Prague to Wittenberg via Dresden

Well, the good news is that, for the first time in a long time, we are feeling positively youthful. The reason for this is that our group of mainly Americans are using enough walking sticks to build a Mai Mai and we have been told by many of them how long it is since they had their last knee or hip replacement or how long they are having to wait for one. The one thing we are not wanting to talk about on this holiday is health issues but we can see that many in the group have them but they are making the most of every day – like us!

There is so much history about Prague and the Czech Republic that we have found out about over recent days not least of which is that the Czechs consume more beer than anyone else in the world – 44 gallons per person per year! Now that is rather a lot of beer and it costs about $8 per half litre for Pilsner or 120 Czech Koruna. There is a zero alcohol tolerance here for drivers although there are bars on every corner but – now this is unbelievable – there is a “Beer Ambulance” which will deliver beer to you at your home or wherever you are partying or drinking if you are running out and this is to encourage you not to drive. Maybe you just collapse on the floor where you are and wake up the next morning and drive home! For goodness sakes – taking the beer to you! I forgot to tell you that you can’t get away from the Lime scooters and I can also report that there appears to be no speed limit on them here, no people limits, no helmets required, and they are zipping around at great speed all over the roads between the trams, buses and cars and people! The boss has, a few times, offered to double me on the Lime when I am wilting but honestly, can you imagine that sight! It would resemble Mickey Mouse and Minnie trying to skateboard! Most definitely will not happen and the travel insurance would not handle it. The other thing I need to report is that the shower cap over the big dinner plate in the shower did fill with cold water – that is all I will say!

The population of Prague is 1.2 million and it was interesting to find out that Czechoslovakia was under Communist Rule from 1948 when a Communist Coup overthrew the Government. The Soviets ruled here until 1989 (that coincidentally was when the Berlin Wall came down). At that time this Republic was known as Czechoslovakia but in 1993 it broke up into Slovakia and the Czech Republic each having their own Government, currency and language. The Czech Republic has been a member of the EU since 2004 but still predominantly uses its own currency – the Czech Koruna. They have not made the transition to the Euro although a few places will accept it. The economy is driven by car manufacture (Skoda), tourism, some manufacturing and agriculture (although the Govt has made the farmers replace some crops with Canola for biofuel so from the air all you can see are vast areas of Canola growing). They say they have a problem in Prague with Russians purchasing a lot of real estate and hence the prices have risen for locals to rent or buy in the city – does that sound familiar?

After visiting the Jewish Quarter we left Prague yesterday to travel to Dresden crossing the border into northern Germany. We visited two synagogues and the oldest Jewish Town Hall in Europe. We then travelled to the Bastai which is a rock formation towering 194 metres absolutely vertically above the Elbe River in the Saxon Switzerland National Park. The lady in charge of the “P”s did a walk along many bridges to view the river and the rock formations (and Pappy went to the bar to sample the local lager!!!!). We then drove on to Dresden passing many wheat, sunflower, corn, canola and flower fields on the way to reach the land where the house roofs are extremely steep, the traditional lace net curtains decorate all the windows and the beautiful window boxes have colourful displays of geraniums.

So here we are now comfortably ensconced on the riverboat docked in Dresden and going nowhere – but very comfortable it is. Actuallly, it has become a houseboat!! We were greeted warmly by the crew who were lined up to welcome us aboard and very soon the glass of champagne was in the hand and we were introduced to ze captain, ze first officer and Uncle Tom Cobbly and all! As has to be ze case, you ‘ave to do ze safety briefing and be shown ‘ow to use ze life jacket – really! So as we sip the champagne and eat the nibbles we are told to blow on ze whistle if necessary BUT we are going nowhere because we have also found out that if we need to jump overboard we will likely injure ourselves badly because ze water is about 80 cm deep! Heaven forbid! Then they demonstrate the “Abandon Ship” siren but we are told if this does sound then take your time, finish your drink and go ashore! If we have to, we will be able to walk right across the river, Right – we have taken note of all the safety measures which gives us a great deal of comfort as you can imagine and will ensure we sleep well tonight. The ‘Otel Manager also gave a presentation telling us that the front desk is manned all the time 24/7 to take care of our problems except when no one is there! Our lovely cabin has a balcony and the little water there is in this Elbe River is flowing past very quickly this morning as are hundreds of people cycling to work on the other side of the river while the sun shines brightly and we prepare to go and explore Dresden, then have a little cruise on a paddle steamer and then a classical concert at the Zwinger Palace tonight. It’s a tough life as you can imagine and the one in charge of the B’s is coping well as long as the one in charge of the P’s does not ruffle his feathers! We have just returned from a morning’s sightseeing in Dresden including a visit to the Staatliche Museum which has a huge collection of the most magnificent and remarkable treasures including the Dresden Green Diamond – a 41 carat green diamond dating back to 1768. We have become experts at visiting International Museums, but this truly is the very best museum we have ever seen (and its pretty tough to beat the Smithsonian in Washington).

A little raft has just come by playing loud music – it is a beer raft and the few people on it are having a BBQ, beers and music and they are all waving madly to me as ze aroma of ze German sausage is wafting from ze BBQ! Tomorrow we move to Wittenberg to board another boat for three nights so although we aren’t sailing anywhere we are staying on ze boat which is very comfortable and ve are still seeing everything ve came to see so life can’t be bad!

Well – we ‘av arrived on ze new boat on the Elbe in Wittenberg, Germany – which thankfully is absolutely identical to the other boat and we have the same stateroom number and all is well and……. so far we can work the bathroom out which is a miracle in itself and absolutely cause for celebration as those who have followed our bathroom dramas over the years would understand! Why didn’t some clever inventor come up with a way to standardise bathrooms – or write a “Bathrooms for Dummies” manual to get us out of all the fixes we have encountered in our travels? The good news is, we didn’t have to have the safety briefing again because, as you know, zis boat is going nowhere!

We travelled via Meissen passing vineyards on the sides of very steep hills rich in minerals giving the wine special properties and visited the porcelain china factory where we did the most interesting tour to see how this magnificent china – known as Dresden china is made. Their famous trademark is the two blue crossed swords. It is the largest porcelain china factory in Europe and dates back to 1710. It was then onto Wittenberg via Leipzig. So now we are in the land of ze schnitzel and sauerkraut and ze BIG beer steins! Vunderful! We are onboard this boat for three days and then it is on to Berlin. It was the last day of the school year here yesterday and much celebration for the children. Vern went up to the Square and saw dozens of children carrying colourful balloons which they all let go of to rise into the sky. Apparently the biggest tradition here for the last day of school is that the children are given a sweet cone which is full of lollies – and then the teachers send them home to their folks!

It is Saturday here and I had cause to catch a taxi – an experience in itself. Taxi man spoke not one word of English – I spoke not one word of ze German and he drove like an absolute madman to ze destination, which luckily for me ze ‘Otel Manager here on ze boat explained to him! I don’t know what the urgency was but I think he thought he was in the Monaco Grand Prix – unbelievable!

Auf Wiedersehen till next time

Beautiful Prague

We landed in this beautiful city on Friday afternoon and, after recovering from a long trip, did a quick walk along the river close to the hotel to admire the picturesque buildings either side of the river and the many bridges crossing it. Saturday saw us trying to get a little more organised after studying what we must see here. The day started with a minor problem for me in the bathroom, or, to be more specific, the shower. You are not surprised I know! The thing is, I told the boss that the night before, when I eventually figured out the options in the shower, that I had stood in front of the shower rose on the pole but got constantly dripped on by very cold water from the dinner plate rose on the ceiling! So, this morning I was all set for a quick shower before breakfast. The one in charge of the B’s (which I can tell you for certain does not include “bathrooms”) told me to pull the top silver gadget out hard and all would be well – well it wasn’t! I got drowned on top by a voracious current of water coming from that blimmin dinner plate on the ceiling giving me such a fright I spun around which made things even worse. The boss has since told me there was only one “drip” in the shower!!

With the list of sightseeing all prepared and the map in the bag the boss decides that the bag I am carrying is much too heavy which leads him to dismantle the contents and choose some things to go in the pockets of the cargo shorts he is wearing. By the time we get in the lift the shorts are looking like they are slipping a bit with the weight of the extra contents and I have visions of him standing in his underwear in front of St Nicholas on the Charles Bridge with the shorts down around the ankles!

On the agenda was the famous Charles Bridge which was built between 1357 and the beginning of the 15th Century under the auspices of Charles IV and crosses the Vltava River. We joined half the population of Prague plus many tourists to do the walk along the famous bridge to admire the magnificent buildings either side of the river, the castle on the hill and the saints whose statues are set out along the bridge. It really is quite a magnificent site and we were all set to visit St Nicholas. However, St Nicholas is getting a makeover (and he needs it – they all do but luckily for him he has been chosen to go first!) Therefore, there is scaffolding and netting protecting him while the work is being done so we could only acknowledge him in passing. Then it was down to the John Lennon Wall under the bridge which is just a normal wall but since the 1980’s it has become a graffiti tribute to John Lennon with lyrics from some of his songs.

We then decided that it would be good to go and visit the Infant Jesus at the little Carmelite Church of St Victorious. The Infant Jesus is a small wooden waxed statue dressed in a cloak. We had heard about this and wanted to see it so we sat on a seat on a very hot day under the plane trees to study the map and then set off with me in charge of the map (but not the map reading). We got a little way into the short walk and saw a group of nuns making their way hurriedly over a crossing so I told the boss that we must be on the right track for the Church where the Infant Jesus is waiting for our visit. He, on the other hand, is convinced the nuns are making their way on this extremely hot day to the pub just by the crossing and you know, I think he was right because they disappeared completely! Once again we stopped to study the map and the glasses came out of the bag and all would have been well had I not been holding that map upside down. Luckily the boss, who I must admit is better than I at mapreading and doing all these GPS things, realised quite quickly and averted a possible falling out before we even reached the Infant! We eventually made it to the beautiful little Church which resembles a miniature cathedral with magnificent artwork and gold decorated altar and side altars.

Sunday saw us doing a little cruise on the river to see Prague from a different perspective and it was beautiful – the buildings span a myriad of architectural styles and include castles and palaces in Romanesque and Gothic styles – there are arches, colonnades and towers everywhere – some capped in gold that shines brightly in the sun. You also need to constantly look up at these buildings because there are statues and sculptures sitting high on many of them. We then went to the National Museum to view two interesting exhibitions. One was called “The Knights of the Heaven” and is a tribute to more than 2000 Czechoslovak pilots who left here in 1939 and found their way to Britain where they joined the newly created Czech Squadron of the RAF. It was a wonderful and moving exhibition dedicated to fighter and bomber pilots, technicians and other aviation personnel in the RAF and the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. It left a lump in my throat seeing all the photos of these pilots and reading some of their logs. The second exhibition was about the Celts.

It was 38 degrees here yesterday but we managed ourselves by walking on the shady sides of the streets and coming back here to the bar where I had a traditional Czech drink – puréed raspberries in homemade lemonade and the boss had a Pilsener – and they were large because, obviously we needed hydration and I can tell you I had a large straw in mine.

I have to report I had a brilliant idea to fix the drip in the shower – I have put a shower cap over the offending dinner plate shower rose. I just have to watch it doesn’t fill up with cold drips and collapse! Deary me!

Today has been another hot day and we did a walk down the river, over a bridge and back on the other side – all the while absolutely melting in the 35 degree heat but the good news is that this heat is dissipating we are told so it will cool down a little. The other good news is that we absolutely must be shedding kilos walking kilometres in this heat!! But then perhaps the thirst and the pastries are not helping that little problem! We are just off to a traditional folklore dinner – guess that won’t help the waistline either but when in Rome……

A few little issues before liftoff!

Our trouble started before liftoff on Thursday. Heaven forbid – we hadn’t even got ourselves to the airport when we decided, after the haircuts, to pop into St Joseph’s to midday Mass before we left because we needed to remind God that the two of us really need to be looked after on this 2-month journey and to thank Him for getting us well enough to go! So into the Church we went only to be confronted with a guy coming in from the other end of the Church and flapping his arms around and yelling at us to get out. Now this gave me quite a shock – what on earth was going on? After recent events in NZ we needed a quick explanation as to his panic but I can tell you we got ourselves out smartly! The problem turned out to be a fire in a cupboard somewhere so within 10 minutes two appliances arrived and we took off! Next step was to get the Lotto ticket with my numbers I have taken for about 20 years (with little luck I might add!) But for some crazy reason the lady gave me back the 10 week ticket and I ripped it in half and put it in the bin! I suddenly realised that I had left the brain somewhere else that morning and had to take the lid off the bin and search for my ripped ticket which the lady at the shop then cellotaped back together for me whilst laughing at the stupid lady who ripped the ticket in half 10 seconds after paying for it!

The next thing was to call up an Uber to take us back to Remuera – why was this stupid App telling me there were no cars available – what? After trying this for 10 minutes or so we decided to walk to the bus station and use the Gold Cards and Hop Cards to get to the city. All fine until we get to the bus and the boss finds that his Hop Card is in Pauanui which is totally unhelpful because we don’t have any cash in the wallets and the bus driver can’t take a card – well he could take the Hop Card if the blimmin thing wasn’t sitting in Pauanui! We are meeting Dene at the hospital for a quick coffee before we go so I give him a call to tell him of our predicament – “Oh dear” says he “well let me know if you are stuck”. “We are stuck!” I tell him to no avail because the problems at ADHB are more concerning than his folks being in a pickle in Takapuna! The boss then decides to call a Co-Op cab at my suggestion so he calls up the cab company and orders the cab. After 15 minutes the cab is nowhere to be seen when my brain suddenly has a reboot and I am wondering if by turning the phone off and back on might work – it does and within 3 minutes the Uber is here and the cab man is probably still circling Takapuna trying to find us because we couldn’t cancel. Then, we were heading over the bridge to Auckland Hospital when we check the emails on this phone which has come back to life and there is an email from Viking River Cruises saying “due to low water levels on the Elbe River it is unlikely your boat will sail, however ………”. “Well, I say to the boss – we will just go with the flow” whereupon he tells me that clearly there is no flow to go with!

Well I can tell you that by the time we were collected for the airport we couldn’t have cared less about any flow because at least we were on our way and I can also report that when we got aboard that Emirates flight and were offered the glass of champagne I felt like putting a straw in the bottle to recover from the afternoon’s events!

So now we look forward to the riverboat not sailing but according to the Viking man here in the ‘Otel all will be well and we will have a vunderful time – guaranteed!

Liftoff to Prague

Well, almost exactly one year ago we had to abandon our China-Japan trip which was so long in the planning and which we were looking forward to so much. With all the clothes out ready to pack we only got as far as the local hospital so the chopsticks had to go back in the drawer! BUT, after many consultations, two holidays in North Shore Hospital and more medications, here we are – ready for takeoff! So Prague, here we come and we are excited to see your beauty and learn your history which means, dear friends and relatives, we will keep you updated on our journey from Prague to Berlin, then to Paris and Normandy, then to Budapest and on to Amsterdam all the while sailing peacefully on beautiful river boats amongst magnificent scenery. When we have completed the journeys on the rivers we are off to London to travel through the Lake District and Wales, Scotland and Ireland. We love sharing our journeys with you so come along for the ride where there are sure to be more bathroom hiccups and tons of laughs along the way. I am thinking that we are experienced in the use of some of the more unusual bathrooms of France and Germany but what about Prague and those little villages down the river? I am wondering what challenges might be awaiting us. The Guide Books and Wikipedia don’t give us any help at all with this! The one in charge of the B’s – the boss! (Budget, baggage) is ready to go (but the bags will get a thorough going over before we reach the airport and I am thinking that some of the things I have slipped in might not make the cut!! In fact I am thinking, based on previous experience, that I will likely only make the cut if I can fit it all into a backpack!) Once again I am in charge of the P’s (paperwork, people, passports) but with all this new technology actually there isn’t too much paper but we will be in a pickle if I lose the iPhone or the iPad. I have loaded all the Apps and have about 48 hours to learn how to use them! Heaven forbid! So bye bye to our GP, our ophthalmologist, our gastroenterologist, our cardiologist, our Trinity radiologists, our hospital consultants, doctors and nurses, and our family – thank you to you all for getting us at least onto the plane albeit with a caseload of meds!! We are blessed. We really hope that we wont need your excellent support whilst we are away but we have all your phone numbers and emails loaded!!!

Lift-off Cancelled

We have learned over the past year or so that little blips can raise their head at the most inappropriate times and the past few weeks has done just that. So……… lift-off had to be cancelled and this amazing trip we have looked forward to for the past 12 months has gone up in a puff of smoke. BUT we must not dwell on that and rather be very grateful that this little medical event happened here at home instead of in Beijing this week or next. After a week in hospital the clothes had to be packed away for another day, another time and, for now, we are both content with that because this is where we need to be for monitoring over the next few months.
It certainly isn’t a time to be sad – how can you be when you get the most wonderful medical care here at home? How can you be when you have grandchildren who provide joy and have all sorts of things planned for us to attend – soccer, netball, hockey, band concerts, holidays in Pauanui and visits from the older ones for lunch when they can squeeze it in? We are lucky.
In the meantime, if we do anything exciting and it is worth reporting I will post something to make you smile.
Our travel books will come out again to plan the next adventure in a wee while. Meanwhile – stay well, take care, make the most of every day and…….. keep smiling.

We are preparing for takeoff!

Well here we are getting ready to depart for our holiday in China and Japan. So much has happened since the one who looks after the “B’s” dragged me down to House of Travel last June – who would have thought that the lead-up to takeoff would produce a few rocky bumps but they were negotiated successfully so here we are – currently surrounded by enough clothes to cover off everything from a heatwave to a snowstorm! I can see a few negotiations coming my way because the one in charge of the “B’s” can be stubborn at times. You would never have guessed that would you!*@#??

We leave for Beijing at midnight on Monday 7 May and, because we have come to realise that we are not 21 anymore, we have given ourselves two days to recover from that rather long trip. That’s good actually because we haven’t done much training on using the chopsticks – I have never been able to fathom how to eat rice with those sticks but I am planning on doing some YouTube tutorials to help us out with all that because on our last visit to Madam Woo I had trouble negotiating the lettuce salad!
We are pretty excited about going to the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors, the Three Gorges Dam Project on the Yangtze cruise, Tiananmen Square, Xian, Shanghai and I see we are even going to have to dress in our finest Chinese gear to attend a gala dinner – guess that means I need to drag the boss to a market with the millions to choose an outfit!! I am thinking that by the time we leave here we will be certified chopstick users – or the rice will be all over the floor! We have started watching Nobu’s Japan and Taste of Hong Kong because we got sick of waiting for Rick Stein to have a long weekend in Shanghai!

We fly to Tokyo after 16 days in China and begin our Japanese experience going to Five Lakes, Hakone, Mt Fuji, Himeji, Hiroshima, Miyajima Island, Kyoto and Osaka. Then Aidan and Jenny join us in Osaka and we go out of the cities and into the mountains for a week to Takayama and Kamikochi to the more relaxed pace of walks, bike rides, fishing and a cooking class. I need to check if we need to practise walking in platform wooden jandals with our sox on. I am just hoping the boss doesn’t make me put that white foundation all over my face and do up that big bow at the back of my dress! He wouldn’t would he?

You won’t be getting any more boring stuff to read until we arrive in Beijing and have had our first chopstick dinner because I know you will be excitedly waiting to hear how it went! Just remember – good things take time!

Last Stop – Disneyland

Last stop – Disneyland. Can you belieeeeve it? This was at my request and the boss agreed (although he is probably regretting it!) We arrive back in LA on a hot afternoon and straight to Howard Johnsons just down the road from where Mickey and Goofy and friends live and, by the look of the temperature gauge, it is just as well we put the shorts and t-shirts on the top of the case! It is a warm 33 degrees as we set off after breakfast to be kids for 2 days in the land of fantasy. The littlies have emailed us to tell us what their favourite rides were last year and I can see that every bone in our bodies is going to be rattled as we hold on for dear life on rides which scream around in the dark and in the light and where Star Wars Chewbaccas are using every tool in their armery to awaken us!! We ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain (where we were more than splashed), the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Pirates of the Caribbean, the tameness of Finding Nemo Submarine and It’s a Small World, Hyperspace Mountain, Star Tours, Astro Orbitor, Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and then it’s over to California Adventure Park to do Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters, Radiator Springs Racers, the Grizzly River Run on rafts and the amazing Soarin Around the World which we line up for twice. The first day we managed to do 10 hours of all this excitement staying to watch the Paint the World light parade and fireworks before hobbling back to the hotel and fallin’ into bed and sleeping like babies!! Next morning we were back there to finish off the list the kids had sent us. We then hobbled back again to have a swim and shower and even fell asleep on the loungers at the pool before the shuttle came to collect us. We are just hopin now that we don’t need to go to the physiotherapist next week to sort out our bones that have probably come out of alignment with all this shaking and turning (and screamin!!). So the journey is over and what an amazing one it was.


Highlights?  There are too many to mention; too many contrasts of wonderful scenery, experiences and monuments from the big cities like Washington, Montreal, Quebec, Toronto and Ottawa to the madness of New York and Las Vegas; the heat of the deserts and canyons in Arizona and Nevada; the pretty and beautiful places like Victoria and Yosemite; the sheer magnificence of the Rockies with the huge mountains, the blue lakes, the never-ending Christmas tree forests; the interesting and unusual life of the Amish; the quaint places of Maine and Nova Scotia like Peggy’s Cove; the black bears, moose, caribou and other amazing wildlife of Canada and Alaska; the glaciers of the Inside Passage; the wilderness of Alaska with its mushers, log cabins and the salmon running to get upstream; the incredible flight over the Arctic Circle to Coldfoot and Wiseman to get an insight into this very different life – all of it a feast for the eyes and an experience we never thought we would be fortunate enough to get. We are blessed. We are completely over Trump and Hillary and glad we have left them behind and we are over queuing at the bathrooms and looking under doors to see if there are feet there!!!  

We have travelled in excess of 12,500 miles on land sitting beside each other on a coach (and we are still talking!!)  We have slept in 36 beds, enjoyed wonderful food, and had too many wonderful experiences to recall (the blog was written partly for us!)  It was mainly written for family and friends to travel along with us and we hope you have enjoyed it.  We have just loved writing it.

So we are home – we managed to get to the right place for breakfast at the right time and we didn’t need to put our cases outside the room for collection. We had a love affair with the washing machine on the first day back and the car was quite nice too!! This adventure has ended but make no mistake – there will be another sometime, somewhere. It might not be as far away or for as long as this one but we already have some ideas! Heaven forbid! Just need to buy the Lotto ticket!    Golden postcards.org will remain and we may even write about other holidays.  We are off to Melbourne in October for a special wedding; to Pauanui for a few months over summer and Martinborough for another special wedding in March so we will post photos and a short commentary of our continuing adventures.  Now we look forward to catching up with y’all here at home!

The road less travelled

Denali

We depart the beautiful Copper River Wilderness Lodge and set off for Denali travelling down the highway before turning off to travel west on the Denali Highway – the road less travelled and before long we are off the tar seal and onto the rough. Now all our suitcases under the bus have been wrapped in tarps today – oh deary me – there is a message here!! We move into the alpine region and blow me down – some hardy people actually live here. We pass the area where the Arctic Man competition is held each year and this is a huge festival apparently where men on skis are towed behind snowmobiles on the ice and snow. Heaven help us if the boss decides this will be the next thing to train for! The scenery is very different and almost devoid of trees now but we are seeing a low foliage carpet of reds, browns, greens, yellows, oranges with little lakes in the midst of it and it looks like an artist has swept the palette over it all.

The bathroom – well let’s just say we have just had a stop at a little shack and experienced an outback Alaskan restroom – I will say no more but you get the drift! I have a feeling we may have to experience a few more of these as we travel west on this ‘ere road!


As we travel on and reach the summit on this bumpy road we look down on hundreds of little lakes and Jim, the driver, tells us we are really now seeing the heart of Alaska. The road is built up with sand and shingle because of the permafrost and so we are looking down on the tundra surrounding us. This is why we wanted to stay on here and travel inland to see the real Alaska – the little outposts where life is so very different to what we are used to. We pass hunters with their rifles over their shoulders. This is moose season and Jim also tells us that some of these hardy characters stay out here for a month hunting for moose to add to the supplies they need to get through the winter. The beavers have made their dams in lots of these tiny lakes.  

We stop for lunch on this rough highway at McLaren River Lodge and, as we are getting used to in this part of the world, the manager comes out to the coach to welcome us to this quaint log cabin cafe in the wilderness. Their “world famous” soup table is awaiting where it is help yourself to as many bowls as you like with freshly baked bread and topped off with berry pie. It was a very efficient way to feed 40 of us and their warm hospitality made it memorable. The cabin was decorated with $1 bills and a large bear skin on the wall. So off we trundle dodging the large potholes and still admiring the scenery with a few large glaciers thrown in now to attract our interest.

Suddenly there are more hunters with rifles, many little tents propped on shingle, RV’s, caravans and it seems the area has come to life after many many miles and we then see quad bikes with caribou racks with their catch in tow and so many people here for the hunting. We also see a moose and her calf down by a little lake.

We are heading for the next stop at Cantwell, a small town which began as a flag stop on the Alaskan Railroad and then onto Denali Wilderness Lodge just outside the Denali National Park. Our stay here is for two nights and the lodge is spread out in several large log-cabin buildings.  

This morning our excursion is to Husky Homestead which is owned by Jeff King, a four-time winner of the 1000 mile Iditarod Dog Sled race and an amazing place it is. Jeff has about 20 dogs and the same number of puppies but all is relatively quiet on the dog front when we arrive. We are given a puppy to hold and cuddle and very cute and fluffy they are. Then Jeff speaks for some time about the training of the dogs, diet, weight, exercise etc and he is very entertaining. Then it is time to give everyone a demonstration of the dogs pulling an ATV or large quad bike. Well – as soon as the dogs see the mushers going to get the harnesses they go absolutely bananas and they howl and bark and leap and dance around hoping to be the chosen one! The morning was a highlight watching these very very fit huskies pulling the ATV at a million miles an hour around the forest track and, as soon as they depart on their training run, the other dogs settle back down and all is quiet again. If only the boss and I could be so excited about doing the exercise when the alarm goes off on the mornings we go to the gym class! I might try it and watch his reaction – but then again, he may have me locked up so I will reconsider that little idea!  





We are sure getting our share of huskies here because this afternoon we get a shuttle to the Denali Visitor’s Centre down the road and attend the Dog Show at the National Park Headquarters. These dogs are not trained for the Iditarod but rather they are working dogs who do work in the National Park pulling sleds during winter to get the Rangers to various places in the park.

We depart the lovely Denali National Park and Glitter Gulch and it seems incredible that in a month’s time air will be blown through all the water pipes of this huge Lodge and all the adjacent hotels and shops and the place will resemble a ghost town. The seasonal workers are all leaving and just the hardy souls who live in this part of the wilderness in this amazing country will hunker down for the winter. Some of the men will work over winter trapping for fur or hunting for moose and others may leave to get work on ski fields in Colorado or somewhere else. Other families will live off what they have managed to save over the summer. Some people in Alaska live in dry cabins – now that means no running water. Can you believe that every day they have to fetch water from a spring, river, lake or melt snow to get water. Oh how happy am I that I was not born in Alaska because I can tell you for sure that I would be writing some very interesting stories about ze bathroom if we lived in a dry cabin! Heaven forbid.

We are heading to Fairbanks passing through Healy (the coal mining centre of Alaska) and Nenana. By the way – petrol has risen to $US3-7 per gallon up here which is much more expensive than the lower 48 states (as they refer to all states apart from Alaska and Hawaii).

Now I must tell you – the teddies – well they have become a foursome now because a Canadian Mounted Police teddy has joined the family – obviously to keep them all from breaking the law!

Now there is one thing I need to tell y’all – the one in charge of the B’s has been on the job for 10 weeks and his contract states he will get a break in about five days time. He surely needs a break because there has been a serious breakdown in the delivery of his responsibilities. He managed to “misplace” his glasses. Of course it was definitely NOT his fault (so states he!) Needless to say, he can no longer see which is a benefit to the one in charge of the P’s because, as you will know, American banknotes are almost all the same colour so how is he to know (or see) that some might be missing from his wallet! He makes several phone calls to lodges all over Alaska to no avail. But St Anthony does his job again because while I am in the shower he rushes in to tell me he has just had a phone call from the front desk to say a lady is coming to see him in our room to deliver the glasses which have arrived from somewhere else in the wilderness! He wants to ensure I don’t march out of the bathroom wearing very little or nothing at all. He has arrived in the bathroom changed out of his nightshirt into something respectable to welcome this lady so excited is he that the lady is coming. But this is sad news for me because I can no longer peruse his wallet for those $50 bills.

We go on a riverboat for a lovely cruise down the Tanana River seeing a huskie demonstration on the way and an Athabascan village which was wonderful. The problem here was that the boss spots a “For Sale” sign on a house and he suggests we could come here and live the “easy” life. I am sure he has completely lost his marbles. When the heck did he turn into an Athabascan I ask myself? The last time he noticed a “For Sale” sign was in the heart of the Arizona desert where I pictured us running around in thongs and now his bright idea is Alaska where we would need blimmin snow shoes and the fur of an Arctic fox around our necks! Can you honestly belieeeeeve it? The other interesting thing we see is many beautiful log cabins with the logs extending out so that the hunted moose can hang. Now we didn’t do this at Pauanui, as you will all have noticed, because the boss is completely useless at hunting moose and I would not be letting him loose with a gun I can tell y’all.



Fairbanks and the Arctic Circle – Coldfoot and Wiseman

Today’s excitement is a trip to the Arctic Circle and the towns of Coldfoot (population 20) and Wiseman (population 12). We travel just down the road to the Fairbanks International Airport which is interesting in itself. It looks like the car yards of Wairau Road lined up with small planes – there are hundreds of them and we learn that 1 in 5 people in Alaska (population 800,000) has a pilot licence. Off we go for the 1 hour flight to cross into the Arctic Circle (they call it the 66-33 parallel) and cross over the Alaska pipeline, Livenwood (an active goldmine) and the famous Dalton Highway. This highway is interesting for a few reasons and later in the trip we actually drive on it. It is the only road giving access up here and ends at the Arctic Ocean; is 413 miles long and has a sign indicating there is absolutely NO service of any description for 380 of those miles – zilch! If you rent a car to travel the highway it costs $US250 per day and you are issued with one spare tyre and a satellite phone. Thankfully, the boss has no desire to do this…….as yet!! – heaven forbid! It is also the road that those TV Ice Truckers drive.  



Just over an hour flying over huge areas of forest damaged by fires, the Yukon River and an Athabascan village with a population of 80 (no cars here…..no roads either), we arrive at Coldfoot. This tiny place with its tiny population experiences 33 days of the sun never setting from the summer solstice on 21 June and 33 days of the sun never rising and continuous darkness from the winter solstice 21 December. Now that summer is ending and the fall has started they are losing 10 minutes of daylight per day – over one hour per week as the days draw in towards the long harsh winter. Fuel up in these parts costs $US13 per gallon. The only store here is the Post Office attached to the saloon and bar which primarily services the truckers and maintenance workers for the pipeline or other services.


The white spruce trees here are tiny although old, caused by permafrost under the ground. Actually 50% of Alaska has permafrost. The Arctic and Fairbanks is a frozen desert – it is considered an arid area getting only approximately 30 cm of rain a year but, of course, this rain freezes so the temperatures drop dramatically. The average temperature here between November and March is 17 below to 40 below. The coldest day recorded was 62.5 below in 1971. We are very privileged because only 10,000 people visit this area per annum and we are two of them and here we are at the foot of the Brooks Mountain Range on the edge of the Arctic National Park which is 8 million acres in size.

We have the privilege to visit Wiseman where only 12 people live and go right into their tiny village which consists of little log cabins sitting near the river with large grass areas and trees. It is a sunny day and it looks like paradise with the golden foliage of the trees and the vegetables in their garden flourishing. The people in Alaska and up here have the ability to grow amazing crops of vegetables because in the short summer, if they get the planting time right, they get so many hours of daylight and sunshine that the vegetables grow to a huge size and produce a huge crop. This is a great example of nature providing assistance to stock up for winter. This family we hear about has a cool store under their floor which is large enough to store 250 kg of root vegetables for the winter. Meat is hunted for, fish are caught and other products are ordered online and the plane flies them in. The problems arise when illness strikes because there are no medical facilities unless they fly to Fairbanks. They have a 4 year old daughter who goes trapping and hunting with her Dad. He entertains us in a cabin which was lived in until the guy passed away – it is basic in every way. These days however, they are harnessing the solar energy and other forms of energy and using LED lights which draw less power. They have the Internet, although moderately slow, and cable TV. They are resourceful people. Our amazing visit to this little place comes to an end and we make our way back to Coldfoot for the flight home (and I am thinkin that the name is apt – the blimmin feet would indeed be cold in this ‘ere place in winter!)



On the drive back to the little airport a black bear appears out of the bush on the side of the road so we stop to admire this fella from the wild farewelling us. At the airport we eat our boxed dinner in the saloon/cafe where those Ice Truckers sit to enjoy theirs and think how very lucky we are to have had this amazing day.
Our pilot is awaiting for the flight back and we board the little plane and fly over the pipeline again and a ski area with long runs. At this ski area you are driven back up the mountain after you complete your run because there are no chairlifts – the reason being that if the chairlift broke down you would freeze before they could get to you. Well, I am thinking you would be a hardy soul dressed up like the Michelin man to even ski there! This wonderful day ends our Alaskan adventure and what better way to do it.


We farewell the land of the midnight sun

It’s blue rivers, glaciers, critters and trees

Where people flock to work the season

And leave as the ground starts to freeze.

The days draw in and darkness falls

On this spectacular wilderness land.

Animals migrate and black bears sleep

And those beautiful red salmon are canned.

The sled dogs train for the Iditarod race

Their mushers are hardy gals and blokes.

The people who winter over here

Are especially resourceful folks.

Special memories we take home from this place

To share with those we hold dear

The trip of a lifetime we have had

To celebrate our golden year.

One more stop folks – Mickey we are a comin!

Inland Alaska

The ship arrives in Whittier on a sunny Saturday morning and we disembark and meet Jim, our coach driver for this part of the tour. He gives the commentary – Whittier has a population of 300 and almost every one of them lives in a tower block of 15 stories which has an underground tunnel leading to the school over the road. No excuse for not going to school when the snow is 2 m deep! The tour of Whittier takes all of three minutes as we literally circle the apartment block and boat park where all the fishing boats are parked, a grocery store and hotel. Whittier is a deep water port in Prince William Sound and this tiny place is accessed through the longest road tunnel in North America (4 km) shared with the Alaska Railroad. Every coach has a pre-determined time to travel the tunnel so we have a little time to fill in at this tiny place. We exit the tunnel to beautiful scenery of green mountains left and right with huge white glaciers spilling down the wide valleys. Salmon is spawning in the rivers and the sun is enhancing this beautiful visual feast. The bright pink fireweed is starting to go to seed and we are told this is one of the markers that snow will indeed be fallin here in about six weeks and the long eight months of winter will begin where these people do not ever see the sun in that time and have approximately five hours of daylight a day. You don’t need to be told that you don’t see shops selling bathing suits, beachwear or boogie boards in this place!   Deary me – we packed the togs but I can tell y’all they haven’t come out of the case and there is no time today to ride a bore tide – darn it!


We stop at the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Centre to view these elusive black bears, brown bears, bison, elk, marmot, Lynx, wolves, black tail dear, red fox, porcupine with lots of area to roam. Today was birthday day and our group enjoys a happy hour out beside our little log cabin here at Kenai Wilderness Lodge, perched near the confluence of the Russian and Kenai Rivers, because two of us in the group have a birthday today and funnily enough we are both turning 22 so that surely is cause for celebration! The sun is shining and our happy bunch makes the most of the happy hour out in the fresh air. All this excitement is followed by dinner – an Alaskan experience you might say because all six of us at the table ordered Bering Sea King Crab – the biggest crab legs you ever did see accompanied by a toolbox of implements to extract the absolutely delicious meat. All this was washed down with a few glasses of bubbly and a happy day came to an end with best wishes from many friends and all the family and special grandkids.


This morning we had signed up for one of the Freechoice excursions that Scenic puts on for us at most places we visit and we had chosen a four-hour nature hike so off we set to be delivered to the company providing this and two young ladies drove us out to the starting point. Heaven help us – there is a new Bear Alert notice at the entrance to the track so I’m thinking we might break the record for the 5-mile hike! We hiked on a nice track called The Russian River Hike to a river where the salmon were trying their very best to get upstream to spawn. It was fascinating standing on the platform watching all the activity. Then these two girls put down a tablecloth on the steps, a vase of wild flowers and an array of snacks for us to enjoy before we hiked back to spend the afternoon relaxing at the lodge.


Monday today and we depart the lovely Kenai Wilderness Lodge on this rainy morning and start the drive to Anchorage. The changes in the landscape are noticeable with the fall colours starting to show up on the birch trees and the swathes of red fireweed are dying. It is interesting to talk to people here as many working in the lodges and for the tour companies are here only for the season and the season is coming to an end. A lady we spoke to last night told us she and her husband are retired but they drove 6700 miles from their home in Florida to work here in Kenai for the season. They drove their RV, towing a trailer with a little car and a boat and they have loved the season here and are thinking of returning next year.

As we get to the Turnagain Arm the tide is coming in and we witness a bore tide where a wave forms on the incoming tide and that wave can continue for a few kms so the surfers love it. But my question is – how many surfers are livin ‘ere? The coach driver Jim tells us that the Beluga whales can often be seen here and no sooner are the words out of his mouth and one surfaces and as we drive along the coast several more pods surface to our amazement. We continue on and the bald eagles are also staring at us from their perch at the top of the trees. There are many many dead trees with their feet deep in salt water as a result of an earthquake which caused the road to sink a few metres.

We stop in Anchorage for lunch. The city centre is about the size of Hamilton and it is a busy place. We stop at the official start of the Iditarod Trail but we are also told that last year they had to truck in enough snow so that sleds could actually start here. There are two airports here and an awful lot of planes because many places in Alaska are not accessible by roads so the planes are kept busy. The streets are named A, B, C, 1, 2, 3 here in Anchorage – easy!  


After lunch we set off towards Copper River and we are now travelling on the third of the Alaska’s three freeways and a busy road it is. All vehicles must have their headlights on when on the main highways and freeways by law. We pass two very large military bases up in this part of the world and we are reminded that Russia is very close by – in fact it is only 50 miles from Alaska! We arrive at the beautiful Copper River Wilderness Lodge in a very pretty setting looking out to the mountains which are sprinkled with snow. We could easily be in the South Island and it is reminding us of Glenorchy. The Lodge is situated beside America’s largest national Park, Wrangell-St Elias and the area has a rich mining history. They are also celebrating mid-winter Christmas here so the Lodge is all decorated up with Christmas trees and lights, Christmas music, the fire is roaring in the lovely lounge area and Santa is visiting tonight. We have two days here in this beautiful setting so this morning we set off for a little nature walk through the bush. The aspen trees are very tall and the fall colours are still evident even in the bush. At 8.30 pm there is a flag lowering ceremony outside the main entrance of the lodge so we all go off to witness this. The music is playing and the flags are slowly lowered – the final flag is the American flag lowered to the national anthem. One veteran present was selected to accept the folded flags and put them into the box and at the end of this rather emotional ceremony about eight veterans who were present were asked to come forward and accept a miniature American flag.


After lunch we head off as a group to the Wrangell-St Elias national park. Now this national park is the largest in America – it is also bigger than Switzerland in size with higher mountains. It has a total area of 13.2 million acres. On the way to the park we make a stop at the great Alaska oil pipeline which stretches 800 miles or approximately 1200 km in length. The building of this began in 1975, finished in 1977, cost $8 billion and was privately funded. When it was built it was considered to have a 30 year lifespan but it is still being used although many of the oil fields have closed. It crosses three mountain ranges and over 500 rivers and streams. When it was being built there were concerns that the line would hinder the caribou migration but the caribou have grown to like it often settling under the line when the ground starts to get cold. We were told that in winter the pipeline is slightly heated so the oil will keep flowing and was built to withstand an 8.5 magnitude quake and has, in fact, been subjected to an 8.3 magnitude quake.  It is truly a clever example of engineering.



We return to the Lodge to see a film on Aurora Borealis and then, after dinner, the sled dog ride. Well, goodness me – this was a highlight. The guy running the sled dogs is an interesting character – he lives with 20 dogs and I am thinking his living conditions are pretty basic. He tells us that he hasn’t left the area for 10 years; originally was a truck driver and then got a reputation for looking after dogs very well. Before he knew it he was getting calls from far and wide to take another dog. These dogs respond just to his body language and a few words and he certainly has a very close connection with them. We board the “sled” which is a very comfortable vehicle on wheels for the dogs to pull. He links three dogs up to do the first run and then we go back to the base to collect the 6-month old puppy to add to the mix. These dogs are so eager to get to work – they get so excited at the thought of pulling us and this guy hasn’t even asked how much we weigh (thank goodness for that because we told you about the shrinking clothes and we are not keen to go anywhere near any scales!) Off we go and we are loving it and these dogs are loving it and the musher seems to be enjoying himself too. We stop again – the dogs get ice in their bowls this time and this is a real treat for them. By this stage some of our group is standing outside the Lodge waving and awaiting our return so that they can pat these beautiful dogs. We are so pleased we did this even though there was no snow on the ground!  And to our relief the dogs pulled us easily so we are thinkin we are lighter than we thought!


On we go now to Denali and the last few days of this absolutely amazing adventure.  And no – we didn’t have a reindeer hotdog because we knew Oliver and Isabella would never forgive us if we did!

North to Alaska

Yes it is north to Alaska and I can tell you the rush is on because it is a highway of cruise ships making their way up the Inside Passage and our first stop in Ketchikan has five ships lined up like it is a parking lot. It is a misty day with a little drizzle in Ketchikan but I can tell y’all that this place gets around 4 metres of rain a year so it seems to me that arriving here on a brilliantly sunny day would be a very rare thing. Ketchikan has a resident population of about 8,000 but in the tourist season which runs from 1 May until 30 September that population rises to 13,500. In the peak summer months the temperatures “peak” to between 15-18 degrees! Great – the sunscreen and big hat can go back into the bag!  
We have chosen to do a back country jeep and canoe safari – were we in lala land when we booked this? Not sure, but we did research it so off we go. The first step is to get the life jackets on, grab the long paddles and step gingerly into the large 20-person canoe but it is a source of relief to find there are only 12 of us because I sure as heck do not want to bop someone on the head with this long paddle! Off we go on this large lake with the red cedars and western hemlock trees shrouded in mist and we paddle about 1 km. We then pull into a little jetty and it looks like there is absolutely nothing there (maybe a bear perhaps?) Out of the canoe we climb and walk up the quaint boardwalk and lo and behold there is a large gazebo with a fire roaring and crab chowder and hot chocolate warming up, fresh rolls and freshly smoked salmon on the table and a true Alaskan wild guy bouncing around to serve us. We did a very interesting nature walk in a loop around the bush, gobbled down some chowder and hot chocolate and back into the canoe to paddle back. There was a row of jeeps lined up next and we were paired with a Swiss couple and we happily handed the driving over to them. Off we went in a long line with guides in front and back jeeps and 2-way radios to communicate between vehicles. We then drove on a disused logging road and then climbed a hill on a track that was so narrow the trees were literally brushing the windscreen, the puddles were like small lakes and the boulders at times meant the driver had to swerve and we bumped around in the back like a pair of out-of-control Barry Crumps! The young Swiss lady was going “ya ya ya yiiiiiii, yaaaaaa” and it was hilarious. Every so often she seemed to give her partner some instructions in German (or maybe she was telling him that the oldies in the back seat might have a heart attack if this bumping kept up!)




We survived the journey and came back into town to have a look at the famous “Creek Street” – an historic boardwalk which was a Red Light District during the Gold Rush. The shops are propped up on stilts above the water and there are some huge salmon running here just now. The houses propped on the hill by the dock are quirky wooden houses, painted in all sorts of colours and some have hundreds of stairs to get up to them. Many are in need of a repaint but whenever would they get a fine day to get up the ladder? We set sail at 2 pm and sit comfortably on our deck with our cuppa to observe all the action as our ship departs Ketchikan to sail the 240 miles to Juneau where we arrive in the morning. One little piece of trivia we were told about was that Walmart opened a branch here in 2000. There was so much excitement all around that people travelled from far and wide and they sold out of everything in one day. They had to wait a week to get stocks in by boat so they could reopen!


Juneau

We wake up to another misty morning here in Alaska in the city of Juneau – the only US state capital accessible only by boat or plane. Juneau is the rainiest city in the USA with approx 4 metres of rain per annum. It has a population of 8,200 residents but that increases in the cruise season to 14,000 so similar to Ketchikan in that respect. If you travel the roads here you soon get to the end of the road because Juneau is surrounded by Icefields and hundreds of glaciers. We set off after breakfast for a walk into town to explore this bustling metropolis – it is the commercial centre of Alaska. There are more boats than cars here and the airport is on an island so you actually need to get a boat to get to the “international” airport – it has that status because occasionally a chartered international flight may possibly land here. It may land but I don’t know how it takes off because it looks a pretty short runway to me. The shops open here 1 May and 90% of them close 30 Sept at the end of the cruise ship season. However, because the second smallest Walmart in the world is here and supermarket, drug store etc many Alaskans will pay the exhorbitant fees to get a boat here or a float plane to stock up on essential supplies every 3 months or so.  We have been told that Princess cruise line actually owns a large number of shops in the towns up this coast and, for some crazy reason, there is an absolute abundance of jewellery shops in every town.

We set off today to the Menenhall Glacier – a glacier which is the overflow from a huge icefield and sadly receding and, like most glaciers, it moves and displays a massive power of erosion as it has ground its way through the landscape. We do a nice 2 mile walk to the glacier and back and a lovely waterfall and then a visit to the rather lovely Visitors’ Centre. The glacier is only 30 minutes out of town and on the way back we visit the Glacier Gardens which is a unique garden of many upside-down trees (replanted dead trees) planted like huge flower pots and we climb up high in special vehicles to get to the top of this special rainforest to see views of Juneau.




Skagway

This morning the boss pulls back the curtains and we are almost hard up against a Rocky Mountain surprise surprise! The sun is also shining – another surprise. Our adventure today is to the Yukon Suspension Bridge and White Pass Summit so off we set to cross the border into Canada and explore a small part of the Yukon – yee ha! We discover that the water here at the wharf is an astounding 500 feet deep and it is 2000 feet deep in the channel so I think we are OK! We are amazed at the “graffiti” on this rocky wall but we discover that the tradition has been that when a ship has arrived here for the first time the adoring crew have painted the name of the ship and the captain over many years and this has formed a patchwork of history of the ships that have come here.

This little town has 900 residents and is a heritage town where the authorities control the “look” of the shop fronts and people do not have physical addresses, churches are painted different colours – the red church, the blue church etc, there are no doctors or dentists but a medical practice run by nurses, the average price of these small simple houses is expensive at around $US250,000 and the “international” airport is the largest unmanned airport in the world! Heaven forbid!

Off we set down the Klondike Highway built in 1978 and we climb 3992 feet (I am a little “over” the feet/inches/gallons thing here and wish they would change to metric because my brain is doing the sums all the time) to get up to White Pass Summit in the sub-alpine tundra. Well, I can tell y’all that it certainly was White Pass Summit this morning because we didn’t see anything but thick thick fog. Now just to wake us up the lady in the seat in front of us suddenly decides to change her clothes and she stripped down on top to less than you would think would happen on a coach full of people. Can you honestly belieeeeeve it? And don’t get excited because I didn’t have the camera ready for that!



We arrive at the border to Canada and this little outpost is in an area which gets 36 feet of snow in winter. Now honestly – would you want to be posted here for 2 years checking passports and frowning at people all the time? There are snow marker poles all the way up the side of the road here because, miraculously, the authorities keep this road open all year – what? What the devil do you ride in I wonder? We arrive in Fraser, British Columbia which has a population of 15 (not a typo). Well, I guess they know one another pretty well. The black spruce trees are stunted, crooked, are almost hugging each other they are so close together, have very little foliage and are struggling in this harsh climate but as we wind our way down through the valley they are looking a little healthier. In this rather beautiful area there are lots of very blue lakes, very high sawtooth mountains of grey granite striped with a few streaks of iron oxide and Quartz. We travel on through the Yukon to Carcross which was formerly known as Caribou Crossing with a population of 300 hardy souls who manage to survive an eight-month long winter. To our huge surprise we come upon a 1 square mile desert which millions of years ago used to be the ocean floor. I must mention that there is often mention here of climate change and what it is doing to the ecosystem here. At Caribou Crossing we get a “small” lunch (yeah right) of the biggest chicken thigh we have ever seen, baked potato, coleslaw and donuts.  




After we have digested the little snack we spend time with the Alaskan huskies, bred for dog mushing including Chinook and Kenai which gave us a thrill. It was interesting to see and read about how they are treated, trained, fed etc for this national sport.  We now look forward to two days of cruising in Glacier Bay and College Fjord before we disembark in Whittier to begin eight days on land here in this fascinating place called Alaska.


Glacier Bay on a misty day



College Fjord