Alaska Bound!

May 13, 2022 - 8:30 pm No Comments

Mostly thanks to COVID, it’s been a while since I’ve done any real traveling. So it was with great jubilation when I learned my work would be flying me and our whole department to a fancy resort in Alaska for our off-site team event this year. It’s nice to work for a company that has money. 🙂

Once getting the itinerary from my company, I decided to take full advantage and go up a few days early to have my own little adventure before joining the work team. I booked a little hotel in Anchorage, and I’ve got some fun activities planned, including a Matanuska Glacier hike, a train ride from Anchorage to Seward, and a Kenai Fjords cruise for some whale-watching.

This is my first trip after the federal mask mandates have been lifted in airports and on planes. A few people, including me, are still voluntarily wearing them. I’m seeing about 25% masking in the airport and on the plane. Such a polarizing issue, isn’t it? I will say that I was especially aware of a guy coughing a few rows back from me, and I’m sure a few people sitting nearby are on edge.

A customary northbound take-off from Reagan National Airport took us by the monuments on the National Mall and offered a fleeting glimpse of the White House before we disappeared into a layer of low-hanging clouds. A few moments later, we punched through the clouds and were flying up into brilliant blue sky. So cool.

Due to the absence of that goofy American Airlines magazine in the seat back pocket, I was forced to read the even goofier aircraft safety card. After noticing that were were on a “Boeing 737 09/21 Revision”, some quick googling revealed that this name is a sneaky rebrand of the 737 MAX, notorious for a couple of crashes in 2019 that grounded the whole fleet for a couple of years. They seem to have resolved the issues.

Quick layover in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. While sitting and eating a locally sourced but still overpriced burger, a passerby dropped off some pocket-sized biblical literature for me to read.

Now on the plane to Alaska. The flight is scheduled for 7 hours but the captain is saying that favorable winds might get us to Anchorage in only 5 1/2 hours. I’ve been to Alaska once before, but that was on a cruise from Vancouver, so I haven’t flown over this part of North America. We’ve just ascended into the hazy blue skies over Chicago, and we’re heading north. Just north of the city, the undeveloped landscape is rugged but flat and pockmarked with countless irregularly shaped lakes, clear evidence of Ice Age glaciation. I imagine most of Canada will also look this way. The flight path takes us over a whole lot of nothingness before crossing the Canadian Rockies and dropping down to Ted Stevens (former Senator from Alaska) Anchorage International Airport. I hope there’s still some light in the sky when we land, because from the glimpses of the Canadian Rockies I saw on my last flight out of Anchorage from the dreaded middle seat, the scenery looks beautiful.

Time to dodge the large arm of a middle-aged woman that is hanging over an armrest and encroaching on my personal space, sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.

The Boys in Bergen

September 9, 2016 - 9:15 pm No Comments

After a quick train through the last bit of fjordland, we were in Bergen. As the second largest city in Norway, it’s a pretty good size, and there’s a good energy here. The tourists are almost exclusively Japanese, English, and German.

Bryggen Read the rest of this entry »

The Fjordlands of Norway

September 8, 2016 - 11:41 am No Comments

Our early morning train took us west from Oslo. The first part of the trip was nothing special, with suburbs giving way to the occasional lake. But eventually, the mountains turned into giant boulder piles stained green by lichen, forests got denser, views became more majestic. We’d spend a few minutes in a long tunnel, and then BAM, we’d emerge to a breathtaking vista. The views are reminiscent of the highlands of Scotland and New Zealand.

On the Train from Oslo to Finse Read the rest of this entry »

Oslo: The A-Team Reunited

September 6, 2016 - 7:36 pm No Comments

Emerging from Oslo Central Station, the streets were filled with people who were smiling, laughing, going places. Street performers played music and danced on flattened cardboard boxes. Norwegian flags hung from buildings. Homeless people sitting on either side of the pedestrian streets. There is an energy here that Stockholm didn’t have.

The Airbnb apartment that we booked for Oslo was not ready yet, so we parked ourselves at a pub for a drink and a bite. We saw a bunch of people walking around with German soccer jerseys, and a quick look online revealed that there was a match between Norway and Germany that night. We decided to go for it and splurged on some tickets.

But before the game, we headed to Martine’s place for dinner. Martine is Jerry’s Norwegian wife, and the whole reason Jerry is here in Oslo. Her family lives in Asker, a small town just outside of Asker and a short train ride away. Jerry had no idea that Doug made the flight over, so when Doug showed up with me and Conrad, it was quite a surprise. The A-Team was finally reunited.

After dinner, we headed down to Ullevaal Stadion for the soccer match. Doug and Jerry are huge soccer fans, so this was quite a treat for our first night in Norway. Unfortunately, they wouldn’t let me into the stadium with my camera because it was a “professional” camera, so the others went in while I spent a half hour being led around by incompetent ushers and security guards and circling the stadium looking for the ticket office to store my photo gear for the game. Missing the national anthems and the first few minutes of the game for this pissed me off.

Germany v. Norway at Ullevaal Stadion Read the rest of this entry »

Stockholm with the Boys

September 4, 2016 - 3:01 am No Comments

Landed in Stockholm. First impression of Sweden is that the cool, brisk air is refreshing and that a sky full of clouds looks weird. Coming from the sunny Balkans, I have not seen clouds like this in over a month. Lush greenery everywhere, orderly public transit. In just about every way, this place is the opposite of Greece.

The Arlanda Express train whisked Conrad and I to the city center. Stockholm’s suburbs are dotted with squarish, plainly colored office buildings, surely filled with IKEA’s finest. Stockholm Central Station treated us to the fastest wifi we’ve had in over a month. I caught up on my blogging while Conrad sat across from me and wolfed down some Burger King. Then Conrad took us to the sweet apartment he booked on Airbnb, and it’s there that we met up with Doug. Good to have him around for this leg of the journey.

The three of us spent the next couple of days taking brisk afternoon walks around the city. “Gamla stan”, as Stockholm’s old town is known, is filled with matching, uniformly sized buildings lining streets and alleys of cobblestone. Various shades of pink and orange and gray give the town some character, but the whole area was surprisingly quiet and lifeless, even on the weekend. Most stores and restaurants were closed, and the few that were open were nearly empty. The few tourists walking around seem to be German, French, and Asian.

Road in Södermalm Read the rest of this entry »

Relaxing in Rhodes

September 1, 2016 - 4:34 am No Comments

Coming from Santorini to Rhodes took two flights, both with Aegean Airlines and with some very attractive flight attendants.

Compared to the other Greek islands, Rhodes is huge and highly developed. There are more amenities, and standards of service are definitely an improvement. American hotel and fast food chains and Starbucks were distinctly absent on the other Greek islands, but here they are everywhere.

We’re staying at Stay Hostel in Rhodes Town, and this place is pretty awesome. Social, fun, centrally located. Cheap drinks, good wifi, and a great shower. What more could you want from a hostel? After being on the move for ten days on a sailboat, we really needed a chill spot like this.

Our first day in Rhodes was spent sleeping, showering, catching up on wifi. We headed to Tamam, a place I found on TripAdvisor, for lunch. A truly amazing experience, with fantastic food and wonderful service by Andreas, the restaurant owner. Andreas and his family really know how to run a restaurant.

Shrimp and Zucchini Tagliatelle in a Garlic Butter Sauce at Tamam Read the rest of this entry »

Amazing Amorgos

August 28, 2016 - 12:22 pm No Comments

Giant waves made for an adventurous sail to Amorgos (ah-MORE-goss). You’d think that sitting on a sailboat for ten days is a great opportunity to catch up on blogging and photos, but not so much. When we’re in motion, the sun and spray on deck make it impossible to do anything, and seasickness sets in quickly down below. The key to avoiding seasickness is to keep the laptop closed, stay above deck, and focus on the horizon around you. Or lay down with your eyes closed and let the rolling boat rock you to sleep. Try to do anything with your eyes open below deck, and you’re asking for trouble.

Daisy Cranks Read the rest of this entry »

Three Islands: Koufonisia, Naxos & Schinousa

August 25, 2016 - 6:40 pm No Comments

Koufonisia was a good stop, with a good mix of beaching, drinking, and eating. The Greeks are not stingy with the food portions or alcohol content. Dishes are massive, drinks are strong. But I must admit that I’m starting to get a bit tired of Greek salads, gyros, and souvlaki.

Ammos Beach Read the rest of this entry »

Sailing the Cyclades

August 22, 2016 - 5:06 am No Comments

We arrived at Santorini’s tiny port of Vlychada to meet our group for the sailing trip. Aside from me and Conrad, the group is entirely Australian. Four women in their 50’s traveling together and a couple in their 20’s. Our captain is Daisy, who is English and on her first sailing adventure with the company.

There are 2 cabins on board. The couple is taking one, Conrad and I have the other. Sleeping quarters are cramped, with Conrad and I sharing a thin mattress about the size of a double bed. The moment I first saw it reminded me of this scene from Planes, Trains & Automobiles. Conrad and I will sleeping head to toe, back to back to reduce the odds. This is in fact the opposite of a 69. It’s a 96.

Small Bed for Two Read the rest of this entry »

Five Sunsets in Santorini

August 19, 2016 - 8:12 am 1 Comment

The flight over to Santorini offered views of several cute little rocky islands. Santorini is much bigger than the others. Coming in from the east offered a close-up view of the massive peak of Profitis Ilias. Had no idea there were mountains this big out here.

Just outside of the airport was a shuttle bus waiting to take me to Fira (FEE-dah), where my hotel is. They dropped me at the bus station, and after a short walk, I was at Thalia’s Apartments. Thalia herself appeared to greet me and give me the lowdown on her place and the island. She’s very sweet and couldn’t believe I was in my late 30’s. I’m loving it.

In late afternoon, I made my way to the famous Santorini view across the water. Crossing the main street is an adventure, with cars and buses and scooters zipping both ways unpredictably. My walk continued past the souvenir shops and and up the hill and to the edge of the cliff overlooking the water. And then it opens up. The view is immense and breathtaking. No photos can prepare you for that. Cruise ships on the water below are the only thing that give a sense of scale, and they look like toys.

View of Caldera from Fira Read the rest of this entry »