Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Great Northern Adventure, Day 9: A River Runs Through It

Awoke to fog and light rain.  Met at the main lobby  at 7:30 for our rafting excursion (exertion, as Zoe would say.)  The four of us plus Kayley and Krista  signed up for the canyon tour, class III-IV rapids.  We had drysuits, hats, and gloves, so we stayed dry, though chilly.

The rafting was great, and so was our guide, Cassie.  Tristan got her to sign a river rock for him, as his his rafting tradition.  I recorded some of it on Jennifer's Flip, using her new waterproof case.  It was an awesome experience.

We got back to the hotel at 11, and met our bus at 11:15 for the short ride to the train depot.  We had a short wait, then boarded the big domed McKinley Explorer trains for the eight-hour ride to Anchorage.  We brought snacks so we could avoid the high lunch and dinner prices in the dining car.
Wednesday, August 04, 2010

The Great Northern Adventure, Day 8: This National Park Brought to You by Aramark

Saturday, July 10th.

Luggage out at 06:00, bagels & coffee from the hotel gift shop and coffee bar, and meet the bus at 07:00.  A short ride to the Fairbanks train yard where we boarded the McKinley Explorer for the ~4 hour ride to Denali National Park.

It's a double-decker dome train with all the amenities, including a bartender in each car.  I had a Moose Mary and Jennifer had an Alaskan Mosquito Bite.  If there was booze in those $6.75 drinks, it was undetectable.  Each car features someone else who is expecting a tip for their unsolicited commentary during the ride.

The kids found a way to make their own fun.

We arrived at the Denali Train Depot around 12:30,

and took a five-minute bus ride to our hotel The McKinley Chalet Resort, (an Aramark property).  We didn't have a lot of time, but we dropped our gear and walked to the Denali Doghouse,

bringing Kayley and Krista with us.  We enjoyed some really good hot dogs and burgers, though overpriced, of course.

Walked back to the hotel in time to board an old school bus driven by an over-educated naturalist for a several hour drive around the park.

We saw some moose and birds, the historical Savage Cabin, and some somewhat informative talks by a period-costumed ranger (Aramark) and a real live Athabaskan lady.  We got back around six and tipped the Aramark naturalist/school bus driver a Hamilton.  Kind of a pushy broad, but knowledgeable.

We saw a sign for a pizza place with 49 beers on tap, so it was an instant winner for dinner.

All of us except Ella, Shelley, and Tristan went.  We had at least an hour wait, but that was enough time to sample three different beers whose names I can't recall.  We got a baked chevre, three-mushroom pizza, and a grinder.  We fed Dad again.  The food was pretty good.  Shelley showed up near the end (Ella was asleep in the room) and we took home leftovers to Tristan.  Bed around 11, sunset around midnight.  The weather is beautiful, and we slept with the windows open, enjoying the cool, dry breeze through the aspen and spruce.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Great Northern Adventure, Day 7: Gold

Friday, July 9, 2010

We walked to "downtown" Fairbanks, finding a coffee place called Mocha Dan's where we got some breakfast sammiches and coffee, avoiding hotel restaurants and their $14/person sorry buffets.

A relatively short ride on the bus to a riverboat ride on the paddlewheeler "Discovery III."

This took about three hours, including a one hour stop at a mock native village culture display.  The "native" chicks were very cute,

and we learned a lot as well.  We also saw a famous dog musher (Lance Mackey), as well as the widower of another famous dog musher (Susan Butcher).

From the boat ride we went to Gold Dredge #8, which ran from 1929 to 1959.

It was amazing how that process worked and how damaging it was to the land as well as the men running the dredge with its liquid mercury gold dust collection system.  We also had lunch there.  Miner Stew, biscuits, muffins, and horrible iced tea.  (I'm always amazed how often something so simple is done so badly.)

After the dredge we went to the El Dorado Gold Mine.

We had a train tour of traditional mining, followed by a demonstration of sluice panning, after which we each got a bag of pay dirt that we were able to pan ourselves.  That was a lot of fun.  I had about 6.5 grains of gold in mine, worth around $24 (gold is ~$1200 oz. right now.)  I have no idea what to do with it.

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at the Alaska Pipeline.  It was somewhat interesting.
Tristan dances about architecture

In the evening, Jennifer and I took Dad to a restaurant called Thai House.

It was really good.  Being uncertain whether or not Dad would eat squid, when we got our calimari appetizer, I described  the squid bits with the generic "seafood" term.  Dad cleaned his plate, and we brought our leftovers back for Kayley, who really enjoyed them.

We finished off the night (since it was still really light out) by heading back downtown to the Fudge Pot.  Can't go wrong with fudge.
Friday, July 23, 2010

The Great Northern Adventure, Day 6: Visiting North Pole, Meeting Santa, and Eating Reindeer

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Woke up in Beaver Creek.  Crossed back into Alaska, stopping at the border for some photos.

We stopped at a visitor center, with bathrooms and nice views.
Mountains Come Out Of The Sky


We stopped at yet another Westmark, this time in Tok for a proper lunch.  This one included red snapper, reindeer sausage, chicken, and sweet potato fries.  It really hit the spot.

Back on the road, stopping at Rika's Roadhouse for some strawberry and rhubarb pie and ice cream.

Yet another stop, this time at North Pole, Alaska.  We went to Santa's house, met the man and his reindeer (whose relatives were quietly digesting inside us at the time), and perused the tourist wonderwasteland that is Santa's house.

By the early evening we were at our hotel in Fairbanks: The Westmark on Noble @ 10th Avenue.  We're here for two nights, which is a nice break from all the packing and unpacking.  We said goodbye to our motorcoach driver and handed him some cash somewhere in the neighborhood of the "suggested gratuity" amount of $4/person/day.  (More on tipping later, what a racket.)

We scheduled our first "excursion": the Alaska Salmon Bake in Fairbanks.  We took Dad with us because we knew he'd enjoy it too.  We were picked up in a blue-painted school bus and dropped off at Pioneer Park, where the salmon bake is.

We had all-you-can-eat fire-roasted wild salmon, prime rib, fried cod and halibut, sides, desserts, and drinks.  We ate outside in the dry 80F air.  It was great to just sit outside, eat, and relax.

We walked around Pioneer Park to help digest some of that fantastic food, and caught the 9:20pm school bus back to the Westmark.

This far north, sunset is at 12:20 am and sunrise is at 3:29 am, though it never really gets all that dark in between.  We've never seen anything like it.
Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Great Northern Adventure, Day 6: Yukon Do It

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Departed Whitehorse (after putting our luggage out in the hall for someone else to carry to the bus for us again) for another long day on the bus.

In the morning we stopped at Uncommon Journeys Ltd. for a "90 minute demonstrationand tour of our kennel, dog yard and sled dog training facilities at the Homestead.".  We got to meet and play with 55 of their Husky sled dogs,

 and the kids got to play with the new puppies.

Needless to say, they absolutely loved that - the kids and the puppies.  A team was hooked up to an ATV, and we got a little demo on what these dogs can do.  It was pretty impressive.

We stopped to eat lunch in ____ at their community center.  We had sammiches and fruit.  I guess the town made some kind of deal where they supply church luncheon-type food to the HAL tour buses in exchange for $.  It seemed kind of random, but it was nice to get outside and walk around.

We made a few more stops throughout the day, mainly bathroom breaks and photo opps.

I've been able to sleep pretty comfortably on the bus and in the hotels in between stops.  That's one feature of a motorcoach tour aimed at old people: you're never more than a few hours from a proper bathroom (in addition to the improper one on the bus.)

We stopped for the evening in Beaver Creek, Yukon Territory, at another Westmark.  This hotel has dreadful reviews, but we didn't find it to be that bad considering we were in Canada's equivalent of the Australian Outback.  This one had a dinner show in a large circular outdoor/indoor theater.  We had enjoyed a few C$6 pints in the bar beforehand (Yukon Gold and Chilkoot Lager) as well as a few more during the show.  The show was pretty good, as was the meal. We're far enough north now that it never gets completely dark at night.  Can't imagine what winter is like.

Put the luggage in the hall. . .
Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Great Northern Adventure, Day 5: Yukon, Jack

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Today would have been the folks' 47th wedding anniversary.

We woke up docked in Skagway. We went to a meeting in the Vista Lounge (nightclub) where we met the rest of our tour group (#7A) and our tour director, Roslyn Hood.  We disembarked and kicked around Skagway for a few hours, stopping for a crepe, and some salmon-tooth earrings for Jennifer.

We met our train around noon: The White Pass-Yukon Railroad, following the route of the Klondike stampeders of the late 1890s to Fraser, British Columbia.

The ride on the narrow gauge railroad was pretty cool, though mostly foggy.  The geography was dramatic, and changed a lot along the ride.

We had a cursory customs inspection in Fraser, and boarded our bus with driver Parker Anderson.  We drove several hours, stopping in places like Carcross, Yukon Territory.

We're staying at the Westmark, a very budget but clean motel chain.  We were on our own for dinner, so my immediate family ate at a Vietnamese place.  We stopped at the Canadian Superstore (or equivalent) to get some breakfast food for the next day.
Monday, July 19, 2010

The Great Northern Adventure, Day 4: To Alaska

Monday, July 5, 2010

We get to leave the boat for a little while today.  First stop: Juneau.  The weather was cold, foggy, and misty.  It was like walking around Twin Peaks.  There were several other large cruise ships in port, so the town was crawling with tourons (tourists + morons, thanks to Donna Z. for the vernacular.)  The town was filled with jewelery stores, gift shops, ice cream places, etc.

First stop was the Alaska Brewing Company.

This beer is highly featured on the ship, but probably not for the right reasons.  Jennifer and I did a beer tasting yesterday where we tried four of ABC's different beers: Amber, Pale, White, and Summer.  All but the Amber looked identical, and pretty much tasted that way too.  I suspect Alaskan is the Coors of Alaska (that is so not a compliment.)

We found a coffee shop off the beaten path and relaxed a little.

On the way back we stopped at the Red Dog Saloon, a very touristy, but fun bar, suggested to us by Connie via Facebook.

We got a beer, root beer, and a smoked salmon, cheese, and cracker appetizer.

In town, the kids bought some Lego minifigs and some stickers for our journals.

Back onto the boat.

Dinner was casual again, with fewer people on the boat since some were out on excursions, (or exertions, as Zoe referred to them.)  Last night on the boat, and the luggage had to be outside the cabin by 03:00.  That was kind of a pain, and I guess the downside to almost never having to handle your own baggage.  Thank you, overpackers for your laziness.
Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Great Northern Adventure, Day 3: You and Me, By the Sea

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jennifer was up earlier than the rest of us, meeting up for breakfast on the Lido (#9) deck.  The breakfast selection is excellent, of course.  The whole day was spent at sea, so other than the eating, there was plenty of viewing of the geography.

To celebrate the holiday, lunch was grilled "outside" on the Lido deck by the pool with the retractable roof open.  The bar even had some holiday-themed overpriced drinks.

And more pool time, of course.

(Jennifer, Andy, Shelley, and Jenni)

For dinner, which was "formal" night, we dressed up as little as we thought we could get away with.  Jennifer used two of her travel skirts to make formal dresses for Krista and Zoe.

Dinner included some King Crab and other stuff.  It wasn't a lot of food, but it was good, and our Indonesian waiter, Rianto , was very nice.
Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Great Northern Adventure, Day 2: Here by the Waterside. There where the Lens is Wide

Saturday, July 3, 2010

We got up Saturday morning and walked down to the waterfront,

taking a foot ferry over to Granville Island.

This place was awesome, and I wish we had more time there.  We got croissants, coffee, crepes, and other cool stuff there, and ran into Andy & family.  If we ever get back to Vancouver, we'll need to spend more time there, as well as Chinatown, which we missed entirely.

We checked out of the hotel by 11 and took three taxis (Dad took the bus) to Canada Place (C$ 8.50 + tip. $1 = C$ 1.06)  There were two cruise ships boarding: ours, the Holland America Line MS Zuiderdam, as well as a Princess Cruises ship.  Despite the huge number of people and all their luggage, the check-in and boarding process went very smoothly.

We were on our boat by noon, and went to the Lido deck to commence gluttony.  Zoe was immediately impressed that she could eat all the sushi she wanted to.  Tristan was amazed that he could go get as many ice cream cones as he wanted.  We hung out and explored and took pictures.  By 3pm or so we were able to enter our rooms.  We're in 1112 on the "Main Deck", aka Deck 1 (the first deck above the water line).  We have a 3' x 3' window that cost us ~$200 as an upgrade, but it was totally worth it.

We love the room. Zoe's staying with us while Tristan is staying with Opa (Dad) in 5008, an inside stateroom.  Tom's family has a room like ours but with an additional flip-out bed, and Andy's family has a Verandah [sic] suite with their own balcony.  It is sweet!

The kids got into the pool about as soon as they possibly could, and stayed there as long as they possibly could.

We have a 7:45 seating in the dining room and we're at two adjacent tables.  Dinner the first night was almond-crusted salmon, steakhouse soup, and mussels for me, with baked Alaska and espresso for dessert.  The kids couldn't believe they could have a salad, appetizer, entree and dessert.  Since Tristan's medicine suppresses his appetite, he specifically requested not to take it so he could eat more.

After dinner, Zoe and I  tried to see Seymour Narrows, site of Ripple Rock around 11 pm, but it was too dark, plus Zoe fell asleep under two wool deck blankets out on the observation deck (Deck 10). Pity.
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