Posted by: AmbleAlong | August 19, 2011

Even good plans can have a dark side

Years ago, some friends and I learned that another friend from college was planning to get married the next June in Italy.  Given that a trip to Italy was #1 on our collective group’s list of “ultimate travel destinations”, finding a way to attend that wedding and finally visit Italy became nearly an obsession for us.

How could we afford to take a vacation this year and go to Europe next year?  If we started planning now (literally the day they told us!), what is the maximum number of vacation days we could each get from our respective employers, and how much was this all going to cost.  Before we could even get to the enormity of a trip to Europe next year, did that mean we will have to give up our plans for any kind of vacation this year?

We decided that going without a vacation in the current year was not a consideration.  Maybe just a short weekend trip to a Midwestern city that would be easy to get to, whereby we could skip the cost of a flight.  Is there a city with plenty of good museums, great restaurants, and good window shopping close?  Oh yeah, and we should give train travel a try.  Won’t that be neat?

So the decision was made to take Amtrak to Chicago. The city certainly had everything we needed in terms of entertainment, dining, and ways to spend our money.  We could even walk nearly everywhere.  For our “big splurge” we would schedule manicures. The time involved for taking the train – nearly identical to the time it would have taken to drive – was not something we gave any thought to. 

The out of town trip started out on an up note.  We hopped on Amtrak train and with breakneck speed jumped into happy and lively discussions – many about Italy next year – until we arrived in Chicago ready to tackle the Windy City.

After navigating CTA and getting checked in at the hotel, the vacation itself went well as planned.  We went to museums, enjoyed deep dish pizza at Gino’s East, visited shops on the Magnificent Mile, received decent manicures, ate in some overpriced restaurants,  and got our workouts in while walking between points of interest.  I also learned that one friend does not like Ferris wheels, but only after we went on the one at Navy Pier.  (And for some reason, the Suzanne Vega song “Tom’s Diner” continues to remind me of this vacation though no, we did not actually eat at a diner while in Chicago but yes, we did see Ed Debevick’s.)

Oddly enough, the one thing that we still talk about with regularity is how much we hated the train trip back to St. Louis. The return trip might even have taken the same amount of time as the outbound trip to Chicago, but by the end we were tired of the uncomfortable seats and wishing we had taken a flight instead. Nothing fun about the trip gets discussed – not the food, not the shopping, not the spa – and we actually had a good time!  But the return train ride experience has distorted the vacation memory of the trip for all of us.

I am still glad that we gave the train a try, as it really did save us money and kept us on target for our trip to Italy. But it was an equally important lesson that the memory of a vacation is comprised of all its parts, so I am now careful to plan start to finish, including the modes of transportation.

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