A Travellerspoint blog

Seattle and Victoria

Happy days

We flew out of Anchorage to Seattle at 9am on a very tight schedule. On arrival we only had a one hour window to make the ferry to Victoria, British Columbia (Canada). If we missed that boat, all our pre-booked excursions would have been thrown into disarray. We never normally pre-book excursions for this very reason.

Of course, the flight from Anchorage was delayed by 20 minutes as it arrived late. Great! But we made up the time during the flight due to a tailwind. We arrived at Seattle right on time and to our surprise found that our bags were on the carousel waiting for us. Great! We jumped in a cab and headed downtown. It was 2.30pm and there was a lot of traffic on the road, but with some deft driving and weaving we were dropped at the ferry terminal at 3.10pm. We had just enough time to check in, drop our bags and step aboard before the ferry pulled away at 3.30. Phew!

The three hour ferry journey was smooth and uneventful. Even though a killer whale pod had been seen in Puget Sound earlier that day, we saw nothing.
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The view of Victoria inner harbour that greeted us on arrival was magnificent. Despite being situated on Vancouver Island, away from the mainland, Victoria is the capital of British Columbia, and as such has been graced with some magnificent public buildings. The parliament building is a magnificent British Imperial edifice in grey granite, which is counterpointed by the magnificent The Empress Hotel at the head of the harbour.
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After taking a few too many photographs and uttering a few too many superlatives, we headed up the mall to our hotel, which was conveniently situated only two blocks from the harbour, right in the heart of downtown.
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Downtown Victoria features quite a few excellent 'British' styled bars, but they were very different from the British pubs in Australia - or Britain for that matter. They were definitely a colonial adaptation of a British bar, featuring large, elaborate bars and fine furnishing. We visited all the downtown bars during the course of our stay.
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Burchart Gardens
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On our second day we took the public bus out to Burchart Gardens, one of the highlight tourist attractions of Victoria. The Burchart's were a well to do family in the 1920s. Their home however bordered on a quarry and mill that was the source of the families wealth. Under Mrs Burchart's guidance, the quarry was landscaped over and, over decades, a stunning garden was created. The garden has since been opened to the public and draws hundreds of thousands to tourists annually.
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After several hours admiring the gardens we set off back to the city and enjoyed high tea at The Empress Fairmont Hotel, the marvellous Victorian era hotel that dominates the harbour front. Tours through the hotel are also on offer but we weren't able to attend.
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Seattle
After two relaxing days in Victoria we jumped on the ferry back to Seattle. Again we were running against the clock. The moment we arrived in Seattle we had to race to our hotel, the Kings Inn on Fifth Avenue, drop off our bags and then run to the meeting point for the Savour Seattle bar tour. We made it just in time. There was only one other couple on the tour, Andrew and Carla from Townsville, Queensland. The tour took us to a number of restaurants and bars - Low's Vietnamese restaurant and bar, El Barocha Mexican taqueria, and the Ballard Underground burlesque bar where we drank absinthe and .... some other places. I'm a little vague on the other places as Andrew, Carla, Shelly and I continued our own little bar crawl after the tour and the end of the evening is quite a blur. I know we made it to Capital Hill - where exactly, hey? But we all had a great time!
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Shelly and I weren't so fresh next morning but struggled out for the Seattle Markets tour. It was an interesting tour but not quite as much fun as the bar tour.
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After the tour we ate some chowder, wandered the streets, did some shopping and bought some Mexican artefacts (as you do). That night we went to for a few drinks and finished up at a jazz club.

The next day we treated ourselves to a lie in before heading out to the Aeronautical Museum at the old Boeing factory. It was a pretty good collection, on par with the Smithsonian in Washington.
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We rushed back to the city to watch Australia lose to Chile in the World Cup.

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We visited the Waterfront, the Space Needle and rode the monorail (I love monorails!).
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That evening we did a bar crawl through Belltown, which was good fun.

The following day we picked up our hire car from Alamo at the SeaTac airport (the international airport midway between Seattle and Tacoma). As we were close to Tacoma we decided to visit the Lemay Auto Museum. The museum was extremely busy as it was hosting an exhibit for the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang so parking was a challenge. Strangely, although Americans are generally very friendly and courteous, when it comes to parking, there are a lot of very inconsiderate people. People would walk out to their cars, see the queues of people waiting for a space, then sit in their cars, do their hair, make a phone call, eat their lunch, take a dump. We experienced this almost everywhere where car parking was congested.
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Nevertheless, we did manage to grab a parking space after some 15 minutes of driving around. The collection is extensive and focused - as you'd expect - on American cars. It has some interesting vehicles, such as a 1948 Tucker and - my favourite - a 1937 Cord. The collection however, isn't presented in any order. I think it would be better if the cars were in date order or grouped by a theme.
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But enough of that, it was time to hit the road.

Posted by paulymx 21:48 Archived in USA Tagged victoria british columbia seattle Comments (0)

Into the Wild

Denali National Park, Alaska

We disembarked the ship at 9am at the Seward passenger terminal and took the bus to Denali national park. The trip took approximately eight hours, including a two hour stop over in Anchorage.
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The scenery between Seward and Anchorage was beautiful, wide glacial rivers against a mountain backdrop. Anchorage was, like Juneau, modern, clean looking and fairly non-descript. We stayed only long enough to have a bit to eat and use the internet. Due to the extravagant prices for wifi and internet services aboard ship we'd been pretty much disconnected for the whole week. Its only when you lose it that you realise how much of our modern life revolves around smart phones and internet. 

The scenery on the journey north was even more dramatic than that to the south. The mountains were taller, more rugged and the forests thicker. Every now and again we passed by a "settlement" or town - often little more than a roadhouse or service station.
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Outside of Talekeena (check spelling) we pulled over for a rest and refreshment stop at the roadside McKinley View cafe. As the sun was shining and the skies were clear we managed to see our first glimpse of the famous mountain - the tallest in North America at 20,237 feet. The mountain was named after President McKinley in 1896. It was renamed Denali, its Athabaskan Indian name in 1975 (in Alaska as an Ohio congressman continues to block the national renaming). McKinley towers double the height of the rest of the Alaskan mountain range, but due its reflective blanket of snow its can be hard to distinguish from the clouds that swirl around it. In fact, the peak is cloud covered almost 80% of the time.

Almost two hours on from Talekeena we were dropped at the Denali village; basically a hotel resort almost 10 miles from the Denali park entrance. We found ourselves somewhat stranded as the accommodation we'd booked, the Perch lodge, was nearly 10 miles back down the road. The Lonely Planet says the lodge has a shuttle, but this is two years out of date. There is no shuttle to The Perch, which necessitated organising a taxi from the nearby village of Healy, some 16 miles further up the road towards Denali. Needless to say this proved to be an expensive taxi ride.
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Although the cabins at The Perch were fine, the transport arrangements were not, so after some discussion with the owners we cancelled our second night's accommodation and booked a 'room' at the Denali Mountain Mist hostel directly across the highway as they did have a shuttle to and from the park. The only room they had available was a tent but beggars can't be choosers. It was all part of the adventure!
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At this time of year the sun doesn't set in the north and we'd completely lost track of time. We retired to our cabin at 12 midnight while outside it was light enough to read a book.

We were up early, packed our bags and moved to hostel in time to catch their 8.20am shuttle to the park. As I dragged our bags across the highway a young moose stepped out of the forest and ventured out into the road. It took me totally by surprise. The moose stepped back into the forest as a car approached and then slowly sauntered across the road again when the car passed. I managed to snatch a couple of quick shots on my phone as he walked passed.
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The Park Services run shuttle/tour buses into the park. These vary from 6 to 12 hours in length. We managed to get on the 8 hour Eieslen (?) bus at 10am. The buses are retired school buses but what they lack in comfort they make up in character. The driver provides narration and keeps and eye out for wildlife. The park is home to moose, caribou, Dall sheep (a type of mountain goat), wolves, foxes, black bears, grizzly bears, and a host of other animals. We expected to see moose and caribou - and we did - and possibly a black bear - which we didn't - but really didn't expect to see a grizzly bear. Amazingly we saw seven grizzly's. The first was a mother with two new spring cubs. The bears were walking along a hillside in fairly open country, which is apparently their preferred habitat. The black bear prefers more wooded country which makes them harder to spot. 
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Alaskan grizzly's living inland are quite different to the grizzly's living on the coast. The coastal grizzly's feed extensively on salmon during the spawning season and are larger and dark brown in colour. This is the traditional image of the grizzly bear. Inland grizzly's will hunt young and old animals and scavenge carcasses if they get the chance, but they are predominately vegetarian as the glacial rivers are too silty for fish. Consequently they are smaller in size than the coastal bears and, quite surprisingly, their fur is a golden blonde colour. 

Shortly after the first grizzly sighting we came across a lone male digging at the side of the road. Several buses had stopped to observe him so he had quite an audience, but he seemed quite unconcerned with all the attention. After about ten minutes he wandered off along the road and descended down into the valley.
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On the return journey we came across another mother and her two second year cubs. The cubs were larger than those we'd seen earlier and their fur was already lightening. The cubs were extremely confident and roamed away from their mother. I guess its a fairly carefree life when you are at the top of the food chain. 
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We were also blessed with another day of marvellous blue skies and clear weather and we were able to view The Mountain from several different vantage points. The next day the mountains were again shrouded in mist and rain and McKinley was completely obscured.

On the shuttle back to the hostel later that evening we had to stop for a large bull moose wandering along the road.
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That night's sleep in the tent was rather spartan, being both bright and cold, but at least we had mosquito nets to keep the nasty little bloodsuckers at bay.

The next day we visited the husky dog station and then walked the trail back to the visitor centre (2 miles), making jokes about being attacked by bears in the woods. Maybe 500 metres from the visitor centre we spotted a car parked on the side of the road. This was a good sign there was an animal about so we both turned to look back into the woods and there, no more than five metres in front of on the trail was a moose. We'd never even seen it. Despite their somewhat dopey looking appearance moose are very large, very wild animals and should not be approached, so we all just stood there for a moment wondering what we should do. The moose decided for us and moved slowly off the trail, munching away on vegetation as he went. What a morning!
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At 12.30pm we boarded the Alaskan Railroad for the trip back to Anchorage. The train gently winds it's way across the landscape, travelling slowly in spots so everyone can enjoy the view. It was a lovely journey and you certainly get a better view from the upper observation deck of the train than you do on the bus. 

We arrived at 8pm in Anchorage. We checked into our hostel, the Artic Adventure, which was pretty basic (but a step up from a tent!). We had a dinner downtown but otherwise had a quiet night. We had to be up early for our flight to Seattle.

Posted by paulymx 09:46 Archived in USA Tagged alaska Comments (0)

Alaskan Cruising

We arrived in Vancouver to overcast skies and drizzle - normal summer weather! From the airport we took the new train to downtown. Tickets cost CAD$4.50 per person, but buying them from the ticket machine incurs a CAD$5 surcharge, making the tickets effectively $9.50. We later learned that you can buy the tickets from the newsagent at the airport for cost price, but nobody tells you this. The new train is fast and efficient and we arrived Downtown in no time at all. We checked into the Samesun Backpackers on Granvillle Street, in the heart of the nightlife district. It was pleasant enough and the double bunk bed in our room proved to be surprisingly comfortable.
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Our first stop was Gas-town, the old heritage district down by the port. It's now a gentrified area of cafes, restaurants and art galleries. There is an excellent underground tour that escorts you through the hidden streets and sewers of the old town. It's very amusing. We certainly recommend it but we didn't do it this time. With the rain increasing steadily we settled in for a meal and a couple of drinks before heading back to the hostel. 
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The next day we did a Food Truck Tour with Vancouver Foodie Tours. This was an excellent tour even despite the constant drizzle. Our guide, Manuela, was very funny and informative as we sampled some of the products served up by the various gourmet food trucks that service the CBD. These included Japadog's famous Japanese flavoured hot dogs, a glorious fish taco from Tacofino, and a grilled cheese sandwich from Mom's Grilled Cheese Truck. NEVER has grilled cheese tasted sooooo good. Vancouver City Council is to be commended for their support of the gourmet food truck idea. If only the Perth City Council were as imaginative.
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The rain let up in the afternoon and we visited the Granville Market. The food and produce section is simply amazing, with great displays of quality produce.
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We weren't long in Vancouver. We had a pleasant sleep in and then set off to the port for check in to our Alaskan cruise. Two ships were departing that morning so the port was packed with people. We dropped our bags and then joined the long queue for immigration, customs and boarding. These are always frustrating and tiresome processes, but as a traveller you have little choice but to put up with them as best you can. The procedures themselves were handled quite efficiently, but amongst our fellow travellers we observe there were some who found the whole process of queueing and following simple instructions somewhat perplexing. Certainly to have gotten this far, they had to have done this before? 
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After about an hour and a half of processing we finally boarded the ship - the Radiance of the Seas. She was quite magnificent. Perhaps a little gaudy in a 1990s hotel decor kind of way, but that's normal for a cruise ship. We could not check in to our stateroom until 1pm so went to the buffet for lunch. Wow, what a spread. We put on a kilo just looking at it. 
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Ballast stowed, we checked into our stateroom on deck 9. I'd expected something small and cramped but it was bigger than many hotel rooms we'd stayed in and had a decent size balcony. It was going to be a great cuise!
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Day 1 - Cruising
The ship left port at 4pm. Shelly had been anxious about seasickness but we never even felt the ship leave port, only noticing we were moving when we glanced out the window. We spent the afternoon exploring the ship - and there was a lot to explore - buffet restaurant, formal restaurant covering two floors (two dinner shifts), four specialty restaurants, a two storey theatre, cinema, four bars, casino, nightclub and an external and internal pool, and many other things. We had a formal dinner at 8.30pm, which was nice, and then cruised the bars into the wee hours. 
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A note on drinks prices. All the literature warns you in advance that drinks prices are exorbitant onboard. This may be true if you are American, but for an Australian from Perth - the most expensive city in the country these days - drinks are cheap as chips. In general cocktails averaged around US$8. At home they would be twice that. Also, to note, the bar staff are not stingy with their shots. Cocktails were lethal.
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Day 2 - Cruising
We rose late for a lavish breakfast in the buffet. Day 2 was a cruising day so we generally lazed about, ate, napped and drank. Unfortunately wifi and internet cost were outrageously ridiculous otherwise we might have updated the blog and photos earlier. That evening we had the formal welcome dinner so got all frocked up. The captain provided us with some interesting statistics at the welcome cocktail party.

The Radiance of the Seas was carrying 2200 passengers on this voyage, serviced by 816 staff. There were 46 nationalities aboard the ship, with the greatest variety being amongst the staff. The largest national group was, of course, Americans, at 1800. The next largest group was Canadians and then British. There was a handful of Germans, French, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Koreans, Australians, New Zealanders and South Africans.

There is a saying from the 1930s Golden Age of Cruising that cruising is for old people. And their parents. There certainly was an older demographic aboard ship. But there were quite a few young families aboard too. There were quite a few groups of multi-generational families touring together - grandparents, parents and children. There were at least five couples travelling on their honeymoon and two young couples got engaged on the cruise. But it would be safe to say it wasn't a party boat.

Being confined aboard ship for a week with so many of our fellow human beings, we did notice that apart from "normal people" there were three special sub-categories amongst the tourists aboard, who, despite their small numbers, were noticeable everywhere they went - the immensely large, the incredibly stupid, and the chronically unhappy.

As far as the first category goes, the US does have an obesity problem and there were a small number of super-sized travellers on board. These people weren't a problem at all, except if you were stuck behind them in a queue or trying to get to the buffet.

Of the second category, they were easily identifiable on account of their constant, loud, confused banter about the incredibly obvious and their inability to understand even the most simple instructions. Every day we disembarked and reembarked ship the same way - scanned in and out our Seapass card, all bags scanned for contraband, and then step through the metal detectors. It was the same EVERY DAY. And yet, the members of this sub-group would invariably be confounded each and every day. "What do you mean, Seapass?" I don't know how some of these people manage to put their pants on each morning.

And then there are the unsatisfiable, miserable and unhappy people, who scowled, moped and complained about everything, all day, every day. We can only sympathise with the poor crew and staff who had to put up with their complaints.

Takes all kinds I guess.

Day 3 - Ketchikan
We awoke on day 3 in Ketchikan. Ketchikan is an island off the south western coast of Alaska, within the Inside Passage. It's a small, non-descript Alaskan town that stretches along a small area of flatland along the waterfront. Steep hillsides back directly onto the town, limiting its urban sprawl. The major industries of the town were fishing, shipping, seaplanes and tourism. The entire black facing the cruise ship harbour comprised jewellery stores interspersed occasionally with tourist shops. There were three cruiseliners in port that day. The town can handle six. 
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There were several tours available in Ketchikan from sea kayaking, whale watching, fishing charters, and seaplane flights out to Misty Fjords. We chose to do the seaplane flight. After a quick walk around the historic township (which was about two blocks wide), we were picked up and taken to the seaplane dock for Taquan Airlines. Taquan Airlines had a fleet of about ten seaplanes. They not only provide tourist flights but serviced the hundreds of islands and townships along this stretch of coast. In fact, many towns in this area can only be reached by boat or plane.
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Taquan had two types of plane, the De Haviland Beaver, a very long serving and successful utility seaplane that seated six people, and the new Cessna Caravan, seating ten. We were assigned to the Cessna. Neither Shelly or I are particularly good with small planes but the take off was surprisingly smooth. Occasionally the plane was tossed about by a cross breeze, but the flight was less nerve wracking than expected. We had a great view over the mountains and fjords of the island, before we landed on one of the fjords for a quick rest stop. Then we took off again and returned to town. It was well worth the trip.
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That evening we briefly spotted whales in the distance but they were too far away to identify.

Day 4 - Icy Point Straight
We had nothing planned for Icy Point, which was little more than a village deep in the Inside Passage. Only 770 odd people live there. 85% of the people are native Indian descent. Fishing remains the main industry with a welcome cash injection from the cruising trade. The Icy Point's harbour was too small for the Radiance so she parked in the deeper water and ferried people ashore via the ship's tenders.
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The old cannery outside of town has been turned into a tourist centre and this is where we were landed. It turns out Royal Caribbean owns the whole tourist operation here, as we found out they do in most of the ports.
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One of the main attractions here was the zipline ride from the top of the mountain. Its apparently the longest in the world. It takes a 45 minute bus ride around the mountain to reach the top. Getting down is a lot faster! We watched a couple of people come screaming down the mountain and decided - maybe not! We chose a sea kayaking excursion instead. 
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The sea was like glass and we enjoyed a good, long paddle across the bay. To our surprise and delight we saw a pod of three whales slowly crossing the other side of the bay. We gave chase but they easily outpaced us, we turned back towards the harbour where we had an excellent view of dozens of Bald Headed Eagles nesting in the trees. Every now and again one would swoop down and snatch a fish from the water. 
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Late in the evening the Radiance set off for Juneau, the strange capital of Alaska. Juneau was only some 60 nautical miles away from Icy Point so the ship cruised along at little more than 2 knots.
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Day 5 - Juneau
We'd set the alarm early in order to get up and explore the city before we headed out for excursions, but as always we slept in. It was very easy to sleep, eat, drink and sleep onboard. Too easy. Just as we were about to head down at 9am (early for us!) I checked our tickets and realised we had had a helicopter flight booked for 8.45am. We'd missed our flight! I rushed downstairs in a bit of a panic, but both the cruise line and the tour operators were very obliging and moved us to a later time. Thank God! At a bit of a loss, we wandered around the pleasant old town for a while, grabbed a coffee, checked our emails and then headed back to the ship to grab a bite to eat.
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At 9am the weather was looking overcast. By 10am it was raining and by 12, when we were booked on our new flight, things were looking quite grim. The rain had not let up, but the tour operator advised that the helicopter pilots were quite comfortable and prepared to go up. It rains a lot in Juneau so in their opinion a little rain never hurt anyone.
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About 1pm we were all trussed up in snow gear and harnesses and bundled into the chopper. We flew a short distance out of town to the Mendahl Glacier, our pilot weaving us there through the canyons. We were set down on the glacier for a two hour trek. Fortunately there was no real rain on the glacier, just an occasional drizzle. It was a truly excellent experience, although Shelly's thighs were complaining several days afterward. 
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That Juneau is the capital of Alaska is somewhat perplexing. The town is quite small and its not in a very practical location as it is cut off by mountains from ... basically everywhere. It can only be reached by boat or plane. There are thirty miles of paved roadway in the Juneau district, but they don't go anywhere.
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That night, before we were off to dinner, we were on our balcony watching the scenery we saw a pod of maybe 20 pilot whales pass us by in the opposite direction. Magic.

Day 6 - Skagway
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Skagway was known as the gateway to the Yukon. During the gold rush of 1867 this was the port that most of the miners passed through on their way to the Yukon goldfields. Initially the trek was done on foot, or by mule, which took an appalling toll on both miners and livestock. In the 1870s a railway was constructed to replace the miner's trail. What a feat it was, snaking its way along steep mountain sides and bridging enormous gorges. Of course, the railway no longer transports goods these days, only tourists. The scenery was magnificent, although the train's gentle rocking made it difficult to stay awake.
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Skagway town was probably the most picturesque of the towns we'd visited. It has been preserved as something of a frontier town theme park. It did not seem to be a real town. In fact, only about 400 people live in Skagway and this number drops dramatically in winter. The cruise lines own many of the businesses here. Those owned locally loudly proclaim the fact with signs. As in the other cruise ship towns, there were dozens of jewellery stores. These stores, owned by the lines, are fly in - fly out operations; here for the summer and then packed up and reopened in the Caribbean during the winter season.
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Day 7 - Hubbard Glacier
We left Skagway early that afternoon, about 4pm, as we had to cover a lot of distance to get to Seward, our destination. There was a formal dinner and shows to attend. More champagne and cocktails to be drunk, hangovers to be nursed.
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Early the next morning we arrived at Glacier Bay. The ship navigated up the bay to park at the head of Hubbard Glacier, a six mile wide river of ice slowly grinding its way down to the sea. Hubbard is very active and the ice could be heard cracking and groaning from miles away. We witnessed at least five sections of the glacier face crash into the ocean with a deafening roar. It was an impressive sight.
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The Radiance stayed at Hubbard for two hours, slowly rotating around so everyone could get a good view, then we were off again. The race was on to Seward. There was a sadness in the air as we knew the trip was coming to an end. I know cruises can seem a bit lame, but we really enjoyed ourselves. And the food! It was great - even if we admit eating too much. The last day wasn't much of anything. We arrived in port at 5.30am and were disembarked at 9. A new phase of our holiday was beginning.... but it still felt sad.

Posted by paulymx 22:50 Archived in USA Tagged alaska Comments (0)

Viva Las Vegas

"Bright light city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire." Elvis.

sunny 36 °C

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The flight from Perth to Hong Kong, to LA and Las Vegas was smooth and uneventful and Shelly and I both managed to get a reasonable amount of sleep . I certainly wouldn't say we arrived in Las Vegas fresh, but we were at least still human. We took a cab straight to our hotel, the Westin on Flamingo, freshened up and hit the town. Traffic was insane, this being the Memorial Day long weekend and the trip from Westin to Rio - on the same very street - took over 15 minutes to cover a couple of kilometres. We only just managed to make the Penn and Teller magic show at 9pm. The show was good, the guys were funny, the magic was magical, but the taxi queue to get away from Rio, which is away from the main strip, was frustrating. It 45 minutes to get a cab.
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We opted to head out of town, or more correctly, to the older part of town, to go to Frankie's Tiki Lounge. I must admit it looked a little a dubious from the outside, but it was an interesting place and we settled in for a cocktail or two, served in novelty ceramic tiki mugs. How cool! So we decided to build ourselves a collection and went in for another round, not quite appreciating their lethal quality. Nevertheless, we walked away - somewhat unsteadily - with four amazing tiki mugs and a T-shirt before we crashed and burned back at our hotel. Welcome to Las Vegas!
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Where da girls at?
Maybe it was the cocktails, maybe it was jet lag, but I stuffed up our alarm for the next morning, waking up with a start an hour before we were supposed to check out. There was a mad scramble to pack up and sort ourselves out before heading off to drop our bags at the Vdara. Westin, although nice, was a stop gap as room prices in Vegas over the Memorial Day weekend were extravagant. The Vdara room was fantastic - more a suite than a room - with a view over Bellagio's amazing water park. But we couldn't loiter. We had tickets to the Avicii Pool Party at the Encore.
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Since our first foreign adventure all those years ago I'd always fantasised about being on an exotic beach such a Coca Cobana surrounded by beautiful busty bikini babes as far as the eye could see (well, I'd be happy with beautiful busty babes without bikinis too) but I have always been thwarted by inclement weather, timing or natural disaster. For instance, the day we were at Coca Cobana beach in Rio De Janeiro, it rained. In Mykonos, we arrived the week after the end of the beach season. In Croatia, the week before (and on a Sunday). In Cancun we arrived just after Hurricane Wilma had reeked her destruction and driven away the tourists. But this time.... Hello Dolly! It was like we'd stepped onto the set of a rap video. To quote Roy Batty from Blade Runner, "You people will never believe the things these eyes have seen."
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The night before Shelly had been musing on Americans' amazing capacity for self confidence, no matter what they are doing. And that self confidence was certainly on display at the Pool Party. The dress code was bathers only - no exceptions - and bikinis were the order of the day. Everywhere you looked the young and beautiful things were posing and prancing, acres of flesh on display. The words of the LMFAO song "I'm sexy and I know it." were never more relevant. American confidence being what it is, it didn't seem to matter whether you actually had a bodied suited to a bikini. When you're over 250 pounds Brazilian dental floss can never ever be considered a great fashion choice.
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After six hours of intense sun, heat, extravagantly priced drinks, dreadful food, and eye popping scenery, jet lag sent us back to the Vdara where we crashed. We struggled out of bed later in the evening but the fight was out of us. We decided to have a quiet night. We wandered the packed streets for a couple of hours before grabbing a burger at Stacked at the Mirage, literally as the kitchen closed. We shared a delicious burger then wandered home.

The Fremont Street Experience
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We took things easy on Tuesday, wandering the malls and enjoying the airconditioning. Outside it reached a scorching 107 F. In the evening we ventured back to Downtown, the original heart of Las Vegas. As the new Las Vegas of mega malls and casinos spread out along The Strip, the old Downtown fell on hard times. This seedy heartland was a place no one wanted to visit - if they valued their life. But in recent years though the area around Fremont Street has been thoroughly renovated. Nightly light and music shows draw crowds away from the Strip to receive a glimpse of what old Vegas was once like - blinding neon, loud, brash music and very cheap drinks thinly veil a dark and seedy undercurrent. In amongst the families there are a lot of drunks. But it is fun and well worth a visit, as long as you watch where you walk.
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After a couple of big, cheap beers and cocktails we took a cab to the Peppermill for dinner. The Peppermill is something of an old Vegas tradition, having been around since the late 1960s. It still retains its plush velour and neon lit decor - an anachronism anywhere but Vegas. For this reason alone its been the set for plenty of movies, such as Casino and Goodfellas. A word of warning - the servings here are ENORMOUS. We had ribs and a Philly Cheesesteak and we could not eat more than a quarter. By the time we gave up it was time to go home. We were leaving the next morning for Vancouver.
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Posted by paulymx 22:48 Archived in USA Tagged las vegas Comments (0)

The plan

Hello friends
Once again we're setting off on another adventure. This year the plan is the great north west of North America. We'll be visiting Vancouver, Canada, Seattle, USA and heading "north to Alaska." As always we cordially invite you to join us.
Best regards
Paul & Shelly

Posted by paulymx 08:45 Comments (2)

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