|Grand Canyon from South Rim|
|Sunset at the Utah Border|
|Trail Up the Rock Face|
|The Famous Delicate Arch|
|Grand Canyon from South Rim|
|Sunset at the Utah Border|
|Trail Up the Rock Face|
|The Famous Delicate Arch|
Even though work has been super busy (unfortunately I expect that to continue for a little bit over the next couple of months), I’ve found some limited time to squeeze out another blog entry. As my topic this month, I have chosen a familiar theme for long time readers...the trials and tribulations of getting around DC. This time it involved getting to the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.
Our story begins early Saturday morning. Several of us were planning on attending the rally, but there were some complicating factors. Our distinguished guests (Traci, Cassie, and Shannon, or “Trassinon”) were in town for the Halloween party, but had other brunch plans that morning before the rally. The first "Oh S@!t" moment occurred as I was dropping the brunch-goers at Vienna Metro. The line wrapped out of the fare gates all the way across 66 into the kiss and ride drop off point (if you haven’t been to the Vienna Metro, take my word for it that it’s a long freaking way). Luckily, I did remember that during big events, like the annual Cherry Blossom festival, the line is just for the fare card machines and not to actually get on the train. Unfortunately, not all of our guests had a fare card, so back to the house we went to scrounge for extra fare cards. Fortunately, we found a few extras that we could use and headed out again for trip #2 to the Metro. I wished them luck and made tentative plans to try to meet up at the rally (foolish though they were) and headed back to the house to pick the second crew (myself, Sarah, Sarah #2, Rob, Mike #2, and Amanda). We would never see the brunch goers again…at least until I had to pick them up from the Vienna Metro yet again much later that afternoon.
"If a riot breaks out I'm grabbing an I-Pad"
Just as soon as we got back to the ship from our Kayaking trip in Ketchikan, we got some surprising news from the ship’s Captain about our next stop. The tiny town of Hoonah was in the midst of a serious situation involving the perpetrator in the murder of two police officers who was still barricaded in his house. The coast guard had temporarily closed the port and our ship had to adjust its plans. Although it took them a while to tell us the details of our new itinerary, the first thing I wanted to do was call the independent tour companies that we booked our excursions with. We decided to book outside the cruise line because you generally got longer excursions with smaller groups for the same price. However, I never thought the cruise ship would change the order of the port stops! Luckily it all worked out thanks to some flexibility by the excursion vendors.
We ended up taking the long trip to Skagway instead of to Hoonah and just arrived at 8:30 in the morning before our bus tour with Chilkoot Charters and Tours to the Yukon was supposed to depart. We rushed to get off the ship, but luckily we ended up having plenty of time thanks to some flexibility by the tour company. The weather cooperated and despite the 60% chance of rain, it stayed bright and clear. The tour took us over the White Pass trail, through a small desert that appeared after a glacier lake receded, to the beautiful Emerald Lake. We even saw some real Alaskan sled dogs relaxing in the warm weather.
Our next stop was the capital city of Juneau. We didn’t book an excursion and decided to just take a shuttle up to the Mendenhall Glacier and National park. The weather held out for another unexpected sunny afternoon, and although no bears were spotted we did see some spectacular views of the glacier. After taking a short walk to as close to the glacier as we could get, we headed to a 3.5 mile nature loop trail that showcased the types of vegetation that emerge after the glacier receded.
The final port before the end of our cruise was at Icy Straight Point near the small town of Hoonah. The port had reopened after the Juneau Swat team stormed the house and arrested the shooter. Aside from the huge zip line (which we didn’t try after doing some serious zip lining in West Virginia the week prior), the main attraction in Hoonah is whale watching. We took the Glacier Wind Charters tour to Point Aldophus, which is the feeding grounds for about 30 whales. Although it poured down rain for a good hour of the trip, the whales were being very active. We saw several even do a complete breach. On the way back to the port, away from most of the action, we seemed to disturb a relaxing whale who surfaced right next to our small craft and then proceeded to leap right in the air behind us. It was pretty amazing stuff, I even got a short video of one of the whales jumping in the distance.
Next we saw what perhaps my favorite site of the cruise was and the main reason I was happy with our choice for the North bound cruise: the Hubbard Glacier. This glacier is about 6 miles wide and 10-15 stories high. The ship pulls right alongside it with the hope to see some serious calving. Despite our best attempts to make enough noise to shake up the glacier, we didn’t see any major ruptures. However, the glacier didn’t completely disappoint. Its normal activity was still very impressive and the slightly overcast sky really made the blue glacier ice stand out.
From the Hubbard glacier, we had one final day and night at sea before reaching the last stop in our cruise, Seward Alaska. Although we missed the seminar on how to fold towels and wash cloths into animal shapes, we did get in some more mini golf and ended up on a winning team in a quite windy volleyball tournament consisting of two teams. Luckily only two volleyballs were lost to the ocean. It ended up being an early evening since we had to grab a quick breakfast and be ready for the scenic train ride to Anchorage by 5:55 AM. Mainly as a matter of principle, one of my major goals of the morning was to figure out how to get my previously confiscated surge protector back. We eventually figured out we had to go to a separate table where all forbidden items ended up, most of which were Ulu knives (traditional Alaskan rounded blades that are big with tourists). We had no receipt to give them (very confusing for them) but we eventually spotted our contraband with our room number taped on. They had Sarah fill out a surprisingly long form but eventually the surge protector was ours again. Once on the train, I was able to get some nice pictures of what you think of as typical Alaskan scenery: snow topped mountains with glaciers, green forests, lakes, and even some wildlife. We saw some moose and even some goats up high on the mountains.
Our flight (which included the first meal that I’ve had for free in a flight in 6 years) got us to Seattle fairly late Friday night. We had a great time in our one day in Seattle. In the morning we walked over to the Seattle center and saw the Space Needle, and then went on a “Food Tour” of Pike’s Place market. The market is so huge and so crowded, the tour was really a great way to focus in on about 10 different shops and get to sample something from each. The tour guide provided insight and historical tidbits that also made it more interesting than a normal walkthrough. From garlic hot-smoked salmon, to seafood bisque, to chocolate covered cherries, we got a lot of good food. At the famous fish market, Sarah also got to be about as close as possible to the fish catcher without catching the fish with her face.
In the afternoon we met up with Marie and Adam at their place in Seattle. They were excellent hosts and we ended up deciding to go on the Redhook brewery tour and visit a nearby winery. Although it was close, we decided to go with beer and wine instead of the other kayaking options we discussed. It was a fun afternoon and after getting some dinner and eating some ice cream we rushed off to catch our red-eye flight back home. It was great end to a wonderful vacation.
One of our unintended traveling goals is to get in an inconsequential mishap as soon as we enter another country. For Canada it ended up revolving around the surge protector. Several people before the trip had strongly recommended that a surge protector would be absolutely necessary for our cruise. Never having been on a cruise before it made sense to us; unfortunately, Royal Caribbean scanned our carry-on luggage and immediately managers were called to confiscate our contraband. More on this later when we attempted to get it back after the cruise.
When we first got on the ship, Sarah and I both had a moment of "what did we sign up for," but we actually mostly enjoyed our time at sea. I don’t think we’ll ever go on a cruise just to go on a cruise (well at least not for 30 years or so when we hit the average cruiser age group), but once we found out what we liked we found several ways to entertain ourselves. The “My Time” dining worked out really well for us. Instead of eating at the same time with the same people every night, we could choose any time for dinner and either ate by ourselves at a table for two or with a different group of people every night. The evening shows in the theater were hit and miss. One comedian duo was really good; the other comedian wasn't so hot. Sarah liked the Broadway musical type productions better than me, but overall they were generally worth going to. I was a little annoyed at some of the nickel-and-diming for cruise ship activities. We learned quickly to look for the ($) on the daily activities list that indicated an extra charge. We did splurge one night to pay extra for the specialty steak restaurant, and it was totally worth it. We liked the mini-golf, table tennis (especially challenging with the wind while the ship was moving), and even played volleyball the last day at sea. I actually went to the fitness center a couple of times (which was a very nice facility) and even won some money at the Video Poker machines in the Casino. We made it a point to attend each session of the progressive trivia game, and I thought we did pretty well for just the two of us (most teams had 5-6 people); we were in 5th place at one point.
Even though we found some stuff to do on the ship, it was nice to get off when we arrived at Ketchikan. Ketchikan is one of the rainiest cities in the country and also very well known for their salmon. We saw our first Salmon ladder in Ketchikan; it was interesting to see the fish fight to go upstream first hand. Our excursion that day was a several hour kayak tour with Southeast Sea Kayaks near the Tongass National Forest. They took us by speed boat to the islands were we kayaked together in the area known as Orca’s Cove. We saw plenty of sea wildlife, lots of starfish and jellyfish, as well as two bald eagles. Sarah even held one of the non-stinging jelly fish in her hands. Although we got some rain, it was a lot of fun. The hot cocoa and smoked salmon they had waiting for us on our return boat trip was tasty and a great way to end the trip.
We headed through the FDR memorial to the tidal basin and the Jefferson Memorial. Although there were nothing but green leaves on the Cherry trees on the tidal basin, there were about 6 crab-apple trees flowering nearby. We joined the other tourist groups who came to see some flowers and took a few pictures of our own.