A week ago Ivar was eating lunch at the kitchen table and sadly lamented, "I miss my choo choo trains." I asked to clarify, "You mean the ones up in your room?" "Yes. I miss them. I want to play with them." I assured him he could go and play with them after lunch.
But it got me thinking. This boy is crazy about trains right now. I sat eating my lunch, watching him miss his trains and thought I've got to get this kid on a train. And then I realized there probably are some Christmas train rides this time of year.
I found The Christmas City Express up in Duluth, emailed Rory out in his office with the last minute idea and called my folks to see if they would watch Elsie for the 24 hours we would be gone. It was a go.
So Friday afternoon the three of us drove up to Duluth for 24 hours of Christmas magic. Ivar was so excited when the train pulled up at Fitgers Depot. He held his ticket and gave it to the conductor proudly. The train ride was fifteen minutes and drove so we could see Bentleyville, a huge and awesome light display in Duluth. When the train stopped we were at the Duluth Depot, also known as Christmas City.
Inside there were model railroads and play railroads. We stayed in that room and played for a while until a bell rang and the doors opened into the next room housing all the huge trains. When we walked in there was a girl singing Christmas carols with her keyboard. And all the trains had wreaths on them.
We were led to a carpeted area where a fantastically animated woman greeted us. We sang Jingle Bells with the girl who had now left her keyboard and picked up her guitar. And then the woman who greeted us started telling us the story of The Christmas City Express, a story that she herself wrote. She was awesome. I'm assuming some sort of Elementary Ed major with a theater background. She knew her audience.
The story was about a train that she once rode when she was a little girl, going to see family for Christmas. The train got stuck in the snow while deep in the woods and everyone was so sad that they would miss Christmas. So the conductor went out into the woods and brought back a beautiful spruce tree to set up in the train. The little girl took the bow off of the package she held on her lap, and placed it on the tree. And then everyone else took the ribbons and bows off their gifts and decorated the tree too. The other passengers on the train began singing Christmas carols and then they heard jingle bells out in the snow.
And this point, we all heard jingle bells coming from inside the train behind the screen. The kids started yelling, "It's Santa! It's Santa!" And sure enough, just like in the story, Santa appeared.
Oh my word. Christmas joy filled my heart! I was as excited as the kids.
After the story we got a snowflake ornament, just like the one Santa had given to the little girl in the book before the train started back up and the people in the story returned to the Duluth Depot. And then we got to meet Santa.
Ivar had practiced many times in the car. We would say, "And Santa will say, 'and what do you want for Christmas, little boy?" And Ivar knew his answer, "A choo choo train!!!" I got a little video of their sweet farewell.
santa and ivar from Becca Groves on Vimeo.
After we met Santa the bell rang and it was time to get back on the train, back to Fitgers Station. It was a fifteen minute ride, and when we returned they had hot chocolate, cookies and a huge bon fire waiting for us. The program director in me was in awe. They hit this whole experience out. of. the. park.
Then we drove to the lift bridge and had supper at Grandma's. But not Grandma Margaret's, Ivar would have you know. A restaurant named Grandma's was just about as confusing as it gets.
It was an awesome 24 hours. We stayed at the Best Western in Superior, Wisconsin, where the rooms were about fifty dollars cheaper than any hotel in Duluth, and it is just over the bridge. We watched Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and Ivar got a real kick out of Guy's name. A guy named Guy. Now that is silly.
In the morning we had breakfast and swam in the pool before we went back to Canal Park to get hot drinks at Caribou. We were home by 1:30 to get Elsie and were so glad to see her, and so glad we had left her for special time with Grandma and Grandpa. She would have loved the train ride, but the drive back and forth and overnight in a pack and play would have been hairy. It just made our quick trip so much smoother. And fun to focus solely on Ivar.
I can't say enough good things about this experience. Look it up next year: The Christmas City Express. Super sweet, a super fun memory and hopefully a new tradition for our family.