SUNDAY: August 23,2009: Disembarkation is nothing but boring! I had forgotten how long it takes to get a group of people off a cruise ship. Makes me wonder what would happen if one really needed to get the people off in a hurry. Of course everyone goes down one gang plank and they are taken off in the order needed to meet planes, trains etc. We were required to be out of our room by 9:30 in order for the crew to clean for the return trip. I had talked to people earlier who were traveling both ways on the ship. To me that would be a little much, but then I truly am not a cruise person. I do enjoy it for a while, but would not want another week going back the way we came. Of course, if a person played Bridge or something that might be fun. So we sat around the lounging places, walked around the ship a bit, then we went back to eat lunch on the Lido deck. Buffet is always available on this deck. We were scheduled for 1:30 departure so didn’t have to wait too long after lunch. At that point we boarded the bus (I should say coach for it was quite a few steps above most buses) for Anchorage. Three hours later we arrived in the beautiful capital city of Alaska. Flowers here are every place and very beautiful. Hanging baskets along the streets and planned flower beds on many corners. Our accommodations at the Westmark were lovely. A balcony overlooking the city was fun. Rather cool to sit out, but I did go out and take a few deep breaths. Good feeling after cruise ship and bus…I am somewhat claustrophobic at times. We walked for awhile and then ate at Humphy’s which had been recommended by the the Holland American rep in the hotel. She had indicated that many of the locals enjoyed Humphy’s so we wanted to catch the local flavor. Humphy’s(so named for the humpback whales I presume) is a local sports bar. We sat on high stools among groups of very loud and very young people who were enjoying each other and the TV. Not to say that there were not others there, but the place was packed and booths were at a high premium. We chose to sit amongst the younger crowd for our hamburger and fries. Salmon of course is on every menu, but we were ready for real food. (a tongue in cheek remark if ever there was one ) We walked a bit longer, returned to the hotel and then called it a day as we were to go out early on Monday. MONDAY: August 24, 2009 We had been directed to pack an overnight bag for Denali and were assured that our larger luggage would meet us in Fairbanks on Tuesday’s arrival. Needless to say, I was somewhat apprehensive about this after the experience with Holland’s handling of our luggage in Vancouver. Buses were to leave for the train depot by 7:00 a.m. and the departure was scheduled for 8:15 a.m. I can’t say enough about the train trip. I enjoyed every minute and highly recommend it. We ate breakfast and lunch on the train and though it was quite expensive, the food and service were excellent and I felt very “pampered” as I enjoyed my French toast while the scenery of Alaska flowed by my window-figuratively and literally. Much of our route followed a river as we climbed to the Denali forest lodge. Most of our train ride was spent on the glass-domed second level of the train. On the entire trip, a personable young tour guide narrated as we passed by small stations, waterfalls, mountains and valleys. During the trip we were given information about optional excursions which would be available once we reached the McKinley village. An 11 mile canyon white water excursion was one of the choices, and at Jr.’s suggestion I agreed to sign up for this trip although we did not make the reservations before our arrival. (I thought perhaps he would change his mind, or it would be too late, or God would send a snow storm. It was getting colder all the time.) Eight hours of pure luxury travel (in my opinion) ended as we arrived at the Denali depot about 4: 30 p.m. Again we boarded our coach to the McKinley Village. Our tour was 11B and Holland America makes everything so simple that never once during our entire trip did I feel lost or not advised about our next move; however, when we arrived at the Lodge someone? had messed up and our greeting packets were not available, but our rooms had been assigned in a rustic, but modern lodge overlooking the Nenana river. It was now that the tickets for the white-water rafting excursion needed to be purchased. Of course they were still available (why would I have doubted) and we purchased two tickets. We would board the bus, go to the point of departure and float? on the Nenana river for approximately three hours. My stomach had this familiar knot that I get each time I attempt something I have never done before, but we arrived at the river’s edge, joined about thirty other people, removed our shoes and donned wet suits.(or dry suits ) Now, a sight to behold is me in a suit of rubber that fits skin tight, a stocking cap that keeps falling in my eyes and an orange life jacket strapped around my middle section. We had no room for cameras for which I will be eternally grateful. After a very serious lecture about what to do if we fell out of the raft, how to stay afloat and how they would attempt to get a person back into the raft, I knew I had made a terrible decision. Too late. We were ready to board. Another couple (younger but not too young) from Indiana(I found out later) joined us at the front of the rubber boat. Four in front (us) and four in back- with a young man who supposedly was capable of getting this group through the rapids of the river. He talked constantly to the women in the back and I was sure he wasn’t paying a bit of attention to what was happening. We pushed off, floated quite peacefully for a bit and just as I began to relax I saw it-white swirling waves jumping high over rocks. And we hit them (the waves not the rocks). And the 32 degree water hit me full in the face. I loved it! I loved every minute of the three hour trip down through the canyon. I did not get very cold at all, but Jr.’s glove did not fit and after the first water hit us his hand got very cold. Other than that, it was so exciting. We both agreed that 85 degree weather in shorts and t-shirt might make for even a better trip, but I am so glad I agreed to this excursion. Many people went to a local dinner theater. I have some thoughts about this for a future devotion. Some people stay where it is safe and some go where they have never gone before. We arrived safely back at the Lodge about 9:30 p.m. (still not dark) and only the restaurant was open. Ate a welcome bowl of steamy hot soup and sandwich and off to bed as we were to go out early next morning for a four hour tour of Denali. What a great day! I am so blessed. TUESDAY:August 25, 2009 No breakfast as our journey was to start very early. 6:00a.m.! Jr. brought me a muffin and off we went again, to board the coach for the beauty that is Alaska. Our tour was labeled National History Tour. Binoculars were definitely a plus on this ride. We climbed into the mountains, past the lower valley and into the area that they refer to as perma-frost. In these areas the ground does not thaw but a few inches and the result is short trees with no root system. Very interesting. We stopped and walked a bit two different times during the four hour trip. Once to view historic Savage Cabin for a pioneer interpretation and then on to listen to a lecture from an Indian of the area whose family live what is referred to today as a subsistence lifestyle. These people live only from the game and fish and the vegetation of the land. His people are given subsistence license to hunt and fish all year. He was quite entertaining as well as informative. A section of this trip was to have been a “view” of Mt. McKinley, (weather permitting). Weather did not cooperate. Rainy and foggy. We wore our plastic ponchos when we were out of the bus and I was colder on the hill than I had been any time of our rafting experience. On our return McKinley village we grabbed a quick bite to eat and traveled to the train depot to board the train again for Fairbanks. The scenery and the food were even better than the journey on Monday. We had a delicious Prime Rib dinner on board and arrived in Fairbanks about 8:00 p.m. where we were again met and transferred to the Regency Fairbanks Hotel. Again the flowers are so beautiful. Our room was the best we have had with kitchen facilities, whirl-pool tub and large living space. I did not try the tub, but Jr. felt it was very difficult to operate. At one time he had water all over the floor in the bathroom. Don’t ask, I don’t know! Again an early bed time as we were to have a busy day on Wednesday. WEDNESDAY: August 26,2009 We boarded one more coach for a trip to view the Alaskan pipe line and the Eldorado gold mine. Jr. was quite interested in the pipe line as he worked on a pipe line for awhile after he graduated from high school. To me it was long pieces of pipe, but we took several pictures and read all the signs. Our next stop was the gold mine. We did the usual trip through the tunnel to the mine and heard an explanation and demonstration of gold mining. The Eldorado is still a working mine, but I think the “gold mine” is in the tourist shop at the end of the visit. We panned for gold and Jr. got $37.00 in gold flakes which is really quite a bit as some around us found none. We purchases a necklace for me with the flakes in a clear medallion and had enough left to buy Anneke a small necklace also. The necklace is around my neck. The piece I am holding was priced at $40,000 that day. Moved on to the Dredging area where we ate a great stew and biscuits. After lunch we arrived at the river boat dock and began our river trip. An excellent adventure. Along the way we stopped at Susan Butcher’s kennels which are located right at the river’s edge and her husband came down and spoke to the group about the dogs and about how they are trained. Again we saw a demonstration of the powerful sled dogs. I found Susan’s story about Granite(her lead dog)really touching. Susan won three Iditarod races with Granite. When we went into the village on down the river, her husband was there signing a children’s book that he and Susan had written before her death in 2006(leukemia). I purchased a signed copy and will give it to Pailynne Jo when she gets older. (Palynne Jo is my great granddaughter who is yet to be born).
Salmon was for sale on the boat and they served a salmon dip with crackers to everyone. I just can’t like it very well. Another good tour. Holland does a good job with the tours and I have been more than satisfied with everything. Arriving bank in Fairbanks we began to look at our tickets and realized we were not flying out at 1:00 a.m. on Thursday the 27 but on 1:00 a.m. on Friday the 28 of August. This meant we had another day in Fairbanks. So on Thursday morning we checked out of our room, stored our luggage in the hotel and went out for a day of sightseeing. Hired a shuttle to the University of Alaska and visited the Museum of the North. a href="http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_QCY_w-cyVFE/Sqqy14EzMKI/AAAAAAAAFnM/T-SIC8cH0cg/s1600-h/P1000539.JPG"> An excellent display of the history of Alaska. We spent two or three hours there and then walked about a mile down hill to the Botanical gardens where we wandered through the floral and vegetable gardens of quite awhile.
Called the shuttle about five and returned to hotel. Walked several blocks(a long way) to up town Fairbanks and ate at Soapy’s. A neat Alaskan décor with an extra-friendly waiter, but all in all a good place to eat. After we got back to hotel, Jr. slept on couch and I visited for a long time with the Holland America representative. A really neat lady from the lower 48 (as they refer to the rest of the states) who was there helping her son who had been injured in Iraq. I intend to keep in touch with her. She has written a children’s book about Abraham Lincoln and I hope to encourage her more to have it published. About 11:00 p.m. the bus for airport showed up and we were on our way. We spent time at the airport and at 12:20 a.m. on the 28th of August began our flight back. From Fairbanks to Seattle, Seattle to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to Indianapolis at approximately 3:00 p.m. E.D.T. Rainy and cloudy when we landed. Stopped in Plainfield at Steak and Shake for a hamburger and chocolate milk shake.(why break tradition? we always stop at Steak and Shake in Plainfield on the way home from the airport.) Arrived home in Paris about 6:30 p.m. Turned back the bed, donned my gown and went off to sleep. A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE AND I THANK GOD WE WERE ABLE TO DO THIS TOGETHER.