Archive for the ‘Places’ Category

Matanuska Glacier & A Yak Burger

May 15, 2022 - 5:07 am No Comments

The jack-ass sitting in front of me decided to fire up Lord of the Rings on his phone’s tinny speakers. Of course, when the flight attendant came by and insisted that he put on headphones, he put them on, fell right asleep, and started obnoxiously snoring. Meanwhile, the woman to my left whose arm was encroaching on my personal space kept unabashedly wide-mouth burping through her mask without a single “excuse me” for 6 hours. Some people are just born to be annoying.

My research had suggested that sitting on the right side of the plane would offer the best views for the trip up. For most of the trip, it didn’t matter, as most of Canada was blanketed by clouds and I couldn’t see much. Every once in a while, through some of the clouds and haze, I could see some lakes partially frozen. As we continued northwest over the top edge of British Columbia, the lakes completely froze over and all vegetation was gone, replaced by scraped, rippled, dark brown wasteland. The rolling hills gradually grew steeper and pointier and whiter with snow. By the time we approached the Alaska border, the mountains ere getting really big. I peered out the window the whole time, loving all the scenery, but most others were not. Most had their shades down and many were sleeping. Leads me to believe that it’s mostly regulars and locals who do this route, not tourists.

Through breaks in the clouds, I could see glimpses of majestic mountains as we flew into Anchorage.

Canadian Rockies

Glided over the gross, mushy tidal flats near the airport and landed under heavy cloud cover at 9:30pm, still with plenty of light in the sky.

Final Approach to Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport

It was cloudy, but the sun was still up. Due to some sort of staff shortage, we were forced to wait on the tarmac for about an hour until a gate became available.

When I got to my hotel at 11:30pm, there was still light in the sky. Walked around block looking for a bite to eat without any luck. Even the gas station with a big 24-hour sign across the street was closed. So I resigned to my hotel room, laid down on my lopsided mattress, and passed out.

Woke up early this morning to catch my scheduled tour to Matanuska Glacier. The internet says it’s 4 miles wide and the largest glacier in the US that can be reached by vehicle.

Our van headed eastward on the Glenn Highway, named after Edwin Glenn, a guy who oversaw US Army expeditions in Alaska in 1898. The drive was beautiful, offering us a glimpse of Denali in the distance and the rugged beauty of the Chugash Mountains. Our driver looked like Lori Petty and did not stopped talking or take a breath since leaving Anchorage. Most of what she has to say was not very interesting.

View Over Matanuska River

Snowy Wonderland Near Matanuska Glacier

We got to the glacier, and at first glance, it didn’t compare to the immensity or natural beauty of Franz Josef or Perito Moreno, two other glaciers I had the pleasure of visiting. We started our hike through the gray, rocky, muddy moraine, a colorless and sterile scene which made it feel like we were on another planet.

Matanuska Glacier

Balancing Rock at Matanuska Glacier

When we reached the glacier ice, we stopped to slap on some crampons and continued upward. Our hiking guide dropped glacier facts as we walked, spewing a little bullshit about black ice, but overall it was a good presentation.

Matanuska Glacier Tour

On Matanuska Glacier

When instructed that it was safe to do so, I stopped to kneel down and slurp up a customary sip of glacier water. Most people in the group were not bold enough to take a slurp, preferring to open up their water bottles and fill them up that way. Come on people, live a little.

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

Matanuska Glacier

The scale of the glacier was a lot more impressive when we were on it and walking through it. It’s often hard to get a sense of scale and distance when all you see is ice. It’s only when you see another tour group in the distance that you get a sense of how massive the glacier really is.

Matanuska Glacier

After a few hours on the glacier, we headed back to the van and stopped at the nearby Long Rifle Lodge for a surprisingly scrumptious lunch of blueberry chipotle salmon tacos and a drink. As we ordered our food, our driver made it clear to is that she wouldn’t eat carbs because they make her fall asleep, and that she always gets a Coke so that the caffeine will prevent her from falling asleep for the ride home.

The highlight of the drive back to Anchorage was either Lori Petty falling asleep at the wheel and hitting the rumble strips (saying “it was the wind” after startling herself awake) or the girl sitting in front of me vomiting her lunch.

Mountains Near Matanuska Glacier

I went back to one of my favorite Anchorage restaurants, 49th State Brewing, for yak burger, a meal I really enjoyed on my last visit to Anchorage.

49th State Brewing Menu

49th State Brewing Yak Burger

It’s Saturday night, so I was hoping for a lively social scene, but downtown Anchorage was mostly dead. Also very bright, with the sun still blazing at 9:30pm. On the way back to my hotel, I found a place called Williwaw and found a Hawaiian reggae band playing bouncy beach songs to a lively crowd. I sat down for a while to soak in the scene.

Willliwaw

H3 at Williwaw

H3 at Williwaw

Walked back to my hotel at 10:30pm with the sun thinking about finally setting and the tops of the snow-capped mountains behind the buildings of Anchorage turning pink and a nearly perfect full moon rising behind them.

A very full and fun first day in Alaska. Tomorrow is a scenic train ride to Seward and a cruise through Kenai Fjords. I befriended a guy named Ali on the glacier hike today, and it turns out he’ll be doing the train ride along with me tomorrow.

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.

National Mall After DCA Take-Off

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.

Chicago O'Hare International Airport from the Air

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 (more…)

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 (more…)

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 (more…)

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 (more…)

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 (more…)

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 (more…)

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 (more…)

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 (more…)