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#9 Alaska Cruise – The lavish Life

Aboard the Ms Zaandam, a mid-sized cruise ship of Holland America we took a little time to get to know the vessel. It featured three restaurants, a theater, a tennis and a basketball court, a gym, a spa area, two outdoor pools and even a casino along several shops, an art gallery and a library. Even without the stops along the way it wouldn’t have become boring. Our cabin in the darkest inside of the ship was small but comfortable and had no window. A room with a small round window would have cost around triple of what we paid; no window it is!

Leaving Canada Place, Vancouver’s cruise ship terminal, was an event to be comemorated:

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The next days would take us to several Alaskan towns and cities including the former gold rush capital Skagway and Alaska’s actual capital Juneau. Final destination: Seward, about a two and a half hour ride from Anchorage. It’s a long post and if you get tired of reading, at least check out Day #3 and the pictures of Glacier Bay (Day #5).

Day #1: Scenic cruising through the inside passage towards Ketchikan. “Scenic cruising” means that after about ten minutes you are bored on deck and you start running around the ship trying to find some other activity. If Bingo is not your thing, maybe a quick introduction to Salsa Dancing will do the trick…or you just hit the gym and wait for the bar’s Happy Hour to begin. Already four o’clock? – Hurraaayyy!!
That was also the day of the first Gala night. I am on a world trip, so my Converse and chinos with a collared shirt were the best I could do. Barbara somehow managed to do a much better job:

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Day #2  Ketchikan: We tried our best to discover the town. Eventhough we hated the idea of cramming ourselves in a bus with a bunch of other cruise passengers to be moved around from one site to the next, we didn’t find a real alternative. So there we sat…in a bus. But it turned out to be a pleasant drive around and we got to see some wildlife, a little of Ketchikans beautiful surroundings and even a little cultural input and insights into the tradition of erecting totems and their meaning. On Ketchikan’s historical Riverwalk, called Creek Street, we visited Dolly’s house, a well preserved former brothel which had his golden days during the Prohibition due to Dolly’s knack for creative cross-selling.

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Bald Eagle ready for take-off

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Creek Street with Dolly’s house

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Day #3 Juneau: Alaska’s capital can only be reached by sea or air. Getting to Mendenhall Glacier, one starts to understand why that is; the Juneau Ice Field which lies behind it cuts it off the rest of Alaska. There is no way around or across the ice.

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One option for the day was Kayaking right in front of the glacier. But that’s a rather pricy activity and honestly, it wouldn’t have been worth it. Instead we decided to do a hike along the East Glacier Trail (approx. 2 hours). Eventhough we were aware that there were bears in the area, we were more than surprised to see this right in front of us after turning a corner: a bear mamma with her three cubs.

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You might have noticed that the picture of the cubs isn’t 100% focused. Well, I was kinda busy backing away as bear mammas are known to be rather protective of their kids. That encounter was undoubtedly the most fantastic, scary and exciting moment of our trip so far. Very different from looking at them behind bars in a zoo!

Day #4 Skagway: when they found gold in Skagway in 1896 the Klondike Goldrush started and the town grew from a few hundred people to over 30’000 within months. Besides all the gold diggers, it also attracted some shady characters. The most famous of which was called Soapy Smith. Read up on this icy wild western style story here.
Another reminder that this was once a place of some importance is the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad, a scenic train ride that is partly in Alaska, Canada and the Yukon Territory. The three hour roundtrip would have been a cool thing to do but the sky was covered in thick clouds and $130 per person seemed a lot for limited views. Instead we discovered the town and its surroundings on foot. They say that the look and feel of Skagway has hardly changed since the gold rush, only the streets have been paved in the meantime. And yeah, it got slightly more touristic I reckon.

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The original metal plate on Soapy’s tombstone got stolen

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This locomotive won’t cross White Pass anymore

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Day #5 Glacier Bay: That was another special experience. Just a few decades ago the 3’500 square kilometers of water surface were covered by ice and glaciers. But the ice has been receding quickly. Nevertheless, glaciers are everywhere and wildlife can be seen in the water and on land (that is if you have binoculars or a telephoto lens on your camera). But the unchallenged highlight of this expedition into Glacier Bay was to come up close to Margerie Glacier which ends right in the ocean. We spent around an hour or two in front of it and were lucky enough to see it calve. Almost more impressive than the visuals was to hear the shattering thunder sound that huge block of ice made as it got separated from the mother ship and fell into the water. I tried to take a few pictures that illustrate the majesty and strength of Margerie Glacier but I guess nothing comes close to a real life face-off. But be quick, who knows how long it’s going to last…

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Lazy otters floating on their back

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Two different kinds of peaks – Margerie Glacier with Mount Tlingit in the back

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Quite a different view

Day #6 Seward: With the arrival in Seward the cruise is coming to an end. We had an arranged transportation to Anchorage. On the way we stopped a few times for Beluga whales and also for the Wildlife Conservation Center where they bring in animals that were injured or lost their parents to take care of them and prepare them to be released into nature again. Our driver Jake turned out to be a real cool guy and we quickly became friends. He had loads of good suggestions for our upcoming motorhome adventure. More on that soon…

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sleeping baby-beauty

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Curious Moose
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#8 Vancouver Island – Victoria and Nanaimo

We had only three days for the whole island; definitely not enough to discover all it had to offer but good enough to enjoy some time in Victoria, British Columbia’s capital rich with it’s imperial English heritage.

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Victoria Downtown

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Victoria Parliamant
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When do you ever get to eat delicious fresh oysters for half a dollar a pop? – Friday’s at “The Docks”

 

The same day we arrived Marco found a beautiful sunset whalewatching tour which still had a few slots available. With the wind in 0ur faces we went on to observe hump backs, orcas, sea lions ans seals. An amazing sunset made this experience even more special.

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On day number three we took a greyhound bus and drove four and a half hours up north to Nanaimo, the island’s second biggest city. Besides a cute little harbour and a small promenade with a few bars and restaurants the city doesn’t have much to show for.

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Early next morning we headed to the ferry terminal. A one and a half hour ferry ride and a 50 min. bus ride later we were back in Vancouver, Canada Place to be exact, which is where we boarded our cruise ship to Alaska, the Ms Zaandam of Holland America.
Stay tuned….

 

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#7 The Canadian Rocky Mountains

Getting to Seattle WA marked the end of our first road trip. After that, we headed up to Vancouver and spent a whole week in and around the city. It was nice not having to pack bags every day for a change and we kind of started to have a normal rythm: Some sightseeing, cooking at home, a run in the park, disc golf (they play a kind of golf with frisbees) and even a cinema night with Jason Bourne.

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But surely the road called again. Once more rented a car and went on to discover part of the Canadian Rocky Mountains. As the ride from Vancouver to Golden would have taken us approximately nine hours, we decided to stop in Kamloops for the night. They had a Ribs Festival going on and of course we didn’t resist.

The day after we drove to Golden, a little town about an hour before Banff National Park. This was our base for three days. We found this nice place outside town, up the hill and in the middle of the woods. These Mountain View Cabins came without internet or TV, so it was all about barbecuing marshmallows and talking to fellow travellers. It was great fun and we really enjoyed the place.

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Out in the nature I felt like hiking and I wasn’t ready to change this plan just because it was raining. The head of the hiking trail we chose was around 40 minutes off the main road and up the mountain. The road was very rough or completely inexistent and it was a good thing we rented that Jeep. That’s what it looked like later that day:

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We had to stop when we came to a wooden bridge crossing a small creek. The large wholes in the floor let us doubt that it would carry the weight of the car. So we continued on foot. As they way up was longer than antecipated we were happy to have a Pickup Truck coming our way. They were going fishing and gave us a lift up to the trailhead.

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The day after the weather got better and we went on to see Lake Louise, Lake Minnewanka and Banff; wonderful places at the heart of Banff National Park. In Banff itself we walked down to the Fairmont Springs Hotel to have a drink on the terrace with an incredible view to the surrounding forest and mountains.

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Lake Louise
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Lake Minnewanka
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Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel

Now it’s back to the big city and straight to Vancouver Island. Victoria and Nanaimo are waiting. So long!

#6 Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park was definitely a highlight of our first few weeks on the road. The fact that it is located on top of the world’s largest volcano, called Caldera and considered active, becomes very evident and real when faced with the geothermical curiousities such as Geysers and hot pools which appear in all imaginable colors. It’s just breathtakingly beautiful. Also, we’d probably all be dead if the volcano erupts.

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Apparently, the colors are caused by different sorts of bacteria but they don’t really know much about them

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Blue Pool in West Thumb Geyser Basin
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Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

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Old Faithful – the most reliable Geyser holding his word

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Storm in Paradise. Or fire. Or both…

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The park turned out to be very well frequented during the summer months. No lodging inside the park was available during our days there. Not even a slot on one of the many campgrounds. Having no other option, we decided to stay in towns nearby the park. We stayed in reasonably priced Hotels and Motels in Greybull WY and Gardiner MO. Greybull is a tiny town about an hour and a half east of the park. We enjoyed the town’s best burgers in the Smokehouse Saloon and spent the night in a cabin for $32 per couple. Such a cool place.

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For some more information on Yellowstone, check out this Wikipedia article. Definitely worth a read.

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#5 South Dakota N°2 – Hard-Heads

Since “Richie Rich” I really, really wanted to see those elderly men carved in stone at Mount Rushmore. They were very impressive. No secret vault though.
One should really go to see them in the morning as they are being illuminated by the rising sun. We got there in the evening when no direct light falls on the four dead president’s faces, which might be the reason they look a bit cold.

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The day after we went to have a relaxed day at Custer State Park. Walking along beautiful lakes and enjoying a swim. And who knows, maybe we might even see a buffalo.

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Looks like we did get lucky! And not just with the buffalo.

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#4 South Dakota N°1 – Karaoke in the Wild West

After Cleveland OH and Chicago IL we were ready to make our way through the Wild West. On the way to Rapid City SD we visited and had overnight stays in Des Moines IA (nice), Omaha NE (cute) and Sioux Falls (nothing to see here, not even the Falls, but we watched a local baseball game so it was kinda cool).

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In Switzerland we are used to hills or mountains everywhere, towns and cities in the middle etc. Now try to imagine a terrain so open and plane that you could see for what feels like hundreds of kilometers. Nothing obstructs your view until the horizon disappears in the endless. A great place to put some things of your life in perspective and reflect on some other things. Maybe not on the freeway though. And we wanted to see the Badlands so there was limited time for spiritual wanderlust at that moment. The Badlands National Park is a strange place, beautiful, but weird. Some of the most peculiar rockformations and sediment layers around 500 thousand years old…ah, who am I kidding? I don’t know squat about that stuff. Just look at the pictures.

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We spent the night in Rapid City or more specific in a bar called Cheers. After some responsible drinking we drank a bit more and started to participate in the ongoing Karaoke night. The result wasn’t pretty and people had a hard time ignoring Marco’s and my interpretation of Imagine Dragons’ “Demons”. We made sure there are no recordings of our performance out there. We also met Ron, a very nice guy who loved to sing Johnny Cash songs (sorry Ron, I have no idea whatsoever who the other artists were).

South Dakota isn’t a big state, but it certainly has something to offer when it comes to nature. Also see our next post #5 South Dakota 2 – Hard-Heads for some more South Dakodaah.

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#3 Cleveland – the city, not the dude from Family Guy

Next up was Cleveland, Ohio. We only spent a few hours in the center of the city but somehow they were intense. At the time, the Republican’s party convention to define their presidential candidate was under way in the city. Boarding the local train called “Rapid” (a name that turned out to be as misleading as Donald Trump’s campaign slogan), Marco made contact with a teenager who apparently got shot or stabbed a few minutes before but refused any help. We alarmed the train personnel but he left shortly after.
Later in the city center Marco and I took the chance for a quick live appearance on MSNBC when we noticed that the TV life interview in connection with the ongoing convention we were following while eating was taking place right outside that same restaurant we ate in. Ever seen some idiot wave in the background of a news reporter? I now know how thrilling it is to be that idiot.

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Leaving the metro station a bit later I witnessed how a group of police officers tazered and handcuffed a very aggressive perp. Not a nice picture, so I didn’t take any.
The evening we enjoyed down at the harbour with a drink in one of the newly constructed bars right at the water and embedded in some old steel infrastructure that was no longer in use. A rock band played live music and we had a good time.

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It felt like Cleveland has a lot more to offer than what we could discover in such a short time. Maybe next time we are going to stick around for a bit longer.

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#2 Niagara Falls – The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

On our last day in Boston we got our rental car, a spacious Hyundai Santa Fé, and started our road trip from Boston to Seattle, from East to West, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Dunkin Donuts to Starbucks. This stage should take us around 6’200 km through 13 states. Off we go…

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First was Buffalo NY and Niagara Falls. A picture says more than a thousand words they say, so let me make it quick: the Niagara Falls are impressive and by itself beautiful, the surroundings consisting of Casinos and big Hotels are a shame and shouldn’t have been built in the first place. But hey, you can still frame up some sweet shots, check it out!

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Rainbow over Niagara Falls
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American Falls and Niagara Falls
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Seriously? – Seriously!

Tip: park on the American side and cross the Rainbow Bridge to Canada on foot. This way you skip the usually long car queue and you also get another stamp in your passport, yaay.
Oh yeah, Buffalo. I guess you would have to spend some time there to get to know and appreciate it. We didn’t. Let’s move on.

#1 Starting an Adventure

Usually, holidays pass way quicker than they’re supposed to and it feels like time just flies by, right? Well, we’re not on normal holidays. Slowly but surely that fact is starting to sink in.

It’s now two weeks and a bit since our flight from Zurich to Boston and honestly, the last working days already start to blur like distant memories.

So, please excuse this slightly longer first post as we have some catching up to do.

We started out in Boston, the birthplace of the American Revolution and home to some of the world’s most revered universities. Have a look…

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Charles River Cruise – Between Boston and Cambridge

As our time here was limited, we decided to do the touristy thing and go on a hop-on hop-off bus with SuperTour Bus. They have three loops which take you all the way to Camebridge where MIT and Harvard are located and down to the waterfront and the docks. Their bus drivers are friendly and would probably stop breathing if it meant that they could put in another fact or two instead. I’m positive I read somewhere on their website that in order to be eligible as a bus driver you need to be able to lull your passengers in a constant flow of information, no matter how random. If one of them had stopped talking for more than three seconds somebody would probably have jumped up from his seat to check the drivers pulse.

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Before starting off our Road Trip across the country we decided to take a train and spend my 30th birthday at Cape Ann, or to be more specific, in Rockport about 1.5 hours north of Boston. We loved it. Clearly, it has become touristic, but it’s still a very charming little town at the sea with tons of shops and food shacks lining the road.

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Oh yeah, and back in Boston my wife and friends treated me to some steak at Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Juicy.

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