Travel

Slideshow: Alaskan Flowers

When I got back from Alaska last month, I had grand plans to have my photos - all 1,300 of them - organized within a week. Unsurprisingly, it seems like that goal was a bit overzealous, since that would have had me finished... uh... two weeks ago, and to be honest, I've hardly started. My first stab at getting things organized is this little slideshow of some of the amazingly beautiful flowers I saw on the trip. (I really like taking close-ups of flowers. I was perpetually falling behind the group, trying to get a great shot. Fortunately, I was one of the faster walkers in the group, so I always caught up quickly.)

Interesting bit of trivia I learned: flowers tend to grow amazingly well, despite the fact that summer is short and fairly cool. Why? Because of the midnight sun. Apparently, 24 straight hours of daylight makes for excellent growing.

[slideshow]

Jet Lag: 1, Me: 0

It's been an odd couple of days since I got back from vacation. I've been dragging myself out of bed at what feels like 3:00 a.m. to get ready for work, spending much of the day in a haze, and then rallying at night, when my body thinks it's late afternoon - which leads me to staying up too late, making morning, once again challenging. So today I am giving up and letting the jet lag win. I am going to bed in the hopes of getting some extra sleep and feeling like a normal person tomorrow. Here's a pretty flower picture I took in Fairbanks. It'll have to do for blog content for today.

Home

Flowers in Denali National Park. I am, at last, home from my long, long vacation to Alaska and British Columbia. I made it back to my place early this afternoon, after spending the night at my brother and sister-in-law's house in Virginia. My brother - who lives about 15 minutes away - picked us up at Dulles at 1:30 in the morning, a time at which there is no way I would expect (or request) a ride all the way to my place.

After I spent about an hour sitting on my couch and staring at the walls, I did something I have never, ever done immediately upon arriving home: I unpacked and started on my laundry. Now, I realize most people do this as a matter of course, but I have always had the terrible habit of letting my suitcase sit for days or even weeks before I emptied it completely. My last load of vacation wash will hit the drying rack before I go to bed (translation: momentarily) and I gotta say - it's nice having it done. I might need to make this a habit.

Tomorrow: back to work, where I expect I will die of exhaustion at some point in the early afternoon.

Homeward Bound

This post comes to you from gate C21 at Dallas-Fort Worth airport, where Mom's and my flight (scheduled to depart right about now) is delayed. Sadly, this is not our first delay, or even our second - it is our third. The first delay was in Vancouver, where someone noticed, right around the time we were supposed to board, that there was no first officer for the flight. It took a half hour to figure out where s/he was, and another 45 minutes to find a replacement. Then, we were on an air hold in Dallas for about a half-hour before we could land. Weather, this time - the same thing that has held up our departure. (The plane we're getting into was on the same hold as ours was.)

It's looking like we'll be boarding in about 10 minutes, so that's all for today. I can hardly wait to be home.

Alaskan/Canadian Adventure, Day 13: Butchart Gardens and Victoria

After yesterday's collapse, I'm happy to announce that we all rallied admirably for our final day of touring, and I'm so glad we did. Our destinations today were Butchart Gardens and the city of Victoria, both of which are well south of Vancouver and require a 90-minute ferry ride. The ride over provided ample entertainment, from people watching... 20120707-190611.jpg

...to a pod of killer whales passing by the boat. (I did get one photo of the whales, but it's on my other camera, so that'll have to be in a post when I get home.)

Butchart Gardens was well worth the trip. We only had two hours, and I could easily have spent twice that, or more - the flowers were just outstanding:

20120707-191108.jpg

20120707-191143.jpg

20120707-191130.jpg

We then headed down the road to Victoria for a quick bus tour and an hour or so of free time. Mom, JoAnn, Nick, and I opted to skip shopping for an early dinner and a beer. I'll need to google Deadwood, the local brew I tried, when I get back:

20120707-191838.jpg

The Empress Hotel (of interest to me because of my Historic Hotels of America background) and the provincial capitol building were right near where we parked the bus, so those photos will have to pass for my sightseeing snapshots for Victoria:

20120707-191945.jpg

20120707-191952.jpg

And since I didn't get a picture of the real orcas on my phone camera, Victoria kindly provided a floral (or topiary?) one on a street corner:

20120707-192518.jpg

Tomorrow, the long airport odyssey awaits, getting us back to Dulles late Sunday night - so late, in fact, that it will technically be the wee hours of Monday morning. If all goes as planned, that is. Wish us luck!

(The wifi is very slow here on the ferry, so I am just going to assume the photos are all loaded in the proper order, so as to not miss too much more time watching the sea from the upper deck. Apologies if anything is wonky.)

Alaskan (and Now Canadian) Adventure, Day 12: If It's Friday, This Must Be Vancouver

There comes a point in any long vacation where you run out of steam and are ready to head home. Today was that day - all four of us hit the wall, bigtime. But before I turn to today, here's how our time on the ship ended last night: 20120706-205124.jpg

Not too shabby, eh?

Unfortunately, at some point while taking sunset photos, I sat down on a lounge chair to futz with my camera, and accidentally crushed my Kindle. It now looks like this: 20120706-205847.jpg

(Not to worry... I still have reading material, via the Kindle app on my phone.)

Today, we arrived in Vancouver and spent a large chunk of the morning slowly working our way off the ship, through customs, and onto the bus - about two and a half hours, total. I was surprised at how much longer the process took at the port than the airport. I'm sure it has to do with several thousand people arriving at once, rather than staggered by flight times.

Once on the bus, we had a bit of a whirlwind tour of the city. We saw the torch setup from the 2010 Winter Olympics: 20120706-212144.jpg

And went to Stanley Park - named for the same Lord Stanley as hockey's most coveted prize, the Stanley Cup - where we had great views of the skyline: 20120706-212654.jpg

And the Lion's Gate bridge:

20120706-212905.jpg

After the tour, we had the entire afternoon free - and did nothing with it. We just couldn't get up the oomph to get back on the train (which is not even a 10 minute walk away) to head back into town.* We were just, well, done. It's totally a shame, because Vancouver looks like a hell of a fun city, but our tourist mojo has run out. I decided to add this to my "must visit again" list and take a nap.

Of course, tomorrow we have our final organized tour of the trip - a 12-hour odyssey of buses and ferries to Butchart Gardens and Victoria - so I'm hoping for enough sleep tonight to make that final push.

*** * Our hotel is at the airport... And by at the airport, I don't mean the nearest one by shuttle bus. I mean you exit the lobby by an escalator that ends at US departures desk.

Alaskan Adventure, Day 11: Miracle at Sea

It's the final day of the cruise, though only our second one spent entirely at sea, in the inner passage between Alaska and British Columbia. Since we struck off from Ketchikan yesterday, two seemingly miraculous things have happened: 1. It got dark. Like actual nighttime dark. It was the first time we've seen full darkness since we got to Alaska.

20120705-171942.jpg

By contrast, this is how dark it was the night before:

20120705-172010.jpg

2. The sun came out - and stayed out. There have been briefly sunny moments on the trip, but not an entire sunny day. We've spent most of it by the pool, though still in long pants and shirts, because the breeze off the water is still rather chilly. As a result, most of my day looked like this:

20120705-172024.jpg

Not too bad, eh?

Alaskan Adventure, Day 10: 4th of July, Ketchikan Style

Another day, another port - but with today being a holiday, things were a bit different. As has become our habit, we started with a short tour, but we then had the option to blend in with the locals at the Ketchikan 4th of July parade. Our tour was to a park called Totem Bight (pronounced "bite") where there is a huge collection of really cool Tlingit and Haida totem poles and an example of a clan house:

20120704-171004.jpg

20120704-171037.jpg

After we were done at Totem Bight, we knocked around Ketchikan for a while, waiting for the parade to start. We bought some seafood chowder from the local Obama-Biden re-election team and popcorn, hotdogs, and soda from the local fire department. (Both patriotic acts, I think!)

After what seemed like a long wait, the parade was finally underway. It was heralded by a helicopter bearing an enormous American flag:

20120704-172453.jpg

There were native groups marching:

20120704-171713.jpg

And (somewhat perplexingly) Canadian Mounties:

20120704-171853.jpg

The local Rotary Club was promoting its duck race:

20120704-172021.jpg

And a bunch of teenagers were promoting... Uh, I guess their enthusiasm for the next film in the "Hunger Games" trilogy:

20120704-172228.jpg

The parade lasted about an hour, and by the end we were convinced that everyone in the 8,000 person town had to have been in it - it was huge.

We spent the rest of the afternoon poking around the historic Creek Street area:

20120704-172816.jpg

And looking at boats:

20120704-172905.jpg

Tomorrow, we'll be at sea all day, arriving in Vancouver on Friday. I'm thinking of hitting the spa to pass some of the time...

Alaskan Adventure, Day Nine: Zipping Through Icy Strait Point

Today's port of call, Icy Strait Point, could not have been more different than Juneau and Skagway. In those towns, disembarking cruisers are greeted by a gauntlet of t-shirt and jewelry shops. (Can someone explain to me the connection between cruising and buying diamonds? 'Cause I don't get it.) By contrast, Icy Strait Point is owned by a tribal corporation and doesn't partner with outside retailers. Instead, the entire focus is on experiencing nature on (and off) the island - whale watching and/or bear-sighting tours, ATV rides, hikes, nature rides, and the option we chose: ziplining. Now, those of you who know me outside the pixel world know that I am terrified of heights, so riding a zipline doesn't seem like the most obvious choice for me, but JoAnn and Nick really wanted to do it, having enjoyed it on their trip to Hawai'i. Based on their experience (short runs, not that high, etc.) they convinced me it wouldn't be that scary.

Well. We were all wholly unprepared for what was, in fact, the world's longest zipline: 5,330 feet and a 1,350 foot vertical drop at 60 MPH. So high and so fast Nick couldn't go, because he's had back surgery and it's not recommended for anyone with back trouble (and a host of other medical situations). JoAnn and I decided to persevere - even though we both realized this was not going to be a leisurely sightseeing-type experience.

We did get a lovely view during the 45-minute bus ride to the top of the mountain, however:

20120703-213000.jpg

Our bus load of zipliners further convinced me that there was no way I could back out - there were two women in their mid-70s (who had rappelled down a cliff the day before!) as well as two sisters aged 10 and 11 (who were with their parents and had been told, "You are doing this, and you will like it!" *) And seriously, when there are grannies and children doing something scary, well, bagging out would have been too humiliating.

When we got to the top, we waited our turns to be strapped in, six at at time, to be launched down the mountain:

20120703-213234.jpg

In our group, I was in position number five - we went in order of size, and only the father of the two little girls was taller than me.

20120703-213412.jpg

I can honestly say I have never been so scared in my life as when I was strapped into the harness (which was a little canvas seat with straps and buckles here, there, and everywhere) with my feet on the door waiting for it to open. "Why am I doing this?" was running through my head. I'm pretty sure I said it aloud to the kid strapping me in at least a couple of times, too.

He didn't answer.

20120703-213554.jpg

The picture above of my fear-face (a bad phone scan of the print sold to me afterward) does not even begin to show how absolutely terrifying the ride down was. I had my camera in my hand (tethered to my wrist) but could not - could. not. - make my hand let go of the strap for long enough to take a picture. I'll concede that it was a pretty amazing view, but I'm not convinced it was worth scaring myself half to death over.

I don't think I breathed the whole way down, and when I got to the end (where the springs snapping together sounds like a tazer) I needed help getting out of the seat, and immediately began hyperventilating and crying. Like, a lot. So much that Nick, who had been waiting at the bottom with our bags, had to give me the biggest, longest bear hug to calm me down. I was a wreck.

But I did it, and now I know for sure that I have no need to ever, ever drop a thousand-plus feet off a mountain again. Ever.

***

* Lest that quote make it sound like the parents were meanies, nothing could be farther from the truth. They were lovely people - but ones who clearly had to overcome a little tween resistance to the idea of ziplining.