Ketchikan, Alaska

[flagallery gid=11 name=”Gallery”]Ketchikan is the 5th largest city in Alaska and has a population of just over 7,000.  The city is known as the “Salmon Capital of the World”.  I have visited in June, August and September and saw the most fish ever in one place in Ketchikan Creek in September.

One can take a downtown walking tour from the Visitors Bureau and through the Welcome Arch.  Along the way you can visit the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center.  It’s about $12.00 to tour both and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The hatchery releases more than 300,000 salmon, steelhead and rainbow trout each year.  When I was there I saw two injured eagles that were given a new home here.

Also, on this walk is the Totem Heritage Center (see picture).  Here there are some original totem poles from Tlingit and Haida villages from the 19th century.  There are three major locations where you can see totems: City of Saxman, Totem Bight and the Totem Heritage Center.

Creek Street is a well-known area especially in 1903 when more than 30 bawdy houses lined the creek over the years.  Today many shops line the street although you can now tour “Dolly’s House” where the most famous madam had her business.  Her house is preserved much as she left it and the inside can be seen for about $5.00.

On my third visit to Ketchikan I ventured out in a semi-submersible.  It makes is possible to see what’s below the water and the boat runs along a shallow area where there are many starfish, jelly fish and other ocean critters.  The crew will show you a few of these up close and touchable!

I don’t shop too much when I travel but I found the nicest little shop in Ketchikan, the Chinook Company at 307 Stedman Avenue www.chinookandcompany.com where I did all my Christmas shopping.  They have an assortment of gourmet wild foods, outdoor clothing and unique art.

Also for shopping enthusiasts there is a Tongass Trading center that you can see from the ship dock where you can find all kinds of unique touristy items.

Another recommended tour to take is the Misty Fjords: Waterfalls, Wildlife and Natural Wonder.  Over 2 million acres within the Tongass National Forest was designated in 1978 as the Misty Fjords National Monument.  The best way to experience this area is on a floatplane or helicopter.   You’ll see magnificent glaciers, waterfalls, lakes and sheer granite cliffs.

I would highly recommend a visit to Ketchikan and most of the ships’ itineraries include this quaint city with a wilderness feel to it.  It’s very picturesque and rustic, surrounded by a vast wilderness and impassable mountains.

Alaska’s Capital – Juneau

[flagallery gid=10 name=”Gallery”]Juneau is the only capital city with no road linking it to the outside world.  Travel in and out of Juneau is by boat or plane only.  Arriving by cruise ship leaves so little time to do everything but you can have a very fulfilling day with lots or little activity.  That’s the good part – you always get to choose how you will spend your time.

Juneau and the Inside Passage are wet so I recommend dressing appropriately.  Layering clothing makes sense and then as the weather warms up you can take a layer off.  In the spring there is usually about 3 inches of rain per month and in the fall about 7 inches of rain per month.  I have been there in June, August & September and the August week happened to be mostly rainy.  You can never tell for sure.   Dress for the wet weather and then be pleasantly surprised if the sun shines!

If you have never been to Juneau I believe a “must-do” is to go whale-watching.   You can travel out by boat and see many humpback whales and even an Orca.   The whale excursions actually guarantee that you will see a whale or get your money back!  I have gone whale-watching twice from Juneau with activity both times.  You will more than likely also see seals and other sea life.   If you are really lucky you might see a bear along the shore. 

having been through the Inside Passage three times people are amazed that I’m not bored and that I want to go back but I find it totally fascinating.  Did I mention that I am a nature lover??

Mendenhall Glacier is also a worthwhile trip.  There is a visitor’s centre there from which you can view an amazing glacier that is 12 miles long and 1.5 miles wide.  When I was there I stood for at least an hour watching the river and the glacier in the pouring rain.  It’s okay, I was dressed for it.  I met a gentleman there who has lived in the area for 25 years and loves it and his son was visiting him.  I really enjoy meeting local people whenever I travel.    You can’t walk on the Mendenhall Glacier but you can take a helicopter ride over it.  I bought a DVD which showed the view from the helicopter and it is truly amazing!  Perhaps on my next visit I will experience this.

If you like salmon then you will be in your dreams in Juneau!  You could go to a salmon bake and taste it barbecued over an open alder wood fire and also you could visit a salmon hatchery and see how these fish develop throughout their life.

In the city of Juneau where just over 30,000 people live you can enjoy the local beer.  One of the most famous places to do this is the Red Dog Saloon.  It has a saw-dust floor and a bounty (not sure if that’s the right word here) of animal heads on the walls.  It’s a memorable visit.

Mt. Robert’s Tram is a good way to view the area.  It is a 6 minute trip to the top of Mr. Roberts, 1800 feet above the city.   Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate the times that I was there so I didn’t ride the tram.

When I visited the Mendenhall Glacier I also went to the Glacier Gardens.  At 580 feet there is a boardwalk that gives a breathtaking view of Mendenhall Valley, Douglas Island, Gastineau Channel and the Chilkat Mountains.   This garden has something that I’d never before seen.  When they were clearing the area one of the forklift trucks dropped a tree and the landowner had a very creative idea to leave it there.  In fact there are many trees that are in this garden upside down and in the root area is a magnificent show of flowers.  It’s a very unusual site!  We rode in a large golf-cart type of vehicle and keep going up & up through the forest.  Coming down is via a different path and there are many colourful areas of flowers.  I was really glad I took this excursion.

There are endless choices of things to do at Juneau and I have only covered a few here.   You could visit the Alaska State Museum where there is a lot of history, art and culture from the area.   Dog sledding is popular in the area and you can visit and see the dogs, go canoeing, kayaking or even drive a hummer.  If you like to fish there is an abundance of excursions which include halibut sport fishing, salmon sport fishing or fly-fishing.  Even go on a jeep adventure if that suits you.

There is a rainforest canopy and Zipline expedition (never for me!) and a chance to pan for gold.  On my next visit I may try the 9 mile bicycle tour and beer tasting beside Auke Lake.

Whatever you decide to do in Juneau I know that you will be able to experience a full-day’s worth of adventure and want to go back.    Enjoy my pictures & ask me about my upcoming plans to visit Alaska again.

Anyone want to go skiing?

[flagallery gid=9 name=”Gallery”]Here we are at Whistler.  Who would have thought we would be walking in snow on June 7th?  We took the Whistler Gondola while watching hundreds of crazy downhill bikers on their dirt track courses & jumps.  We stopped at the Round House, played in the snow and had a light lunch.  Temp 6C and saw a few snow flurries.  Then we took the amazing new Peak2Peak which crossed from Whistler to Blackcomb Mountain.  This is a 4.4 km journey between peaks and is the longest unsupported span in the world of 3 km.  It is the highest lift of its kind above the valley floor.  Coming back we took a cable car with a glass floor which was an experience.  What a view!  The trees looked like grass.  There is an unusual amount of snow left and it might be more than another 2 weeks before they open the peak chairlift.  We went up to 6,000 feet elevation.   The town is a very touristy area but nice to walk around and there are lots of walkways and pedestrian areas.  I highly recommend a visit if you are out west!

Why Visit Venice?

Of all the cities that I’ve ever been in I must say that Venice is my favourite.  It is like no other city that exists and to me it feels like being on a movie set.  Last time we were there we rode a waterbus (vaporetti) around the whole 1- hour route three times.  It gave us a great opportunity to observe people as they got on & off the bus and as we motored around the loop I sat in amazement looking at the buildings as we passed by.

Venice dates back to 421 and is constructed on woodpiles.  As wood does not decay under water these woodpiles have become like stone and most are still intact after centuries.  The foundations rest on the piles and the buildings above these footings.  Flooding occurs frequently from the Adriatic tides usually in the winter time.  Many of the buildings have lost the use of their ground floors due to water damage and you can see where the water has risen above the doorsteps.   We were there in the fall once and had to leave St. Mark’s Square early due to the water which was rising up over the steps of the Cathedral.  Dreadful to witness this.

Only about 60,000 people live in the historic city of Venice but 270,000 reside in the City of Venice.   When we were there we met an American who had moved to Venice 7 years earlier and she loved it.  Guess she must be fluent in Italian.

The most well-known area of Venice is Piazza San Marco or St. Mark’s Square.  Here there are many pigeons and they encourage the tourists to feed them!  There are many little restaurants in the square and most offer entertainment.  It is quite an experience to sit in St. Mark’s Square sipping a Bellini (sparking wine & peach puree) listening to some romantic music.

Another great thing to do in Venice is to climb to the top of the Campanile, the bell tower of St Mark’s Basilica located in the square (piazza).  What a view from up there!  Venice is sometimes called the City of Bridges as there are over 400 bridges.  These join up the 177 canals.  You can walk for miles within the city on the narrow streets and passages, however, no cars can manage it. The most famous is the Rialto Bridge over the Grand Canal.  There are several shops on the bridge for buying gold and other jewelery.   The Rialto Bridge is in one of my pictures.

There is a train station on the edge of town called the St. Lucia Station.  Good place to stay near as you can eat at a reasonable price in the station and still walk to St. Mark’s Square without spending an arm & a leg for the hotel.  The train station is near a vaporetti stop.  The waterbuses or vaporetti is the recommended way to get from one place to another if it’s a bit too far to walk.  There are also water taxis available. These are fast but quite expensive.

Venice is also referred to as the City of Masks.  The Carnival of Venice takes place every year two weeks before Ash Wednesday and ends on Shrove Tuesday.  The next time will be March 9, 2011.  Many shops in the area sell masks in beautiful colours and designs.

For the shoppers it’s a must to buy a piece of Murano Glass.  Al & I brought back two wine goblets and they are a delight to drink from as the glass is so smooth.  I also chose some glass earrings made by a Murano glass specialist.  If you visit the Belagio Casino in Las Vegas you will see the most exquisite ceiling display of glass flowers!  These are all hand-blown! Truly a work of art!  I love glass art as every piece is unique.

For the romantic, a ride in a gondola is in order.  You may even be serenaded.  The gondola is the most well recognized mode of transportation in Venice and some even have seats of velvet. When you do get to visit Venice I hope you experience the “wow” that I did.  I love it!!

I didn’t mention the pizza – guess you have to go taste that for yourself!  Enjoy!

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Why visit Rome?

[flagallery gid=6 name=”Rome”]You may ask, “Why visit Rome”? I will write a bit about what I gained from my visits to Rome and how it could benefit you too.  Growing up in Canada I had no idea of what “old” meant. Discovering Europe was truly an awesome experience. The age of buildings and streets is what really hit me when I first visited and keeps me in amazement every time I return. Rome is one of my favourite cities and is a mix of modern with ancient. According to legend Rome was founded by Romulus, first of the seven kings in 753 BC. I like to imagine what it would have been like to live in Ancient Roman times. Perhaps I would have attended games held at the Coliseum although the thought of that gives me the creeps as there were thousands of slaves and animals killed there. They were kept in a maze under the floor and brought out to fight and entertain the public. Where you sat would depend on your ranking in the society. Today, part of the floor has been recreated to give an idea of what it looked like at that time. Some of the original steps can be seen rising up the sides of the stadium.

The Roman Forum can be viewed and visited in the same area as the Coliseum. Many of the original pillars of marble still stand today. The most famous of these is the three columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux built in 499 BC. It is more than a walk down memory lane to actually wander through this area. You come to appreciate the life we lead here in Canada and in these modern times. Rome offers so many sites for tourists to see during their stay. I recommend staying at least 3 days to cover most of the popular spots. A favourite of mine is the Trevi Fountain. This is Rome’s grandest fountain where you can see Neptune flanked by two Tritons. It is relatively new, being built in 1762, in comparison with most of Rome’s attractions. While you are there, toss a coin over your shoulder to ensure that you return. We stayed 3 nights in a hotel around the corner from the Trevi Fountain and from this location could walk everywhere.

There is no need to rent a car in Rome if you have comfortable walking shoes. Also close by was the Pantheon. This is truly a work of art with the walls supporting the dome being 19 ft. thick. It is an eye-opener as you walk through the narrow streets of the city, turn a corner and find the Pantheon in front of you. This is the resting place of the artist, Raphael and also several of the Italian kings. There are numerous museums and galleries for those who are history buffs. You might prefer to study up on the historic buildings, streets or piazzas. As for me I don’t like to study history but I prefer to experience it and be filled with amazement. Before we left the city I coaxed my husband into one of the very modern, classy stores we passed. I discovered that Swarovski made a crystal heart. I now refer to this as my “Roman” heart. All this and I haven’t yet mentioned the Vatican.

On my first visit of 3 days I did not visit the Sistine Chapel but only St. Peter’s Basilica. This spring we returned by train and viewed the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. It is a site not to be missed no matter what faith you practice. The ceiling was restored in the 1980’s showing a lot of vibrant colours. It will instill in you an appreciation of art if you don’t have one already. You could never see and do everything in a short time so what I suggest is to reveille in what you can see and enjoy! It is just as amazing and enjoyable no matter how many times you return and in fact we returned for our third visit in September, 2008.  On this past trip we took 14 others with us and followed our visit with a  Mediterranean cruise which stopped at some Greek Isles, Athens, Naples, Turkey and also Alexandria, Egypt.  That is another whole story which will follow soon.

Good Day Mates!

[flagallery gid=3 name=”Gallery”]Australia is like no other place and to experience it fully I recommend visiting “The Red Centre”.  This is where you can see Uluru (Ayers Rock) and The Olgas (Kata Tjuta).  These are unusual rock formations in the middle of an otherwise desolate land of red rock.  The highlight of the trip was our “Sound of Silence” dinner served in an outdoor “restaurant” between these rocks.   There was a speaker there who pointed out the stars in the sky and when he pointed his light into the sky he could explain different stars to us.  After the dinner we could look through some telescopes that they had pointed at the moon, Mars & Orion.  It was truly fascinating!  To miss this would be like missing the true feel of Australia.    Australia is the size of the United States so you can’t possibly see it all in one visit.  We are looking forward to returning.

Welcome to the Land of the Midnight Sun

[flagallery gid=2 name=”Gallery”] If you would love to see glaciers, mountains & wildlife then Alaska is the place to go.  I have cruised the inside passage 3 times visiting quaint places such as Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka & Skagway.  I am planning another group cruise next June, 2011 that will sail from Vancouver to Whittier with an optional tour into the interior to see Denali Park, a highlight of Alaska.   In this blog I hope to cover a bit of what you can see in each place so keep an eye open for new stuff.  If there is somewhere you would like to know more about let me know and if I’ve been there I’ll write something about it.   Don’t forget to layer your clothing while visiting Alaska so you can stay comfortable.  It is rainforest area so weather can be very unpredictable and variable.   It is a wonderful experience to discover this scenic land.    Enjoy!