Navy Pier, Amtrak, and Arrival in Onalaska

After watching the sun rise over Michigan Avenue from the Congress Plaza Hotel, we set off to see Chicago. We started off with breakfast about 7 AM. It was extremely windy and cold for mid-May. We stopped into a coffee shop we had seen the night before. Chris was feeling adventurous and even though he normally drinks black coffee, he orded some blended caramel mocha thing. Apparently he had no idea that ‘blended’ means ‘with ice and a bunch of over sweet stuff that makes it a bit like a vaguely coffee themed milk shake’. Obviously this was less than welcome given how cold we were walking a few city blocks in the wind to get there. He mostly drank half of my caramel macchiato instead.

When we got back to the hotel, there was still very little open, so we decided to take them up on their tour of the gold room. It was an absolutely stunning event room with a very Great Gatsby feel to it. Gold RoomCongress Plaza Hotel Chicago

After that, we went walking toward Navy Pier, even though it was cold, there were very lovely things in bloom, as can be seen in the photo above. Once we got there after what was a much longer walk than we thought it would be (about 40 minutes, which isn’t bad, but given how horrifically tired we were, it felt far), we had a look round and went on the ferris wheel. I’d never been to Navy Pier before despite having been to Chicago several times. The girl working there told us it had been completely redone recently and it is looking good. It was a fairly good ferris wheel for such a chilly windy day. We may make a point of going back and doing a bit more when it’s warmer later this year.

To warm up, we got some coffees. I failed to remember for the second time that day just how big American coffees tend to be compared to British ones. These were positively enormous. I do like coffee, but I can’t drink that much in one sitting, so I do need to keep in mind that sharing is probably a better idea.

On the way out, we walked through the indoor part and it was quite impressive. There was an indoor rainforest of sorts and a Mcdonalds with a plasma ball.  We cabbed it back being fairly exhausted after doing so much on so little sleep in the wrong time zone. I accidentally fell asleep and Chris woke me up ten minutes before we had to get our train. This wasn’t a problem as he had finished the repacking.

We went to Union Station, which is another beautiful, (well-maintained) old building.

union station



To get onto the train, they called us all up and had us line up like kids in school. It was a very odd experience. You were actually allowed to go to the train itself, but they seemed to prefer people get there this way. Once on the train, we learned that Amtrak (which I had used once and Chris never) was more spacious than a British train in terms of seating. The seats were reasonably comfortable, but we didn’t spend much time in them once we realized there was a viewing lounge with two different kinds of seating – chairs that faced forward and booths for eating.

There was an interesting variety of people on the train. Most seemed older, eccentric or that they were doing it because it was the only way they could afford. It was a train called the Empire Builder that goes from Chicago to Seattle. There was a very drunk ex-navy guy who just didn’t shut up in the viewing area for about an hour, but other than that, it was mostly an enjoyable trip. On the second half, some guys from some sort of ranger group came on and gave talks about what we were seeing. For instance, I had had no idea that Fort McCoy has a whole faux Middle Eastern village constructed in the middle of a forest in Wisconsin that you can see a bit of from the train if you know where to look.

arrive in LaCrosseLaCrosse Amtrak

The train got in about 20 minutes late to LaCrosse, Wisconsin, after which my parents took us out for steaks at Outback as an arrival dinner.  We managed to stay up all the way till 10:40 PM 🙂

The next day, we got up at 6:40 after finally sleeping a full night. My dad made us a pancake breakfast. After that, we started on our preparations to live somewhere new in earnest.

We hadn’t actually brought much with us in the way of clothes because it was meant to be warm here and it has been cold in England for most of the year, so we left our cold weather clothes behind. This does explain why I look somewhat ridiculous in most of the photos. It had been in the 70s Fahrenheit last week, so I brought a few light pieces of summer clothes that had to be awkwardly covered with a fleece and scarf yesterday.

Needless to say, the next day I aspired not to be quite such a fashion victim and we started off by going to Target. We immediately ran into a high school friend of mine who hadn’t known exactly when we would be back in town. She woke us all up properly by screaming my name and dashing across the parking lot. We will have to catch up properly later in the week when we have time. targetHere is Chris attempting to look like some sort of rapper, or someone who can get away with such horribly baggy jeans. Fortunately, after an hour or so, we had better clothes finds and walked away with reasonable wardrobes to start with. We had a little trouble with our cards though, which always seems to be the way. We got a new account, a dollars account, through Lloyds before we left. It’s not exactly a UK card, but it still seemed to count as a foreign card, in that even though it’s meant to be debit, the machines didn’t agree here. It also turns out that the online site exaggerates when your pounds to dollars transfers is complete. We had arrived at Target thinking we had a reasonable amount of money on it, when we really had 102 USD, which was not quite enough to replenish our wardrobe. Fortunately my mother was there and nice enough to help us out. Apparently we will actually have the money we thought we had this morning in about 20 minutes.

After a coffee break (this time wisely spiting a small Caribou cappuccino), we went to Kohls to finish off the wardrobe replenishment. I signed up for a Kohls card, which took ages, but I think the woman at the register enjoyed chatting to Chris and we ended up teaching the Kohls staff that, yes, a passport works as well as a driver’s license for setting up an account. It’s fair enough that they didn’t know since I realize most people here driver, but even so, it’s probably good that they know now.

Chris continued amusing the women of Onalaska when we stopped by Wendy’s for lunch. He’d only been there once, and in his jet lagged state, was mostly just overwhelmed by the menu and asked the girl at the counter what a baconator was. She burst out laughing. I think even though what it is a bit vague from the menu and it really could have been a fairly wide range of things, she just hadn’t been asked that before, and not in an obvious English accent. Stephen Fry is too right:

Stephen Fry

Fortunately Chris actually is pretty brilliant, so it won’t be too deceptive. (Incidentally, this by far my most repinned pin on pinterest. I think a lot of other people must agree).

I have had several reactions to my accent too. I feel like the line, ‘I’m actually from Wisconsin’ has had to be uttered at least half a dozen times in the last few days.

After all the shopping, I got to relax a bit and get my hair cut. My sister is a very talented beautician and she much improved my overgrown hair.

When I got back to my parents’, I discovered the bit of tooth ache Chris had been developing had got much worse. We gave him some meds, but that didn’t seem to cut it, so we phoned the dentist. Fortunately they are able to get him in tomorrow morning, so here’s hoping that’s not too big of a thing.

The weather is glorious and we are settling in well other than the toothache:


Naturally there is lots to learn for both of us, but I have no doubt we will get there:





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