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Posts Tagged ‘alaska’

What a beautiful place! As we experienced Alaska and saw things we’ve never seen before, on many occasions Chris and I just looked at each other, shook our heads and said WOW!

The sheer size of the mountains, the quiet in the wilderness, the barrenness of the tundra, all the different wildlife, the history of the gold rush, the people, the water, ice and snow. Even the way of life in these “remote” areas were amazing (to us). In Skagway, there are about 850 year-round residents. A doctor visits from Juneau once a month. A vet visits once every 3 months. Our tour guide put things into perspective for us when we stopped at a lake to take some pictures and he joked that we’ll never see anyone out on a boat on the lake. With so few residents, he told us to imagine a place the size of Manhattan having only 2 residents – the odds of running into someone is very low.

There are no roads into Juneau or Ketchikan – you have to fly in or arrive by boat. There are lots of seaplanes in the area. Supplies arrive on a barge. If a store is out of a product, you have to wait for the next shipment.

We were lucky that we got to see quite a bit of wildlife: a bear munching grass on the side of the road, a moose trying to cross the road (twice!), mountain goats, a porcupine, humpback whales, an orca (we even saw the tail!), seals, eagles, ravens (these guys are huge!) and lots of other birds.

As we traveled further north, the sunrise and sunset times changed.

  • May 18 Seattle – Sunrise 5:27am, Sunset 8:44pm
  • May 20 Ketchikan – Sunrise 4:27am, Sunset 9:00pm, Weather high 12C (54F), low 8C (46F)
  • May 21 Tracy Arm/Juneau – Sunrise 4:18am, Sunset 9:32pm, Weather high 17C (63F), low 9C (48F)
  • May 22 Skagway – Sunrise 4:11am, Sunset 9:46pm, Weather high 11C (52F), low 8C (46F)

Although there were drizzly moments, most days were simply overcast with the occasional shower and it wasn’t as cold as we thought it would be. Layers are good. Due to the longer days, their gardens are in great shape due to all the extra sunlight.

We tried to shop at stores run by locals as much as we could (instead of the stores owned by the cruise lines). They have truly wonderful artists.

We purchased dolls for our nieces and a White Pass train car for our nephew (it says “Klondike River” on it):

Chris bought a honey comb/spoon, I got a little jade bear with a salmon in its mouth. I also got dream catchers for my mom, my sister and myself (they were so nice I couldn’t resist). I wish I could have bought so much more but time and budget helped restrain me. 🙂

And since this trip was so amazing, we decided to choose an Alaskan-themed Christmas ornament for our 2012 ornament. We picked a handmade black cottonwood bark carving trimmed with beaver and reindeer. The mask has been carved by hand from the bark of the Black Cottonwood tree, which occurs in the lowlands of Alaska’s southcentral and southern coastal forests. The bark comes from trees that have been dead for 5 to 6 years. It is then possible to remove bark that is up to 6 inches thick.

We’re also planning to get some of the pictures blown up and hang them along one of our hallways that contains other trip photos. The scenery was just spectacular. Truly a trip of a lifetime – we’re so glad we went!

So – that being said, I was able to cross off multiple Life List items with this trip. More on that in the next post! 🙂

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Since we were set to arrive in Victoria, BC at 6pm on day 7, the next two days were sea days and we did a lot of relaxing, reading, eating (!) and vegging.

We attended two more of Brent Nixon’s nature talks – we learned about eagles, seals and sea lions. Again, he was just fantastic – what a find!

We also participated in a guided wine tasting of old world wines.

Beginning with champagne, then a tempranillo from the Rioja region of Spain, a French bordeaux wine, a wine from Portugal, and ending with a tawny 20-yr old port. The Spanish wine was our favourite. We also found out that Celebrity will have wine cruises stating in the fall – very interesting indeed!

We spent a short time in Victoria. During dinner we got to see some seals in the water. 🙂 Since we were only in port for a few hours, we took a short bus ride into town and walked around exploring. It’s a beautiful town and it felt very Canadian. It was comforting to see some familiar things – the flag, the Fairmont Empress hotel with familiar architecture, the easily recognizable parliament building, the Bay, Birks and the Royal Bank. 🙂 It was nice to see the sun again too – and a blue sky! We got to see the “Mile Zero” sign of the Transcanada highway as well which is where it begins – that was cool! Maybe we’ll go to Newfoundland one day to see the other end. 🙂 Victoria is home to a lot of seniors mainly due to the very mild climate. Our senior bus driver joked that they’re known for newly-weds and nearly-deads. 🙂 Chris and I agreed that we’d gladly return to spend more time visiting – it’s a beautiful place.

The Empress hotel

 

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We were most looking forward to the planned excursion in Skagway – namely the train up to the White Pass and into the Yukon. I never thought I’d ever get the chance to goto the Yukon so when we saw this tour, we jumped to sign up. Our tour guide was phenomenal – hilarious and informative, high-energy, passionate about what he does. Can’t say enough good things about him. Davy was a recent newlywed (2 weeks) and his new wife was a customs agent who worked in Fraser BC (literally in the middle of nowhere up in the tundra between the US and BC). Since we had to pass through customs to get to BC and then to the Yukon, we got to see him tease her from the bus. 🙂 They were adorable.

Our tour consisted of 2 parts – the first was the bus ride up into the mountains all the way to the Yukon where we visited the Yukon sign, the Yukon suspension bridge and enjoyed bison chili, then the train ride back down the mountain learning about the gold rush and the trail the stampeders walked to get a chance at striking gold.

The views were just spectacular and what was really interesting was seeing the climate change along the way – from a coastal area in town, through a more alpine climate, then into the tundra where “barren” doesn’t begin to describe it. Snow, trees struggling to live, and the silence – what a sight. In the alpine areas, there were larger trees, less snow, waterfalls and some wildlife. Enjoy the pics!

Road up in the tundra on the bus ride up. That’s fog. The road marker serves as a guide for snow plows to know how high the snow is and how far the road extends.

Barren tundra…

The first sign said “Avalanche Area – Do Not Stop”.

That’s the butt of a moose jumping back into the forest. 🙂 I wasn’t quick enough to get a pic!

Davy our guide! 🙂

Mountain goats

A bear!! So happy we got to see a bear in the wild. He was munching grass at the side of the road.

Funny story about the bear sighting. As we approached in our tour bus, Davy let everyone know that a car parked on the side of the road ahead were checking out a bear, so he slowed down for everyone to get a good look. Then the guy in the parked car got out of his car and Davy was nervous for him. When we got a good look, it was Brent Nixon the naturalist from the ship! If anyone would be OK in a bear’s vicinity, it was Brent. He gave us a wave and we were on our way. 🙂

We arrived at the Yukon Suspension Bridge and had some bison chili (delicious!!!) and explored the bridge and surrounding area.

hehe funny

This was taken from realllly way up – the pics don’t do it justice.

Taken from the suspension bridge – I got scared halfway across and turned back 🙂

We then went to the train depot in Fraser BC (which consists of the tiny customs building, the train tracks, and a handful of houses for the customs agents…inthe middle of snowy nowhere. It was awesome.

Frozen lake

The Trail of 98 sign – the trail walked in 1898 during the Gold Rush

Wow.

Here’s some interesting info for those interested in the history:

Gold was discovered in 1896 by George Carmack and two Indian companions, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie. The few flakes they found barely filled the spent cartridge of a Winchester rifle. However, it was enough to trigger an incredible stampede for riches: the Klondike Gold Rush.

There were two ways into the Klondike. The Chilkoot Pass which was shorter but steeper and required each person to carry a ton of supplies up the “Golden Stairs” to the Summit. Others chose the longer, less steep White Pass Trail believing that pack animals could be used and would be easier. Both trails led to the Interior lake country where stampeders could begin a 550 mile journey through lake systems to the Yukon River and the gold fields.

Both the Chilkoot Trail and the White Pass Trail were filled with hazards and harrowing experiences. 3,000 horses died on the White Pass Trail because of the tortures of the trail and the inexperience of the stampeders. Men immediately began to think of easier ways to travel to the Klondike. Construction of the railroad began in May 1898 and ended in July 1900, after the zenith of the Klondike Gold Rush had passed. 100,000 men and women headed north but only between 30,000 and 40,000 actually reached the gold fields of the Klondike. About four thousand prospectors found gold, but only a few hundred became rich.

The White Pass & Yukon Route was designated an international Historic Civil Engineering Landmark in 1994. This is an honor shared with other world civil engineering marvels such as the Eiffel Tower and the Panama Canal. The WP & YR is recognized for the many difficult and hazardous obstacles that construction overcame: design challenges, granite mountains, steep grades, cliff hanging turns and unimaginable weather conditions.

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We got up early to enjoy the gorgeous scenery that is Tracy Arm Fjord. We sailed through the fjord between 6 and 10am (Alaska time) and it was truly breathtaking. I had no idea such a place existed. Or I did, but to see it firsthand was awe-inspiring. The sheer size of it makes you realize how small we really are. Beautiful. We saw a couple of humpback whales and a bear on the shore but it was too small/far to see clearly. Wow, wow, wow.

At the entrance to the fjord – the fjord was 1000 feet deep.

Small iceberg 🙂

Wow

We arrived in Juneau in early afternoon and went on an excursion to see the Mendenhall Glacier. We visited the glacier, the waterfall, walked through the surrounding trails. Following our informative visit to the wildlife sanctuary in Ketchikan, we were now able to identify the various plants and such on the trails. The glacier is receding – in increasingly high amounts…climate change is definitely happening.

To give you an idea of how big this thing is, if you look very closely, you can see people standing on the shore on the right side of the pic at the base of the waterfall. Those aren’t ants.

Close up! 🙂

After the glacier, we stopped at the salmon bake and enjoyed a fabulous meal. Fresh grilled salmon, baked beans, corn bread, cole slaw, pasta salad, rice…there was chicken and a few other options as well. For dessert we got to roast marshmallows over by the fire pits. We also visited the waterfalls up a trail close by. A local musician was playing all the while. It was a wonderful experience and the staff was friendly. Highly recommended.

Holy moly.

If I look nervous in this pic, it’s because I was sitting on a tree stump very close to the edge… 🙂

Mmmmm roasted marshmallows 🙂

We had lunch on the ship: I had the Key West salad (lettuce, avocado, orange, watermelon), rigatoni with tomato, mozzarella and basil and ended with a brownie sundae. Chris had a mixed Mediterranean mezze plate, also had the rigatoni and ended with a rhubarb tart. Dinner was the salmon bake and even though we missed dinner in the dining room, we were glad to have been able to experience the salmon bake. Fabulous.

We got back to Juneau and did some shopping. It was warm in Juneau – and we actually saw a bit of sun peeking through the clouds. We found our annual Christmas ornament – a small handcrafted mask with fur trim. Chris also picked up a souvenir that he’ll use every day – a honey spoon. I’m still holding out for a small souvenir for myself but I have something in mind – I need to find one that’s just right. 🙂 I’ll post pics of all our loot later on.

When we arrived in Juneau (tender boat), the tide was at 13 feet. On our way back, it was down to 3 feet.

Tomorrow we’re in Skagway and will get to ride the train through the White Pass up into the Yukon. Excited!

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Today we docked in Ketchikan, a small town where they measure their annual rainfall in feet, not inches. I kept an eye out for sparkly vampires but didn’t see any.  🙂

Everything in the town is within walking distance from the ship. One of the interesting things about Ketchikan (as well as Juneau) is that they’re not reachable by road so if you want to get there, you must do so by boat or plane. They teach their kids how to operate a boat at a very young age; kids are also taught survival skills to be able to survive in the wilderness if need be.

We visited the Rainforest Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to various black bears, eagles and other animals as well as the rainforest itself including many types of trees (alder, cedar, etc.), 200+ types of mosses or lichens, salmon berries, blueberries and many more plants.

It was cool and drizzly in the morning but the rain stopped midday. It was warmer under the canopy of the rainforest – once we got out in the open it was pretty cold.

Our guide taught us how to identify bear trails, tracks, claw markings on trees and instructed us to listen to her if she asked us to huddle up – that would mean a bear was close by. Unfortunately, we did not see any bears – probably because we were visiting in the middle of the day. We still enjoyed the walk through the sanctuary and did get to see bald eagles, an owl, reindeer and the biggest slug I‘ve ever seen.

Wow.

An abandoned bear den

A slug!!

Eagles – these two were a couple guarding their nest

Reindeer

Eagle that was injured and they were taking care of him

Owl that had a right wing injury and they were taking care of him too

 

We did some shopping back in town and purchased some souvenirs for our nieces. Prior to our excursion we ate at a local restaurant and had some salmon tacos. Salmon and crab are everywhere.

The evening back on the ship was quiet – we went to see Brent Nixon’s talk about bears – once again, he did not disappoint.

Dinner was great and we’ve been having a great time getting to know the couple at the table next to us – we’ve been having a blast the past few dinners. Last night I had the Caribbean cod fritters with slaw, the sweet corn soup with lobster-bacon fricassee,  the Mediterranean seafood orzo and the tiramisu. Awesome. Chris had the veal appetizer, the green salad, the spinach ricotta ravioli and the tiramisu. Paired with another great Malbec.

Tomorrow we’re cruising through Tracy Arm Fjord in the morning and arriving in Juneau in early afternoon. Stay tuned!

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Today was a sea day and we got to explore more of the ship and partake in some of the shows and activities going on. We had breakfast in the Oceanside café (buffet), a midmorning coffee break at Café al Bacio and then lunch in the dining room. We teamed up with two guys from Texas for a trivia challenge midmorning (we lost!). The highlights of the day were two presentations from Brent Nixon, the Alaska naturalist that Celebrity has hired for the duration of the Alaska cruise season. We attended two separate shows and he is just fantastic. In the first talk, we learned about the history of Alaska and the various rushes (gold, lumber, fish) that made it into what it is today. The second talk focused on whales and how they communicate, learn, think, migrate and behave. Brent is so passionate about what he does and makes the content so interesting – we’ll definitely be attending more of his shows in the series.

Below are a few links to videos of Brent speaking that I found on YouTube – he was fantastic:

Intro of what he does: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzJuXY5ZgfM

This is like what we got to enjoy on the ship: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuCYOWkaVaU

Dinner was great once again. Chris and I both had the beef carpaccio for the appetizer. I had the seafood soup and  Chris had the vegetable broth. We both had the rack of lamb with potatoes and veggies for the main. I had the dark chocolate raspberry truffle cake and Chris had the cherries jubilee. Fantastic.

After dinner we stopped at the martini bar again – Dirty martini for Chris, Cosmo for me. And a lot of fun watching the bartenders’ antics.

Tonight we turn the time back another hour so we’re 4 hours behind eastern time. That in itself is a bit odd but we’re adapting quickly.

Tomorrow we’re in Ketchikan!

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Making our way to Seattle went well – no issues with our flights. During the shuttle transfer from the airport in Seattle to the cruise ship (Celebrity Infinity), we enjoyed the guide’s commentary and got to see various corporate buildings (including Starbucks and Amazon), we drove through a popular neighborhood for dot-com-ers back in the day, the Seattle Art Museum and other points of interest. It looked like a really nice city with a lot to offer for anyone visiting.

Embarkation was a bit slow but once we boarded the ship and were handed a glass of champagne, the time spent waiting in line was forgotten! Our first impressions of the ship were very positive – the décor was subdued and very elegant using  neutral colors, marble and glass. The Infinity is a smaller ship than we’re used to but it made getting around much easier. We spent the afternoon exploring the ship and getting our bearings. On the pool deck, people were already enjoying the whirlpools. Next to the stacks of towels were blankets for anyone wanting to stay warm while enjoying the outside – that was a nice touch.

We stopped at the martini bar that actually had a frozen/frosted bar. The bartender was like something out of that movie Cocktail with bottles flying and theatrics – lots of fun. I tried a Peartini and Chris had a Dirty Martini. Tasty! We sailed at 4pm and were on our way! Here are some pics of the boat:

The ship’s man foyer:

They had a wine bar called Cellar Masters where you could insert your Sea Pass card to taste various wines. We enjoyed a guided tasting of old world wines here later in the cruise – more on that to come.

The Constellation lounge – one of the spots where they hosted shows and activities. This is also where we got great views when sailing Tracy Arm Fjord (more on that later).

The library

We enjoyed coffee and pastries almost every day in Cafe al Bacio. They also served fantastic gelato. 🙂

The internet lounge was completely Apple – it’s called the iLounge – very sleek indeed. They also had an Apple store on board.

We had dinner in the dining room and were not disappointed! Another difference we noticed on Celebrity is that they offer an additional course (appetizer, soup or salad, entrée and dessert). I had the Roasted beet and goat cheese salad, wild mushroom soup, prime rib with potatoes and vegetables, and ended with the dulce de leche crème brulee and a cappuccino. Chris had the goat cheese tart, endive and arugula salad with candied pecans and apples, vegetable kebab with citrus basmati rice and ended with guava sorbet and a cappuccino. Everything was excellent, although eating dinner at 9-10pm ET was strange. 🙂 We had a Catena Malbec with dinner and the sommelier was great!

During dinner (we had a table for 2 near the window), we got to enjoy some nice scenery and saw huge mountains and snowcaps high in the sky… Let the amazing scenery begin!

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