Our fifth wheel and the truck

Thursday, August 4, 2016

I AM BACK!!!! (Only taken three years)

Hi Y'all.
What happens to a blog when you forget what it is called and can't remember where you put it???  Let me tell you!!  It gets ignored until a light bulb moment three years later when you suddenly remember what it was called.

So I am back and boy have we been busy since my last post.  I checked out my last post to see where we were and have been surprised by how much we have done since there.

I left off when we were in Florida waiting for Bryce.  We had a fabulous time travelling Florida and shared our Christmas with Lynne, Ron (from Waynesville, NC) and their family in Jacksonville, Fl.
We then left for Livingston where we caught up with some friends then visited Fredericksburg, Tx. Gorgeous place although 5 inches of snow on the ground one morning was not our idea of fun.

From there we went to Big Bend NP for a few days which was a real eye-opener!.  It was bitterly cold and the Rio Grande is no longer very 'Grande'.  The only water that flows into the river is what comes from springs in Texas.  No water comes from New Mexico where the river originates.  Mexicans can just walk across the river and back again, leaving their little trinkets for tourists to purchase.  Although we were told not to buy anything as we could be charged and fined $5000 for importing illegal goods.

After Big Bend we found our way back to Arizona where we left the RV and truck in storage as we were joining our friends Kelli and Don on a 17 day cruise from Long Beach to Santiago, Chile.

The cruise was unbelievable with stops at Cabo San Lucas, Huatulco, Guatemala City, Lima and Valparaiso.  And something I didn't know - Panama hats do not originate from Panama but from Ecuador.  We had a fabulous time on the ship and at each stop.  We spent a couple of days in Santiago before flying back to Los Angeles and then home to Perth.

I am trying to keep this short but we came home to an absolutely devastating situation.  Our house sitters had left us with debts, destruction to our block and to items in the house.  They had also drunk all Norm's red wines and my French champagne.  We were shattered and Norm vowed that we would never go away for that length of time again.  Me - I just wanted to sell up and move to somewhere else that we could just lock and leave and not have to worry about house sitters in the future.

We gave it a lot of thought and decided that, as we were going to sell and downsize in a few years, we may as well do it now so we spent some time tidying up and fixing things, doing some painting and getting the house ready for sale.

Needless to say it didn't sell and we felt as though we had put our lives on hold.  Norm had a hip replacement during this time and recovered extremely well.

We decided to put the house in the hands of another real estate agent while we went off to the USA for a few months to catch up with friends and have a good time.

As the time for our departure drew near I started to do some packing.  I just had a belief that this agent was going to sell the house while we were away.  I organised the settlement agent, the packing and removal and storage of all our belongings (if it should sell).  Norm thought I was silly and the agent was worried I was expecting too much of him!!  LOL

So it was off to the US in August 2014 for us at pretty short notice.  We were both glad to get away again.

More to come tomorrow!!  I am determined to get this caught up to date.  Caio family and friends!

Monday, February 25, 2013

Catching up - very quickly!!!

Well I am back!! And if I hear some comments like ‘about time’ and ‘we thought you had fallen off the face of the earth’ I do apologize. I wrote this post a long time ago but was feeling a bit down when I finished it so it didn't get put on here till now. 

We have covered a lot of ground since my last post so I am going to put a few posts up together.  I will save the pictures till I get some decent internet (we haven't had it for a while!)  I have written quite a few posts but rather than put them up one at a time I am posting quite a few together so get yourself a coffee or a wine and a comfortable seat cos this first one is pretty long.

PART ONE

After leaving Jasper and the amazing places we had visited during our three months in the north it was a bit of a come down to hit the rolling prairies and corn and wheat fields of Canada and northern US.

Before leaving Canada we had one more stop - in Edmonton where we were going to spend some time with some of my family members. Jock and his family are cousins (a few removed!).

We met up with Jock in Edmonton and spent a wonderful evening with his sister Marta and her husband John and a friend, Michelle. The next day Jock, Norm and I went to the Edmonton Fringe Festival which was wonderful. The street performers were incredible especially a couple of twin sisters from Quebec. Thanks to Anne, Jock’s niece, we attended one of the Fringe performances that evening. ‘Guys in Disguise’ which was so much fun! Two very talented, cross dressing blokes who performed as Julie Andrews, Cher, Tina Turner etc. Just an amazing day and evening. Thanks Jock, Marta, John and Anne - you guys are wonderful and hopefully we will catch you again some time.

From Edmonton we headed south towards the border and an interesting time crossing back into the US. Just to provide some background, we had asked at each US border crossing what we needed to do with our I94 (our entry document) and at each one we were told something different. At one we were told that if we were spending a significant amount of time (two weeks +) in Canada then we needed to hand it in. So when we went into Canada for the last time and planning on spending about three weeks we handed our forms in.

Not a good move according to the border patrol officer in Sweetgrass, MT. According to him it is at least 30 days and we shouldn’t have handed it in. Anyway after quite some explaining and showing him our airline tickets to depart the US on 25th February (which I had changed and printed the day before - just to be sure we had everything JUST IN CASE), and paying $12 we were issued with new I94’s that expire on 27th February. So we have two days grace just in case flights are changed or some other unforeseen circumstance occurs.

So, with new I94’s in our hot little hands we were bound for North Dakota where we spent a couple of days in Bismarck. We took a dinner cruise while there but were a little disappointed. The food was okay - plenty of it and quite good, but the commentary and scenery was pretty ordinary. Mind you we have been spoiled by Alaska and the Yukon!

After North Dakota, Minnesota and our friends Pete and Judy in Byron were our next destination. We met Pete and Judy in December, 2010 in Texas and then traveled with them through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for a few weeks. We spent a couple of days with them and had a great time. It was so wonderful to catch up with them again however we were disappointed that they wouldn’t be joining us at the rally.

The four of us visited a local Amish area around Lanesboro and Harmony which of course I loved because of the quilting. Mind you, I have been a little disappointed in many of the quilts I have seen - they don’t appear to be very well made and the actual workmanship has not been that flash. I will add here that when we were in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania a couple of weeks later I noticed that the quilts were beautifully made and the quilt stitching was really well done. Anyway a lovely time was had with Pete and Judy and we will be catching up with them again - probably in Alabama or Florida during the winter. Thanks for having us - again - and we loved spending some time with you both. Take care and see you on the road!!

Our next stop was to spend some time with the first friends we made when we arrived in the US in 2010. Mary and Bruce (from Wisconsin) pulled into an rv park in Leadville Colorado at the same time as we did and as there was only one spot we thought we were going to have to draw straws. The owner of the park eventually returned and sorted out the problem and we both ended up with places and then the four of us went out to lunch and spent some of the next few days sightseeing and chatting and eating etc. We have visited them twice before on our travels across the country and they joined us for a week at the Grand Canyon just before we went home last time.

It was so good to have some down time at Mary and Bruce’s with time to catch up on ‘stuff’. Norm spent a very profitable couple of days doing some renovations to the fifth wheel and I thoroughly enjoyed doing some cooking in a real kitchen. During our stay I cooked a real Australian roast lamb dinner and trifle for dessert. Both went down really well although I am not sure whether I have convinced the family that roast pumpkin is really good!!!

On the weekend the four of us visited the Wisconsin Dells and took a boat ride up the river. What an amazing place!! The land around the Dells is rolling hills and it is a real surprise to see the change in the landscape of the river and the limestone cliffs along its course. Unfortunately, due to low water levels the lower dell was not navigable but never mind we still had a really good time.

As always our time with friends is never long enough and before we were ready to leave it was time to be moving on. Thanks Mary and Bruce, we will miss you guys.

A quick stop near the Amana Colonies in Iowa was our next destination. Lots of antique shops and restaurants and very interesting how this group of villages have adapted to modern society.

The next week we spent at Sedalia, Missouri at the Escapees rally along with over 550 other rv’s of every description from tents to huge motor homes. We met up with Rick and Karen on our arrival and were looking forward to spend some time with them and catching up however Rick became ill early in our stay and that put a damper on the rally. He was okay by the end of the rally as they made their way east and we were going to Kentucky.

We met up with a couple, Lynn and Louise, who had just returned from four years of rv’ing around Australia. We were having such a great time with them that when they suggested that instead of slowly making our way to Northern Kentucky University, we should go with them to Branson, Missouri for a couple of days we decided to go. We had plenty of time - haha! Well we would have if they hadn’t talked us into staying an extra couple of days!!

Our stay in Branson was really fascinating. I had never heard of Branson and was certainly unaware of all the theatres that exist down there. It seems that everyone has a theatre down there and we were blown away by the standard and variety of live shows around. We went to the Dolly Parton Stampede for the dinner show - now that was an eye opener. Dinner is served on a plate as you watch the show but you have to use your fingers to eat it all. A cup of soup, a whole chicken (a bantam really), some ribs and pork loin, corn on the cob and potato and then a chocolate dessert - way too much for me. The show was fantastic with singing, horses, comedy etc. A really good night.

The other show that we went to was a group of six brother (called SIX) who sing without any instruments and make all the instrument noises with their mouths. They were really incredible and just so talented.

One day Lynn and Norm went to a car show and, although it wasn’t what they expected, it was made up of cars that had been used in movies like the Batmobile, the Dukes of Hazzard cars, Kitt from Knightrider etc as well as some other classic cats. Louise and I went shopping!

Having pushed our stay to the absolute limit we had to hightail it across country to Kentucky to see Bryce. Six hundred miles in two days!! The first day we drove and drove and drove and were going to stop for the night in a casino parking lot but as we were looking for the casino a dreadful storm hit with lots of lightning, thunder and rain so we needed to get off the road in a hurry. We found a Walmart, except that the parking lot was being resurfaced and was closed off. It was right next door to a Home Depot so we decided that was a good place to stay for the night. Usually these stops can be a bit noisy but this one was off the highway and so we spent a quiet night and were able to get some sleep.

Early next morning we drove the rest of the way to our campground, set up and then took off to Northern Kentucky University at Highland Heights to finally catch up with our son,

Bryce! It was so wonderful to see him. He is so happy at NKU and is loving being back in the US.

For the next few days we spent lots of time with him and his friend, Steph. We visited Newport on the Levee and went to the aquarium there. A bit of a blast - the first display as you enter the aquarium was Australian river fish!!! This was a really awesome aquarium. We also took a walk on the ‘Purple People Bridge’ that took us across the river into Cincinatti, Ohio and took a visit to the Carew Building. The view over Cincinatti and into Kentucky was beautiful.

After cooking his favourite dinner - spaghetti bolognaise - and leaving him with a big pot of his favourite soup - pumpkin - it was time to say a very, very sad farewell. Too sad.

And on that note I am going to finish this post. Whoever thought that I could fit two months into one post? Not as verbose as I can be! I will start working on the next post right away - do you believe that?

PART TWO
 

I left the last post as we left Bryce in Kentucky and we began our journey east. Our first destination was in Stout, Ohio where we stayed for two nights as the information we had found said there was a lot to see in the area. On the way there we traveled along the Ohio River and passed through some beautiful little towns with lots of historical buildings. I did pass the comment to Norm that it would be lovely to have a look around and maybe we would find the same in Stout! Famous last words!!

We arrived at the rv park which was just a cleared area but was beautifully situated on the banks of the Ohio River. We set ourselves up and the next day we got an early start to visit Portsmouth. Very disappointing and in fact the only draw card that we found in the town was a Macca’s with free wifi. On the way back to the rv we stopped to visit the Sh???????????? State Park which was really beautiful. Being out of season it was absolutely deserted so we had it all to ourselves and took a walk. A sign indicating an infestation to ticks encouraged us to go back to the car and head home.

We cut our visit to Ohio short and left early the next morning bound for West Virginia. After crossing the state line we went to the visitors centre as we had no definite destination. We decided to head to Morganstown in the north of the state. We found a lovely park just out of Morgantown - very rustic with lovely trees in each site.

The next morning we took a ride into the town which is home to West Virginia University and there were students everywhere. We had been advised to take the PRT (Personal Rail Transit) which does a loop through many of the different facilities of the University and would give us a good start to looking at the town. We climbed the stairs towards the platform and realizing that we didn’t have a ticket (you can’t buy them at the station, all the students and residents have pre-paid cards) and a lovely young student very kindly allowed us to use her card to get on the platform.

There was a little carriage sitting with the door open so Norm made his way into it and I was just about to follow when I realized that he was on the wrong one. I told him immediately but….. Before he could get out, the doors closed and the carriage moved off leaving me standing on the platform!!

Rather than follow in the next carriage I decided that as it was a round trip I would just wait till he came back. A lady on the platform, seeing out predicament rang the management office and the next thing an announcement comes over the loudspeaker advising the lady who has lost her husband not to worry, they would make sure he got back to her!! Embarrassing - just a little!!

About 20 minutes later a carriage pulls in to the station and Norm climbs out. He doesn’t need to go on the trip now - he has seen it all!!! We did go though as I wanted to see it too.

We then took a walk through the town and found some beautiful old buildings that had been beautifully restored. The whole town is really geared to the student population.

On our way back to the campgrounds we went to visit SSHHHHH State Park which was lovely. The overlooks across the valleys and the mountains were stunning and the walking trails were gorgeous. Fall was coming to West Virginia adding some stunning colour.

From WV we went further east into Maryland and managed to navigate our way across Baltimore in peak hour traffic - or at least it seemed like it! We stayed at a park just near the Maryland/Delaware state line. The plan was to spend a couple of days to see something of both states.

Our first day we took off for Dover, the capital of Delaware. Our thinking was that as Delaware was the first state to sign the Declaration of Independence there would be some old buildings, history etc. We muffed that one! We drove all through Dover and couldn’t find anything except a wonderful museum that was designed like an old-fashioned village with a typical house, barns and even the outhouse. There was a gorgeous little chapel and in fact there was a wedding taking place while we were there. A railway station, a school house, barber shop and general store were also there. They even had a working windmill drawing water from a well. It was so much fun and we thoroughly enjoyed it.

The next day we planned on visiting in Maryland however after we set off with our intentions to see some of the sights and then have a Maryland crab lunch, it began to rain and wouldn’t let up. Just getting in and out of the car was an absolute pain so after some shopping we decided to go back home.

The next destination was Lancashire in Pennsylvania - the heart of Amish country. I have a fascination with the way these people live. The simplicity that they are able to maintain in their every day lives is really interesting.

The first day we visited the town of Intercourse which is wonderful. The range of arts and crafts is truly amazing and finally my faith in quilting has been restored. My prior experience with Amish quilting has been in Indiana and Minnesota and I have been disappointed with the quality of the quilting in both places. The stitching that I saw in Pennsylvania was so well done. Even sized stitches and the pattern of the quilting was much more than just the straight lines I had previously seen.

Our second day was again spent investigating the local flavours and the crafts. We discovered a village where many artisans collected and found one store where you could sample all the produce. Wonderful tastes!! Jams, pickles, olives, sauces, oils, spreads, salsas - I was in heaven. I can’t remember how many jars we came away with.

It was now early October and we have a date with our friends Holly and Shaun in Connecticut so we began heading north.

A short stop in New York State at Camp Waubeeka which we just loved. Although this park did not have such great reviews we found it really good. Cold but good! It was very much a family park and this was the last weekend of the season. Most of the rv owners were there to close up and winterize their rvs so the place was full of children having a wonderful time, pot luck suppers and bonfires were also on the agenda for the weekend. Sunday morning we woke to find everyone moving out and by lunch time the park was almost deserted and so quiet without the kids outside playing.

Some sightseeing to a State Park which also includes Bash Bish Falls in Massachussets. An absolutely gorgeous spot and quite an easy hike up to the falls.

We also took a drive around the country side. Gorgeous fall colours up this corner of the country are - just spectacular and they aren’t even at their best yet - so we were told.  We also saw a sign attached to a pig farm - Pigasso Farm - so funny!

Our next stop will be in Prospect, Connecticut with our friends Pam and Greg. They were Bryce’s host parents when he came over in 2006/7 for his first exchange and we are so looking forward to catching up with them again.

Love and hugs to you all. Take care dear family, friends and visitors and I will be back shortly - rofl!!!!!

PART THREE

A short drive from Camp Waubeeka, New York took us to Heritage B&B (not really) in Prospect, Connecticut and our friends Pam and Greg. We set up the rv in their front yard and settled in to catch up with the comings and goings in their home. And I might add there are always lots of comings and goings in their household. Pam and Greg are amazing people who foster children from new-borns to teenagers. My admiration for the tasks they take on is immeasurable. Not only that but they still take in exchange students as well as having four adopted children from Russia. Talk about big hearted!

Greg is an amazing tour guide so we were taken on some terrific tours of the area. We visited the Nautilus (a submarine) and even got to walk through it. The submarine is maintained just the way it was when it was in working order. I couldn’t imagine Bryce being a submariner - the beds are only 6ft long!!!!

He also took us to tour Mark Twain’s and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s houses. Our guides on these tours were terrific and were able to let us know about some of the idiosyncrasies of Mark Twain and the truly interesting life of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Stowe was a woman far ahead of her time - as were her siblings.

Pam and I took some time out and went to the Mohegan Sun Casino. If you know me you will appreciate the fact that I hate to gamble - especially on slot machines! I have always said I worked too hard for my money to throw it away in machines that are rigged in favour of casinos. HOWEVER we had a wonderful time and ended up playing a machine for two. Pam got down to about $5.00 (I had already lost my $25.00 - which is what I allowed myself!!) and as we played the machine the money started going up. We got to a point where I said to Pam - if it goes down to $50 we walk away. Then it was, if it goes down to $80 we walk away. Then it was if it goes over $100 we walk away. So on an amazing winning streak Pam walked away with over $100. A fun day and a win for Pam and not too expensive for me!

The hard part about having such wonderful friends in the US is saying goodbye to them so we bid Pam and Greg a sad farewell but we now head north east to Ellington, Connecticut to see our friends Holly and Shaun who we met on our Hawaii cruise.

We are looking forward to spending time with them again and of course, Norm is just a little excited about attending a New England Patriots game with Shaun while Holly and I visit Salem, Massachusetts - home of the infamous ’witch trials’.

Shaun and Holly had a wedding to go to so Norm and I took ourselves off to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. What a brilliant place! Every player who has made the Hall has a dedication to them with a souvenir from their playing days, you can shoot baskets and dunk the ball at varying height rings.

The next day Norm and Shaun got an early start so they could attend the ‘tail-gate’ party before the game. This is apparently a tradition at American football games. I guess you have to have something to do for the four or five hours after you get a parking spot and before the game starts! One of Shaun’s friends bought the barbie and the meat and they had a huge cookout while they were waiting.

The Pats were playing the NY Jets which is apparently a bit of a grudge match so tickets were hard to come by but the guys had really good seats for a really exciting game. Shaun told Norm that of all the games he had attended this was perhaps the most exciting. Both of the guys came home really hoarse and even the next morning Norm had a scratchy throat from all the yelling. It had been a 12 hour day by the time they got home so both of the guys were pretty wacked. They even had another ‘tail-gate’ party after the game finished while they waited for the traffic to clear a bit.

While the guys were off at the game Holly and I took a drive to Salem to have a look around. What a thoroughly interesting place. The true story of Salem is not nearly as exciting as I had thought. No witches were burned and in fact only 18 people were hung with one fellow being crushed to death. The true story is that a few girls started the whole incident due to boredom. The started accusing people of being witches and causing them to have fits etc and when the people were in court they twitched and fainted and had fits and the judges were convinced and consequently found the victim guilty. One of the girls eventually admitted (as an adult) that the whole thing had been a hoax and actually apologized.

Anyway the whole town is a testament to witches and witchcraft with souvenir shops, museums, shops with all sorts of witchcraft paraphernalia, restaurants etc. We had arrived on a day of celebration (can’t remember what of!) so the streets were full of people in costume, tourists and street performers. We had a great day and finished the day with a yummy dinner - apparently you should always have a lobster poboy when in Salem so that is what I had. Sooooo good!!!!! Needless to say we had a great day and still managed to get home before the guys.

After a wonderful stay with Shaun and Holly it was time to say farewell and to be moving on again with the plan to make our way south to Maryland and hopefully do some sightseeing. We are planning on coming back to see Shaun and Holly in 2013 when we come back to the US.

I have to tell you that as we headed south the GPS indicated that we would have to drive through Philadelphia and as Norm usually does the driving through the cities - because I have to do the navigating - I tried to plan the trip to accommodate that. So much for my planning!! As we drew near Philly I was in the driver’s seat and Norm was snoring gently beside me!! Well by the time he woke we were well passed Philly and I was feeling very happy with myself. I drove through Philly and without a navigator!!!! Don’t tell Norm but it was really easy and not too much traffic!!

This time when we went to Maryland we stayed at a park just north of Baltimore. It was situated right on the bay and in fact our rv was backed up to the water with just the most wonderful views across the water. We decided to take a couple of days just sitting and getting the laundry done and having a rest which turned out to be our undoing as we still didn’t get to see anything in Maryland.

We were sitting by the bay - about 3 metres from the water) when we found out about a visitor coming to the area! Sandy was headed our way and we decided that this wasn’t a really good place to be. Our ultimate goal was to be in Florida for Christmas with a detour to North Carolina to see friends but as Sandy was in Florida and heading to NC we decided that we would go to Tennessee. I planned out the trip and we packed up with our destination the SKP park in Knoxville.

We overnighted at a truck stop (which was surprisingly quiet for a truck stop) and reached the park the next morning. Mid afternoon our friends Karen and Rick arrived. They had been escaping from Baltimore and Sandy as well when they say a post I put on Facebook about where we were going and, without a destination in mind, decided that it sounded like a good idea.

Lucky for us we left Maryland when we did. I heard from some other friends who had been driving back from Florida to NC who said that the interstate that we had been on, had been bumper to bumper and crawling along south the day after we got to Knoxville. Definitely more good luck than good management!

We had a really quiet time in Knoxville catching up with car services, haircuts, shopping and spending time with Rick and Karen.

As we were only a couple of hours drive from our mates in NC we made arrangements to drive over and spend a night with them at their home. Ron is American and Lynne is an Australian. Last time we were home they were visiting Lynne’s family just down the road from our place and came up for lunch with some other friends so it was so nice to catch up with them again.

They live in Waynesville which is a gorgeous town. The old buildings have been restored and many artisans have set up outlets for their work. Lynne is an extremely talented quilter and dyes her own fabrics and actually has some of her work in the outlets. I can only aspire to be as talented as Lynne.

We have the best friends! Their generosity and hospitality and legendary!! Two days later we said farewell to Lynne and Ron and made our way back to Knoxville.

We had been in Knoxville for some time and Norm and I were getting itchy feet but it was still too soon to go to Florida so we decided to take a detour to Nashville, Memphis and then down the Natchez Trail before going to the SKP park in Summerdale, Alabama and then on to Florida.

Anyway that is the next episode in this never-ending story!

To all our dear friends and family and to any visitors to this blog, I hope you are enjoying our travels and would love it if you left a comment - even if it is to scold me for the infrequency of the posts!!

Take care of you and yours and our love and hugs to you all.

PART FOUR

Just in case you are wondering where all these posts and this burst of energy has come from, I will let you into a little secret. I have set myself the goal of getting up to date by doing one post per day while I am on the Chile cruise so today, as I type this, I am sitting in the coffee shop just having enjoyed my first latte in a very long time. But more about the cruise when I get the rest of our travels done.

Moving on from Knoxville meant having to say farewell to more friends. It is never easy and Rick and Karen have been with us quite a bit throughout this trip. But it isn’t farewell it is only ‘See ya later’ as we will be seeing them again when we head west towards the end of our trip.

Our next stop was Nashville and although Norm and I are not ‘city’ people we had an absolute ball there.

We stayed at a park just out of the city and took a shuttle into town both days. We went to a show at ‘The Grand Ole Opry’ which was amazing. I didn’t know that they have been broadcasting a radio program from the Opry for a very long time and the show we went to was one of the shows being broadcast so they even have ‘ad’ breaks!

The Grand Ole Opry is a beautiful old building and was originally designed as a church so all the seating is wooden pews! Not very comfortable on the rear end!! In fact you can buy cushions from young girls walking around the theatre.

We took a trolley tour around the city and were delighted with a visit to the Mammoth Motor Car Company building and the restored cars. As part of the tour we visited a city park where there is an exact replica of the Parthenon. (While we haven’t been to Europe yet, the original has been put on the bucket list.) The park was just beautiful and as we were there at dusk we were able to witness a stunning sunset which painted the lake with the most gorgeous colours.

We had dinner on Bourbon Street and spent quite a bit of time wandering around. We visited the bar where Keith Urban was ‘discovered’ and went in to many of the bars where aspiring country singers were performing in the hope that they would be discovered.

While we were in Nashville we watched our first episode of the new tv program titled ‘Nashville’ and were amazed at how accurate much of the program was. It was a real buzz to be able to identify places on Bourbon Street and in ‘The Grand Ole Opry’ while we were actually in the city.

From Nashville, the home of country music, we moved on to Memphis, the home of rock and roll and Elvis Presley.

When we arrived in Memphis we stayed in a State Park. This would have to be one of the best parks we have ever stayed in. Quiet, clean and easy sites to get into. Mind you, the neighbourhood we had to drive through to reach the park left quite a bit to be desired but the park itself was outstanding.

We set up the rv and took a quick (the rv park wasn’t very far away) drive down to get a look at Elvis Presley Boulevard and the outside of Graceland. We decided that the next day we would take a tour of the house and have a look around. The street was jam packed with souvenir shops with Elvis memorabilia and Elvis songs blaring from the loud speakers on the street. So much fun and being an Elvis fan from way back I was really looking forward to the next day.

Early the next morning we got organized and drove down, found ourselves some free parking within easy walking distance to Graceland and got our tickets for the tour.

The house has not changed since Elvis died and although we were not able to tour the upstairs where he passed away the downstairs was very interesting with the Piano Room and the Jungle Room being open. I actually found it extremely interesting. I was not aware of his philanthropic work with the people of the area and his gifts to individuals and organizations. He was a very generous person. I also found it rather sad in that he found himself typecast in so many of the movies he made and this caused him a great deal of dissatisfaction with his life.

I still love his music and in fact I got on itunes soon after and downloaded some more of his music!

We left Memphis with our next destination a State Park (another gorgeous state park in Tennessee - they have really set the standard for other states) which was located just near Lynchburg, Tennessee. What the dickens is in Lynchburg, TN I hear you ask!! Only the home of Gentleman Jack!! That is right, every drop of Jack Daniels bourbon in the world is produced in Lynchburg, TN.

We took a tour of the distillery and saw the spring that is the source of all the water that is used for the bourbon, Gentleman Jack’s office and the safe that eventually caused his demise.

Apparently in a fit of pique because he couldn’t remember the combination of the safe, Gentleman Jack kicked the safe and the resulting injury caused gangrene to set in. This caused the amputation of his foot and then his leg and eventually, taking his life.

One piece of trivia for you, Lynchburg is a ‘dry’ community - you can’t even buy Jack Daniels in the town!!!

Mississippi was our next destination as we wanted to drive some of the Natchez Parkway. This was originally the route that was established by the Native Americans and also used by many early settlers who, having sailed down the Mississippi River with their goods to sell, would have to make their way back to Ohio and areas north.

We picked up the Parkway (it starts in Tennessee) Mississippi, just near Tupelo and spent two nights dry camping along the route. This is just the most beautiful route. There was so much history and many sights to see along the way. It is a very leisurely drive with a speed limit of only 50mph and not much traffic at all at this time of the year. I must admit though we did need to get to the camping areas reasonably early as they did fill up later in the day. We made a point of getting to the camp and then unhitching and taking a drive back up the Parkway to see anything that we had missed in our hurry to get a spot for the night.

Towards the end of the Parkway there is a section of the trail where it has been worn down so much the sides of the trail are about 12 feet (4m) higher than the trail. It was so interesting and although we were assured that the trail had been worn through the forest it was still quite difficult to believe that it was possible for this to happen.

We left the Parkway just north of the town of Natchez as we were bound for Summerdale in Alabama. This is a SKP park that we have visited before when we were here on our last trip and would have to be one of the busiest parks we have ever been in. There are so many activities going on all the time there is no way that anyone staying here for any length of time could ever get bored. In fact there is so much to do it is hard to decide where to begin.

We had arrived the day before Thanksgiving and were delighted to be included in the lunch held in the clubhouse. We went to happy hour a few times, had breakfast a couple of mornings and enjoyed market day (crafts people selling their wares) as well as dinner out with some of the other guests. I even got the sewing machine out and started a new quilt with the other ladies. Some of the quilt ideas that they have are really stunning and I can’t wait to get home and start again where I have lots of room to work rather than in the rv - it does get a bit cramped and messy when I am trying to sew!

Summerdale is our last stop before we move down to Florida. We are going to be staying at the SKP park in Wauchula for a few days before we got to Bushnell. Bryce is going to be joining us for a couple of weeks over Christmas so I am really excited about that. Can’t wait to see how he puts his 6’5” body on the fold out, blow up sofa bed that he will be using.

I hope you have enjoyed this rather long post and I will endeavour to put up the next one as soon as possible.

Until my next post I wish you all happy days, stay well and happy. Love and hugs from us to you.

Ooroo!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Well I am back!! And if I hear some comments like ‘about time’ and ‘we thought you had fallen off the face of the earth’ I do apologize. We have been very busy over the last two months and I actually haven’t really felt like sitting down and typing. But, I am back and here goes - two months in one (hopefully) not too long post.

After leaving Jasper and the amazing places we had visited during our three months in the north it was a bit of a come down to hit the rolling prairies and corn and wheat fields of Canada and northern US.

Before leaving Canada we had one more stop - in Edmonton where we were going to spend some time with some of my family members. Jock and his family are cousins (a few removed!).

We met up with Jock in Edmonton and spent a wonderful evening with his sister Marta and her husband John and a friend, Michelle. The next day Jock, Norm and I went to the Edmonton Fringe Festival which was wonderful. The street performers were incredible especially a couple of twin sisters from Quebec. Thanks to Anne, Jock’s niece, we attended one of the Fringe performances that evening. ‘Guys in Disguise’ which was so much fun! Two very talented, cross dressing blokes who performed as Julie Andrews, Cher, Tina Turner etc. Just an amazing day and evening. Thanks Jock, Marta, John and Anne - you guys are wonderful and hopefully we will catch you again some time.



Les Souers Kif-Kif - just amazing - both girls are inside the balloons!

Jock, Norm and I after an awesome day out.

From Edmonton we headed south towards the border and an interesting time crossing back into the US. Just to provide some background, we had asked at each US border crossing what we needed to do with our I94 (our entry document) and at each one we were told something different. At one we were told that if we were spending a significant amount of time (two weeks +) in Canada then we needed to hand it in. So when we went into Canada for the last time and planning on spending about three weeks we handed our forms in.

Not a good move according to the border patrol officer in Sweetgrass, MT. According to him it is at least 30 days and we shouldn’t have handed it in. Anyway after quite some explaining and showing him our airline tickets to depart the US on 25th February (which I had changed and printed the day before - just to be sure we had everything JUST IN CASE), and paying $12 we were issued with new I94’s that expire on 27th February. So we have two days grace just in case flights are changed or some other unforeseen circumstance occurs.

So, with new I94’s in our hot little hands we were bound for North Dakota where we spent a couple of days in Bismarck. We took a dinner cruise while there but were a little disappointed. The food was okay - plenty of it and quite good, but the commentary and scenery was pretty ordinary. Mind you we have been spoiled by Alaska and the Yukon!

Interesting clouds while we were on the dinner cruise in Bismarck.

After North Dakota, Minnesota and our friends Pete and Judy in Byron were our next destination. We met Pete and Judy in December, 2010 in Texas and then traveled with them through Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama for a few weeks. We spent a couple of days with them and had a great time. It was so wonderful to catch up with them again however we were disappointed that they wouldn’t be joining us at the rally.

The four of us visited a local Amish area around Lanesboro and Harmony which of course I loved because of the quilting. Mind you, I have been a little disappointed in many of the quilts I have seen - they don’t appear to be very well made and the actual workmanship has not been that flash. I will add here that when we were in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania a couple of weeks later I noticed that the quilts were beautifully made and the quilt stitching was really well done. Anyway a lovely time was had with Pete and Judy and we will be catching up with them again - probably in Alabama or Florida during the winter. Thanks for having us - again - and we loved spending some time with you both. Take care and see you on the road!!

Main street Lanesboro - such interesting old buildings.

Our next stop was to spend some time with the first friends we made when we arrived in the US in 2010. Mary and Bruce (from Wisconsin) pulled into an rv park in Leadville Colorado at the same time as we did and as there was only one spot we thought we were going to have to draw straws. The owner of the park eventually returned and sorted out the problem and we both ended up with places and then the four of us went out to lunch and spent some of the next few days sightseeing and chatting and eating etc. We have visited them twice before on our travels across the country and they joined us for a week at the Grand Canyon just before we went home last time.

It was so good to have some down time at Mary and Bruce’s with time to catch up on ‘stuff’. Norm spent a very profitable couple of days doing some renovations to the fifth wheel and I thoroughly enjoyed doing some cooking in a real kitchen. During our stay I cooked a real Australian roast lamb dinner and trifle for dessert. Both went down really well although I am not sure whether I have convinced the family that roast pumpkin is really good!!!

On the weekend the four of us visited the Wisconsin Dells and took a boat ride up the river. What an amazing place!! The land around the Dells is rolling hills and it is a real surprise to see the change in the landscape of the river and the limestone cliffs along its course. Unfortunately, due to low water levels the lower dell was not navigable but never mind we still had a really good time.

One part of the amazing geology of the Dells.  Beautiful place.


On our tour of the Wisconsin Dells with Norm, Mary and Bruce.
 

As always our time with friends is never long enough and before we were ready to leave it was time to be moving on. Thanks Mary and Bruce, we will miss you guys.

A quick stop near the Amana Colonies in Iowa was our next destination. Lots of antique shops and restaurants and very interesting how this group of villages have adapted to modern society.

Beautifully restored and maintained old buildings in the Amana Colonies.

The next week we spent at Sedalia, Missouri at the Escapees rally along with over 550 other rv’s of every description from tents to huge motor homes. We met up with Rick and Karen on our arrival and were looking forward to spend some time with them and catching up however Rick became ill early in our stay and that put a damper on the rally. He was okay by the end of the rally as they made their way east and we were going to Kentucky.

We met up with a couple, Lynn and Louise, who had just returned from four years of rv’ing around Australia. We were having such a great time with them that when they suggested that instead of slowly making our way to Northern Kentucky University, we should go with them to Branson, Missouri for a couple of days we decided to go. We had plenty of time - haha! Well we would have if they hadn’t talked us into staying an extra couple of days!!

Our stay in Branson was really fascinating. I had never heard of Branson and was certainly unaware of all the theatres that exist down there. It seems that everyone has a theatre down there and we were blown away by the standard and variety of live shows around. We went to the Dolly Parton Stampede for the dinner show - now that was an eye opener. Dinner is served on a plate as you watch the show but you have to use your fingers to eat it all. A cup of soup, a whole chicken (a bantam really), some ribs and pork loin, corn on the cob and potato and then a chocolate dessert - way too much for me. The show was fantastic with singing, horses, comedy etc. A really good night.

The other show that we went to was a group of six brother (called SIX) who sing without any instruments and make all the instrument noises with their mouths. They were really incredible and just so talented.

One day Lynn and Norm went to a car show one day and although it wasn’t what they expected it was made up of cars that had been used in movies like the Bat mobile, the Dukes of Hazard cars, Kit from Knight rider etc and some other classic cats. Louise and I went shopping!

Having pushed our stay to the absolute limit we had to hightail it across country to Kentucky to see Bryce. Six hundred miles in two days!! The first day we drove and drove and drove and were going to stop for the night in a casino parking lot but as we were looking for the casino a dreadful storm hit with lots of lightning, thunder and rain so we needed to get off the road in a hurry. We found a Wal-Mart except that the parking lot was being resurfaced and was closed off. It was right next door to a Home Depot so we decided that was a good place to stay for the night. Usually these stops can be a bit noisy but this one was off the highway and so we spent a quiet night and were able to get some sleep.

Early next morning we drove the rest of the way to our campground, set up and then took off to Northern Kentucky University at Highland Heights to finally catch up with our son, Bryce! It was so wonderful to see him. He is so happy at NKU and is loving being back in the US.

 Happy family!!

For the next few days we spent lots of time with him and his new lady, Steph. We visited Newport on the Levee and went to the aquarium there. A bit of a blast - the first display as you enter the aquarium was Australian river fish!!! This was a really awesome aquarium. We also took a walk on the ‘Purple People Bridge’ that took us across the river into Cincinnati, Ohio and took a visit to the Carew Building. The view over Cincinnati and into Kentucky was beautiful.

After cooking his favourite dinner - spaghetti bolognaise - and leaving him with a big pot of his favourite soup - pumpkin - it was time to say a very, very sad farewell. Too sad.

And on that note I am going to finish this post. Whoever thought that I could fit two months into one post had obviously how verbose I can be! I will start working on the next post right away - do you believe that?

To all our friends and family we say a fond farewell, take care and be kind to you.

Ooroo!

 

 
 

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Welcome back to the ongoing adventures of two intrepid Australian travellers. Would you believe? Well anyway - welcome back.

I did get a 'not so subtle' reminder from our friend Pete that I had been a bit lax in posting on here so here is the next episode - with photos - so thanks Pete!!

I left the last blog as we made a hasty departure from Juneau bound for Sitka and what a quaint place it turned out to be.

On the ferry from Juneau to Sitka - gorgeous scenery.

There is a very heavy Russian influence in Sitka due to the first settlement by Russian fur traders who took the land from the Native Indians. There are a lot of historic buildings including the Bishops’ House which we went to see. While we didn’t go upstairs Jan and Jim said it was quite palatial and we were told that it is still used for services for the Russian Orthodox Church.


The Russian Bishops' House.
 
Part of the fortifications the Russians built against the Native Americans.
 
The highlight of the visit to Sitka was our walk to the Alaska Raptor Centre where we got up close and fairly personal with a bald eagle. I know I have raved about these beautiful birds before but they are just so majestic and they really do have that stare that almost goes straight through you. What they are doing at the Centre to rehabilitate birds back into the wild and just to save their lives if they are too hurt to fully recover, is just brilliant. In fact they take birds from all over Alaska and have even had them flown in from out of state and Canada.
 
 Aren't they just the most beautiful creatures?
 
 

Our stay in Sitka was only short and so we hopped on the ferry to Petersburg and we saw so many whales on the trip - it was amazing.  The only trouble is the came up and go down so quick it is very hard to get a photo BUT......



Petersburg was just so different from Sitka. The influence in Petersburg is Norwegian so many of the buildings are construct along the same lines that you would expect in Norway. Beautifully painted window and door frames highlighted many of the buildings.

The Norwegian influence in the buildings.


Can you see the petroglyphs?  Very interesting!

Petersburg is a very prosperous town with more millionaires per head of population than anywhere else in the USA. A bit like Port Lincoln in South Australia where fishermen make lots of money. Mind you - not an easy life especially in the freezing waters around Petersburg.

We took a walk around town and went to visit the boat harbour. We watched a fishing boat unload its catch and were really surprised by how they do it. They actually stick a giant vacuum cleaner type thing into the hold and suck it all out!

I have to share a photo with you. To say that some of the boats in the boat harbour are just a tad neglected would be a gross understatement. Have a look at this!!!! It was disgusting and to think it was still floating.



The four of us went on a long hike with the idea of stopping at Outlook Point to watch whales however while no whales were spotted we did have a great walk and discover some petroglyphs and saw a gorgeous black butt deer that just stood and looked at us then resumed his dinner. Shortly after that we walked out of the woods and back into the town to see a female deer munching on the flowers in the park garden. Not the least bit concerned with us, she continued her meal and then trotted off down the road to disappear into the woods.

 
Male deer in the wild - hunter/gatherer, female deer in the garden - smart lady - food already prepared

We walked under this tree - the eagle wasn't the least fussed about our presence.

The ferry trip from Petersburg back to Skagway was most uneventful as it was at night and we had booked cabins so we slept most of the way after having dinner. The only problem was arriving back in Skagway at 4.00am before the buses and taxis were in service and having to walk the mile or so back to our rv’s while dragging suitcases, overnight bags, computers, cameras and handbags! Not easy let me tell you!!!

We went back to bed for a couple of hours before having to move the rv out of storage and back onto a site. An easy day was had by all as we caught up with ‘stuff’ and did some shopping. In the afternoon Norm and I took a drive out to a waterfall and cemetery that Jim and Jan had discovered on one of their walks. It was just beautiful and the cemetery was from the 1890’s when the first gold rush started. Many of the graves were of people who came to walk the Chilkoot trail to get to Dawson City for the gold.

Jim and Norm took off the next day to hike part of the Chilkoot trail and boy was it hard. Norm assured me that it wasn’t easy but the views were gorgeous. AND of course he didn’t take the camera (yeah I know) so I have no photos for you.

But... thanks Jim .. Norm on an easier part of the Chilkoot trail.

While Norm was off having a good time I was trying to sort out some issues with transferring money to Bryce who is now at Northern Kentucky University. How come it isn’t as easy as it is in Australia? In fact without going into all the dramas over the next few days it turned into an absolute nightmare! I would not have thought that it could be so difficult.

It was time to leave Alaska (sort of) so the four of us headed out for Watson Lake - we had been here on the way up the Alaska Highway - so we have sort of done a circuit. Unfortunately, our timing wasn’t so good because the convoy of WWII vehicles (including some friends from Australia) had passed through two days before we got there. I certainly hope they stay well and safe - especially on the Top of the Road Highway after some of the horror stories we have heard of rv’s going into the ditch and over the side and almost down the mountain!

Leaving Watson Lake we took the Cassier Highway which would have to have been nearly the roughest road we have been on. Our first night on the Highway was spent at a fabulous campground right on a Lake Dease. We had the most amazing view across the lake from our windows and sat around a campfire after dinner. More s’mores!!!!

 The view from our rv spot on Lake Dease. So beautiful!
 
Sunset over Lake Dease.

One more overnight stop on our way to Stewart in British Columbia. Stewart as a town has nothing to offer however just across the border (about 3 miles) into Alaska is the town of Hyder which is famous for its bears! We arrived in Stewart and with passports in hand we went drove to Hyder and would you believe it, we waited till about 9.00pm, and not a bear to be sighted. Never mind there is always the morning!!!!!

At the park there is a raised boardwalk over the river where everyone can stand and watch the bears feeding on the salmon that are making their way upstream to spawn. If a bear appears, you can be only a matter of metres from it.

Next day we woke up about 5.30am, scoffed a quick breakfast and headed back to Hyder at about 6.00am. I am on holiday - what is with these early mornings!!!!

The reward for the early morning was a huge grizzly that walked past us shortly after we arrived. We stayed on and 15 minutes later she reappeared and stayed in the river in front of us for about an hour. She walked up and down through the water jumping at fish and eventually caught one which she took into some bushes to eat. After eating that one she proceeded back into the water to catch and eat two or three more. She really did put on a wonderful performance for us and I took so many photos. It was so hard to pick one but there you go, otherwise you would have hundreds of them.


The grizzly that performed for us - dinner at last! 


After the bears we took a drive up to Salmon Glacier.  What a drive!!!  It took us 2 hours to drive 22miles!!  At times Norm was doing about 2 miles an hour!!  It would have to have been the worst road we have ever been on - 10 times worse than the Top of the Road Highway!!  But the view was oh so worth it.  It was an interesting view of a glacier.  So often we look up at the glacier and when we hiked Matanuska we got up close and personal but this was looking down on the glacier.  Wonderful sight and just incredibly beautiful.  Photos really can't do it justice.

Salmon Glacier.
 
 
This is what is left of a truck that went off the road, down a 100ft rock covered bank and into a lake at the bottom of Bear Glacier.  And the driver escaped unhurt.
 
That night Jim, Jan, Norm and I experimented with our sandwich makers (jaffle irons for the Aussies!) We made pizza ones and boy were they good! Jim and Norm had three each !!

The next morning was very sad as we said goodbye to Jan and Jim. They have been amazing travel companions and we can never thank them enough for allowing us to join them on this great adventure. They did all the planning and preparation for the trip and we are so fortunate to have been able to tag along. They are two of the nicest people and have been so much fun. We have thoroughly enjoyed our ten weeks together and look forward to catching up with them either in Florida in early January or late January in Phoenix before we head home. Once again thank you both so much.

While Jan and Jim are heading to Prince Rupert we are bound for Jasper National Park and then on to Edmonton to meet up with some relatives of mine who I have never met.

Three days on the road with an over night stop in Hinton and two nights in Prince George and then we arrived in Jasper. We were staying in the National Park in Whistlers Campground and we had a narrow, blindsided, backing site off a narrow road and yep we did it!! We actually got the rv into the site! Major achievement for us - we are not confident backer-inners!!!

The first day we spent in Jasper we took the truck and headed into the park where we took a couple of hikes, saw Sunwapta and Athabasca waterfalls, Maligne Canyon, Medicine Lake - which was stunning, Maligne (French for evil) Lake, and bears and Rocky Mountain Sheep. It was a lovely day weather-wise which just seems to make everything prettier. Medicine Lake was just gorgeous with the beautiful green/blue colour of the water attributed to glacial melt. The mountains surrounding the lake had limited snow but were so craggy and huge, they just tower over everything.


 
Medicine Lake in Jasper National Park.
 
Sunwapta Falls.

Early (not again!!!) the next morning we headed south along Highway 93 towards the Columbia Icefields. This is one of the most spectacular sites we have seen. There are glaciers everywhere and snow covered mountains all around.

We parked the truck and took the walk up to the edge of the glacier. We were absolutely stunned by the number of people who completely ignore the safety warnings about not walking on the glacier without a guide. They just walk under the ropes and go out onto the glacier despite everything - including details of recent deaths from people slipping into crevasses and dying of hypothermia before they can be recovered.

Columbia Icefields.
 
There are giant buses that drive out onto the glacier further up and allow people to walk on it however, as we had already spent hours hiking on Matanuska glacier with a guide we decided to pass this one up. I do wonder what damage these giant buses are doing to the glacier over the course of time, especially when you look at how far the glaciers of this world are retreating. There is that soapbox again!!

After our hike to the glacier we found a quiet pullout, sat on the tailgate (our first tailgate party?) with the most amazing vista before us and ate the lunch we had brought from home. I am continually amazed at the stunning views that we come across.

The next day saw us leaving Jasper and heading for Edmonton, which is whole new story so it can wait for the next post.To all our family and friends we wish you well. Stay safe and happy.

Ooroo

PS To our wonderful friends, Murray and Margaret, we think of you often and can’t conceive of you not being in Gidge when we get home. We wish you well with your new home and look forward to taking a trip to Busselton as soon as we get home. We arrive on 27th February. How is the 28th for you guys???? Just kidding!!!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Valdez, Whales, Glaciers and So Much More!!!!!

OOPS!!!!! We have been so busy I have fallen behind with my posts so I will have to try to catch up really quickly otherwise I will forget everything we have done. I am sure some of you already know about ‘Old Timers”.

I left the last post in Glenallen heading for Valdez. We set out early in the morning with a stop at Wrangell St Elias National Park. In a word - WOW!!! This National Park is six times the size of Yellowstone and is a virtually inaccessible wilderness. We watched a film about the park and were absolutely dumbfounded! It is absolutely spectacular and almost untouched with almost no camping and one dirt road in and out of the park. Many areas of the park are untouched and you cannot get to them except to fly over. While I would have loved to have gone into the park I can understand the need to maintain the limited numbers who do go in - it is absolutely spectacular!!

As we drew closer to Valdez we found ourselves in the most beautiful country - glaciers, waterfalls and yep, many snow capped mountains. Worthington Glacier was really worth a stop - just gorgeous! The last part of our drive was down from the mountains to the town of Valdez which is on the coast and the end of the Alaska Pipeline. This part of the journey was shrouded in fog and was quite eerie.

Rain - I am so over it!!! This is supposed to be summer!!!

While in Valdez we went to watch the salmon run at one of the creeks where we had been assured that we would see a mama bear and her cubs catching the salmon. Well guess what? No bears - they appeared later in the day - after we had left!! Just our luck!! We did see lots of bald eagles and salmon though!!!

We also took a cruise up to the Meares Glacier and were rewarded with the chance to see the glacier calving. The noise from the calving is unreal. It is a bit like thunder and as the captain of the ship told us if you hear the sound then you have missed the calving. I was lucky enough to see the calving actually happening. We were actually able to get within about ¼ mile of the face of the glacier. Needless to say I have lots of photos!!! We were also fortunate enough to see porpoises, sea otters, lots of harbour seals, stellar sea lions and humpback whales as well as beautiful waterfalls and stunning icebergs. We were very lucky that although the day was cold we did get some sunshine on the way back. Apparently it is better to see glaciers in overcast weather as when the sun is out the blue of the glacier is less visible. So I guess we are thankful for at least some overcast weather.

Driving from Valdez to our next destination.
Paula - What is that running on the side of the road? A dog?
Norm - Looks like it.
Paula - Poor thing it must have lost its owner. Don’t hit it. (as it ran across the road between Jim and Jan’s rv and us and ran past us)

When we stopped for fuel
Jim - Did you see that wolf running down the road and then crossing between the rv’s??
Paula - I thought that was a dog! (Duh and I didn’t even lift the camera!!!)

Later in the day we pulled into a state park and found some sites designated for ‘big rigs’. Well Steve and Nancy and Norm and I managed to get into the only two pull throughs that were available but Jim nearly got stuck in one spot so decided to move to a ‘pull along’. There was one other vehicle in the area - camping in a tent but shortly after we arrived they pulled up stakes and left. Was it something we said????? Anyway no one else pulled in so we had the entire place to ourselves and Jim and Steve found some (lots) of firewood which was cut up and neatly stacked so we had the most amazing campfire that night. The highlight of the evening would have to have been Steve’s final s’mores’. It was so big he had trouble le getting his mouth around it and he had marshmallow everywhere. And of course I didn’t have my camera out - AGAIN!!!

Our next stop was Cottonwood RV Park which was just the most gorgeous place. Right on Kluane Lake. All the others went on a long hike up into the mountains but of course the photography teacher wouldn’t take the camera so - no photos of that either. I didn’t go as my knee was just a tad tender. But while they were away I took a walk around the lake which was just glorious. Later in the day two very hardy souls decided to go for a swim in the lake! The lake is fed by glaciers!!!! Some people should have their heads read!!! Another campfire that night - I have really got used to these campfires - a wonderful way to end some glorious days.

An overnight stop in Whitehorse again - shopping and laundry then off again towards Skagway. The drive down was wonderful with a mama grizzly crossing the road between our rv’s. Baby grizzly _probably a two year old - on one side of the road with mama calling it. We were behind Jim so we were able to pull up in time to get some great photos of both mama in the shrubs and baby crossing the road in front of us. It doesn’t matter how often we see these animals, or how many photos we take, we are always eager to see more and take more photos.

As we got closer to the Canadian/US border Norm and I were able to recognize features that we had seen when we came up this way on our cruise in 2010. It was exciting to be able to pinpoint the spot where we had a photo taken of the two of us that I use as my computer background.

Skagway is a real tourist town and exists for the cruise ships that come in daily through the summer. One day we were there, there were four in port and people everywhere. Every second shop is a jewellery store and the one in between sells t-shirts and jackets and all the knick knacks found in tourist shops! We were only overnighting in the campground as the next day we were putting the rv’s into storage for nine days while we took the ferry down to Juneau then Sitka and Petersburg.

The next afternoon we left Skagway and arrived in Juneau in time to hit the hay ready for a busy day the next day. We got an early start and took the bus into Juneau and took a ride on the Mount Roberts tram to the top of the mountain. We took a hike and took in wonderful view from the top of the mountain, across the inlet to Douglas Island and down to the cruise ships tied up along the dock. There was also a bald eagle that was being rehabilitated and would be going back to the Alaska Raptor Refuge in Sitka. She had lost the use of an eye and would not survive in the wild.

A walk through town - lots of shops for the tourists - and then we made our way to the Capitol Building. We took an interesting tour through the building and learned quite a bit about the government of Alaska - funny that I am sure most people (other than Americans) would not know where Juneau was let alone that it is the capital of Alaska.

After all this we went back to the motel and had dinner and crashed. The next day we were planning on joining Steve and Nancy for a hike to Mendenhall Glacier however the weather was pretty horrible - very overcast and very light drizzle - yuck!! Anyway, Steve and Nancy cried off but the rest of us caught the bus out to the Mendenhall Loop Road and set off to walk the 1½ mile to the glacier. I will be really interested to compare the photos I have of Mendenhall when we were there in 2010 and the ones I took this time. Apparently the glacier is retreating about 500ft per year.

While we were there in 2010 we didn’t get an opportunity to walk around to the waterfall next to the glacier so the four of us set off to walk the 1½ mile round trip to the waterfall. Of course the cruise ships were still in town so the place was full of tourists coming and going all day.

After the waterfall we had to find a place to sit and have our lunch as no one is allowed to eat outside because of the bears. Anyway one of the rangers told us we could eat inside the visitor centre as long as we were discreet. Wolfed down lunch and Jim and Jan headed off for a 3½ mile hike while Norm and I would take a shorter, less strenuous one as his hip was bothering him a bit.

Norm and I head off and went past the place where we were meeting up with the others. A tour guide with a group of tourists came towards us and told us that a mama bear with her baby were down by the river catching fish. Woo hoo up close and personal with a black bear!!! Norm and I started walking down towards the bridge and we noticed lots of movement in the bushes just below us. I crept forward and the next thing this big, black bear lifted her head and just looked at me. I backed up to where Norm was and we stood and watched her for a few minutes before she made her way back to the river. There was plenty of evidence around us of her previous catches and although we looked carefully we couldn’t find the baby that she had left in a tree.

That night we met up with Steve and Nancy and went out to dinner at the Thane Ore House which was an ’interesting’ place. Very rustic but the food was plentiful and tasted great. The only d5rawback to the evening was being left standing at the Coast Guard building for over an hour. The motel we were staying in, had agreed to send their shuttle to pick us up when we called to say we were there. Well the shuttle passed us and went into town, then went back to the motel. So an hour and a half and three phone calls later we arrived back at the motel. We were all so cranky that we didn’t say a word to the staff figuring it was best done when we weren’t quite so upset.

The next day was a bit of a fizz as well with horrible weather - rainy and foggy - for our whale watching cruise. We did see whales. although we didn’t get to see the orcas that we were hoping for but did get to see a humpback breach right in front of the boat. Way too quick for the camera but what an amazing sight. We also saw them fluking and just swimming and slapping their fins on the water. They are just so big!! We also saw a mum playing with a baby.

Back to our motel for the last night before heading to Sitka the next morning however an interesting night was had by Norm and I. Lying in bed, just falling asleep when we hear someone at our door. The door opens and we hear the safety chain spring up. The door closes, we hear a bloke muttering as the door opens again and the chain snaps up again. Norm gets out of bed and yells at him and then opens the door to see what is happening. The bloke is taking off down the passage in an awful hurry.

Considering that the door had to be opened with one of those key card things it was a bit scary that he was able to open our door so Norm got dressed and heading off down to the desk to tell the staff. “I find that hard to believe but I do believe you” Yeah right!!!! Needless to say we were glad to be leaving early the next morning.

I was hoping to catch up with this post but it doesn’t look like that is going to happen without me writing a book so I will end here and take up the story in the next post.

Take care of you and yours and we send our love and hugs to all our family and friends.

Ooroo!

PS Good luck to our son Bryce as he starts his new academic year at Northern Kentucky University.

PPS I promise the photos are coming really soon.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Stunning Seward and the Amazing Matanuska Glacier Hike.

Farewell to Homer as our next destination is Seward situated on Resurrection Bay and an RV park right on the Bay.

What a sensational spot!! Snow capped mountains behind us and the bay right in front of us yep more snow capped mountains on the other side of the bay. We arrived and set up and then took a walk around town to take photos of the murals. Like the painted Talkeetna moose and the Leadville bison, Seward has its own attraction, with about 15 murals painted on the buildings around the town. Some of them were beautiful while others were a bit suspect.

The next morning we walked up to the Ocean Centre and were so impressed. This is a rescue centre for marine animals as well as having beautiful aquariums and an aviary for the ocean birds.

From there we headed home for a quick lunch and then walked up to the harbour where we were taking a wildlife and glacier cruise around the Bay. We had an awesome time and although we ran out of time to see any of the many glaciers we did see lots of wildlife including lots of seals, sea otters, eagles and a humpback whale. Well the whale was really just quite a few glimpses as it came up and went down but we can still say we saw it!

The next day was also brilliant as we went hiking up to Exit Glacier. It is very sad to see the difference in the location of the end of the glacier 100 years ago and where it is now. It is actually retreating quite a bit each year - I can’t remember the exact number but it is scary to think that these magnificent places may not be around in the future.

We had packed a picnic lunch and found a wonderful overlook and enjoyed the most amazing view as we sat and ate.

The afternoon was spent doing mundane tasks like shopping, banking and catching up with emails. And no the emails weren’t boring!!! Thank you one and all for keeping in touch..

I must tell you that the evenings at Seward were just the most serene, peaceful times. Each night we had a campfire on the beach and sat around chatting. The first night we were joined by Mel and Dee (Melodee is how we were told we could remember their names!) who were in the space next to Jim and Jan, the next night we were joined by Rick and Karen who had just arrived in Seward that day and the third night Gerry and Phyllis (next to us) came down to the fire. It was so amazing and the wildlife was brilliant. The first night we saw an eagle come down and pinch a fish skeleton from a flock of gulls just in front of us. The last night we saw a seal, porpoises and a sea otter! Just sitting by the bay and having a beautiful time.

And when I get home I am going to by an ‘Air Popper’! On the last night Jim and Norm went for a walk to find out where we needed to go to empty the tanks so Jan decided that popcorn was the order of the day. And she has this Air Popper and you put ½ cup of corn into it, turn it on and within minutes you have popcorn. Drizzle a little butter and sprinkle on some salt and you are ready to go. Of course when the guys came back they bogged in like starving seagulls!!!!

Jan and I would have been quite happy to spend some more time in Seward however as I keep saying if you stay longer in one place to enjoy something you will run out of time down the road and miss out on something else. Catch 22!

Our next stop was Palmer just for a night then on again and where Nancy and Steve arrived to join us again.

The next leg of our trip was to Matanuska State Recreation Park and along the road we stopped at a Musk Ox farm where they are domesticating Musk Ox. The qivuit (the fur/hair that they remove from the Musk Ox) is soooo valuable! They make scarves and beanies that sell for about US$250 each!! They make one blanket a year that is raffled off and the value of the blanket is about US$10,000. Beautifully soft and warm but who could afford it? Oh yes, our guide told us about a female Iditarod driver who had her whole outfit made from qivuit!!

Arriving at Matanuska we gulped down a quick lunch and all piled into Steve’s car for a quick drive down to the staging point for our glacier trek. This was a mind boggling experience!! Jake, our guide rigged us up with boots, crampons and helmets and drove us down into the park. Jake is from Minnesota and is a uni student doing a degree in snow and avalanche science up here in Alaska .

Like so many of the young people who take on summer jobs in the parks, he was very knowledgeable and seem to enjoy sharing their knowledge and experience with others. A question I often ask is why we don’t hear more about these young people and less about the ones who do the wrong things. Our society is lucky to have so many wonderful young people. Off my soapbox again!!

The trek on the glacier was magnificent! Jake even tapped into the ice and found a stream which we were able to drink from - it was the most amazingly cold, fresh and tasteless water I have ever had. Norm even filled up his water bottle.

Jake showed us part of the glacier that had fallen overnight and explained that just prior to it falling, people were actually walking under this giant overhanging ice. It is possible to go out on the glacier without any sort of guide, protection or knowledge. And we did see some people out there doing pretty stupid things like going really close to a 40ft drop which they couldn’t see. Jake told us of one young guy who slipped and ended up about 2 inches from the edge the that drop. Lucky lad!

Another wonderful day was capped off with a great campfire and s’mores! They could become quite addictive I think.

A short day the next day as we drove to Glennallen. This is just an overnighter on our way down to Valdez. Nothing much to see in Glennallen so it seems like a good place to end this post.

To all our family and friends we send our love and hugs. Special thoughts of our son, Bryce as he wings his way from Australia to Northern Kentucky University for a year. As I write this, in the car on the way to Valdez, he is getting close to Melbourne where he will board a flight for Los Angeles, then another one for New York.

Stay safe and healthy everyone and Ooroo.

PS He arrived safely although a few hours late.

PPS Photos following in a couple of days.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

So much to do and so little time!!!!!

Where do I start?? It has been over a week since we left Denali and we have just done so much and been to so many fantastic places!

From Denali we moved down to Trapper Creek for two nights and spent a lovely day in Talkeetna. This is a lovely little historic town and we visited on a Saturday so it was really buzzing with the open markets and shops and lots of tourists (not always a good thing except of course if you live there!).


One of the cute painted moose scattered all over Talkeetna.

We watched a movie about one of the bush pilots from Talkeetna. Don Sheldon was not from Alaska but made his home in Talkeetna and made some absolutely mind blowing rescues of climbers off Mt Denali. In places where, by rights, no one in their right mind would land a plane let alone try to take off!

After we left Trapper Creek we drove down to Anchorage and spent some time there. We had a quiet day wandering around downtown Anchorage, saw a movie about how Jimmy Carter changed so much of Alaska to National Parks, gave so much to the Native Americans and made much of it into public lands. There were some very unhappy people around when he did it but it seems that many have come around now - probably because of the finance that is injected into the state with tourist money. We also saw another movie about the earthquake of 1964. Wow!! the devastation and loss of life and property was amazing. It is the strongest earthquake registered on the North American continent.

The next day Jim, Jan, Norm and I took a long drive down to Girdwood and took the gondola up to the top of Alyeska Mountain which was just the most stunning scenery especially with the tide out in Cook Inlet. When the tide comes in to the Inlet it can come in, in a six foot wave! Most of the inlet is covered with very fine silt when the tide is out and you don’t want to walk on it. Apparently it is like quicksand!!!

Jim and Norm being themselves up on Alyeska!!!!

Continuing down the peninsula we then went to Whittier through a 2.5 mile long, single lane tunnel!!! The traffic traveling east uses the tunnel at half past the hour for 15 minutes and the west bound traffic goes through on the hour for 15 minutes. This allows the trains to use the tunnel for half an hour out of every hour. So as you drive through not only are you worried about the rock walls right next to your truck but you also have to try to keep the truck off the rail lines. Interesting to say the least. Needless to say we didn’t have the rv on the back of the truck!!

This is the entrance to the tunnel.

The weather on one side of the tunnel was a bit overcast but not too bad but when we got through the tunnel the mountains had created a totally different weather on the Whittier side. Cold, wet and foggy!!! And we were going on a cruise to see glaciers!!!!!

One of the waterfalls we saw on our glacier cruise.  The water is that colour because of the glaciers that empty into Prince William Sound.
 

But…. Norm and I had decided a long time ago that we weren’t going to let a bit of rain spoil what we did so we all piled on the catamaran and took off for four hours in the freezing cold. Our table was by the window so we had a good view of a rain spattered window so unless we went outside we couldn’t get any decent photos. It was so cold outside that eventually I went and bought a pair of gloves just so my fingers wouldn’t be frozen.

Jan and I spent most of our time outside on the deck of the boat and got some wonderful photos of waterfalls, harbour seals, sea otters, glaciers and small icebergs. The blokes spent most of the time inside in the warm! We saw six glaciers and got quite close to some of them. Interesting that four of them are named after colleges in Wisconsin - Marquette, Beloit and two more I can’t remember off the top of my head.

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Amazing glaciers in Prince William Sound, Whittier.


A harbour seal on an ice float just off the glaciers.

Amazing light on Cook Sound.

We just loved the cruise and even saw bald eagles although we couldn’t get as up close and personal as I would like - next time maybe!!!

Kenai was our next stop and Jan had booked us into a cute little rv park with only 12 spaces but it was so nice. Really neat and tidy with flower pots on the picnic tables.

Our first night there we took a drive down to Ninilchik where Steve and Nancy were staying with other family members and had dinner with them. Well! Let me tell you - there isn’t much that can beat the taste of fresh (caught that day) halibut cooked by Ed. It was absolutely delicious and is now one of my favourite fish. And then after dinner witting around Steve’s campfire swapping fish stories. What a wonderful evening. Thank you guys.

On the way home from dinner this moose was standing on the side of the road.

Next day we went to the visitors’ centre and watched a movie then took a walking tour around the town which was a bit disappointing except for the Russian Orthodox Church. the cemetery and the ‘dip net’ fishermen/women/kids!

Dip net fishing is where you have a huge net attached to a large round piece of aluminium on a long aluminium pole. The fisher-people then put on waders and wade into the freezing water and just push the net out as far as they can and wait for it to wiggle a bit. Then they flip it so the salmon can’t get out, drag it to the shore, bang the salmon on the head with a mallet to kill it, clip the tail (legal requirement) and then gut and clean it then and there on the shore. Alaskans are allowed to catch 25 salmon for the head of the household and then 10 fish for each other member of the family. So with three kids a family can catch 55 salmon - probably a year’s supply of salmon dinners!

All those blobs in the water are people up to their armpits in the freezing water waiting to catch salmon with their dip nets.

A bald eagle on a nest.

Since our arrival in Anchorage we have been impressed by the absence of the mosquitoes. Mind you, I have a new name for them now - moosquitoes - because some of them are nearly as big as a moose!!!!!

Our next destination after Kenai was Homer where we stayed for two nights. On our arrival we set up then took a walk down into the town and then a drive out onto the spit which is four miles long and is a real tourist destination. There are rv parks all along it with a hotel right out on the end. Shops everywhere and every second shop just about was a fishing charter business.

After a great deal of thought, and not wanting to miss out on something I had been soooo looking forward to, I decided to go on one of the fishing charters. I really wanted to, especially after having eaten it the other night, so, I booked to go on a half day trip. The limit was two halibut per person and I had to buy an Alaskan fishing license for just one day. Having had no experience with halibut fishing I was a bit anxious about whether or not I would catch anything but made sure that I had plenty of room in the freezer - just in case!!! Wishful thinking or doubtful hoping!!!!

So, the next day, after making sure I was suitably attired, Norm, Jim and Jan took me down to the charter place on the spit. We sorted out my license and got myself aboard the M/V Jackpot. We took a 1.5 hour boat ride out to the fishing site. Lucky for us it wasn’t rough and not much swell so no one got sick on the way out. Arriving at the ‘spot’ we were all given a talk on how things would work. Our lines were already baited with a large, very heavy, lead sinker on it so here I go! Drop the line over the side of the boat and watch it unreel, and unreel and unreel and unreel. No one said we were in 250ft deep water!!!! Easy peasy letting it out but let me tell you - winding that line in with a 10-15lb halibut on the end is HARD work!!!!! And how do I know that you may ask???? Well I caught my two and they were amongst the biggest on the boat so I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself.

Yours truly with her two halibut!!  Woo Hoo!!

Once everyone has their halibut and we start back towards the spit the guys on the boat fillet all the fish and put it in bags for each fisher-person. The seagulls are obviously very familiar with the process because there were so many behind the boat waiting for the carcasses that were being tossed over as we went along.

Back on dry land and met by the gang we went to a restaurant and guess what we all had for dinner - yep halibut!!!! Then it was back to the rv to cut up the fish and put it into the freezer ready for our first home cooked halibut dinner!!!! Can’t wait!!!!

While I was out fishing the others had gone for a hike and Norm and Jan had ended up wetter than I had out on the water!! They had both stepped in a bog out on their hike. Also, they found all the moosquitoes that we had been missing - lucky me! no moosquitoes out on the water!!!

This morning we are on the move again - this time down to Seward so until next time - take care one and all. Love to family and friends.

Ooroo for now!