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.
Friday, July 16, 2010

The Great Northern Adventure, Day 1: Take Off to the Great White North

Friday, July 2, 2010
RDU. Gate A25. Southwest flight #617 to Seattle via Baltimore.
It's 8:57 am EDT, so we should be boarding in ten minutes or so.  The weather here is great.  It's an hour to Baltimore, then an hour on the ground, then about five hours to Seattle, landing around 13:55 PDT.  We're boarding A46-A49, so we should have decent seats, and will probably be able to upgrade them at the stopover.  I have no idea how many people may be continuing through like us.

Some background on this trip, to the best of my knowledge.  I believe the idea for this trip was my mom's, and I think she had even started saving for it.  Dad continued, and by last fall had enough money to take his whole family on this cruise-tour.  There will be 13 of us, including Tom, Andy, and their families, and Dad, of course.

Mom and Dad did more-or-less the same or similar trip: an Alaskan cruise-tour some years ago in the 1990's.  I'm speculating Dad's comfort with revisiting a big trip that he'd already taken may have been a factor in this trip's destination, as opposed to say, Austria, where he has never been.

Another interesting note is that this summer marks the 30th anniversary of The Roth Family's greatest vacation: a six-week, 10,000 mile RV trek around the country with excursions into Canada and Mexico.  In fact, the last time I was in Seattle was probably within a week or so of 30 years ago today.  That trip was more significant than I can explain, but that's a story for another day.

11:48EDT. BWI-ish.
We took off at 11:22 but not before we were joined on our plane by Andy, Shelley, Alex (8) and ella (6).  We didn't tell Tristan (11) or Zoe (10) that we were sharing a plane with them, though I think they figured it out.  Smart kids, all of them.

We're flying to Seattle where we'll get on the Quick Coach Shuttle for the ~5 hour ride to Vancouver, BC (~$40 each).  It was far cheaper to do this than to fly direct.  Tom, Jenni, Kayley (13) and Krista (11) flew to Seattle Wednesday and hung out with friends for a few days.  Dad (71) was flying from Harrisburg Middletown (a horrid little airport) to Vancouver via frequent flyer miles.  Andy and I were discussing the odds of Dad making it to the hotel in Vancouver mishap-free.  It shouldn't be too difficult, but Dad usually finds a glitch somehow.  It's a gift.  We're staying at the Quality Hotel on Howe Street tonight so there's little chance of missing the cruise departure early tomorrow afternoon.  I've read that Vancouver has an impressive Chinatown - the second largest in North America.  And since my kids speak Mandarin, I thought it would be cool to check out the Chinatown Night Market if we can.

The cruise portion of the trip is three nights, followed by six nights on the tour portion.  We fly back from Anchorage on Monday the 12th at 20:20 (Alaska time), arriving back in Raleigh at 09:35 on July 13th, Jennifer's 39th birthday.  Seems we're away for her birthday almost every year.  She's OK with that.

We landed on time in Seattle, 5 hours 7 minutes.  The adults got a snack at the Seattle Brewhouse (maybe) while the kids burned off some energy across the hall at the play area.  We walked down to the bus loading area

and boarded the 15:30 (PDT) Quick Coach Shuttle (aka QuickShuttle).  We made a few stops on the way up to Vancouver, but the drive was nice and the views were amazing.

The shuttle dropped us right at the door to our lodging: Quality Hotel, 1335 Howe Street.

We checked in, found Tom's family, then all of us other than Tom and Krista (who is nursing a recently broken but now healed leg) headed out.  We got some pizza, then all but my family returned to the hotel.  It was ~9 pm, but felt like midnight.  We walked around some more, much to the kids' annoyance, and found ourselves in a nightclub/red light district.  It wasn't that bad, but was getting a bit too saucy for 10 & 11 year olds, so we turned back, but not before stopping at Fritz, an all-night french fry place.  We got traditional poutine (fries, mozzarella cheese curds and beef gravy - a Quebecois specialty)

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