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Ketchikan

June 3, 2022 – Ketchikan, Alaska, USA

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

Ketchikan is our last port-of-call before our cruise ends in Vancouver the day after tomorrow. This morning after having breakfast in the main dining room before going on a photo safari tour excursion, which gets me out of the city. The historic Creek district of the city is our first stop. We visit the outside of the Totem Heritage Center next, mainly to see the Fog Woman totem pole. We then go to the library for a scenic view before driving to the Totem Bight State Historical Parknorth of the city. This is a recreation of an aboriginal village, featuring a clan house, totems, and other decorated buildings, along with a gift shop. The excursion was fine, but it was certainly the most underwhelming of any of the activities I’ve experienced on this trip.

Calamari starter – Canaletto restaurant

After I return to the ship, I post my White Pass and Yukon railway videos from a couple of days ago since I now have sufficient bandwidth with the roaming mobile service I’m using today. I get dressed for a 7pm Italian dinner at the Canaletto restaurant up on the Lido deck. While I’m enjoying a pre-dinner martini in the Ocean Bar, I dictate my journal for today using speech recognition on my iPhone. I enjoy a Calamari starter, Veal Florentine Cannelloni main course, and Tiramisu for dessert. I’m finding it so decadent to indulge in such gourmet food accompanied with cocktails and wine! 

I attend BBC Earth Presents : Planet Earth II with the Lincoln Center Stage performers on the Main Stage this evening. The performance is well done, with the live performers doing a great job of syncing with the media being played, adding a welcome dimension to the work. I also stop in to enjoy the evening entertainers at the BB King’s Blues Club.

BBC Earth Presents : Planet Earth II with Lincoln Center Stage performers at the Main Stage
BBC Earth Presents : Planet Earth II with Lincoln Center Stage performers at the Main Stage

It has been a relaxing cruise, but the land portion was more active and stressful, mainly from the required COVID-19 testing, since failing a test would mean quarantine, the end of the planned travel, disruption and extra expense. Now that I have an ArriveCAN receipt, I’m clear to enter Canada in Vancouver without further testing. Traveling without a smartphone and connectivity would prove to be very awkward, since using apps and online form filling are required to travel right now during the pandemic.

As is usual with cruises, the older people are hacking and coughing in the common areas of the ship. I am hopeful that they do not have the COVID-19 virus. It was a cloudy day today but we had some sunny periods and no rain, which was much better than the forecast indicated.

Anchorage

May 28, 2022 – Anchorage, Alaska

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

Today is a down day for me – no excursions booked. I have breakfast with a couple from my tour group. These buffet breakfasts are expensive at US$23 (with tip) / CA$30! I save money be skipping lunch.

We then decide to walk the few blocks to the Anchorage Museum to have a look at the exhibits, which include aboriginal artifacts in glass cases and multimedia info, and two floors of art exhibits, which change after a few months. Admission is US$15 for seniors for the day, or US$20 for adults.

Holland America arranges for everyone in the group to be tested at the hotel for COVID-19 again today in preparation for boarding the ship tomorrow in Whittier. Thankfully, I receive notice of a negative result an hour later, however our Tour Director tells me one of the group tested positive. They won’t be boarding the ship tomorrow, and will have to stay in Anchorage for a 5-day quarantine before flying home, if I remember the rules correctly.

I annotate my photos on my notebook computer this afternoon in my room, thinking I will make enough progress to post a new Denali album online, however it goes slower than I expect. I have a lot of photos from the first half of this trip!

I go for dinner across the street again to Orso restaurant, since I enjoyed my meal there last night. I splurge a bit more this evening, having a draft beer with Seafood Gemelli, a lovely seafood stew made with local gemelli pasta, mini clams, salmon and rockfish in a light cream sauce. I finish with a cappuccino, since the last time I had coffee was at breakfast. This meal ends up costing US$53.35 with tax and tip, which is a whopping CA$70!

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Tucson, Arizona

February 25 – March 2, 2017 – Tucson, AZ, USA

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

After spending a week with my astronomy buddies in the high desert of the Dragoon Mountain Ranch area east of Tucson, I take five more days to explore the Tucson area before returning home. I have some time to drive around Tucson to experience the city and the sights by taking day trips from where I’m staying in the Oro Valley (20 minutes drive north of the city). I go to see the Desert Museum, Sabino Canyon Park and Catalina State Park, Biosphere 2, as well as the aircraft bone yard. As I drive around Tucson, I can appreciate why this city is so popular with Snowbirds, since at this time of year the sky is clear and sunny, and yet the temperatures are moderate. It would be a wonderful place to spend some time to escape the winter for those of us who live in more northerly climates.

February 25, 2017 – Carrabba’s Italian Grill

I walk up the street from my hotel to have dinner at Carrabba’s Italian Grill. Since I am there early it is Happy Hour, so I order a $3 martini and have an Italian salad and Cioppino main course later. The Cioppino is a bit watery, but very tasty, so I use the bread to soak up the juice. Cost is only US$24 include tax and tip! I return on my last night in Tucson to enjoy another Happy Hour Martini and have their Proscuitto-wrapped shrimp with broccoli. JoeTourist recommended!

February 26, 2017 – Saffron Indian Bistro

I walk up the street from my hotel to the Saffron Indian Bistro for dinner, which is located in the same mall as the Italian restaurant I went to last night. I have vegetable Pakoras with Tamarind sauce to start, and Chicken Biryani for my main course. The rice with the chicken is very fragrant, and of course, I can always make a meal of Pakoras when there is Tamarind sauce to dip them into! I bring half of the Chicken Biryani back to my hotel, since it is too much for me. JoeTourist recommended!

The above two restaurants are located in the Oracle Crossing Shopping Center in the Oro Valley, a half hour drive north of Tucson. Urban art sculptures by David Voisard are featured in the mall’s outside spaces, which I find to be quite creative and fun!

JoeTourist: Tucson &emdash; Street art: 'Sharing A Meal' a man and his dog, by David Voisard

February 26, 2017 – Houses in the desert hills

When I drive out to the Arizona-Sedona Desert Museum southwest of the city, the route takes me through some areas where houses are on larger lots than in the city, and their property has beautiful cactus and other desert foliage surrounding their houses. Since this is my first time in southern Arizona, these areas seem to fulfill my preconceived notions of what living in the desert should look like!

JoeTourist: Tucson &emdash; Houses and cactus in Sundance Estates

March 2, 2017 – Tucson Train Station & Old Tucson

The Tucson train station is located in the older part of the city (as most train stations are), however this area is well worth a visit in any case. Many of the classic hotels in the area are upgraded, there are brew pubs, fine restaurants, entertainment venues, and the Presidio showcasing old Tucson’s culture and history. The train station also is the location for the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, Maynard’s Market restaurant, and other interesting shops. The station itself is classic architecture – worth a look even if you aren’t taking the Amtrak train.

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Penang, Malaysia

Feb 18, 2016 – Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

2016 – SE Asia and Total Solar Eclipse cruise

Map showing the location of my photos taken in Georgetown
Map showing the location of my photos taken in Georgetown

I was waitlisted on two shore excursions for today, but neither came up, so I’m on my own. I walk out of the cruise ship terminal, running the gauntlet of taxi drivers trying to get me to hire them. Instead, they piss me off, so I put my head down and keep walking past them all, intent on getting out onto the street and freedom.

I encounter one last driver, parked by himself about a block away on one of the nearby streets. Cheah offers me a four hour tour for a bit less than the Holland America excursions I was considering. Initially I walk by him, but noting how hot and humid it is this morning (33°C and 85%), I realize that touring in an air conditioned car makes a lot of sense, so I agree to hire him for a customized tour. I’m glad to see the money go directly to the operator; I see the sights I’m interested in; and I can stay longer at a site or leave more quickly, as I wish.

Despite it being completely unplanned, I enjoy my day ashore. It works out wonderfully!

My customized tour of Penang

  • St. George’s Church – is a beautiful church, and it is apparently the oldest Anglican church in SE Asia.
  • Eastern & Oriental Hotel – this is a sister property to the famous Raffles hotel in Singapore, and is the classic old hotel from SE Asia’s colonial past. Cheah stops outside just long enough for me to pop inside and check out the lobby area. It is beautifully appointed.
  • Local street art – paintings and sculpture on outside walls along Lebuh Armenian street.
  • Clan Jetties – a fascinating look at an old, established Chinese community where people still live today.
  • Kek Lok Si Temple – I must confess I didn’t walk up all of the 200 steps in this temple, preferring to take the small funicular train to the top (cost is 6 Ringets up and down, CD$2.25). There are still plenty of steps for me to tackle in the hot and humid weather! The huge bronze statue at the top is very impressive, and the Seven Tiered Pagoda is beautifully sited on the hillside. On the way down, there is an old Buddhist monk being helped to the main worship room, which contains a big golden buddha statue. The temples and courtyards are all decorated with Chinese lanterns for the Lunar New Year, which is being celebrated right now.
  • Penang Hill – Cheah drops me off at the bottom of the funicular tram, where I get in line to purchase a ticket. The line for the regular tickets (30 Ringets) seems to go on forever, so I decide to pay 60 Ringets (CD$22) to get an Advanced Boarding pass. With this pass, I get to bypass the huge lines (saving about an hour), have a quiet area to wait and have priority boarding on the trains, so I am seated before the throngs push and shove their way onto the train. Penang Hill is 2,750 feet above sea level, and has temples, restaurants, a museum, some residences, and even a police station located on top. Since the weather is clear, the views of the city of Georgetown and Malacca Strait are spectacular.

My driver: Cheah TH
+6011-3688 0532
+6010-389-6933
cheahth6296@gmail.com

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Lima to Cusco

2011 Incan Empires Cruise

Saturday, December 3, 2011 – Lima to Cusco, Peru

I am seated with an Ecuadorian couple (who live in San Diego) at breakfast this morning in the dining room aboard the ship. The man is very impressed that I am on a self-booked tour to Machu Picchu, and validates my expectation that this site will be the highlight of the trip. He tells me Machu Picchu is actually in a tropical climate, which will be wetter and warmer than Cusco, and which will also be cool in the mornings but pleasantly warm by afternoon. I have my trusty Hally Hansen sailing jacket with me, which has an outer rainproof coat and an inner fleece jacket, so I should be able to cope with changing conditions, including rain, which is common at Machu Picchu this time of year.

Rotterdam arrives on time at 10AM despite being delayed by a Peruvian navy ship that had priority in the harbour. It’s exciting to finally be in Callao (Lima’s port) and on our way. We debark the ship and immediately see my name on a placard, and meet the young woman who will guide us to the airport and help us find our flight to Cusco. Although I’m sure we would have managed on our own by taking a taxi, it is so much easier to have someone else deal with the transfer and check-in using Spanish. This is the start of our private group tour (just my two friends and myself) which I arranged through Bestway Tours and Safaris.

Since the port and the Lima airport are both located in Callao, we don’t have to drive through Lima proper, so the transfer to the airport takes less than a half hour. We have about three hours to kill in the airport before our flight departs, so we settle into the food fair area outside the secure gate area – Starbucks and MacDonalds are both available, as well as chicken and sandwich places. We eat our own snacks instead. I spot quite a few passengers from the Rotterdam in the airport. Flight announcements are in Spanish and English. We find this area of the airport to be very noisy, so we move through security to the boarding gate waiting area, which has nice padded seats and is a bit quieter.

A plateau and lake with snow-capped Andes Mountains enroute from Lima to Cusco
A plateau and lake with snow-capped Andes Mountains enroute from Lima to Cusco

Our LANPeru flight to Cusco leaves on time, and it is not full. The scenery outside the window is nothing short of spectacular. As we climb away from Lima, we can appreciate just how huge the city is. The flight across Peru on our way to Cusco takes us over the Andes mountains, which are simply amazing. As we approach the valley where Cusco is located, there is beautiful scenery at every turn the aircraft makes on approach (see banner photo above). After landing and retrieving our bags, we find the bonus outside – the weather is warm and sunny in Cusco, unlike the coastal cities of Lima and Trujillo, which were cold, foggy, and overcast.

Hotel waiting room with fireplace, flower arrangement and Christmas tree
Hotel waiting room with fireplace, flower arrangement and Christmas tree

Our guide and driver meet us at the Cusco airport and take us to our hotel, the Casa Andina Private Collection – an amazing hotel right in the centre of the city. Although we haven’t had a chance to explore it fully since it is so labyrinthine, what we have experienced is very nice indeed. Our three nights here will be very comfortable. Our rooms have king beds and all rooms look over courtyards, which means they are very quiet. The hotel was created from an 18th century manor house. Having free access to high speed Internet is a real bonus for me…hopefully I will have time to catch up on blogs and email while I’m here.

We all are a bit wobbly and not feeling 100%, although it is hard to tell if the cause is spending the last 11 days on board a ship, or the high altitude, or a combination of the two. In any case, we are coping well, since the symptoms aren’t preventing us from exploring this interesting city. Cusco is a safe city to wander through day or night since it is so tourist-oriented. We have a wonderful wood fired pizza for dinner at a little pizzeria only a block from the hotel called La Pizza Carlo – recommended by our guide, TripAdvisor, and me too!

A painting of the Inca Cross: a snake, a puma and condors with Machu Picchu
A painting of the Inca Cross: a snake, a puma and condors with Machu Picchu

After dinner, I buy a watercolour painting from an artist hawking his wares outside the hotel. It is an abstract of an Inca, an Indian, a puma and Machu Picchu, which I find out later depicts the Chakana or Inca Cross (see Inca mythology). I sometimes purchase small paintings as mementos while traveling, since I routinely pass by all the other souvenirs.

It is time for bed and some rest, since we have a full day tour of the Sacred Valley tomorrow. I wake up at 3AM and decide to stay up for awhile. By then I’m feeling considerably better than I was earlier, which is encouraging. I use my time to go online to update my blog and drill through a bunch of emails. After an hour, I crawl back into bed and rest for an hour or so before arising again as the morning starts.