We recently took our 4-year-old son on his first Amtrak train trip, for a family outing to an Italian restaurant and an indoor pool in downtown Centralia.
My wife, Beckie, and I wanted Owen to have this experience now that he is preschool age. We did not want to wait much longer because proposed state budget cuts could take a heavy toll on the state-subsidized Saluki and Illini trains that provide daytime Amtrak service in downstate Illinois.
Our trip began at the Mattoon Depot, where the southbound Saluki is set to stop at 11:05 a.m. daily en route to Carbondale. The train ran about a half hour late that day. While we waited, Owen inspected the model trains on display outside of the Coles County Historical Society's museum in the depot.
After the Saluki arrived, we waited for several passengers to disembark and then joined the line to board. I was a little nervous about how Owen would respond to the unfamiliar confines of a train, but he calmly took his seat. Our 9-year-old daughter, Hannah, set a good example for him.
Owen eagerly peered out the window as the Saluki left Mattoon. He kept watch as the train passed through farm fields and small towns on its way to Centralia. We purchased drinks and chips from the Cafe Car to have during this 1 hour, 10 minute-trip, which was well attended by college students.
We stepped off the train in downtown Centralia, named after the Illinois Central Railroad, and headed a couple blocks away to Mamma Antonia's Trattoria. I had visited the Mamma Antonia's in Salem for the first time last year and enjoyed my pizza there, so I was eager to try the Centralia location.
Hannah and I ended up with heaping bowls of spaghetti, in meat sauce for her and in creamy carbonara sauce with bacon for me. Beckie had lasagna and Owen had a child-size sausage pizza. Our meals were accompanied by fresh garlic bread and salads. The meal was delicious and filling.
Good thing we were able to burn off some calories at the nearby Centralia Recreation Complex, which has an indoor pool and water slide. Beckie and Hannah swam laps in the 25-yard competition pool, zipped down the slide a few times, and relaxed in the heated whirlpool/spa.
Owen and I visited the family wading pool, which has a raindrop fountain, but he decided early on that he had had enough of swimming for the day. We cleaned up in the locker room and then explored the 60,000-square-foot facility.
The exterior of the Recreation Complex, built in 1995, has the look of an old-fashioned train station. The facility's interior includes an over-sized gymnasium with two full courts, elevated walking/jogging track, fitness equipment room, family change room with a shower, and conference center.
On the last Saturday of every October, the Recreation Complex hosts a Fall Craft Fair as part of the Fall Festival activities and parade downtown. This business district is also home to the 160-foot-tall Centralia Carillon bell tower, which hosts tours and concerts in the spring and summer.
After Beckie and Hannah were done swimming, we all met up in the lobby and walked to Centralia's small depot to wait for our ride home. This brick depot, built in 2003, offers benches outside and inside, plus restrooms. A small park that is home to an old-fashioned wooden water tower is nearby.
The northbound Saluki train arrived pretty much right at time at 5:08 p.m. A large group of visitors exited one of the cars and headed to the fine dining at the Centralia House restaurant downtown. We took their place on the car as we kicked back and relaxed for the ride home.