A Travellerspoint blog

Family

In Sacramento, USA

sunny

I am starting this entry at LAX and soon to board our flight back to Brisbane on the final leg of the journey, after spending our last few days with our son, Luke and daughter in law, Tran in Sacramento. It was wonderful to stay with them in their new home and to relax, to eat great food, to watch some TV and to have lots of laughs. We visited Old Sacramento on our first day, an interesting area focussing on Sacramento history, the paddle steamers and Pacific railroad. Prior to that we ventured out on another successful shoe shopping expedition, this time for Adrian - and he bought a pair of Skechers. On subsequent days we were treated by Luke and Tran to some excursions into the surrounding countryside - to the college town of Davis, to the Napa Valley and to the charming little village of Nevada City. We stopped at a winery called Naggiar and enjoyed tasting lots of different wines, followed by a glass of our choosing with some cheese, prosciutto and biscuits. The designated driver stuck to water. The day was not yet over as we met up with several of Luke and Tran's friends, some with whom he plays Aussie Rules, at a great eatery in Eldorado Hills, enjoying pizza, great company and live music. The venue had a novel approach to getting a drink. On arrival, patrons are issued with a wrist band with an embedded electronic tag. On the wall are a wide array of taps for several types of beer, cider and wine. The tag recognises the amount of alcohol you put in your glass over the course of the evening and adds it to the food bill.

Saturday - we went to a local park to see our first live Aussie rules game, first the women and then the men, all members of the Sacramento Suns. Unfortunately, Luke was not playing that day as he was recovering from a previously inflicted Aussie rules injury incurred in Seattle several weeks ago. We felt like the King and Queen of the Club as we sat side by side in a camping "love chair" (a welcome concession to our aging bones), moving it every now and again from one shady patch to another, whilst the other spectators in our support group sat on the ground.

On Sunday we shopped and prepared for a family get together with Tran's family and best friend Tricia and Darius and their two children at Luke and Tran's new home. Such a great time and a fitting finale to our stay in Sacramento. Tran's parents, Tram and Nhi, rrived earlier than the others which gave us a chance to chat with them before the rest of the family arrived. Like any big family gathering, the place was abuzz with chatter and laughter with lots of food and offerings by Tran of her special "Moscow mule" - a strong concoction of vodka, ginger ale and lime. Nhi had prepared a big container of Bo Kho (a traditional Vietnamese beef stew) and also some delicious dried figs and persimmons.

Monday, the day of departure, came around way too quickly. Luke and Tran kindly drove us to San Francisco, Luke taking the opportunity to renew his Australian passport and then after a decent flat white (hard to find in North America) it was off to the airport. We did stop off at the waterfront to look over the bay and, later discovered that while we were lazily enjoying the view, SF registered an earthquake of 3.3 magnitude - a parting "shock" so to speak.

We had a dream airport run through check in with bags routed through to Brisbane (an unexpected bonus) and virtually glided through security, by-passing a long queue as our boarding passes had "pre-check" stamped on them. No need to remove shoes, belts or any other garment of clothing !
Just an unassuming Australian pair of middle-aged travellers homeward bound.

We knew that the weather in SF was windy but we weren't prepared for the rocking of the plane as it sat on the tarmac. The thought of earth tremor did flit through Fran's hyper-imaginative (family interpretation - hyper-anxious) brain. And due to the high winds, the airport was reduced to using just two of its runways, and so, despite a scheduled 5:00 departure time, we sat out beside the runway for almost an hour watching countless other planes land and take off before we were airborne, as we had missed our landing time slot in LA.

At LAX we were delivered to the international terminal by shuttle bus and with no further requirement to be pushed through any security screening. The flight home to Brisbane was good - despite being in a fairly crowded environment. Seats packed very close together with leg room catering to the needs of a child, rather than a fully grown adult. You do not want to drop anything at any time, and you need to have a firm handle on all your paraphernalia - pillow, blanket, eye mask, headphones, seatbelt - before you reclaim your seat after a bathroom visit. Ah the joys of flying cattle class! Adrian described it as "torture". That said, we both slept quite a bit and there was little to no turbulence for the whole trip. We did, however notice a definite dogleg detour on the map of the plane's trajectory around the equator, the pilot dodging some bad weather??

And so, the blog is ending in the comfort of our lovely home in Noosa, sitting on the couch with heater on, the sun shining and a gentle breeze. Our house sitters from Tasmania, Ceri and Robbie had left our home spick and span with gardens coiffed and worms content.

We were farewelled by our loving family in Sacramento and greeted after a long haul flight by loving family in Brisbane.

How lucky and blessed we are to have the opportunity to travel and to arrive home safely.

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Posted by Wilson53 16:07 Archived in USA Comments (0)

O Canada

Thanks for the scenery

We travelled up from Banff to Jasper along the very scenic Icefield Parkway, reputedly one of the most scenic road trips in Canada. The day started with rain detracting from seeing the scenery at its best, but fortunately cleared along the way with some weak sunshine or a clearing up of sorts. The trip is only 288 km but with all the sights to see en route it takes much longer. Around lunch time we stopped at Saskatchewan Crossing for some warming "tomayto" and vegetable soup. The most spectacular of the stops is undoubtedly the Columbia Icefields where you can board a snowbus and drive on to and walk on one of the large glaciers there. We did not do that as we had already had a great experience in Juneau walking on Mendenhall. There were bus loads of tourists at the Icefields - a very popular stop. Jasper is much much quieter than Banff and we really enjoyed our stay there. We decided to take a small guided bus tour to the very picturesque Maligne Lake where we boarded a 90 minute boat cruise to Spirit Island
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We were rewarded early on with a close sighting of a female black bear with her two cubs eating by the side of the road. We were not allowed out of the bus but could go to the open door to take photos. Rangers take the role of "wildlife guardian" very seriously and only let vehicles prop for a short time before moving them on. We passed by Medicine Lake, formerly known by the natives as Bad Medicine Lake because it would completely drain out each year in winter. In more recent times, geologists have discovered that a karst runs underneath it, which is made up of sedimented quartz, limestone. The Lake is fed by Maligne Lake, a glacial lake, but when that freezes in Winter, no water feeds into Medicine Lake and its water drains out through the karst. So interesting. Spirit Island was serene and in such a picturesque setting as evidenced by the photos and we jagged a fine day, if not completely sunny.

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On Sunday we went for a drive to Miette Springs - another hot springs - high up in the mountains with evidence of landslides on the way. We did not come prepared with towels and swimmers, but it was packed - maybe the thing to do in Jasper and surrounds on a wet weekend. In the late afternoon we drove out again and saw male elk very close up from the safety of our car. The male elks shed their horns each year. The one Adrian is holding was so heavy. You can tell the age of the elk by the number of points on their horns

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However, elk cows are the ones to heed at this time of the year protecting their young and there were signs all around the town to caution tourists wanting to get a close up. People have been injured by elk charging and tramping on them. Unfortunately, we did not see caribou or moose. Apparently the moose population around Jasper has been decimated by wolves in recent years. A young woman at the Visitor Information Centre has seen moose a few times and she described them as "terrifying". As for other wildlife, we saw baby coyotes not far from town in Jasper, a small herd of deer, cheeky chipmunks and birds. One creature not visible to us but doing irreparable damage to the pine forests in Jasper National Park is the pine beetle boring into the trunks and killing the trees. At first, one would think the forest is displaying autumn colours, but the red/orange signifies dead trees. The forest is a victim of climate change as the beetle could not, in the past, survive in the cold temperatures. We suspect it will be a very different landscape in future years.

Our young tour guide on Saturday, Kelly, relayed her "bear story". She likes to mountain bike on her own. Normally as she rides she makes lots of noise to alert bears, but this one time, it was a difficult downhill trail with a sharp turn around a boulder at the bottom and she was concentrating. As she rounded the corner at the bottom she came upon a black bear and, despite braking, could not stop the bike in time to avoid colliding with the bear's back. The bear was startled and she instinctively screamed, then apologised to the bear and slowly tried to reverse backwards up the hill. The bear wandered off, but she told us that the incident would have ended very differently if the bear had been a grizzly. Cyclists are referred to as "meals on wheels" in Alberta.

Found another pizza place selling Gluten free on our last night in Jasper and they were also delicious!! The Canadians have certainly nailed GF pizzas. Forgot to mention both Banff and Jasper are awash with young Aussies on working visas and they're loving it.

On leaving Jasper, we travelled back along the same route towards Banff and on to Calgary and the scenery was spectacular and we were blessed with sunny weather allowing much better visibility. We have travelled on many splendid scenic road trips but the Icefield Parkway is by far the best. Having our own wheels afforded the opportunity to stop as many times and stay at stops for as long as we wanted. Just when you thought the scenery could not get any better, you'd drive around a bend to another dramatic vista. Visited Athabasca and Sunwapta Falls not far south of Jasper.

We caught up with Will and Danielle Brownrigg (son and daughter in law to good friends Dot and Jeff) and met dear little Amélie, aged 9 months. Such a great personality. They live in Calgary and were kind enough to share a meal with us in their home. And so to Calgary airport at 8 pm to drop off the rental car, followed by a sigh of relief from both of us and huge gratitude to Adrian for doing all the driving. Many cowboy hats, jeans and check shirts in the airport, either coming to or going off from the Stampede.

Our final destination of the holiday is Sacramento where we will spend some special family time with son Luke and his wife, Tran.

Posted by Wilson53 16:41 Comments (0)

Lake Louise & the Fairmont Hotels

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Fortunately the day we planned for our Lake Louise excursion dawned bright and sunny, so off to catch the 8x Express to Lake Louise. Once again being a senior gave us a monetary advantage...and why not? The trip takes around 50 minutes, but on arrival, the foot of the Lake was SO busy. After a few brief moments to elbow people out of the way to capture OUR photographic memories of this Canadian icon, we took off for the walk along the shore of the Lake. There are so many beautiful photo opportunities and as the crowds thinned making room for the superfit (!), we had ample time to appreciate the natural beauty of this very magical place. After several kilometres, we did not continue on to attain the heady heights of the renowned Lake Louise Tea House. It was probably within our physical capability, but with fewer people, Fran was grizzly bear phobic, much to Adrian's frustration. In an effort to keep up with others (advisable to travel in groups of 4) Fran was trying to bolt up the incline and risked testing Adrian's reconditioned heart to the max. To be honest, a bear would not be bothered with Fran - slim pickings. But Adrian is another matter after several hearty breakfasts consuming croissants and pastries.

We returned to the safety of the hordes, but quickly escaped them again, heading for the luxury Fairmont hotel to grab a coffee, but decided to stay for lunch...one of our better dining views of the trip. We tried to catch the shuttle on to Lake Moraine, another stunning area, but despite it being only 3:00 pm, the shuttles were booked out completely for the rest of the day. So back to Banff on the 8s (scenic route) through the Bow Valley where we were rewarded by a bear sighting by the side of the road...very obvious as vehicles are stopped on both sides of the road with people getting out of their cars...not advisable. Banff was absolutely hopping last night. Had planned to eat at Balkan (a Greek restaurant) but no luck, so headed back to the Bear St Tavern to enjoy a bowl of delicious soup and another pizza. Our waitress was from Sunshine Beach just kilometres from our home in Noosaville. In fact, it seems that Banff is awash with young Aussies on working visas.

Yesterday, our last full day in Banff has been wet and soggy the whole day. That has been ok, as it allowed us to do a much needed load of washing and drying. Ah the joys of clean clothes! After a late lunch of Sushi on the go, we jumped on another local bus and headed to the magnificent UNESCO heritage listed Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. Absolutely no security screening (or finger printing) there. The hoi polloi can just saunter in and take themselves on a self guided tour, which we did getting lost several rimes. It is an amazingly grand historic building, constructed in 1888. The inspiration behind the CanadianPacific Railway and its grand railway hotels was American Sir William Cornelius Van Horne. When the hotel opened the rates were $3.50 per night. Today that wouldn't even buy the roll of toilet paper. As it was a pretty miserable day weather wise, we stayed in the hotel and enjoyed a cup of coffee in comfy chairs in a large anteroom, watching some Indian newly weds getting photographed outside in the rain. Their outfits were so beautiful.

Today we travelled on the Icefield Parkway to Jasper where we will stay for the next three nights. That's for another blog post as we have so many lovely photos of Lake Louise to share with you in this entry.

Posted by Wilson53 20:05 Archived in Canada Comments (1)

Calgary and Banff

We had a very brief, but relaxing stopover in Calgary flying there from Vancouver on Sunday. We picked up the hire car, a black Qashqai, similar in size to Adrian's Subaru XV. Adrian again capably managed driving on the "wrong side" of the road despite the early challenges Fran set him by directing him to an Exit sign from a carpark, completely missing the bold EXIT sign in large letters for rental cars! Well we were both just getting settled in - driver and navigator.

According to the Calgary city map, our bed and breakfast appeared to be smack bang in the middle of the Calgary Stampede grounds. Fortunately it is yet to start. If we were to stay, we would also be within spitting distance of the Cowboys Casino and the Calgary Rednecks. Shops nearby certainly catered to every cowboy's clothing requirements including these fetching undies. Fran offered to buy Adrian a pair, but surprisingly he wasn't that keen.

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The Novel Bed and Breakfast was delightful. Run by a young couple with their two year old, they were charming hosts and we would highly recommend it to anyone venturing to Calgary. There was coffee, tea and chocolates available in their cosy lounge in which we spent a few restful hour. We ventured out on foot to 9th avenue for some window shopping and a Vietnamese meal, something we don't get to enjoy at home.

Stunning scenery en route to Banff from Calgary and the trip was easy up until the last 2 km coming into town. Bumper to bumper traffic which we had predicted as were arriving on Canada Day, just as the street parade was finishing. We counted our very slow progress in measures of 100 metres. It was disappointing to miss the parade which featured the Mounties (The Royal Canadian Mounted Police). We did however watch some native dancing and the costumes were so colourful.
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On our first full day in Banff we caught the Roam public transit bus to the Upper Hot Springs and took the waters like many before us. Temperature was a very warm 40 degrees celsius... and sitting on Adironack chairs by the side of the Springs, taking a break from the hot water, we weren't cold despite the snow capped mountains looming over us. Then a bus downtown where we discovered The Bear St Tavern sharing the best GF pizza we've ever had....and it wasn't just Fran saying that. Adrian agreed. They provided us with a bottle of honey and rosemary infused chilli oil to garnish the pizza - delicious. We'll be back there!!

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That evening we took the Gondola ride to the top of Sulphur Mtn and enjoyed a delicious meal at Sky Bistro. The open air observation deck was not as cold as we thought it would be but these Queenslanders had dressed appropriately. What an amazing vista...our photos just cannot do justice to the scenery. After dinner we went back to the observation deck and with blankets and heaters to keep us warm we listened to some live music by a singer/guitarist.

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The next day we planned a trip to Lake Louise....the next blog entry.

Posted by Wilson53 10:28 Archived in Canada Comments (2)

Inside Passage cruise to Alaska

From Vancouver to Glacier Bay return

Our cruise to Alaska on board the Nieuw Amsterdam (Holland America line) was a great experience and we saw some amazingly beautiful scenery and met some interesting people on board.
As most of you know, this was our first foray into the world of big ship cruising and we looked forward to getting on board and exploring our "home" for the next week. The check in and boarding process was an exercise in cattle herding. Fortunately there were only two ships in port that day...so a mere 5000 passengers to move through. But we finally made it on board having had our finger prints scanned by US immigration for the third time in three days!

We went to our deck level (level 8) to find our cabin...had a choice of 4 corridors and found it on the 4th attempt!! By day 2 we had oriented ourselves or so we thought! Our cabin had its own verandah to sit out on which was mostly very pleasant and relaxing. The cabin was comfortable and it was good to be able to unpack.

All meals were included, but in the formal dining room, apart from tap water and tea and brewed coffee, you pay ...not surprising. Everything, even a cappucino comes with a 15% service fee added. There were a vast choice of cocktails including one called Penicillin, full of whisky !!!! Is that what was used before antibiotics!!! Fran did sample a few cocktails but not every day !!

On level 3 one could promenade around the whole ship - 3 laps is equivalent to 1.6 km. Gives you an idea of the size of the ship. The amount of food avallable and consumed by some was staggering. We chose to eat in the dining room each night, although there were other options including a buffet and a dive-in pizza bar! We usually joined with others we hadn't met in tables of 6 or 8 which generated lots of interesting conversations. The people we met were mainly British, Canadian or Australians. Each night we enjoyed three courses with wine, but did not promenade around the deck enough to counterbalance the intake. We certainly feel as if we have both certainly added some kilos.

On board there were activities, talks, classical concerts and bands each day. Fran highlighted a few that grabbed her attention on day 1................
How to look 10 years younger (in your dreams), Live Hair show!!!, Walking in comfort and one not to miss - Total body conditioning (or reconditioning depending on age)

And some for Adrian........
Detox for health and weight loss
Back pain relief through Acupuncture
And rounding off the day with the Gentlemen's night happy hour

We thoroughly enjoyed a show featuring an illusionist called Leon Etienne - the trick of sawing a glamorous, smiling assistant in half continues to baffle us. We also tapped away to a great Rhythm and Blues group called B.B. Kings which had several shows every night. There was even an Australin comedian who was, surprisingly, quite funny.

Our first port of call was Juneau - where we went on a helicopter ride to land and walk on Mendenhall Glacier. We both drank from the glacial waters hoping for a crack at eternal youth!!

Stop number two was at Skagway...where we joined an excursion into the Yukon by bus and a train trip back on a narrow gauge way along the side of the cliff face. Visited a small place called Carcross and saw the huskies in training.

We spent the next whole day cruising around magnificent Glacier Bay and were lucky to have fabulous clear and sunny weather. The rangers boarded the ship at 6 am that day and came on board by ladder from a tiny boat (by comparison) which pulled alongside the ship, matching our speed in what is called a "controlled collision"....we imagine in wild weather that could be quite hairy.

Stop number three at Ketchikan en route back to Vancouver, where we attended the Alaskan great Lumberjack show...a bit corny and one we should have missed, but entertaining nonetheless.

We had fantastic weather for the cruise - one tour guide reckons it was the best he'd seen in 10 years. We saw many whales, sea otters, seals and birds. The waters of the Inside Passage were calm and for most of the way you could see the rocky shore line backed by pine trees and snow capped mountains. The night we left Ketchikan after a very warm day there was a storm at sea. The ship remained amazingly stable....and we were rocked gently to sleep.

We disembarked yesterday and spent a full day in Vancouver. We cycled around Stanley Park and caught a gondola and a chair lift to the top of Grouse Mountain affording fabulous views over the city. The highlight was being very close to two grizzly bears raised in semi captivity (behind an electric fence). However, once on the chairlift, we were alarmed to discover that the route went right over the top of the bears' enclosure. We were at risk of being Home delivered Take-away!!

We are now in Calgary staying at the delightful Novel Bed and Breakfast - we will be sleeping in the Adventure Room !!

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Posted by Wilson53 19:23 Archived in Canada Comments (2)

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