12 December 2008

NYC - a first visit

"Standing at IAH, ready for our big trip to NYC" ...

Friday the 5th
- I'm heading into the terminal with Kathleen, and security tells me I'm in the wrong line, so we rapidly part as I race for the other side ... I'm only minutes from boarding
- the flight to Cincinnati is short, but on a little commuter plane where the
over head is miniaturized, and we had only one attendant
- the guy beside me was playing his music so loud, even through the speakers he was waking me up
- once we land (that area has really interesting geography, btw, obviously a river bed, though I never saw the river ... no high ground) we walk down the stairs, which I haven't done since Hawaii, and into this temporary terminal ... follow the signage to my next terminal, which requires a bus ride as the terminals are not interconnected
- the flight to JFK is on a much larger, but much emptier plane, I have my row to myself
- at JFK we sit on the runway waiting for a gate to open, and finally get into NYC ... not bad
- a very kindly officer showed me around as I had not been able to pinpoint Kathleen's terminal beforehand ... so I collect my luggage and head off on the SkyTrain to find my friend ... everything is fairly well marked, but it helped to have employees to stop and question to make sure I'm not headed in the wrong direction, I haven't run into a rude New Yorker yet

Here's a photo of the luggage attendant waiting for me at terminal 2:

- find Kathleen's exit spot and get a little reading in while her plane circles the city
- we meet up, hit the subway systems ($25 for a week's unlimited ride pass), reach the hostel, check-in, dump luggage, and run to feed ... a place called Mama's Pizza (where I call family to let them know we arrived safe and sound)
- back to hostel to crash, but the other tenants are so noisy, I'm just know I won't be able to sleep a wink ... shortly thereafter, I fall fast asleep and barely stir all night long

"Kathleen in the kitchen"

Saturday, the 6th
- slowly awaken to the morning
- Kathleen makes a breakfast and snack run to the local grocery store and we get ready for the day
- New York sight seeing: Grand Central Station, Chrysler bldg, Fred F French bldg, a Sephora Store, and Rockefeller Center with a visit to the top, "Top of the Rock" ... $20
- we wander down to the tenement museum to get tickets, but they sell same day only (something that never made sense on the three phone calls I placed that morning)
- back to the hostel to prep for our evening meal at Chef Matteo's "4 Course Vegan" gourmet, where we had dinner with several lovely people ... btw, dinner was delish and Kathleen enjoyed it as well, the chef is a busy man
- walk back to the subway, and it is snowing, delighting us both to no end
- the subway is shutting down some stops for maintenance, and we have to figure out an alternate way home (Kathleen's subway savvy comes in very useful)
- we make it back sometime after midnight, that subway is packed (obviously those movies showing scary, spooky, empty late night subway cars are using a LOT of artistic license ... a LOT)

"How you shop for Christmas trees in NYC." ... view along our walking route to reach the subway ...

Sunday the 7th
- get prepped for another day outside
- the morning greets us with a small flurry of snow flakes, and this from a day that was supposed to see no precipitation
- a couple of subway trips find us not too far from the tenement museum
- I'm a bit disturbed by all the noise on the subway, it doesn't bother Kathleen, she likes the ambiance it adds ... I'm more used to silence, so the drumming, singing, and speakered guitar playing irritates me (the sax and acoustic guitars are not nearly as intrusive, and I do enjoy them)

- the Tenement Museum was a must see on both of our lists, we took the "Piecing it Together" tour which covered some of the early home sweatshop development in the garment district; it was important for me to see what some of my ancestors may have experienced ... I know I have German, Scottish, Irish, and Portuguese ancestry from across the pond

I even wrote down a list of books that interested me, I'll borrow them from the library:
Lipstick Jihad
Persian Girls
Reading Lolita in Tehran
Literature from the Axis of Evil
A Long Way Gone
The Reluctant Fundamentalist
How does it feel to be a problem? Being Young and Arab in America

I tried to find some souvenirs for my family in the museum gift shop, but honestly, what do you get for people who have everything they want and need?

- go to TKTS and get "Perfect Crime" tickets for half off
- At the end, Kathleen remarked how good the dress fit on Lionel, and that she couldn't see why the play was still running 21 years later; this did not come across as appreciation to my ears ... though I admit to approving of Lionel's red dress as well, it was particularly neat around his bicep/ armhole area; further query over dinner revealed she had enjoyed the puzzling/misdirection of the show, but could not see why the actress had played the show for so long (same actress + same role + 21 years = something's funny ... hm, I see her point)
- stop at gift shops on the way back to the subway at Times Square, and saw some interesting t-shirts, but still could not find anything for family
- Times Square is even crazier than you've seen on TV, people are everywhere! We've decided that anyone who drives in Manhattan is nuts, there are just too many pedestrians, and they don't care about the cars.
- visit Turkuar (Turkish) restaurant for a nice dinner, we had a long time to sit and chat (they were good at finding options for me)

"Christmas Tree at Bryant Park" ...

Monday, the 8th
- up at 7:30 for fabric shopping
- first stop downstairs for breakfast
- off for fabric overload
- It is cold ... the high today is supposed to be 38, I don't believe them (later research showed a high of 30 for the day, and an average of 25.5 ... brrrr)
- off to Mood fabrics where I found shirting and pant fabrics, Kathleen found gorgeous feeling linen, belt, and sheath fabrics
- On to Ann's favorite Metro and the lovely Kashi who has sumptuous woolens, but nothing that seemed to suit my coloring, until Kathleen found this heavenly rayon lycra burnt orange for me
- waltz through M&J trimming since it is on the way
- then we went to the restaurant recommended by a friend, "Le Pan Quotidient" ... excellent meal
- we stroll to Bryant Park across the street and look through their basically open air market, which was fun to browse (I got a gift for BH), but left us numb and verrry slow (neither one of us could feel our feet)
- head to Spandex House, where the term "customer service" has never been heard. We both leave with two lengths of knit ... we worked so hard getting that blue of Kathleen's out from under a ton of bolts, that neither of us has been warmer on this trip (the guy eating his lunch 10 feet away must have enjoyed our struggle too much to help)
- head back to hotel loaded down; eat at Indian Restaurant "Indus Valley", it was a lovely evening and we enjoyed each others company immensely

"Our stash, is a very, very, very nice stash!"

Tuesday the 9th
- awaken to the alarm and a mouse rooting around in my purse ... I guess it is a good thing I left the purse open, I've seen what kind of damage those little teeth can do!
- a walk through Central Park starts our day off
- we catch a bus to the Frick Collection, which is interesting - his house and some of the artwork he collected through his lifetime ... BUT, here's where I found the rude New Yorkers: the museum staff wouldn't tell you what procedure was and got frustrated when you were confused, the burgundy coated Nazis (BH says call them Fascists!), aka "room security", was skewed to men and they were NOT helpful ... no one could answer my questions: why does the door have a spring, was it the first automatic door closer?, why are all the books covered in place mats?, and how often are all the clocks checked for timing?
- to top the experience off, I was in the dining room (where the carpet is bordered by approx. two feet of wooden floor, which I stepped onto in order to get a better look at the shades and I'm still at least half a foot away from touching anything) when a burgundy coat came by and said, "Please don't step off the carpet?" ... And I'm all, "Um, how am I supposed to get out of the room, then?" So when I left that room, I made a big production about stepping waaaaay over the wood border to reach the next room. Thank goodness for long legs. Anyway, I saw previously unknown paintings by artists that I recognize (Degas, Whistler, Vermeer, etc.), and Kathleen and I thoroughly enjoyed dissecting:

* the art, which had us uttering comments such as, "her bodice would be falling off" and "where's her chaperone?"
* the furniture, "they just don't make assemble it yourself furniture like they used to" - for the table having a misplaced nail, and "they got a deal on that green trimming, it covers every bit of that chair"
* the sculpture, "Diana really needs a quiver of arrows to go with her bow, it is kinda useless otherwise", and "the Greek and Roman gods (and bastards and family) must be too good for clothes, seeing as they never wear any"

Kathleen gleefully pointed out the frustrated landscape artists, whose portrait backgrounds were rich and diverse. She is quite educated with the art that piques her interest.

I took "Art History" during my first degree, and I can appreciate art for art's sake (... usually ... I don't get Rothko type "modern art," I have no appreciation for that glorified kids' play what-so-ever). However, it was nice to be visiting an art collection with someone who saw the quirkier aspects of art. I don't think I was too badly misbehaved.

- then we headed to the Met to get Kathleen's hubby's Christmas present ... Shhh, don't tell him ... but you could nickname the present "Knut". The Met was pretty busy, but I'm not sure it is worth a visit (it strongly reminded me of stories of the Louvre ... too many people to actually enjoy the trip).
- Then we caught the bus north to reach "The Cloisters" which rests at the far north of the island of Manhattan. The bus trip showed us a different side of the Manhattan, and I strongly encourage others to take the trip. You miss so much when you are underground in the subway system. If you have the time, a bus gives you a much better understanding of the architecture and layout of the city.
- "The Cloisters" is this stone effigy built to house medieval art and stone work. There's a lot of monastic architecture in that building, as well as gory religious iconography, a lot of vigins with child, and the unicorn tapestries ... I wish we knew the stories behind those tapestries and the artists' intentions. The building, furniture and fiber work in "The Cloisters" interested me most, but everything was worth a look. Kathleen pointed out that the uneducated peasants at the time could decipher the images so much better than ourselves (as subjects were identified by what they carried or what they were depicted with in the image). So much of our world comes to us via the written word now, but the uneducated masses had only imagery to study.
- We headed back towards the hostel with the intention of eating and during a subway transfer Kathleen made the train at 125th Street, but I did not. I waited and waited for my correct train to arrive (I needed a local for two stops, and everything was express). Finally the train arrived, which kept me from walking the twenty or so blocks. And Kathleen was waiting at the other end. So no worries about trying to find her. She had watched the express trains closely for me, in case I had gotten on the wrong one (my navigation skills are puny compared to Kathleen's, it doesn't hurt that she's been riding subways for more than a decade in total). She breathed a sigh of relief when I stepped off the correct train. :) Crises averted.
- We eat again at Indus Valley. We stopped by a Thai restaurant first, but they couldn't accommodate my special needs, or the girl we talked to had no idea what I was asking (I've run into one other Thai restaurant that put fish sauce in everything, so it could be either answer). We then walked over to the Turkish restaurant to peak through their menu again, but Kathleen wanted me to have a larger selection (isn't she awesome!), and we had our last New York meal together in the window table at the Indian restaurant.

Wednesday the 10th
- up at 7:30 am
- slept okay, but did awaken a couple of times in the night, there are some noisy guys down this hall
- Kathleen has run to the post office (to post Christmas gifts to Perth) and to grab a spot of breakfast. She needs to head out a bit before myself, as she has sightseeing left and I go to the trains to wrestle my luggage to the airport. Fabric is amazingly heavy!
- Kathleen caught the C headed south/downtown with me and we parted at 42nd street station, she stayed on while I transferred to the E headed uptown/Queens ... knowing your Burroughs comes in handy when navigating the subway system.
- My flight to Cincinnati was fairly uneventful, though when the pilot dropped the wheels in deep cloud cover I felt a little uneasy ... we broke through close to the ground and landed with barely a hiccup. Whew. I hoofed my way to my next flight, luckily I didn't need to switch terminals ... just after the flight is called for first boarding, we're told the Houston airport is experiencing weather delays, and our departure has been put off ... 20 minutes ... 50 minutes ...
- we begin boarding and depart by 5:30 pm ... it has been snowing in Houston and it is supposed to reach 31 degrees tonight, should I wrap pipes when I get home?

"Bye, Bye Kathleen ... until next time"

Things I learned about NY:
- the "rude" New Yorker is harder to find than you would imagine
- these old buildings don't ventilate very well, expect to smell like dinner for your entire trip
- the subway is fairly easy to navigate, just have an idea which Burrough is which
- there are smokers, a LOT of smokers, in this city ... and they don't care where the smoke goes, who brushes up against their cigarette (the fashionable and non hold their cancer sticks at hip level), or where their butts go (I looked through a street grate while walking, and the butts are stacked inches high ... very gross.)
- you do get used to the craziness, by day two the crush of people seems normal
- every guy carries a bag here, I guess when you don't have a vehicle you can't depend on your pockets alone ... murses don't carry the negative stigma here that they tend to engender in other parts of the U.S., like the South (cough, cough)
- be prepared for odd people on the subway, we've been serenaded by a loud quartet, and I've been subjected to a religious lecture from the guy wandering car to car

Would I recommend New York? Absolutely ... I can't wait to go back.

So I get this email from a sewing buddy ...

One of my closest sewing buddies, who is literally halfway around the world from me, emails somewhat out of the blue, "I'm thinking about a trip to the U.S., do you meet up with online friends?"

And I say, "Yes! You, of course." And she begins planning a stop by my place. I suggested she take in another city while she was in the U.S. ... I put out Las Vegas, either of the Disney monstrosities, or New York City as possible options.

Being several steps ahead, Kathleen had already planned to hit New York City. I, ever so casually, offered to accompany her on the remaining leg of her American journey. Assuming, of course, that 1) she would welcome the company, and 2) I wasn't intruding on other plans. And I wasn't. Yay! So here's our story ...

Kathleen arrived at IAH on Sunday the 30th of November. We stayed up until midnight chatting away and getting to know each other in person before I let her sleep for a couple of hours. While she was in Houston, we took in the spectacle ... Wal-Mart and huge trucks in the parking lot, the local malls (where we thoroughly dissected the sewing techniques and Kathleen found a gorgeous silk dress at Nordies), and our local fabric stores (Hancock's, JoAnn's, and Universal Fabric Center in the Rice Village, where they tried to charge me $50 a yard for a $16 a yard cotton/lycra ... sheesh).

I will always remember the comment she made about getting to used to "our" accents, our being myself and my immediate family. We don't have accents. My mother is from Colorado and my dad from several places, which gives my brother and I fairly accentless English ... until the ya'll comes out. We're obviously from North America, but even Canadians can't figure me out. :)

In no time at all, four days has rushed past. The night of the 4th found us hurriedly finishing the hem on a dress she needed later on in her journey, and trying to pack for our takeoff the next morning to New York City.

10 August 2008

Airports Visited

I've been writing back and forth with a friend who's trying to plan a visit. Her question went something like this, "How can you have been in only 10 airports, when you can't fly directly to Houston from anywhere?"

And I responded, because I always go to the same places. And then I started adding up my airports, or the cities at least ...

Anchorage, AK (ANC - Anchorage International Airport)
Los Angeles, CA (LAX - Los Angeles International)
Seattle, WA (SEA - Seattle-Tacoma International Airport)
Phoenix, AZ (PHX - Phoenix International Airport)
Las Vegas, NV (LAS - Las Vegas McCarran International Airport)
Denver, CO (x 2, Stapleton AND DIA - Denver International Airport)
Midland, TX (MAF - Midland International Airport)
Houston, TX (IAH - Houston George Bush Airport)
Galveston, TX (GLS - Scholes International Airport at Galveston) - PHI helicopter ride
New Orleans, LA (MSY - Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport)
Detroit, MI (DTW - Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport)
Orlando, FL (MCO - Orlando International Airport)
Big Island of Hawaii, HI (KOA - Kona International Airport at Keahole)
Moloka'i, HI (MKK - Molokai airport)
Hilo, HI (ITO - Hilo International Airport) - tourist helicopter ride
London, UK (LHR - Heathrow Airport?)

I'm not so sure which London airport I touched down and departed from.

So that's 17 I've flown in or out of, or both in the case of the helicopter rides.

25 July 2008

July 05 - delivery to Houston

- the airports have not been packed, but it was impossible to sleep well on the plane, and we are starting to experience heavy exhaustion ... it is now six o'clock a.m. our (old) time, and we've had no more than three hours sleep; our skin is extremely dry, and our eyelids are sticking to our eyeballs
- breakfast was an energy bar and most of Bill's grapes
- we wander concourse B, stretching out our legs
- two hours until takeoff, and I could really use a nice, comfortable bench, but they are all upright torture devices ... airlines and airports never seem to get good press anymore ... I hear that my pregnant cousin needed several barf bags on the way home, and the flight attendants were so very not helpful, pretty much got an "oh, well" when she ran out ... luckily she has a loving little brother (much like my own) and he pulled some from other rows
- pick up lunch from Quizno's and wait for our flight to be called ... and wait ... and wait
- spoke with my seat-mate David the whole trip, we compared jobs and AK and TX and various vacations and then he got the strangest look of devilish delight in his eyes and asked, "Are you on Blank Street?" I was so shocked ... turns out his mother lived down the street for a couple of years, and he had seen BH ride his recumbent up and down the street ... how odd and amazing was that co-incidence? We had a great chat.

What I've learned on this trip:
- there's nothing like a long trip to teach you what clothes are useful versus which ones are not, and how much I hate companies that can't be bothered to properly finish their clothing
- I only need one tube of sunscreen for the two members of this family ... I ended up with four on this trip, they have wasted valuable space
- Kira food is essential, never leave home without it, bring more than you think you will need
- traveling without a vehicle is nice, but it does bring scheduling challenges, though I know the few miles we've walked on this trip are trifling compared to the miles our ancestors walked
- tourist towns are not for me, neither are highly populated areas, off the beaten path makes me happier
- if shoes are not thoroughly comfortable, think twice, my merrell hikers have worked fairly well, but they bruise the tip of my right fibula (the place I've got bone missing) and it has made a couple days of the trip uncomfortable, especially following a day of rapid elevation change ... I'll be checking out Salomon next
- we like staying somewhere more than one or two nights, it really gives us the opportunity to get the lay of the land
- bring more lotion than you think you will need, running out of "your" brand is a killer
- miniaturize as much stuff as possible, especially palm and cell phone, less weight and bulk is preferable ... it all gets heavy lugging it around
- brush up on your geography, you meet people from all over and it is nice to picture their city/homeland/etc.
- bring plenty of plastic/biodegradeable utensils ... we had to beg and borrow a couple of times, and EVERYTHING got washed several times
- don't bring workout clothes, you walk too much, be prepared for sore feet
- bring multiple sock weights
- don't forget a swimsuit
- you do adjust to a changed temperature after two days, don't over or under pack
- bring minimum makeup, most days I won't bother with it

July 04 - Anchorage, AK - homeward bound

A little (actually big - 20 ft long?/6 meters?) piece of driftwood. This is what Alaska feels like to me: a little sparse and a little lonely. Perfectly representing my view of the entire state.

- going home, eventually!
- eat at hotel (granola and oatmeal), check out, and store stuff with them
- walk down to the parade grounds for an 11:30 parade that doesn't get started until 11:50, nothing like starting on time ... of course, spectators were still arriving at noon, so maybe we just don't get Alaska time yet
- one guy pulled a little caribou along.
- lots of vet floats (let's hear it for our protector's, doing the job that's demanded of them), Fire Dept, older Alcan and military vehicles, antique cars, and lots of dogs with the spectator's (two boxers almost got into it)
- we keep thinking the parade is over, and then the floats or the bands show up
- man do people have big families here ... I bet I know what they do all winter
- after the parade breaks up, we head into the park grounds where every Alaskan seems to have turned out to celebrate
- we've never seen so many dogs in one area
- what an unusual gathering: so many pregnant women, so many chunky kids, so many kids with a mouth full of silver (I guess those kind of go hand in hand), so many dogs, and so many dad's taking a large share of the kid watching
- how many verses are there to the "Star Spangled Banner?" because I think this singer is up to four so far
- we get a veggie gyro and chips for me, and supreme gyro, reindeer sausage, and chips for BH from the vendor's ... they got mobbed and will be exhausted tonight
- we walk down to the north side of the city to a little creek
- AK is very determined to protect its water, and therefore its salmon, it is rather interesting the you can fish in the streams and creeks surrounding downtown Anchorge, I don't think I'd stick a big toe in any Houston creek/bayou water, much less eat something out of it
- we stop in at "The Ulu Factory" to peruse their collection of crap, and listen in on this loud cell conversation a woman is having with a friend back home in Minnesota ... and we get a really good idea of what the cruise industry's target customer looks and thinks like ... it ain't pretty, and it ain't us
- We stop off for a rest at the Hilton lobby, BH has tired feet and needs to rest indoors, apparently ... none of the outdoor benches are good enough (maybe he's afraid of drunkard/homeless urine and cooties)
- Four o'clock in the afternoon, two hours until dinner and seven hours until takeoff ... the wait is beginning
- from a sign we saw, Carnival has begun confiscating ulus from passengers, and NOT returning this common Alaskan tourist purchase
- Found a raven carving we both like after days and miles of searching, the last shop we were going to stop in, and there it was ... it was carved in 1-2K year old Walrus jaw bone
- back to Ginger for dinner where they made me special yellow tofu curry, delicious, we are so surprised that we haven't seen any recommendations for this restaurant, it is easily the best menu we've looked at in the entire city (downtown walking, anyway)
- mammoth ivory, sea cow, and moose antler? beads, two carved raven heads in???
- walk back to hotel, just missed shuttle and told that the next is thirty minutes away, BH gets a little antsy, if he and his father can't cool their heels in an airport for as least 2.5 hours, they've left too late ... I'm more of a, as-long-as-I'm-there-an-hour-before-takeoff type

July 03 - Anchorage, AK

A totem in the new Anchorage Museum ... we ate lunch way below this raven.

- Granola and green tea for breakfast, and tv watching
- we eventually amble down to the Anchorage Museum, BH remembers the old museum in its old location, in his words "It did not amount to much" ... the new museum is much larger ... it even has its own restaurant "The Marx Bros. Cafe", which is doing a fairly brisk business, (which is where we are sitting, because BH is famished ... practically ready to faint, he tickles my funny bone when he whines ... I recommend the Portobello Mushroom Sandwich, very tasty)

- The new museum has an entire Iditarod Sled Dog Race collection donated by the founder's family "Joe Redington Sr.", a large display of artifacts and how Alaskan's have looked through the years, an art gallery, and native housing examples

- BH is highly irritated by the urine smell in every doorway we've passed in Anchorage, he wonders what the city is going to do to clean it up
- We are walking along, trying to find something to eat, the Brewhouse has pizza for me but considering our previous experience BH doesn't want to chance it; the Orso has an expensive Vegan pasta dish but we've seen all the seafood dishes at home; and we continue walking to this little hole in the wall called Ginger, a Thai restaurant located at 425 west 5th, between E and D streets, which has delicious upscale food

- We've seen a lot of tourist trinkets the last couple of weeks, both high end and low, and we're surprised at the changes we've seen over the last twenty or so years ... the useful, basic items made by first nations members are nowhere to be found, everything has been spiffed up for the tourists, the natives would never have used this floofy junk ... another unique crafting gone in the search for money, sigh
- A lot of the ivory pendants I've seen have little gold nuggets glued in the middle, kinda like a seasame seed stuck in your teeth, ruins both items ... what a waste and a total turn off
- BH is really disappointed by restaurants that serve grocery food, you know, the kind that you pick up and heat and eat ... we've seen a couple of these along the way

July 02 - Denali to Anchorage via AKRR

A close up of Denali, aka Mount McKinley.

Denali (on the right) with his fellow peak buddies: Mount Hunter (in the middle) and Mount Foraker (on the left).

Apparently this is the clearest the mountain has been since May 12th. The travelogue by the RR mentioned (ad nauseum I might add) that Denali makes its own weather and is usually cloud covered. The smaller mountains at the base are what is usually seen.

- Awaken to the seriously loud alarm clock here at the cabin, I could not get to sleep last night due to the noise: traffic, equipment movement, and people ... in this world of little sunset, goods run as long as the light lasts, and many people seem to think nothing of slamming doors or calling out in loud voices while the sun is out, even if it is eleven at night
- we are beginning to adapt to our smaller bed, but I will be so happy to be back in a larger bed, especially since this mattress seems to gather items toward the middle ... sheets ... people, etc.
- finish packing and shuffling things around, I'll put the GPS unit in luggage ... if it disappears into the hands of thieves, I'll have to replace it ... we're such nerds
- BH is sick of the facade and faux everything that so many things are going to; he wants to go back to the Yellowstone Lodge in Yellowstone National Park in Montana, I've never been but he has such fond memories of the park and all the creaky old wood in the old original lodge
- I want to go out along the east coast and see what awaits us out there
- We are sitting in the McKinley Princess Lodge, and the fireplace mantel has elaborate oak carvings in it, but there are no oaks in this area ... Aspen, Spruce, Alder, yes, but no oaks ... that's what started the facade irritation ... of course, there are the obligate fake ficus 'growing' all over the place as well
- we went by the general store for soy milk and chips, then we went to Subway for sandwiches
- we took the hotel shuttle to the depot and checked-in for the train and walked up to Denali visitor's center and perused the first/basement floor, I'm fairly impressed with the layout and how much nature they put into the layout
- onto the train at call, BH is taking pictures of the engines and their unusual font presentation which has captured his attention
- we get underway ontime, and I hope that BH is onboard ... he disappeared after unloading his stuff and the train has started moving ... by this time I am starving
- the man finally shows up to change out the camera battery ... we sit down and I power through a footlong veggie delite, half bag of BBQ Grizzly chips, a clif bar, and a soymilk ... this is a huge meal for me; I feel like I've been living on crumbs for days, probably all that crappy cruise food catching up with me
- I do enjoy listening to the tour commentary provided by AKRR employees, they are youngsters with summer jobs, and occassionally flub a line or three, but they all concentrate on diffrent areas of the trip ... the commentators take half the trip and switch trains at the midpoint between Anchorage and Fairbanks, a bit south of Denali
- we have a noisy and boisterous group of seven on this portion of the trip, two children: Sidney and Jeremy (today is his birthday, everybody is invited below for cake)
- we got a clear view of Denali today, "it is only visible twenty percent of the time;" BH is taking copius pictures, I'm, sure; it's a mountain, it is far away, it is covered in snow ... it looks like just about every other moutain I've ever seen, meh.
- I really enjoy looking at the beaver dams, there is awe at their industriousness, but also the cooperation required for a family lodge to go together ... they join meerkats, ants, termites, primates, and some single celled organisms that excell in family/peer/social structures
- AK beavers can reach 100 pounds, beavers elsewhere average 40-70 pounds
- GoldStar (Service) AKRR wise, car B is the preferred car, as a shorter car follows and better picture taking opportunities exist
- however, wildlife viewing is probably better in car A
- watching salmon in the rivers is really interesting, they are huge
- west WA seems more untamed in its pure wildness of flora and faunal forms ... by comparison, AK is tamed and lessened by its severe winter, which curbs its growing ability to a few short months of long-lived days
- In AK, there is this desperation, we must do this now, today; WA has a more timeless mien ... if it doesn't get done today, don't worry, it will tomorrow
- People are still in awe of Denali, it is still a mountain
- BH made this comment regarding the cruises AK King Crab dinner, "They served us the left-over legs, they didn't serve any claws or forearms that are a meal due to their sheer size ... I've been out on a boat ... we'd trade with the fishermen ... Coca-Cola, coffee, sugar, flour, eggs (if on the boat) for AK King Crab, the one's headed for Asian markets" ... now, it's been awhile since he's been out on a working vessel, and he doesn't quite get the reality of reduced crab stock and size, but regardless, I've seen some small AKKC, and I have to agree, the crab the cruise boat served were miniatures ... maybe the steakhouse served the larger ones?
- we had cell service through most of Denali (the NE corner anyway), but half an hour out of Anchorage and I still don't have a useful signal
- finally get hotel, only to be told call back after you have luggage ... the obtaining thereof proves to be a crazy, old timey experience
- our five minute shuttle driver finally hauled himself to the station fifeteen minutes later
- we check in go up to the room and collapse, and find nasty coffee stains all over the sheets, request replacement, and absolutely gross out over the condition of the mattress, how many more of these have I slept on through the years? Ick, ick, ick ... I took the opportunity to check for bed bugs ... we seem to be safe.
- Day's Inn half recommended, but half not

July 01 - Denali National Park, AK

A composite in miniature. This little dude is about 4 inches tall (10.16 cm).

Follow along with our walk again: we caught the Taiga Trail out of the visitor's center, Horseshoe Lake Trail to the north end of (what else) Horseshoe Lake, and went off trail down the Nenana River, which found us back at the Wilderness Access Center ... which found us back on the bike path, and then the red (Jones) shortcut back to the hotel.

- The Crow's Nest is okay, but there are some things I'd do differently ... fix the toilet that shudders while the tank is refilling, put in one (new) queen size bed and a cabinet rather than two fulls with a nightstand, and offers some DVDs for borrow along with the horrible five channel and DVD combo mini TV player provided
- hard to believe that the best hotel we stayed in was our first night in Tumwater, WA
- This place near Denali is $200/night; anywhere else I wouldn't pay more than $80/night
- this morning dawns chilly and wet ... I will need to stay warm
- BH admonishes me to be honest and explain that we have out very own log cabin to sleep in with our very own bathroom, sharing nary a wall but the bathroom wall of our neighbor
- we catch a van transport (hotel provided) down to the visitor's center; on the transport with us is Caleb and his family, they were heading home to Michigan starting via the railroad depot ... should BH and I ever decide to reproduce, a Caleb would be our curse (uh, blessing); he isn't necessarily busy, nor is he hyperactive, he is just very talkative and we knew how many miles he'd walked and what his parents have done and all he's seen on his trip (we also saw him on the first day while his parents checked-in as well as in the dog sled demo where he was very active during the question session)
- Catch the Taiga Trail out to the Horseshoe Lake Trail (2.5 miles so far), about ten minutes in the rain begins to patter down softly, we watch two little ground squirrel's gathering food, but wouldn't you now that neither of them will stand still long enough for a decent photo
- we see lots of moose track along the way, but no other wildlife save humans, gulls, and an inquisitive little scrub jay like bird that kept close-by throughout our tea and lunch stop ... methinks this little guy has been hand-fed in the past (rain stops during our lunch break)
- after a warming recharge, we follow the creek and beaver dams to the river and then decide to follow the river back to the roadway ... seems simple enough by the map ... btw, I would not have attempted this but for the really good GPS unit we've got (including an extra set of batteries); BH has an excellent sense of direction, but getting off trail can turn anyone around ... and two hikers got lost not long ago
- off trail/trail is interesting, we see a lot more animal tracks, and the fairly worn pathway is easy to follow ... for the most part ... the area is spongy beneath our feet, and parts of the path seem likely to crumble into the river, we finally reach a sticking point where we have to throw ourselves off the hillside or head straight up to the west and hope we find an easier way on the other side, by this time our dried pants had been re-soaked by the underbrush, and we reached the hilltop exhausted, with trembling leg muscles ... and run right into the wilderness access center (ha) ... getting off trail is nice, it gets one away from the crush of humanity, and it is good exercise
- we walk back to town, circle a princess/aramark joint that has over a six hundred rooms, with half of them guaranteed a pitiful view (BH points out that we have a good view from our log cabins ... I agree), and trudge up the hill to our place, where we down some chocolate, drape our wet things, and I curl up for a well deserved nap, the cold saps me more than BH (for a while there following lunch, I wasn't sure my gloves would dry, guess I need water-resistant gloves for the next trip)
- we've reached vacation saturation/away from home saturation (we miss pups, we don't like the Aramark/Princess takeover, and we miss media of choice) ... so we've been away too long at two weeks, five days
- dinner is two cans of soup over pre-cooked noodles ... Annie Chung soup bowls wash and re-use well, though the Miso gives BH a headache and I don't like the way it tastes ... we prefer the teriyaki ... but, of course, when the food box was packed, only Kira food went inside, so BH has slowly chipped away at my food stores on this trip and we will desperately need to hit the grocery store when we get back to the abode ... maybe Sunday
- we like our little MSR pocket rocket stove and plan to look for more titanium ware, our little mug has done well, but the soups overwhelm the mug size
- I've got loads of flower pics ... if just half of them come out I will be happy
- we are getting back into pack and go mode, and prepping for the Anchorage return ... another six hours by train ... I hope we are rested enough to enjoy the return trip, we slept through half of the first one
- most of the food is gone, we are down to energy bars and water and chocolate and tea and oatmeal and granola
- we shower for the night, and as the water runs to warm up, it keeps shutting off, and then starting back up, a very strange experience
- A recently realized twist on this Denali experience, Denali is really only open four months out of the year, they get a thousand winter visitor's each year, everyone else (500K visitors) arrives May through September ... even the local town closes up during the winter ... no wonder the buy push is so strong, and you are not encouraged to bring your own food (no coffee pot, no hot plate, no microwave ... they want you to buy $3 milk and $6 oatmeal instead)

June 30 - Denali National Park, AK

Shortly before we arrived in Denali, two hikers went missing in the park for ~a week. My MIL was panic stricken that BH and I would encounter the same fate. But, looking back on it now ... how can someone get lost in this?

Newsminer Article

Anchorage Daily Article

We were only a couple of miles from where these two lost their way, and I'm sure the terrain isn't all that different. Map of Entrance Area Hiking Trails

Our first day we walked all or part of the: Rock Creek Trail, Meadow View Trail, Roadside Trail, McKinley Station Trail, Bike Path, and red (Jones) short cut trail to get back to our hotel located just east across the Nenana River.

- a cold, restless night spent on an old mattress ... still need a heater for these frosty mornings
- granola for breakfast, and slowly prepping for the day: mosquito repellent, food, water, sunscreen, maps
- walk down to park and watch rafters on the Nenana River
- walk to Wilderness Access Center which is such a disappointment ... kinda like the park itself ... this is not the trip of a lifetime for us
- we walk toward the Denali Visitor Center with plans to buy our seven day pass and catch the bus to the dog sled demo
- we just aren't dry forest types, we enjoyed Olympic National Forest so much better
- along the path we are surprised by a Moose cow who steps directly out in front of us, we back away slowly, get some great photos, and watch while she browses and ambles along ... she has a very gentle temperament and we do our best not to startle her
- I had been taking photos of wildflowers and did not see the little lady standing there, we figure she may have been a yearling, maybe two at the most ... she's still pretty gangly
- pay our entrance fee (nobody checks), and get on a shuttle bus for sled dogs - they are doing what dogs do best - sleeping ... they act like this is extreme summer, but it is in the 50s (10-15 C), the demo is interesting to watch, but the Libby Riddles talk covered much of the same info ... they don't load the dogs with much more than 50 lbs (22.68 Kg) a piece ... about what the individual dogs weigh ... and the Denali teams run approx 3K miles (4,800 Km) each winter
- we walked: Crow's Nest to Wilderness Access 1 mile, to the Visitor's center .75 miles, took bus to dog kennels, Rock Creek Trail 1.75 miles, Meadowview Trail .3 miles, McKinley Station Trail 1.3 miles, and 1.5 mile back to crow's nest ... approx 6.6 miles (10.56 km) plus extra for back tracking and off trail walking
- about one hour after we got in, the rain begins coming down, and it starts coming down pretty hard
- BH says that Denali must have a bunch of visitors because of the amount of prep they do with the trails

June 29 - AKRR to Denali

Alaska heading north toward Denali National Park - short, scrubby, stubby, dry, but with many glacier lakes, streams, and rivers. Its an odd world.

- breakfast at hotel, oatmeal! Yeah! How happy I am is indescribable
- check out, hoof it down to the train station, check in, and wait
- we've paid for gold star service and are in the dome cars with no storage, but great views ... I think I prefer the roominess of Amtrak cars, but I'm not going to hit my head in the Alaska Rail Road (AKRR) car roof like I did in the Amtrak car
- the scenery is lovely, but the broken down vehicles, rusting equipment of barrels, buckets, and irons along the way, and casually discarded used tires give lie to the "last frontier" schtick
- picked up at station by Crow's Nest van, check in and get a room on the far side ... wifi (which I can't actually connect to from our room) AND cell phone service (which I can)
- walk down to Subway for dinner
- walk around town, visit Denali Mountain Works, buy stove, visit with retired sledding dog working at hiking store, come home, make hot tea
- have a hard time getting heater to run, BH works for several minutes to get this to go
- have to run 'hot' water for ten minutes before it heats up, shades of Kalaloch past

June 28 - Cruise day 8, Getting off the boat!!!

Bye-bye Baby, bye-bye!

- this four year old ship has a worn, shabby appearance with chipped and broke pieces all over the place
- typical breakfast
- call Mom and talk to Dad for a bit, call bro but not in room, and call Grandma (the only awake one) and thank her for the vacation
- meet at 6:15 am in lounge to begin waiting game
- we head out to board the train and finally find a guy to tell us where our luggage is, and we find it at the hospitality center, which is at the Captain Cook today
- the Princess train is cramped and very uncomfortable ... I think we would have preferred to take the motor home trip
- our train table companions shared many of our same opinions of the cruise, a family member of theirs had even been kicked out of the bar when the bartender decided to shut down the area 45 minutes early one night, wouldn't even give him a coke as he left, he had to go to the buffet to get it since he purchased a refillable carbonated sticker for the trip, but he'd still be charged for a room service call
- We pick up a Princess van (filled to overflowing such that a second vehicle was called) that takes us to the "hospitality center" (the Captain Cook is hosting the hospitality center since the convention center is busy today), where the unlucky get to wait until they take another van to the airport ... some of those flights don't leave until 11 p.m., but the last van leaves the hospitality center at 6 p.m.
- Our luggage arrives at the hospitality center (we really weren't sure that they would have our luggage where they said it would be) and we drop all our carry on items at their carry-on check in
- we wander several blocks down to the Comfort Inn to check out the territory and the lovely Felix has a room all ready for us, early even
- nicely appointed and comfortable
- we head back through Saturday market for food and eye candy and eventually reach the hotel where we meet up with Mom and Dad, they walk a couple blocks with us as we hoof it back to the hotel with our pile of stuff
- we each fell asleep for a bit of a nap, called the MIL, got a great map of Anchorage, and checked Denali weather, probably a bit warmer
- we wandered back to the market and perused the items: the totems are made in Indonesia; some of the carvings are neat, but not the best attention to detail in the work; some of the artwork is gorgeous, but we don't have anymore room to display at home; but we spent the most time at the gold nugget booth
- stop at Uncle Joe's Pizza, BH gets a calzone, I get a replacement pizza ... some-how my greek veggie, no black olives, no cheese got translated into Greek veggie with light cheese ... that just would not work ... four pizza's later ... my red-headed California pizza chef was getting so frustrated, he had a phantom cheeser, he'd make my pizza and somehow, between going in the oven and reaching my table, the pizza's kept getting a smattering of cheese ... turns out my cheeser was a bleached blond named Nick ... once my chef straightened him out, I finally got my pizza, and it was delicious, it only took two hours ... and my lovely chef comped my pizza and my frozen ice dessert
- we get back to the hotel and pack, shower off two hours of pizza parlor, and hit the bed, which was very hard to sleep in due to how noisy the hotel was and how much the bed kept rolling

June 27 - Cruise Day 7, College Fjord Cruising

Some of the floating ice pieces are sculptures in megature, all by themselves.

- thirty years + one day
- I eat two biscuits from last night and down excedrin
- I watch TV as BH checks us out and I finally rouse myself for lunch which we share with bro and SIL, and along comes Grandma and Aunty and some cousins ... we chat
- I get pizza for lunch and then we all head down for tea, Grandma sits with some of her red hat buddies ... I hand a tip to the pizza guy, as he is the only reason I've been able to eat for three days of lunch
- we watch for sea otters and don't see any now, but we start seeing little glaciers
- we meet for dinner with the whole family, but Dad - who is confined to quarters for the remainder of the trip, he is ill
- we head out to look at more glacier's in College Fjord, and see a little sea otter curled up on a bergy-bit .. bro saw it first
- we did get some great pics of the glaciers before the cold drove us back inside
- we go back to the dining room for dessert, mango sorbet, mmm, and break for the rooms to pack
- in the midst of packing, I get a call from the Purser's desk to clear my account, I reply that BH took care of all that this morning, and am told that I have to come down anyway; two trips later, we are cleared until they call again anyway
- we decided not to pay the "discretionary" tip for a variety of reasons: the food, the conditions we ran into here and there, and our firm belief that our favorite people would never see the income from those tips, so we handed them out ourselves
- pack, foist some stuff off on family to cart home for us, shower, and head to bed
- some things we've noticed: food sucks, the mosaic at the purser's desk is breaking off in chunks and it looks horrible, most of the 'tours' you can do yourself for less money, the people waiting on the train seemed soooo bored - One of the commediennes referred to it as the 'White Pass & Youkan wait RR', our skin is so dry from being confined to ship for two days, their tv show trip information channel, #34, has more misspellings and rotten sentence structure... it makes me cringe to watch it, one or more of the hot tubs was usually out of order and covered with netting, and their food is the absolute lowest quality they can get away with ... Kellog's Meuslix with partially hydrogenated oils, the people at passenger services are droids ... unless you are asking one of their 54 memorized questions (of which "What procedure does my luggage go through?" is NOT one) you are stuck, they clean the boat constantly but it still smells odd ... and I'd like to smack the head chef who put the menus together

June 26 - Cruise Day 6, Cruising

Eagle on a floating chunk of ice. If you keep your eyes pealed on the far horizon while cruising, you see the most amazing things.

- my bday, 30 years old, say goodbye to my twenties (do I have to grow out my hair and give up my flapper dresses?)
- Mom calls and sings me happy birthday and we make plans to eat at the buffet
- BH and I make it first and we've really made inroads into the meal (granola and fruit, again) when Mom and Dad arrive, followed by Grandma and most of the Griffin clan and little bro and SIL arrive ... we are watching the glaciers and freezing our butts off as the doors upstairs are wide open ... this dining area is usually enclosed
- BH goes off to take pictures and I stay and chat retirement plans with family
- BH comes in to thaw out and heads to the room, where he promptly naps for a time
- we walk the perimeter of the ship and head down for lunch which we share with two lovely Canadian couples
- We are told that some of their favorite cruise trips were: Meditteranean, Asia, and South Pacific; we were also quizzed about my diet and questioned about my eating difficulties here - they recommended higher end lines such as "Seven Seas" ... rather than the mass market lines such as: Norwegian, Princess, Royal Carribean
- we compare differences between the peoples of our neighboring countries ... which are so similar in many ways ... Americans are more patriotic and more comfortable with guns ... and we are not well informed about occurrences which happen outside our local area (they are not thrilled by all the election coverage of ours that they've been getting BUT I told both couples how hard it is to find non-local information from our local news agencies ... have to get online)
- we go nap and call parents and SIL and plan to meet for tea, BH and I see several Humpback families on the starboard side which makes us late to tea
- I get happy birthdays from my family all day long
- we prep for dinner, and meet in the Santa Fe where most of the kids are not enjoying the rocking ship now that we've moved into open water on our way to Whittier
- I make it through soup/salad and appetizer before I go to lay down, my head is pounding
- Room Service brings me a "birthday cake," (which I can't really appreciate until the next morning ... when I say ... bet I can't eat that ... dairy allergy doncha know!)
- BH does laundry upstairs while the ship rolls, I listen to an Egyptian show on TV, and beg for the ship to stop rolling and my head to stop aching
- I finally fall asleep after 1:30 am

June 25 - Cruise day 5, Skagway, AK

Flora in miniature on the coastline walk to Yakutania Point in Skagway.

- wake up in Skagway
- find balloons and a happy birthday note on my door, a day early
- breakfast of granola and fruit (can I hear another groan, that's right)
- BH grabs bird food, and we are ready for today's adventures
- head out for the trails leading to Yukatania Point and Smuggler's Cove, we didn't see any seals but the route was nicely stressful, and the pathways weren't too crowded
- The village of Skagway is a national park; go to the visitor's center to see stampeder's provisioning exhibit and a small museum; nothing new to us as we've seen so much Gold Rush stuff, but worthwhile if this is going to be your first or only exposure
- BH keeps mentioning a mine exhibit he's seen reference to ... we find out it is (probably) Skagway Mining Co., a tourist shop ... BH is disappointed
- but we spend thirty minutes watching the "White Pass and Yukon Railroad" train and the batteries give out on the camera, making BH sad, he was unable to take pictures of the train pulling out, it is only the 200th or so time he's seen this
- lunch is another veggie burger, it's not bad, but we are regaled by a tale of a woman's sister who was veggie then vegan who was very unhealthy, and how do I look so good on my "restrictive" diet (which is such a fallacy) ... this gal wouldn't eat nuts because they have fat in them ... bar none, the healthiest diets have a wide variety of plant foods, including avacado and nuts ... our bodies (as adults) do need a small amount of protein and fat to function properly, cutting them completely out is a bad thing
- back to the room for a suit change and out to the hot tub for an overheated experience (BH remarks, "with the resources and maintenance dedicated to these units, in several cases, the jacuzzi pump start switches did not work, and the air induction valve/mechanisms were broken and/or not operational")
- shower and change and meet up with family as they head out for shopping and helicopter tours, we're going to tea and BH enjoys their crumpets ... I've taken chocolate to eat (BH makes this comment on the Pacific Moon - there is a door closer on a kitchen door that desperately needs replacing, it makes an excruciating buzzing rattle during movement) ... we meet up with two lovey ladies and a young man, discussing future vacations, one lady recommended Hanoi, Vietnam and other northern cities and villages as they still have a quaint flavor to them, modernity has hit the southern cities, it seems
- wander the ship waiting for dinner time to arrive and find the tennis court
- BH and I played at a game that uses the same tools, but has only a passing resemblance to the game of tennis, wearing ourselves out for dinner at the Santa Fe
- it's been a while since the Santa Fe was dusted, BH and I both leave draw streaks on the bench separator half walls
- dinner tonight is fried tofu with mushrooms and broccoli, very tasty, another moment of, "Why can't they do this every evening?"
- (BH adds, in the open deck buffet dining areas, a few grains of rice needs to be added to the salt shakers in an effort to avoid clumping/clogging caused by the high humidity)
- (BH again, the multi security checks are helpful, though I disagree, but the stations look like some guy slapped them together in his garage, not professional at all; and the passengers need to know exactly what steps to take before they even step on the ship; which isn't covered anywhere)
- BH says the dinner food for the dining rooms is reminiscent of first class foreign airlines twenty or so years ago
- BH and I aren't drinker's, so the constant alcohol push gets a bit irritating
- We watch Steve Hites one man Klondike/Skagway/Alaska re-enactment - singing, poetry, and acting folk hour ... quite entertaining
- then there's the juggler who acts more like a buddy than some straight-laced entertainer
- the Pacific Moon for dessert and tomorrows menu request, dinner may be boring
- and the last show by commedienne Jim McDonald - he's 1/3 funny, 1/3 shock, and 1/3 observer
- home and bed, where a message waits from Mom, call in morning

2008 June 24 - Cruise day 4

Juneau, a very little city in a very big state

The Corvids in Juneau hang around the docks. They are the gulls of the north, and they will take off with anything. (Esp. when one tosses them pieces of bread ...)

06/24/2008 - Juneau
- we sleep in and hang out together in our room trying to work up the energy to do something
- we head down to passenger services to figure out how we get to our hotel after final disembarkation, AND hear that our bags will be tossed off the boat at the end of the gangway and we need to get them to the train, assuming they don't lose our luggage in the process ... because if they put it on the train, it will go to the airport and we can pick it up there ... what an efed up system
- I call about the pups from the visitor's center, and they have apparently been perfect angels; it is one of those pod people moments ... they've usually done something totally inapropriate by now
- BH and I split off from the shopping and then the money spending tourist groups to make our own way to the Cape Fox Lodge, visit the local supermarket, and wander around the city to find BH a Raven Aboriginal art shirt ... we are still looking, as we've seen frog, eagle, etc. in abundance, but very little in the way of Raven
- back to the boat to dry off, eat, and embark for the next port
- watck Klondike Gold Rush presentation on ship, and it followed rather closely with the Seattle Museum, but the presenter stressed the pack animal deaths from high tide and starvation from inept owners (a sad tale) and the swindling of all these stampeders from men and women looking to make a quick buck
- then to dinner, with a quick stop in conssessions where one Alkaselzer dose was selling for $1.49. We just wanted to see the prices on their goods, which are advertised as "reasonable" ... how exactly do they come up with their "reasonable" prices?
- as an additional comment about final debarkation: even though the train is totally a Princess operation ... and I love this part most ... this is a Vancouver to Anchorage cruise, but the ship makes final port in Whittier, and if you want to go to Anchorage, you pay Princess MORE money to take either a motor coach or train ride to Anchorage ... how neat (yes, heavy sarcasm)
- breakfast was .... wait for it, you'll be totally surprised ... dry granola and fruit ... again ... cruise food sucks, and I can't wait to get off this d*mn boat
- BH is reading the alcohol menu: $5 bud light, $6 long island iced tea, $10 cognac, and $10 scotch ... more of their "reasonable prices?"
- head out to the town of Juneau, walk through some shops and most of their stuff is crap or the rare expensive item that we like but can't afford
- up to 4th and Franklin where we find the capitol building and bro and SIL talking to an unrelated Houston couple
- a walking tour of the capitol reveals many early pictures of the first nations people, gold rushes, and present day defenders
- wander the town, buy a Carhartt polo, and drop by the local grocery store
- head back for lunch, too late for chili, and have to content myself with the buffet where I can eat salad, or steamed veggies, I storm off totally pissed and wait to calm down, finally heading to the pizza place for a cheese-less mushroom, peppers, and herbs pie ... I'm getting tired of eating the same stuff over and over again; BH said he'd go on another cruise, but I said unless I get a kitchen in my cabin, it's unlikely he'll get me on another one
- meet up with Mom, Dad, Aunty, and Grandma where we sit down to finish a meal, and meander over to watch Libby Riddles presentation on her life in general, her sled dog experience, and being the first female to win the Iditarod in '85, another woman has since won and women are getting more common in the sled dog races ... as one might expect, the best racers are not pure-bred huskies, but the Alaskan racing mutt mix, they follow pedigrees closely but will use anything (at one time they even staked out the dogs to be covered by wolves and get the wildtype genes back in the bloodlines)
- back outside to feed the ravens ... these guys are huge, easily twice the measurements of our corvids at home
- we wander around Juneau a bit more, it is windy and chilly and we finally head back to the boat just in time for dinner: minestrone soup, salad, and rice noodles with veggies ... one of my most, if not the most, delicious meals of the trip ... give them one point
- back to the room to drop and change in prep for the evenings entertainment of 'majority rules' ... it is hard to second guess the average cruiser
- home to sleep

11 July 2008

2008 June 23 - Cruise day 3

Ketchikan and it's boats, through the trees

- Ketchikan this morning, up for buffet breakfast
- meet the family late and head off the ship; we are a slow, ponderous group with some people improperly dressed for the drizzly cool of 52 F; we break up for half to shop and the rest of us to head off on a totem hike

- BH and I drop in on the local grocery store, Tatsuda's Supermarket, where I was finally able to get a chocolate fix ... watching everyone chow down on chocolatly goodness during cruise desserts, while I was stuck with the occassional sorbet (when the head chef was feeling magnanimous) made my chocolate cravings kick into overdrive
- the grocery prices were higher than at home ... a bit higher even than at the Thriftyway in Forks, WA ... but they weren't ridiculous ... they even had some organic produce
- back to the ship for our early departure

- Dinner was the salad and totally unexciting and predictable pasta and tasteless tomato sauce with hot sauce added to "spice" it up ... ick ... don't these people bother to consult Vegans OR Vegan Chefs (or even a Vegan cookbook??? whadda thought!) for easy, tasty dishes to serve ... obviously not! And it looks like chili and more pasta tomorrow ... we will see

- I've been asked several times about my future kid plans, and honestly, I'm too self-absorbed for kids at the moment ... I prefer dogs, when you get sick of them, you can toss 'em outside or in a kennel for a bit of a time out

- Out on deck 7 to whale watch. BH headed out before me and saw a plume some distance away. I've seen so many nature specials that I don't think I'll be impressed until I see them close
- Watch ventriloquist act, his vocal equivalent of patting his head and simultaneously rubbing his belly is amazing to hear and watch
- back to room where the rolling ship is getting more noticeable, and my headache from the first two days is back ... as I pointed out to BH, I'd rather have a headache than be tossing my cookies; and I think they finally kicked on the stabilizers
- last comedienne for the night; funny situational guy discussing the tug-o-war between the sexes

2008 June 22 - Cruise day 2

Random Boat Shot (from Whittier)

- today is a cruising day
- breakfast in International Dining Room, it was fruit, fruit, and more fruit; so far, I am NOT impressed with the Vegan options on this cruise ship
- Totem People discussion - art in totem is 4000 years old minimum, but most surviving totems were carved no earlier than the 1800s; presenter recommends the following in Ketchikan, the Discovery Center (with green roof) and Cape Fox Lodge's "council of totem poles" (on Creek Street) are both within walking distance - Saxman Village eight miles out, Totem Bight State Park eight miles out

- we meet brother and wife for talks and lunch and then we head out to the pool for hot tub time and a pizza snack
- we meet up with Aunt and Uncle, youngest cousin, eldest cousin's spouse - they walk past as BH, middle cousin, the new fiance, and I are hanging out
- we break to prep for our first "formal" night and we all eventually show up for dinner: BH and I, then bro and SIL, and mom and dad arrive ... everyone slowly trickles in
- after a very long dinner (okay, but nothing to write home about) ... we still haven't sat with Grandma
- then part of the group heads to the ventriloquist act, part to their rooms, and the rest of us head back to a hot tub ... including the two guys there when we arrived ... we piled in a total of eleven people in one hot tub ... it was probably meant to hold six to eight
- my brother and youngest cousin share more genes than the rest of us do; they are such cut ups, and had me laughing so hard my stomach stared hurting
- we met with the comedy going members of the troupe as the last of us climbed out of tub and half of us headed home and the rest went late night snacking

2008 June 21 - Cruise day 1

HOME SWEET HOME for the next six nights ...

- getting on up and dressed, heading out to find breakfast again, we hit the hotel kitchen for some over-priced fare
- It amazes us how late the city wakens, up to 10 am some days
- load, checkout, and trudge down to the dock, our ship dwarfs one of the others in port
- we drop the bags at luggage check-in, wait (and wade, BH adds) a surprisingly short time through the security and immigration line, find ourselves in a pre-board line, and walk into the ship, where yet ANOTHER line waits for us to wade through ... this sucker is huge
- find our room, finally, settle in to a point, no luggage yet ... and head out to find food
- the buffet is the only spot open, and I get fried potatoes, salad, green beans, rice, and a pea and potatoe curry ... a fairly filling snack AND just as we sit down to eat I see my brother walk past on the opposite side, whereupon it is my duty to ruin the hearing of my close eating companions (including BH) as I scream my brother's name ... he heard ... and I get a round of hugs from my father, brother, sis-in-law, youngest cousin, and his girlfriend ... and we all got to eat together
- head to the top deck for cast-off, where my cousin pulls me aside and whispers that he is proposing to his girl, he wants us all on top to holler at her (and hold up a sign), and he confeses how very nervous he is
- It all went well, she was totally surprised, and actually agreed to take on not only him, but the entire family ... brave girl
- Grandma starts crying, so happy that she'll finally be marrying off her youngest grandchild
- the ship crew not only films the action, but brings out little mini bottles of cheap champagne from no-where and the fiances get to toast each other
- I'm holding my cousin's kid through this process and while the almost 1.5 year old is well behaved, he is an independent little wiggler
- So picture all 15 of us blocking the road, trying to figure out dinner (which includes a little bowl of mushroom soup and a plate of fruit for me ... uh oh) ... so we eat and everybody heads back to their room to crash ... they are tired
- BH and I head out to the hot tub and then back to the room for the evening

2008 June 20 - Vancouver, BC

HELP! HELP! HEEEEELP! Godgullable has come to punish Vancouver ...
(Here on the NW coast line, all the species seem to come in XXL.)

- awakened at 6:45 by little brother, the alarm at the house went off and he is checking it out ... nothing out of place (it seems, hard to tell in our place) and no broken glass; so it must be a false alarm

- we walk down to the Greek restaurant for breakfast, but their oatmeal is $6 per bowl, and it seems like the local grumpy old men hangout ... so we left ... if none of the guys there have breakfast yet, it is taking too long

- we chow down on some energy bars at the hotel instead, and save a couple bucks
- back on the tour bus for a trip to Vancouver's Police Museum, a very interesting spot to check out (absolutely do NOT wander around outside this building ... it is a dangerous area, especially for those of you who don't experience the "bad" part of town on a regular basis)
- walk down to a neat Japanese toy store in Chinatown, they have toys depicting - Ghostrider, Spiderman, Nightmare Before Chistmas, and a reference I'm unfamiliar with "Fiends of Emily" and "Fiends or F.O.E."; also Dragonball Z, Astroboy: Novelty Gifts Exchange on Pender Street

- We also drop in on a gem shop looking for Chrysocolla: besides the strong incense smell, they had some neat pieces but no spheres ... and the beads just weren't as attractive as the spheres we've seen elsewhere
- hotel for drop off and a where to lunch discussion, it is already two o'clock
- Ezogiku Noodle Cafe for lunch where I don't get the raised eyebrows and blank faces when I ask, "Do you have vegetarian soup?" ... instead I get, "We can make everything vegetarian." What a nice change.
- we'll have to pack tonight ... ugh.
- boarding one of those huge cruise ships tomorrow, I still don't think we know what we are in for
- we're watching the Mugabe catastrophe on TV and listening to some fan boys screaming and car honking through the downtown (how immature) ... we think they are waving a Turkish flag ... what sport is in season?

- found a new pair of Goretex® Merrell's for BH at Coast Mountain, his old pair had been stomped so flat that they hurt his heels, and we're not even going to take them home
- found a swim suit for me after the thirtieth try at Sears, the suits at Coast Mountain covered the front just fine (for the most part), but good golly did I have a major case of crack attack in the back, no way was I going to put my grandmother through that ... she has a pace maker, but still ...
- we've walked so much lately that our joints have stopped aching
- we drop our purchases off at the hotel, wander across the street for a Chrysocolla fix before the gem shop closes, and head to Hon's for $15 of dinner: won-ton soup, spring rolls, and potstickers
- we also make one last stop at the bubble tea shop for taro root slushies ... practically a dessert it tastes so good
- back home for some packing and shuffling, prepping for that great big boat ... BH had mentioned earlier that we could take a boat tour in Vancouver, to which I replied, "Darlin', we're gonna be on a boat for seven days ..."

2008 June 19 - Vancouver, BC

Vancouver backdrop

- got up (arose from our slumbers via BHness) much later than planned and lazed around the room watching Canadian politics on TV
- ate a bit to tide us over until Hon's opens at 11
- walked down Robson, circuited back by the hotel and into a gem shop where we saw two beautiful globes of Chrysocolla, a turquoise and teal mix of unusual color, we will discuss it over dim sum at Hon's
- BH's favorite refrain at home is, "I wanna get dim sum at Ocean Palace." To which I reply, "Great, find a buddy and go." To which he pouts because he wants to go with me, and I don't like to watch him eat. At Ocean Palace I can eat broccoli and dessert dim sum ... they don't sell anything else vegetarian. So I don't enjoy the place much, anymore. I ate my last piece of shrimp at this place, not because it was bad but because I became vegetarian shortly thereafter. It hits BH where it hurts, his stomach, that we finally found a good dim sum restaurant in Houston and by our third visit, I could not enjoy the experience as well.
- Not so at Hon's where their veggie menu has 15 dim sum options.
- We had: steamed carrot dough dumplings, taro root dumplings, vegetarian spring rolls, tri-mushroom bean curd skin rolls, and veggie prawn pockets.

- back to hotel and catch a Vancouver Tour bus which goes all over the city
- hop off at the Aquarium, I feel that their observation tanks are (for the most part) too small, and most of their money has gone to their tropical greenhouse exhibit; so I can say that I wasn't impressed by either the size nor the exhibits (though the sea otters were really neat, I've never seen them so close), and I've seen tropical greenhouse exhibits ad nauseum, so I wasn't impressed or amazed; however, if you've never been to an aquarium or a greenhouse exhibit, it is worthwhile
- travel the trolley circuit to Gastown and the "steam clock" that was not working, BH was disappointed
- As we were still recovering from severe cases of flatus gluteus (a LONG trolley trip) we chose to walk back to the hotel, grab a bubble tea snack on the way (BH had chrysanthemum green and I had mango green - Mm, tasty), check in with the mothers' (took a bunch of minutes off the cards), and rest
- our evening exursion consists of stopping by the first gem shop, again, to stare longingly at the Chrysocolla sphere in the window (we've left empty-handed twice); and going back to Hon's for dinner (BH has been imagining the won ton soup all day - and he doesn't even order it - amazing); BH and I shared sweet corn soup, and he had scallops and almonds in a shredded potato nest (the 'nest' being fairly tasteless according to him, "think shredded starch packing material" he remarks) and my entree was mixed faux meat with veggies and fried bean curd skin ... we could have fed four people with that much food
- traipse to other restaurants in the immediate area for breakfast options tomorrow: there's Greek, Italian, and Korean BBQ nearby

- We are disappointed with Vancouver's downtown region, it just is not interesting and the city is quite spread out, in a somewhat Houston-like way
- I'm also tired of the street people/vagrant/panhandler mob fest occurring, it's not that we are bereft of such at home, it's just that I don't spend enough time walking around the area to encounter them: I've heard about my hair, been offered magazines, had a simple request for change from a woman trying to 'help' me buy SkyTrain tickets, and a guy begging for drink (he wasn't hungry, just thirsty ... yeah, I bet)
- I'm also sick unto death by the cigar and cigarette smoke, it gets into everything, ruining my hair and clothes, I don't understand how smoker's can take the smell
- another bubble tea visit, BH gets ginger, and I get Red Bean Paste slush ... more tasty goodness
- room, tv (more of the Canadian political circus, not that we have have any high moral ground to stand on regarding political cirusi), and more rest for our evening hours

2008 June 18 - Amtrak to Vancouver

See how roomy it is?

- get up far too early at 5:30 when the alarm went off, and the wake up call shrilled
- quick breakfast downstairs and load up
- walk the eight blocks to the train station ... we considered calling a taxi due to our load size, but we have a good set of wheels, and we did not want to deal with short ride attitude (i.e. small fare taxi driver attitude), nor loading and unloading ... besides which, the area feels fairly safe ... which we clear with our local porter before blindly setting off into danger ... he says we will be fine ... 10 minutes with a couple uphill blocks ... the street people were well snuggled in their concrete beds, and all the street corner toughs were plaguing some other hapless area of the city with their plaintive "You wanna magazine?" entreaties
- the King's Street Amtrak station is large and slightly disorganized, though part of this is due to the reconstruction planned for the building
- We found all the Amtrak employees very helpful, as we have lots of questions
- The train is well appointed and comfortably laid out, and we have so much maneuvering room ... so much nicer than a plane, and no rigmarole to work through
- We do, however, have the bratty youngest of four throwing a fit to our left, his name is Justin, his favorite word is 'NO!', and I don't know the names of his siblings because all I hear is 'Justin stop', 'Justin don't', and other similar themes. The other kids seem fairly well behaved, let us hope he turns out half as well. From this seat, things don't sound promising.
- Customs trip through Vancouver train station wasn't bad, one of the agents was handling a very large, but well behaved black lab, who stayed for a while at one of our bags ... the one all of our dogs rub up against
- trek to the sky train next door, a raised monorail, lots of people, and while they did not want to move out of our way, they didn't fumble (or grumble) too much
- walk several blocks, about ten, to get to our hotel but because they are full up we can't check in until later ... dump baggage with porter for holding room

- walk down to 'Taste of India' for lunch; good food but not necessarily recommended for Vegans, if the lady's very broken English is right, only two menu items can be made with tomato rather than yogurt or dairy sauce, and both of them are eggplant based - tasty meal with a small rice delivery - we asked for more and got charged for a half order ... I guess you aren't supposed to eat much rice, or rice costs have REALLY spike

- we continue heading NW down Burrard, stop at a "Bubble Tea" shop where BH orders a Lemon Green Tea with Tapioca and offers some to me, I'm too full for my own, but I do sip at his after making sure there's no dairy in the product (which would be uncommon in an Asian based product)

- we then turn NE toward the harbor, and again to walk along the seawall to Canada Place trying to figure out where to go on Saturday morning ... since we enter from the seawall side, we miss all the signage in front and walk practically around the convention center before finding an appropriate down-a-vator
- this place is huge, but a nice security guard walked us through procedure as the two ships in port were calling for final boarding

- we head back to the hotel to relax and take in the evening
- BH has traveled extensively, and stayed in many hotels, this is the first one he's been in with mail slots in all the room doors

- more sink/shower laundry

- I am amazed at the number of smokers here in the city, given the large Asian population (approximately 30 %, according to tour guide), I guess I shouldn't be surprised

- dinner is a short walk to "Hon's Wun-Tun" ... I think we will be coming back several times ... I have never seen such a large vegetarian menu in an omnivore restaurant ... I'm not even sure that the menu in my local veggie Asian shop has as many options
- to boot, the food is delicious, varied, and filling

2008 June 17 - Seattle, WA

Seattle's Space Needle

- nice sleep, comfortable room with a TV
- inc. breakfast, tea and oatmal for me; not much for Vegans
- call mothers' and check-in
- head to Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, nice except for the motion activated exhibits, every time you breathed the sound would start up again, ugh ... after hearing the same presentation 4 times in a row, you'd get tired and walk away before you'd finished reading all the information
- as we were looking at a map to get an address for the Underground Tour, a couple walking down the street asked us if we were lost and needed help - to which we replied "Not really, we're just looking for an address, we know it is close by" ... as they both work for the local fire department, and we just happened to be in front of an older building of theirs housing some antique equipment inside we struck up a conversation and got an inpromtu tour through the future Fire Department Museum in downtown Seattle, neat, highly recommended trip with horse drawn and motorized engines

- Onto the Underground Tour with our guide Gael, neat gal ... she's saving up for an electric bike
- Underground is recommended for a less sanitized version of history
- they have interesting exhibits at the end of the tour

- we then walked to the monorail, which wasn't running, and Bill was so hungry he willingly walked to the food court in the mall ... where we found a delicious Meditteranean Restaurant where we each got wonderful meals (we haven't been able to enjoy good middle eastern food since our local joint turned into a buffet)

- when we exited, the monorail was running and we rode it to the Science Fiction Museum ... highly recommended for geeks of all ages ... we spent hours in this
- since the music museum was included with the SFM tickets, we wandered over, and became totally unimpressed; to clarify, we like the mechanics behind a piece, the reason why ... the Music Museum is more for aspiring musicians ... which does NOT describe either BH or myself
- interesting note from BH, he said the men's RR in the Science Fiction Museum was the cleanest he'd ever seen "cleaner than most kitchen's" was his comment, I didn't notice a particularly clean women's RR, which just goes to show what a difference in normal activities we all experience daily
- monorail back to start point and we start walking back to the hotel to pack, hoping to catch a bus in the 'free' area, but we never came across one that worked for us (we definitely need an expansive bus schedule)
- hit the hotel, do most packing for the morning, change clothes, and head back to Typhoon for dinner ... yum
- walk off some dinner along Puget sound
- BH really wanted to ride the ferry again, back and forth, but we just missed the 9 o'clock and would have to wait another 35 minutes for the next ferry and then double the crossing time and it was just too late
- BH got a Maxpedition Falcon pack as an early anniversary present, he reports that he is 'almost' ready to give his approval. I've been a bit jealous, he's got a neat multi-compartment pack, and I've got a twenty year old gregory pack with three large compartment where stuff gets lost

10 July 2008

2008 June 16 - Sol Duc Falls ONP, WA

Sol Duc Falls, on the north center of the National Park
Nice walk

- check out, turn in door hinges, shampoo dispenser, and shower water to management
- drive north (clockwise) around park, passing our 'old' stomping ground, it will be a couple hours before we see anything new

- there's this (at first glance lovely) yellow flowered shrub growing along the highway, it's a Scottish invasive, and its moving into every disturbed habitat, especially noticeable in logged areas ... rarer in lower elevations

- visit Sol Duc fish hatchery between Beaver and Sappho, off Mary Clark Road; neat little visitor's center of salmon lifecycle

- Sol Duc falls, noisy, gorgeous, we climbed up to see higher in elevation and people watch
- BH played with camera settings
- nice 1.6 mile walk total

- back on the road to continue to our final day's destination, we get between three convoying Budget rental moving trucks, and piss off the last driver, we did nothing illegal, and this dipshit tries to run us over for the next ten miles, is he afraid he's gonna lose the two big ass trucks ahead of us?

- get on the Kingston Ferry, $14.45! Nice ride and great ingress and egress, get in line and pay attention ... I don't see how anyone can afford to take this everyday

- Driving in Seattle is crazy, kinda like first timers in Houston, the signs are strange and the directions make no sense

- find the hotel, unload car, check-in, dump stuff in room, and race the car back to the airport to get rid of that rotten auto
- Seattle has an awesome public transport system and the bus stop drops us three blocks away, but rough ride and very noisy (like every other bus I've ever been on)
- dinner at Typhoon, very tasty Thai food