post

Inside Passage

June 4, 2022 – the Inside Passage between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia, Canada

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

Map of my photos taken between Ketchikan, Alaska and Vancouver, British Columbia, including the Inside Passage
Map of my photos taken between Ketchikan, Alaska and Vancouver, British Columbia, including the Inside Passage

I have breakfast in the main dining room, but they don’t have a group to seat me with, so I eat alone. The Nieuw Amsterdam emerged last night from protected waters after leaving Ketchikan into Hecate Strait, and is proceeding down the Canadian Inside Passage: Queen Charlotte Strait, Johnston Strait and Georgia Strait. The ship will wait overnight in the strait before arriving in Vancouver harbour the following morning around 7AM.

I take some photos of the rain and fog outside as I sip my morning cappuccino in the Crows Nest Explorations Cafe. I’m eventually driven out of there by the noise and crowds playing some game with a host, so I wander around the ship at loose ends. Since the shipboard Internet hasn’t worked for me for the last several days, I complain to Customer Service. They can’t get my connection working either, despite insisting it is working for others, so they give me a 2-day credit.

Crow's Nest - Explorations EXC & Explorer's Bar
Crow’s Nest – Explorations EXC & Explorer’s Bar

I meet friends on the Lido pool deck for lunch, which is protected today with a closed canopy. I have a Beyond Meat version of The High Dive burger and fries, along with a beer. My friends tell me the crew have said are only around 700 passengers aboard, but there are 1,700 passengers boarding in Vancouver tomorrow. I believe the ship holds about 2,100 passengers, so currently they are only one-third of capacity. Having so few passengers aboard but with a full complement of crew means we have been spoiled on this voyage with excellent service. Although some of the crew are new, and they are operating under new protocols like having to wear masks the whole time they are on duty, they have all done very well. I know the passengers have appreciated their work…I certainly have!

Lido Bar setup for evening service
Lido Bar setup for evening service

I go to my favourite premium restaurant this evening at 6PM. Tamarind is an Asian Fusion restaurant which I find offers superb service, very creative and tasty food, and it is located mid-ship on the top deck, offering wonderful views while dining. There is a dedicated sushi chef and eating area for those who go for that cuisine. Personally, I like my seafood cooked and served in a traditional way, so I stick to their main dining area. They also offer a lovely bar, which offers a nice, quiet area during the day, since Tamarind only operates in the evening.

Mongolian barbeque lamb chops - Tamarind
Mongolian barbeque lamb chops – Tamarind

I have a Classic Martini to start, made with Tanqueray 10 gin. Some Shrimp Chips with soy sauce & sweet and spicy sauces goes well with my cocktail as I take in the view of northern Vancouver Island sliding by as we sail south through Queen Charlotte Strait. My starter is Lobster and Shrimp Potstickers, served with smoked shoyu and pickled ginger. I have a couple of glasses of Le Grand Courtage Brut Rose French wine with my main course: very tasty and tender Mongolian Barbecue Lamb Chops, with baby bok choy, toasted sesame seeds, mirin plum sauce, with Dungeness Crab fried rice. I finish off with a dessert called Mango Posset – coconut macaroon, passion fruit jelly, mango sorbet. I leave a glowing review – JoeTourist recommended!

I go to see the Step One Dance Company: Presents Off The Charts in the main stage at 9PM. It is a pretty good song and dance show, flashing back to the 1960s, 70s and 80s performing artists. There is also a singer from the BB King venue adding her wonderful voice to the blues review part of the performance.

I walk around the Promenade Deck to get some exercise and fresh air before returning to my stateroom. It’s time to pack and put my bag out for pickup this evening, in preparation for disembarkation in Vancouver tomorrow.

post

Hubbard Glacier

May 30, 2022 – Turner and Hubbard Glaciers, Alaska, USA

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

Early this morning, I am a bit worried about not seeing the Hubbard Glacier later today, since when I’m out on the stern deck, there is a lot of fog. The ship sails past the very impressive St. Elias mountain range eastward through the Gulf of Alaska to Hubbard Glacier this morning, while another cruise ship is sailing westward. I attend the Mariner Society Welcome Reception at 11AM, where I meet some of the officers and chat with my fellow passengers with 3, 4, and 5 star Mariner status as we sip wine and snack on peanuts.

This afternoon, it clears up nicely as the ship turns into Yakutat Bay, with beautiful Mt. Cook visible. As we turn into Disenchantment Bay, I spot both Turner and Hubbard Glaciers, taking photos as we proceed. The ship eventually gets very close to the ice pack in front of the glacier face, slowly turning to allow all passengers to get views of this magnificent area.

Daniel E. Lawson – map of the Hubbard Glacier area

There is commentary from the Explorations Lounge on Deck 11, which can also be heard on outside decks. I go down to the Promenade Deck to have a look, but quickly realize I will see everything from my verandah, with the added benefit of being able to duck inside my stateroom to warm up. This is the coldest day of the trip so far, with a cold wind coming at us from the glaciers, so I wear my toque, scarf and winter coat.

Filet mignon main course in Pinnacle Grill

As the ship starts pulling out of Disenchantment Bay, I get dressed in a suit and tie for my dinner reservation in the Pinnacle Grill. I have a lovely Tanqueray 10 Gin martini to start, then crab cakes, filet mignon with sautéed mushrooms and loaded baked potato, finishing off with creme brûlée. I have a sparkling French rose with my main course. Despite the daily program saying attire is “dressy” this evening, it’s obvious that HAL no longer enforces a dress code, since I see people seated in the Pinnacle Grill who are wearing winter coats and jeans, and all manner of dress that is certainly not even close to being dressy.

post

Anchorage to Whittier

May 29, 2022 – Anchorage to Whittier, Alaska and board the Nieuw Amsterdam

2022 Yukon & Double Denali Alaska land/cruise

We don’t leave the hotel until 12:10PM, so I finish annotating my photos this morning, posting a new Denali-Anchorage album to my Flickr account before I leave. The hotel Wi-fi is pathetically slow, so I’m glad I have my mobile LTE roaming from Fido to work with.

I say goodbye to our Tour Director Cassandra Joy, encouraging her to look me up if she finds herself in Victoria. We board our bus to transfer to the rail station, and take an Alaska Railway dome car to Whittier, which is a 3-hour scenic trip. There is snack and drink service to the seat offered by each car’s attendant. We pass through a tunnel that is shared by road vehicles and trains – a unique approach to saving the expense of building and operating two tunnels!

The Nieuw Amsterdam is waiting for us at the dock. Check-in is slow due to the health check requirements before boarding, but it takes well under an hour before I’m in my lovely verandah stateroom on the ship. A short time later, my checked bag shows up, so I unpack and settle in.

First order of business is to find my Muster Station and register with the crew there, and then watch the safety video in my cabin. Gathering all passengers on deck at their muster stations is no longer done, in order to avoid crowding and risk of infection. I have a wonderful dinner with 4 others in the main dining room: snow crab cocktail, Alaska salmon fillet, and strawberries with ice cream. Since I have the drinks package, I have two glasses of Italian Pinot Gris with dinner. The ship leaves at 6:00PM while I’m still at dinner, which is earlier than the scheduled departure time of 10PM stated in my itinerary.

I can’t stop taking photos and video on this trip, and today is no exception. The train ride down was through a scenic inlet and moose flat wetland, and then the ship sails past snow-capped mountains and through a lovely channel with lots of islands as the sun sets behind us. I can already appreciate the charm of an Alaska cruise, and we are just starting out!

post

California coast by train from LA

March 3, 2017 Friday – north along the California coast by Amtrak Coast Starlight train from Los Angeles

2017 Southern Arizona & Astronomy

Main waiting area in LA's Union Station
Main waiting area in LA’s Union Station

It’s a good thing I set my alarm last night for 4:00AM after leaving Tucson, because the train arrives in LA an hour early at 4:30AM Pacific Time. My car attendant predicted an early arrival, and he was right. I ask him to reconfigure my Roomette back to seating for the last hour. He gives me a light breakfast in a bag, which is very much appreciated, since the dining car won’t be open this morning.

After our arrival in LA’s Union Station, I schlepp my bags through the tunnel system under the tracks to the station. The Metropolitan Lounge for business class and sleeper ticket holders doesn’t open until 5AM, so I grab a cappuccino from the Starbucks in the station and kill time in the main waiting room. It’s a zoo in there, with all sorts of weird people, even in the area reserved for Coach ticket holders. I’m glad to get out of there!

Tables, chairs, loungers and a bookcase in the Metropolitan Lounge, LA's Union Station
The Metropolitan Lounge, LA’s Union Station

I have several hours to kill, since my train to Seattle doesn’t depart until 10:10AM. The Metropolitan Lounge has all sorts of snacks and beverages available at no charge. I take the opportunity to clean up in the bathroom, since it’s so much easier than when I’m being pitched around on a train. There is free Wi-fi, so I entertain myself, despite its slowness. When it is time to board, a Red Cap porter takes us to the train in a motorized cart.

As the train leaves Los Angeles behind, we see the light industrial side of the city and pass by Bob Hope Airport in Burbank, where some passengers board. The train stops a couple of times along the way for track work and oncoming trains, and goes slow through many areas. There are huge fields with crops as we pass through Oxnard and Camarillo, with lots of workers in the fields. As the train hugs the California coastline starting in Ventura, we pass along beautiful shorelines and beaches near Carpinteria, and sand dunes and estuaries by Vandenberg Airfield. I lucked out since my Roomette is on the side of the train with the coastal view, so I can sit comfortably shooting photos and video as the scenery flies by.

California Coast by train from JoeTourist InfoSystems on Vimeo.

I have lunch in the dining car while we are going through the Santa Barbara area. We arrive at Pismo Beach by 2:30PM, where the train turns inland, leaving the scenic California coastline, transitioning into huge tracts of range land.

Sandy crescent beach and cliffs of Cojo Bay on the California coast
California coast

We change engineers and conductors in San Luis Obispo, so I take the opportunity to have a shower while the train is stopped. I’m signed up for the 6PM dinner sitting, ordering the special roasted chicken breast with baked potato and veggies.

We stop in San Jose at 8:30PM for 10 minutes, and then roll out of the station and sit around until 9:05PM waiting for another train to pass before we get going again. I notice there are lots of old motorhomes with people living in them parked along the tracks in this area. No doubt living in San Jose is very expensive, so if you are a normal wage-earner, living in a decent home isn’t easy. We arrive in Oakland at 10:00PM for a stop. As we leave the station, it is time for bed. The train has a lot of distance to cover before our scheduled arrival in Seattle tomorrow evening.

Amtrak Coast Starlight train from LA to Oakland - map
Amtrak Coast Starlight train from LA to Oakland (light blue line)

A 45-minute video of the Coast Starlight train shot from outside the train, highlighting the train itself, locations and scenery all the way from Los Angeles to Seattle.

post

Muscat to Dubai

February 22, 2015 – Muscat, Oman to New Dubai, U.A.E.

I get up at 6AM this morning, since our bag pickup is 6:30AM and we leave on the bus at 7:30AM. We have five hours of driving time to Dubai, and the time we spend at the border will add to that elapsed time.

Unlike UAE citizens, Omanis work in service jobs. Our guide Yacoob shares with us that he worked as an airport bus driver, then a switchboard operator before learning enough English to become a guide. He has six children and is also a grandfather at 42 years of age. He lives in Muscat.

Today is the first day it is cloudy and it might rain. We have had very good weather so far, with every day being clear. We are not stopping for lunch today, so I saved a few snacks from the hotel buffets last night and this morning to eat along the way. We drive along route 1 from Muscat, through Sohar, Bani’ Umar, then inland to the border, continuing to Dubai. We get some rain along the coastal route. Although we are on an expressway, there are some roundabouts along the way. We stop at 10:30AM for a rest break in Sohar.

Crossing the UAE-Oman border 3 times - map
Crossing the UAE-Oman border 3 times

Our bus takes Route 5 in Oman and E44 in UAE (green arrows) which looks more direct to Dubai than the route chosen by Google Maps (blue), but it means crossing the border between the two countries three times! Obviously, crossing a border once takes a lot less time, even if the distance travelled is a bit longer. This concept escaped our travel company’s planning process…however we arrived in Dubai unscathed, albeit a bit later than planned.

We are staying in the new section of Dubai at the Manzil Hotel, which is across the street from the massive Dubai Mall, and within walking distance to the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.

post

Muscat to Sharqiya Sands

February 17, 2015 – Tuesday – Muscat to Sharqiya Sands

Map of our 4x4 drives in Oman,
Map of our 4×4 drives in Oman,

We drive from Muscat along a new inland road to our first stop to see a large sink hole, where some people are swimming – Bimmah Sinkhole is in Muntazah Hawit Najam Park. This otherwise sun parched area obviously has water below ground, since there is vegetation here and I even spot some birds.

Our next stop is Wadi Tiwi, which is a lush river valley just a short distance from the coastline. The plantations and a string of emerald-coloured pools in the narrow valley are especially beautiful as we walk along the narrow road, which winds up the valley from village to village.

We stop for lunch in the sleepy little seaside town of Sur. There is a wonderful view across Sur’s corniche, beach and fisherman’s boats to the nearby village of Ayjah, with its whitewashed houses and dhow-building yard (see banner image above).

Desert Nights Camp at sunrise - Sharqiya Sands
Desert Nights Camp at sunrise – Sharqiya Sands

A couple of hours later we approach the small town of Bidiyah, where we turn off the main road to drive across a sand road for about 11km to Desert Nights Camp, where we stay for two nights.

It is pretty luxurious considering it is setup in the desert along with another more modest camp about a kilometre away. Sharqiya Sands (aka Wahiba Sands) is a large area of rosy-hued dunes, some of which are over 100 metres high. We quickly get settled and then go out on a dune ride to see the sun set over the sand dunes.

post

Musandam Peninsula

February 14, 2015 – Saturday – Musandam Peninsula, Oman

This morning we board a traditional Omani dhow for a half-day cruise into the Musandam Peninsula’s nearby fiords, or khawrs. Dolphins play in the wake of the boat as we travel along the tranquil waters. We arrive at Telegraph Island, which was a repeater station built in 1864 by the British to connect Bombay with Britain via an underwater and overland telegraph cable. Once the boat is anchored, I am the first one in to have a swim. The water is a bit cloudy, but it feels great, and floating is no problem in the very salty water.

We see the famous Sherry fish marinated and grilled for our hot buffet lunch, which is served aboard the dhow, and then we return the same way back to Khasab harbour. There are numerous fishing villages along the shoreline. Some have power, water and communications, while others don’t. As we return to Khasab harbour, we see Shinas, the fastest catamaran ferry in the world docked. It travels between Khasab and Muscat down the coast in about five hours.

This dhow cruise is one of the highlights of the tour for me!

In the afternoon, we take a 4×4 drive, climbing up into the mountains along steep gravel roads to Jebel Harim (1,800 metres or 5,900′ elevation), where we see a beautiful oasis and some petroglyphs. There are century-old villages built into the rocks on the sides of the wadis, including Bait ai-Qufl with its old stone houses, and the lush nature of Al Khalidiyyah Park with its many acacia trees, and interesting clam and oyster fossils.

The gravel roads throughout this mountainous region are very impressive, since they are very well engineered and maintained.

post

Al Ain, UAE to Musandam Peninsula, Oman

February 13, 2015 – Friday – Al Ain, UAE to Musandam Peninsula, Oman

I get up a bit earlier this morning, since we are leaving early for the long drive north to cross the border into Oman. The breakfast buffet is very extensive, and they have cappuccino, which is always a big bonus in my books!

Before leaving Al Ain, we stop at a camel sale this morning, where there are hundreds of camels in sheds and open air pens, as well as sheep and goats. It is fun watching the haggling, but I finally go back to the bus early to get away from the heat and the smell. Kais tells me even city people buy camels and keep them outside the city, in order to maintain their connection with their culture…and no doubt some race them.

The steep road along the Musandam coastline
The steep road along the Musandam coastline

We drive along the expressway to the outskirts of Dubai, and then north to Ras al-Khaimah. Here we drive along the coastal highway to the border crossing, and leave both our UAE guide and driver. The border crossing process takes awhile, due to some confusion which I don’t fully understand. Our Omani driver and guide meet us, and we drive the beautiful and scenic highway along the Musandam coastline to Khasab.

Before we check-in to our hotel, we have a late lunch or early dinner at the Al Shamaliah Grill and Restaurant in the New Souk Area of Khasab. Since it is Friday, everyone is being called to evening prayers – the whole town is filled with wailing sing-song broadcast from the minarets on the mosques. Our hotel is the Atana Musandam, built right next to the harbour, and it is adjacent to a LuLu Hypermarket (like our supermarkets).

Supplying Iranian smugglers with goods at Khasab harbour
Supplying Iranian smugglers with goods at Khasab harbour

The Musandam Peninsula is separated from the rest of Oman by the east coast of the UAE. It is in a very strategically important location with the Strait of Hormuz separating Oman from Iran. Iranian smugglers pick up goods (mainly household appliances and cigarettes) in Khasab early every morning and zoom across the strait to customers in their country. The Musandam Peninsula is very arid and rocky, but features beautiful khors (rocky inlets), small villages, and dramatic, mountain-hugging roads.

post

Cinque Terra

September 13, 2014 – Saturday – Rome to Cinque Terre, Italy

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

Seafood stew cooked in an amphora
Seafood stew cooked in an amphora


After driving from Rome, we turn off the Autostrada and drive down a steep valley to Vernazza, where the bus parks. We walk over to the train station, and after riding the train for four minutes we arrive in Monterosso. This pretty little town by the sea on the Cinque Terra (the Italian Riviera) is our home for the next two nights. Since today is Saturday, there are lots of Italians here on weekend get-aways. We are staying in the Hotel Punta Mesco, a nice hotel located about a block off the main street, so it is quiet, and yet close to the beach and main street.

This evening, we have a group meal at Ristorante Belvedere in old town. They cook a rich seafood stew of squid, fish, and mussels in an amphora and then pour it out into big bowls and we serve ourselves family-style.

September 14, 2014 – Sunday – Cinque Terre, Italy

JoeTourist: Cinque Terre &emdash; Riomaggiore village


Today is our “vacation from our vacation”…in other words, a free day. I take the little coastal ferry on a round trip from Monterosso al Mare, where out hotel is located, to Vernazza, Corniglia (hill town, no ferry stop), and Riomaggiore. On the way back, the ferry stops at Manarola and Vernazza, before terminating at Monterosso. I had planned to get off in Vernazza, see the town and walk back to Monterosso, but after seeing the crowds in the square at Vernazza, I decide to stay on the ferry and return to Monterosso the easy way!

I have lunch with a couple from our group, and then just chill out in my hotel room for a while. My ground floor room has a small patio, so I catch up on some journaling and annotate my photos while sitting outside. Our hotel hosts a Happy Hour this afternoon for our group – pizza, cheese, cold meats, bread, wine, and Limonchello. I fill up on the delicious pizza since they have lots, and skip dinner!

2014.09.15 – Monday – Cinque Terre, Italy to Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

After leaving the Cinque Terre this morning, we bypass Genoa and Milan and cross the border into Switzerland at Lugano.

post

Massa Marittima

2014.09.13 – Saturday – Rome to Cinque Terre, Italy

Rick Steves Best of Europe in 21 Days tour

After leaving Rome on the Autostrada, our first rest stop is a small AutoGrill, where many of the group rave about the fresh-squeezed orange juice. I have a cappuccino for 1.40 Euro – no tables, just a stand-up bar, Italian style. The area we drive through up the west coast is much drier than the areas of Italy we have traveled through up to now. This is where olives and grapes are grown.

Our midday break is in a little town called Massa Marittima, where we go for a wine, cheese and olive tasting at Il Baccino. Everyone on the bus does the tasting (modest extra charge) and thoroughly enjoy ourselves. We spend almost two hours in this beautiful little town, so there is plenty of time to soak up the Tuscan sunshine while we explore. It is an absolutely perfect day – blue sky and warm, but not too hot.

Il Bacchini, Massa Marittima
Il Bacchini, Massa Marittima

I walk uphill to the ancient Siennese wall, which runs through the town half way up the hill. It is 3 Euros to go up the clock tower and along a portion of the adjacent wall. It is well worth it to take in the wonderful views of the town from above, and appreciate the vistas of the whole glorious valley (see banner image above). I stroll back down the hill along the back alleys to the town square, where there is a troubadour playing some lovely music that echoes off the buildings. I have a simple lunch of prosciutto in a fresh crusty role, and sit outside Il Baccino with others in my group, soaking up the ambience of this Tuscan town. It simply doesn’t get much better than this!

As we drive the Autostrada north along the coast, we pass some interesting sights. There are resort areas all along the coast featuring cottages and recreational vehicle parks, a massive power station, endless vineyards and farms, and sales yards featuring beautiful white massive blocks of Carrara marble. The mountains where this well-known marble is quarried is visible inland across the valley. Imagine Leonardo da Vinci making the journey to these same quarries to select the marble for his famous statues.

Eventually we turn off the Autostrada, and drive down a steep valley to the Vernazza train station, where the bus parks. We walk over to the train station, and after riding the train for four minutes we arrive in Monterosso. This pretty little town by the sea on the Cinque Terra (the Italian Riviera) is our home for the next two nights.