What a Rush! Alaskan Cruise Vacation, Day 5: Skagway

SkagwayFor those of you following my travels, the fifth day dawned sunny and warm, only to get even warmer as the day went on. Mindful of the guidebook comments to dress in layers, I put my jacket in my knapsack and donned a short sleeve to and a wool sweater, as well as my jeans, socks, and running shoes. Big mistake! By mid-afternoon, I was sweating like a Tijuana hooker in the midday sun.

After another incredible breakfast, we left the ship prepared for the day excursion we’d planned — the White Rail and Yukon excursion, something that would eat up seven hours of the day.

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As the ship approach the dock, the first thing I noticed was the rock wall escarpment covered with ads that turned out to be the logos from the various ships that have docked in Skagway, usually painted onto the rocks by resilient crew members under the captain’s command. Excuse me, but how in the world did they manage that feat? The wall is practically sheer. DSCF6052

We descended to the dock and watched as the original steam engine made an appearance. As much as we’d have liked boarding it now, out train trip would be a return one. Instead of going up the mountains, we’d be coming down. IMG_0591

On the way up, we were in an air conditioned coach, a pleasant change fromIMG_0666 the heat outside. Our driver was a musician who not only gave us an informative tour, but serenaded us as well.  As the bus traveled the route originally nothing but a trail followed by those who sought to get rich quick,you could almost imagine the horror they felt at having to bring with them a ton of supplies to be admitted to the Yukon where four Mounties stood guard at the boarder, making sure no one entered the territory without thIMG_0610e requisite grub stake.IMG_0744 The scenery was breathtaking.  At one point, we caught a glimpse of the train we’d be taking back to the town. If you look past my reflection in the window, you can see it clinging to the escarpment. Did I really want to do that? IMG_0617 (2)The driver explained about The Yukon Trail and the various obstacles the prospectors faced there. Amazingly, some people still try to recreate the journey by hiking it today–minus theIMG_0627 ton of supplies. It was sad to hear about all the animals who suffered and died as a result of man’s quest for gold. We saw a cantilevered bridge over a ravine. and stopIMG_0728ped at a look out where we viewed a pristine mountain lake.  From there, we continued along our way. I was astounded by how deeply glacial water could cut into the granite of the mountains. All in all, although the bus ride was long, the scenery made the journey worthwhile.  It’s interesting to note that because the border is at the top of White Pass, an area notorious for avalanches, neither the US customs nor the Canadian customs is anywhere near the actual border. In fact they are at least a mile away on their respective sides. I’d expected to eIMG_0633nter directly into the Yukon, but instead, we were in beautiful British Columbia. The bus continued through Canada heading to the Yukon border. Again, this imaginary line is fraught with obstacles and we were quite surprised to seIMG_0674e the sigh located not where we thought it would be but at a bus turning around spot. When the driver told us we were turning back, a lot of us were confused and disappointed, but it was a case of going back to go forward. The Yukon Suspension bridge was located in the Yukon, but behind us. I know, I thought it was strange too. The bus pulled into the parking lot where we were fed Bison chili and given a huge sourdough bun, as well as lemonade. The food was delicious. After eating we explored the area and crosseIMG_0687d the suspension bridge.IMG_0717

Again, the scenery was incredible, the signs informative and I saw my second major mountain of the trip–Mount Logan, clearly visible in the bright sky. Once we’d explored both sides of the ravine, we headed back to the buses to Fraser, BC where we boarded the train for the return trip to Alaska. The train is old, so no ai conditioning and by then, it was more than a little hot out. AIMG_0710s we settled on the wooden benches, we were informed that we couldn’t open our windows, but that there was water available at the front of the car. That was good and bad news. once the train got rolling, I was actually grateful the windows didn’t open! From my seat, I could see the engines as we took the first of many curves. 20150615_193123_resized

The vistas continued to awe me and the train guide told us all about the railway’s construction. Amazing that given the time and the circumstances, such a feat could be completed as it was. Take a moment to check out the link and learn more. The White Pass Railroad. We20150615_193135_015_resized (1) crossed wooden trestles, went along the edge of cliffs, and looked down at rapids so close to the tracks you’d think they’d wash them away.

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The train stopped along the way to pick up hikers, bear bait as the guide described them.  If you wanted to spend the night, there are a few fixer-uppers along the route. The ride wasn’t smooth and by the time we got bacDSCF6042k to Skagway, I was in dire need of a beer. We passed some truly unique buildings on our way to a watering hole. That meant a visit to the infamous Red Onion Saloon. I found the decor, a ceiling trim of bedpans both unique and informative. Learning about how business was conducted upstairs was eye opening to say the least. A girl didn’t get tDSCF6045o keep much of the proceeds from her hard earned money.

After a couple of pints and a snack, we returned to the ship where we enjoyed wine on the balcony before getting ready for tonight’s show and dinner. So far, Alaska and the cruise has seriously out done my expectations. Tomorrow, we  visit Icy Strait Point and see whales. See you tomorrow.

Mid Week Tease: A Work in Progress

MWTease15Good morning. As always, I want to than Sandra Bunino for making it possible to share with you this morning. I’ve just returned from an incredible Alaskan cruise vacation, and you can read about it here on my blog where I’m sharing images such as this approach to the Hubbard Glacier. One of the activities I took part in on the cruise was a float plane ride out of Ketchican–the samIMG_0257e ride as the one in which 9 people died exactly one week later. Needless to say, hearing about that when I was raving about having done the same thing was sobering and has made me realize how short life can be and how quickly it can change from happy to disastrous. That also has me thinking that I shouldn’t put things off.

angelThis is an excerpt from the first book I wrote, a fantasy paranormal, tentatively entitled, Time and Again. It was originally written as a course assignment for a writing class I took in the early 1990’s. It’s a YA story, and while I got an A in the course, and those beta readers who read it all loved it, it’s been languishing in my “to be edited file”  for several years. Since I’ve noticed a resurgence of novels in this genre, I’ve decided now is the time to take a second look at it. Will I find a publisher for it? Unknown since it’s a multi point of view novel with some romance, some suspense, angels, demons and all kinds of imaginary creatures. I may bite the bullet and indie publish it myself. It can’t hurt, right?

The premise is simple enough. After the battle for control of Heaven, God banished Lucifer and his followers to Hell. A group of angel;s realized the fallen one wouldn’t stay submissive for long, and volunteered to go to Earth to protect God’s creatures there, the human race. Leaving Heaven took their immortality from them, but each species of angel adapted to the situation. To the humans, they were the Fae creatures of legends–the pixies, gnomes, and other wee folk. They live among us in a fold in reality where they watch and wait. Their power is controlled by  a changeling, one born of angel and man who can control pure magic, and keep the balance between good and evil on Earth. Sadly, the powers of evil have gotten stronger over the years, and several years ago, the angels suffered a defeat that took the changeling from them. Now, the time has come for the new changeling to assume her powers, but the evil one seems to be one step ahead of the angels again.

Here is your tease from the Prologue.

The feeble winter sun fought to force its rays through tiny gaps in the deep gray cloud cover. Despite the rawness of the March day, tourists milled around the Avebury Circle, the oldest Neolithic monument in England, predating Stonehenge itself. They meandered along the avenues of parallel boulders, stared at the immense standing stones set in a circle, continued along the circular earthwork, and explored the barrows, mounds of earth over long forgotten graves.

At first glance, the man in the Yankees’ ball cap and the woman in the olive jacket looked like any other visitors stopping by to admire the ancient monoliths, but on closer inspection, something about them seemed out of place, and demanded a second look. It wasn’t that they were peculiar in any specific way, it was just that they didn’t quite fit the typical tourist mode. Neither of them carried a camera or a tourist information pamphlet, and they walked along absorbed in one another rather than in the majesty of the stones surrounding them. The woman, an ageless beauty with regal elegance, seemed to glide gracefully along the pathway, while the old man trudged beside her as if he carried the weight of the world on his shoulders.

“I have missed you, husband, but for you to call me into this world during the month when Satan’s followers are at their strongest, something terrible must have happened to the changeling.” she said.

With her free hand, she pushed back the lock of platinum hair, which grew on the right side of her head, the sign of her power, and the only tress of its color in her ebony mane. The movement betrayed her agitation more clearly than any other action could have.

“Six months ago, you reported to the Celestial Council that everything was under control, and that we would have at least five years to ensure her proper training; now, you say that she’s got to come home immediately. What’s caused this sudden change of heart? Don’t try to soften the blow, Garth.”

The man shook his grizzled mane, removed a handkerchief from his pocket, and mopped his brow with an amazingly firm hand. Despite the coldness of the day, he perspired profusely.

“I have been in this form for so long, I can’t control my body temperature. As soon as I can, I need to return to Sanctuary, if only for a few days.”

“You’re prevaricating and stalling. You called me here; I want an answer how. What’s gone wrong?”

“They’ve found her, Lorna,” he answered his voice low, his tone remorseful.

She gasped. “By the Maker, how is that possible?”

He shook his head. “I wouldn’t have believed it myself, but I saw it with my own eyes. The malakim sent to France to watch over her human parents is dead. He was brutally tortured by an asmodean three nights ago, and a residual reading of the remains showed he gave them vital information before he died. I had no idea that he knew as much as he did, but I should have guessed. I thought we’d have time to bring her here and begin her training before anything happened to her, but I was wrong.” He ran his fingers through his hair trying to cool himself and hide his frustration.

“We have dispatched others to watch the parents, but she must return to the estate, if not to Sanctuary, as soon as possible.”  He hung his head, a rare sign of defeat in an archangel of his magnitude. “He is stronger than ever; he can block his mind from me.  I can’t reach him anymore.”

“What aren’t you telling me, Garth? Don’t make me pull it from your mind. The way I feel at the moment would make it a painful, public display and draw unnecessary attention to us.”

Garth flushed, cleared his throat, and looked at her. She was more than capable of carrying out the threat, and having been on the receiving end of an angry seraphim’s reading, he had no desire to repeat the process.

“We have just received a message from her principita guardian. There has been an accident; the princess’ three companions, the young angels we sent to watch over her, have been killed in a car accident, and she’s in the hospital awaiting some sort of exploratory surgery.”

Lorna hissed, her face taking on cat-like features in her distress. “By the Maker, how is that possible?”

Now, don’t forget to check out the other teasers for this week.

What a Rush! Alaskan Cruise Vacation: Day 4 Juneau

IMG_0347The one thing on holidays that I never have problems with is getting up in the morning. On Day 4, I awoke around 6:00 a.m. eager to see the first port of call. As had been the case all week, the weather was warm and sunny–not at all what we’d been led to expect. In my nightgown, I stood on the balcony and took pictures of the coast. We decided to have breakfast in Blu, the aqua class dining room, and the service was as efficient in the morning as it had been the previous evening. Coffee, juice, French pastry seemed to appear out of thin air. I had the best French Toast ever, and John had fresh blueberry pancakes.

Once we were finished, it was back to the room to watch the ship come into port.Juneau, Alaska’s capital city, can only beIMG_0348 reached by ship or plane. There’s no road or rail to connect the city to the rest of Alaska or the Canada and the Lower 48 as they call the continental states. As we moved closer to the city, we saw individual houses nestled among the trees. What a great place for a cottage, but come the winter, not sure I’d want to bIMG_0352e as isolated as some of the places were, but then you had cute little communities set together amidst the trees. The tide was out and the vast expanse of beach beckoned.  As we reached the port and the docks, I became more and more impatient to venture into this remarkable town. Juneau reminded me a lot of the towns I’d seen on the east coast when we’d visited Newfoundland. The buildings weIMG_0357re mainly made of wood and painted bright colors. Some were in need of work, while others were beautifully maintained. From the balcony I watched as the ship settled. It’s quite a process getting the boat attached to the dock and having the gang way20150614_124518_resized attached to the ship. 20150614_124225_001_resizedThe gangplank changes level as the tide goes in or out, so we often went off the ship at one level and returned at another. Juneau was There spread out below us an amazing sight to see, but there was a tramway that Was calling John’s name. Mount Roberts dominates the town. and we had to go up there and see it. The view on the way up was breathtaking As we climbed higher and higher, all of Juneau spread out below us. IMG_0362 IMG_0367  The Tlingit tram driver announced out arrival to the mountain spirit with a chant and a drum song. He taught us all to say hello, but i can’t for the life of me remember it now.IMG_0363 Mount Roberts is a mix of educational opportunities and hiking trails. We took the one mile one and saw a number of inIMG_0386credible things including trees with moss growing on them the way you’d expect to find in the south. When I think Alaska, I think cold and snow. i really expected to see stunted trees and maybe lichens and moss. I didn’t expect the lush temperate rain forest I found there. Yes, I’d read about it, but seeing is believing. I also saw living totem poles, something I didn’t even know existed. image of tree totem

IMG_0437 When I think of the word “raptor”, I think Jurassic Park or basketball. What I didn’t think of was eagles, but eagles are modern day raptors. This lovely lady is the main exhibit at the Mount Roberts Raptor display. Sadly, some idiot shot her through the beak and she’d have died had it not been for the conservationists who nursed her back to health. Sadly, because of the damage to her eye she sustained in the incident, shIMG_0382e can’t fly and will have to spend the rest of her days in captivity. Since eagles mate for life, there’s probably some lonely male eagle out there pining away for her. I IMG_0418compared my wingspan to hers and of course came up short!

As I mentioned, the view from Mount Roberts was extraordinary.

From the tram we went to visit one of Juneau’s infamous gold rush days’ saloons: The Red Dog Saloon.

This was one of the most unusual places I’ve ever seen. The floor was covered in three inches of sawdust. The walls held up various stuffed animals–some real, some mockeries of the real thing.  Have you ever seen one of these? IMG_0470IMG_0458

The waitresses were literally busting out all over, but the food was good and the beer superb. Some of the memorabilia was really unique and the service signs made me laugh. IMG_0462

IMG_0472  And what wild west saloon in the north would be complete without the fierce antlered beaver? Leaving the Red Dog, we returned to the dock to embark on our second activity of the day–a trip to the Glacier Gradens. Check out the quick you-tube video. It shows you somIMG_0484e of what we saw. Probably the thing that impressed me most were the uprooted trees, replanted in thIMG_0506e mu and used as flower baskets. The place was absolutely incredible. We took the cart up to the lookout just as you see in the video and even saw an eagle in flight. So amazing to see so many of the magnificent birds. From the gardens, we were bused to the Mendenhall Glacier. Take a minute to look at the link and see how much the glacier has changed in the past ten years. If I ever needed proof of global warming, this was it. Look at the pictures on Wikipedia closely and then look at mine. IMG_0566 The geologist gave a really neat talk about the glacier usiIMG_0559ng photographs to show how much it’s changed since the fist visitors came to see it a hundred years ago.

From the glacier, we went back to the Juneau docks and the eagle we’d seen earlier in the day was still atop the fish processing plant waiting for the day’s catch to come it. He must’ve spent the bettIMG_0451er part of the afternoon watching for those fishing boats and the buffet they’d deliver. For John and I, it was back to the ship where we sat on the balcony and watched the town, had some wine and basked in the heat of the late Alaskan afternoon. That night we attended an outstanding acrobatic performance in the theater and then had another delectable meal in Blu.  Halfway through the Alaskan Cruise Vacation. Tomorrow it’s Skagway and a train ride you wouldn’t believe.   See you tomorrow for Day 5.IMG_0569

Tuesday Tales: Come and Meet New Friends.

Hello, and thank you for inviting me to join you on Tuesday Tales. For those who follow my blog, here’s a quick explanation. Badge for TT - very small (1)Each week, a group of very talented authors blog and write a story or a scene based on the word of the week. They identify the genre and heat level for you and the first few lines are entered on the main website where you’re invited to read the entries of any and all that interest you.

So, shall we begin? I’m starting a brand new story just for this. I’ve titled it, Hello Again. I hope you enjoy meeting Charley! This week, the word prompt is “stiff.”

Charley, aka Charlotte, Winters forced the last box into the backseat, wiped her brow with the back of her hand, and stretched her stiff back. The hot, early summer sun beat down mercilessly on her beat-up, compact car loaded to the roof and beyond with everything she owned. There was no coming back. She hoped Matilda would make it to Drumheller, Alberta. The last thing she needed was for her rust bucket to up and die along the way. It wouldn’t be the first time the car needed CPR, but it would probably be the last, and then where would she be?—stuck up shit creek without a paddle.

She’d made the decision to look for a new teaching position last spring, one that would let her use the skills and knowledge she loved. Teaching English could be fun, but not anywhere near as exciting as stripping down an engine and rebuilding it. She loved working with cars, and few places appreciated the fact a woman could be every bit as good as a man in that department. Mike had understood that, and if there were just an ounce of justice in this world, she’d be running her own garage now, with him by her side, encouraging her and facing the future together. Instead, she was alone, teaching English to year after year of bored rich kids, while most of her dreams were still on hold, others lost forever.

“I wished you’d sprung for a new ride,” said Miri coming up to stand beside her and handing her a sweating bottle of water. “I know you have magic hands when it comes to engines, but this thing’s nearly thirty years old. She’s ready for the automobile graveyard. You almost had enough, and I’d have come up with the difference.”

Charley chuckled. “Yes, but then I’d have nothing left in the bank for a rainy day. I don’t have a monthly trust fund to draw from like your fiancé does, and my widow’s benefit won’t pay for a cheap hotel room, let alone food and necessities.”

Miri made a face. “Well if you weren’t so damn determined to do this on your own …”

The tall, willowy brunette looked nothing like a math teacher, but she’d be leaving White Pines Academy in the spring and if Charley had stayed, she’d have been more alone than ever. There were 6,000 souls who made Claymore, a small town on the Quebec-Ontario border, home, and few of the single men were brave enough to make friends with the staff at the exclusive girl’s school—call it what it was—boot camp for disobedient young ladies whose parents had enough money to try and fix them. Sometimes it worked, but too often it didn’t.

“Matilda may have seen better days, but I’ve got that engine purring like a pussy cat, and the AC has a brand new condenser. She’ll make it. Don’t worry. I’m booked into bed and breakfasts each night, and I’m spending extra time in a number of cities. I’ll be off the highway by nightfall, I promise. I’m travelling the Trans-Canada, not isolated dirt roads. It’ll take me two weeks to get there, but it’ll be worth it. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, item twenty-six on my bucket list.”

“I still don’t understand why you have to go so far away,” Miri complained. “I know you wanted to get away and make a new life for yourself, but do you have to go over 2,000 miles to do it? Couldn’t you have found a teaching job in Toronto or Ottawa?”

Charley put her arm around her friend’s shoulder. “You know why I couldn’t go to Toronto. The place is full of memories. No matter where I went, what I did, I’d remember something Mike and I had done or planned to do together. It would be like rubbing salt in a wound. I’ve done that long enough. I can’t do it anymore. Miri, I’m thirty years old. I can’t live the rest of my life what if-ing, wishing things had been different. They aren’t, and I have to accept that. As far as Ottawa goes, we met at school there. Any time I went near Carleton University, the past would drown me again. I know Alberta’s far away, but you can come to visit, and we can Skype. The Internet has made the world a much smaller place. There aren’t too many places willing to hire a woman to teach auto mechanics and technology. If I wanted to teach English, I could have my pick, but …”

“I know, you want to prove you’re the best, but I’ll miss you.”

“I’m going to miss this place and you, too, but you and Jim are getting married in six months. You won’t need me hanging around. That Mayan Riviera wedding you have planned is my beacon, my life line. If I hate being the round peg in a square hole, I promise to reconsider and come back next fall.”

Charley turned to greet the other staff members who’d come to say goodbye. The private girls’ school/reform school had been her home for the past five years. Had it really been only five years? At times, she’d have sworn she’d been here, alone, forever.

“We’ll miss you, Ms. Winters,” Abigail Connors, the principal smiled at her and held out her hand, “but I think this move is a good one for you. We’ll have to find someone else to maintain our vehicles, but you deserve to find your niche in the world. As much as White Pines has benefited from your expertise, you haven’t been living, you’ve existing, and that’s not good for anyone.”

Charley looked into the woman’s kind, blue eyes. Six years ago, this job offer, complete with a home, had been a godsend. Now, once more Abigail had come to her aid, contacting the school board out west and praising her abilities. She’d helped her secure the job at the local high school, arranged for an apartment in the small town of Drumheller, and helped her with her travel plans. Who said she didn’t have a fairy godmother? Abigail had helped her as much as she did the wayward girls who gave her the opportunity to do so. Maybe she was just another lost child looking to find herself. She’d certainly been adrift since Mike had died.

Tears brimmed Charley’s eyes. “I’ll miss all of you, this place, and the students, but you’re right. I need to spread my wings.”

She hugged each of the teachers in turn, bid a final tearful goodbye to Miri promising to call as soon as she got settled, and climbed into the front seat of her red Pontiac. The car had tuned into a miniature oven while it sat awaiting her. She turned the key and the engine started. Cranking down the window and cranking up the AC, she checked the traffic and eased away for the curb waving to those who watched her go. She pushed the button to turn on the radio and smiled when Born To Be Wild blared in the car.

This is it. No backing down, no going back. Alberta, here I come.

She swallowed and wiped away the last of her tears. She needed to be in Peterborough by nightfall.

That’s it for this week. Don’t forget to check out all the other great story starts at Tuesday Tales

Tuesday Tales

What a Rush! Alaskan Cruise Vacation, Day 3.

IMG_0226Well, It’s day 3 on the cruise, and I was up and raring to go by seven, but we took our time, unpacked the rest of the suitcases, and spent time on the balcony as we cruised along the absolutely gorgeous Alaskan coastline.  We had breakfast at the buffet, good food, a little noisy and busy, but like us, everyone was excited. I’d been told to expect cold, drizzly weather, and while it  it was really breezy up on deck, it was also incredibly clear and sunny. We did IMG_0250put on warmer clothing before going back to watch our entry into the bay housing the Hubbard Glacier. We opted to do so from the Cosmos Lounge, the largest bar at the front of the ship. This gave us a chance to have a drink while we watched the Hubbard glacier get bigger and bigger. There are no words to describe the incredible sight of the glacier. The  Hubbard Glacier is over 300 feet high and the bay in which the tidal glacier empties was filled with small floating icebergs. IMG_0257IMG_0265

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IMG_0313 We were lucky enough to see the glacier calve several times, a tough thing to get on film, but the thunderous sound produced by the act is something I’ll never forget. With each break, more and more silt and glacial ice was deposited in the water. At one point, the carpet of glacial leavings resembled a carpet, giving the illusion you might even be able to walk on it. It was strangeIMG_0331 to watch as the ice floes bubbled and shrank in the warmer–still several degrees colderIMG_0320 than anything I’d want to step into. As you can see from the picture, the silt oozes out of the glacial ice and muddies the ocean waters.

We spent a good hour revolving in the bat ensuring everyone had a chance to view the majestic glacier before slowly pulling out of the bay leaving the wall of aquamarine ice behind us. We had lunch on the pool deck with other friends from Cornwall before going back to our room to enjoy the sparkling wine and the on-going majestic mountains before getting ready for the first formal night. We’d decided earlier to attend the Captain’s Welcome in the theater. That’s the captain.

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The theater is a multi-level work of art. John and I enjoyed several performances IMG_0344the sitting in the fifth deck balcony.  Of course, since this was the first formal night, we made a point of having our picture taken twice–once with the image of the glacier in the background, and again in the dining room. Formal Night 1

Formal Night 2 I can’t say enough about the quality of the food or the attentive service provided by all the restaurant staff, but one thing will always stand out and that is the wonderful attention to detail provided by the sommelier, Fernando. I’ll never be able to hear the ABBA song again without thinking of him. He was extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. He selected our bottle of wine each evening and believe me, there were no complaints on our part. Each wine was delicious.

So, that rounds out Day 3. Tomorrow, Day 4 is Juneau, our first port of call! See you then.

What a Rush: Alaskan Cruise Vacation: Boarding the Ship

220px-Alaska_flag_benny_bensonHello again, if you’ve been following this blog, you know that on Day 2 we arrived in Seward Alaska. Situated at the head of Resurrection Bay on the Kenai Peninsula, Seward is one of Alaska’s oldest communities. It was named after William H. Seward who orchestrated the Alaska purchase from Russia in 1867. Founded in 1903, Seward sits at Mile 0 of the famous Iditarod Trail, and id the rail head from the port to the Alaskan interior.  It was also home to Benny Benson the Aleut boy who at age 13, designed what would eventually become the flag for the State of Alaska in 1959.

The most amazing thing about Seward was seeing our ship docDSCF6006ked beside a huge marina and ship yard.  The Celebrity Millennium loomed large and as John and I left the bus to board, we didn’t know what to expect. Never having been on a cruise before, we’d heard nightmares about line-ups and problems, but boarding was quick and easy. Within minutes we were through the check-in, sea passes in hand and sipping champagne in a welcome aboard toast. Wish I’d had time to fix my hair. Seward0002Finishing our champagne, we headed over to the elevator and up to the ninth floor to find our room ready and waiting for us along with some neat freebies, including a bottle of sparkling white wine, bedroom slipp11355443_10153030606058981_1945749377_ners, and some neat reusable bags. We had the loan of an umbrella and a pair of binoculars if we needed them. Since we had to wait for our large bags, we decided to tour the ship. Below is the grand foyer where we boarded. The Celebrity Millennium is an awesome ship, and the service was out of this world. IMG_0214 As Aqua class patrons, we had the choice of eating whenever we wanted between 6 and 9:30 each evening. The first night, we had lifeboat drill before setting sail and then the fun started. We were in awe of everything–the ship, its various areas and of course the view. Here is the outdoor pool deck and the view from sitting down having a beer, we could see the mountains towering above the ship.DSCF6010 We were on our way. It never got dark enough out to see the stars, and we sat well past eleven on our balcony watching the Alaskan coastline go by.

DSCF6016  Discovering we had an all-inclusive drinks package was a real bonus. Eventually, just after midnight,. we went to bed. Tomorrow, we’d continue with a sea day as we headed to the Hubbard Glacier!

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What a Rush! Alaskan Cruise Holiday. Day 2!

IMG_0065Good morning and welcome to Day 2 of my fabulous vacation. As some of you may know, book 3 of the Harvester series will be set partially in Alaska, so I was interested in absolutely everything on this vacation. As I mentioned yesterday, we went to bed early and had absolutely no problem sleeping, but by 6 a.m., we were wide awake, bright-eyes and bushy tailed as they say, eager to get going.

Normally, I’m not one for large stuffed animals, but I think it’s considered an essential element of decor in Alaska. Here in the Millennium Hotel, they had several rather large and impressive specimen’s under glass. This handsome creature is a musk-ox, about the size of a small bison! I had no idea they were so large! They had other impressive animals in the foyer including, a rather impressive polar bear, a brown bear, and a grizzly who stood well over nine feet tall! Throughout many of the tours we took, we heard that bears that size are fairly common up here.IMG_0066

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John and I had the first of many memorable encounters with strangers in the restaurant at breakfast. We sat beside an elderly couple and the gentlemen asked if we were going to McKinley. We said that sadly a trip to Denali wasn’t on our  agenda. We kept talking and discovered that the couple had been married 70 years, living 69 of them in Alaska on the mountain, and had recently left their home on Mount McKinley and moved into Anchorage. John and I noticed how deferential the staff was. It seemed the gentleman, who never named himself or his wife, were daily visitors to the hotel where they had breakfast–oatmeal and berries for him, toast and cereal with fruit for her while she completed the crossword puzzle and he read the paper. It seems the home they left was one of the main guest lodges on McKinley which they still owned but was managed by others. As if that wasn’t interesting enough, the gentlemen mentioned he’d be 96 in September and his wife was 89. They’d both recently re-qualified for their float plane licenses–that’s right. They were both active bush pilots! It seems that roughly 1 in 16 people in Alaska own float planes the way we own cars! We said our goodbyes wishing we could stay and talk longer, but I wanted to get a few more pictures of the lake and the planes before we boardIMG_0077ed the bus for our tour of Anchorage. I guess coming from around here, seeing planes docked like boats was an amazing, and rather unbelievable sight. John desperately waIMG_0085nted to go up in a float plane as they call them, but there wasn’t time here–he’d get his chance later in the trip.

By 9:00 a.m., we were all aboard the bus. One couple had their suitcase badly damaged by the plane, but for the rest of us, things were fine. A little duck tape fixed things up nicely for them.

The nexIMG_0098t part of the day involved seeing the sights of Anchorage, the largest city in Alaska.  Anchorage owes its growth to the railroad. It’s a city whose main part of town is along the edge of a river on a ridge with mountains around it. Pictures don’t do it justice, but I’ve chosen a few to share. Our first stop was a lookout. From there we could see not only the city center, but if you enlarge the picture on the right and look hard enough, you can actually see Mount McKinley in the far distance.

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The map here can help you identify the faint mountains in the distance. It was at a time like this that I wished, not for the first time that I had a fancier camera.  From the lookout we drove downtown, a busy place on July 12, since the annual salmon fishIMG_0110ing derby was taking place. Our first stop was the Ulu Museum and store. An ulu is an Inuit knife with a curved blade. I watched the demonstration  and figured I was more than likely to chop off my fingers, soIMG_0112 I bought a magnet rather than a knife and a handmade necklace of deer antler for Tonio. From the Ulu  museum, our driver drove downtown to a parking area and let us out for a couple of hours. Some people shopped. Others, like John and I, walked around and eventually found one of the pubs our driver had recommended. Humpy’s named after the pink salmon by the same name, sold Alaskan crafted beer and food including an excellent salmon chowder that was filling and delicious.  What I will always remember about the place was its unique decor and friendly people.IMG_0130 IMG_0126

I suppose like many others,    I didn’t really know what to expect from a city that far up north, and what I did find was a wonderful surprise. Anchorage is clean and beautifully flowered, with gorgeous murals. The second wall is referred to as the Whaling wall. IMG_0121IMG_0122  Interestingly enough, although Alaska is rich in oil, it doesn’t have any refineries. Oil has to be shipped south and then returned to the state, so gas prices are reasonably high. On the plus side, money from the oil wealth was invested by the state and each October, every Alaskan resident gets a cheque for IMG_0123  anywhere from $1,00 to $1800 IMG_0135dollars–that’s every man, woman and child.Many use the money to fund a trip down south to avoid the long, dark, cold, winters.

As we left Anchorage, we saw all kinds of interesting sights including moose gates along the highway–one way gates to let the moose in if they crossed from the other side, but wouldn’t let them back out again–an interesting way to ensure fewer animals get killed by vehicles each winter.

From Anchorage we took the bus south to Seward, following the rail line that clung to the shore in places far too narrow for my comfort. But theIMG_0149 views were unbelievable.IMG_0155   IMG_0199I got my first glimIMG_0197pse of a glacier formed lake, the water and incredible shade. One of my heroes or heroines will definitely have glacier blue eyes!  So many wonderful things to see and although I took dozens of pictures, none can fully  describe the incredible beauty of what we saw on our way to Seward.

Among the places we passed was a carver’s shop. Man, can that man carve! As the time passed, I became more and more anxious to arrive in Seward to board the ship.

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One of the interesting things we saw along the way were petrified trees. in the late 1960’s, there was a serious earthquake and tsunamis flooded much of the coastal area, obliterating villages forests alike. Some of the trees stayed standing, but the salt water killed them, and while they died, the wood became like rock and the trees can’t be cut down. These ghost trees were in evidence iIMG_0202n a number of places, amidst the new growth.

Finally, in the late afternoon, we arrived in Seward  I had no idea how large the ship was.  Tomorrow I’ll tell you about boarding the Celebrity Millennium and our first night aboard ship! IMG_0212

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