Meeting Louise and Moraine

OK, now I’m (more or less) awake, time to continue with part two of yesterday.

We’d booked a “Lake Louise and Moraine Lake” tour – Lake Louise is that famous blue lake with the big hotel in front of it that you’ve probably seen before in just about any Canadian tourism campaign.  Figured it was definitely worth a look.

Happily this was only a small tour group – 10 of us including Cameron our guide. And even more happily they were all lovely people – from Canada, Argentina, and the UK.  We set off and learnt a bit more about the local area, and very soon stopped off in a small park, which was (surprisingly I know) near some massive mountains and lovely views. One of these mountains even had a cave in it way up high.

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We learnt an interesting story about the mountain (and an even more interesting note that according to our guide bears do not hibernate in caves) – back in 1908 there was big robbery carried out by two brothers, they made their escape, and stashed all of their loot in the cave.  However, before they had time to go back and get it, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police got them.  The treasure, however, has never been located, so who knows which lucky folks discovered it first.  The interesting side-story to this though, was in 2008, 100 years later, two brothers successfully robbed a bank in Banff – but this time there was nothing hidden in the cave.  Clever thieves though, they called in a bomb threat that brought all the emergency services into a hotel in town, then they drove a stolen tour boss across the end of the bridge, trapping all of them in town while they made their getaway. Crafty.

Anyway, this park had another beautiful sight that for once was not a mountain.

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Allen, Allen, Allen, Allen, Allen!

Grouns squirrels!  Very cute, and quite tame – but will happily gnaw your finger off if given half a chance.  So I kept my distance, and let the camera get up close instead.  There were heaps of them about, very pretty.  I also quickly learned this tour was about so much more than just Lake Louise – tops!

We also had the chance for a good look at Castle Mountain:

The tour included a late lunch/early dinner at a restaurant along the way which was a nice pause along the way. It had a creek nearby where everything was nearly white, and some clever people had been busy stacking pebbles.

After another short drive, the main event was upon us : Lake Louise. We were warned in advance by Cameron that photos really don’t do it justice, and he was right. So, sorry, but all I have are photos – but, there are a lot of photos…

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I never knew kayaking was a popular pastime on the lake

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When the sun hit at just the right angle, it really was this blue. 

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Hitting the ‘just add drama’ button on my camera paid off this time 🙂 

I took, of course, way too many pictures, but won’t inflict all of them all you – but here’s something that gives a rough idea of what I’m talking about, from the Photos app on my laptop:

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It was quite busy, as could be expected – but not too bad.   few things I didn’t expect – some people were going for a swim (the lake is fed by a glacier, so it’s not exactly tropical).  Also quite a few people had dogs with them, which I wasn’t expecting.  Still, all of this, plus the gobsmacking view, made the one hour we had their pass by very quickly before it was time to get back on the bus.

Our next destination – Moraine Lake.  I knew nothing about this place before visiting, so was nice to get there.  A Moraine is a big pile of sand and rocks that a glacier deposits as it passes through, bringing up the mountains all around it.  And Moraine Lake sure lives up to its name – there’s a massive pile of rocks, it looks like it’s man made, like someone just got a few truckloads of boulders and dumped them all in the same spot.  But no, it’s just the way the glacier went about doing its thing.  The lake is also beautiful, with a slightly deeper shade of bell when compared to Lake Louise.  We also, fleetingly, saw the (apparently very rare) ‘pink mist’ the hangs over the lake at certain times. Cameron our guide said he’d never seen it before in all the years he’d been bringing tour groups here so he was a bit excited.  It sure was fleeting though – within about two minutes, it had gone.  We spend about 45 minutes here, which also passed by very quickly.

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There’s a tiny wisp of the pink mist, right at the back.

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People clambering all over the moraine of Moraine Lake

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We also met very handsome puppy:

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And found a different kind of squirrel (golden-mantle squirrel), hiding around the rocks of the Moraine.  They were tiny – so not a very clear photo sorry.

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After the ll the was really left to was go back to the hotel.  Cameron filled us in on some of the smart things Canada has been doing with regard to wildlife  Along the main highway, they’ve built a big fence about 8 feet tall and 4 feet underground, and this has reduced wildlife deaths on the road by 95%, which is pretty awesome.  They’ve also built a series of green overpasses and underpasses, so all the animals can still get around the land without too much interruption.  They are of different sizes and shapes, so suit all the different kind of animals that use them.  Apparently there was a lot of opposition to this at first, because of the costs, an everyone was having a whinge.  But for the amount of cost involved in every car accident involving an animal, apparently all these animal-friendly building works have already paid for themselves, in terms of the reducing the number of accidents so much.  Nice one, Canada!

As we driving one of party let out a loud gasp.  “Bear!!” she said.  She sure has eagle eyes, but she was absolutely right.  By the side of the road, not to far away, there was indeed a bear.  Cameron kindly stopped the bus and backed up a bit -and we got the chance to see not one but two black bears, in their natural habitat, doing their thing.  It was quite close to a hiking track, so hopefully nobody was going hiking at that time of day.  Perry was fortunate enough to get  photo from a distance before they ran away:
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So it was sure was a nice and unexpected way to end the sightseeing part of the tour.

We parted company with our tour guide and all the lovely people on the bus, tired, but happy after such a massive and fun day.

Today, we leave Banff (sadly), and head off to Calgary – more adventures await! 🙂

 

 

 

Farmers Markets and Surprise Corners

Big day today. Fantastic, though.  It was nice to not have anything scheduled for the morning.  This was the morning view from the hotel window – never mind the dirty window…

We got up, headed outside, and learnt something about Banff – it’s more of a late nights and late mornings kind of town.  We had to wait a bit for a breakfast place to open – at 9:00am!  Most of the shops and everything else didn’t open ’til 10 or 11.  Sometimes, I feel I can really relate to these kind of hours 🙂

Over breakfast (maple and bacon crepes, oooh yeah!) Perry noted that there were farmers markets on today so that was quickly added to the agenda.  We had a quick wander around the outskirts of town, over to bridges at the border which (like pretty much everywhere in Banff) afforded some amazing views of the surrounding mountains.

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The Farmers Market was pretty cool – at least 90% of it is grown here, built here, or in the case of services, done here.  So it wasn’t just your typical resellers of stuff you find everywhere at markets – much of this stuff was local and unique. Nice!  Also, happy to say, great coffee, served from a old Volkswagen Kombi.  I give it at least an 8/10 on the iScott Coffee Scale.  A few steps away we found a spot to sit and drink – and it looked like this.  Banff is such a show-off.

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Coffee with free philosophy

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There are worse places to sit and drink coffee

It was really  nice to just be able to sit, to breathe, to stop and smell the roses, so to speak.  Our next appointment was hours away, so just sitting and taking in the view for a while was lovely and relaxing.  Just the kind of thing you’re meant to be doing on holiday.  Once we moved on, we wandered through the shops – it feels like nearly all of them are souvenir shops, but at least there’s some variety.  There’s also a Christmas shop … and whoa it was a ginormous winter wonderland alright. Surprisingly large, and a ridiculous range of christmas tat. I mean, beautiful christmas decoration 😀  It made we feel good that, compared to some people, clearly we don’t go overboard on the decorations each December 1st.

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We also found a sure sign that plenty of Australians work in Banff.  No, not drunk people throwing up in the streets in assaulting people, but rather, this:

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After all this hard work, Perry went back to hotel for a nap (because holidays!).  On our morning walk I’d seen a sign to ‘Surprise Corner’ – it was only a bit over a kilometre so I thought I’d go and surprise myself.  I headed off down the road, things became quieter, houses stopped appearing, and I remembered all that stuff about it not being wise to go out along in bear country.  Like, places with bushland and no houses and stuff.  But I soon saw someone walking the other way, looking distinctly un-mauled, so I figured it was OK to continue.

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But was I surprised?  Well yes, yes I was.  Here’s what you see from surprise corner:

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Lovely! Well worth the little walk there and back, with a few happy snaps taken along the journey.  It was quite warm outdoors – once again, glad I slip-slop-slapped!

Before too long it was tie for a snack – we got us some beaver tails!  Don’t worry, they’re just kinda like long flat doughnuts – tasty and probably not at all good for you 🙂 

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Then at 3:15pm it was time for a tour, I think one of the most enjoyable ones we’ve been on so far.  But seeing as it was a long day and as I type this it’s already way after midnight… I’m going to keep you all in suspense ’til some time tomorrow when I have the energy to write it up properly. Sorry folks! Here’s a preview:

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Off the train and into Banff

Family warning. Profanity. 

You know how in any given group of people, once it reaches a certain size, there’s always “that one”? The one who probably shouldn’t, but still does anyway. The one who misses all the social cues, and is blissfully unaware of the effect they are having on others. Or in our case, the one who talks too loudly and just won’t fucking shut up when you’re stuck on a train with them for twelve hours and oh for God’s sake kill me now I can’t take much more of this. So yeah – we have one. I think it was Jean Paul Sartre who said his famous quote “Hell is other people” 😀 

It’s the only negative on what has been an otherwise brilliant journey.  I do my best to keep this blog positive (coz let’s face it being on holiday is like the best thing ever!) but this was such a big part of the experience it’s only fair to mention it and, y’know, keep it real. 

With that out of the way, the view was once again  awesome.  The further east we went, the greener the scenery became, til the snow-capped mountains returned, and the land became thick with trees once again. Just beautiful. But this time there seemed to be dozens of streams meandering around, rivers, babbling brooks, the works.  The kind of streams where you see nature documentary showing bears catching salmon.  We weren’t that lucky – no salmon, no bears. But someone did see a Marmot.

Food once again was awesome – French toast for brekky, pork loin for lunch, cheesecake for dessert, snacks in between.

 

Everything in Canada has English and French. Useful, but sometimes also amusing:

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For getting reflection-free photos, there’s only a small area at the back of the carriage – basically the size of one window, where you can take photos in the open air. As a result, there’s almost always someone there as soon as there’s something worth seeing, but I did venture out once or twice to try my luck. It was a warm day, so it was really pleasant outside taking in the breeze. (And, at times, the diesel fumes. 🙂 )

We even received the famous double wave from the equally famous Doris. One of the residents of a small town along the way, Doris loves the Rocky Mountaineer and always come out to the front balcony to wave at the train (with both hands) as it passes by. This was lovely, but also perplexing for the staff – as they don’t publish the schedule, and Doris doesn’t come out to wave at all the freight trains that also go by. They actually went to the trouble of visiting Doris at her home one day, and they got their answer. The secret is – her dog! For whatever reason, her little dog lives the sound of the Rocky Mountaineer engines, but not the freight trains, so whenever the Rocky Mountaineer approaches, little Cedar-Bear goes berserk, and Doris knows to come out and give us the double wave. Apparently she’s only ever missed one day in he last six years – and that’s because they gave her a trip on the train itself. 

As we kept moving along, we finally reached the actual Rocky Mountains. They are mountainous. And also rocky. Surprising I know. 🙂 Also very beautiful, soaring up so high that snow still sits there and even a few glaciers visible way up high. 

Not long after it was time to travel through the Spiral Tunnels. To cut a long story short it’s a clever way to get rid of what was a gruelling (for trains) 4.5% grade. They used to have to station two extra engines at the bottom of the hill, and take all the passengers off the train, just to get it up the hill. The spiral tunnels were the solution, a 253 degree almost-circle to spread the climb over a longer distance. For some of those crazy-long freight trains the front of train at the end of the tunnel can be travelling directly over the back of the train which is still at the start. 

Our train managed it just fine – though for this leg of the journey we did have three engines instead of two, just in case.

The Spiral Tunnels don’t make for an interesting photo though – it’s kinda dark in there.  But here’s a few pics I took today.  I focussed more on staring out the window rather than starting through my camera screen – it’s good to take time to just remember the moment, rather than fussing around trying to capture it.  ‘Being present’, and all that stuff.

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Our train

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Serious-looking old snow plough engine

Again the ETA was variable, we were expect to arrive between 7pm and 9:30pm.  But we had a very good run, without too many other freight trans wanting to get in the way, so we arrived a little before 7.  It was a grand adventure, something I’d wanted to do for many years, and glad we finally had the opportunity to go.  We were so fortunate with perfect weather, too.  The service was excellent, the staff were awesome, I definitely recommend giving it a go.

The excellent service didn’t end once we got off the train though – five steps away from our train carriage was a bus that took us to the hotel – where once again our luggage was waiting for us inside the room.  Considering how have it now is, this really is a luxury.  One I’m definitely going to miss from here on in.

Banff is a very very pretty town – clearly built for the ski season, it’s trying its best to be all swiss-chalet like (at a guess, having never been to a swiss chalet), but it is very different from your average city, and extremely charming.  Especially when seemingly everywhere you look there’s a stunning backdrop of huge mountains soaring up into the air.

The room is lovely, nice and big – though there is one thing that might prove to be a bit of a concern – let’s see how it goes tonight:

Banff is packed full of tourists – I think we got one of the last few available hotel rooms in the whole city when we booked.  The pace is just heaving with tourists – many restaurants had queues out the door.  As unglamorous as it might found, we found a little mall with a little food court that was still open, and ended up having an amazing and delicious freshly-cooked-on-demand pizza.  Very nice, made with organic ingredients, many of which were source locally … kinda unexpected in a food court but glad we found it, nice one!

We had a very quick wander around Banff, we’ll have more tie to check it our tomorrow. A tomorrow which, I have to add, does not involve a 6am start. Yay for sleep-ins!

We’re here, we’re queer, we’re on the Rocky Mountaineer!

The day started a little strangely.  We woke up, opened the curtains, and the view was exactly the same as the night before.  How weird – it hadn’t been like that for a week!  But  I guess this is life back on dry land 🙂  A pretty strange view, too…

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It was a very early start, out the door at 6, to get to the Rocky Mountaineer.  The great service started as soon as the taxi pulled up.  Before we could get out, somebody was already unloading our bags.  They then pushed the trolley to the checkin desk, where we got the formalities out of the way and received a little enamel pin as a little memento.  It was a case of hurry-up-wait, as we sat in the station for an hour before boarding began. Still, it was a nice big station,  specifically for the Rocky Mountaineer.  Surprisingly the music was live – on egg and his flute, filling the whole pavilion with sound.  Kudos to him, he played nonstop for the whole hour.  There were also people coming around offering us juice and stuff, so it was a nice start to the day.  When it was time to board everyone gathered together for the ceremonial “all aboard!” shout, and we were accompanied by a gentleman playing the bagpipes.  Not sure why, but hey, let’s roll with it. Then it was time to get on board.

We found our seats, sat down, noted the in-seat power outlets (nice) and settled in. I spent five minutes repeatedly thinking I should be fastening my seatbelt ready for take-off, but no. In short, looking good!

Before long it was time to head off. The train gave a lurch and we were off … backwards. Huh? Oh well maybe that’s just the way it goes. Some people hate travelling backwards but it doesn’t bother me too much. All the ‘ground staff’ lined up to wave us off, which was nice.

We were served a welcome juice drink, and greeted with a big Cheers from the train director … who then explained we’ll only be going backwards for a few minutes til we reach the main trail line. That’s better! Sure enough, we were soon heading off in the right direction.

We passed a budget Harbour Bridge, with a kinda-Anzac-bridge in the background.

I had a small but perfectly formed breakfast.

Before too long we wandered out of the city limits, receiving snippets of history and information as we went along from the two people looking after our carriage.

At this stage I get a bit lost for description, (or maybe it’s getting late and I’m just lazy) , but I was surprised just how much the landscape changed as we rolled on by. I’ll let he pictures do most of the talking.  If you hadn’t already noticed – pretty much every photos comes with extra reflections, free of charge – I was too lazy to go out to the small part of the back that was open to the elements, so all these pictures were taken through the windows.

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Freight trains are crazy-long

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A little house. Is that a prairie?

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Osprey nest on a rail bridge

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I never Canada reached such temperatures – it was about 33 degrees at the warmest part but the train’s aircon kept everything perfectly comfortable.  Food was excellent! A delicious tomato salad prepared right in front of you, so tasty.

A delicious lunch was served (grilled salmon in dill sauce), and a luscious brownie for dessert.  All of it was good!

We made it to Kamloops just after 5:30, pretty much bang on time, since the estimate is anywhere between 5:30pm and 7:30pm.  This is due to the shared train lines – a good part of the trip is just a single line, so depending on what freight is going we may have to give way.  We did stop a few times for 5-10 minutes at a time, which seems weird, but apparently this is just normal rail travel in northern america.  Quite the opposite of Europe and Japan, I guess!

Another excellent part of the serve is the way they handled the arrival at Kamloops.  When we got there, they handed us our hotel room keys while we still on the train.  All of our luggage was already waiting for us in our hotel room, no need to lug anything at all.  There were busses waiting immediately outside the train carriage to whisk us straight to the hotel – is was a very smooth and well thought out operation.  Even better is tomorrow morning – all we have to do is leave all the luggage in the hotel room, walk out (no need to even check out!) and get the bus back to the train station.  All the luggage is then gathered up and will be available at our hotel in Banff – even though we didn’t book it through Rocky Mountaineer.  Really impressive stuff.

After we reached our hotel we had a bit of a wander, had some excellent greek food – massive portions! – at Dorian Greek Restaurant, then wandered down to the nearby waterfront park.  There was a band playing, a good crowd, and beautiful views from the river.  It was one of those perfect summer evenings, still warm, still light, and everyone in a good mood.  Kamloops was much lovelier than I was expecting, since we had been warned “accommodation is of a moderate standard”. But no – the room is huge, and very comfortable.  Can’t complain at all.

So, Day 1 of the Rocky Mountaineer has been awesome.  Looking forward to Day 2.  It all kicks off around 6am again, so I’m cutting this blog entry short and going to bed.  Night all!

Rushing through Vancouver

There was no doubting where we were this morning when the ship docked – this was the view from the balcony:

I went upstairs to gorge myself on my last ship breakfast (coffee, a selection of cold meats, Swiss muesli, and some pastries, if you must know) and got back to the room in time to double check everything, get the bags sorted and get our way off the ship.

Being willing to handle our own luggage was one of things that qualified us for “expedited” access – and quite a few other people, judging by the line of people queued up in he place they told us all not to queue. But seconds after we arrived they announced that expedited disembarking had commenced so we ended up being in the right place at exactly the right time.

And with a few more steps, and a final scan of the keycard, that was it. End of the cruise. All over. Thanks for coming. No more free food, no more towel animals.  Ahead of, a long walk up the gangway, and back into the real world.  My bags are heavy, it’s all uphill, I’m puffing and panting like the very unfair person that I am.  But next minute, hand over the declaration form, and hello, we’re in Canada!  Didn’t even need to get our passports out which was kinda odd, but convenient.  Fortunately there are taxi’s right there once you’re in, so it was easy to get to our hotel. And also fortunately they were able to store our bags for a few hours until the room was ready.

First impressions – Vancouver feels a little like Sydney.  It was cool but not cold, and pretty dead at 8am on a Sunday morning.  Wanting to see as much as we could in as short a timeframe as possible, we found the  Hop On Hop Off bus, our usual trick, and off we went on a tour around the town.  Two tours actually, as there are two buses.  One for the city, and one that goes around some of the parks.

There were a few chances here and there to stop and grab a photo before getting back on the bus – so the photos aren’t great as everything was done in a bit of a rush. Here’s a bunch of pictures.

This was a bit confusing

Endless cyclists and vanishing children !

The famous steam-powered clock in Gastown

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A very welcoming and accepting city.

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Some interesting public art around town

After we were done with both of the buses, we had some lunch, and got back to the hotel. The room was ready, so lugged the luggage there, and checked that we finally had something that had been sorely missed for quite some time.  That’s right – good quality internet!! Praise the internet gods! 😀

Also, we found a cool cake shop: 🙂

One thing I’d heard about Vancouver a few times, was how cool Granville Island is.  WE dutifully set off, getting the bus again, which dropped nearby.  It was …how do I say this … OK.   Maybe it because we’d already eaten, maybe because it was a hot day, or maybe just because it’s been a big day and we’re kinda tired, but it wasn’t as fantastic and wonderful as I thought it might be.  It had lots of small shops selling interesting trinkets, and a huge food market full of all sorts of wonderful stuff (including ice cream, thanks very much, yum) – but we would have been lucky to stay there an hour in total.

We hopped back on the bus, went home, and set out for dinner.  The first choice ‘Japadog’ – Japanese-style hotdogs, was full. but there was a place just nearby called Paramount.  And it sure was!  Fantastic middle-eastern food, just awesome.  Delicious, garlicky, meaty, awesomeness.  If you go to Vancouver, go to Paramount.  Totes worth it.

After that, we prepared for tomorrow’s early start. We won’t see our luggage until evening, so sorted out the important stuff for the carry-on, and all we have to do tomorrow morning is grab the luggage, head to the station and board something I’m a bit excited about : The Rocky Mountaineer.

I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow. Goodnight!

I would walk 500 miles …

… and I would walk 500 more. But only if I did 3000 laps of the Promenade deck. There are signs telling us that three times around the deck is a mile.

Today is a sailing-only day, no port stop, so after gorging myself on a delicious breakfast, I took a turn around the deck, four times just for fun. I’m sure I walked off maybe half a pastry, if that. 🙂 It also meant I had time to get a haircut up on deck 9, which was handy.

Since we’re sailing, sorry there’s nothing to photograph that I haven’t already photographed – so not many (or any) pictures of the great outdoors today.

So here’s a snap or two from the inside of the ship.

Lounge in one of the loft lobbies

Bar stools on the lido deck

Another lift lobby

We’re officially in Canada now, but nobody told Mother Nature about borders – the land looks much the same as it did. We can’t tell we’re getting further south though, there’s next no snow on the mountains we’re passing now.

So, it’s the last day of the cruise. Since we’re not transferring to a tour, or to ship-arranged accommodation, we are eligible for “expedited departure” tomorrow morning. Hopefully that means we’re not in a queue of 1,000 people all wanting to get off at once. I guess everyone will queue up anyway, despite the repeated instructions to “please wait until your group is called to depart”.

What’s it been like? It’s my first ever cruise so I don’t have too much to compare it to. But in short, it’s been great! Before it started I wondered about a few things. Would I get seasick? Would I totally die of boredom? Would being cramped up in a tiny room really kinda suck? I’m happy to say that the answer to all of those is a resounding no.

I used to get motion sickness as a kid, but seems I’ve grown out of it coz there was no problem there at all. It probably helped that it’s been smooth sailing the whole way – there’s very little of the cruise that’s out in he open ocean, so that would have helped. Most of he time you don’t even feel like you’re moving til you look out the window and see a hundred thousand spruce trees gliding silently by.

Boredom? Never an issue. I loaded up my iPad with enough tv shows movies and books to kill a donkey, but all I have watched is 3 episodes of Firefly (good show!). Having shire excursions most days has really added the variety, ensuring no two days have felt exactly the same.

As for being cramped up in a little room – it was larger than I thought, which is always nice. Room to sleep, plenty of storage, and room for a lounge plus a desk and chair. And a nice long balcony. The amount of available space was a lot more than I thought. Or maybe I’m just easily pleased after thinking back to the shoebox in London a few years ago. And if you wanted to escape the room there were plenty of places to go. Tons of good food, a number of bars, a lounge that spans the whole front of the ship, a few pools, or of course just walking around the promenade deck.

Every single member of the crew has been fantastic. Polite, efficient, friendly, but not robotic. Can’t fault the service at all. Well, except the internet service – that sucks.

Now I am a seasoned cruising veteran (lol) so I have any tips? Well there a few things we discovered along the way. Think long and hard before signing up for a drinks package. In hindsight we probably would not have signed for unlimited soft drinks, we didn’t get though the three or so per say each that we’d need to break even. But definitely do sign up for unlimited laundry. It’s maybe a mundane thing, but so very useful.

I asked Perry if he has anything other tips to add – he noted that for this particular cruise, choosing the port side was a good move. His other good piece of advice was to be early for food at the all-you-eat places. It can get a bit hectic in the middle of breakfast lunch and dinner.

In the early afternoon we attended a great “ask the captain” session, where Captain Smit came to the main stage and gave a presentation about he bridge of the ship, how the ship operates, and who does what. It was really interesting. And being a Dutchman, it was refreshing to hear his very direct way of discussing things, and his dry sense of humour.

I don’t have any new and exciting photos to share – no whale sightings, no otters, no sealions … so instead here’s a whole bunch of pictures of food. Enjoy – we sure did!

Tomorrow, we disembark early in Vancouver. It’s been a great cruise – sure, we’re some of very few people under 60 but it’s ok, a cruise can be as active, or inactive, as you want it to be. Nice work, Holland America Line.

Now I have to go re-pack the bags. Oh boy. See ya in Vancouver!

If anyone can, Ketchikan!

Another day, another new view – though not immediately as we didn’t pull into Ketchikan until around 11AM. We were the 4th ship there – so it must be a popular stop for cruise ships visiting Alaska. At least this left plenty of time to pop upstairs for breakfast. I think the whole ship was of the same opinion – for the first time, the place felt crowded. It was a bit of a challenge finding somewhere to sit for breakfast but all good, I achieved this difficult task eventually 🙂 As an aside, I do like the way the lifts in the ship reminds you which day it is…

Since this was a later than usual off-boarding time, practically the whole ship wanted to get in to town at the same time, so there was a big queue snaking down probably half the length of the ship. Happily though, it did move nice and fast and before long we were in Ketchikan proper. You couldn’t get much closer to town if you tried – the dock kinda runs parallel to the main street.

Looking for a parking spot

I wonder if Alaska ducks are related to Seattle ducks

We had a quick wander around town, which consists mainly of alternating jewellery shops and souvenir shops. Buying jewllery whilst on a cruise must really be a big thing. They sell it on the boat, they sell it in every port. I wonder if it’s just some rich people’s competition to see who can acquire the most diamonds (and tanzanite, whatever that is) at each port stop.

We’d booked a tour and before long it was time to go. Off the ship, into a boat. This was the ‘Misty Fjords and Wilderness Explorer’ tour, travelling to (can you guess?) the Misty Fjords National Monument. Misty Fjords – sounds a bit like a film star, but no. We saw plenty of evidence of places where glaciers had once carved out the mountains – these are the U-shaped the valleys. The V-shaped valleys are ones carved out by water. There was, as seems to be everywhere in Alaska, an over-abundance of awe-inspiring scenery everywhere you look. And as luck would have it – we also saw a bear, in the wild, down near the water.

One of the unusual standouts was New Eddystone Rock, all thats left of a volcanic plug from millions of years ago, standing proud on its own.

Rudyerd Bay offered some crazy-steep sheer cliff faces, so steep that for once there were patches where the trees could not grow. This part of the world gets 156 aches of rain so it’s unsurprising the trees grow absolutely everywhere. And this makes it all the more remarkable that today so so incredibly clear, free from fog, just heavy on the sunshine – yes, you can get sunburnt in Alaska so we remembered to Slip Slop Slap.

New Eddystone Rock

On the way back we learnt a little more about Tlingit culture from a member of the Tlingit tribe who was on board. Important note for my brother – they use Red Adler for making their spoons, as it doesn’t transfer much flavour. Having said that, this is also the wood that is used in Alaska for making smoked salmon. We learnt a bit more about totem poles. There are a few kinds, the main one basically acts like a house number, so you know which house is yours. Each of the Eagle and Raven clans also have sub clans – so these main and sub clans are carved into a totem pole to say “The Eagle / Frog / …” family lives here. There are also story poles – which do not actually tell a whole story, but server as a visual reminder for the storyteller, as the Tlingit maintain an oral rather than written history. There are also the shaming poles which I’d written about earlier.

On the way back, suddenly there was a bit of a commotion and the boat sowed right down. Somebody had spotted a whale. Pretty cool! Of course, everyone on the boat dashed over to the side, and I managed to get some great photographs of some guy’s arm and the back of his head. Ah well, I did eventually manage to capture a bit of the humped-back of the humpback, but Perry wins a prize for managing to get a picture of the tail. It wasn’t very big as far as humpbacks go – even at their largest they’re only about 14 metres long, and this one I’m sure was a lot smaller than that.

Something useless that I also learned … polarising sunglasses and plexiglass windows make for pretty colours 🙂

Also while on the way back we were taught, again, about the five types of salmon. You can learn too – got your salmon fingers ready? Let’s go!

Thumb: Rhymes with Chum so this is for Chum Salmon (also known as Dog Salmon). Not the favoured kind, its flesh is quite squishy and not firm.

Second Finger: Have you ever socked someone in the eye with your pointer finger? (yes, it’s an Americanism, deal with it…) – well second finger is for Sockeye Salmon.

Third Finger: The longest finger. It could be considered the king of fingers, right? So third finger is for King Salmon – also known as Chinook Salmon

Fourth Finger: The ring finger – and isn’t it nice to have a silver ring on that fingers. So, fourth fingers is for Silver Salmon.

Fifth Finger: The pinky. So fifth finger is for Pink Salmon.

There you go – an easy way to remember the five types of salmon. I didn’t have to look any of this up as I typed it, so it must have worked! 🙂 I think today’s tour is about the fourth time somebody has taught us, so it had to stick in my brain eventually. They sure take their salmon seriously up here. Some of the old John West ads are starting to make a bit more sense now, too 🙂

That was about it for this tour – a great opportunity to see some of the more unusual aspects of Alaskas scenery (that weren’t glaciers). We then made sure we were back on the ship in plenty of time, now we’ve seen what happened if you’re not.

Tomorrow is our last full day of cruising, it was a bit sad to see this in our ‘letterbox’ outside the room.

Even though there is no port stop tomorrow, at some time tonight, officially, we will be in Canada. Hi Canada!

Two quick updates

1 – I’ve been able to upload all the photos on to yesterday’s blog entry.

2 – We’re just docking at Ketchikan and, good news! We just saw the couple that missed the boat yesterday. They made it!

Ketchikan is another pretty town.

You’ll hear all about it later on. In the meantime, we’re off to explore.

Did Juneau about glaciers?

It’s a funny old thing, this cruising business. It’s like staying in a hotel, except every morning when you wake up the view out the window is different and you’re somewhere new. Today’s view – the city of Juneau. It’s the capital of Alaska so I guess that means it gets to be called a city. Can’t say it looked like a bustling metropolis, however the cruise ship docks are slightly away from the main town. We had company – cruise ships from Celebrity and Princess were also present in Juneau. We enjoyed brekky in the room today.

First thing we could see from the room, other than fog, was a cable tramway that went up at an alarming angle to the top of the nearest mountain. We could see it depart from sea level…but it wasn’t until the fog cleared later that we could tell where it went. Still, we had other things to do – the Grand Tour of Juneau. It consisted of three parts – the Mendenhall Glacier, a salmon hatchery, and the Glacier Gardens.

First – the glacier. If you hadn’t seen glacier before, this would be a real ‘wow’ moment. Unfortunately I guess everyone on our ship was a bit jaded after the incredible experience of Glacier Bay just a few days before. It was still another very pretty glacier though – and the visitor centre had some high powered scopes so you could a clearer view of the glacier face itself.

Also, unlike last time we saw a glacier, this time there a greater chance of seeing bears, as it was active bear country. And we weren’t on a boat. Alas, (or maybe it’s good), we didn’t see any. We are given plenty of advice on what to do should you encounter a bear. Normally they just want to get away from you as much as you want to get away from them. But if you accidentally find yourself coming between a cub and it’s mother, then you are basically toast. Also, as one of signs says, ‘bears don’t like surprises’. If you’re in an area that does not have great visibility, make a lot of noise, clap, sing, whatever, just so the bears know you are about and won’t be surprised if you suddenly turn a corner and come face to face with one. We didn’t have to worry about any of this advice, no bears on the paths we walked today. We did also see another interesting thing which we’ve noticed in pretty much all the other places we’ve been to in Alaska – bear-proof bins. They’re designed so the bears can’t open them with their bear hands. 🙂 Lucky they can’t read, as most bins have instructions written on how they can be opened.

The Mendenhall glacier

Bear-proof bin

Next was the salmon hatchery. I thought we’d been told the other day that the state of Alaska didn’t allow salmon farming at all, only allowing wild salmon to be caught. So visiting this place at first did have me a little confused. However they did explain that is was not a farm. In a farm, the fish spend their whole lifecycle there. This is a hatchery so it’s a little different. It basically exists to give as many salmon as possible the best chance in life right at the start, ensuring that fish stocks are very well replenished – I guess it just cuts down on the predators by giving the fish a safe place to be born and mature, before they go back to the natural river system and then on to the ocean. There were about 2.2 million itty bitty fishies there – or ‘fry’. (I guess this is where the term ‘small fry’ comes from?). Once they pass the ‘fry stage in the indoor tanks, they move to an outdoor holding area out in the open water, so they have a few weeks to become accustomed to the ‘smell’ of their home stream, so they know exactly where to come back to after their years in the ocean. Once they have learned the small – which they call ‘imprinting’, they are then release to fend for themselves just like any other wild salmon. About 4 or 5 years later, they return. And that’s what they were doing while we were there. Tons of salmon all trying to climb the fish ladder by the hatchery – there was a ridiculous amount of them, the tank at the tops of stream was just chock full of salmon. I didn’t ask what happened next – but I guess, as is the salmon lifecycle, this is the part where they’ll spawn and soon after die. One thing we did learn though – they are feisty, and not what you’d call pretty.

That’s a lot of small fry

The salmon ladder. They work hard for the money.

If you were expecting a box of chocolates you’d be disappointed!

Glacier Gardens was out next stop. So named as it does not have a glacier in it…? I think the space where it resides was originally carved out by glaciers. Originally bought as a place for a successful landscaping company to just build a couple of greenhouses, the owners changed there minds after a landslide nearly wiped the whole place out, and set to making this very steep land a bit safer and more manageable. They did this by changing the flow of water, adding in holding ponds to hold some of the silt and to slow the water flow. This made the mountain more stable , and they were able to put a road in to reach a lookout at the top. Hell of a road, though, accessible only with their custom-build vehicles that can manage a 1-in-5 grade on a wet direct road without plugging us all over the side of the cliff. Some parts of the road were just held up with a few logs underneath, so I wasn’t exactly full of confidence at this point – the lack of doors on the vehicles didn’t help too much either. But sure enough we made it, for a rather nice view back over Juneau, and across to the Juneau airport.It’s also home to the ‘famous’ upside down flower tower trees… this was a good idea from the owner when the trunk of a tree ended up stuck upside down inside one of his ponds. To make a sit purse out of a sow’s ear, he decided to just leave the trunk there, stuck in the pond, upside down, and put a bunch of flowering plants in the top. It looked pretty, so he repeated the idea all over the gardens. Not bad! It was also just a really nice forest area with its own darker and moist microclimate, and lots of moss.

An upside down flower tower tree. A bower with power, hour after hour. Or something.

They call this their “Harry Potter Tree”

A Salmonberry. Does not taste like salmon, we’ve been reliably informed.

The tour concluded in Juneau, and we still had a little time before the “all aboard” time of 5:30, so we headed straight to that cable tramway – at least now you could finally see where it went. Man, that’s a steep climb! I’ll have to upload the video later, when I can. But it was a very smooth and comfortable ride – up we went with a minimum of fuss. And before you know it, there we were – it was odd to actually be looking down on Eagles as they flew around, so I know we were up in the air a bit.

At the top there was a visitors centre (and of course gift shop), but also a theatre with a small film where we had to opportunity to learn a little more about the native Tlingit tribe that lives in this area. There are two clans – Eagle, and Raven. They aren’t opposing clans, there are great bonds between them. All marriages are between an Eagle, and a Raven. An Eagle’s home will always be built by a Raven, and vice versa. These things maintain the strong bond between the clans and keep the culture strong. This was reflected even on the tramway. It only as two cars – one is Raven, and the other of course is Eagle. When one goes up, the other goes down. Always in balance, like the Eagle and Raven tribes of the Tlingit people.

A view from the top

We returned to the boat about an hour before “all aboard”, grabbed some very late lunch, then returned to our stateroom to watch all the people rushing back. There were a few people rushing back at around 5:40 but then all went quiet. Not long after, the ropes were cast off. Then, two people came running down the jetty. The security guy at the dock stopped them, made a phonecall, then … he confirmed their worst fear. They were too late. They’d missed the boat. Probably only by one or two minutes, but what’s done is done – once the ropes were off, there was no way they could safely get on the ship I guess, so … nothing they could do except watch as it sailed away without them. But still with all of their luggage, probably their passports too. The only possessions they had were those they took with them for the day, poor buggers. So unlike the rest of us I guess they’re enjoying some extra time in Juneau. But I have no idea what happens next – maybe they have to hope they can get a flight to our next port. I don’t know what they’ll do. But I think they have learnt a very big, large, ginormous, stupendous lesson. Don’t be late – boat don’t wait.

After that it was back to the usual cruising business – eating too much dinner, and awaiting our next destination. When we wake up, once again, we’ll be somewhere new.