Holy Sh*t moments in Juneau

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After two nights and a full day of cruising, we arrived in Juneau. Surprised at how small this town is, especially since it’s the capitol of Alaska, we were told that most of the jobs were in state government or tourism. Of course, fishing is a major industry here, also. Our ship docked just after lunch and we had an excursion planned a couple of hours later.

Our floatplane

Our floatplane

We bravely, but with a fair amount of trepidation, chose a Wings Airways seaplane (or floatplane, as they’re called in Alaska) touring five of the glaciers of Juneau’s massive icefield. Strapping into the 10 passenger De Havilland Otter was scary, to say the least, especially on such a cloudy day but we just sucked it up, donned our headphones and held our breath.

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Will I need this?

Will I need this?

Side note: You WILL be asked to divulge your weight and it WILL be written on your ticket in big red figures. If you choose to lie about your weight, you might feel a bit of panic as the plane takes off, worrying that everybody else might have lied, too. Not that I have any experience in this, just sayin…

Bye, bye, Nieuw Amsterdam - hope we make it back!

Bye, bye, Nieuw Amsterdam – hope we make it back!

To say this was a #HolyShitMoment is an understatement. From the moment our bush plane’s floats left the water until we drifted back to dock, the views were exhilarating and we were glad we chose this adventure. Observing the glaciers from above offers an amazing insight into how these huge structures are formed.

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The 40-minute adventure covered five glaciers, most of which are receding. The Taku Glacier, however, is the largest in the ice field and the only one still advancing. Wearing headphones, we listened to educational narration throughout the flight with oodles of photo opps as every seat has its own window.

My intrepid photographer!

My intrepid photographer!

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There were a few anxious moments when we were buffeted about a bit but the experienced pilot kept us level and before we knew it we were gliding into the bay for a smooth landing, wishing the flight wasn’t coming to an end.

Flowers of Juneau

Flowers of Juneau

Afterward, we strolled the streets of the town and ducked into the infamous Red Dog Saloon. During the mining era, the owner would meet tour boats, with a mule wearing a sign stating, “follow my ass to the Red Dog Saloon.”  Now, modern tourists and cruisers fill the sawdust-floored bar looking for a brew and a raunchy song.

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Tomorrow finds us in Skagway…

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An unexpected treat…cruising through Alaska!

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Waiting, waiting…

An incredible opportunity opened up for Charlie and I to join a press group, cruising Alaska’s waterways with Holland America Lines on the ms Nieuw Amsterdam. The offer was last minute, as in 2 ½ weeks, but the calendar was clear and, luckily, we brought our passports to NC, so we were in. The key to a happy retirement is flexibility and spontaneity. No moss growing on our rolling stone!

The plan was to fly from Asheville to Vancouver and back via Chicago. It takes an hour to get to the airport from the mountain house and the flight was on time when we left. Arriving at the airport, however, we discovered our flights, in both Asheville and Chicago were delayed. We started sweating bullets when our originating flight wound up 3 hours late but managed to find our terminal and gate in Chicago in time.

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The Pan Pacific, overlooking the terminal

The rest of the trip was seamless as we were picked up in Vancouver, driven through the streets of the city and dropped off at the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel, atop Canada Place’s cruise ship terminals. Arriving around 6 pm we had time to walk a few blocks to dinner at Original Joe’s on Robson Street. Of course, our brains were telling us it was 3 hours later so we were disinclined to imbibe in the local beer offerings as we were afraid we wouldn’t make it back to the hotel.

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The Pan Pacific is gorgeous and next morning our ship was in dock waiting for us to board. We met our fellow journalists for breakfast and were amazed at how far some of them traveled…Australia, Holland, London, Austria, Belgium and a few more from the states…all lovely people who were a joy to accompany on this trip of a lifetime.

Leaving beautiful Vancouver

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View from our deck

The ms Nieuw Amsterdam is one of HAL’s larger ships, much bigger than the ms Maasdam, on which we cruised through New England and Nova Scotia last year. The comfort level and beauty were the same, however, this time with a touch of Manhattan and NYC art deco touches. Our Verandah was roomy, located at the back of the ship, which proved to be a perfect place to view all that Alaska had to offer.

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We met our group again at the Crow’s Nest on the Observation Deck, for a welcome cocktail and then dinner in the Manhattan Dining Room. The food on these cruises is just phenomenal and the champagne was flowing that night, along with perfect wine pairings. We were reminded that we needed to take it easy and not eat our way through the trip…not an easy task!

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Next morning, we met for a private Galley tour. What we saw was a well-organized effort to feed over 2,000 guests and more than 900 crew members. The kitchens were spotless and we saw smiling faces and beautiful culinary creations. Here are some stats…a typical 7-day cruise goes through 23,000 eggs, 1,675 pounds of butter and 137,500 pounds of fresh vegetables. It’s mind-boggling the amount of work that goes into storing, preparing and serving this much food. And they do it cheerfully and meticulously.

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Working so fast, his hands are a blur

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The final taste test

That night we met at The Pinnacle Grill, one of three fine dining choices, which will cost extra but are well worth the price. The menu highlights Pacific Northwest steak and seafood along with an ample choice of wines. Looking out the window we spotted the backs of a few whales cruising alongside the ship. I should mention that the other dining choices, which are included in the price of the cruise, are top of the line. You can choose the Lido buffet which changes offerings every day, along with the Manhattan Dining Room, which is a 2-level, formal dining experience.

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Pepper?

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Vid and Savi, Bruised Passports

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Delectable crab cakes

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Captain Edward Van Zaane and his lovely wife, Apollonia…yes, that Apollonia!

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Here are a couple of links to my blog posts on hypeorlando about this trip… Sushi virgins no longer and What the rest of the world thinks of Americans – Next up, Days 3 and 4, sailing through Tracy Arm, arriving in Juneau and Skagway.

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3 Reasons to visit Asheville

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North Lodge on Oakland

I just want to share some of my recent posts about Asheville in hypeorlando and TravelPulse. We were invited to stay in 3 lodges which are indicative of the hospitality and beauty of this city.

TravelPulse is a newsy travel industry site which is heavy on words, but not photos. Here’s the link to that one… Click here for TravelPulse

I broke down each of the Inns on hypeorlando as more of a pictorial:

The North Lodge on Oakland is a small B&B, close to the Biltmore Estate, operated by a lovely couple who take pride in their home. Click here for the North Lodge

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Gary and Cindy Broaddus, Innkeepers

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Library Room at the North Lodge

Our next stop was the Reynolds Mansion where Billy Sanders treated us like royalty. This home was built by slaves and has undergone massive renovations with the intent to restore it to its original beauty. Click here for The Reynolds Mansion

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The Reynolds Mansion

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The Reynolds Mansion Guestroom Lila

I can’t believe I had never heard of the Omni Grove Park Inn. An NC neighbor recommended it and I was amazed by the history and architecture of this lodge. Click here for the Omni Grove Park Inn

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Photo courtesy of The Omni Grove Park Inn

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Sunset over Asheville and the Blue Ridge Mountains

We’re now in the last week of a month-long visit by 2 of the grandkids and will be heading back to Florida to deliver them to mom. After a short stay in Orlando, we’ll be returning to Wolf Laurel with Ali and James in tow.

So far the weather has been the reason we moved up here for the summer. The temps have risen in town but when we drive back up the mountain to our house, we’re back in the 60’s or low 70’s. There is definitely something to be said for high elevations!

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Home sweet NC home

Wolf Laurel Update

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The view when we arrived April 13

It’s been a little over a month since arriving at the mountain house for the summer. One thing we’ve learned is, next year, we’ll head up this way later in the spring/summer. Although it has been fun seeing the wildflowers of spring, the temps are chilly…just this morning we woke up to low 30’s, brrrr. Hopefully, this is the last cold spell and we won’t have to turn on the heat again. Our rhododendrons are about to bloom, much later than those in town and toward the bottom of the mountain…I’m guessing the low temps play a part in that.

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What a difference a month makes!

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Mayapples are everywhere. Each one only produces one tiny flower under an umbrella of leaves.

We’ve been busy fixing up the house, painting, patching, hauling stuff we don’t want to Goodwill. We enjoyed bonding with the Bonds last week during their visit after nephew, Andrew, graduated UCF. They are experienced hikers so we had our hands full keeping up with them while visiting their old vacation haunts. Checking out the stars on Andrew’s telescope in the pitch blackness of the mountain was a high point. The night sky provides quite a show when light pollution is not an issue. Looking forward to more visitors…Jess, Chris and the grandkids are arriving mid June, then Ali and James in July. We’re feeling a bit like empty-nesters since sis, Patty, and her crew left, though.

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Snow on Big Bald

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Missing the Bond’s boots on the porch

Critter sightings include deer, turkey, chipmunks and, we think, a big fat groundhog. No bear scares but we are always vigilant.

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This little lady charged toward Patty and I on our walk. We were the “deer in the headlights” til she darted away.

We enjoy our visits to Mars Hill, Weaverville and Asheville, when we need a dose of civilization. One thing that stands out, everybody is so friendly and happy up here, whether at the grocery store, restaurants, shops…always a smile and ready to help. And highway driving is way more civilized than what we deal with in Florida. Missing our newspaper home delivery and still can’t find where the Sunday NY Times is sold. We’re old and old-school…getting our news online is just not the same.

This is a whole new world for us and it’s been a bit of a learning curve. We’re happy with our choice of house and area, we just have to become more accustomed to the harsh terrain. We’re so spoiled in Florida…bitch as we might about the heat and humidity, it’s an easy environment in which to live, with all its flatness.

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Every night the sunsets are phenomenal over the ridge

The Barns of Burnsville

The town of Burnsville is a favorite of ours when we’re in the mood for BBQ – Bubba’s is our first choice. There’s a back gate off the mountain in Yancy County, which we checked out for the first time yesterday…nice alternate route when you don’t feel like getting on the interstate. What we found, in just a 5 mile stretch of road, were a bunch of barns in all shapes, sizes and state of disrepair…

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Most of the time we were the only car on the road so stopping wasn’t a problem. Some of these barns looked like they’d topple over but must’ve been made of strong stuff to withstand harsh winters. I’d love to know their histories.

Check me out on TravelPulse.com

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Gotta blow my own horn here, so to speak, with the news that TravelPulse.com has published one of my blog posts and I am in contract with them to write further content. Most will be based in Orlando but I’ll be writing about Asheville this summer, also. First post is about the rise of the craft beer industry in Orlando…research was great fun!

It’s a major step for me as I’ve been slooooowly working towards this kind of validation as a writer, focusing on travel, and it feels good to be validated. Thanks to Kim Warrner for informing me about the Orlando Sentinel‘s blog platform,  hypeorlando.com, right after we moved back to Orlando. Writing for them has been a wonderful exercise in discipline and the support really helps, as sitting at a computer, hoping to get noticed, can be very isolating. Just when you feel like giving it all up, someone in the hypeorlando group will pat you on the back, come up with a few words of encouragement and spur you on.

Geez, this is sounding like an acceptance speech for an Academy Award! Actually, it kind of felt that way when I saw my name under the TravelPulse banner yesterday. More to come…