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!

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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.

Pumpkin Patching in Colorado

Over the last weekend, we bravely made a short trip to Colorado. I say bravely because it is still in the midst of the school term for us and it was a crazy week where assignments (individual and team) were due. Both the husband and I survived by catching up on work on the plane ride and in the night time after all the leisure activities. But! We really wouldn’t have missed this trip for the world!

We were in Colorado mainly to visit our friends KC and S, and their adorable 2.5 year old, little E. The husband and KC have been running buddies for many years, and they had planned to run the Denver half marathon together. These 2 go way back in Singapore and have been running together for a long time. We even visited them in Switzerland many years back for the 2 men to run together as well. They are both pretty good runners and can complete a full marathon quite easily, but because we weren’t sure how the altitudes in Denver will affect them, the half marathon seemed like a better option.

Since our main purpose was to hang out with our friends, we didn’t do much in terms of tourist attractions, but spent a lot of time eating (who knew Denver had such awesome Asian food!), chatting and playing with little E who made us imaginery coffee everyday in her masak-masak kitchen. We did however, make time to visit a pumpkin patch together.

Little E had just woken up from her nap in the car, so she wasn’t too keen being around the pumpkins. But she had a super good time when she found the bouncy castles (more like bouncy pumpkins) that she spotted from afar. We had a hard time trying to entice her out of the play area and her dad had to go in to grab her out when it was time to go. She also had a super time eating up the funnel cake that I bought… kinda like a deep fried pancake batter dusted in sugar. This little girl has a wonderful appetite!

Couldn’t help comparing this trip to our pumpkin patch outing last year. This one in Denver was definitely more rustic and bare bones. There wasn’t a whole lot to do but it was still fun nevertheless. Most of the activities (though much fewer and basic) were free!

I thought the best part was seeing the pumpkins still on their vines. Most pumpkin patches usually harvest the pumpkins which you then pick from a bin. Even though we weren’t planning to buy any, it was a fun experience walking among these orange orbs. Many other visitors were searching the field looking for the perfect pumpkin(s) to bring home. Let’s just say that it is harder than it looks. But it definitely is a fun family activity to do together.

We also had the best warm weather throughout our trip. The rolling Rocky Mountains and changing fall colors made this short trip extra special.

First Taste of American Football

Just finished a super duper-ly dense reading for one of my classes and have decided to just quit and call it a night. It was tough and a very very academic piece and I  wasn’t getting closer to better understanding it! School has been pretty draining these 2 weeks. When you think you have gotten all your homework done, the cycle starts all over again!

In the midst of the crazy brain sapping activity called readings and assignments, I have thankfully met a bunch of great classmates who are truly some of the nicest people around. When you work/study in the human development area, I suppose it is kind of a prerequisite to be of a certain sociable and people loving (or at least not people hating) mould.

Several of us ditched our homework today to head down for a Northwestern football game. Was pretty amazing how everything came together for this class outing. Someone settled all the tickets for us and another hosted a fantabulous tailgate just before the game.

What is a tailgate you ask? It’s basically a party you have from the back of your car in the parking lot near the  stadium where the game is played. Americans take their tailgating seriously, so it is not just a mini sit behind the boot and eat snacks kind of thing but a full blown BBQ pit with hot dogs, burgers and lots of alcohol. As you can see from the photos above, fancy tents are even set up to shield revelers from the elements. Btw, some people don’t even make it to the game, they just tailgate the whole way and have a good time.

Our classmate D’s tent was simply amazing. She’s a super Northwestern fan, so she does this every time there is a home game on. We were so so well fed and the set up was totally Pinterest worthy. Everything that could be purple was! Purple pretzels, M&Ms, cookies, pasta, napkins, cutlery, table cloth etc… We had so much fun JUST at the tailgate alone.

Had absolutely no clue what was going on during the game though. American football is just TOO technical. It’s not just about getting the ball from one end to the other. Too many rules…. Luckily the husband could explain it a little along the way and I could also depend on my American classmates. I just cheered when everyone else did. 😀 The good news is that NU won the game today, so it was a good day to be out at the games. We even ran on to the field in the end to take photos and high 5 the players. The crazy undergrads were swarming the players like mad. After all, college football stars are quite the celebrities.

The only thing that marred the experience today was the bitter cold. Chicago actually saw snow flurries this morning!!! Today’s temperature apparently set some kind of record since it was so unseasonably cold. We stood outdoors in 5C weather for most of the day but thankfully we were quite prepared with hats, several layers, gloves, tights and boots! I even scored a free T-shirt that was meant for undergrads to add more layers on. I guess I still look quite young. haha.

Enjoying my ginger tea with honey now to make sure my body stays nourished and warm. Looking forward to a hot bath to warm up cold muscles later.