Alaska! & Seattle Day 5-9

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Another bright and early day where we hopped off the ship for another shore excursion. Day 5, we’re in Skagway and had planned to hop on the White Pass Railway for a 2 hour ride.

Actually, we only thought we were early because many others had already scored prime seats on the train by the time we got on. Don’t think kiasu-ism is a Singapore-only disease ok?

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Skagway was considered the gateway for the Klondike gold rush in the late 1890s. The railway was built specifically to transport prospectors to the gold fields 500 miles away. Prospectors then had to travel by foot and carry a ton (literally!!) of supplies to be able to get to the gold fields up near Canada. Unfortunately, the gold dried out shortly after the railway was built! Now, it exists only as a tourist attraction. And more appallingly so, only a Summer attraction mainly for cruise passengers like us! Ultimate touristy!

Thankfully, it was a really beautiful ride and we had great guides who pointed out scenic spots and points of historical interest to us. We also stepped out to the viewing deck from time to time to feel the breeze and get better views of the surroundings. A really relaxing and informative ride.

Random little nuggets I learnt from the ride… Most people made their riches during the gold rush not because of the gold itself but through the services that they provided to prospectors. Donald Trump’s grandfather made the family riches by opening a hotel and casinos for prospectors. The family name was also Drumpf and not Trump, he was a migrant from Germany!

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The surroundings in Skagway were beautiful but again nothing much to see in the city itself. Most buildings were also re-creations of old buildings and not really historical. We did have yummy King Crab (my current favorite now) and elephant ears, fried dough coated in cinnamon sugar!

We spent the rest of the cruise mostly out at sea back to Seattle. Days were spent chilling out at the pool, reading and snoozing. In other words, perfect.😀 The ship did make a stop in Victoria, British Columbia but it was a short stop and I had a virtual class at that time. So I attended class online during the cruise itself, it was quite a cheap thrill really. But I ditched it halfway to get to a spa appointment.😛 Don’t tell my professor!

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We decided to spend one night in Seattle since we both have never been there. It was a whirlwind trip but I think we covered most of the main things.

Seattle was especially exciting as there was a Din Tai Fung there! It was the first thing we went in search of after dumping our bags at the hotel. Hadn’t eaten it for the longest time and we definitely over ordered. The food there pretty much tasted the same as back home in Singapore although the sauce for the 红油抄手 was a tad sweet.

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Spent the rest of the day admiring the glass sculptures at the Chihuly Glass Museum. So so pretty. My favorite were the multicolored glass orbs in a boat. There were also several sculptures in a garden setting and I can so imagine the Gardens By the Bay commissioning Chihuly’s works one day for display.

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Of course we couldn’t leave Seattle without visiting Pike’s Place. Ate crumpets, bought multi-flavored Orzo (our current favorite pasta), drank homemade ginger ale and gawked at the crazy lines in front of the original Starbucks. Avoided the bubble gum wall (click if you dare) like the plague but still accidentally caught a glimpse of it. It’s as disgusting as you can imagine.

Alaska! Day 4

There wasn’t much research done before we went on this trip. We knew we wanted to cruise, we knew it was Alaska, we just followed the ship’s itinerary. I guess that’s the beauty of cruising? Just hop on and worry later. When Tracy Arm Fjord appeared on the itinerary, we really didn’t know what to expect. It was also suppose to happen between 6am – 10am. “What? 4 hours only for a port of call?! And so early!” were my first thoughts. Obviously  I was ignorant, because who docks in a Fjord!? We sail into it!

It turned out to be one of the most enchanting mornings of the trip. So you know those aerial photos of cruise ships sailing in a narrow passage between steep mountain sides and surrounded by icebergs? Yup, we did that for those 4 hours in the Tracy Arm Fjord. We’ve sailed through the Norwegian Fjords before but the Alaskan experience was so much more fun! Why? Because the cruise company hired an Alaskan expert to give a running commentary throughout those 4 hours!

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We woke up bright and early at 5+am and quickly turned on the TV to listen in on the live commentary by Brent Nixon, a naturalist who knows all things about Alaska and its flora and fauna. I would say that our whole trip was made more educational and fun mainly because of him. He gave live talks everyday, from things like Alaskan history to the 101s of whales, bears and bald eagles. The talks were extremely informative (useful when we tried to spot all these animals on our trip) and done in a very entertaining manner as well.

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Huddled in cosy blankets and eating breakfast on our balcony while we sailed into the Fjord was such a luxury. The crisp air, blue waters and the beautiful scenery added to my feelings of being so fortunate and blessed to be able to do this in my lifetime.

At the end of the Tracy Arm Fjord was the Sawyer glacier. The captain tried to steer us as close as he could. There were icebergs in the way and he joked that he didn’t want us to be stars of another movie you know? We lingered for a while to admire the glacier and the ship was even turned so passengers from both the port and starboard sides of the ships could have a good look. It was interesting to note that because Tracy Arm Fjord was so narrow and only has one way in and out, cruise ships take turns to sail into it, and sometimes they don’t get very far inside if there are too many icebergs floating around. Even the seemingly tiniest ones can cause big trouble. Remember we only see 10% of all icebergs above water!

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On the same day, we were dropped off in the Alaskan capital city of Juneau. One of two American state capitals that can only be accessed by air and water. Juneau was pretty much a non-event as it was again populated by yucky tourist traps. It wasn’t a very pretty town. It was also pouring rain when we arrived.

Thankfully, we got out of the city quick and took a short ride for a canoeing trip that we had pre-reserved. We thought maybe the rain would affect our excursion but nope, canoeing was one of few that would go on rain or shine!!! Many others who booked helicopter rides and white water rafting had theirs cancelled on them. We had planned to canoe to the Mendenhall glacier. The rain had actually made it really foggy that day, and canoeing up close to the glacier was really one of the only ways to see it. Even people at the visitors’ center would not have been able to see a thing.

We got suited up in ugly waders and raincoats for the trip to the glacier. People who know me well know that I am a total 姑娘 when it comes to outdoorsy stuff so this was an experience totally out of my comfort zone. After 45mins, we arrived near the glacier and stopped at a beach for a rest. I looked so unglam, my hair was plastered on my face because of the rain and my arm was sore from all the rowing. But know what? I had so much fun! And so did the husband, most likely because he has never seen his wife look like this before! Btw, we rowed another 45mins to get back!

Alaska! Days 1 – 3

Oh horrors, it’s already winter, albeit a very mild (only 3 days of snow so far) and warm one for Chicago standards. So before my memory fails, here’s what we did in Alaska!

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We’ve been cruise lovers since our honeymoon eons ago. So imagine our delight bumping into the ship that took us on our very first one, the Jewel of the Sea. Busied ourselves admiring it and snapping photos for cheap thrills. Seeing this ship really brought us back to wonderful memories of our 13 nights in Scandinavia and Russia. It was bar none the best trip we’ve ever been on and we always speak of it with great fondness.

I knew we had to do an Alaskan trip as we were already in the US and Summer 2015 was the perfect time for it. The husband had graduated and waiting to begin his full time job, I was having my long break between school terms, i.e. a perfect time where both of us had no worries on our minds and could fully concentrate on enjoying this long awaited vacation.

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It was our first time on a Celebrity ship, definitely swankier and newer than the Royal Caribbean ships that we have been on. We snagged a balcony room of course. *Pro-tip #1, if there is one cruise to splurge for a room with a balcony, the Alaskan one is THE one to do it. Spent many a day starring out at sea to spot humpback whales. Food quality was pretty good and we also spent many a day eating.😀 *Pro-tip #2, skip the formal main dining hall food where you have to sit with strangers and have polite conversations, eat at the buffet because the food is mostly the same as the dining hall anyway! Besides, where else but at the buffet can you get Cantonese congee paired with whatever you want, like bacon! Have to say that Asian food was aplenty and yummy on this trip (no complaints there), probably thanks to the increase of rich Asian tourists from a certain country (insert complaints here).

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First stop – Ketchikan.

The port of calls we made in Alaska were nothing to shout about. In fact, pretty disappointing because most of them were tourist traps full of jewelry shops and kitschy souvenir shops. Btw, we saw this world map at a coffeeshop that tourists from different countries indicated where they were from and look at the exploding number of pins on Singapore! Of course I tried to squish just one more pin on it!

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Thankfully we had more interesting things to do than to explore the town because we went rainforest walking to look for wild bears and spawning salmon. Who knew parts of Alaska are considered temperate rainforests?! They get a lot of rain throughout the year.

We were lucky enough to spot some wild bears (thankfully from a distance), 2 adult bears and a cub. Learnt about their hibernation habits and how they eat this thing called skunk cabbage to help them poop after a long winter’s rest. Amusing! We also saw the bears hunting for salmon near a salmon hatchery (so smart if you ask me!). Apparently they only eat the female salmon because of all the delicious roe they have in their bellies – Ikura! Male salmon are most often promptly spat out.

The bald eagles we saw were so fascinating as well. They were not wild but live in a sanctuary that also houses other injured birds of prey. Our guide was however able to point out several eagles’ nests along the way to and from the sanctuary. Apparently each nest gets reused year after year by the same pair. They just lay a new layer of leaves, branches etc to make things clean and comfortable each year. Hence, some eagles’ nest can be several feet wide and humungous.

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The highlight of the day though was an All-You-Can-Eat Dungeness Crab feast. We had 90mins to eat all we could. The crabs were simply boiled and had accompanying melted butter for us to dip the flesh into. So so fresh! We were so crabby smelling after eating that the whole tour bus reeked of crab.

Pumpkin Patching 2015

It seems like each year we go pumpkin patching, the farms we go to get smaller and smaller, and less commercialized. No complaining of course. Over the years, places that are small and cute with less crowds suit us a lot better than sprawling grounds with throngs of people.

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Was an awesome autumn day when we rocked up Kroll’s farm with our friends and their little ones in tow. Pumpkin patching with kids makes it a lot more fun for sure! This auntie loved seeing wonder and fun in their eyes.

Kroll’s is a small and rustic family owned farm about 45mins away from Evanston. It was a nice size with just enough to see and do to keep us entertained for a few hours.

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Little kids and big ones (namely the husband) had fun exploring the grounds and feeding the animals in the small petting zoo. The goats were actually fed what looked like cheerios! We also saw humungous turkeys with elaborate wattles and those black and white feathered chickens that you only see in children’s story books.

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A highlight of the trip has got to be meeting Mr. Kroll himself and going on a hay wagon ride with him. He was incredibly friendly and kind, taking time to share with us his knowledge on all things pumpkin and gourd related. Did you know that if you kept gourds for a whole year, they dry up and harden? The dried up gourds can be made into maracas, utensils and yes! those water “bottles” you see in those kungfu tv shows set in ancient China. You bet I bought some gourds back to experiment even though I told myself not to when I first arrived on the farm. Need to keep them soon because Mr. Kroll said that they will become gross and moldy first!

Another thing about a small farm is how everything was affordably priced!😀 We ate the most delicious hot pumpkin donuts, popcorn and drank yummy apple cider without burning holes in our pockets.

New York New York

I should really be writing about the Alaska trip since it came first but with New York and its experiences fresh on my mind….why not?

I should caveat that I am not a huge fan of New York. Blame it on my first trip staying in the heart of the action, Times Square – all that noise, filth and crowds really got to me. Give me the wide and clean streets of Chicago or the quiet and greenery of Evanston anytime. But New York remains a destination I would go again, only because we have good friends living there and there really is ALOT to see and do. (Still want to visit Ellis Island one day, the 911 memorial museum, SOHO and catch more musicals!) Not staying in Manhattan also makes a huge difference in maintaining sanity, Brooklyn really is the way to go.😀

Spent a whole day alone exploring as the husband was working. Only had time for one museum, so I chose MOMA for the Impressionist paintings that it had in its collection. Rediscovered Botero (love all his chubby chubby subjects), realized that I don’t really mind Monet and discovered that I really like the works of Gustav Klimt. Breezed past all the contemporary work, especially installations that had a technology element (computers, audio, video). I just don’t get those AT ALL. Hung out at the gift shop for a super long time too.

The main purpose for this trip was for the New York marathon (obviously the husband ran, not me!). Unfortunately, as the husband was still on a big project for work, the trip was super short and we only had one full day to spend together. The High Line was high on my list and I’m glad we managed to make a trip there as its starting point was right next to the marathon expo.

We both loved The High Line and appreciated how it is now a great leisure space in a busy city like New York. Really an oasis. Fascinated by how the designers retained many little touches that remind visitors about The High Line’s previous life as a railroad track.

We also walked across the Brooklyn Bridge the same day. A classmate asked why we walked so much since the husband was running the marathon the very next day! I told her honestly that I didn’t even think about it! But the husband didn’t really mind, he really enjoyed himself. It was also not his first marathon, so knowing his body and what it can take was more important.

Crossing the Brooklyn Bridge is one of those touristy things that I guess you have to do in New York. I was told that no New Yorker walks across it. And if they ride their bikes, they have to watch out from being stabbed by selfie sticks! lol. Having said that, it was an enjoyable walk and it is one of the more beautiful bridges I have seen in my travels. In fact, I really loved all the bridges dotting New York and even bought a dishcloth with drawings of the bridges as a souvenir. Incidentally, we realized that between the 2 of us, we both crossed all the bridges, whether as part of the marathon route, us walking across together or in the Uber driving across.

The most fun part of our trip has got to be hanging out with close friends. And we did it in the most unique way – trick or treating! Our AirBnb was located in an upper middle class residential neighborhood and Halloween is celebrated in a huge way there. Lots of cute kids running about in cool costumes and lots of beautiful homes decked out in amazing decorations with smoke machines and huge cobwebs. There’s this particular house that displays 100s of pumpkins at their doorstep each year and is THE house where trick or treaters gather in the lovely neighborhood of Brooklyn Heights.

My favorite costumes include this baby dressed as Leia in a Millennium Falcon made out of her stroller and an old swimming pool, and another tot dressed up as Nemo with her dad dangling “bait” in front of her with a fishing rod. The Nemo baby was literally mesmerized by the “bait” and followed it as she walked down the streets.