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An adventure in 2 parts

Just like a piece of music usually has 2 parts (at least) – a high and a low, so did our adventure to Skagway. The first part of our adventure took place in the mountains above Skagway. I think virtually every person who goes to Skagway probably takes the White Pass Railroad up into the Yukon Pass (you actually cross over into Cananda). Its beautiful and you hear the stories of the gold rush. And the incredible hardships endured by the people who sought their fortune in this area. Not an easy way to get rich by any means. There were also stories about a man named Buchanen who would bring groups of school age boys (and in later years girls) up to Alaska. I think of it as sort of a vintage version of  People to People. So it was a little rainy and a little overcast but we ventured off. We boarded the train. And the train started up the the mountain. We climbed. And saw waterfalls.
And listened to the stories. How these people suffered in their quest to get rich. I think on a clear day the views are probably spectacular. But it was pretty and interesting. And the ride down was a nice time for a nap.

But seriusly. If you go to Skagway, people will tell you you have to do this, you have to see it. In my opinion taking the train up high was the low point of our visit to Skagway.

The next post will be about what we loved in Skagway.

Juneau

A day like our day in Juneau is the reason you book a trip to Alaska. It was everything you expected from the great wilderness state up north and then some. The first thing though was something we did not expect. If you have done your research on Juneau in the summer or on the interior passage in general you know to expect rain. They told us in Ketchikan last year it started raining on July 1st and it stopped raining on August 1st. On August 2nd they celebrated forth of July and then on August 3rd it started raining again.  But the day we were in Juneau, it was beautiful. Blue skies and sun. Which makes for beautiful pictures. First we went on a whale watching trip. They are so sure you will see humpback whales on this trip that they offer $100 refund if you don’t see them. Even without the whales the trip would have been worth it. It was beauty and majesty everywhere you looked. And first up? Bald eagles. Sitting On an island like someone had trained them to be there. Next we saw harbor seals lazing about in the sun like so many people on a beach in Florida. But the real gem? The real surprise came next. Orcas or killer whales. Our guides had spotted them in the distance at approximately the point where our boat was to turn back. So we kept going. About another 3 miles. What’s special about seeing orcas in Juneau is that they are not a resident population there. They are migrating through and stop to fill up on the salmon that are starting to run in the area. They played around our boat for T least 20 minutes at times surfacing all in a line. No Sea World trainer here but they all lined up. Finally we headed back to an area where the humpbacks were known to feed and sure enough after a few minutes we saw them too. No breeching or anything spectacular. But we saw them nonetheless. And I couldn’t help but wonder of there would be any chance, any at all that the humpbacks could be the same ones we saw off the Na Pali coast last year. I know the odds against are astronomical, but still you wonder.
So that would have been a fantastic day all on its own, but it wasn’t done. We returned to the bus for the short ride to the Mendenhall glacier. With the sun and the bright blue sky it was magnificent. After taking a ton of pictures we walked over to the creek nearby to see the salmon run. We could see them fighting their way upstream but even cooler were the porcupine (no picture – sorry) and the momma bear and cubs up in the trees alongside the creek. I didn’t get the fabulous bear pictures I was hoping for but it was great seeing them so close.
So a full day and we should be headed for the ship right? Well almost. We stopped downtown to have some lunch at the famous Red Dog saloon. Complete with cheesy piano playing cowboy, it was exactly what a saloon in the wild west should be. So finally we headed back to the ship, but we couldn’t resist the tramway that headed straight up the mountain right next to where we were parked. And although the boys did have visions of hiking down we corralled them back onto the tram for the ride down. Now that’s a shore day…

Our first look

at Alaska was Ketchikan. And it was exactly the way I had pictured it. It looked like someone had built a movie set of a small fishing town in Alaska. As we approached we could only see part of town because the clouds were like 25 feet off the ground.

Then when we could see the town, it looked like it was being shoved right off the land by the mountain.  So we boarded a bus and headed to the opposite side of the island to go on a wildlife cruise and eat crab. All we could eat crab to be exact. But first the wildlife. There were so many bald eagles haging around, the guide told us they refer to them as Alaskan pigeons.Next we pulled up some crab pots with Dungeoness Crab. Nothing like playing with your food while its still alive (Not really these crabs are catch and release)Finally we headed back to the lodge to down some alaskan lollipopsand cheesecake with fresh Alaskan blueberriesthen it was time for the competition. The only rule, the tower must be as tall as possible and the piece on top must be crabshell. Here was our initial entry (complete with JD photobomb)However, this is how we won.(I know the picture is blurry but you get the idea)And what did the boys win?

Sometimes the punishment really does fit the crime…

Vancouver

What an amazingly friendly place. Friendly – it really is the first word to come to mind. People actually stop what they are doing to walk over and see if they can help a lost tourist. Who does that anymore?

Well were only going to have 1 afternoon in Vancouver so we had to narrow down what we wated to do to one afternoon. We finally settled on the Capliano Suspension Bridge in North Vancouver. We were able to walk from our hotel downtown just a couple of blocks to One Canada Place where we caught a free shuttle out to the bridge. The bridge itself is 450 ft long, 230 ft high bridge, and although originally constructed of hemp rope and cedar planks attached to Douglas-firs, is today made with pre-stressed wire cable attached to 118 ton anchors. It was a very cool thing to cross unless you are highly prone to motion sickness and vertigo, then it was a little shaky. Next we climbed all over the Treetops adventure which included a squirrel’s eye view of a thriving coastal rainforest in the mid-story of 1300-year-old old growth Douglas-firs. It uses no bolts or nails in the trees to secure its viewing platforms and 7 suspension bridges. Next we decided to brave the Cliffwalk. It follows a granite precipice along Capilano River with a labyrinth-like series of narrow cantilevered bridges, stairs and platforms. It includes only 16 anchor points in the cliff supporting the structure.

After we were done at Capliano we wanted to go to Grouse Mountain and ride the tram to the top of the mountain where we would be able to see Vancouver laid out below us. First though we had to navigate the local currency. Its easy to forget Canada is just that Canada, until you want to do something easy, like ride a public bus. Then you will have to find a very sweet girl working at the snack shop, who will cash an american $50 dollar bill to buy a $2.50 soda and give you all of your change in canadian coins, since that is all the buses will take and you need round trip fare for 7 people. I though my pants were going to fall down from the weight of the coins in my pockets. But we got the coins and found the bus stop and rose the bus to Grouse Mountain.

Once at Grouse Mountain we boarded what is advertised as the largest tramway system in North America to the top of the mountain. Only it turns out that once you climb off the tramway, you actually get on a chair lift to get to the actual top of the mountain, so of course we did that. The boys were a little disappointed to learn that we would not be paragliding off the top of the mountain. But after walking around and photos, we started our descent, First down the chairlift, then down the skytram, then down the stairs to the waiting bus that drove all the way down the mountain to the water. Where we boarded a SeaBus to cross the harbor. And finally a 1.25 mile walk to a restaurant Jack had found on the internet. Only to find it closed – due to catering (really? on a Tuesday Night?). But that actually worked out as we found ourselves at what has to be the most interesting restaurant we have ever been to. A place called Chill Winston. This is their dinner menu – have you ever seen a more interesting dinner menu?(click on it for larger version thats easier to read)
We ended up being really glad the other place was closed. Choc & Balls ’nuff said. So after we ate – we did get in a couple of cabs for the ride back. (I even paid the cabbie using up the rest of my Canadian coins) and headed to bed. And unusaully for us we made no plans for the morning other than to sleep in, have breakfast and head to the ship. It wouldn’t be us and we wouldn’t be having an adventure though if we didn’t find a unique way to do even that though. Here we are walking the 6 blocks to get to where we boarded the ship. Hey you have to be tough to travel with us.

Tips for a Successful Journey

As a family that travels a lot, people often ask if I have any tips to make traveling with your family easy and more enjoyable. So here is what I have to offer. First  make sure everyone is well rested to start the trip. This cuts down on bickering and aggravation. For example, when we left for Alaska, we got to bed at 12:30pm so that we could be well rested for our 2:30 am alarm… oh wait hmm… Um yes, moving on… pack light. No one wants to schlep large amounts of lugguage around an airport. umm ok – let me change that to bring you own crew of bell boys with you (they rent out cheap and love to travel) Bring books and cards for the plane to keep everyone amused and interested and don’t forget to look out the window … or um not…

Finally pre arrange transportation at your final destination so you don’t have to scrounge something last minute at the curb, yeah no – what the heack – just jump in any stretch limo that’s handy – after all its cheaper than the 3 prius cabs you would have had to hire.

Happy Travels!

Before we move on…

… let’s tell the end of JD’s story with People to People. So after 18 days traipsing around Greece, Sicily and Italy, it was time for JD’s delegation to come home. They left Rome at 9am Rome time and arrived back home at 10pm local time (Rome minus 7 hours). A very long day by anyone’s standards. After he handed out his presents to us and his brothers, we downloaded his photos
and unpacked his suitcase and sent him to bed. And we let him sleep, well til 7 am anyway (we’re so nice like that) then it was time to get him up. You see we were only going to let him have 1 day at home and he needed to get registered for school, get a haircut and pack. Yes that’s right I said pack. You see, we left the next day for family vacation. And that’s the next story I plan to tell. Its a good one so stick around.

Juneau Picture of the Day

Internet is still spotty, so just a picture today from Juneau

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