Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tuesday, July 24 - last day in Vancouver

We were up and out and parked at the Vancouver Aquarium at 9:24 a.m.   It was a lovely aquarium!  We watched a 4-D movie, not the best story but the kids liked the effects.  We learned about sea otters and watched the beluga whale show - they have 3 females here, from 17 to 40 years old.  There was also an Amazon section which featured a butterfly and bird atrium with bright blue macaws and scarlet ibis.

After the aquarium, we walked through Stanley Park to an area called the Klahowya Village. This area celebrates the First Peoples of the Vancouver area, today there was a Metis trading post and a Squamish storyteller. They also feature Sasquatch, as the forested areas and nearby Vancouver Island are home to many bigfoot sightings.  Next we visited the totem pole area of Stanley Park, with a magnificent grouping of poles. All are within about 50 years old, some were recreations  of old poles and others were brand new when put into place here.


Following Stanley Park, we made it to Granville Island for a very late lunch.  We had fun looking through all of the stalls and picking out breads, meats, cheese, cherries and fudge for dinner.   Dinner was in the hotel, lights out just after 8 p.m.  as we will be up and heading to the airport really early tomorrow.

Happy Birthday to Kurt!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Monday, July 23 - all over Vancouver

It turned into Randy's day today. He walked down a few blocks and rented a car this morning, bringing some doughnuts from the Canadian chain Tim Horton's with him for breakfast. We decided it was time for a car because we had too many places to go and were tired of being urban bus riders.  We ventured out late morning to Tilley's, where Randy bought his Endurable Hat in 1999.  Then lunch at Templeton's, a place featured on "Diners, Dives and Drive-Throughs," a TV show about special neighborhood restaurants that Randy enjoys watching.
Reed and his BBB burger - Bacon, BBQ sauce, Burger - with a side of poutine!

It was a bit rainy and we were hoping for a weather break, as next we headed for the Vancouver Aquarium.  We drove through Stanley Park, only to keep driving as we searched for a parking spot.  Finally found one way, way too far away. Since it was still sprinkling, we decided to forget it for today and kept driving through the park. View here of the Lion's Gate bridge from Stanley Park.  We ended up going across this bridge and into North Vancouver.  It was too cloudy to justify going to Grouse Mountain to ride the ski lift and see the view of the city, so we drove through North Van for awhile then came back south over the Ironworker's Bridge.   Next goal was the Oakbrook Mall.  Reed found a new watch at Zeller's.  Bret had fun at the Lego Store making some new mini Lego men. We all had a nice cup of tea at Murchie's.   Back to the hotel in time for dinner, we walked down a couple of blocks to a good Japanese restaurant.  Evening - swimming for the boys, emails for Randy, blogging for Bryn.

In the morning we need to change to a new hotel.  Here,  they posted a notice that on Tuesday night they will be doing maintenance work and the hotel will lose power from 10 pm til about 10 am.  Generators will keep the elevators and hall lights on, we will have hot water but no power. We're glad they had the courtesy to notify us of this.  Randy told them we would be switching hotels, they said they would provide flashlights!   So we've packed up tonight and will take everything with us in the morning.  If all goes well, we will be at the Vancouver Aquarium at opening time, 9:30 a.m.

Sunday July 22, MOA at UBC

Randy and Reed set out for a morning walk to Best Buy. Reed's headphones broke, and so did his watch. They came home with headphones, but the hike also wiped out Randy who is still under the weather with his cold.  We went down the street for lunch at A&W Root Beer, after Randy pointed out that they had poutine. Reed has been wanting to try this, there is a move to make this the national dish of Canada.  What is poutine?  French fries covered with cheese curds and gravy.  Hmm. Reed liked it a lot.  After that lunch, Randy was done for the day and headed in for a nap.

Bryn, Reed and Bret hopped on a #99 express bus and went west to the University of British Columbia's very fine Museum of Anthropology.  Bryn had mentioned being there in 1988, when it was one of the first museums to feature open storage and a computerized database.  They have updated their computer system. While Bret looked up weapons and armor, Bryn looked at the 1,905 objects that appeared under the term 'basket.'   We took a look at the Indonesian basketry motorcycle in addition to thousands of other items. Behind the museum, we walked around some recreated totem poles and plank houses. It was a gorgeous day.

We arrived back at the hotel around 6 p.m. and had a great night view from our window.

Land Ho! Vancouver, Saturday July 21

We had to leave our stateroom at 8 a.m., then hang out in the Explorers' Lounge until our disembarkation time of 9:50. We went through customs quickly as we didn't have to wait for luggage, but we did have to take out a birchbark basket to show the customs officers when we proclaimed that we did have an item made of wood.

We took a taxi to our hotel. As it was too early to check in, we walked down the street to the Scout Canada shop and had fun looking at red boy scout uniforms and unusual patches. We selected a few. Bret chose the 'international commerce' merit badge, rationalizing that he was exchanging Canadian money for the transaction. Reed picked a local patch featuring an orca. Following a delicious lunch at a Chinese restaurant, we finally check in. We had a lazy afternoon – reading, catching up on the blog, swimming in the pool, downloading a couple of hundred emails, doing laundry – ok, maybe not such a lazy afternoon. Later we walked down to dinner. Photos – Canada Place, site of the 1988 Expo which Bryn attended with her friend Anne Marie, now this is the cruise terminal. And a view of the city from our hotel balcony.

Friday July 20 - at sea

A day at sea. For Bret, that meant spending as much time as possible in his Shockwaves Club. It is on the 15th floor on the aft of the ship, with big picture windows. Lucky him, he was able to see some orcas today that the rest of us missed. He is having a good time playing fussball, making crafts and doing various other activities.

We had an hour ahead time change. Randy and Bret were the earlybirds, they went out for breakfast. Bryn and Reed were the lazy ones, sleeping in and not going for breakfast until 10:30. We skipped the lunch buffet, Randy and Bret went and thoughtfully brought us some wrapped BLT sandwiches.
Reed and Bret spent the afternoon in their clubs. Randy attended a talk given by the navigator, then Bryn met him and they both attended a whale talk by Rachel the naturalist. Bryn spent time re-packing everything, carefully wrapping the baskets and counting clean clothes. It looks like 1 more load of laundry needs to be done before we get home. That's one of the things about traveling with only carry-on luggage. It is easy to travel and get through airports and on to ships, but it does involve working the laundry into the schedule. We'll do the next load in Vancouver.

We cruised the inside passage today. Bryn saw 1 or 2 humpbacks and some seals or sea lions. In the evening, as we passed through Seymour Narrows along the east side of Vancouver Island, we were able to see a beautiful rainbow and a couple of bald eagles, but no other animal life. Reed attended his last night party at one of the restaurants, Bret also had his last night celebration. Randy and Bryn wandered down to the end of the ship for a snack. When Bret got back at 10 p.m., he and Bryn went to get ice cream cones, they serve them 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

July 19 - Ketchikan

Randy has been fighting a cold, so he stayed in this morning. Bryn, Reed and Bret went into Ketchikan and caught a cab to the Totem Heritage Center. It houses and preserves old totem poles rescued from abandoned Indian villages. They also have a gallery devoted to traditional crafts made during the year, when Haida, Tlingit, and Tsimshian artists pass on their crafts to the next generation.

Across the creek from this is the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center. We learned about and saw bald eagles, and examples of all types of salmon. In the hatchery, we were told about the stages of salmon development, and saw thousands in one of the pools. There was a fish ladder, and spawning salmon return to this spot to breed. This tribal enterprises releases hundreds of thousands of young salmon into Ketchikan creek every year.

We took a shuttle back to the ship and met Randy for lunch. At 1 p.m., we went back into town and saw the Great American Lumberjack Show. It was exciting to watch the various activities like axe throwing and log rolling, and the boys liked cheering on their team and booing the other team. Following this, we took a bus up to Totem Bight State Park. This was originally the site of a Tlingit village. During the Great Depression, the CCC recreated a plank house and many types of totem poles. Our tour included an enthusiastic guide who had fun telling the interesting stories about the various poles. We took a quick visit to a trading post with an antique gun collection. Bret was excited about seeing the largest caliber sporting rifle ever made, it was 1 of only 7 made. We returned to the ship at 5 pm, and were eating dinner at 6 pm when we set sail again. Reed's group was going to have a formal evening, so he returned early as we didn't bring formal clothes. Reed's reward was to see an eagle swoop down and snag a fish out of the water. Bret was off having fun and returned about 10 p.m.

Juneau - July 18

To Juneau, the capital city. We disembarked and took a taxi across town to the Alaska State Museum. Beautiful baskets, and an exhibit on World War II in Kiska. We also visited the Sealaska Building's shop, Bryn got a basket by Haida weaver Holly Churchill. Some walking, shopping, a Filipino meat stick lunch, and back on the ship for some ice cream. We set said again at 3:30. Randy spotted some bald eagles, there were two on the beach, each eating its own fish. Bryn saw some more porpoises or dolphins. Tonight Bret is playing bingo and Reed is having a Las Vegas night followed by mixing special drinks – mocktails. Randy downloaded photos and Bryn wrote blog entries to be posted after we're in Vancouver. There was a stunningly beautiful sunset that night.

Alaska State Museum top left; mural on city hall; on the side of the ship.

July 17, 2012 - Tuesday in Skagway

Happy Birthday to Bryn! There was a happy birthday sign on the door and a couple of balloons. We had breakfast delivered, as we had arrived in Skagway and wanted to exit the ship. We took a bus tour that started with the Liarsville Experience. We visited a mining camp, saw a show and had another opportunity to pan for gold. Then back on the bus and up to White Pass and into British Columbia, following the path of some of the gold miners in 1897 – 1900. Very steep climb along the river, gorgeous lush forests and expanses of rock face sprinkled with ponds and patches of snow. We returned to the ship for lunch. After lunch Randy, Reed and Bret had a surprise birthday-in-a-bag celebration for Bryn. She got baskets, chocolate and Alaskan blueberry taffy. What could be better? A fun time was had by all. Then it was time to get back to the serious work of touristing so we took a shuttle back into town. We visited several historic buildings which were part of Klondike Gold Fields National Historic Park, where the boys earned yet more Junior Ranger badges. We visited some shops and the Corrington Ivory Museum, where Bryn liked seeing the world's biggest baleen basket.

For dinner, the waiters sang happy birthday and they brought a cake that looked like a big ding dong. Tasted better though – chocolate with chocolate cream between the layers. The boys were happy to share it.

Glacier Bay - Tuesday July 16

Photos, top to bottom:  Glacier Bay National Park - rangers arriving; Junior Rangers Reed & Bret; Margerie Glacier; stellar sea lion mama & 2 pups; Reid Glacier

Into amazing Glacier Bay for the day. Naturalist Rachel was at the bridge, talking about wildlife and pointing out humpback whales in the Icy Strait area. Bryn went to the back of the ship to spot some, while the boys stayed on the balcony and saw many. We had a gloriously clear day, a bit of clouds along the mountaintops but mostly blue and bright.

From our balcony, we watched the NPS boat approach, then Rangers Brad, Sarah and Rebecca boarded the ship. Ranger Sarah gave presentations to the different kid clubs, and boys earned Glacier Bay National Park Junior Ranger Badges. Randy and Bryn attended a talk by Ranger Rebecca in the theater. Ranger Brad stayed on the bridge and gave a commentary on the natural, native, and more recent history of Glacier Bay. John Muir came here in 1879 to verify his hypothesis that Yosemite Valley was a glacial valley and not a result of earthquakes, as had been the current thinking then. Most of Glacier Bay was actually a glacier when he visited, there has been much glacial retreat since then. The biggest tidewater glacier we saw here was the Marjerie Glacier, a mile across. The Grand Pacific Glacier has retreated so it is not very visible from the water. We did a lot of glacier gazing, and 'spectacular' is the word that kept coming out of Randy's mouth. We saw a little bit of calving, but small pieces, nothing large. The glaciers were noisy, with lots of pops and cracking noises. The wonderful sound of calving is called 'white thunder,' it is really loud and impressive. After the rangers left the ship, Rachel took over and continued a commentary on wildlife. We saw some more humpbacks as we exited Glacier Bay, some bald eagles, plus some dolphins or porpoises – they're quick! The nights are not quite as long as we are heading south. We are still in bed before sunset, although Randy tries to get up and check to see if the sky is clear and if the aurora borealis is visible. So far, cloudy skies during our little bit of dark night.

Sunday July 15 - Yakutat Bay & Hubbard Glacier

Sunday July 15

We cruised into Yakutat Bay and saw Hubbard Glacier, the world's biggest tidewater glacier, with a 6 mile wide terminus at the bay. Very impressive. We did not get off in this area, the traditional home of the Yakutat Tlingit people. It was a chilly day, we had some snowflakes and we bundled up to go outside on the balcony and watch what was going on outside. The bay was filled with ice floes, not icebergs but called berglets and growlers depending on their size. Some of them had stellar sea lions or harbor seals on them, handy places to float around and escape predators. Randy attended a talk with naturalist Rachel Dunham. Reed went off to Re-Mix, the teenage hang-out with all kinds of activities. Bret joined the 8 – 12 year-old-gang at Shockwaves, they had a Lego competition this morning.

When we boarded the ship, we each got an ID card like a credit card, it gets swiped for everything, such as when you get on or off the ship, or if you want to buy something. When we registered the boys for these clubs, we acknowledged that they could sign out themselves, and they both appreciate having their independence on the ship. Bret returned to our room when his club ended at 10 pm. Reed stayed until midnight, although his club is open until 1 a.m. They're meeting people and having fun.

The photo of us above was taken by us as we were reflected in our balcony window. You can kind of see the Hubbard Glacier behind us.

Saturday July 14 - Anchorage, June, and Ship

Anchorage in the morning. In the few hours we had before our bus left, we headed to the Alaska Native Heritage Center at the north end of town. Bryn went in to visit June and Charlie Pardue. June was the Aleutian basketweaver consultant on a basket exhibit, and Charlie is one of this summer's featured artists at the center. The boys took two tours around the lake and visited the 5 different house areas and cultural areas of Alaska, plus enjoyed some of the traditional dancing and athletic demonstrations. Meanwhile, Bryn chatted with June and toured around the exhibits, met the other weavers, and looked at the watercraft that June helped do the hide fitting and sewing on. We met her grandson Derek, who was one of the traditional dancers. Reed mastered the Eskimo Yo-Yo, made of seal fur, caribou hide and antler. The time went way too quickly, then we had to go out front and catch a cab back. While we waited, Bret spotted a moose munching some willow on the side of the entrance.

We returned to the hotel and boarded the bus, only to have to wait for another family who thought the leaving time was 1:30. Some of them didn't make it, they had to join us at the airport, the bus's last pick-up point. We drove west along Beluga Bay and Turnagain Inlet. Saw a mama bear and 2 large cubs on the side of the road. Had a nice stop at the Alaska Conservation Center where we filled in the gaps on our animal count. They had lynxes, bears, musk ox, caribou, and a pair of gangly yet adorable baby moose.

We made the 4:30 tunnel (1 land tunnel, every hour it is open 15 min north, 15 min south, 15 min for the train, and 15 min for airing out). Out of the tunnel and into Whittier, a town that exists for docking the cruise ships. We are traveling on the Diamond Princess, it has about 2,500 guests. Embarking was a pretty simple process as we only have carry-on luggage. We arrived at our stateroom, Dolphin 717, then went to dinner at the buffet. We shoved off around 8:30 p.m. and had a muster call where we learned how to put on life vests and emergency procedures.

Friday, July 13, 2012

On to Anchorage - Friday the 13th

Suitcases out the door at 6 am, 7 am departure on the bus, going southeast out of Denali.  Bret spotted a moose and a fox, also seen by Bryn as they were on the right side of the bus.  We made a stop at Mary Carey's McKinley Inn, yet again clouds prevented a view of the mountain.  However, bits of white clouds looked lovely hanging low against the nearly-black mountains. It was damp and misty today. Our lunch stop was in Wasilla, with a choice of fast food restaurants. We picked A&W Root Beer.  Turns out this infamous town is like a suburb of Anchorage, with a big Fred Mayer grocery-and-everything-else store (remember Gemco? like that), plus a Walmart.
We arrived at the Clarion Suites hotel in Anchorage around 2 pm, but could not check in. We left our luggage then walked 14 blocks downtown, there was an army-navy surplus store that Reed wanted to check out.   We saw the little visitor center, and Bret sat on the 5,116 lb Alaska Jade boulder, the state gem.  Randy spotted a barber shop and got a haircut while Bryn and the boys visited the Alaska Veterans Museum.  This celebrates both veterans from Alaska, and veterans from Alaskan wars.  While Bret and Reed took turns at the flight simulator, Bryn had a nice chat with the director about the battle of Kiska and the 10th Mountain Division, and will be sending her some things about them sometime in the future.
Following our late hotel check-in, we had a delicious dinner in an Irish pub.  While the boys swam in the indoor pool, Mom did some laundry and Dad caught up on computer things.

Denali National Park, Thursday July 12

We hopped on a shuttle bus and officially entered Denali National Park.  At the Visitor Center, we attended a lecture on BMWs - bears, moose, and wolves.  If a grizzly bear charges you, act big and be loud, then if it doesn't swerve away, at the last minute you should drop and cover the back of your next with your hands and play dead.  If a black bear charges, act big and be loud, then if it doesn't swerve away, throw things, hit it, and fight back.  If a moose charges you, run!   This and other info led the boys to finishing another Junior Ranger Badge.  We were also able to take a short hike, visit the Murie Science Center and have lunch before returning via shuttle to the hotel.  Soon afterward, we got on another bus for a 5 hour Denali Natural History Tour.  We saw a bull moose!  3 female moose. 2 caribou. A herd of Dall sheep.
We had beautiful clouds today.  Clouds mean no good view of Denali. Luckily we saw it the previous day.
Today was technical difficulty day with my camera.  The colors were all washed out, leading to disappointing photos of hot pink fireweed and brilliant blue forget-me-not wildflowers.  The color of the bull moose photo is also off.  Luckily, soon after this I figured out the problem and the other moose and caribou photos were fine.   It was almost 9 pm when returned to the McKinley Chalets Hotel for dinner.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wednesday - to Denali! Moose excitement!

Up and out early to grab the bus to the train depot. We were in a dome-topped railcar from Fairbanks to Denali, the trip lasted about 4 hours. And - finally - a moose for Bryn!  Early on the trip, Reed and Bret spotted the back of one off of their side of the train, Bryn missed it.  Bryn has searched in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Wyoming, Montana, British Columbia, Alberta, and New Brunswick and never saw a live, wild moose, so Alaska was literally the last frontier in moose hunting.  Hooray!  One was spotted off of the left side of the train, and we were able to snap a not-great photo. Can you see the cow moose in the water? No antlers. Still looking for the big bull with a full rack of antlers.
Clear blue skies gave us stupendous views of snow-capped Mt McKinley. Denali is an Athabaskan word for this mountain, "The Great One."   We were met by another bus at the Denali Depot, and transported to the Mt McKinley Chalets.  We had lunch and did a little shopping and looking around before heading to a dinner theater about early Alaskans.  "Cabin Nite" featured all-you-can-eat salmon and ribs (10 ribs for Bret!).  In fact, it was a rib-roaring good time!