Monday, July 21, 2014

Virginia Beach with Eldo and Sparky, Jr.

Our first day occupying ourselves while Kelly was at work was to visit Virginia Beach....a nice beach with a long boardwalk...and of course, tons of touristy shops and restaurants along the boardwalk and close by....

The beach was nothing special...when you have the white quartz sands of Siesta Key, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria Island on the home front, any other beaches pale in comparison with their brown sand.

But we enjoyed our walk along the boardwalk very  much.....There's a cool HUMONGOUS statue of Neptune on the boardwalk...And everybody tries to climb on part of it to have their photo taken even though there's a sign that says "please do not climb on the statue."
The boardwalk is like a mini walking tour with signs along the way and places to stop and explore, like this coast guard station.....
And this memorial tribute to the branches of the military with cool laser (?) photographs on marble, whatever the latest monument technology is....There were people sculptures of the different branches of the service as well depicting military scenes, a father coming home to his family, a women officer working alongside the men, etc.
Each side street feeding into the walking/jogging path of the boardwalk (which is paved) had unique artwork.
Sparky liked the shells along one side street....
And here's something new....because there are a fair number of homeless people in the area apparently, a meter was erected near the boardwalk to encourage direct donations to provide a more permanent solution with services and shelters, instead of doling out money here and there to people on the street, which encourages more panhandling.

Later, Kelly joined us for a cool concert on the beach called "Sandstock", a three day show, which featured some excellent bands, all free. This is an annual event. Sandstock is Woodstock inspired and held on the beach. This year regional and local bands covered everything from Pink Floyd to Journey to the Allman Brothers, Pete Seger and Steely Dan . So we got our mojo on for a little bit.....
This gal was definitely channeling the Woodstock era...

But here, Eldy is just chillin' with Kelly.

Kelly took Sparky on a pedicab ride, a first for Sparky. It was really fun, and the guy pedaling the "cab" was really fast! Up and down the boardwalk we went for about 15 minutes. No charge, you just pay the guy what you think the ride is worth for however amount of time you ride.
Pedicab selfie


On our way back to the trolley ride back to the campground, we saw lots of street entertainment. Every group playing on the street had these "Beach Street" signs behind them. What was really different about the usual "street fare" music was, no open guitar cases for tips. The city apparently hires the groups to play and you're not supposed to tip. This was a ukelele duo who were awesome!

A fun day, a fun night, and tomorrow, Sparky is going to go to the Virginia Beach Aquarium with Kelly!  Bye for now......

Friday, July 18, 2014

Sparky Visits Captain Sparky, Jr.

We were home just two days when we had to scurry to Virginia Beach. Sparky's daughter, Kelly was deploying overseas and the ceremony was to take place in four days. We flew to see Kelly and then were going to drive her car back to keep it for her while she's away.

Kelly booked a stay for us at the Virginia Beach KOA campground, in a deluxe cabin, just minutes away from her work at the Virginia Army national guard, and a trolley ride away from the boardwalk, aquarium, restaurants and other wonderful places there. While she was at work, we could hop on the trolley (1.00 for seniors one way) and be at the boardwalk in about 15 minutes. The trolley makes stops at the other campgrounds and the aquarium on its way to downtown Virginia Beach. How convenient! And, we could revisit what it was like to stay in a campground instead of a hotel, which Sparky just loves and truly misses--(she means the camping explains E.)
KOA Virginia Beach has beautiful grounds
The KOA at Virginia Beach is a great place to stay for families, (although it's not cheap). This one was exceptionally nice.....It had a beautiful big main pool, a smaller pool with a water slide for kids, at least two bounce pads for kids, a great camp store, a nice laundromat, a playground, a big sand pile play area and beautiful forested grounds.

The deluxe cabins were really great...a queen size bed in the master bedroom, bunk beds in another bedroom, and one of those partially coil/innerspring inflatable beds in the living room. We had one of those in the motorhome, and it was VERY comfortable.  Here is the front view. The deluxe cabins were kind of in a circle, like a little neighborhood, so you could see other "campers" as well but they were not too close, so that was nice...a little "neighborhood" space.....


The whole cabin was paneled in knotty pine, and it was cozy! Microwave, coffee pot, little fridge. We were set!
Not only did we have cozy accommodations inside, our cabin had a nice big concrete patio, a fire ring, and a little gas BBQ grill! AND air conditioning! Whew! Sparky DEFINITELY is going to have a campfire while we are here, even if it IS hot!

Sparky tried to get out and walk a few times around the park...The roads weren't so hot--potholes and gravel, not paved....She thought about a big rig getting around the park, and yes, there were big rigs in there, but a lot of the sites were not level and a little on the tight side in some parts of the campground. The smaller cabins do not have bathroom facilities so you have to use the main shower room instead....Of course, RVers have their own facilities!
There was a big mix of RVers in the park, from tenters, to travel trailers to some class A's and lots of 5th wheelers. Luckily, there were cabins available for us to be close to her work and her departing ceremony. The only negative we could see, and that really wasn't a problem for us, was due to the proximity to the Norfolk naval station, navy jets flew over the campground on a regular basis. We were actually thrilled to see them and Sparky tried to get a photo but couldn't. Not as many fly overhead at night, so we didn't have any problems sleeping.

Sparky and Eldy are really glad to be here so Sparky can see her daughter and be present for the ceremony. Kelly and Sparky, and Kerry, too, have many fond memories of our camping days when the girls were little. Sparky was really happy to be "glamping" again.....(Glamping means camping with all the comforts of home..."glamorous camping" they call it.)
Sparky and Sparky, Jr.
Time to explore Virginia Beach tomorrow! It's a fun place! See you there!


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Sparky Gets Seasick

Our day viewing the glaciers was just an amazing experience....Sparky is so glad she got to see some glaciers in her lifetime...The temps were wonderful, it was refreshing, Sparky got to go for a hike, and our last day on ship was to be spent on open ocean waters, which meant no more protection of the land on both sides so MORE movement on the ship!

WELL! Sparky discovered that she is not immune to getting seasick...which totally shocked her. She used to sail on little Sunfish sailboats as a teenager, (we know, that's nothing, laughs E.) has been out on the water on other boats as well with quite a bit of movement, and never had a problem. All of a sudden, Sparky didn't feel so good....quite a bit of nauseousness. The water was a little rough, even the experienced cruisers were hanging onto rails, and lurching around the deck for awhile. Sparky learned that each ship has its own specific movement, and even if you don't usually get seasick, there's always the possibility that the ship you are on will confound your body! You know when the inside pool has whitewater and waves, you KNOW the boat is a-rockin'! And there's nobody in the pool right now!
And of course, we didn't bring any kind of medication because we didn't think either one of us would have trouble. There are a LOT of treatments out there, but we had none of them at our disposal...No pills, no Benedryl, no wrist bands, which some people swear helps by using acupressure on the wrist,  no ginger pills, so Sparky was miserable for a few hours. Finally, somebody said the main office on the ship has something for seasickness. TADA! They were passing out a little packet of two pills, called "Sea Calm". http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/drugInfo.cfm?id=27003 , 25 mg. of meclizine hydrochloride. That did the trick! But it made Sparky VERY tired! But, sleeping a little more when your stomach is very upset is not a bad idea.....Whew! For people traveling or cruising and worrying about getting seasick, there are MANY medications and over the counter preparations for that problem. Just Google it!
Entry way to one of the fields in the conservation park
Fortunately, we had one more wonderful place to visit before our trip completely ended. On the bus ride from Seward to Anchorage, where we were going to be catching our flight back, we made a stop (part of a final tour excursion for a very reasonable fee and well worth it) to the wonderful Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center. There were grizzly bears there, a moose, two moose calves, some musk ox, a herd of caribou, elk and wood bison, all within very natural spacious surroundings except for fencing to keep out the human visitors and well taken care of. We thoroughly enjoyed our visit there on our way to heading home. Since we couldn't visit Denali, this was a nice closure to our visit. Sparky got some great photos and could at least say she saw a moose and a grizzly bear in the wild!

Sparky was sad to leave Alaska. It's a wonderful place to visit, but very few people would want to live there unless they were cold loving, hardy people. Sparky USED to be cold loving and hardy, not so much any more....So goodbye to Alaska, we hope we might be able to go back some day, if not, it was on Sparky's bucket list, and Eldy was a sweetheart to arrange all this so Sparky could fulfill one of her dreams.....

We'll be home a couple of days, and then....Off to Virginia to visit and say goodbye to Kelly, for a little while, who is deploying overseas soon.....See you next time in Virginia Beach!

The End (for now)

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Glaciers!



Our final stop wasn't a city, it was Glacier Bay...home of the Majorie Glacier located in Glacier Bay National Park. This area is also a United Nations biosphere reserve. Just 250 years ago, this was all glacier and no bay. Along the way there, we saw lots of glaciers or ice fields...Some were very dark, and some were very white..Most were a combination of rock debris and ice so that makes them look dirty. The glaciers also had a lot of blue in them, something to do with the light waves hitting them.

Here's a view of the Marjorie Glacier from a seaplane, courtesy of the internet.



Majorie Glacier extends for 21 miles long upstream and is about a mile wide...It's 250 feet high above the water, and extends another 100 feet below the water. It's total height makes it higher than the Statue of Liberty. The cruise ship was able to come in close to the glacier so we could get some photos. It stayed in the area for about an hour so we could watch for any action from the glacier. It is supposedly one of the most active glaciers for calving, which means a splitting and breaking off of large sections of ice. While we were stopped, Sparky heard the BOOM and CRACK from an explosion of one section of ice breaking off, but didn't see the piece fall. THEN, she DID see a HUGE portion of ice fall and crash into the ocean. The ice piece that fell off was as big as a house, and as it hit the water, a huge wave radiated outward towards the ship. It looked like a miniature atomic bomb hitting the water. The resulting wave was so big, it rocked the cruise ship!  WOW! That was a really exciting thing to see and feel!

We were on the top deck of the ship, so it's hard to get an idea of how high this glacier really is. It's as tall as about a 25 story building, they say.

But at the top of one of the glacier's highest pointy peaks, in flew a bald eagle. He landed on one of the highest ice peaks of the glacier. He stayed there for a long time. Sparky didn't have a powerful enough zoom to be able to capture him, but some people did. So here's a photo with a little arrow to show you where he was. And we were VERY close to the glacier, so it give you just a little perspective on how high this glacier really is!

After an hour, it was time to leave the bay and head for a day's sailing on the open seas. This was an AMAZING experience today and Sparky was extremely grateful and felt very blessed that we got to do this. It was a dream of a lifetime, and thanks to Eldy, Sparky got to experience this. Eldy had seen all this before, pre Sparky. He had done the seaplane trip to the fjords, and some other excursions quite a few years ago, and so this time we concentrated on just the main aspects of the cruise, due to budgetary constraints. Sparky didn't mind missing some of these other things, especially since they were so expensive! Both of us regretted not being able to visit Denali Park, but it just wasn't possible this time. We had to get back soon to get ready for a trip to visit Sparky's daughter, Kelly, who is being deployed overseas, and we didn't want to miss that.

It was time for the ship to leave Glacier Bay, to start heading past the inside passage for Seward and Anchorage, where we would be ending our cruise. Out to the open seas we went....Stay tuned for one more day with us in Alaska, it was pretty cool, too!



Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Skagway!




Here comes Skagway....Sparky sees an excursion for a hike on the Chilkoot Trail combined with a river float ending with hot chocolate and cookies...The Chilkoot Trail was the trail blazed by the Gold Rush stampeders to the Klondike in 1897 and 1898. Two mile hike? Piece of cake (er, cookie!). She really really wanted to do the hike, but Eldy was not up to it. So bless his heart, he says, "You go on ahead and do it! I know you will like it." Sparky reads the description--a two mile hike (some of it on uneven ground, they said)  ending with a river float downstream w/cookies and hot chocolate waiting for you," to the tune of about 116.00 a person. COOKIES!? Sparky gets a food reward for her efforts?Awesome! Sign her up! So she went....


And it was terrific! The first mile or more of the hike was STRENUOUS! Sparky felt this was downplayed in the trail description. It might have been preferable to state something about being fit in there somewhere. Definitely uneven ground, and strenuous because of the steady elevation climb. Lots of roots, narrow places to twist an ankle, and Sparky realized very quickly how out of shape she was. She hadn't hiked in over a year. The trail was a lot alike the ones in Acadia National Park that we USED to do. Sparky's heartbeat was going faster than it ever had pumped before. But the guide stopped often, as the group was collectively no spring chickens in the bunch.
Chilkoot Trail selfie
Sparky did her best to appear NOT winded, and was careful not to talk to anybody while she waited for her heartbeat to come back down, as if she did this all the time. Well, heck! She used to! But boy, oh, boy, that was a wakeup call to try and get back into better shape. Riding a bike 10-15 miles a couple times of week is NOTHING in the way of aerobic compared to hiking. And besides that, it's been too hot lately in Florida so Sparky hasn't been riding. However, the legs were no problem, the breath was!

But the hike was amazing...the forest was amazing, so beautiful....We learned some interesting things from Chris, our guide who was relatively new to the area. Did you know sphagnum moss has the same PH as the human body and native Americans used it for women's personal hygiene needs and also for diapers for their babies?  Along the way, we saw evidence of a bear marking his territory by HUGE claw marks on the bark of a tree.....They rake their claws on the bark to keep other bears away....At least that's what the guide said!
Speaking of our guide, check out his feet. He was hiking in Teva sandals.
We saw a tree that had been drilled with a bunch of holes by red breasted sapsucker woodpeckers. We could hear the little baby birds inside the tree fussing for food. We stopped for a moment, and here comes the mama to feed her babies. In and out she went for several trips. That was cool!
from the internet
After climbing the elevated part of the hike, finally, it smoothed out and we hiked about another mile to the river's edge where we were given rubber boots, a life vest and down the river we went. There wasn't really any whitewater, just some little rapids now and then. Sparky happened to mention that she really likes to row. The guide says..."Wanna row for awhile?"  Sparky said, "SURE!"

You should have seen the look on the faces of some of the people in the boat. They were like, "WHOA! This is not good." Some guy actually said, in a half joking sort of way, "I don't recall signing anything in the waiver about somebody other than the guide piloting this boat!" But Sparky rowed, sort of, and guided the boat downstream for about ten minutes, having the time of her life.  Cool!

The scenery was gorgeous. Sparky highly recommends the Chilkoot Trail and raft ride back. And the chocolate chip cookies were AWESOME!

On the drive back to the dock, we stopped at a funky little homestead, no longer occupied. It sure cemented Sparky's opinion that some people who choose to live in Alaska all year round are a little on the quirky side....
And finally,  we checked out the view from an outlook landing on the drive back. Here is Skagway from higher up, with two cruise ships in the harbor.....

And before getting back on the ship, Eldy met up with Sparky and we explored the little town of Skagway briefly. There's a national historic park called the Klondike Gold Rush Historical Park run by the National Park Service. It's got some nice trails and terrific history to explore if you have the time.

We checked out this rotary snowplow that was used to clear the rail lines in Alaska in the early to mid 1900's.
And all too soon, it was time to get back on the ship.....Our next port and last port, Glacier Bay! See you then.....

Saturday, July 5, 2014

On to Juneau!

Up the inside passage we went....Juneau was our next port stop.....the capital of Alaska with no dome, just an ordinary looking office building. The area of Juneau is almost as large as the states of Delaware and Rhode Island, yet the population is small for the area, about 32,000 people. Steep mountains 3500-4000 feet high surround Juneau. At the top of the mountains is an ice field and 30 glaciers flow from this ice field. Yep, THIRTY glaciers! The Mendenhall Glacier is here, one of the more well known glaciers that the rest of the world is familiar with.

We were surprised to hear that the town likes to blow up snow. It fires Howitzer cannons at the mountains in the long winters to break up snowfall in order to manage avalanche flows. We were even more surprised to hear that there is a gated community in Juneau. Really? Yeah, it's the Lemon Creek Correctional facility.  Haha!

We took an excursion tour at this port--a whale watch....The bus ride out and back was really fun with a funny driver from Hawaii (!) who cracked a lot of jokes and made the ride extra enjoyable. He told us a lot of eagle facts and tidbits which we had not heard of before. Like the male eagle's talons lock when they catch prey. If the prey, like a salmon, is heavier than what the eagle thought he could handle, he literally sinks like a rock to the water and has to swim with his prey to where he can manage it. Guess sometimes the eagle drowns. The driver also had a story to tell about a woman naturalist who was rescuing a bald eagle and she had to transport it in her car. The eagle went crazy in the back of her car, ended up in the front and dug his talons into her leg while she was driving. She couldn't get the eagle's talons to release. She had to drive herself to the vet/ hospital to get the bird released and get treatment. Painful, for sure! She made it, but the eagle didn't. The driver told us more interesting facts about the eagles.

They have polarized eye lens. They can see a mile away and extremely far down into the water. They also have a 270 degree field of vision. Those poor little turtles, ducks, or whatever the eagles are eating, don't stand much of a chance! Especially since bald eagles can dive up to 100 m.p.h.!  Females are larger and stronger than the males--that's something different in the usual species traits. Their nests are HUGE--about 13 feet deep (!) and about 8 feet wide, and over a TON in weight. WOW! A group of eagles is called a kettle.  And, eagles mate for life....Gotta share the juvenile eagle photo once more time in case you missed it the first time....


(Hey, Sparky, what about the whale watch?) reminds Eldo.  Well...we didn't see a whole lot, but we did learn a few things. The humpback whale, the most common whale in Alaska, has a throat the size of a grapefruit. When they are feeding, they eat 1500 pounds of fish a DAY, and they feed for 23 hours straight!

They are just beginning to return from their long migration from Hawaii back to Alaska starting in June and through July. They mate and have their babies in Hawaii.  Stored blubber from eating in Alaska allows them to nurse their calves for about 8 weeks in the warm Hawaiian waters. The babies gain 7 pounds per HOUR while nursing! Then, when the humpbacks are ready to migrate back, they do it WITHOUT EATING all the way back to Alaska. Alaskan waters have the perfect environment with all the plankton, plant life and long sunlit days for optimal feeding for the whales. So the whales are starving when they get here, and all they care about doing is eating and gaining weight. They don't play early in the season, they are not showing off--no breeches, no playful fin slaps, just a gentle curve of their backs and down they go again. We saw two on the trip....We are thinking that this is really not the best place but more importantly, NOT the right time of year to be seeing any great whale action out there on the water.


Downtown Juneau is basically a one main street deal....The same in Skagway, the same in Ketchikan. Walk up and down the main street a few blocks and you've seen the town. LOTS of jewelry shops--guess they think you will fall for Alaska being the gem state (it's not, it's Idaho,) or that you associate Alaska with gold and great jewelry prices. Actually, the gem stores in all these towns hope you'll buy from them from the time cruise ships start arriving in May and stop coming around September, and then they close their storefronts, pack up and head to the Caribbean to sell down there when the cruise ships change their sailing patterns. The prices of tourist items in the ports really wasn't bad at all, but we didn't check jewelry prices. There really were some great deals on stuff like tee shirts and other things. Sparky did however, buy a cool scarf that had the look of native American Tlingit artwork on it and a tee shirt for a tee shirt quilt she's going to make from all the shirts from the national parks and travels we did as RVers. Sparky was also tempted to buy this bikini, but NOT for herself...as a gift, maybe? (Well, phooey! says a disappointed E.) She didn't see how much it was.
She DID, however, have a close encounter with a bear....

We decided to check out the Red Dog Saloon, supposedly a famous saloon back in the day. It's been redone, of course. But it looked just like an old bar/saloon from the gold rush era and just like the ones you see on old western shows---girls dressed in off the shoulder "madam" outfits, deer heads and antlers all over the place, lots of funky junky stuff on the walls, etc. etc. The staff was a really fun bunch and appeared to enjoy their jobs and interacting with the public.  Eldy liked the beer here.....He said it was one of the best beers he's ever had.
The menu was amusing....
And so was the entertainment...The Great Baldini....about 80+ years old and he still could sing!
Every time someone walked into the bar, he'd yell..."WELL, LOOK WHO'S HERE!" Then, "WHERE YOU FROM?" The crowd yelled, "WHO CARES?"  He'd say, "Where you goin'?" The crowd yelled again..."WHO CARES?" He says, "Who's buyin'?" The crowd yelled one final time, "YOU ARE!"
in the port of Juneau
The scenery was getting more and more amazing. It was so wonderful to have a veranda cabin where we could step outside and watch the mountains go by....and the temps were now down to about 58 degrees during the day. It felt so refreshing!

We have two more stops, and they are Sparky's favorites....because a HIKE and a raft float were on the ticket and the final port, a glacier....See you in Skagway!