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 

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Adventures Stateside; A Texas Roadtrip. Austin and Hill Country

Tuesday morning arrived and it was time to hit the road once more, waving farewell to Fort Worth. As we had changed our route, staying local ‘rather’ than the 500 mile drive to Big Bend National Park, we decided to take the ‘scenic route’ to Austin – basically leaving the interstate behind and travelling on route 281 instead.

The route took us through Stephenville, Hico, and Marble Falls. We decided to make a stop at Hico as it looked very historical and traditional. It ended up being a highlight of the day. The Main Street was just one street, covered in wooden fronted buildings that had stood largely unchanged in appearance since the late 1800s. The small town boasts a rumour that Billy the Kid died here in the 1950s and as such has a small and very untouristy museum.

The rest of the journey was scenic as the roads wound through the beginnings of Texas Hill Country.

We had a really really disappointing lunch at Marble Falls – we actually chose the route based on a recommendation for lunch in a traditional and long established diner. Unfortunately our meals at Bluebonnet Cafe were absolutely revolting – and put us in a bit of a bad mood for the remainder of our journey to Austin. Luckily, a warm welcome was to be had at our lovely last minute air b n b apartment situated within walking distance of all the bars and music venues in Austin so after a shower, we took a walk out to the local and had a bit of a bar hop and delicious pizza meal – we also caught some great live country music at the White Horse.

Wednesday dawned a wet and miserable day, which was a shame as it was MY BIRTHDAY! Presents and cards opened, we decided to take a walk despite the rain into the centre and explore the capitol building, which happens to be the largest state capitol building in the United States.

We took a walk down the Main Street, but was quite surprised at the lack of shops to peruse – in fact there was literally just one.There were quite a lot of historic buildings though and some really cool examples of the old Art Deco cinema fronts.

There was also a really traditional Victorian crescent with lots of mansions in which we enjoyed seeing.

All the bars were closed so no lunchtime cocktails for the birthday girl sadly – so we decided after a burger at Carolines that we’d cut our losses and go back to the accommodation to enjoy some beers there. We dried up, relaxed and then re headed out about half 4 and happily this time we found some places open, so enjoyed an evening bar hop and a fantastic meal followed by live music at Stubb’s BBQ.

When we woke up on Thursday we were relieved that the rain had stopped. Today we were once again taking the scenic route from Austin to San Antonio, via Fredericksburg. Our first stop was a quick picture stop at the Ladybird Lake, which offered a grey but lovely view of the Austin skyline.

From here we drove about an hour to Johnson City where we visited President Lyndon B Johnson’s ranch. We didn’t know much about this man, who took over from President JFK after his assassination, however we are so glad we visited his huge ranch, as we learnt lots about him, and actually it was a really interesting (and free) activity.

First we stopped off at his actual birth house within Johnson City (pics above) before carrying on 13 miles to his main adult life and family ranch. Before going round LBJ’s ranch you get to explore a living history ranch which was his neighbours farmhouse.

The tour around the ranch is self guided in your car, which gives an idea on how large it is. It also houses an air strip, with Air Force ‘one and a half’ still there to see, and the beautiful living quarters which was where many legislations were made in those years after JFK was murdered.

We also got to see his collection of presidential cars, including an amphibious vehicle and his shooting vehicle.

I think that the most interesting thing we took from our visit was that the President’s wife lived until only 11 years ago when she died. She succeeded him over 30 years, therefore it felt more real and less tourist museum-ey. If that makes sense?

From here we carried on just under 10 miles until we reached Luckenbach, a tiny hamlet with population of only 3.

It was made famous when Wayne Jennings wrote a song called Luckenbach, and is basically a wooden store/post office/saloon bar/ food hut, which has live country music on daily for free (tips). It’s utterly traditional, unspoilt, and just an all round gem of a place, that has firmly made it onto my favourite spot in USA list. Plus, I can’t think of anywhere else you’ll get interrupted by a cockerel as you’re sipping on your cold beer listening to the music. Luckenbach

We spent much longer than anticipated there as it was just so cool, and I also got serenaded with a cowboy happy birthday!

See our Luckenbach video here

Eventually though, it was time to drag ourselves away and head to the next pit stop, Fredericksburg, which has more of a German settlement.

The Main Street was charming and full of antiques and boutiques, eateries – we had a delicious homemade ice cream cookie sandwich, and also loads of wine tasting rooms and bars. If we did this tour again, I’d have chosen to stay overnight here rather than two nights in Austin.

It was after 5pm by the time we left, heading the hour and half motorway journey to our final air b n b of the trip in San Antonio. Another traditional Mexican casita awaited us.

Historic Portsmouth – an Air B’nB mini break

Portsmouth has been on our list to visit ever since owning a motorhome! Unfortunately however, Portsmouth doesn’t seem to have too many campsites to choose from that close to the historic dockyards, and the ones that we could find were extortionate. We also knew that it’d be a full day in a place not suitable for doggies so our desire to visit Portsmouth has been on the backburner, until a chance look on Air B n B discovered we had plenty of options to consider using that route.

A couple of hours later and we’d discovered some ridiculously cheap train tickets all the way from Norfolk to Portsmouth and back at £15 each return! Suddenly we felt inspired, and the next thing we knew we’d booked ourselves a little rail adventure.

It took 4 hours on the train – we traveled from Diss to London Liverpool street, then walked from Liverpool street to Waterloo, where we picked up the train to Portsmouth. We cover a fair few miles week to week so we found travelling by train really relaxing – plus we could have a beer and a picnic whilst en route.

We arrived in Portsmouth in the beautiful sunshine, and checked in to our Air BnB – Gill’s house. We had the use of the upstairs – perfect for what we needed as we were planning on being out all day. She very kindly cooked a full english for us both days so we felt at £52 pn it was excellent value. Her apartment had a sea view and was 15 minute walk to the main attractions.

Friday afternoon we enjoyed a visit up the Spinnaker Tower, the largest tower outside of London. The views were wonderful, and the glass floor was terrifying but exciting! We had a little bit of a wander round grabbing a few pints here and there, before a gorgeous fish and chip supper in The Still and West, which had a sea view.

 

Saturday dawned cold and snowy, but it didn’t stop us, we had our breakfast and were queuing at the Historic Dockyards by 09:50. Doors opened at 10:00 and there was quite a queue! We pre booked our tickets online, which saved some money, but the tickets are valid for a whole year- handy if you’re local. As we are not local, we set ourselves a challenge to see everything in one day. Battleplan drawn, as soon as those gates to the dockyard opened, we hot footed it to The “Brand New in the last year or so” Mary Rose exhibition.

Let me say this: this exhibition was truly one of the greatest we’ve been to in the UK and worthy of the ticket price alone. How they’ve displayed the wreck of the Mary Rose is just marvellous – and all the Tudor artefacts that were found on board were just fascinating and in remarkable condition due to being buried in sand silt for 400 years. We spent 2 hours in there but easily could have spent the whole day in there alone.

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Our next stop was HMS Victory – Lord Nelson’s beloved ship. Again, we had a fascinating visit – Keith discovered he would be no good at sea at 6 foot 4 – he spent the entirety crouched almost in half!

After the Victory we nipped on the waterbus to take us to HMS Alliance – the submarine, where we enjoyed a fascinating tour lead by retired sub-mariners.

We then picked up a 45 min harbour cruise which showed us the current Naval ships, including the brand new one – which are so so ugly but so so big – especially in comparison to the historical ones.

We nipped onto HMS Warrior, which again was beautiful, before nipping round the Naval museum.

By 5pm, we were done in! But delighted to have had such a cram packed day. We had successfully seen everything that we hoped to, so celebrated with a Mary Rose g&t in the Old Customs house before moving to the historical Bridge Tavern – which was a bit rowdy! We ended up back at the Still and West for our dinner again – and managed to bag the best seat in there, overlooking the Solent so we spent a great evening watching the Brittany Ferries and Isle of Wight ferries come backwards and forwards.

As you can see, we had a super mini break and we would highly recommend a trip to the Historic Dockyards – they really were outstanding. Well done Portsmouth Tourist board and the Royal Navy for producing a museum and historical attraction that we really can be proud of.

Until Next Time

Lx

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