A Travellerspoint blog

USA

Where has the time gone

A decade of travel

semi-overcast 84 °F

01 January 2019

As we set off for yet another trip, and yes, we're heading back to Asia, it occured to me that it was just this time, ten years ago, that we were about one month into our FIRST "Adventure". It started the day after Thanksgiving 2008. Not our first trip, as we had vacationed - places like BVI, Machu Picchu, Thailand, Maine, Canadian Rockies and many more places in the states. These trips had been while we were working. They were the one to two week vacations that we'd always take. Yes, those greatly needed breaks from chasing bad guys and taking 911 calls.

Retirement in 2001 for Jim and 2007 for me, gave us a whole new playing field. We could now travel longer than those one or two short weeks. What a concept!!

The planning for our first adventure started out as a one month trip to India and Bhutan (on an OAT Tour), and then grew "(let's not go home at the end of the tour and add Thailand and Malaysia") and grew ("let's add Cambodia and Vietnam") and grew ("hey, how about Laos"), finally maxing out at six months, thanks to the 2008 Olympics and Mary Carillo...China. That trip to China landing us places we never would have expected...but of course, that is another story.

We look back on our FIRST trip with great fondness. No trip - however great will ever be the "FIRST". Foremost, realizing that there is a great big world out there that works quite well for billions of people without so much that we take for granted - as I write this from Bali, on my netbook and having gone to the grocery store this morning to get the SIM card for my, oh so necessary, cell phone. Nope, none of that ten years ago. Buses, trains, internet cafes, when we first learned about SKYPE - it's only been ten years and things have changed so much.

Somethings have not changed though. People for one thing. We still meet wonderful people everywhere we go and fortunately for us, very very few negative experiences. We're staying at the house of a woman we met last year on Karimunjawa to care for her cat while she is back in OZ caring for her Mom. We were picked up at the airport by the 2nd generation of Mr Blue's drivers - his lovely daughter. We'd have never met him if it hadn't been for a couple we met in Myanmar. We have so many stories - many of them are here in my blogs but more in my journals and still more in our hearts.

Recently, I had a chance to read back over my first Journal/Blog from the 2008/2009 trip - typos and all. That was the beginning. I'm going to do my best to keep up this trip - all your inquiries have encouraged me to do so. So it's onwards. Taipei will be my next post and that should be up soon. If you're really bored and you'd like to know where we all this craziness started - here is my first blog. It was called JIm and Patty's Asian Eatin' Adventure - somethings never change!!!

www.mytripjournal.com/jpburke

Hopefully this trip will continue the way our day started on this New Years Day....Full of surprises!!!!

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Posted by pjburke 16:26 Archived in USA Tagged #ilovetravel #ilovebali Comments (0)

Australia 2018

Traveling East...one more time - hopefully not our last !!!

sunny 80 °F

17 April 2017

These last couple of months have been an incredible adventure..and I didn't even leave Saddlebrooke.

Last week, we (Saddlebrooke Community Players) finished ...to rave reviews..a seven night run of Mafioso Murders (Mystery Dinner Theater).

Our cast party is tonight but unfortunately Jim and I won't be able to be there....we'll be off on another adventure. Tuscon to LAX and then on to Melbourne, AU. Another campervan journey for us.

Yes, I'll be blogging along the way. Hope you enjoy the journey!!

Saddlebrooke Community Players - 2018 Mafioso Murder Mob

Saddlebrooke Community Players - 2018 Mafioso Murder Mob

Posted by pjburke 11:40 Archived in USA Comments (4)

Our Uncruise Alaskan Adventure

The Wilderness Explorer

all seasons in one day

17 - 24 September 2017

Our map.....

Our map.....

Our days aboard the "Un"cruise ship were the same...but not really.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner, as with most cruises, are times to get to know the other people on the ship, talk about what we thought would happen each day and then in the evenings , talk about what had actually happened, what we had done and what we had seen. Happily, what actually happened far surpassed what we "thought" would.

Our room.....a little tight

Our room.....a little tight

Incredible Alaskan view

Incredible Alaskan view

Jim suiting up for kayaking

Jim suiting up for kayaking

My cold continued. I was rescued by Sarah (a fellow passenger) and her emergency medical kit. (Thank you!!!) Thankfully, the meds got me through the days so that I didn't miss "anything". I really didn't feel bad but could not stop sneezing - I think I'm a bit allergic to all the "green".

Our options each day were the same but the locations were different, which produced a variety of experiences. Each day we got to choose. There were never "too" many people for an activity. Eli (our cruise director) made it all happen.

Skiff (zodiac) adventures took us along the coast for wildlife sightings and sometimes reached a bit further when an opportunity presented.

One more beautiful view

One more beautiful view

Misty Alaska

Misty Alaska

Sea lion

Sea lion

Tails

Tails

Skiff tour advantage

Skiff tour advantage

Alaskan Beauty

Alaskan Beauty

Kayaking was something I really wanted to do though Jim has never been a fan. Kudos to Uncruise for having the "easy" kayaks. They were quite comfortable and had a rudder which made them a joy to navigate. The best part though is their EZ dock launch platform (on the rear of the ship) which was used for departing and returning....easy peasy!!! I kayaked four of the seven days - three with Jim (he decided it wasn't so bad) and one day with a new friend - Pam. Skiffed it a couple of days - one day which turned into the great whale adventure and then next time was a great bear sighting.

Michelle leading our skiff tour

Michelle leading our skiff tour

Hidden Falls

Hidden Falls

Heading out on a skiff tour

Heading out on a skiff tour

Our cruising adventure took us out of Sitka, around Baranof Island to Nakwasina Sound. The next day it was on to the Neva Strait, followed by Peril Strait and Chichagof Island. The Icy Strait was definitely that - which made way for the Glacier Bay. We were fortunate to pick up a National Park Service Ranger (Chelsea Mallory) at the park entrance who stayed with us for the two days we were in Glacier Bay. She was a great resource and also guided hikes during the day and presented talks each evening.

Note: for those thinking of this trip, IMHO, the trip from Sitka to Juneau was the way to go. They do the reverse and of course, you still see amazing things but I really liked having Glacier Bay at the end of the trip - it was definitely a highlight (Thanks Carolyn for the recommendation).

Kayaking on Glacier Bay was AWESOME. Actually all of Glacier Bay was incredible. On our first day at the park, we woke to an eerie fog that clouded the coastline. There is a small park near the Visitor's Center and the brilliant green moss was everywhere. It's an easy walk and very conducive to photo taking.

Morning Fog

Morning Fog

More green at Glacier National Park

More green at Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park walk

Glacier National Park walk

Cruising into Glacier Bay

Cruising into Glacier Bay

As we sailed away (still in the fog) we gradually made our way to clear sky. The view off the stern was incredible - brilliant blue water and a layer of fog which acted as a misty bed for the majestic mountains rising skyward.

Our second day in the park, we woke early to get the sunrise views of the Grand Pacific and Marjorie Glaciers. Click, click, click of cameras was all you could hear. So beautiful!! Breakfast was also early and then at 830am Jim and I were one of the first groups to navigate the ice fields in our kayaks. It was a little nerve racking as we make our way through the large and small chunks of ice....LOVED IT!!!

Sunrise over Marjorie Glacier

Sunrise over Marjorie Glacier

Water and Ice

Water and Ice

Dodging the ice on Glacier Bay

Dodging the ice on Glacier Bay

Our ship - the Wilderness Explorer

Our ship - the Wilderness Explorer

Beautiful day on the water

Beautiful day on the water

Before lunch....the Polar Plunge - yes, a fairly large group jumped off the rear of the boat into 38 degree water. I think more Aussie and Kiwis than Yanks. It was fun to watch the enthusiastic jumps "into" the water and very rapid exit from the icy sea. Not wanted to risk pneumonia , I elected to stay on the dry ship but it was a great photo op.

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Friday the 22nd was our last full day on the boat. We could tell by the fog horn of the ship that it would be a misty day and really the only day that was rainy. I opted for the skiff in the morning, which took us to the Elfin Cove at Cross Sound. This is an area that borders open sea and we were fortunate to see (through the cold raindrops) a small pod of whales feeding. Even the rain guard for my camera couldn't keep it dry so I opted to put the camera down and just enjoy the view.

Beauty in the rain

Beauty in the rain

Last skiff tour in the rain

Last skiff tour in the rain

Thar she blows......

Thar she blows......

George Island

George Island

Decaying building on George Island

Decaying building on George Island

Marilyn - chilly but happy

Marilyn - chilly but happy

That afternoon, one of the options was a skiff ride to George Island and then a hike. We landed on the rocky beach with Dan leading us along the trail up and up ending up at the remains of what was a small military instillation. The "big gun" still stands but small buildings scattered on knolls near by have all but succumbed to nature.

We were on our own to wander the island. When I made my way down to the beach, the boat going back was full. Lucky for me, I got to go back with the crew. (If there is room and they are on their "down" time, crew members are encouraged to go on the different activities). As we headed back to the ship, they wanted to know if I was good with a "side" trip. Of course.... A quick up turn took us around to another side of island. Ahead was a beautiful coast side arch only view able only from the water....very cool!!

Our final night culminated with dinner and an Uncruise tradition of a video of photos that the crew took through out the week. It was fun to watch where we'd been and what we'd done though someone else's eyes. Uncruise sent the video to all of the cruisers and I've included it below - Enjoy!!

http://photos.un-cruise.com/Alaska/Wilderness-Explorer-91617/n-3JWBk8/

On Saturday the 23rd, it was up early, get our bags (which we packed the night before), set out for pick up and a final breakfast before departing the ship. Once we were off, with a final good by from all of the crew we were released back into civilization. The crew would be working furiously to turn the boat over for the incoming passengers. Fifteen of our fellow passengers continued on for the final leg (Juneau to Ketchikan) of the season. After that, the crew took the ship into Seattle for dry dock and a little refurb.

For us, it was two nights in Juneau before heading home. Another Airbnb home and another great location. We did rent a car, One option was to wait until 1130 to take the shuttle to the airport but we opted to Uber out, pick up the car, get our bags (once we finally found them) and make our way up the hills of Juneau. It's like a mini San Francisco. Our host, Frankie, had been in close contact and her directions were great. Their guest area is in the lower level of the house. Nice sized bedroom with a couple of comfortable chairs and a desk. The bathroom was huge and there was also a small kitchen area with everything we needed.

We spent the next two days, driving around the area, checking our Mendenhall Glacier and the local Alaskan Brewery. You could tell that cruise season was over as many of the restaurants had limited hours and the streets seemed deserted. Most of the people wandering the streets were people we had just left. We did have dinner one night at The Rookery. WONDERFUL food - highly recommend it.

A little taste of Alaska

A little taste of Alaska

Another IASW - as we were saying good bye to our hosts (Sunday night as our flight left at 0500 on Monday), we found out that one of the crew "Emily", who, we found out has family in Tucson, had also stayed at the same Airbnb when she came to Alaska. Emily...Frankie and Odin asked us to say "Hello".

Up early and heading home. Alaska was wonderful - along with the magnificent beauty of the area we also made friends with some great people. Beauty lends itself to more beauty....lucky us!!!

I promised more photos and again have used shutterfly.....take a look:

https://alaskanrvanduncruiseadventure.shutterfly.com/

That's us....kayaking off to our next adventure!!!!!

That's us....kayaking off to our next adventure!!!!!

Posted by pjburke 14:30 Archived in USA Tagged alaska uncruise Comments (2)

Sitka

Small town Alaska

overcast 55 °F

Note: The cruise portion of this trip was a welcome respite from all things "on line" but with no cell service or internet and a busy, busy schedule, I'm behind in my postings.. OK...add a little procrastination in also....

This next posting will be for our time in Sitka and the following postings will be "more pics - less words" - probably to the relief of some .....lolol..enjoy!!

14 September 2017

Sleeping in the parking lot of AM RV Center really did work out well. Our land tour of Alaska was over and and it was time to move on to the marine portion. Prior to boarding UnCruise's Wilderness Explorer, we spent two nights/three days in Sitka. It sounded like a cute little town, so why not.

Our flight to Sitka was by way of Juneau. Our stopover in Juneau was brief (we didn't even get off the plane).

Juneau is Alaska's capital and I was slightly amused that it was so small (only three gates). Little did I know that those three would far surpass the Sitka airport which has .....one gate and one small baggage carousel. The advantage being that the bags come out quite quickly.

Normally, when arriving at an airport there is a taxi stand. Sitka has a taxi phone. Actually, a phone on the wall outside the front door of the terminal. Pinned to the wall next to the phone are business cards for local taxis. I only discovered this after I asked the TSA agent about transportation. His recommendation was Hank,whose card was there along with others. I called Hank and he arrived just about his projected 15 minute ETA. A tall, friendly man with a southern accent, Hank knew exactly where we were going.

We'd soon discover that Sitka is the quintessential "small town" - everyone pretty much knows everyone else. We stayed at an Airbnb room which we found while researching Sitka for accommodations. I found that hotels in this little town are crazy expensive - $150-200 per night and that was at the Super 8. We've had good luck with Airbnb in the past but this is the first time we rented a room vs the whole house.

Our Airbnb Home

Our Airbnb Home


Our room in Sitka

Our room in Sitka

Deanna was our landlady for the two days we were there and she was great about being in touch. We couldn't get into the room until 3pm but we were able to leave our bags. With those dropped off - lunch was a good place to start. No time for breakfast that morning, so we were both a bit peckish. Lunch was at the Bayview Pub - really good burger and beer.

Next stop - I needed to see if I could get my glasses fixed. When I picked them up that morning, one of the lenses fell out. Agh!!! Our waiter at the Pub told us about the vision center and how to get there. It was probably a mile walk heading out of town but a good way to walk off lunch and see a bit of Sitka away from the tourist area. The office was easy to find but I'd have to leave the glasses - optometrist was out to lunch.

It wasn't long before we discovered that, a good afternoon walk in SItka would pretty much cover most of what was there...at least at this time of year. Many shops and restaurants had already closed for the season.

Harborview Sitka

Harborview Sitka

Reminder of the Fishing Industry

Reminder of the Fishing Industry

Totem outside the Healing Hut

Totem outside the Healing Hut

Totem outside the Sitka High School

Totem outside the Sitka High School

The "Mean Queen" got good reviews so for dinner we walked over and reviews were spot on....really good pizza.

Note: For those thinking of traveling independently to Alaska. I would highly recommend the trip but just an FYI regarding food. Grocery store prices are about the same as "the lower 48" but dining out is a bit expensive. A lot of reviews I've read mention the high price of food but then they always preface it with "but remember...it's Alaska".

15 September 2017

After coffee and scone/bagel at the Back Door (a little local coffee shop behind the local book store - hence the name), we walked towards the vision center to get my glasses. Another odd thing about Sitka. There is only one grocery store (that we found) and it's about a mile outside the main town area. Lucky for us,it's right next door to the vision center so it was a quick stop at both and errands were complete.

We walked back along the water and started chatting with a couple from Washington (state) who had just retired and were starting a ten year trek on their trawler. As we were saying our good byes - we both mentioned that we blogged. I glanced at his name during our card exchange and found out they were also "Gregorys". His family is also from England - couldn't really make a connection but you never know. We just might be cousins. Yes IASW!!!

Also, met a couple from Florida who are in port on the Oceania Regent. Chatted with them a bit. Sitka definitely lends itself to the friendly "small town" feel.

In front of the Pioneer Home

In front of the Pioneer Home

Early Settler

Early Settler

Reminisce of Russian Influence

Reminisce of Russian Influence

Starfish in Sitka

Starfish in Sitka

Back to the room just as it was starting to sprinkle. Worked on the blog and then back to the Pub for dinner. UA was playing on the bar TV, so we got a chance to see some of the game (against UTEP). Yes, we crushed them.

16 September 2017

Before boarding our cruise ship later in the afternoon, we had the day to wander Sitka - probably one more day than we really needed. Baggage needed to be dropped off by 330pm to a hotel which was a quick ten minute walk.

Last on the "to do" list was to finish up a load of laundry (no laundry on the ship) before leaving Deanna's lovely home. The Back Door again for breakfast.

We decided to walked to Raptor center (about a mile outside town). Along the way, we walked by a National Cemetery. Didn't even know that there was one in town. I do have this thing about cemeteries, so Jim indulged me.

There were over 1000 graves, some dating to the mid 1800's. We bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 and this cemetery was established in 1868. It is the oldest in Alaska predating Fort Richardson National Cemetery in Anchorage by almost 100 years. I found this fascinating and it made me wonder , "what was it like to live (and die) in Sitka in 1870?". For anyone who is interested, I've included a like to the cemetery's wiki page:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sitka_National_Cemetery

Moving View at the National Cemetery

Moving View at the National Cemetery

Continuing down Sawmill Creek Road, we finally reached the Raptor Center........and it was CLOSED!!!!

Oh well.....There was an entrance to the Sitka National Historical Park close by, so we wandered for a bit in this nice, local rain forest park.

A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

Green....everywhere!!

Green....everywhere!!

Local Totem

Local Totem

Local Art

Local Art

Totem outside the National Park Office - Sitka

Totem outside the National Park Office - Sitka

The park area was busy this morning with a high school cross country meet - young people from high schools all over SE Alaska.

We picked up our day packs from Deanna's after lunch and made our way to the gathering point. The hotel lobby was full of cruisers coming and going. We chatted with a few and found that some had disembarked that morning and others would be our shipmates for the next seven days.

From first impressions, it seemed to be a really nice group of people. Demographics?? A few in the 45-55 age range and two adult children to two different families but generally the 60-75 age group with a number of Aussies and Kiwis. Most people were also first time cruisers with UC but none the less, most were experienced travelers.

Jim and I were playing cards in the lobby and I realized that I was getting a scratchy throat. I know my body pretty well - I immediately knew I was coming down with a head cold (DAMN!!). We've been planning this trip since last September and I really didn't want to be sick. We ran down to the pharmacy to pick up some EmergenC...of course, I had some but it was at home in the first aid kit..which I inadvertently left behind.

Arriving back to the hotel, just in time for our five minute bus ride to the harbor. As with all Uncruises, we were personally greeted by the captain and crew and also had our pictures taken in the rain. Up the gangplank and we were again greeted by another crew member (Peyton) who escorted us to our rooms She explained the room and it's idiosyncrasies The room (compared to the La Pinta) is minuscule and of course I get "inside" side of the bed.

All on board and we're off...our farewell wave to Sitka and thanks for an enjoyable visit.

Good-bye Sitka!!!

Good-bye Sitka!!!

A welcome cocktail, a few "ship" info tidbits and our mandatory Coast Guard safety instructions and it's time for dinner. The food is good...not the huge selection that we had on La Pinta but very tasty.

More intros in the lounge after dinner and there was a little socializing but my usual "perky self" was not so perky ....I left Jim to schmooze and I was off to bed to dream of whales, glaciers and the possibility of seeing the aurora borealis.

Posted by pjburke 14:08 Archived in USA Tagged alaska uncruise Comments (0)

Seward and beyond

Winding down the first part of our trip

all seasons in one day

11 September 2017

Shall we never forget!

It was time to head out from Homer and make our way to Seward which is actually not far as the crow flies but as the saying goes...can't get there from here. The ride was wonderful. Blue skies and the sun followed us for the three hour trip. Do you know how the views on some drives are totally different in the reverse?? Well, this was one of those drives. It was a bit clearer and we had magnificent inlet views to our right almost all the way into Soldotna. My comment to Jim, "where were those mountains on our way out?"

Chigmit Mountains

Chigmit Mountains

North from Homer - Cook Inlet

North from Homer - Cook Inlet

View from our lunch stop between Homer and Seward

View from our lunch stop between Homer and Seward

Our destination for overnight in Seward was the city owned Seward Waterfront Park. Easy to find and though a large parking lot with a park area, the sites couldn't have had better views- we pulled in and came face to face with Seward Bay. Also, it was a good price - $20 with electric and water. When Jim went to pay for the spot, he was told by one of the park employees to keep an eye out - a bear had been in the park the night before. Lock up your food is not just a suggestion!!

Seward Waterfront RV Park

Seward Waterfront RV Park

Seward was the original site for the first Iditarod Race and there are plaques on the waterfront walk that lead into town (about a 10 minute walk). We wanted to see the Alaska Sealife Center but found that it closed at 5pm. As it was 415pm and rather than race through, we decided to tour it before leaving in the morning.

Downtown Seward

Downtown Seward

Seward - Home of the 1st Iditarod

Seward - Home of the 1st Iditarod


But as they say , when one door closes...another opens and our next door to open was right into the Seward Brew Pub. As we walked towards the pub we checked out the menus on the different restaurants. Where to go for dinner tonight??

We did find out a bit about Seward at the pub. The last cruise ship will be arriving in a few days and the pub will close after that. Many of the people sitting at the bar were locals talking about where they were heading out to - like other parts of the world. We thought today was a quiet day - can't imagine what it will be like for the next eight months.

Dinner tonight was at Seasalt. Reviews were mixed but we actually thought the food was good. Jim and I both had (from a good friend's recommendation) Haddock and chips and Jim indulged in his mollusk lust - more oysters. Again from Kachemak Bay, the sauces were different and I think may have been his favorite so far.

Oysters a la Seasalt Restaurant

Oysters a la Seasalt Restaurant

12 September 2017

Grey skies greeted us the next morning but no rain - yet!! We vacated our site and made the short drive to the Alaska Sealife Center. A very nicely appointed aquarium and marine mammal rehab facility. My favorite part was watching an orphaned baby walrus. It was found at two weeks and currently at three months was rolling around and playing with toys in it's pool. Only it was now a 300 pound baby!!!

More info the Center: http://www.alaskasealife.org/

Frisky Sea Lion

Frisky Sea Lion

Billed Puffin

Billed Puffin

Big fish......

Big fish......

Jellyfish fascinate me!!!

Jellyfish fascinate me!!!

Seward Shoreline

Seward Shoreline

As we started to drive north from Seward we made a last minute decision to drive into Kenai Fjords National Park and see Exit Glacier. It was a nice little diversion. A short hike (about two miles round trip) got our blood moving - not a bad thing with all the driving we've been doing.
This glacier has (as have most in the area) retreated greatly. As we were walking in there were postings starting out the road to the park marking where the glacier was and at what year. I believe the first was a few miles before we got to the Visitor's Center with a date of 1895.

Visitor's Center Exit Glacier

Visitor's Center Exit Glacier


Top to bottom - Exit Glacier

Top to bottom - Exit Glacier


Exit Glacier

Exit Glacier

Enjoying the view - Exit Glacier

Enjoying the view - Exit Glacier

Not quite as old as the glacier :-)

Not quite as old as the glacier :-)


Not really sure when we're going to lay our heads tonight. Two options: Alyeska or make or way into Anchorage. Ultimately, Anchorage won out and we parked at the Golden Nugget RV Park. Nice park and conveniently located.

13 September 2017

Coffee and yummy berry scones from the bakery near Girdwood sufficed as breakfast. Our last day on our RV tour would be "wrap up" time.

I had heard that the Anchorage Museum was especially nice so that was our "tourist" destination. With bags partially packed,we headed towards downtown. Note: Anchorage is not especially RV parking friendly. We finally found a spot not too far from the museum. With our frig cleaned out, before culture...food!! We both noticed Pho Lena (Thai, Lao, Vietnamese) right on 5th Ave while searching for a parking spot and always up for Asian food we made our way there. So glad we did, it was awesome...not even just good...really good. With no hungry husband to worry about it was off to the museum. I would highly recommend it for any traveling to Anchorage. Nicely appointed with wonderful exhibits, it was a great way to pass the afternoon.

We'll be spending our last night in Anchorage, in the RV, in the parking lot at AM RV Center. I know that may sound a little strange but the other option was to pack up all of our belongings, drop the RV off, get a cab to a hotel , get a cab to dinner and then back and then pack up again early this morning and make our way to the airport. Katie from AM offered the parking lot and it seemed like a logical decision.

Before dinner, we did make a quick stop. It was to drop off a post card. When we were in the Galapagos this past summer, one of the stops was an island with a makeshift post box. Travelers leave postcards with their info on the card, in the hope that a fellow traveller will deliver it back to them. This was a tradition started by seaman many, many years ago. They would write letters home with the hope that someone would deliver these messages to their families. Our card was picked up by a guy from Dallas and he was in touch shortly after we got home. Jim saw a card that was from a man in Anchorage and picked it up with the hope that we would surprise the writer. He projected that it would take 6 months to a year to get back to him. In actuality, it was a little over a month. No one was home at the location of our addressee but we left our "travel card". He was indeed surprised and hoped that we could get together but unfortunately we had already left for Sitka...shout out to Greg Durocher - thanks for following in the tradition.

Our last decision for Anchorage - where to have dinner. Friends who used to live in Alaska recommended two places for dinner - Moose's Tooth (Pizza) and Glacier Brewing. We decided on Moose's - but it was not to be. We found it easily enough but there was absolutely no place to park a 27' RV and the line was long and out the door. On to our next choice - Glacier Brewing. It's downtown and closer to the RV center. It was a little (but not much) easier to find a parking spot. Glacier turned out to be a great choice. We arrived without reservations - thinking that a Wednesday evening off season would be quiet. Well, I guess it would have been if there hadn't been two conventions in town. It was a mad house. The wait for a table was 90 minutes or we could go the bar. We ended up a communal table near the bar. Crowded but actually pretty comfortable. We also lucked out Giovanni as our waiter. My halibut came out overcooked but they quickly took care of it. We were offered a dessert but being absolutely full and leaving the next morning we declined. He said we could have a rain check and thanked us for being so patient. A nice way to end the first part of our trip and on to the next...Sitka and our "Uncruise"!!!

Posted by pjburke 17:28 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Homer

City by the sea at the end of the road

sunny 52 °F

First of all...we want to shout out to all friends, family, friends and family of friends and family who have loved ones in Florida. You can't be from NY and not have some connection to Florida. Sending good thoughts and prayers that you all escape Irma's grasp with little or no damage...by the time I'm able to post this, I've heard that some may still be awaiting power but all are safe.

08 September 2017

From Palmer, the road took us through Anchorage and being the curious person I am, I wanted to stop at Costco to see what type of local "Alaska only" types of food they sell. Having visited Costcos in New Brunswick, Canada and Hawaii, we found they always have "something" local. NB was Poutine and yummy Maui Onion Dip in "yes" Maui. Here in Alaska...we know they will have salmon. And "yes" there is salmon but I can get salmon at home. We bought reindeer meat sticks...no, it's not like eating Rudolph and yes, it's very good!!!

Our drive from Anchorage south along the Seward Highway was equal in views to the RIchardson Highway but instead of mountains and glaciers....you have sea, mountains and glaciers...a triple treat.

View from the Seward Highway outside Anchorage - Cook Inlet

View from the Seward Highway outside Anchorage - Cook Inlet

We took our time and ended up in Homer at the Driftwood Inn RV Park. We were questioning whether we needed reservations but this time we were glad that we made them ahead of time - all booked for the weekend.

The Driftwood is in the "Old Town" section of Homer - which is really not much more than about a dozen older buildings but the RV park area is on a bluff overlooking the sea...Literally, the sea is right out our front door. The RV area is not big - only about 20 sites but #3-11 front the water. Just beautiful!!!

Our first views of Homer

Our first views of Homer

Low tide view from the RV site - Driftwood Lodge

Low tide view from the RV site - Driftwood Lodge

It wasn't until about 9pm when the sun started to set. With just a "little" effort we were able to start our campfire. Chatted with our German and Florida neighbors before the evening shower pushed us in for the evening.

09 September 2017

When traveling for 3-4 weeks, it can't be go, go, go all the time. Today, the sun is out and we're going to have a bit of a quiet day. I was inspired by our view and was able to update the blog. We also drove out to the Homer Spit and wandered around. There are a number of little shops - tours, fishing, kayaking, souvenirs and food. It was busier than I thought it would be. But one young lady told us that they had not had more than three consecutive sunny days since June, so todays partial sun was welcome.

No words needed!!!!

No words needed!!!!

[right]

After the walk, Jim wanted to try out the local brewery. Homer Brewing Company is located on a little side street near the airport. Only three beers on tap - our favorite was the Porter. Jim was hoping for oysters but they weren't due in until 330pm (we arrived at 2pm). I'm sure he'll get oysters sometime soon.

Hanging out near the beach

Hanging out near the beach

Eagles Perch

Eagles Perch


Rainbow over Homer Old Town

Rainbow over Homer Old Town

Note: The two eagles above seemed to be the bluff resident eagles. One perches daily on the roof peak just one house down from the RV park and the 2nd was just sitting on a pipe along the beach. One of the locals told us they were always around.

We'd been using the kitchen in the RV for most of our meals but tonight we tried a local spot - Fat Olives. I'd read really good reviews and they were spot on. Jim got his first taste of Alaska oysters from across the bay in Kachemak. Harvested that morning - he was a happy guy. My scallops were perfect and this little place was buzzing - all tables full with mostly locals and the occasional tourist.

10 September 2017

Sunday in Homer is even quieter than usual in this laid back little town. Our concerns this morning are family in Florida. So...we did something we normally never do when we travel - watch TV - or rather the live streaming news feeds. Wifi at this site is pretty strong so not too much buffering.

Mid morning, we decided it was time to get out. Homer, known as the "Halibut Capital of the World", is located at the very southern end of the Kenai Peninsula so the road options are limited. When we checked in, Maria at the desk told us that there is a road that goes out of town to the east about 20 miles and that the views were very nice. At the 20 mile mark, it turns into a dirt road (not where we want to be with a 27' RV) but we found the views along the winding, swervy road were indeed stunning. It's not a "scenic highway", just a local road so there weren't many stopping points but we saw more glaciers than we've ever seen....ever!!! One after the other...

Glacial Beauty

Glacial Beauty


On the way back to town, we stopped at the local winery - Bear Creek Winery. Cute little place which serves mostly homemade, locally grown fruit wines with a few standards made with imported grapes. Samantha walked us through the tasting. A new Homer transplant from Dallas, she was fun. She shared with us the info on the local wines but also let us know that there would be a "burning" at Mariner's Park "sometime" later this afternoon. I said "Kinda like Burning Man?" She said "yes, but without the drugs or naked people". We both got a chuckle out of that.

This "burning thing" peaked our interest so we made our way to the beach. Mariner's Park is at the north end of the spit. Basically a big parking lot, but right on the beach with beautiful views. RV camping is available and it did appear by the laundry drying on the picnic table that there were more "permanent" tents residents.

Samantha told us that there is a woman in town who creates elaborate woven "baskets'. We found her work on the beach when we arrived but we found so much more. She creates messages. Today's message was "Shine". There was a table and paper/makers where people could share messages and thoughts of those that have passed. I read that and the tears started immediately. It's just been just over a year since we lost my sister Judy...she would have loved this place and it's message. I found more information on line - see the link below.

http://homernews.com/arts/2017-09-07/burning-basket-sunday

Homer Community Burning Basket

Homer Community Burning Basket

Special Message to my sister Judy

Special Message to my sister Judy

Inspiration

Inspiration


When we told another RV'er who we meet in Palmer that we were going to Homer - he said "why" - we said "why not!!" Glad we voted for "why not". Homer is a nice little town - very comfortable and friendly. But tomorrow, on to our next destination - Seward. We've heard that the city run Waterfront Campground is the place to be...will keep you posted.

Posted by pjburke 09:51 Archived in USA Comments (1)

Fairbanks

The farthest north we've ever been in North America

all seasons in one day 49 °F

Note: I've added some pics to the previous post...take a look.


04 September 2017

It's Labor Day and we're heading north to Fairbanks - traffic is pretty light. After leaving Denali, the mountain does seem to follow you. The area around it is fairly flat and with each look in the rearview mirror she seems to be keeping a watchful eye on us.

When we planned this trip, we had to make a decision.

1) Take the Denali Highway to Paxson (which heads east from just north of Denali but is mostly a gravel road)
2) Head north to Fairbanks
3) Back track and head south

All options would lead us to the Kenai Peninsula where will spend our 2nd week. The first option was out - we found out we aren't allow to take the RV on that road. Initially, we were going to backtrack but the week before we left on this trip, we changed our minds "again" and we decided to check out Fairbanks.

A short two hour drive brought us to the River's Edge Campground along the Chena River just outside Fairbanks proper - lovely little place and well situated. Along with a list from our friends, the Slocums, (former Fairbanks residents) and the young man at the desk we had a nice list of "things to do" to choose from.

The view of the Chena River from our campsite

The view of the Chena River from our campsite


05 September 2017

It must be the air because we've been sleeping in a bit. Up a little late, breakfast and off for the day. First stop... the UofA (University of Alaska) Museum - I highly recommend it. It's not huge but it's packed with exhibits on local wildlife, people and the land - both past and present. As with any museum, I could have spent alot more time there.

Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

Museum of the North at the University of Alaska Fairbanks

Mastadon Bones

Mastadon Bones

Tribal totem pole

Tribal totem pole

Hope we don't meet him in the woods...the bear not Jim!

Hope we don't meet him in the woods...the bear not Jim!


Next, we're off to take a cruise on the Riverboat Discovery. This trip was recommended by friends. There is a shuttle from our campground picks us up promptly at 1pm. It's a 3 1/2 hour narrated cruise up the Chena River. At $64 per person, it's a little pricy but very enjoyable. The MC was a very knowledgable gentleman (and actually pretty funny) who educated us regarding life on the river and for those living in the area - dating back to the mid to late 1800's. The riverboat, as a tour vessel, originated in 1950 but the captain's family (Capt Jim Brinkley) came to the area in the late 1800's when the Chena River, along with the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, were used for transportation. For a little bit about our tour click here...http://riverboatdiscovery.com/

Riverboat Discovery III

Riverboat Discovery III

1954 Piper Cub

1954 Piper Cub

Athabascan Village

Athabascan Village

Demonstration of traditional clothing of the Athabascan people

Demonstration of traditional clothing of the Athabascan people

Had a bit of a IASW (It's a small world) moment. We were walking off the boat and the woman in front of me had a camera harness that said Tucson Audubon Society. I asked if they were really from Tucson...yes, her husband was, though now living in California, they knew Tucson well. We ended up chatting with them most of the trip.

With a long day behind us, we opted for Thai Take Out for dinner. Fairbanks (and Alaska in general) has a large Asian population. Great for us. We highly recommend the Lemongrass Thai restaurant and we had leftovers, enough for lunch the next day...even better. As the rain came down on our tin house, we were warm and cozy inside enjoying our dinner...yes, RVing is definitely growing on me.

06 September 2017

Now we're heading south but we want to check out the Tanana Valley Farmer's Market. It doesn't open until 11am and we have a little extra time so we decide to venture out to the Alaskan Pipeline Viewing spot. My Mom's late husband, Bob Huttinger worked on the pipeline project and having heard so much about Alaska (which he absolutely loved) we headed north about eight miles. Well, it's a big pipe!!! We really didn't need to make the extra trip..our drive south pretty much followed the pipeline and there were multiple viewing spots.

We really do love local Farmer's Markets. Unfortunately for us, timing was not great. We had done grocery shopping days a few days prior. As we walked in, all I noticed were incredibly beautiful, fresh veggies... Even with Jim loving his veggies, there is only so much he can eat. We saw radishes the size of beets - amazing!!

One of the things we did pick up was Birch Syrup. There are no maple trees in this area but there are so many birch...hence birch syrup. Same process but with a little different taste - a bit more earthy.

Onward!!!!

Fairbanks to Glennallen on the Glenn Highway was a pretty, though extremely windy drive. It was a long driving day for us and as we were entering the Glennallan area, we noticed a BLM Campsite. With no prior reservations, we made the short drive in and and found a beautiful site. BLM (Bureau of Land Management) sites are basic (no electric or water but there are bathrooms) and for only $15 and with us being self contained, we took advantage of this peaceful little oasis.

Alaska starting to get real....

Alaska starting to get real....

Fairbanks to Glennallen

Fairbanks to Glennallen

Glacier view from the Glenn Highway

Glacier view from the Glenn Highway

Slide area

Slide area

One OMG after another

One OMG after another

Beautiful

Beautiful

07 September 2017

Westward to Palmer along the Richardson Highway.

I hope I don't hurt anyones feelings but up until yesterday...Jim and I were both thinking...Well, Alaska is nice but other than Denali there were no real "wow" moments...Those thoughts have changed. The Glenn Highway was a tiny taste of what was to come on the Richardson Highway...OMG!!! Yup, one OMG sight after another...good thing I'm driving. Photo stops at my leisure!!

I said above that there hadn't been (until today) any super big WOW moments. I have to admit there is one thing that has really impressed me about Alaska....it's people. I know, people are people everywhere. And yes, I know we are all Americans, but the Alaskan people have a spirit about them. They are ready with a helping hand and a smile. Beyond the views, I will always remember these gracious people.

Along our drive today, we took our time and the views didn't fail to impress. I'll let the pics speak for themselves.

Glacial Beauty

Glacial Beauty

Richardson Highway

Richardson Highway

Beautiful view along the Richarson Highway

Beautiful view along the Richarson Highway

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

View from the roadway - Richardson Highway

View from the roadway - Richardson Highway

Another beautiful mountain along the Richardson Highway

Another beautiful mountain along the Richardson Highway

Distant Beauty

Distant Beauty

Jim checking out the glacier

Jim checking out the glacier

Ice!!!

Ice!!!

I just love glaciers!!!

I just love glaciers!!!

Our campground in Palmer (actually about five miles outside Palmer) was well run and very clean. Sorry, but I do judge a campground on it's bathrooms and Big Bear Campground is #1 on my list right now.

Tomorrow we'll be off to the Kenai...head from the mountains to the sea..........

Posted by pjburke 17:00 Archived in USA Tagged alaska Comments (1)

Denali

"The Mountain"

all seasons in one day 43 °F

01 Sept 2017 .....continued.

We started out from Talkeetna with just a sliver of sun showing. I was so optimistic - I grabbed my sunglasses. Well, that probably cursed us - it started to rain shortly after we got on the road and didn't stop until we reached Denali. There were times when I was sure that the rain was deciding between snow and sleet but just stayed rain....windy, cold and rainy...until we reached Denali.

Alaska Veterans Memorial

Alaska Veterans Memorial


Of course, we're told the best views are from a distance. With each passing mile, the mountain would tease us with just the slightest shadow and then would cover itself with a grey blanket of clouds.

Arriving at the National Park, we checked in and picked out a campsite. No water or electric, so we're a bit off the grid...which, thankfully, our RV is equipped for. Riley Campground is right as you enter the park and with Jim's Senior National Parks Pass it's quite a deal...$12 per night. We found a nice site that was relatively flat and after a couple parking attempts, settled in.

Denali.....check!!!

Denali.....check!!!

Riley Campground

Riley Campground

Denali, like many other national parks, to avoid traffic congestion and the environmental impact, uses buses for transportation into the park. There is a fee if you want to travel farther than the Savage Creek site - that shuttle is free but travels less frequently. All the shuttles are hop on - hop off (subject to a seat availability - no standing on these buses).

We opted for the shuttle to Eielson Vistor's Center - which is 65 miles into the the park and takes about eight hours round trip without hopping off. The shuttle does do a few short "rest" stops and will stop if there is wildlife sightings. Each ticket costs $35 per adult and reservations are required. We made our reservations for tomorrow this afternoon and will be on the 830am shuttle. Sunday (the day after tomorrow), I think we'll try the Savage RIver Trails....at least that is the plan right now...

After setting up the RV, it was time to see what the Visitor's Center had to offer. We always make use of the information offered by the rangers at the National Park offices. They provide wonderfully useful info. From our camp site, it was an easy 1.5 mile walk to get to the Visitors Center via the McKinley Station Trail. We chatted with the ranger and caught the ongoing video about the park.

We made our way back to our site and settled in to make dinner. We're still feeling our way around. The weather forcast indicates the possibility of rain and/or snow tonight. Not missing our tents today.

Relaxing in the RV, played some cards, pierogies for dinner and we're both about ready for bed...

02 September 2017

We actually slept quite well. The bed is queen sized and nice and firm.

Up, breakfast and we're on our way to the the Wilderness Access Center (WAC or AKA the bus station).

This information might be a bit redundant but I found it all a bit confusing before we got here and saw how the system works.

Our trip today will be out to the Eielson Visitors Center - 65 miles each way. If we took one of the "tours", there is a guide on board, multiple stops and a box lunch is included..for $80 and no option to hop on/hop off. The "tour" is a bit more extensive but drives the same road as the shuttles. With the shuttles ($35) you can decide how far out on the park road you want to go. Our shuttle ride will be an eight hours round trip. Also, shuttles are the green buses and tour buses tan. All buses start running at 0630 and run every half hour throughout the day.

We did luck out by getting Elton Parks as our driver/guide. He was funny and incredibly knowledgable. We learned about the animals, park history, local area information - probably one of the best driver/guides we've ever had. Elton shared that a good portion of the drivers have more than 25 years experience. And, also that most the guides at Denali are there because they love being there. We could just tell that his man loved his job!!

Our bus departed at 0830 (shuttle by reservation only and this was the first time we could get). One other thing that is very important to remember. Other than the convenience store at the camp entrance and a snack/coffee shop at the WAC, there is NO (and I mean NO) food sold in the park. You are able to replenish water at the Eielson Center. Even though this was impressed upon us many times, there was still a group of nine young people who boarded the bus with no food or water. They decided to get off the bus, get some food and I did see them at a stop later, so they were able to catch another bus. It was ok to eat on the bus and Elton told us he'd seen everything: pizza, mostly sandwiches, salads, some food choices that were more inventive than others and there was even a gentleman from Germany who brought a 6 pack of beer. He was not able to drink on the bus but at each stop he would step off and enjoy his tasty beverage.

It was a wonderful day. The skies cleared with just a few clouds. Again, we lucked out. "The Mountain" is usually clouded over at the peak and only about 20% of visitors get a chance to see it. We didn't get a clear view but did get that "almost" view. Clear but cold "The Mountain" rose up against the blue sky with a slight cloud halo circling the summit. Quite glorious!!

Our 1st view of Denali

Our 1st view of Denali

The Mountain follows you throughout the park

The Mountain follows you throughout the park

The Mountain

The Mountain

Old Glory

Old Glory

It was also a "bearly" good day. No caribou but we saw about ten bears including a sow and two pups and also two good sized bears bathing in one of the roadside ponds. We were not able to stop for a photo shoot on the swimming bears. They had gotten a little close to the some of the camp sites and the rangers were using some aversion training (bean bags).

Bear Sow and Cub

Bear Sow and Cub

Our trip was highlighted with the sighting of two rutting moose. As with many of the bear sightings, it was quite far off so my pictures were not good but the experience was great.

Rutting Moose

Rutting Moose


Regarding photos: about a year ago I invested in a new Nikon D3300 with hopes of learning more about photography and becoming a better "photographer". After some faltering and then help from John at Tucson Camera - I'm feeling a little more comfortable. I brought both cameras with me on this trip but only the "new" camera on today's trip. My "old" camera is a Lumix DMC FZ200. Tomorrow we'll be heading back into the park to the Savage Lake area. I'm going to take the "old" camera to compare.

Dinner was back at the RV. I'm really getting spoiled - I really don't think I can go back to tent camping after this treat...Jim....hint....hint!!!

03 September 2017

Another good night sleep until the CO2 alarm starting going off. This "RV'ing" is a definitely a learning curve for us. I called Katie from AM (yes, I know it's Sunday but after perusing the internet - when your CO2 alarm goes off - it's kind of a big thing.) Of course, she knew exactly what we'd been doing wrong. Quick fix (our batteries were low) and I could still get a hot shower before heading out for our hike.

The WAC was about a 15 minute walk from our campsite and we grabbed the 1030 shuttle. From our first "hello", I knew this driver was no "Elton".
Skies today are overcast and the air colder. The short ride (45 minutes) to Savage Lake passed quickly with no sightings. The walk is a two mile loop trail. It was good to get out and walk if only for the views - not spectacular but a subtle beauty. The return was into the cold, gusty wind but enjoyable nonetheless.

Savage River Trail

Savage River Trail

Messy little eater

Messy little eater

Lichen as art!!!

Lichen as art!!!

Jim bundled for the hike

Jim bundled for the hike

We walked to the ranger hut to wait for the return bus and chatted with the two rangers on duty. One was a young man who would be heading to Kansas for his next assignment and the second a local woman, who, after chatting with for a bit, we found out she graduated from SUNY Brockport. Yes, the world does get smaller and smaller.

We got back to our site just in time to drop off our backpack and head to the Visitor's Center to catch the bus to the Sled Dog Demonstration.
The sled dogs are housed at the historic park kennels and demos are given three times a day and are free to the public. The rangers assigned to this post show how they work and train with the dogs. These dogs are very important to the park as they are the only mode of transportation into the park once the snow arrives - no motorized "anything ". The public is able to interact with some of the dogs, then a brief demo, kennel history and Q/A from the crowd.

I'll give you about 2 days to stop doing that!!

I'll give you about 2 days to stop doing that!!

Her name is Party...for obvious reasons!!

Her name is Party...for obvious reasons!!

Upon our return we stayed and toured the small museum exhibits at the Visitor's Center before taking the trail back to our site.

We'll be off tomorrow for Fairbanks with wonderful memories of the views of this spectacular part of our country.

Posted by pjburke 09:47 Archived in USA Tagged alaska denali bears Comments (4)

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