant that is popular so I scheduled a reservation there at 6:45pm. I got a seafood pasta dish which I enjoyed. After the dinner, I decided to take the train back to my AirBnb where I would take a nap.
Tonight, I am going to a concert to see a few of my favorite artists. The event is located in a venue called Avant Garner. The distance between Avant Garner and my AirBnb was around 3 miles (5 kilometers). The time was close to 10:00pm and I decided to do this walk. It was a bit late at night but overall I felt comfortable doing this walk. I leave my AirBnb but see a well-lit coffee shop. I was surprised to see a coffee shop being packed this late.
The coffee shop was called Qahwah House. Qahwah is Arabic for “coffee” and the coffee shops has a very Middle Eastern theme to it. The owner of Qahwah House is originally from Dearborn, Michigan but he opened up another shop in NYC after the original store because very successful.
I decided to go to Qahwah house and order a Ginger tea. The tea tasted fantastic and I wanted to go back there. Once I drank the warm tea, I set out on the long walk. Most of the walk was nice. However I didn’t feel very safe on the last mile as everything was very industrial. Finally I reached the venue and there were hundreds of concert-goers already there. I dance to the music and meet a lot of awesome people there. I had a conversation with a few concertgoers and we were able to enjoy the live DJs. Some of the DJs playing were Seven Lions and Trivecta.
The concert would go until 3:00am. However I started to feel tired and eventually left the venue at 2:00am. I didn’t want to walk back since I was feeling a bit buzzed and thought it would be much safer to take the subway back. All the subway lines ran 24 hours which is what makes the NYC subway so impressive. I go to the L subway line and take the subway back to my apartment. I reach my apartment and fall fast asleep at around 3:00am.
December 18, 2021: A Rainy Day
Today was a rainy day. I didn’t plan on doing much walking. The top things on my mind were going to the laundromat, trying some ramen at Ichiran Brooklyn, and checking out the Chelsea Market in Manhattan. It was a bit late when I got up and the time was already past 9:00am. I gather all my clothes and gear in my backpack and go outside. I see one laundromat only to find out they only do dry cleans. A couple minutes later, I go to another laundromat where I’m finally able to clean up my gear. After I dropped everything off at the laundromat, I saw a Polish bakery nearby where I decided to have a donut. I then head over to Qahwah House and warm up with some Turkish coffee. An hour later, I gathered my stuff together. When I go back to my AirBnb, I see another person is there and staying in the room across from mine. He happens to be a German exchange student. We had a wonderful conversation for around an hour. After the conversation, I gather most of my belongings and pack for leaving the day after tomorrow. Once everything is set, I depart from my AirBnb and take the L subway line over to Ichiran Brooklyn.
Ichiran is a famous and popular ramen chain from Japan. They have restaurants here in NYC but the experience is better in Japan as it is much cheaper. For a large bowl of ramen, I paid close to $30. While the quality was very good, I felt it was very expensive. Most ramen I’ve had cost less than half that price. Overall, it was worth the 30 minute wait and price. However I don’t think I would go back. I wouldn’t say it was a disappointment though.
After dining at Ichiran, I walk over to the subway station and take the same subway line the other direction towards Lower Manhattan. The train ride from central Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan was around 20 minutes. From Lower Manhattan, I would then walk another 2 kilometers to Chelsea Market. After a relatively long subway ride followed by a relatively long walk. Eventually I reached the Chelsea Market. I did some walking around to check out some of the shops there. As I exited the Chelsea Market, the time was already close to 9:00pm. I was still feeling a little tired from the long day yesterday so I decided to head back to my AirBnb a bit early and sleep. The next day was going to be sunny but cold with the maximum temperature being 42 Fahrenheit (6 Celsius).
December 19, 2021: Walking across the Brooklyn Bridge and the NYC Christmas Market
This was the last day on my trip as I would leave NYC and fly back to Portland… actually Seattle and take the bus back to Portland. I wanted to make the most out of this day. This time for sure, I wanted to walk across the famous Brooklyn Bridge and walk all the way to the NYC Christmas market. However, today was going to be much colder than the previous days, I wanted to do most of my walking in the daytime. After dark, one could very much feel the temperature dropping. The low temperature for tonight would be 24 Fahrenheit (-4 Celsius). It’s a good thing I washed my jacket and it was ready to go. For the evening, I reserved a place called The Press Lounge near Hudson Yards. I did some research on the best rooftop bars in NYC and this place popped up. It was moderately priced (by NYC standards) and allowed people to go solo. I also wanted to walk the Williamsburg bridge but that didn’t happen.
Before heading to Brooklyn, I decided to warm up with some tea and breakfast at Qahwah House. From the Qahwah house in Williamsburg. After this, I took the subway from Williamsburg to Brooklyn. I wanted to walk the famous Brooklyn bridge. Unlike the day before yesterday, I was not going to give up. I was able to navigate the Brooklyn bridge entrance after seeing a group of people walk through a narrow passage. After a few minutes, I was finally on the Brooklyn bridge. Despite the cold weather, it was crowded given it was a weekend. The windchill didn’t help, which was why I was thankful I brought a jacket. I took some pictures of the bridge and its magnificent architecture. The bridge is around 1.3 miles (2 kilometers) and takes between 30-60 minutes to cross depending on the time. After around 40 minutes, I walked across the bridge and all the way to Lower Manhattan.
Once I reached Lower Manhattan, there was a place I wanted to check out called Brookfield Place. There was another 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) of walking to do. The sun was already starting to set and the temperature all of a sudden started to drop. I power walked across the majority of Lower Manhattan until I finally reached Brookfield Place. I got there and had some crepes for dinner. I spent some time walking around the large shopping complex as the outside was becoming very cold. Brookfield Place also happened to be very near the 9/11 memorial. I went outside and walked towards the 9/11 memorial. Adjacent to the 9/11 memorial is a massive underground shopping center called the Westfield World Trade Center.
The Westfield World Trade Center is known for its architecture. The ceiling is a triangular glass dome and the atrium is a perfect oval. I took a few pictures there and decided to walk to the subway station that connected to the shopping center. From there, I would take the subway towards Times Square where a large Christmas is. The weather was too cold for me to walk a few miles there as it was already near freezing and I didn’t have a cap. I visited the same location 3 days ago but the market was closed as the time was almost 11:00pm.
I take the subway from Westfield WTC to the Time Square station. As soon as I exited the train station, it was cold. I walked over to the Christmas Market where I enjoyed an alcoholic hot cocoa. It was hot chocolate with Bailey’s Irish cream. The drink warmed me up quite well. I then power walked a mile to where The Press Lounge is. The streets were getting empty but it wasn’t surprising considering it was a Sunday and it was cold.
The rooftop bar is 18 stories high and offers good views of the city. Once I got to The Press Lounge, it was also quite empty as there were only around 10 other people there. I had another hot cocktail there and checked the outside deck which was still open for checking out. I spent only a few minutes there as the temperature was already 33 degrees Fahrenheit (+1 Celsius) plus wind. I went back inside and had another cocktail. Before I decided to leave, I had a warm glass of water. I enjoyed the view and city lights before making my way down and walking another mile in the cold weather.
I power walked from the restaurant to the Times Square station where I took the subway to Lower Manhattan and then back to Williamsburg. As soon as I reached my AirBnb, I immediately finished backing for the trip back home. I double-checked everything to make sure I didn’t leave anything behind. It’s easy to forget things when you’re packing and not being alert. At around 10:30pm, I brushed my teeth and went to bed knowing tomorrow was going to be a long day. I had some trouble sleeping but this would be the least of my worries for tomorrow. My flight would leave from NYC’s main JFK airport. However instead of flying into Portland, I would fly to Seattle and then catch a bus to Portland. Flights to Seattle were around $200 cheaper and the bus costs around $30. This would eventually be a terrible decision I would later regret.
December 20, 2021: Coming back home plus lots of challenges
The time was around 4:30 in the morning. I got up and got ready. By 5:30, I had to leave my apartment and walk towards the subway station. I left the room and apartment key on the counter. As I departed from the AirBnb, the AirBnb host came into the apartment complex. I was a little surprised considering how early it was. I eventually took the subway east towards Queens where the JFK airport is. To get to the airport, I would have to catch another subway train at Broadway Junction. As I left the first subway train, I started to feel very cold. I reached into my backpack and pulled out a cap. Many others and I would then wait almost 20 minutes in the very cold weather. It was nice seeing the second train arrive and back back in a warm place. This train would then reach another station where I would have to then catch another train to the JFK airport. This last train would circle around the terminals of the JFK airport. I was flying on Delta airlines which was in Terminal 2. Pictured below is the NYC MTA (Metro Transit Authority) card used to navigate NYC’s subways and bus lines.
The time was already 7:00 in the morning and my flight was around 8:30. I wasn’t nervous but I had to be fast. I was able to quickly check my suitcase in and go through the TSA quickly. From there, I had to catch another bus that would drop me off at another building where the boarding gate is. I reached the boarding gate around half an hour before boarding. I was excited to be back home in Portland. This flight was however going to Seattle where I would catch a bus back to Portland. In a couple hours, I would soon regret this. However flying into Seattle was around $200 cheaper than flying into Portland
I boarded the plane which was a Boeing 767. The flight from NYC to Seattle took around 6 hours. Throughout the flight, I watched parts of a few movies and slept. Mask mandates and Coronavirus measures were still in place so no airplane food was served. The plane reached Seattle at around noon Pacific time. Once the plane landed, I grabbed my suitcase from the baggage claim and headed outside. The weather was very nasty, cold, dark, windy and rainy. Even with a nice jacket, I felt cold. In the Pacific Northwest, the cold is very wet and the cold can be felt very well. I would feel comfortable in 50 degree Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) weather in NYC and Chicago but would freeze at the same temperature in Portland or Seattle. I waited for the bus inside the airport as the bus was supposed to come at around 1:30pm. This is where the misery begins.
At around 1:40, I think the Flix bus is late. I’m thinking the bus should be here any minute now. Minutes later and to no avail, the bus still doesn’t come by 2:00. I waited for another half an hour. At 2:30, there was still no bus. I waited another half an hour. At 3:00, there’s still no bus. I wait for another half an hour, growing frustrated. Finally at 3:30, the bus comes. Two hours late! The drive would take another almost four hours after this since the bus makes other stops and generally drives a bit slower than most cars. The distance between Seattle to Portland is around 150 miles (240 kilometers) as far as the crow flies. However the terrain and geography are very rugged making the driving distance around 180 miles (290 kilometers).
I get on the bus with many passengers who also seem to be tired and cranky. The Flix bus driver apologizes because of bad weather. The bus then leaves the Seattle airport and heads to the freeway where it will take Interstate 5 southbound towards Portland. The bus makes a few stops in Tacoma and Centralia to drop off some passengers. Things are going smoothly until we reach Longview, Washington, a city located 40 miles (65 kilometers) north of Portland. There the bus had to stop because the bus driver ran out of hours. The bus driver apologized stating that he cannot go above his hours or the Flix bus company will be in serious trouble with the law. The bus came to a halt at a parking lot where we waited around 40 minutes. It was already past dark but everyone on the bus was patient. Finally another bus driver came and we were able to make it back to Portland safely. The Flix bus finally came to a halt at the Portland Union Station, the same place where I caught the Empire Builder to Chicago. The time was already 7:45pm, more than 3 hours late.
As I got off the Flix bus, I was debating on taking public transportation home or taking an Uber. Seeing it was well past dark and stepping on homeless rubbish made me think taking Uber home was the better option. I was already tired. I wait at the union station for the Uber and take the short journey home. During the Uber ride, I had a nice conversation with my Uber driver before reaching my home. The Uber reaches my home and I grab my suitcase and go inside. I start unpacking and start getting ready for bed. What a journey! I’ve wanted to take the train across North America for a long time and I was able to scratch something off my bucket list.