A new year ahead – welcome 2020!

Welcome 2020! A new decade lays ahead of us, and it feels like a freshly laid road lies ahead. New memories to make, fresh eyes to see the journey with. Miles upon miles of roads to be discovered, countries and continents to explore. It’s a great time to stop and reflect, and get planning some adventures for the year ahead.

2019 was a phenomenal year for us. We ticked off more bucket list items – despite adding more to the list, we worked harder than ever and travelled more than we could have dreamt.

Camping wise we ticked off two bucket list adventures – our stay at Dufton last year and led us to complete a walk I’d been itching to do, High Cup Nick. We also took Ruby the VW across the Irish Sea and did a fantastic tour of Northern Ireland – ticking off the Giants Causeway.

We managed our earliest ever outside BBQ during feb half term in the Lake District of all places!

Worldwide adventures went off the scale – we travelled to Canada and Alaska, and saw some incredible scenery and wildlife.

I took my first cruise and got hooked and I also overcame my two biggest fears – firstly taking a sea plane in Alaska and then later swimming in the deep ocean with whale sharks in Mexico. I can still remember how scared I was on both those occasions- I genuinely thought I would die but the sense of achievement and adrenaline afterwards will never leave me!

Keith ticked three bucket list items off by visiting Colditz Castle in Germany, Chitchen Itza in Mexico and Gettysburg Battlefield in PA 🇺🇸.

As a couple we celebrated a whole decade of being together and booked a indulgent but marvellous trip to New York for Thanksgiving. A day we’ve always celebrated (despite not being American) for 10 years – this year we watched the Macy’s Day Parade from the front row on sixth avenue.

Blog wise we started a sister site to Adventures in Motorhome – a specific place for us to share our non Motorhome travel. We introduce WanderLeefy.com.

Please pop and give us a follow. We’ll be keeping this site more specific for camping trips and pairing worldwide on WanderLeefy. We have a new Facebook page and would love you to follow us on both.

Despite all our worldwide travels last year we still managed 43 nights in Ruby – that’s one more than the previous year! This year, we’ve got some exciting adventures planned for Ruby including Switzerland in May – and Yorkshire in February and much more I’m sure. Worldwide adventures include Vietnam and Cambodia in March/April and possibly a couple more USA trips if the January sales are good to us!

Thank you to all our followers – we love sharing our adventures and hearing from you.

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2020!

Cheers

Lx

Adventures on the North Norfolk Coast at the turn of the Decade

Ruby the VW has made a return to the North Norfolk coast to help us celebrate the end of our first decade together. It’s a place that is special to us – convenient to get to and home to the biggest and most beautiful skies around. Each village has its own individual charm, a dog friendly pub and some really tasty local shellfish. A perfect place for us to retreat to!

Last year we spent a very happy NYE mini break at Deepdale Campsite – which we would have been more than happy to have revisited – but on enquiry they had more than doubled their prices up to over £40 pn. So we ended up trying a new site for us, a C&MC certified site called Foxhills, an adult only CL on the outskirts of Weybourne, North Norfolk.

We’ve had a crazy winter of work and it has caught up with me, so I travelled on Sunday with lurgy. I was adamant we would still go – my body crying out for some sea air and a change in scenery.

On arrival to Foxhills we got ourselves unpacked and had an acclimatisation wander down to the small but pretty village of Weybourne. First (and only) stop being the pub, the thin serpentine of smoke from the chimney luring us to the log fire in the bar inside.

A couple of drinks including a whiskey to help my cold later, and we made our way back to Ruby where we set the bed out, got our pjs on, put the heater up to max and dozed and read for the remainder of the evening. Dinner was a homemade turkey and brie pie, which I’d made at home – we reheated it in the Remoska oven and served with veg and the last of the Xmas spuds.

Monday (New Year’s Eve Eve) dawned a beautiful winters day. My cold was lingering and I was aching, but I was desperate to get some sea air. We picked up the Norfolk Coastal path at Weybourne beach and followed it North with the sea on our right towards Wells next sea.

We weren’t sure how far we’d get, and the answer turned out to be not too far! The surface underfoot was mainly pebbles on the beach and I found it really hard going. The sea breeze was icy and it was making me cough and cough. Jazz was windswept and I think Keefy just fancied a pint! So, after about a mile and a half along the sea we diverted off the seafront at Salthouse and found ourselves a lovely pub to warm up in.

Inland we found the small but pretty village of Salthouse, situated on the salt marshes. As the name suggests this charming little village was named as such because of the salt houses that used to store salt here- it’s even listed in the Doomsday book as such.

7 swans a swimming!
Salthouse

The Dun Cow at Salthouse was just a brilliant impromptu find- we bagged the last spot in front of the fire and even though we weren’t planning a pub lunch, couldn’t resist a starter of local mussels and a main of crab linguine to share. The food and atmosphere was lovely – a true North Norfolk gem of a pub, dog friendly thoughout and serving food all day until 9pm. We will absolutely be back!

Jazz thinks this is more like it!

We picked up the coast hopper bus on to Cley next the Sea where we enjoyed a wander before picking up the coastal path and walking a further 3 miles to Blakeney. We caught the last of the winter light – it was a spectacular sunset, the gold dripped down onto the path ahead and it was impossible not to feel recharged, despite starting to feel a bit rank!

We caught the bus back all the way to the campsite before heating up some chicken and pumpkin curry from the freezer and settling in for the evening. On the trip to the shower block we became aware of the most spectacular night sky we’ve seen whilst in the UK so layered up and did some star gazing. We saw the 60 satellites in formation called Starlink Constellation. They are 60 bright lights in a straight line going upward and really took our breath away – once we’d decided we weren’t being abducted by aliens. You can read about it…

Here

What a fantastic sight!

Tuesday (New Years Eve)

We had a bit more of a lay in than planned as I was not feeling 100%. Instead of our planned walked to Sheringham along the sea, 2.75 miles, we caught the bus to Cromer instead and met up with mum who had her first day off since the day before Xmas Eve, for a fish and chips lunch. We had a beer in the dog friendly Wellington Inn before going for a fish and chip takeaway from No.1 fish bar – owned by Michelin starred Galton Blackiston.

They were delicious – we’ve eaten in their restaurant upstairs which is also marvellous if you’re passing – and we loved that they sold mini bottles of Prosecco and Galton’s lager to wash it down with, despite having a takeout. We popped to the butchers for some steak for dinner tonight, and venison for dinner tomorrow before waving ‘bye to mum onto her train and us picking up the last bus back to our site. We are so impressed with the Norfolk Coasthopper bus service – it’s dog friendly, reasonable in price and regular in service and the drivers have been friendly.

Once back at Ruby the VW we showered and got our NYE glad rags on. Otherwise known as our pyjamas- rock and roll! We cooked some party food nibbles and baked a Camembert in the Remoska, and fried up the steak to dip into the Camembert -all of which we washed down with a bottle or two of red and Keefy’s playlist serenading us. Perfect!

Around 11pm we stuck our head out the window to check on the stars – and couldn’t believe our eyes that we were being treated to an even more magnificent display of the night sky than last night. The mass of gas and dust that makes the inside ribbon of the of the Milky Way so spectacular was completely visible by eye and we saw a number of shooting stars. I always knew this area of North Norfolk is registered as a Dark Skies area, but whenever we’ve been visiting there has always been clouds above. What a treat. Unfortunately I didn’t have my SLR camera, as I had a tripod- that would have been a perfect opportunity for me and capture the sky. And because I was feeling ill I didn’t bother getting my telescope out either. Instead I settle for 6 layers and my hip flask!

I can’t remember a more perfect end of a year, let alone decade. As we watched the hands of Big Ben cross over into the new decade, our campsite was completely silent, which was bliss. We did a quiet Auld Lang Syne in Ruby before hitting the sack.

Wednesday (New Year’s Day)

Unfortunately I’d woken up feeling pretty rough – my lurgy was refusing to go away, and I had a really tickly and annoying cough, so a duvet morning was declared. We enjoyed a delicious New Years Day brunch of haddock, poached eggs and hollandaise sauce on muffins, washed down with champers – yum – who says camping can’t be posh eh?

I then got the venison stew in the slow cooker on high as it’s was gone midday – before we went for a stroll along Muckleburgh Hill which was next to the campsite and backed onto the Muckleburgh collection of tanks and military guns and down to the beach.

We popped in for a departing drink at the pub, The Ship at Weybourne – our last pub visit for a while as we go dry for January. It’s a lovely pub and the staff were so friendly. Before dark we made our way back to Ruby to settle in – fresh Cromer crab salad and venison stew was our New Year’s Day menu and it was delicious.

This trip was really lovely despite feeling cranky – the sea air and huge blue Norfolk skies really cheered me up after a funny old couple of months.

The campsite; Foxhills Caravan and Motorhome CL – adults only – was a perfect escape for us. It had two showers (free) an outdoor but with hot water washing up area, two loos per sex and heaps of space. We paid £19pn with electric and hard standing which I thought was a bargain.

The coast hopper bus which links Wells next to Sea and Cromer everyday except NYD and public holidays had a stop just outside the entrance – (around 100 yards away). The North Norfolk Coastal path is accessed just down the road with miles upon miles of walks to be enjoyed. Next door is the largest private collection of Military memorabilia in the UK – sadly it was closed and doesn’t reopen until February so we will definitely be making a return visit. You can easily park up here for a week and not move your vehicle once.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again – The whole area is probably the most dog friendly place we’ve been to – every pub, restaurant, bus, even many shops seemed to welcome our furry friends in with open arms. The bars are laden with treat bowls, water bowls under every table, it’s just brilliant.

Also within Weybourne, the Sheringham to Holt steam railway passes through- there is even its own station stop, less than a mile away from the site entrance.

We were lucky enough to see their Christmas light special train every evening chugging through in the distance.

Picture not my own – belongs to North

All through the stay we could hear the choo choo of the steam train. What a glorious sound.

As you can probably tell – we’ll be back to this hidden gem on the Norfolk coast that’s for sure!

Until next time and HAPPY NEW YEAR

Lx

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.