Saturday, September 17, 2016

Alaska-Part 4

We had booked the trip excursions we wanted to take before we left from home.  Knowing zip lining was on Kevin's bucket list, I had signed us up for this fate tempting devilry in Skagway, and we had just now arrived.  My stomach was fluttery and all resolve to be brave and attempt this for Kevin's sake had vanished. I had hid my anxiety pretty well until he found out I hadn't slept very much the previous night.  I peered out the cabin window as the ship was docking.  The sky was overcast. It appeared to have rained recently and dense fog hung over the harbor.  Maybe the excursion will be canceled! Wanting to help relieve me of trepidation, Kevin was all for checking at the service desk for any cancellations. I timidly asked if the zip lining was still on schedule. The attendant informed us that yes, it was still a go and then added, "It should be a lot of fun.  The zip lines go even faster when it's rainy and wet."  Just the answer I wanted to hear!!

I managed to eat breakfast and then it was time to gather on the dock to board the bus which would take us out to the rain forest.  Our guide was a college student earning money for the summer by enabling people to do these crazy things. Once there we hiked up a rugged trail on the side of a summit, stopping at a station where more college kids joined us to fit us with waist and chest harnesses. We checked out the other travelers in our group and shared some friendly banter about our anxieties.  It was somewhat reassuring to discover only one person in the group of ten or so, had zip lined before.

Moving on, now suited up with the right gear, we again stopped at a higher elevation.  In front of us hung three suspension bridges that would have to be crossed before any zipping would take place. What?! I didn't know this was on the agenda! The bridges straddled a ravine below us and were hooked between tree tops.  I watched our first group member step onto the planks of the first bridge.  There were no sides to hold on to; just a strap connected from his chest to the cable above.  The guides had demonstrated how if someone were to 'fall' off the planks, you would hang there in mid air until balancing back on the bridge.  No chance of really falling down. Right! The group watching the first brave soul crossing slowly,  began to break the tenseness by shouting out words of encouragement and support.  After three or four had crossed, the guides helped them begin to cross the next bridge while the rest of the group continued across the first one.  That was our pattern for the rest of the adventure. We crossed the bridges and later zipped between tree stands, with five minute waits between zips to the next tree.
I made it across the first bridge, then the second, which had rope loops to step into, and finally the third, a 2x4 beam to foot across.  The last two did have a thin cable on either side to hold onto which made it a bit less intimidating. When we finally hung and glided across the zip lines, I began to relax and even enjoy the sensation.  The rides were only moderately fast and the guides were always on either end of the zip to send us off and then to apply the brakes as we approached the next stop.  Not near the scary, risky endangerment I had imagined. Whew!

Our group was quite fun and international- from Australia, Japan, Asians living in New Jersey, and Serbia. Would I do it again? Perhaps, but having done it once, I'm perfectly satisfied not to.  Kevin had a great time.  Cross that one off the list, my dear.
All geared  up!
The first bridge! That's our guide making it look easy.

Me crossing the 3rd bridge

 Me on the last zip

This shows some of the height we reached.
Our group after the last zip.

We had another excursion planned that day, but it was cancelled due to foggy weather.  So instead of the bike ride down a summit, we had some time to explore the town of Skagway.  The town was quite small and is kept alive by the tourists who visit.  Besides the Ruby docked there that day at least two other vessels about the same size as ours had also docked.  At 3-4,000 people on each one there are quite a number of visitors over the summer months.  Skagway's history tells of a stopping place for gold rushers with saloons and brothels aplenty.  As our guide pointed out the sites,  he said there are  three ways to get to Skagway- by boat, by air and by birth canal.  Another fact about the town; there are no resident doctors.  I was glad to visit, but it would not be a place I'd want to live in.

We boarded back on the ship Thursday evening.  Friday and Saturday would be  at sea with a stop in Vancouver, Canada Saturday evening and from there,  the Ruby would sail back to Seattle, arriving Sunday morning. We had only a few more days to enjoy this kind of relaxing schedule and the pleasant amenities onboard.

Daylight hours to view Vancouver were few as we didn't dock until 7 pm.  Our scheduled walk through the Butterfly Museum was in a greenhouse of beautiful plants and butterflies that landed easily on our shoulders or hair. Next was a stroll through the Butchart Gardens.  It was too dark to enjoy the full beauty of the flowers, even though the grounds featured special night lighting just for evening tours.  Besides nature's attractions we discovered the lines for popcorn and ice cream.  Cruise ships don't specialize in hard dipped ice creams or popcorn.  The evening ended with a fireworks show in the Gardens.  Crowds kept us from comfortably watching the show and exiting the gardens was a slow process as we weaved towards the exit among a river of people all bottlenecked together.  There were many lighted buildings and venues in the city to enjoy as we were bused back to the ship. Another city I'd like to return to some day.
Butterfly Garden

As we felt the boat bump into the shore of Seattle Sunday morning, we made one last visit to the 11th deck breakfast buffet and then began our debarkation. Another impressive system in place to get all of us back to land, through customs, and onto the right bus to take us to the right terminal at the airport. I had an unexpected feeling of nostalgia as we walked off the vessel.  Goodbye Ruby Princess!  Thank you for your wonderful hospitality.

And thank you, God, for your good gifts.  For 20 years of marriage to a man who is kind, compassionate and always faithful.  We have much to be thankful for. 

A few more pictures if you've lasted with me this far:

Formal night:

One of the two formal nights on the cruise

One of the rare warm-enough-to-eat-outside breakfasts

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Alaska- Part 3

Life in the little city of Princess Ruby was busy and indulgent. Our cabins were on the 5th deck which was second from the bottom.  A perfect place, we decided, as our floor housed a dining room, an international cafe which was open 24 hrs., and the plaza at the bottom of the marble, grand staircase.  Entertainers performed in the plaza.  We were particularly fond of Gravity, a man and woman couple, who did amazing things with their body strength.  Mr. G could hang horizontally with one hand holding onto a vertical pole and do a handstand with one hand on the top on the pole. They used their bodies like pipe cleaners twisting together or flexing side by side.

At sea, the first day, we explored our surroundings.  Another perk to our location was being within two easy stair climbs to the 7th deck which was open for walking around the ship out-of-doors. We took advantage of the walks to talk together, watch the sea and coastal views, and fulfill Libby's Fitbit requirement steps.  Besides good food every night, there were shows to see and group games to try. The buffet on the 11th deck became our breakfast spot.  What a spread to start the day!

It was exciting to wake up Monday morning and see Ketchikan, our first stop, out of our cabin window.
It was a gray day,  60ish degrees, and we had time to explore the town and then take in a Lumberjack show we had signed up for.  Without boarding a bus, we missed the downtown area, but walking took us by the tourist shops and then to a city park and the totem pole museum.

The Lumberjack show was entertaining with men competing to saw logs, climb poles and balance on logs in the water. The day on the town ended when we had to be back on board at 5:30pm.

Knowing the ship was entering a narrow passageway early the next morning with promise of seeing a glacier, our ship city of 4,000 residents was awake at 5:30 am with coffee cups and cameras in hand. It truly was an awesome site.  Rugged mountains towered on either side of the water as we pointed to the icy, blue glacier ahead.  Our large vessel couldn't travel too close, but here are some of the views we were able to capture.

This was the coldest temperature we encountered, but still high 40s.  The ship turned around and sailed on to Juneau where we docked at 7 am.  The air was warmer, but rain greeted us as we descended from the ship. On tap for this day was a visit to a dog sled camp and an afternoon viewing of another glacier with a salmon bake following.

In spite of the rain, we gained fascinating knowledge about dog sleds, the dogs who pull them and the Iditorad race.  Our guide had raced 3 times with his best placing at 50th out of close to 90 mushers.  The dogs are trained to be athletes and thus, have sleek bodies that don't look like the stereotypical Husky. Each dog has booties for each foot when racing.  This keeps ice from packing between their toes and protects them on the rough trail.  Each driver carefully calculates his times of rest and how fast he can go given the weather conditions and stamina of the dogs. Supplies for himself and the dogs are sent ahead to villages along the trail. Success depends largely on the trust relationship between the musher and his dogs.  Although, dog teams start the race with an average of 16 dogs, not all will endure the 1,000 mile trip.

After grueling James with questions we went out to the acre of field where maybe a hundred dogs, each with their own house were howling to be harnessed for action.  James hooked his team to a cart and the dogs pulled us for a short ride.  Before we left the camp we got to hold puppies who would be groomed for future dog teams.

Later that evening the ship hosted Libby Riddles,
the first woman to win the Iditorad in 1985.
How fascinating to here her story, and
how harrowing her 18 day trip! 

We somehow missed the glacier excursion that afternoon, but got in on the salmon bake.  Yum! Fresh grilled salmon and a nice buffet to compliment the fish.  The meal took place in a camp setting with picnic tables under awnings and little heaters attached to the poles holding up the awnings.  The warmth felt nice.  After the meal we walked to a waterfall.

The following day would be Wednesday and a stop in Skagway.  I was feeling nervous that evening and didn't sleep very well, as anxious thoughts about our next planned excursion troubled me.  With dread, I heard the early morning sounds of the ship being tethered to the Skagway dock.  Would I live to see another pleasant evening on the Ruby?  

more to come...

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Alaska- Part 2

It's finally time to leave!  To Chicago overnight and then to the airport in the morning to catch our first flight.
Kevin and I aren't huge fans of city driving, but traffic was fairly light, and GPS guided us around construction zones so we arrived at our hotel at the expected time. We'd take the shuttle to the airport in the morning and leave our car in the parking lot. (When I made the hotel reservations, Expedia did not indicate that we would have to pay an additional $8 per day to do that-what's an extra $80 at this no-turning-back-stage of the plans:)

We settled down for the night and had a shuttle scheduled for 7am in the morning.  Paul and Libby would be leaving Charlottesville, VA even earlier to meet us in O'Hare for the 9:30 flight to Edmonton.

My cell rang at 4:30am. Oh no, it was Paul, and I didn't think he was calling to just give us a cheery morning hello. They were delayed and most likely not going to make it to Chicago in time.  His second call informed me they had decided not to go to Canada, but instead schedule another flight from VA. to Seattle on Sat. morning. I understood their decision.  Sometimes the hazzle of rearranging flights with airlines outweighs the pleasure of actually being where you wanted to go!  As we were soon to discover for ourselves... But I was disappointed they would not be with us. Paul had reserved the rental car to take us from the Edmonton airport to the cousin's houses, about a 90 min. drive. We'd have to do that now ourselves when we arrived about 3pm. Feeling less confident about trusting airlines, I changed our flight to Seattle from Edmonton, from Sun. morning to Sat. afternoon.  Missing the ship would be the greatest deal buster.

At the airport we located our gate. We prefer to get to airports early;waiting is more relaxing then having something go amiss and rushing to get on board last minute. Our flight gate was changed 3 times.  Maybe a precursor of what was to come...We waited past the boarding time.  I approached the counter and was told a mechanical issue was delaying the plane.  Any delay was not good.  We had a 50 minute layover in Denver.  There would not be time to make the flight to Edmonton. As I explained the situation to the attendant, I expected we'd be routed to another, later flight. She quickly searched the computer and said she had nothing else. I've never been told that before.  Airlines usually get you on another plane even if they have to use a different airline. When I booked the flight I had seen other flights to Edmonton later that day.  I also knew those other flights wouldn't arrive in Edmonton  until after 9 or 10 pm. Maybe if I would have pushed harder, maybe if Paul and Libby hadn't backed out, maybe if our visit with the cousins was for a longer time, maybe it just felt too daunting to arrive there around midnight, which was 2 hours earlier than real time for us....all. those. factors ... I decided to cancel, also.  We received a full refund, and as I headed back to tell Kevin we were retracing our route home, he reminded me that we had checked in Big Red- with all our good clothes, with well-thought-out items we needed for a successful cruise.  I hurried back to the counter.  Yes, we would be refunded for that fee. We could go to baggage claim and talk to an agent there. Disappointment mixed with relief, anxiousness about Big Red, thoughts of more expenses, likely, to cancel the Seattle flight and rebook it to leave from Chicago, tempted to feel things were stacking up against us and what else would go wrong, dogged us as we hurried to Baggage Claim.

The attendant looked Big Red up in the system and in a done-deal-like manner said there was no way to get it back off the plane. But the plane is grounded and can't fly-why can't someone get our bag!
He said it would go to Edmonton and then be sent back to Chicago; we arranged to have it sent from there to the South Bend airport-it would have been COD to be brought to our house.  I'm not too impressed with United's service, but just wait...He made promises that I'd be updated by text every 6 hours and suggested the bag could be in South Bend later that evening. He circled a phone number on the claim sheet he had printed out for us, but advised us not to call the 800 number because we'd only get a foreigner somewhere in India and we wouldn't be able to understand them very well. Kevin asked about the TX number below that and were told that wasn't much better. OK, then!

We drove back home.  It was Thursday afternoon; we'd leave again Sat. morning.  We had that all- dressed-up-with-no-place-to-go feeling. Time off from work the next day, but no plans for how to spend it. It almost felt like we should stay indoors, hiding, since everyone expected us to be gone.

I decided it was best to jam a few more things into the carry-ons, just in case Big Red didn't make it back to us in time.  That involved a trip to Goodwill for a lightweight jacket for Kevin and snatching a few more dressy clothes still hanging in the closet.  Oh, yeah, and throw another tie in for Kevin.

Updates from United texted as promised, with zero new information. By Friday afternoon I decided to brave a phone call.  The bag was still in Edmonton but should be back in Chicago later that day. Maybe we could pick it up in Chicago before our flight left in the morning!

Alas, no bag awaited us Saturday am and the baggage attendant's computer search said it was still in Edmonton, BUT was coming to Chicago later that day. After we would leave, of course. Let's have Chicago route it to Seattle, was the only thing left to say.  One more chance, Big Red, to catch up with us!

How exciting to see Paul and Libby in the Seattle airport!  We were actually starting our vacation! My take-charge brother marched to baggage claim while I followed. He was convinced I wasn't aggressive enough with United personnel. We were told the bag was definitely on it's way to us.  My brother insisted it be brought free of charge to our hotel room, whatever time of the day. He made sure United had the address, and my cell phone number.  This was sounding more hopeful...

 Seattle is a wonderful place to explore. We had about 12 hours to see its sites. The concierge at the hotel armed us with suggestions and pamphlets. Pikes Place market was fascinating with all it's shops, inside and outside. Like flower shops selling  bouquets of gorgeous  varieties! And the first Starbucks establishment with its quarter mile long line to enter.  Other eateries tantalized our senses.

Dinner at the Wild Ginger Thai restaurant didn't disappoint.  Afterwards we rode the Monorail to the Space Needle.  Instead of riding the tram to the top, we opted to visit the glass museum near the base of the Needle. The displays were very impressive.  Take a look:
The Space Needle reflected in a glass ball
The first day together

One of the hanging displays
Accents of glass in a natural setting
Back in the hotel we checked on Big Red before crawling into bed.  United claimed we'd receive the bag by 8:30am.  Instructions were given to deliver it to our room anytime, day or night.  The sweet sound of a knock at the hotel door at 5:30am interrupted our sleep.  As I wheeled Big Red in, we fawned over her, patted her sides lovingly and checked the decoration of tags that were looped to her handle.
Other than a small zipper tear, she looked the same, inside and out. If only we could get flyer miles of her travels added to our account!

Big Red!
We had a few more hours in the morning to roam Seattle and find a breakfast place. Besides the shops and attractions we visited, the steep slopes of the streets exercised our legs and lungs. There will need to be future trips to this fascinating city.

It was time to board the Ruby Princess!  The hotel provided a shuttle to take us down to the dock.  It felt like one last nod to Goshen, IN. as the shuttle waited at a railroad crossing for a long slow train to pass.  

At the dock we captured a picture of our home for the next 7 days.
Embarking was surprisingly fast as we were herded through the lines of waiting passengers--security scans, health forms to sign, passport presentations--and finally received our official card that would serve as money for any on board purchases, our room key and our ID to get on and off the ship.

Our constant companion!

Bon Voyage!

 Where great adventures await us!

More to come...