Alaska Adventures: Ketchikan and Whale Watching

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After a 1 & 1/2 days at sea, we arrived at our first stop: Ketchikan. Ketchikan calls itself “Alaska’s First City” – not because it’s the first city established in Alaska, but because it’s the first stop for many cruise ships along the Inside Passage.  This is a quant town with a population of 14,000, so on a day like ours where there are three ships in port, the population can double.  We were greeted with weather that was overcast, but nice and cool with no rain.  For the two of us who have experienced a hot summer in Colorado, this was a welcome change.  This was the view that greeted us from Jim & Pam’s balcony window:

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Like many of these port cities, a significant part of Ketchikan’s history includes their Red Light District.  In this case, it was Creek Street, a boardwalk passage by the river that contained many brothels.  What is surprising is that the district wasn’t shut down until 1954, and according to the signs along the street, many of the Madame’s lived in those houses until the 90’s.  Many of those houses are now shops and museums.

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Further up the boardwalk was the Salmon Ladder.  As the “Welcome” sign reads, Ketchikan is considered the Salmon capital of the world.  One of the coolest attractions is this ladder, which the salmon swim upward to lay their eggs before they die.  It was incredible watching these salmon fight their way up these rapids.  We staked out on the observation deck, with my finger on the camera, trying to capture the moment when the salmon would jump in the air.  Giving up, I decided to take a video to show off the rapids the salmon were trying to climb, when I was rewarded – keep you eyes peeled the last few seconds of this video.

Further up from this rapid, we saw the calmer waters where the salmon were either resting, spawning or dying. The cluster of dark in this photo before was a large group of salmon.

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At the top of the hill was the Totem Heritage Center, which houses various totem poles from the 19th century, retrieved from Indian villages.  As you may know, Totem Poles were used to convey stories or share family history. We were awe-struck with the level of craftsmanship used to carve these poles.

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They also had other artifacts from the Tsmishians as well, including these intricate masks.  We found the one with hair to be a little scary.

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Also as we were walking around town, we found supposedly the best pizza in town… at a Mexican restaurant??  We didn’t stop for lunch, but instead headed back to the ship.

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We departed Ketchikan in the mid-afternoon and made our way up to Juneau.  We had an early dinner that night so that we could get on the observation deck to go through Snow Pass, an area known to have waters favorable for whale-watching.  We were in luck and did encounter a few whale sightings, but only was able to catch quick glimpses of their fins while they came up for air.  The reason we didn’t see tail sightings is because the whales are essentially walking to their next destination, so they only have a need to briefly come up for air.  Those big tail sightings occur when they need to come up for a large breath, usually when they are going to feed or rushing to get something.  I’m still glad we got to see what we saw.

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The scenery was still breathtaking. In the second picture below you can see just how calm the water was by these islands.

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We spent the rest of the evening down in the Wheelhouse bar, a lounge with live music, taking in the breathtaking scenery from the warmth of indoors.

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Next Up: Glacier-watching and Juneau!

Sleeping In Seattle: To Market We Go

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Our last two days spent in Seattle gave us the opportunity to explore Pike Place Market.  For my birthday, Bethany’s mom gave me a card with a list of their favorite activities in Seattle and some money for each, so we used that as our guide to explore the market.  Our trip started off at the very first Starbucks, which opened in 1971.  Given the explosion in popularity, this location is basically a tourist trap and pilgrimage destination for serious coffee drinkers.  There’s a line that leads down the street, and once you get in you can pick our some merchandise or order a cup of coffee.  I decided to simply do the latter.  It’s definitely worth the experience of going, especially if you put a Starbucks barista through college.

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After getting caffeinated up we headed down a block to Beechers, which boasts the best Mac & Cheese in the world.  After eating the bowl that Bethany and I split, I would have to agree that it’s definitely up there.  I’m not sure what criteria you use to judge Mac & Cheese: whether you prefer the soft and cheesy Mac, or if you’d prefer the cheese to be baked on and crisp at the top.  I’m more of a “crisp at the top” kind of guy, but either way – if you’re a Mac & Cheese fan, this is worth a stop as well.

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When you walk down the Market, you’re treated to various samples: smoke salmon, jams and fruits.  One of the items we got money for was for peaches, and we samples some ones that were incredibly juicy.  They made for an awesome breakfast the next day.

The next day when Bethany’s family game in, we scratched another item off the list: Clam at Pike Place Chowder. Seattle has no shortage of the stuff, but in terms of richness and flavor, we definitely got our money’s worth.  They actually had a sampler platter, which I used to try four different types.  Their New England style clam is excellent, but my favorite one is the bisque.

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Rewind back to Friday night: We decided to split from the craziness that was downtown and headed north west to a recommended restaurant called Ray’s Café.  There are actually three locations in Ray’s: a fancy restaurant, a boathouse event center (which was actually hosting a wedding at the time), and an upstairs café with an awesome patio.  All of them had an awesome view of the shore. We spent the rest of the evening ordering seafood appetizers and soups while taking in the spectacular view.

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One of the final sights we took in before leaving Seattle was a wall along the ally behind the Pike Place Market known as the “gum wall”, where you guessed it – people stuck their chewed gum to decorate everything.  You might not want to stand too close to this attraction.

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Next up: Alaska!

Sleeping In Seattle: Wedding Weekend

It’s been a busy month since I last posted. During that time, we have successfully moved along the process of selling and buying our new homes, and currently have moved all of our possessions out of home in hopes that we’ll be moving them into our new home later this month.  After the frantic pace of the last few weeks, the time has finally arrived for us to embark on our travels and find some relaxation in some other parts of the country.  Our first stop and the end of last week: Seattle!

Note: I’m catching up on posts that should have been written earlier this week, so you’ll see a series of posts about what we’ve been up to in Seattle.

We actually flew into Seattle last Friday to attend the wedding of our Rachel and Ken.  The wedding was actually outside of Seattle on Whidbey Island, a quaint place that you get to by ferry.  We made a small mistake in the amount of time that we took to make our way up to the ferry, and by the time we arrived at the ferry pick-up in Mukilteo, the waiting line was almost 2 miles long and a 2 hour wait – and here I thought ski traffic was bad!  The time went by quickly though, and we were able to board the ferry and arrive on the island before 5:30.  We were lucky enough to get one of the front spots in he ferry, which gave us this view right from our car:

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For our lodging, we ended up going into a VRBO with some friends and ended up with a beautiful beach house on the southeast part of the island.  We were delighted to open the back door to this wonderful view:

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One of the benefits of staying at a house like this is that we could make a great dinner at home – which consisted of crab and a awesome shrimp pasta that Bethany had made.  We also treated ourselves to something I never experienced before: a beach-side campfire, which I would say seriously rivals mountain camping fires.

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On Saturday morning Joel and I joined other wedding guests in some sea kayaking, which made me once again fall in love with the activity and exploring the feasibility of owning my own.  Unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures there, as I didn’t want to chance a water accident with the camera.

Rachel & Ken’s wedding was held at a place called Rhythm Waters, which easily goes on my top 5 list of wedding venues out there.  It was nestled meadow at the top of a very steep hill.  We actually got a sneak peak of it earlier in the day when we ran a wedding-prep errand.  Pulling up I saw a big open meadow to my left and thought that the wedding simply hadn’t set up yet. I was also fearful of where all the guests would be parking. However, I quickly realized that the meadow was simply the parking lot, and that there was a small path that lead you to a 2nd, bigger and more beautiful meadow.

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The wedding itself was a total blast!  During the reception there was actually a wedding triathlon, where Bethany and I emerged as winners of the knot-tying contest.  We even got medals to show for it!  Rachel and Ken also had an awesome first dance as well:

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Because the wedding was being held at a hidden meadow, there was the challenge of how people were going to be able to use the bathroom.  The problem was solved by putting outhouses – but not just any outhouses! These “Royal Restrooms” was a motor trailer with flushable toilets, plush carpeting and running water.  All of the guests were fascinated by these futuristic remote bathrooms. The insides were spacious and I’d imagine they’d be what airplane bathrooms would be if the airlines gave a damn about comfort.  If you have to pee in the woods, this is the way to do it.

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We ended our Whidbey Island adventure by heading home and taking in one last shot of the sunset.

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Next up: Our week-long time pretending to be Seattle’ites.

Help (and luck) of the Irish Needed

Ireland

I would love some help from my well-traveled friends! In less than two weeks Bethany and I will be boarding a plane to fly across the pond and journey to Ireland for 12 days.  I am so excited in many different ways, particularly because this is the first time I’ve been out of the country longer than a day. 

We have been planning this trip for nearly two years in terms of budgeting and logistics, and while we’ve tried to do our due-diligence with research I’m we’re still afraid that we might miss something that we’ll regret not seeing.

This is where I need help from my well-traveled or Irish friends: What should we do in Ireland? We want to make sure when we come back and tell people about our trip, people can’t say “I can’t believe you went to Ireland and didn’t go there or see that!”

We’re going to be flying into Shannon and staying slightly north west of there.  We do plan on going to Dublin for a few days, but will be mainly based along the western side of the country.

I would love for you to share me any advice you may have, either in the comments here or on Facebook. Thank you for sharing your wisdom with me!

Half-Baked Idea: Nap on the Fly

They say that imitation is the best form of flattery, so I’m going to cavalierly borrow an idea from the Bill Simmons’ B.S. Report called “Half-Baked Ideas”, where Kevin Wildes joins Bill to talk about some great ideas that just aren’t fully baked, but baked enough to give you a taste of what it would be like. 

This weekend Bethany and I flew out to Minnesota to watch our friends Joel & Katie get married, and while we were here on Sunday we tried to kill some time before our flight by going to the Mall of America.  We originally planned to spend a few hours at the Mall, but given our disappointment in the attraction (which probably warrants a future blog post), we cut our trip short by 1.5 hours.  At that point we were trying to figure out how we could kill another 90 minutes, while feeling fatigued and wiped out.  At that point all we really wanted to do is sleep, but it’s not like you can go get a (reputable) hotel room for that amount of time, and there aren’t a lot of places where it’s acceptable to sleep in public.  The airport is one of those few places, but it’s an awkward and uncomfortable experience.

The light bulb came on in my head: Why doesn’t someone start a business where one could essentially get a cot or a simple bed for a nap – at the airport?  Imagine that on the terminal there is a room you could go into which houses many cubicle-like partitions.  Each partition has two things in it: a bed/cot and an alarm clock (or a phone for wake up calls).  You check in at the front desk, reserve your partition for a period of time and catch some Zzz’s before your next flight. All of the sudden these painful layovers aren’t as bad, you have an answer for those awkward few hours between being hotel-less and waiting to get on the plane. Bethany even came up with a name for the business: Nap on the Fly

Some questions arise from this business model – but fear not, I have (half) thought this through:

Why wouldn’t this be a cheap hotel?

Because you have a set time limit – you can’t rent a cot longer than 4 hours.  We all know that in reality any nap over 2 hours takes you well best the groggy stage where your next night of sleep is pretty much ruined.  If you have a layover that’s more like 8 hours, then you may be better justified in getting a hotel room anyway.  This isn’t meant for those airline snafus that keep you in a city over-night, so you’re not really competing or replacing hotels.  Also the rooms are incredibly spartan: no TV, no furniture, and the lights are incredibly dim – because after all you should be napping.

What about your bags? Aren’t you supposed to keep an eye on them?

Yes you’re right, and the way you can do that is by supplying the partitions with a locker-like case where you can store your bag next to you while you sleep.  It’s one of those cases where a key locks it and you can pull the key out and pull it in your pocket.  Now your luggage is in a safe place.  Yes there is not an additional component in your partition, but we’ll draw the line at these three things and allow nothing more.

What about couples and families traveling? Will you have rooms for them.

Sorry, but these are individual napping quarters.  Each cot is a twin size, and each person must have their own partition.  This will also ensure that people are not doing other things besides sleeping in these cots.  I know this leaves families out of luck, but maybe the next expansion of this business will include a solution for families.

This sounds great, but how much will all of this cost?

I don’t’ think it would be too unreasonable to charge $10 for the first hour, since there are inherent costs with changing/washing sheets.  Killing an hour with $10 is cheaper than spending that same hour in an airport bar somewhere.  It would be up for debate how much the additional hours are, maybe after the 2nd hour the price drops by half.  $30 for 4 hours of quiet rest should be decent trade off, especially for business travelers.

 

What other holes would you poke into my idea? Feel free to ask any questions you’d like to fully bake my idea.  Also if you like this idea enough to run with it, go for it – I just ask for a modest founder’s fee 😉