Sunday, August 02, 2015

Fresh blueberries for breakfast, and chipotle black bean and veggie burger for lunch

I was thrilled to see Hotel 340 include fresh blueberries and cantaloupe 
For three and one-half years I have eaten a plant-based diet.  I've taken vacations and attended conferences, and I have been able to navigate my way around cafes, restaurants and banquets.

My "hobby" while traveling is to see where I can get a good vegan meal and a nice pool to swim laps. 

It has been a fun challenge and goal for my travels to see if I can stick with my vegan and environmentally-conscious commitments. Most recently my husband and I traveled to Chicago via Amtrak. We live in Duluth, Minn. and boarded the train in St. Paul, Minn. after staying overnight at a hotel near the depot. I packed a bag with oranges, apples and peanut butter sandwiches for the trip to St. Paul.    

The real china dishes was a plus. I hate using disposable dishes. 
The first night my husband wanted to walk around downtown St. Paul to see what he could find to eat. He isn't vegan so it's a lot easier for him to find something to eat. I wanted to stay in at the hotel because it had an elegant Art Deco lap pool that I wanted to swim. I swam and then came back and ate the apple and one of the peanut butter sandwiches.

In the morning we tried the hotel's complimentary breakfast. It included fresh blueberries and cantaloupe.   

Eating in the dining car is fun. 

On the train the next day, I made sure to keep my bag of goodies near my side, but was curious if I could find something vegan on the dining car. Seating on the family car is "family or community style," meaning if there is empty space at your table you sometimes end up eating with people you don't know.  We joined two women from Chicago who had attended a "One Direction" band concert in St. Paul. This was a fun experience for us.

To my surprise a chipotle black bean and veggie burger was on the menu. I ordered this as did the two women from Chicago, though they weren't vegan. They said they just liked these burgers. My husband ordered the cheeseburger. (The waitress asked him if he wanted bacon on it, "Geez, are you trying to give him a heart attack," I wondered.)

I was also pleased to see the vegetarian entree, but since it included feta cheese, I didn't order it.
And though I eat vegan for my health, I ordered a Pepsi and chips instead of salad, which I know is a lot of extra sugar, oil and salt that I don't need, but I figured we were on vacation and I could splurge. I know some vegans who don't follow their vegan diets when they vacation, but I do.

This is my chipotle black bean and veggie burger. I garnished it with ketchup and mustard.
This is hubby's cheeseburger. He ordered iced-tea for a drink. 
Water was offered free of charge.
Note Amtrak's environmental logo.

While I was pleased with the service of our Amtrak waitress and with the quality of the food, I was disappointed that the Amtrak uses plastic plates. I asked the waitress if they washed the plates and reused them, but she said the plates are disposable and thrown out after one use. When hubby and I took the train a few years ago ceramic/china dishes were used on the dining car.  If you look at the logo on the water glass and the coffee sleeve, Amtrak uses a leaf and the tagline or motto, "Rail consumes less energy than cars or air travel." Our waitress said the switch to plastic, disposable plates happened two years ago and there was a big discussion about it. "I don't like it," she said, "It's wasteful." 

Following the National River & Recreation Area Minnesota by train

Standing along the platform of the depot in St. Paul, an Amtrak official directed us to a car with seats reserved for us. As we had attempted to travel light, my husband had his backpack and I had a small suitcase that we put in the luggage compartment on one end the first floor of the car. The opposite end of the car contained four or five small bathrooms. Then we climbed stairs that round a corner and open up on the second floor of the car.

The train creaked and gently rolled back and forth as we sat in our coach seats. I say tried to travel lightly because I brought a small tote bag with food, books, maps and notebooks and a tote bag containing  my 17 inch Macbook Pro which isn't really heavy, but can be if traveling.  I brought the two totes along with me to our coach seats.

Soon, I decided I needed a cup of coffee. The club car has a snack bar on the first level and an observation deck on the top. Tables to play cards and/or visit, large windows all along the walls and up the the ceilings along with lounge like chairs and coffee tables with rails to hold cups are the main feature of the this car.  

An attendant sells snacks and drinks from the first floor. I stood in line to order my coffee and went back to coach to invite my husband to join me in the observation car so we could drink coffee and enjoy the scenery. 

The train whistle sounds soft and low as we see bluffs out our big windows. As our track follows the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a National Park Service volunteer sits at a table in the front of the car holding a microphone. He narrates our trip by pointing out interesting pieces of geology and history.  
In Minnesota our trained followed the Great River Road.
The Great River Road is any road that follows the Mississippi River.
(Image from

The volunteer, Arlan, walks up and down the aisle holding a shell with a perfectly round hole in it. 
He says that the shell is a mussel shell from the river and could anyone guess why it has a perfectly round hole in it? Some people guessed an animal or worm or something made it. I guessed that a Native American had made the hole. Thirty million mussel shells from the the Mississippi, he says, were used in the manufacturing of buttons between the 1850's and 1930's. 

National Park Service volunteer Arlan gave a nice narration of the scenery.
(Photo by Naomi Yaeger)

Now about 60 miles south of St. Paul, we follow Lake Pepin which is a lake on the Mississippi about 35 miles long . We see boaters, pontoons and houseboats. "This has been a transportation corridor for thousands of years," Arlan says. I'm thinking about the Native Americans who used canoes on the rivers and Arlan adds that many birds follow the river during migration. I see an eagle outside swooping outside of the window landing in the swamp. From the 1850s to the 1930s steamboats cruised the area, but in the 1930s the railroads put the steamboats out of business. 
We see barges. Arlan tells us they are full of grain or sand.  The sand is used in the oil industry to frack.