A Travellerspoint blog

Day 14

Fairbanks – enroute to Seattle, USA

sunny 14 °C

Has anyone been to North Pole? No, not THE North Pole, but the township that has adopted the name North Pole. To finish off our happenings for day 14, it went like this.

Having bought a shuttle bus ticket with the Princess line that allows you to travel between the lodge and the city for the day, we travelled into town and found our way to the transit centre where we purchased a ticket on the green bus ($3 return) bound for North Pole. It was necessary to present ID to use the toilet at the terminal, and they held my passport until I came out!! That should have warned us of what was ahead but sometimes you do things to save money, especially when the cash is getting low. The bus finally left and our experience with the local yokels began. We travelled for 30 minutes, here, there and everywhere until we finally were deposited at Santa Claus’ house. Between leaving the transit centre and arriving at S.C.House, we encountered not Alaskan wildlife but “the ferals”. I felt quite uneasy and couldn’t wait for our journey to end. It was disappointing at the S.C.House as well as things were dearer than what we had seen at the ports on the way up. So we bought what we wanted and went back out and waited for the EXPRESS bus to come back and rescue us. Boy I was pleased to be back to civilisation. We could have spent between $50 to $70 and gone by taxi. Put it down to experience.

We decided to return to the Fudge Pot for some salmon chowder and a sandwich for lunch. Following that we strolled around a park in the centre of Fairbanks which houses some great brass monuments and the visitors centre. The Princess shuttle bus arrived and we were soon back at the lodge and ready to take the shuttle to Fairbanks International Airport, even though it was a domestic flight!!

Firstly we had to pay $20 for each checked bag. Then the Visa card wouldn’t work. Once we had our boarding passes we proceeded to the check in. Now, they weighed our bags and we had 12 pounds of excess luggage – gee we have had fun shopping!! The option was to try to reduce the weight or pay the price. We chose the latter. It’s a worry to think we still have 2 weeks of travel and new currency to spend!!

Now if that wasn’t enough, they confiscated my wash liquid which I had inadvertently packed into my carry on. There goes the budget. They also were going to take my igloo ornament but fortunately it wasn’t a snow one with liquid. Ross was tested for explosives because he buzzed through checkpoint Charlie. Finally we passed security and we were allowed through.

That was the prelude to a great flight. Well, not quite. Somehow one of the locals escaped and was allowed on the plane. Apparently she was squashed where she had been allocated to sit so once the plane levelled out she asked the hostess if she could move. Unluckily for the chap and the girl across the aisle, there was a spare seat there. We were on the last two rows at the back of the plane. The chap had hearing aids so he was able to turn them off so that he didn’t have to suffer her rantings. I don’t think I have time to explain the entertainment we experienced for three hours. All I hope is that the lady who was sitting beside me (the wife of the gentleman across the aisle) submits a formal complaint. We were quite concerned that she may have totally lost it but we landed without too much trouble. Pressure in my ears nearly killed me when landing.

Our flight arrived in Seattle at 10.20 pm. We found our luggage and we cleared the airport around 11.15pm. (we did lose and hour) The shuttle that was to take us to the Grand Hyatt in the downtown area actually dropped us at the wrong Hyatt but fortunately it was a short walk around the corner to find where we had our reservation. I think they must have given our room away as the manager asked if we would be OK to take a suite room and then they would move us the following day. We were on the 30th floor and the view was quite spectacular. It was about 1pm when our spaghetti bolognaise and chicken fettuccine was delivered to our suite from a local Italian restaurant. It was delicious as we were quite hungry. Finally got to bed. As Daniel said, "So you're sleepless in Seattle?"

Posted by gpric6 20:52 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 13

Fairbanks, Alaska

sunny 23 °C

It was nice to have a lie in until 6.45 this morning and then have breakfast cooked for us. It was actually spitting to rain on our way to the restaurant. The bus left Denali Princess Lodge at 9am and headed off for Fairbanks. On our way we stopped at a little place in the middle of nowhere to stretch the legs and spend some money. We were given complimentary coffee that cost $1 – they do things differently here!!
Once again the autumn colours on the way were stunning. Every hill is so picturesque. It is difficult not to constantly take pictures. It was overcast so not such a good morning for photography.

Once in Fairbanks we headed for lunch at Fudge Pot – chowder and ham and Swiss cheese sandwich - very filling but also very yummy. It was sprinkling to rain so we only had time for a short walk to the shops then it was back on the bus on our way to the Riverboat Discovery excursion. The cruise takes you to where you witness the “wedding of the rivers” This is where the clear-water Chena flows into the world’s greatest glacial-fed Tanana River. On the way we observed a bush pilot in action, taking off on the river. We stopped at the home and kennels of the late Iditarod champion, Susan Butcher and her husband Dave Monson and watched a dog team in action. The puppies were gorgeous. Of course we watched the presentation from on board the paddle steamer.

A little further down the river, we stopped at an authentic Athabascan Indian Village so as to experience the Alaskan Native cultural traditions. It was very interesting as the tour is presented in three parts – the Athabaskan way before and after western arrived and traditional clothing and materials used. I must add that this cruise down the river was enhanced by brilliant sunshine nd clear blue skies.

Tonight we had our farewell dinner here at the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge. It was a lovely meal and a nice way to farewell our new friends. Some are flying to the Arctic in the morning. Would have like to have done it but didn’t think we could fit it in. We are planning to go to “North Pole” instead in the morning, a short bus ride from Fairbanks. We have to be back by 3pm to catch the shuttle to the airport as we fly back to Seattle at 5.30pm and we are due to arrive at 9.45pm so it will be a late night. It has been an amazing journey.

Posted by gpric6 23:53 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 12

Denali National Park, Alaska

sunny 10 °C

Up bright and early at 5.50am so as to have breakfast and be ready for the morning tundra wilderness tour which was set to leave at 6.50am. Everyone climbed aboard the bus and checked out the brown box that contained our picnic snack for the trip. Just as the bus was about to depart, Rick, the other tour escort, called the driver and whispered in his ear. Next minute the driver climbed off the bus. Then came the news that the bus was leaking oil (all over the concrete at the front of the Lodge I might add) so we would have to wait 30 minutes for them to send another one. So we all climbed off and went inside the lodge. Now we can thank our lucky stars that it happened where it did as I don’t think we would have enjoyed being stuck out in the Tundra with a breakdown.

Not too long after, the new bus arrived and it was all aboard. Unfortunately, people do not understand that I have a very delicate stomach when it comes to bus travel and I was relegated to the back seat. I collected a “spew” bag from the driver just in case.

The young driver explained that we would be following the 90 mile road into Denali National Park, but we would only be travelling 62 miles in and then returning. We were instructed to look out for wildlife and to call “Stop” loudly if we saw anything. Our first sighting was not of wildlife but of Denali itself. Unfortunately the south face or Summit was covered in cloud but we could see the North face clearly and approximately two thirds of the whole mountain. It was totally covered in cloud when we were at the Mt McKinley Lodge yesterday so to see it so clearly today was another bonus.

Our initial wildlife sighting was of a single grizzly bear which was eating berries and digging in the ground. A little further along the track, another grizzly was spotted heading towards a stream. The driver then suggested that anyone who didn’t like heights should have a power nap as we were about to climb a very high part of the road. I might add here that the road is single lane in most places, dirt and carved into the side of the mountain – scary stuff but what a view!! We had several stops to get out and stretch the legs and to go to the toilet. This whole area has a volcanic and glacial past and the valleys carved out are amazing. The flat rivers are referred to as braided rivers and apparently the water levels don’t increase much at all. As we were climbing the mountain we spotted several dall sheep on the cliffs. We were told in no uncertain terms that they were not goats. Further down the track we were treated to seeing a mother grizzly and her two cubs. They were absolutely beautiful and totally oblivious to our presence.

Unfortunately, we neglected to charge the still camera last night and its battery ran out. So, as we left the cable to download the video in Australia, it appeared we were left high and dry with no means of capturing the moments. Then I remembered I had my phone and I quickly learnt how to take pictures and movies – just have to work out how to download them!!

Our final stop before we returned, was the nearest to Denali on our trip. The south face was still hidden but amazing just the same. After a photo shoot, we headed back to our accommodation. We spotted the grizzly family once again. We searched the landscape in earnest for moose but didn’t see a one. The red, yellow and orange of the autumn leaves, coupled with the barren, rugged landscape painted an amazing sight the whole way through the park. I would recommend this tour to others.

Once back to civilisation we went and bought some new bags and repacked all our gear. They are predicting that the Lights will be out again tonight. Oh yes, I made the trip without feeling sick so am very proud of myself – kept busy looking for wildlife.
We’re off to Fairbanks tomorrow. Our Alaskan adventure is almost drawing to an end.

Posted by gpric6 22:18 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 11

Denali National Park, Alaska

sunny 9 °C

As sad as it is to be off the ship, it’s good to be back in the land of “free” internet. On the ship it cost $1.75 per minute to use the internet so we decided to use the internet café at Skagway that other day which cost $5 for the hour – bit slow and dodgy but did the trick. This morning, however, at the Mt McKinley Wilderness Lodge, it was free. The lodges are tied up with “Princess” as well.

Breakfast this morning was very ordinary compared to ship life. It’s a good time to start the food intake reduction scheme. We opted for an Alaskan breakfast of poached eggs, “bambi” sausages and potatoes. We also had a choice of toast or a sour dough biscuit which turned out to be a scone in our language. We shared the toast and biscuit.
PS We had “Bambi” lasagne for dinner last night as well – reindeer in other words.

At 9.30 we climbed aboard the bus, to travel to the train station at Talkeetna bound for Denali National Park and Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. The train ride to Denali took four hours. We were seated in a domed carriage, not as up-market as the Rocky Mountaineer we were told. Lunch was served downstairs. Once again the scenery along the way was spectacular. The beauty of the colours of autumn are difficult to capture. We arrived at Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge at 3.30pm. We quickly set out to case the souvenir shops. Didn’t buy much.

At 6.45 we headed off to the Music of Denali Dinner Theatre where we were served biscuits, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, pork spare ribs, baked salmon and corn on the cob country style in bulk. Once our dessert of jam sponge was served the singing show started. It was very entertaining. The actors portrayed the story of the first persons who were said to have scaled Denali. Denali is the native name for Mt McKinley and debate continues as to whether the latter should be used.

Following the show we had a drink of wine with some WA people. After they left we discovered that one of our luggage bags had been damaged. Of course no one said anything to us so we were not happy. We headed over to reception to give them a piece of our mind as we had observed the young cowboys collecting the bags in the morning at Mt McKinley Lodge and had commented that it was a wonder the bags didn’t fall out. Obviously ours fell somewhere – left cracked and zipperless. We also lost our new lock. Luckily we had a strap around it as it could have been very embarrassing seeing Ross’ jocks and all our valuable souvenirs strewn everywhere!! So Kath and Dan, we are sad to say that the suitcase that you lent us will not reach Australian shores again.

Now, if this is the only downside of our trip, then we should be happy. We walked outside and looked above to find the Aurora Borealis, Northern Lights happening. We had put our names down to be woken when they occurred as they were predicting 1am to 3am. Although they were not very extensive, it was truly magical. The moon was shining brightly so it was a wonder that we saw anything. This also provided us with a brilliant moonlight picture at 11pm at night as it shone on the river behind the lodge. If only the Cosmos Centre, Charleville, was here!! Our little camera took what we thought were some great shots so hopefully we will upload them on the website. Bedtime at almost 11.30 but it was well worth the wait.

Posted by gpric6 22:10 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Day 10

Mt McKinley Wilderness Lodge

semi-overcast 10 °C

It was a sad day today as we had to pack up and leave the Diamond Princess. Had breakfast and met the rest of the group in the Savoy Dining room. Once we disembarked, a bus took us on a guided tour of two of the three streets in Whittier before heading through a 6 km tunnel on our way to Anchorage. We passed more glaciers and towering mountains. We also passed a place that no longer exists due to an earthquake.

On our way to Anchorage, we visited an animal refuge, the Alaskan Wildlife Centre, where we saw bison, black bears, Kodiak bears, elks and some very sad moose. We took a quick look at the visitor’s centre and then it was back on the bus. From there we travelled to Anchorage where we were able to visit the farmer’s markets. We also had a reindeer sausage from a stall on the street. Then back on the bus and on our way to the Iditarod Centre. Once again it was rushy, rushy so as to stay on schedule. The visitor’s centre was well presented and the puppies were cute but not like the dogs in Snow Dogs. Before we knew it, we were on our way to Mt McKinley Lodge where we were ever hopeful of sighting Mt McKinley. No such luck.

Our room was very nice and dinner was too filling as usual. Decided to try to get the blogs up to date. The autumn colours are a sight to see and we hope that Mt McKinley will be visible tomorrow on the train to Denali Lodge.

Posted by gpric6 09:44 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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