Sunday, July 31, 2016

Ice, Ice Baby... (Alaska trip day 3)

Our last day in Alaska was a long one. Our flight didn't leave until 8pm, so we had the whole day to explore. 

We woke up on the early side, and the miracle of ear plugs (combined with a Sunday night, I suppose) meant I had slept absurdly well. So we got up, packed our bags, dropped them at the front desk of the hotel, and were out by 8:15. Stopping at the omnipresent Heritage Coffee for another one of their roasted red pepper and feta scones (so good!), we then headed to the bus stop for our adventure. 

See, we *could* have taken a glacier bus at $30pp. Or we could hop on a city bus for $2pp and walk the last mile and a half. Since we had plenty of time -- and since the glacier buses wouldn't run until the cruise ships arrived around 11 -- we decided to travel like locals. 

The bus was spotless, the seats were comfortable, the service was designed to meet up at a central transfer point, and the route, though winding, was interesting as we saw a whole lot of Juneau's neighborhoods. 

The driver called out our stop and pointed us in the right direction, along a nicely paved bike path running along the road to the glacier. 

We were walking along the road, chatting, minding our own business, when we felt a cold blast. Looking up, there it was. GLACIER!

It still astounds me that the glacier is so close ... but we did learn that Juneau is surrounded by a massive ice field, so I guess that's no surprise!

A little farther along, near a trailhead next to a small lake, we saw this sign and giggled nervously.

A little farther along we reached the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center, which looks ever so slightly like the lair of a Bond villain, complete with downstairs tunnel entrance. Nice little center, with a movie about the glacier, some exhibits, taxidermy (of course!), and a really great gift shop.

We had hoped to hike to Kettle Falls (seen in the center of the photo above), but the trail was closed due to flooding. So we contented ourselves with the short walk to Photo Point. With only a handful of people there, and still having people in our photos ... imagine what it's like when the buses of cruisers come in?

I really liked the look of the rocks, all scraped and polished by the glacier. And, well, I like rocks in general.

And, indeed, the view of the glacier from Photo Point was amazing. Interesting fact: we were told that under blue skies the glacier just looks shiny white, but under grey skies you see the bright blue. Or maybe that's like saying it's good luck if it rains on your wedding day ... it's a consolation prize!

I did keep thinking how great it would have been to visit the ice caves, but even the weather today wasn't something I would want to spend 2 hours paddling a canoe in. 

We headed back to the Visitor Center for one last look...

And then we headed out on a smaller trail, the Trail of Time, which had callouts along the way showing how far the glacier extended over the 20th century. It was interesting -- and sobering -- to see how, in under 100 years, the glacier has retreated so far.

The path was quiet and lush -- and for the most part, we were alone.

One huge highlight ... we rounded a corner and saw three hikers. One of them made a scared, "Oh!" sound, then laughed -- she thought we were BEARS. Pity we weren't wearing our bear jackets!

Mmmm. Mossy.

But speaking of bears, we did come across this not long after.

yep, that's bear poop
A little farther along we crossed a stream that was FULL of salmon, all struggling to move up to spawning grounds.

Good luck, fishies. You're gonna need it. And then you're gonna die.

We then headed back to town, where we visited the Patsy Ann statue, a tribute to Juneau's "official greeter". This little bull terrier was deaf, but somehow always "heard" the whistles of the ships as they came in to port, and was always there to greet them. She had run away from two loving homes, and eventually slept every night in the Longshoreman's Hall, but refused to wear even the collar they gave her. She became the most famous dog west of the Mississippi, more photographed than Rin Tin Tin. She passed away in her sleep in 1942, and 50 years later this statue was commissioned of her.

Feeling peckish, we decided to check out Tracy's King Crab Shack. We found a nice spot along the rail, ordered some crab cakes, crab bisque, and local beers, and watched the cruisers get off their boats. We also watched the cooks prepping the crab legs in huge pots... and were amused that the crab legs were coming out of boxes marked "Trident Seafood" ... which is based in Seattle. (Yes, I know, it's CAUGHT in Alaska... but still funny.)

Then we really just wandered around town, poking around in shops looking at things we didn't care about and taking classy photos like this...

(Clearly, today's theme was "BEAR"...)

I bought a small fortune's worth of Glacier Silt Soap ... and then we went to the really handsome museum / archive. Though we were interested by a lot of things, this we loved this 3-story high eagle diorama in the lobby.

Finally, with only a little time to kill, we went back to the Alaska Fish & Chips Company hoping for another pint of the Cran-Spruce beer ... but no luck. So we consoled ourselves with an order of fish and chips and some Alaskan Ambers in the sunshine.

The trip home had a little suspense; we decided to take the bus to the airport, and were even taking an early one ... but it didn't turn up. I called the "help line" for the transit company and I think I might have actually spoken directly to the bus dispatcher... and he told me there had been an accident on the highway. Apparently a truck had overturned and spilled 21,000 pounds of salmon across the road. That's gotta be one of the most Alaskan traffic jams EVER.

We tried calling a taxi, and had just in theory secured one, when we finally saw a bus coming, and sprinted for it. Of course we made it to the airport in plenty of time, even picking up a bit of salmon there to bring home.

This trip was perfect -- we saw some good friends, ran a half marathon, saw beautiful nature, poked around in shops, went to a great museum, and ate and drank well. Already looking forward to our next adventure!

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Mendenhall Glacier Half Marathon race report (Alaska trip day 2)

This is all my fault. Really. I have never successfully worn ear plugs, and staying in a century-old hotel above a pub ... well ... I should have known that it would be noisy. And I was ready for noisy until 2:30 or so... just not noisy until 5. But there you go.

So I was less than fresh when we left the hotel a little before 8 in search of coffee and a dry place to wait for the ship, but I perked up pretty quickly. And then, ship ahoy!

It was surprisingly interesting to be on the shore and watch a cruise ship dock. There's some maneuvering, lots of ropes thrown, and gangways shifted. We were surprised that there wasn't a huge RUSH of people off the ship, more like a trickle. But we shifted over so that we could see the gangway and watched as Jenny herded her ducklings into a group on the dock before Mila led them up the ramp and over in our direction.

Amusing: we were inadvertently standing behind someone who was meeting the group. Mila saw her, waved, and then spotted us and started waving madly... and then had to explain that she was also waving at us and that she was excited to see us. ("And you, too!")

Quick greetings with John and Jenny and then we piled on buses for the drive to the race start. Our driver, Antonio, was ADORABLE and kept up a steady patter all the way there. One of his jokes went like this:

Anyone else ever drive a bus like this? Me neither. Just kidding. I drove it here. I just turned 16 yesterday and got my license.

I started singing "Happy Birthday", and the rest of the bus quickly joined in. He said, "No, wait -- I was joking" and then just let us go with it. Among other facts, we learned that there are 3500 people who live in Juneau, and 2500 eagles; that the Juneau McDonald's had the third busiest single-day operation, behind only Moscow and Beijing; and that the body of land visible from the Alaska Governor's Mansion, despite what we might have heard, was NOT Russia but was Douglas Island, our destination.
image by Google Maps

We arrived at the end of the road ... really, THE END OF THE ROAD.

image by Google Maps
Along the way we were met by enthusiastic members of the Juneau-Douglas High School XC team, who would staff our water stations and cheer for us during our run.

We gathered, adjusting layers and putting our bags into "gear cars" to keep it dry.

John gave a little talk, explained that there was a 5K turnaround, then a half marathon turnaround, and the half marathoners would run the course twice.

John addressing the troops
And then we were off and running. Because a lot of the people were running the 5K, we didn't actually see them after the start, except when the first bus headed back to Juneau as we came back in at the halfway point.

The course was along a quiet road, and opened up on some amazing views. We got super lucky in that it never more than drizzled on us while we were out running. Must be because I kept my Gore-Tex jacket tied around my waist, just in case.

We spoke to a few of our fellow runners, including Ernst whom we had met on our first Alaska Running Cruise and again on our Caribbean Running Cruise. It was pretty funny when people realized we weren't actually on the cruise, but that John and Jenny had let us "bandit" the race. But for most of the race, we were pretty much alone to enjoy views like this:

We finished just as a bus was loading to go back to Juneau, but decided that we would stay and cheer the runners in. It was nice to stand around and chat with people, whoop when someone came in, and just relax outside. We also had a few minutes to chat with John and Jenny, which is always lovely.

Oh, and we visited the "sauna truck" and quickly changed into fresh clothes.

A mobile sauna in a truck! What's not to LOVE?
Eventually, our final finishers came in and we all piled on to the last bus. As we drove back to town the skies opened up and it started POURING.

Then the real fun started! The four of us went to the Hangar, where we scored a perfect booth by the window and had a delicious lunch. We also walked over to the Bubble Room in the Baranof Hotel, which is much more "old money" than "bubbly", but a fine place to sit and have a quiet drink.

They had to go back to work, so we walked them back to the pier to say goodbye. All the while I was trying to convince John that he really should come to Africa with us. I told him that when I got the information about the safari-only option, I'd send it to him. (ha!)

After a shower and a quick nap, we headed out again to see "Juneau by night". It is astounding how quiet the streets are when the ships sail. And then there was MORE fish (and chips!), more pints different Alaskan Brewing beer, and then -- after a quick lesson on HOW TO WEAR EARPLUGS -- there was a surprisingly good night's sleep.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Juneau what? I dunno, Alaska.

We haven't seen our good friends John and Jenny for a while -- John since January 2015, Jenny since August 2015. So we decided to take advantage of a fare sale at Alaska Airlines ($49 each way? Seriously?) and book a 3-day weekend getaway to Juneau to meet them and their gang of Alaska Marathon Cruisers. We arrived early on Saturday morning, drove past HUNDREDS of bald eagles, dropped off our bags at the Alaskan Hotel, and went out in search of adventure. 

After a few missteps -- we were desperate for breakfast but didn't want to wait an hour to be seated in a cafe, we discovered that the restaurant at the top of Mount Roberts didn't open until 11, and we managed to walk along perhaps the only streets in Juneau that didn't have any cafes open at 9am -- but we fortified ourselves with an energy bar and some string cheese and decided that we could hold out till 11. 

And then, as we headed for the tram station... we noticed that the Red Dog Saloon was open. Well hello there...

As we walked in our eyes took a minute to adjust from the bright white cloudy sky outside to the dimly lit interior. And we, along with everyone else, took three steps, paused, looked down, and saw this:

Who doesn't love a sawdust floor? As we sat at the bar it was funny to watch every single person who walked in do exactly the same thing. Step, step, st---what the ???? Oh, sawdust.

Later in the day the bar would fill to bursting with cruisers, but for a few minutes at least we had the place essentially to ourselves. Nice big bar, lots of little tables.

A fine collection of police patches on the walls. (I don't really know why bars do this, but I like seeing all the different patch designs!)

Requisite taxidermy, of course.

Right next door to the saloon is the obligatory gift shop ... where, for $1.99 and a coupon from one of those "cruiser coupon books", Wil picked up one of these. 

we don't need no stinkin' hoods!
Okay, two of these.

ready for the rain!
Then we headed over to the Mount Roberts tramway for our short, steep ride up to the top. 

Did I mention that it was very, very rainy?

Very, very rainy...

Yep. Very rainy.  But I bet on a clear day the view is amazing... Anyway, we looked around at the exhibits, and Wil measured himself against the local wildlife...

And we visited an injured bald eagle, Lady Baltimore, in the tiny "rehabilitation center". She looked bored to tears, poor dear.

Lady Baltimore
We watched their fine movie about Juneau, and then headed in to the restaurant where we snagged a nice table by the window (again, on a clear day the view would have been magnificent!) and some really delicious nachos. This was the "small" order. 

Timberline Restaurant nachos
Fully stuffed, we headed out into the wind and rain to do a tiny "nature walk"... seeing twisty tree trunks and lush greenery, but the weather was just so miserable that we hustled around the half-mile loop and retreated back inside. Too darn blustery. 

So blustery that Wil stowed the umbrella hats and went back to wearing his hood. 

Eventually we headed back down to Juneau, where we whiled away the day poking around the gift shops, sampling local beers in a couple of different pubs, and walking around Juneau's neighborhoods. Much of our meandering was influenced by a very cool map we had picked up, created by the Alaska Robotics store.

Map by Alaska Robotics
Alaska Robotics is a great little store that carries graphic novels, plus prints and shirts and such created by local artists. We walked in and the woman behind the counter said, "Would you like a map?" and I held up the one I had picked up and said, "We already have one! It's gorgeous!" 

Another great find, thanks to Alaska Robotics, was the exquisite Kindred Post; a post office plus store plus hangout. Of course, I may regret the discovery that there are LIMITED EDITION Blackwing pencils...

We had our usual little "what would it be like if we lived here?" fantasy. We had a nap. And we had a great, low-key dinner at the Alaska Fish & Chips Company where we sat outside, protected from the rain by a clear roof and from the cold by some outdoor heaters. 

photo by Alaska Fish & Chips Company
One of the highlights was a really interesting beer from Alaskan Brewing Company -- a cranberry-spruce beer. And it was lovely. Sadly, two days later we thought we'd swing through again for another pint and the keg had just blown. Turns out it was a limited-edition beer as part of their "rough draft" series. 

And, um, yes, we did have fish and chips. Because, well, ALASKA!!!!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Tanzania Tuesday #6

artist painting in the Tingatinga style. Image from
Tingatinga (also spelt Tinga-tinga or Tinga Tinga) is a painting style that developed in the second half of the 20th century in the Oyster Bay area in Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) and later spread to most East Africa. Tingatinga paintings are one of the most widely represented forms of tourist-oriented art in Tanzania, Kenya and neighboring countries. The genre is named after its founder, Tanzanian painter Edward Said Tingatinga.

Tingatinga paintings are traditionally made on masonite, using several layers of bicycle paint, which makes for a brilliant and highly saturated colors. Many elements of the style are related to requirements of the tourist-oriented market; for example, the paintings are usually small so they can be easily transported, and subjects are intended to appeal to the Europeans and Americans (e.g., the big five and other wild fauna). In this sense, Tingatinga paintings can be considered a form of "airport art". The drawings themselves can be described as both naïve and caricatural, and humor and sarcasm are often explicit.

Source: "Tingatinga Painting",,