Not just a hobby, it's a way of Life

Archive for June, 2011

You’re never too old to learn . . .

. . . . to swim.

That’s right, yours truly never learned to swim.  Blame a childhood out in the sticks, with no access to a pool.  I never learned to ride a bike, either.  Gravel roads don’t really facilitate such things.

My mom did sign me up for lessons once, but ‘hold-on-to-the-side-and-kick-now-float-now-swim’ really wasn’t clicking with me.  Like if I handed you knitting needles and yarn and said, “Hold the needles like this, wrap the yarn around your fingers like this, now knit,” wouldn’t make any sense to you.  Except for the blog readership that already knows how to knit.  For everyone else, there’s a few steps missing.

But today, I took my first ever strokes, at the ripe old age of never-you-mind.  Yesterday, I spent the time drifting on a floaty noodle, working my arms and legs, but not quite ready to be on my own.  Today, I spent time floating with my arms outstretched, still clinging to the noodle.  I had been reading up on how to swim, (that’s right, I have to read it for it to make any sense) and using a floaty really wasn’t recommended because it doesn’t teach you to depend on yourself to stay afloat.  Hokay.  After a few attempts at floating on my back with the sides of the pool to support me, I let go.

And I did it.  Ramblin had been coaching me on how to breathe, because while it’s probably second-nature to all of you who have swam since you were tadpoles, it’s not to a noob.  After a few times of that, I floated on my tummy.  And then, all of a sudden, it made sense to just lean into it and move my arms and legs.  I’m not saying it’s the prettiest form you’ve ever seen, but nonetheless, propellation was happening.  This is huge.

Ramblin says next up is the bike.  Meh.

In other developments, Vacation 2011 Part B is in the planning stages.  What has happened to these people who never wanted to travel?  We’re addicted, I tell you, addicted.  It looks like we’re heading back to Maine, and I couldn’t be happier.  I love Maine.  Luuuurrrvvvve it.  And do you know what Maine means?  More whales!  And maybe eagles!  And a moose would be awesome!

Like those famous shirts say, “Life is Good.”

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The post at least some of you have been waiting for

Hi.  What’s new with you?

Okay, okay, you’re here to hear about the trip, aren’t you?

Pre-trip: Drive to Indy

Due to some crazy woman booking early flights, we opt to stay in Indy for the park-sleep-fly promotions.  For those of you not familiar with the current state of Indianapolis, it is road construction hell.  Our Garmin not only had no idea the roads it was telling us to take no longer existed, it also decided to route us to a completely different hotel than the one we had reservations at.  Add in me forgetting the room key when we went to eat, and I was convinced our trip was doomed.  Happily, it seems that was just getting the snags out of the way.  Other than the 18-hour travel day.

Day One: 18 hour travel day

Well, that kind of says it all, doesn’t it?  It began with us on a precious few hours sleep staggering down to the lobby, getting on the shuttle, and being transported to the airport, 4am Indy-time.  Oof.  Three hour flight to Denver, hour and 45 minute layover, 3 hour flight to Seattle, 2 hour wait to board a bus.  Not just any bus – a six hour bus.  After we passed US/Canada border, what should be waiting to welcome us but several Canadian-American Bald Eagles.

18 hours after our day began, we staggered (are you sensing a theme?) into our hotel lobby in Vancouver.  A group of friendly hotel staff greeted us, and after hearing about our day, promptly upgraded our room for free.  God bless you, Jeremiah. The hotel was actually new construction due to the 2010 Winter Olympics.  We had a lovely view of the harbour (that’s the way you spell it in Canada), spacious room with a sitting area, and a very comfy bed.

We ordered room service, and while you might think that we would have collapsed, instead we sought out the outdoor whirlpool.  It was on the fifth floor, and we were the only ones enjoying it.  There was actually a light drizzle, which felt good as a contrast to the warm water.  We then retired for the evening, to repair the wear of the day.

Day Two:  Exploring Vancouver

One of our new favorite things to do on our vacations is to book a hop-on, hop-off tour, usually for two days.  While it’s a great way to see and learn about the city, it also offers convenient transportation around town.  We walked a couple of blocks to Canada Place to catch our trolley and saw a few interesting sites along the way.

Our first stop was the Vancouver Aquarium, something else that has became quite the tradition for us in whatever city we are visiting.  It is located in Stanley Park, which also offers totem poles, several restaurants, and is larger than Central Park.

Day Two:  Come sail away

Being in a time zone two hours behind ours, we were tending to wake up early.  In fact, we woke up early enough to see our ship sail into the harbour. We walked down to Canada Place and snapped a few picks, then walked along the waterfront.

We went back to the hotel room to wait until time to board.  Something that we had been planning since October was finally going to be here.  A little after 11am, we hauled our luggage and ourselves to the port.  First we dropped off our luggage, hoping to be reunited with all of it soon, and then commenced to queue (that’s actually British for wait in line, but I’m sure Canadians use the phrase as well).  First, we went through security.  Then, we went through customs, again.  Then began the long, long wait to get our guest cards that would serve as our room key, ID, and payment for onboard items.  At 1:30, we stepped foot onto what would be our home for the next seven days.  We were ushered into the Garden Cafe area for lunch and heard for the first of many, many times, the call for hand sanitizer “Washy, washy – happy, happy!”  Just as we were about to finish our meal, the call came that the state rooms were ready.

This is a good time to mention that we opted for a balcony room.  It is a hotly contested thing on the discussion boards about the necessity of a balcony.  For us, absolutely.  Yes, you can go out on the ship and get the views for free, but we could also retire to our room, make a pot of coffee, and either sit on the balcony, or on the bed, and watch the stunning scenery of the Inside Passage without another soul around.  Priceless.

Another splurge we made was for spa passes to the thermal suite.  This included a whirlpool, heated therapy pool (think all manner of massaging water jets), heated ceramic tile loungers (more relaxing than can be put into words), and also included saunas, steam rooms, and plunge pools (I think about 56 degrees – to be used after the sauna, but I wasn’t interested in going into shock).  The spa also had regular loungers that overlooked the bow of the ship.

The TV’s in the rooms broadcast ship information, along with a couple of movie channels.  It was fun to track the progress toward the next port.

Day Three: At Sea

Our first port would not be reached until the next day, so we spent time relaxing in the spa, walking around the ship, eating, and napping.

Day Four: Ketchikan, AK

We finally reached our first port!  Due to much research on the Internet, we had found the best independent operators for shore excursions.  In Ketchikan, that would be a flightseeing trip of the Misty Fjords with Island Wings.  Our tour was at 8am, so we wandered into a gift shop before it was time to meet the van.  Michelle flies a refurbished 1959 DeHavilland Beaver (yeah, yeah, make your jokes and move on).  There were five of us on the trip, plus our pilot.  While it was sprinkling after we got off the ship, by the time we boarded the plane, it had stopped, and we had fairly clear viewing. (with a name like Misty Fjords, you kind of have to expect some precipitation)

Once we were back in Ketchikan, the sun was shining.  That’s unusual, because Ketchikan is rather known for it’s rain – 160+ inches per year average.  We took the opportunity to walk around the town, visiting Creek Street, dining on dungeness crab and salmon, and then making our way to the Totem Historic Center.  On the way there, we had a surprise guest.

This guy flew over our heads and perched on a ship’s mast in the marina.  Then, he swooped down and landed about 20-25 feet from Ramblin.  That’s probably one of the highlights from the trip.  Ramblin had five goals for the trip – whales (preferably orcas), bears, eagles, glaciers, and totems.  Check one off the list.

We then continued on to see the totems, as well as tour an eagle sanctuary (they had two injured eagles that couldn’t be returned to the wild) and salmon hatchery.

We finished up with a bit of shopping and headed back to the ship.  That evening, we went to one of the shows on the ship – Sharkbait, a very entertaining  juggling act.  It also included another trip to the spa.

Day Five: Juneau, AK and Tracy Arm

We arrived in Juneau and immediately noticed a difference from Ketchikan: where all the shops were open for business as soon as we stepped off the boat at our first port, nothing was open in Juneau yet.  Maybe they like to sleep in, maybe the tourist business isn’t all that to them, but there were three ships in port by 7am, and nothing was open.

Around 8am, the van picked us and our fellow adventurers up and proceeded to the marina.  Whale-watching is big in Juneau, and there were lots of options.  I had read good things about Harv and Marv, and one of the nicest was that the groups are limited to six.  (As opposed to the Boston whale watch, with 200 of our closest friends, 2/3 of them being grade schoolers – urk.)  That gave us lots of opportunity to take pictures without being elbowed or trampled.  And oh boy, were there opportunities.  First, we went to one area and found a lone humpback.  We followed him for a bit, though he was rather erratic in showing up, so Captain Shawn decided to take us to an area where a mother and calf had been reported.

I have to mention the scenery as we were looking for the whales.  We were in Auke Bay, and what needs said for so much of Alaska, it was just breathtaking.

We made our way to an area that a few other boats were already scoping out.  There was mom and baby, surfacing fairly regularly, which makes for good photo ops.  Then came a call, not a call over the radio, but to Shawn’s cell.  Orcas!!!!  Off we sped.

I have been to Sea World and have seen killer whales (not really whales, actually in the dolphin family) in tanks, with their dorsal fins slumped in defeat.  (Yes, I’m projecting, leave me alone)  Not these!

They estimated 20 orcas in this pod.  Ramblin was in heaven.  Check another must see off the list.  You barely knew where to look with so many and on both sides of the boat.

Way too fast, it was time to head back.  They really milked all the time they could while still making sure we were on schedule to be back at our ship.  (In case you’re ever in Alaska and inclined to book a trip with them, they have an awesome policy on getting cruise passengers to their ship.)  They even made sure we had time to stop for a bit at Mendenhall Glacier.

Technically, this wasn’t the first glacier we saw.  Capt. Shawn had pointed out two, Eagle and Herbert, while we were in Auke Bay.  But it is a great view of this massive earth shaper.

Time to head back to the ship, with a quick run into a souvenir shop, and make our way to the Tracy Arm Fjord, with the hopes of seeing the twin Sawyer Glaciers.  Most ships are not able to navigate the entire narrow ice-filled waters, and our ship was no exception, having to turn around with 7-8 miles still to go.  However, lest you think we were disappointed, we spent the entire four hours standing on our balcony, treated to views like this:

Of course, starboard got to see a black bear.  We were port.  Such is life.

Day Six: Skagway, AK

Skagway is known for the Alaska Gold Rush.  A remainder from that time is the narrow gauge rail that took so many people to what they hoped would be fame and fortune – the White Pass and Yukon Route.

If you look closely at the picture, you’ll see the rail winding up the mountain on the right side.  Yup, that’s where we were headed.

Hmm, things seem to be getting snowier.

And snowier.

Tossing this one in for the “Awwww!” factor.

We had a bit of time in Skagway to purchase yet more t-shirts and some most excellent Alaska roasted coffee beans – Raven’s Brew.

Day Seven: Prince Rupert, BC aka BEARS!

Would it surprise you to know we were able to check off the final item on the must-see list?  When we boarded the vessel that would take us into the Khutzeymateen Grizzly Bear Sanctuary, our guide said there was a 99% chance we would see bears.  Now, seeing orcas was about 10-20% chance, and we went against the odds.  Hard as it seemed to believe, it looked like this was a shoe-in.  Of course, there’s always that thought in the back of your mind that the Universe might balance out the orca luck with bad bear luck.  Fortunately, the Universe seemed to be smiling on us this trip.

We made a couple of passes by the mother and baby before we had to head back.  And in case you wondered, once again, the surrounding scenery was outstanding.

All aboard was at 9:30pm (this was a ship-administered excursion, so we were probably a bit later than that) and got to see a beautiful sunset.

Day Eight: At Sea

I couldn’t tell you now how we spent our last full day on the ship.  I know we made a last visit to the spa and saw the farewell performance.  I also believe we spent a good deal of time walking on the upper deck of the ship, watching for whales and just letting the sea drift by.

Day Nine: So long, our floating home

Sunday we were up early, visited the buffet for some fortitude, and as soon as we got the go ahead, we carried our bags off and into the Port of Seattle.  There was a bit of a soggy wait for the bus we opted to use for touring the city, but it finally arrived and we were off.  Since both of the days were supposed to be rainy (it’s Seattle, we were prepared for that), we decided to go ahead and knock out the Space Needle and the EMP/SciFi Museum.  Cool exhibits of Battlestar Galactica, Nirvana, and Jimi Hendrix.

We got back on the bus and rode through the loop, then headed back to the port to collect our stored luggage.  There was a bit of a hike to the closest light rail station, which would take us to the airport station, where our hotel shuttle picked us up.  I think we were more than ready to just sit and be for a while.  The hotel was beautiful, and that night we dined on excellent fish and chips in the hotel’s Copperleaf Bar.

Day Ten:  Hey Baby, I Hear the Blues a’callin’, Tossed Salads and Scrambled Eggs

We expected to like Seattle more than we did.  Maybe chalk it up to two weary travelers who have maxxed their brains out on amazing experiences.  Did Seattle have orcas?  No.  Grizzly bears?  No.  Eagles?  Uh-uh.  So, at this point, a ‘wow’ factor would have to be pretty darned impressive.  Perhaps it was too subtle for us to appreciate at that point.  Later, we realized the only coffee we had in Seattle, other than the stuff we made in our room, was from Starbucks at the top of the Space Needle.  Clearly, we didn’t do Seattle right.

We did continue on our hop-on, hop off tour, ironically enough, on a beautifully sunny day.  Too bad we had already gone up in the Space Needle.  Sigh.  We toured Pike Place Market.  No flying fish that day, but they did throw a couple of crabs.  We also took The Seattle Underground Tour, which was an interesting look at Seattle’s history.

I want everything in that picture.

Day Eleven: Yet another travel day

The only bad thing about vacations to far away places are getting there and back.  Our final travel day included a woman fainting on the first of our flights, and a child with a nosebleed on the second flight.  Then our shuttle had to wait twenty minutes for people returning from a locale that clearly offered sun and beer.  This time, we were on to Indy’s tricks and navigated out of the city successfully.

Epilogue

So, we saw totems, eagles, orcas, glaciers, and grizzly bears – list complete.  Did I encompass everything we did and saw?  Not a chance.  There are over 6,000 pictures between the two of us.  I had thought to keep a log each day of what we did, but that just seemed like a chore, and there should be no chores on vacation.  Did I get my fill of salmon?  Not even close, and I was eating it about every other day aka every chance I got.

Now, where to next?