Tag: Amtrak

Mastering the Trains: Amtrak and Metra Edition

Mastering the Trains: Amtrak and Metra Edition

As college students in the city, public transportation has become our best friend. Obviously the easy access to trains and buses is a huge benefit for all of us living here, but before you get the hang of it all you’ve got some learning to do.

The CTA will get you anywhere you need to go within the city, but when it comes to traveling farther distances you’ll need to master the ways of Amtrak and Metra.

Amtrak trains will take you anywhere in the country. Union Station is Chicago’s Amtrak station (and home to a few Metra lines), which is a little intimidating on your first trip. When you get to the station your first step is to go downstairs. Then look for the train arrival and departure schedules to find what gate your train is departing from. If you get a little turned around don’t be afraid to ask, it happens to the best of us.

A little Amtrak disclaimer, while it may seem like a good idea to get there at least an hour before your train leaves–Amtrak is almost always late. It’s safe to bet you won’t leave until a half an hour after your scheduled time so be sure to bring something to do while you wait.

Metra, on the other hand, is ALWAYS on time. I have missed one… or maybe five Metra trains because I showed up a minute or so after their departure times. Missing a train is just as heartbreaking the fifth time as it is the first, do your best to save yourself the heartache and leave extra early for Metra.

The Metra train lines are much shorter than Amtrak and will only take you to the outskirts of the Chicagoland area. I’ve taken advantage of them to visit friends who go to school in the suburbs because it is a cheap and easy way to travel. The trickiest part of Metra is that depending on what “line” you take–which direction you are headed–there is a different Chicago station. Metra seems to enjoy hiding their downtown stations underground off Michigan Avenue (Millenium Station), in what looks like a shopping mall (Oglivie Station), or tucked away in Union Station. Because you know your train will be pulling out of the station exactly on time be sure to know exactly where the station you are departing from is located.

One other tip–when buying tickets for Amtrak make sure to buy them online pretty far in advance, then either have you ticket printed out or opened on your smart phone when you depart. Metra tickets are bought at the station before you leave. If you are traveling over the weekend buy a Weekend Pass which is $7 for as many trips as you need. If you arrive too late to buy a ticket before boarding you can buy your ticket after you get on, but it’ll cost you a little extra.

Once you master Chicago’s train systems you will feel like a true local. It will just take some practice. I hope that you make it through your freshman year without missing as many trains as I did.

A Week Past Summer Solstice

A Week Past Summer Solstice

July is rapidly approaching, which means that half of my Loyola summer is officially over. Two months ago, I was stressing over my finals, and in two months, I’ll be back in the classroom, brainstorming ways that I can convince my professors to give me As (I know- a good start is by doing the homework and studying).

So far, this summer has been filled with many hot and eventful days. And there are many more to come. Several of my summer’s highlights to date are:

  1. Went to my first wedding with a best friend of mine, and took the Amtrak train for the first time to get there. I did not think that I would be hearing country music at a wedding, but I was on cloud nine when I started to hear song after song of pure country bliss. I downloaded “God Gave Me You” by Blake Shelton and “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” by Luke Bryan the moment I got back from that trip.
  2. Went to one of Chicago’s Full Moon Jams. This firedance is held once a month during the full moon during the summer months in Chicago right off of Lake Shore Drive. Right after the sun set, drum playing began along with a group of people dancing with fire (using hula hoops, batons, fans) in a ring. My favorite part of it? When these two guys started blowing fire out of their mouths like dragons.
  3. Going to Lincoln Park Zoo and seeing this awesome juggler performing near the Polar Bears (or technically, where the polar bear SHOULD HAVE been but WASN’T- I will not cry…). There was a small crowd gather around him as he did awesome tricks that I’d never seen before. One trick was that he stacked several objects (I think it was a flat wooden stick, two balls and a wine glass), one on top of the other, and balanced them using his mouth while juggling two balls in each of his hands. If you don’t understand this…well, I didn’t understand how he did it. Hopefully he’ll perform there again!

And now, here are several rapidly approaching events that I’m looking forward to:

  1. Going to see the performance of Cirque du Soleil- Dralion for my birthday this weekend with my mom. I’ve seen Cirque du Soleil once before and they did not disappoint, so here’s to round two of acrobatic awesomeness!
  2. Seeing the Fourth of July Navy Pier fireworks downtown this year. I saw them several times before, and it was breathtaking. The view of them bursting over the lake is definitely not one to miss- even if it takes four hours in traffic to get downtown to see them.

Along with these events, I plan on having some smaller adventures as well, like: finally seeing Buckingham Fountain, going to Six Flags Great America and hopefully going to the Shedd Aquarium. Maybe July is my month to do all of them!

Greetings from Galesburg

Greetings from Galesburg

The Great Hall at Union Station

As I said in an earlier post, I live about in a small Illinois town, about 4 hours away from Chicago.  My brother, who is a freshman this year at Loyola, and I have been looking forward to this holiday for some time.  For me, it means getting a break from some work, and for him it means catching up on sleep!  He supposedly stayed up 40 hours straight working on papers and finishing up those last assignments before Thanksgiving break.

Loyola gives us Wednesday off, but since my classes end fairly early on Tuesday, my brother and I were able to catch an early train home.  Amtrak makes a stop in our hometown Galesburg, and because the route is more direct than the highways, gets us home in about 3 hours!  I was also thankful to have him along for the ride, as I automatically get to sit with him and not some random person.

Also, the train departs from Union Station.  The Great Hall at Union Station is super gorgeous, and even if you don’t travel Amtrak or Megabus, it’s definitely worth a visit.  Some notable movie scenes have been filmed there, like The Untouchables or Public Enemies, (with Johnny Depp!).

As I recall, the Damen Ball, a semi-formal dance/ reception for LUC students to celebrate the end of the school year,  was hosted at the Great Hall at Union Station last spring.  I had friends that went and the pictures looked amazing.

Traveling home for the holidays is always a great experience.  If you aren’t able to make it home, there are other options which give you some of the comforts of home.  The residence halls always host a Thanksgiving dinner, or you can always plan some kind of dinner with your friends.

Sometimes a student’s family will visit them.  Loyola offers accommodations for guests called The Flats at Loyola Station. My brother was invited by a friend to a Thanksgiving dinner her mom was going to prepare while in Chicago.

However, I prefer to be home for the holidays.  Nothing is better than taking some time away from school and the city!  Happy Thanksgiving everyone!