Adventures on the Weavers Way, Norfolk

Seeing as the weather forecast for this weekend was so good, we decided to jump into Ruby again for a cheeky night away on Saturday, two weekends away in a row – how lovely!

Our wheels we once again set towards North Norfolk, this time towards The Weavers Way at North Walsham. The Weavers Way is a 61 mile footpath – parts of which are disused railway lines – and it takes it name from the cloth industry that was once one of the areas major industries.

We were staying at another Caravan and Motorhome club CL site, this time with no facilities other than hook up, tap and disposal facilities. Old Bridge Farm is situated conveniently just off the Weavers Way- perfect for our weekend of walking and enjoying the weather.

After a quick lunch, which we enjoyed in the beautiful sunshine, we actually had a quick nap! Feeling much more rested, we don our boots and head towards Aylsham on the Weavers Way.

Less than a mile from the site we came across one of the most well preserved stations we’ve seen on these disused railways; Felmingham Station. Sadly it’s not in use- it would make a wonderful cafe.

The banks along the Weavers Way are steep in places and full of pretty butterflies. We really enjoyed our 3.5 miles stroll to Aylsham before doing an about turn and making our way back to Ruby.

Once again, Keefy found an appropriate blind spot to take a shower, although the wind was a bit fresher than last week so it was a bit cooler.

We sat for a while, enjoying the peace and quiet before moving inside for dinner- that wind was very fresh!

Dinner was teriyaki salmon, noodles and stir fry. I used the Remoska to cook the salmon and it was delicious.

We ended up going to bed at 8.45pm – what party animals lol! And slept soundly until 7am. Must have needed that! These CLs are wonderfully quiet though – a real place to relax and unwind.

The sunrise was spectacular

As we had woken up so early, and the forecast for later in the day was rain, we got up early and went for a walk in the opposite direction, to North Walsham. It was just over a mile, so we walked about 2.4 miles in total. The light was wonderful.

We really enjoyed our time exploring the Weavers Way and highly recommend this campsite – it’s location and serenity were perfect and at just £12pn, we felt a real bargain.

On the way back we stopped for some local potatoes at a nearby farm and then at a farm shop for some leeks. Leek and potato for lunch!

Until next time

Lx

Adventures on the Marriott’s Way, Norfolk

It’s been a busy couple of weeks back at school, stress levels have been high and I was itching to get away for a night for a change of scenery. We’ve been meaning to revisit the Marriott’s Way, a disused railway line now turned into recreational track, that runs 26 miles from Aylsham to Norwich. Last time we visited we stayed about half a mile off the Marriotts Way, but whilst cycling along spied a quirky little Caravan and Motorhome club certified site (5 van site) in an old station situated right ON the Marriott’s Way. We made a mental note to revisit sometime – it’s only taken us 4 years!

More info about the Marriott’s Way can be found here

We got a last minute pitch at The Station, Attlebridge, and on Saturday morning left ours around 10am, arriving at the campsite at 11am – we’d checked that we could arrive early. This CL has a small toilet, hookup, tap and emptying facilities, so we decided to make use of the solar shower. What we love about CLs is the flexibility to park however we wish, rather than the more regimented club sites. We took advantage of this and parked side-wards on, and within 5 minutes we were enjoying a cuppa and admiring the view.

The Station Campsite is host to the former platform and station buildings and has lovingly resorted signalling box and gates, and even a small stretch of railway line. It’s ever so quirky and it’s big grassy paddock is perfect for a small quiet campsite.

After lunch, we put our best foot forward, this time opting to walk the Marriotts Way.

We walked as far as the Whitwell and Reepham railway, where there is a museum and cafe/bar – a distance of around 4.5miles.

The trouble with walking the Marriotts Way is that it’s linear, so we retraced our steps back to the campsite, clocking up 9 miles in total. We absolutely loved it though – it’s flat and easy walking. There are some old bridges and railway banks to admire, and at this time of year the tree canopies are really pretty.

Back at the campsite and Keith found a blind spot at the back of Ruby for his solar shower, which had heated up nicely in the sun on the roof of Ruby! We enjoyed a couple of (non alcoholic as we are doing sober September) drinks in the late afternoon sunshine, before knocking up a delicious pasta carbonara with some left over gammon. It was great to be able to cook and eat outside- we do love Indian summers.

We sat outside until the last rays of lights dipped behind the trees, reading and keeping an eye out for owls. We heard two but didn’t see them- before turning in for a early night.

Sunday morning dawned as bright as the day before so we enjoyed breakfast al fresco before walking in the opposite direction towards Norwich.

We covered a further 3 miles reaching Drayton before turning back to Ruby and waving bye to our perfect spot to relax for the weekend.

This campsite is perfect location for the Marriotts Way and at just £14 was a bargain.

We may well be back sometime soon!

Until next time

Lx

Ariba Mexico! 🇲🇽

We had a rather hectic summer, what with our trip of a lifetime to Canada and Alaska, and then a summer full of gigs, we decided as we’d got some dosh left over that we would try and grab a last minute trip somewhere hot and let someone else do the cooking and washing up! Remember when we did the same last year?

This year, we bagged another bargain courtesy of Tui and hopped on a plane from Gatwick to MEXICO 🇲🇽 Ariba!

We travelled with Tui, and were staying at an adults all inclusive, El Dorado seaside suites. Our objective for the week was to sit on the beach and do very little.

Of course, by our third day we were crawling the palm trees and craving some adventures, so got busy booking some excursions for the following days.

First up, we booked to go snorkelling with whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. We were terrified and actually nearly didn’t book it as we were genuinely just too scared. But, not ones to let fear get to us we put our brave faces on and booked it! Pick up was 6am, and the mood on the minibus was anxious lol. An hour in and our guide got the call, it was too rough as a storm was rolling in. Back to the resort we went- deflated but secretly happy haha! We rebooked for our final day, and then booked straight onto a swimming with sea turtles adventure that left later that day.

This experience was amazing, despite it being stormy and the visibility not so good, it was phenomenal. See our video here. We were so close to the turtle it took my breath away. We were in the middle of the sea, and the turtles completely wild, not in captivity and it was just a magical experience. Afterwards we were taken to an underground dramatic cenote in the middle of the jungle, where we got to do more snorkelling in the caves. It was fab!

That evening was Mexican night at our hotel – there was a large mariachi band and lots of superb Mexican food. Yum!

Thursday dawned an early one again, we had booked to go for the day to UNESCO world heritage site, Sian Ki’an- a natural biosphere and area of outstanding beauty. We raced on speedboats through mangroves and travelled trough crystal clear water where we saw more sea turtles and dolphins and then got to snorkel on the second largest coral reef in the world. It was fantastic!!! See our videos here and here

Friday was the main feature; another UNESCO heritage site and one of the seven wonders of the world, Chichen Itza. This was a 4am pick up! But by doing this we got there as it opened at 9am and there were no crowds at all. We spent two hours discovering the huge site of Chichen itza, which was just phenomenal. Words cannot do it justice! Afterwards we were taken to a small traditional Mayan village – we love excursions that allow us to get an insight into the country itself. We brought some hand crafted goodies and met some of the locals. It was brilliant. See our video here

Saturday arrived and it was the rescheduled whale shark swim day! We were very nervous AGAIN! And most of the 2 hour drive to Cancun was spent in silence 😂. We transferred to small boats and were taken out an hour into the open were warned that we may not see these humongous creatures as they are wild and here because they are feeding. But the ocean is huge and we may not find them we were warned.

Luck was on our sides, and before we knew it, we were told to quickly get our fins and masks on. We were to go in in pairs alongside a guide. Guess who got picked to go in first…..! Yup, us. S**T! We were warned not to dilly dally, when they shouted jump, we should jump! The whale sharks were 20ft long – they didn’t need to swim fast for us to struggle to keep up. It was now or never, in we went.

Watch our video here. I’m pretty proud of this video I must say!

Terrified is not the word! Incredible, awesome, mind bogglingly superb are not the words either. We could not have been prouder of each other – the experience rocketed up to one of the best things we’ve ever done- I know we have said that a lot recently!

Afterwards, we were taken to more section of the coral reef for a more relaxing snorkel before being served lunch IN THE SEA! Using life jackets as tables we were served fresh ceviche. What an incredible incredible way to finish our weeks relaxation (ahem!)

The food in the hotel was fabulous. There were numerous ala carte restaurants and you could eat there whenever you liked. The Mexican was our favourite.

The drinks flowed and the beach was great. The beach bbq was the best place to start our mornings for breakfast and mimosas.

What a brilliant week we had and what incredible adventures we’d found ourselves enjoying!

Adventures in Suffolk – a night away near Orford

Ruby the VW campervan is parked up on the beautiful and idyllic ‘Tumbleweed’; a Camping and Motorhome Club certified location situated 4 miles outside of Orford on the Suffolk coast.

We decided to avoid the club sites during the August holidays this year as even during the May half term they were packed and fairly noisy. We’ve been quite busy doing gigs and a handful of teaching since returning from our Canada and Alaska and fancied some peace and quiet. Tumbleweed (£14 pn) had a space free despite our fairly late booking and even better, it had a shower (£1 for a 10 minute shower) and toilet on site.

We arrived just before 1200 and instantly relaxed. The site, despite only hosting 5 vans, is a relatively large and beautifully landscaped site, nestled just to the side of the owners house. There are a couple of hard standing pitches and the rest are grass. We chose the pitch closest to the small stream that runs alongside the site.

We wasted no time in getting the bikes off the back of Ruby and pointing our wheels in the direction of Orford, just 4.5 miles away along a small quiet lane.

Seeing as we’d arrived at lunchtime, and the pubs on this this stretch of coast weirdly stop serving food at around 2.30 despite it being the height of summer, we decided to have our fish and chips lunch before our walk so we didn’t run the risk of missing out!

Orford is very famous for its Castle, a unique and fantastically preserved polygonal tower keep, which stands proudly above the small village and is seen for miles along the coast on a clear day. It’s looked after now by English Heritage and worth a visit. We visited a few years ago so didn’t go inside today. Dogs are allowed in.

Orford is also famous for its fishing – it’s been a fishing port for years and years and as such you can find the famous Pinney’s of Orford smokehouse shop here. They still fish on two boats from Orford quay and have a large smokehouse just behind. It’s the place to buy your smoked fish from round here.

In the Jolly Sailors, our lunch venue, they were selling a pint of Pinney’s smoked prawns, something we’ve not seen before, so we of course ordered a pint to share followed by two battered fish and chips.

Both were delicious and washed down by the local Adnams lager. It took all my strength not to order the adnams gin which is fab, but I’ve got a bottle at home so resisted.

After lunch, we moved our bikes to the large car park where there was ample bike parking and began our country walking route.

We followed the estuary for a couple of miles following the Suffolk coastal path. And then cut inland before following a good path back to the castle.

We would have had a drink at the other pub in the village but it was closed – I told you, weird opening hours! – so grabbed some Suffolk gold cheese, and cycled back to Ruby. The return journey was a little easier on the legs.

Back at Ruby, we had a quick shower set our stall out and made the most of the sunshine and peace and quiet. We sat out until gone 8pm reading. It was perfection.

Once the sun had gone down, we moved inside and had a simple dinner made up of some leftovers from a Mexican bbq we cooked at the weekend and settled down to watch a film, but we didn’t even make 20 minutes before our eyelids became increasingly heavy, so we called an early night!

We slept like logs for over 12 hours! It was absolutely silent here- perfect for our weary bodies!

We had a simple al fresco breakfast before quickly packing up Ruby, saving goodbye to the site owners and heading down a mile or so to the large picnic car park (this has a height barrier so is not suitable for people in anything taller than 2m) just along the Iken road near Snape.

Here we picked up the coastal path for the mile or so to Snape Maltings, which as the title suggests is a converted Maltings that was built to malt barley, which was then sent on to make beer in London and Europe. It’s spot, right on the banks of the River Alde, made it a desirable and useful spot and it remained a busy Maltings right up to the 1960s. At this point, local but very famous composer, Benjamin Britten, had the vision or turn the derelict buildings of Snape Maltings into a concert hall and ever since the famous Aldeburgh Music Festival and much more has been held there. It’s now home to much more than just the concert hall, also an array of shops, boutiques and gallery’s and is worthy of a trip if you’ve not been before.

Our walk continued through Blaxhall common or Blaxhall Heath as it more resembles- we lost the path due to overgrown-ness a couple of times but we enjoyed the varied landscapes and all the beautiful purple heathers.

We were surprised to learn that we racked up 5 miles by the time we got back to Ruby – which brings our walk 1000miles target to 690 miles walked so far this year!

After a quick bite to eat, we turned our wheels back in the direction of home, but not before one last stop at the wonderful Friday Street Farm ship just before we turned onto the A12. We were exceptionally disciplined- we’re trying not to spend a fortune, but I stocked up on fresh fruit – much of which was harvested from High House fruit farm which was only a mile away from our campsite. Tomorrow has been declared a jam making day!

We absolutely loved Tumbleweed Cl, and thought the facilities were exceptional for a small site. We’re starting to prefer these quiet sites during the peak seasons, so finding one with such spotless and modern facilities is just wonderful.

Does anyone else have any recommendations for CL or CS sites with a decent shower? Please comment below if you do

Until next time

Lx

Adventures on the Rocky Mountaineer and Alaska Cruise – July 2019 Part 7 – [Hopefully not Sleepless in] Seattle 

Wednesday

Wednesday morning 7am, and the MS Volendam docked for the final time of our tour, in Vancouver. It was time to disembark and I felt flat as a pancake about this. All good adventures must come to an end, I know, but I was willing to have another week on the ship, you know, just to check we weren’t missing out on anything! Today the rest of our Great Rail Journeys group were flying home. It really was the end of their adventure, but not us. We’d tacked on a 3 night stay down the coast in Seattle. One of the things we like about using Great Rail Journeys as a tour operator is that they are very open to you doing your own thing at the beginning or end of the tour and will sort this out for you happily. This time, their hotel was out of our price range, so they sorted out our flights home and train (which actually ended up being a coach) to Seattle whilst we arranged an air b n b for our accommodation.

We waved bye to our group at the cruise terminal and suddenly we were on our own. We took the Skytrain the short distance to the Pacific Station where we promply discovered our tickets were for Vancouver WA and not Vancouver DC. After a very short panic and some fabulous customer service from the team back in York we ended up on the coach transfer to Seattle leaving an hour early (but we’d arrived 3 hours early!) Thanks Gary and Links for sorting us out. 

Our coach journey crossed the international border from Canada into USA and as such we had to empty the coach with all our luggage and go through customs etc. This took roughly 30 minutes and then we were back on the highway towards Seattle. The journey took about 4.5 hours so not too bad at all.

We used UBER to get to our accommodation, a cool little basement in the Central District, before heading out in search of a Seattle beer or two and some dinner. We didn’t need to go too far – there was a nice local bar 10 mins away with a great menu, and we were in time for happy hour which meant £2.20 pints! We set up camp there for a while before heading back for an early night as we were pretty drained! 

Thursday 

I didn’t sleep very well as I was missing the movement from the sea! We had a fairly lazy morning – as in we didn’t set an alarm for the first time in the 2 week holiday, but around 10am we headed into town via the local Downtown bus which took about 20 mins.

Our first stop was the Space needle observation tower. This was built in the 60s to coincide with the World Fair in 1962. When it was built it was the tallest tower west of the Mississippi, and its unique shape makes for a very interesting skyline. 

We couldn’t have picked a better day to go up – the weather was amazing and visibility was brilliant. Mount Rainier – named after the beer we drank last night!! – stood proudly and snow topped – it almost looked like a painting actually, it was picture perfect and we couldn’t take our eyes off it. 

We spent quite some time at the top, enjoying the views and the interactive photo points. We even managed a beer at the top – surprise surprise! We also enjoyed (in a loose sense of the world!) the glass revolving floor.

After our visit, we took the 2 minute ride on the Seattle Monorail, also built for the World Fair in 1962. This one mile stretch of track which is above ground in the air, connects the Seattle centre with downtown near to Pike Market, which was where we were heading for lunch

. 

Pike Market was a sensory overload. Flowers, food, trinkets, you name it- we loved it! there was even a man playing the MOP!

We joined the queue for “the world’s best mac n cheese”. They make their own cheese and the mac n cheese was amazing.

Just down the street was the first ever Starbucks but we didn’t go in as it was queuing and heaving!

By now it was getting towards 30 degrees and the sun was just so hot. We had a quick beer and water stop at the historical Virginia inn before grabbing a nice air conditioned uber back to our digs.

We had a siesta and after a shower and change headed back out, this time on the bus, for a pizza at the Diller Hotel, which dated from the late 1800s.

We then walked down Harbour Steps to the waterfront where we joined an hours harbour cruise to watch the sunset

. This was a lovely way to spend our evening. The waterfront area was alive and buzzing. There were loads of delicious looking seafood restaurants and a big ferris wheel. It was a lovely place to spend the evening. 

After our cruise, we couldn’t resist some of the “best clam chowder” at Ivan’s takeout before heading back to the accomodation.  We can confirm the clam chowder was delicious! 

Friday 

Our last day of our adventure! Sad faces all round. 

It was forecasted to be another scorcher, so we decided we would take the ferry to West Seattle’s Alki Beach. On our way to the  ferry at pier 52, we stopped for a drink at Pike Place Brewery

checked out Post Alley

and it’s very random Gum wall

and also did a taster flight at Seattle’s Copperworks Distillery, which resulted in some more gin being purchased!

We then got tempted by the close proximity that we were to Ivan’s, so decided to have lunch there before going to the beach. We bagged a fabulous waterfront outdoor seat and ordered more clam chowder and then battered jumbo shrimp and chips. Yum! 

We then made our way across the sound on the ferry ($12 for two) to West Seattle and jumped on the free shuttle to Alki Beach.

As it was rather hot by now it was heaving, but we enjoyed our time there. We couldn’t go in the sea as there was a lot of seaweed unfortunately but the sea breeze cooled us down, as did the west seattle brewing company lager!

We had an Uber back to the air b n b, and another siesta before heading out in search of BBQ! We found it on Capitol Hill – similar to Soho, and enjoyed brisket, ribs, mac n cheese and coleslaw before walking it off with an explore of Capitol Hill area. 

By now, we were starting to feel sad about our imminent departure and also a bit sensory overload! We had eaten and drank to our hearts content for 2.5 weeks and there is only so much that you can take. Plus, similarly to Vancouver,  there were some interesting characters out on the street- falling out with themselves and wandering down the middle of the road. Like Vancouver there is a high level of homelessness, and you can’t help but wonder if its linked to the legalisation of cannabis. Maybe not- Who knows, but I wouldn’t have wanted to have been there without my big strapping 6 foot 4 hubby! 

Saturday arrived and it was time to fly home. I was distraught. We had THE BEST time ever. I can’t even begin to describe how much we enjoyed our trip, and wholeheartedly recommend this trip to anyone. Travel with Great Rail Journeys and you have the security of a tour manager and logistics team behind you every step of the way. You also have enough free time for you not to feel like you are on an escorted tour. But you get to enjoy their group discounts, which means the price is really competitive and hard to beat by going solo. 

https://www.greatrail.com/tours/premium-rockies-and-alaska/

Let me know if you book with them!

Until Next time 

Lx 

Adventures on the Rocky Mountaineer and Alaska Cruise – July 2019 Part 6 – Alaska Cruise on board the MS Volendam.

Wednesday lunchtime

Check in and embarkation onto our home for the next 7 nights was fairly quick and easy and by 12.30 we were boarding the ship. I was beyond excited, poor Keith had to put up with me! First impressions of the MS Volendam were good. It was grand and although huge, not too huge, if you know what I mean. 

We had already decided to purchase the drinks package a few weeks ago; we went for the Elite signature $482.55 pp ( around £380 pp) which allowed us up to 15 drinks of values up to $15,  per person per day. If we drank 15 drinks this meant our drink price would be around £4 a drink which we felt was cheap. It also allowed us to have “posh coffee” and soft drinks from the cafe and bars too.

We also upgraded our room to the Lenai stateroom – this was one step up from the basic cabin with sea view window, but one less than the stateroom suite with balcony. It actually turns out that it was quite a bit cheaper than the upgrades offered by Great Rail Journeys for a better room – but Keith spent quite a lot of time investigating the room types on Holland and America website and when he discovered this type of room, we specifically requested our Customer service manager Gary to get this sorted for us, which he did, and we are absolutely are thrilled with the upgrade- so thanks Keith and Gary. 

The room itself is a normal sized room, we think, with couch; but has a full sized window which is a sliding door onto the lower promenade deck. Although not private, we have our own reserved sun loungers outside and the large window (with privacy glass so we can look out but people can’t look in) makes the room feel very spacious. The Lower promenade deck is not as busy as other public areas. We are extremely happy with this choice. 

Room checked, we went up stairs on the top deck, which has both an indoor and outdoor pool, two hot tubs, pool bar and also a sun deck. By now the rain had stopped so we made a start on the cocktails and local beers whilst watching as we cruised out of Vancouver, ready to embark on our Alaskan adventure. 

We had pre booked the Pinnacle Grill for dinner – and enjoyed fillet mignon for dinner. It was sooo good! Before and after dinner, we enjoyed cocktails whilst we listened first to the cocktail pianist and then the jazz trio. The music was good and we were throughly relaxed. 

Thursday  a day at sea whilst we sailed the Inside Passage into Alaska.

Today was a mainly spent on the top deck, looking for wildlife and eating and drinking! We spotted two humpback whales and a pod of dolphins. The humpback whale sightings were particularly exciting!

Tonight was a formal night, which meant we got to get our glad rags on. We had also booked into the dining room for dinner. On the MS Volendam there are two inclusive dining in areas, the Dining Room – a place where you can order a la carte off a menu and be served at your own table, or the lido market which has every type of food you could imagine served as a buffet.

It was lovely to see everyone in their finest and after our dinner we listened to a pianist and violinist playing some classical music, before going to hear the ocean trio play some jazz. 

Friday Juneau

An early start for us as we were being picked up mid Pacific, by a smaller boat to take us down to The Tracy Fjord inlet. Just getting onto the smaller boat was an adventure as the smaller boat came alongside our cruise ship, and we had to walk down a small walkway to get onto the smaller boat – right in the middle of the open sea! It also provided a really great first proper look at the size of our boat! Which is huge in my eyes! 

As we powered off away from the MS Volendam, it was not long before we saw our first humpback whales, really close! We saw about 4 or five spouts of water, then their back arching through the water – this happened 3 or 4 times, then you’d see their tail as they began a deep dive down for 5-10 minutes. The sound they make as they spurt the water out is just wonderful.

 Next up, our boat captain gets a call from a nearby boat saying they’ve got orcas near them. So we powered over to nearby boat and watched a pair of orcas (killer whales) swimming for ten minutes or so. Just incredible and all the staff were excited as this was rare to see in this area. 

It was soon time to leave the whales behind and head towards the main feature. The Tracey Fjord inlet and the Sawyer glacier. The scenery became more and more magnificent as we traveled through the gorge – and we were darting between floating icebergs. We couldn’t have felt further from home! The water was emerald green and there were steep mountain gorges on each side, with dramatic waterfalls here and there.

The Sawyer glacier absolutely took my breath away! It was 500ft tall and we were viewing it from the bottom. It was bright blue and as the ice cracked and fell, the thunderous roar was overwhelming. Neither of us have ever seen anything quite like it and I don’t think I will ever forget the magnificence of it. Alarmingly it is recedeeding at quite a rate as it melts. 

After a couple of hours in complete awe, it was time to turn the boat round and head back towards Juneau. Whilst at the glacier, the on board barman had fished a small iceberg out and chopped it up for drinks on the bar! It would have been rude not to have tried a Juneau gin and tonic with 300+ year ice from the glacier, so I obliged!

On the way to Juneau, where we were to reunite with MS Volendam, someone shouted BEAR! The captain slowed down to a stop and we watched for a minute or two, a grizzly on the shoreline looking for salmon. What a moment! 

I don’t think I can remember such a day – we were bouncing off the walls in excitement as we arrived into Juneau, Alaska’s state capital. We had an hour to spare, so nipped up for some lunch on our ship then had a quick look around the small town.

We managed a quick drink in the Red Dog Saloon, which had some live music on, before taking ourselves off on another whale watching excursion – this time an evening one with food. To be honest, we were pretty exhausted by this point – almost, dare I say it, overwhelmed with the scenery and excitement of spotting all the wildlife earlier that day. The food on the excursion was great – local salmon, chowder, local cheeses etc and even reindeer sausages! We saw some more humpback whale activity, but not as close as the morning trip, and we were struggling to get excited by it as we’d just had such an amazing morning!! When we got back to the cruise ship, we had 15 minutes to spare before we waved bye to Juneau, so we quickly got showered and changed before heading for a drink or two to reflect on possibly one of the most incredible days we’ve ever had!! 

Saturday Skagway

Saturday dawned a little cloudy as we docked into Skagway – the furthest north we’ve ever been. The weather was a concern for us as we had booked a helicopter and glacier trip – but sadly the cloud was just too low and so it got cancelled. Disappointing but understandable. Safety first – can’t you tell I’m terrified of flying! We managed to book onto the White Pass summit train journey which took the historic route of the Klondike Gold rush route.

Although visibility wasn’t brilliant at the summit, the scenery was terrific and we enjoyed the on board commentary. Americans do it so well! Some of the bridges that we had to cross were rickety to say the least and as we neared the summit the temperature dropped and visibility became non existent. 

The pass followed the Yukon river and providing plenty of opportunities to perhaps see some bear activity – sadly not for us today. 

Video highlights here:

After our train ride we spent some time exploring Skagway, a really charming town despite the obvious tourism. We love the wooden buildings and we enjoyed half an hour or so looking in the Museum. We picked up some souvenirs and went for a beer at the Skagway brewing company. I tried the local gin and had to wrestle with myself not to buy a bottle – I already had a bottle from Juneau and had to think of my weight limit for the flight home!

It was a fairly early departure from Skagway, but as we’d been used to so far, enjoyed a lovely evening on the boat.

Cocktails in the Ocean Bar, followed by a great meal in the dining room and then a couple of nightcaps whilst listening to Tommy and his jazz trio in the ocean bar before a relatively early night. Tomorrow was a 6.30am alarm as we wanted to be awake and on deck for 7am to watch our entrance into the World Heritage site that is Glacier Bay National Park. 

Sunday Glacier Bay

Bright and early we were having our pre breakfast walk round the promenade deck, when the Cruise Director’s voice boomed around the ship. “Mountain goats starboard” oh and “6+ Brown/Grizzly Bear’s are down on the shoreline off our starboard side of the ship, the Captain has slowed the ship down”. Luckily we had not only a pair of binoculars each, but also our superzoom camera- both of which had become permanent fixtures to our bodies for the last week! Considering it had only just turned 7am we were some of the lucky ones as many were still in bed. What a way to start our day! 

We went up on deck to watch the low cloud swirling around the base of the mountains, and the scenery was just fantastic.

After an hour or so looking at the view and on the watch out for whale activity we popped for breakfast in the dining room – I loved the Dungeness crab benedict and Keith had pancakes and waffles. Just as breakfast was served we were right next to the Lamplugh Glacier – we couldn’t believe our eyes. The large windows of the dining room gave a great view. 

As soon as we’d scoffed our breakfast in superspeed timing – we were desperate not to miss out on a second – we rushed out to the bow of the ship. The scenery was jaw dropping and I could not and still can’t get my head around that we were experiencing this phenomenal sight from our huge cruise ship!

At 10.30 the highlight of the day, the Margerie Glacier was right in front of our eyes. The waiters brought bowls of Dutch Pea soup around to everyone and we just stood and admired this humongous, 21 mile deep and 1 mile wide glacier. I still can’t believe how close we got considering the size of the MS Volendam.

We spent over an hour there and the captain did a very slow and very impressive “3 point turn” so everyone got a good look no matter where you were on the ship. As chucks of ice fell off into the water, you heard a tremendous roar, like thunder. It was a bitter sweet moment – the beauty of the drop off and the sound was wonderful and infectious – you wanted to see it, but at a rate of 5-6ft recession EACH DAY, it doesn’t take a mathematician to know that this won’t be here too much longer. What we didn’t realise was that glaciers actually provide the majority of the world’s drinking water- this is real and concerning – and my god, they are utterly beautiful. 

The Grand Pacific Glacier was also right next to the Margarie Glacier – this one looks dirty and black and grey rather than the staggering blue of the glaciers we’d seen up to now. I thought it was pollution, but apparently its rock debris. 

We stayed on deck for the entirety of our visit of Glacier Bay apart from nipping into the dining room for a quick 2nd lunch! Mac n cheese was on the menu – my fave!

As we left Glacier Bay, around 4pm, we watched the National Park rangers do an extraordinary disembarkation onto their tiny in comparison pilot boat, down a rope ladder hung tentatively from our ship! 

watch video here!

Later that evening was our second formal evening of the trip and another lovely reason to get dressed up in our glad rags. What a fanTASTIC day it had been!

Monday

Another earlyish start today as we docked into Ketchikan about 9.30am and we wanted to be first off the ship – we had lots planned but not much time!

First on the list – Totem Poles via Creek Street. Creek St is one of the most famous images of Ketchikan that you see. It’s really pretty and the wooden houses and shops that stand tall on stilts above the creek. Hence the name.

We caught the local bus from the centre of Keitchikan to Saxman Totem Park. This is home to the largest collection of totem poles and was an enjoyable visit.

You don’t need too much time there, but we decided to walk the 3 miles back to Keitchikan rather than wait the 45 minutes for the next bus back. The walk was pleasant, it hugged the coastline and there was a decent pavement- we’ve been eating and drinking far too much so it was a good time to have some exercise! 

We then made our way to the Heritage centre museum where we saw some of the older Totem Poles that had been collected from uninhabited Tlingit settlements on Village Island and Tongass Island, south of Ketchikan, as well as from the Haida village of Old Kasaan. 

We then followed the village trail around past the salmon hatchery,

and along Married Man’s walk, before making our way back to the cruise ship for a very quick lunch and FaceTime with the dog (and mum!)

I was trying to distract myself, as I was bricking it about the afternoon’s activity that we had lined up. A Seaplane flight to Neet’s Bay to go bear watching. Obviously the latter part was fine – as a nervous flier the seaplane was making my tummy do all sorts, but I refuse to let my fear of flying stop me. 

At 2pm we met with some others from our group and the cruise, and got driven 5 minutes to Tarquin Air’s headquarters.

We boarded a 10 seater Otter seaplane and flew 25 minutes to Neets Bay. It. Was. Terrifying. Oh my gosh – I cried and cried, and had my eyes closed, and had a full blown panic attack! Even Keefy was scared! Absolutely the scariest thing I’ve ever done and the thought of the journey back made me want to set up camp for ever in Neets Bay. Even when the ranger who lived there said she has to have a chocolate ration and no phone or internet. Thats how scary the flight was! (The scenery was fantastic by the way – I’m glad I filmed it!)

We spent 45 mins or so on Neets Bay, which is 40 miles north of Ketchikan and only accessible by boat or floatplane. Bears are attracted to Neets Bay because there is a salmon hatchery there, so they like to come and get their supper there. Our guide told us  the silent signal we must perform if we saw a bear BUT we were pretty unlikely to see one though because the salmon were late this year, and it was a very hot day so the bears had been sighted either late at night or early morning. So we enjoyed seeing their habitat and having a little hike in the rainforest – seeing where they had clawed the trees and seeing their “day dens”.

Then. Keith spotted one!!!! A great big 7ft male black bear! OH MY GOSH.

It was so exciting albeit mildly terrifying. We stood fixed to the spot, cameras in our hands, breathing silently but rapidly!

We watched him for a couple of minutes before he disappeared into the trees and we could not believe our eyes. Our guide was thrilled, she couldn’t believe our luck as only one group in the last few days had seen one! 

High as kites, nothing was going to stop me at the this point, certainly not a silly little floatplane…. haha! I got the opportunity to sit up front next to the pilot, Chuck.

I pushed my terror aside and tried to embrace the 25 min ride back to Ketchikan from up front. I even kept my eyes open! You can see our flight highlights below.

What an absolutely tremendous experience – completely priceless and another one I will never ever forget!

Thanks Chuck for encouraging me to not be a wimp, and keeping us safe! And letting us take silly pics in the cockpit when we landed!

That night on the boat we didn’t even get changed before we went for some drinks in the bar. Excitement oozed through our veins like blood. I’ve never felt anything like it before! This trip was just AMAZING. 

Tuesday 

Our final day at sea before we docked early in the morning at Vancouver. We spent the day eating and drinking and on the hunt for wildlife.

We’d grown fond of Ross, the on board Naturalist host – his enthusiasm infectious, but he was knowledgeable and friendly and we enjoyed spending time with him up on deck contantly with one on the horizon looking for whales. 

By 5.30pm we were just about to turn in and get changed for our last night at sea. When the Captain announced “ there is unusual Orca activity beside the boat”. We stood with Ross, margarita in hand, in the glorious sunshine and watched this pair of orcas/killer whales chase the boat and play in the waves literally 8 foot from the boat, right in front of us. It was magical. Ross was beside himself, he said it was exceptionally rare to see Orca’s at this point and for so long, so close. It was the most perfect end to the most perfect of weeks I can remember and I may have had leaky eyes!! Just incredible. 

The remainder of the night was spent enjoying the last of our drinks package and food, which was just wonderful the entire week. I was feeling exceptionally emotional about having to pack our cases and say bye to the Lenai stateroom, and as if it knew – just as I was getting out of the shower and dressed – just 3 metres from our room I watched a humpback spout and then its tail as it dived. How on earth was I going to cope with going back to not having the binocs round my neck and being on constant whale watch!!

I cannot reccommend this cruise enough. Absolutely insanely wonderful – NOT relaxing in the slightest, but one of the most incredible experiences we’ve ever had. i cannot think how we will top it. 

Great Rail Journeys booked the cruise on our behalf – we travelled on Holland and America line MS Volendam. The food and hospitality was absolutely out of this world. It’s not cheap, but it was priceless!

The excursions we booked were:

https://www.hollandamerica.com/en_US/shore-excursions/1010063/tracy-arm-fjord-glacier-explorer.html

https://allenmarinetours.com/juneau/whale-evening/

https://www.hollandamerica.com/en_US/shore-excursions/1010061/dog-sledding-glacier-adventure-by-helicopter.html – cancelled 

https://www.hollandamerica.com/en_US/shore-excursions/1010061/white-pass-summit-scenic-railroad.html

https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/ShowUserReviews-g31030-d1886381-r509504551-Taquan_Air_Tours-Ketchikan_Alaska.html

Adventures on the Rocky Mountaineer and Alaska Cruise – July 2019 Part 5 – Vancouver

Monday evening

We arrived into Vancouver station around 5pm and picked up our coach transfer to Vancouver Four Seasons hotel. Our evening was spent at leisure so we wasted no time showering and changing and went for our first explore of the area. We walked for 10 minutes and found the historic and famous Gastown- home to the famous steam powered clock and lots of bars and restaurants.

The pipes on the Steam clock are powered by steam and every 15 minutes you can hear the tooting steam whistle. There literally is a restaurant for every type of world cuisine imaginable and so it’s no surprise that Vancouver is well known for its culinary experiences. We tried a couple of local lagers in the Steamworks brewery before heading to Tacofino, a highly recommended Mexican street food restaurant. We had a feast of fish and meat tacos which were delicious before trying a pint at The Wild Pig. All the excitement of the past few days had begun to catch up on us so we had an earlyish night.

Tuesday

The morning was spent on a guided tour of Vancouver: the first part taking in sights of downtown from the comfort of the coach, although we had some time at the really beautiful Dr Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese gardens within Chinatown. Chinatown is Vancouver’s oldest district- it actually predates the city itself. We saw turtles bobbing around in the water and explored the small but really tranquil gardens.

The tour moved on to the beautiful Stanley Park which is actually one of North America’s largest urban green spaces! It is made up of several different areas and has a 5.5 mile sea wall that surrounds the park. Our favourite part of the park was the Totem Park where we saw a collection of colourful Totem Poles and learnt about how they were made, painted and why they were there. Each one told its own story and it was fascinating.

There are great views of the harbour and the city skyline from this point- it reminded us of Chicago.

We then drove along the sea wall to Prospect Point- a great point to check out Lion’s bridge and where we’d be travelling on the cruise ship tomorrow. On one side was the sea wall and the views across the bay, the other was huge red wood trees.

Our next stop was one of our favourite places of the trip so far: Granville Island. This small little island is home to Granville Island Market which is a food lovers paradise.

It’s full of street food stalls along with some fruit and veg stalls and a great place to pick up some souvenirs. We headed straight to the sushi stall before going for a Granville island beer.

We then went for battered salmon and chips – an interesting local variation on our seaside fish and chips we get in England. It was DELICIOUS! We also tried battered oysters – because when will you ever see these again?! I wasn’t a fan so Keefy ended up with two of those!

We had a walk around the island stopping every minute or two for more pictures, it’s just so pretty- before heading to the Granville Island Brewing company for some tastes of their unusual flavoured lager.

We made our own way back to the hotel, taking the local aqua bus to get back onto the main Vancouver Island before taking a mile or so walk back up to our hotel.

We made use of the pool and hot tub facilities at the Four Seasons before heading back out for dinner. We walked back down to Gastown to go to a barbecue joint that we’d seen the previous day. Our meal was delicious and thankfully not too largely portioned as we were still rather full from our Granville Island food earlier!

After dinner, we walked the mile or so to the Olympic Village where we picked up the night ferry for a cheeky little DIY harbour cruise as the sun set. It’s always a favourite for us to hop onto the water and see any new city’s skyline from that perspective. The Olympic park was lit up – we really enjoyed our evening.

On our walk back to the hotel we came across a family of raccoons scavenging in the rubbish which was a bizarre sight to see!

along with rather a lot of homeless people and people off their faces (presumably on cannabis which is legalised here). In fact when we nipped Into the convenience store to pick up water for our room, a guy was going wild at the poor staff. He was off his face and we felt a bit intimidated so we hot footed it back to the safely of our hotel!

Wednesday

We had the morning at leisure before our lunchtime embarkation of the MS Volendam. As it was raining, we had a lay in, and grabbed breakfast from the 7 11 store down the road before taking a wander around the Pacific Rim retail outlet which was conveniently situated next door to and adjoining our hotel.

By 11.30 our coach had arrived to take us the 2 minute drive to the cruise terminal at Canada Place. I was very excited as I’ve never been on a proper cruise before so was looking forward to seeing our ship, Holland and America line’s MS Volendam.

 

 

 

Until next time

Lx

Adventures on the Rocky Mountaineer and Alaska Cruise – July 2019 Part 4 – All Aboard The Rocky Mountaineer- our “Journey Through The Clouds”

Sunday:

You know something exciting is happening when you have to set your alarm on holiday for 06:15! Today was one of those days. We were boarding the famous Rocky Mountaineer- a wonderful train journey that would take us all the way from Jasper to Vancouver, through the Rocky Mountains. We were travelling in Silver Leaf- however some of our group had upgraded to Gold Leaf. The difference was that in Gold Leaf you had a double decker observation car and lunch sittings in the dining car. In silver we had a glass roof and meals brought to our seat.

On arrival at Jasper station there was an abundance of red carpets and we all got a royal welcome! Excitement levels were through the roof and it was only 07:45!

We were welcomed on board enthusiastically by our hosts, Shay, Courtney and Mieka. As the train rolled out of the station, we all toasted a wonderful journey ahead and the staff on the station waved flags as we departed! It was really special!

It wasn’t long before the scenery became dramatic, and we were told to keep our eyes peeled for bears. Some on our train spotted one very soon but we were on the wrong side!

Breakfast, and mid morning snacks were served as we rolled through the Rockys. It was fabulous. The Clouds were in wonderfully dramatic formations, and we couldn’t stop staring at the views and looking out for bears!

Soon it was lunch time; we opted for the Lamb curry which was delicious washed down with some local red wine.

The rest of the day was spent admiring the dramatic scenery, listening to the wonderful and highly entertaining commentary from our host team and basically being treated like royalty!

Our video of Day 1 highlights

Around 5pm, we rolled into Kamloops for our overnight stay. This section was completely under the organisation of The Rocky Moountaineer team, rather than GRJ and as such those in Gold Leaf went to a different hotel to us. I’ve never seen anything so meticulously organised- each train coach had its own motor coach lined up on the station, in order, all our luggage was already in our rooms- it was amazing!

Our evening in Kamloops consisted of more food and drink of course. Not because we were hungry, we just can’t help wanting to try all the local food and drink. We are noticing that each place we visit has a whole load of local lagers and ales to try, and even some gin.

There was a free concert in the park so we wandered down for a while to listen before having some beers and food in The Noble Pig. I had the Texas Poutine which had pulled pork on top of a pile of chips and cheese (healthy eh?!) and Keith had a local chorizo pizza, both of which were absolutely fabulous.

An early night followed as it was another 06:00 alarm!

Monday:

Day two aboard The Rocky Mountaineer! By 07:30 we were back on board and toasting our imminent departure from Kamloops.

They hadn’t even served breakfast before our first Bald Eagle sighting, and for the next three hours, we saw dozens of them!

In nests and soaring above- they were absolutely incredible to watch! Majestic and glorious – we couldn’t believe our eyes. We also saw a number of Ospreys and Big Horn Sheep. And then- we got our Bear sighting! I literally was jumping up and down in delight! We saw a mother and her cub and it was just wonderful!

The scenery today was even more dramatic as we followed the Thomson and then Fraser river. We wound our way through the desert and then the rainforest and we couldn’t believe that the change in environment and landscape that we were witnessing in a relatively short distance.

Lunch was braised short ribs which melted in our mouth. The food and hospitality was incredible- goodness knows what was happening in Gold Leaf as Silver was spectacular!

Around 5pm we rolled into Vancouver. We were sad to be saying bye to the team on board, they had made the trip incredible. It had felt like a once in a lifetime journey and I’d recommend it in a heart beat.

Our evening was spent at leisure in Vancouver which I’ll cover on the next instalment.

Until next time

Lx

Adventures on the Rocky Mountaineer and Alaska Cruise – July 2019 Part 3 – driving from Banff to Jasper on the Icefields Parkway

Saturday:

Today’s journey on the coach would take us from Banff to Jasper, along one of the top 10 scenic roads in the world, the Icefield Parkway.

We left the hotel at 09:20 and waved goodbye to Banff, which had completely stole our hearts. Our first stop of the day was Peyto Lake- a glacial lake at the highest point of the Icefield Parkway.

Again, the glacial rock flour gives the lake a wonderful turquoise colour, and the viewpoint is higher than the lake, which means you’re looking down onto the lake with huge mountains as a backdrop.

It’s utterly breathtaking and Keith even goes as far as saying it’s his favourite one so far.

After this we continued along the Icefield Parkway, marvelling at the scenery and on the constant lookout for bears and eagles!

Having a driver makes it very relaxing.

We stopped for lunch before continuing on to the Athabasca Glacier for our next stop. The majority of the group had taken the opportunity to book onto the SnoCoach tour. The Sno Coach is a huge vehicle designed to drive onto the glacier. The tyres are Huge and cost €4000 each! It’s a bumpy but exciting ride down to the glacier but accompanied by entertaining and lively guides- offering plenty of interesting commentary to distract us that we are bumping along!

Once on the glacier we had around 30 minutes to walk on the glacier itself! Wow this was absolutely FANTASTIC! What an opportunity!