Category Archives: Trips

Traveling experiences.

Train Adventure: Part 2

We spent a couple of days in Los Angeles and then took the train back to San Jose on Saturday, New Years Day. Our train status claimed it was on-time so we left a bit before 9:00am to catch the 9:51am train. The metro station was open but we had a slight snag when all of us, with the exception of Calvin, went through the fare gates and then Calvin confessed he’d somehow lost his Metro card1. This required me to hop back out and get a new card. Once we arrived at Union Station, Jaeger got coffee and then we proceeded to our train’s platform. Unlike San Jose, Union Station does show the platforms for each train which was very useful.

We had decided not to check our bag this time and instead use the luggage rack in our train car. We arrived a few minutes before departure and successfully boarded. However, this time Julian and I ended up on the top part of the car and Calvin and Jaeger ended up on the bottom. Our compartment was slightly different from the way down but mostly the same. The biggest change was there was a tiny hidden closet to store coats rather than a small closet hanger with a strap to keep the coats from swinging into a passenger’s face. Overall, I preferred not having the dedicated coat closet as it made things a little bit more flexible with bag storage. Plus, I was afraid I would forget the coats. To hopefully prevent this, I decided to put our shoes in the coat closet. Presumably I would notice if I tried to leave the train without shoes. (In the compartment I just had socks. I brought slippers to wander around the train but put those in the coat closet also so I wouldn’t be tempted to leave the train just in slippers.)

Fairly soon into our train ride Julian decided he wanted the seats made into a bed so he could lounge better. However, we shared the bottom bed. I moved the soft carry-on that had his sleeping bag and my pillow against the wall and used it as a large cushion so I could stay sitting upright with my legs out.

Julian spent a little time coloring, a little time filling out an activity book, a little time playing Catan on his iPad and then asked if we could play a game. I had brought along the dice version of Catan and so we played that until it was lunch time.

Because the train left on time we ate both lunch and dinner on the train. The menu was the same going back as it was on the way down so on a longer trip vegetarians may end up eating the same meal again and again. Though, possibly they’d let one order from the kids menu which has a “classic” grilled cheese sandwhich (the adult one has bacon) as well as a mac & cheese option. For lunch I got the one adult vegetarian option: chili with a baked potato. It was fine but I thought the vegetarian dinner option was better.

Unfortunately, our roomette ended up on the opposite side from the ocean. However, we had pretty decent views during lunch in the dining car. When I booked online, I didn’t see a way to request specific rooms. I read online that if you call, some Amtrak staff will take requests. Anecdotally, people felt the west coast staff were more open to requests so they suggested calling after the other offices had closed for the day.

Between lunch and dinner I read, wrote a bit, and started counting up how many books I had read in 2021. We went to dinner at 6:00pm and at that point I was tired of the vegetarian options. We finished dinner around 7:00pm so we only had an hour before our train was scheduled to arrive in San Jose. I spent another half hour reading and then got the compartment ready for us to leave, including pulling everything out from under the seats and the coat closet.

The train didn’t line up perfectly on the first try with the San Jose platform but eventually we were able to get off the train. It was really nice we had parked in the Amtrak lot as it was a quick walk from the station before we were on our way home.

I enjoyed the train trip. It was certainly an experience. However, I’m not completely sold on it for future vacations. I really enjoyed the ride down but I got a little antsy coming back from sitting in one place for so long.

  1. Jaeger had double checked before leaving the hotel that Calvin had it so I’m not sure how it disappeared.

Train Adventure: Part 1


Jaeger and I started talking about holiday vacations in September. We concluded that while traveling wasn’t going to be completely safe, it was safer than last year and it might be years before it was truly “safe”. At that point, everyone but Julian was vaccinated and we had hopes/dreams that Julian would get vaccinated in October or November. So, we decided to pick up our normal holiday schedule. This year my parents for Thanksgiving and Jaeger’s parents for Christmas.

Jaeger loves to travel and see new things and the last year+ of very little traveling has been very frustrating for him. Both he and I had a full week off after Christmas and Jaeger was interested in traveling in addition to a family gathering. I wasn’t as fond of the idea because I get overwhelmed easily and need weeks off between trips before I’m back to equilibrium. Thanksgiving and Christmas are particularly stressful times because they are so close together1.

Toward the end of October I started reading Murder on the Orient Express, by Agatha Christie. When I finished, I watched the 1974 adaption of the movie2. That put trains in my head. About the same time, I was thinking about cruises. I liked the one cruise I had been on. However, I don’t foresee a time in the next couple of years where I’ll be comfortable going on a cruise3. I spent some time thinking what it was I liked about being on a cruise. A lot of it was being by myself with no other obligations. However, I also liked that I traveled between destinations in a relaxed way with room to spread out and enjoy the journey. Don’t get me wrong, I think planes are magical. They make it feasible to visit family anywhere in the world. However, flying economy is not a comfortable experience. After mulling things over in the back of my head for a bit, I realized that trains had the potential to include many of the things I liked about taking a cruise but had what felt like less risk.

I tentatively floated the idea of a train trip to Jaeger and he seemed interested. I think he was just relieved I was willing to do something. We decided to test the experience by taking the train down to LA the week after Christmas. San Jose to LA is a whole day experience, just under an 11 hour train ride. We decided to spend one day going down, two days to explore LA, and one day for the return trip.

Once we settled on the general plan, we had to decide what type of tickets we wanted to get. After a bit of research, I decided for our purposes either coach or a roomette would make the most sense. Coach was clearly the cheapest, by more than half, but I’ve always wanted to take a trip in a sleeper car. One other consideration was that, because of COVID-19, only sleeper cars were allowed to order food from the dining car. There’s (probably) a snack area everyone can order from but the food did not sound inspiring. After some discussion, we decided to take coach on the way down and get two roomettes on the way back. Our thought was that it would be easier to pack food for lunch/dinner on the way to LA versus on the way back.

Our Thanksgiving trip went well but that was also the week that the Omicron variant was identified. I thought about it some more and decided I would feel more comfortable on a long train ride in a roomette that allowed more space between passengers. So, I went ahead and upgraded our tickets. Getting a roomette also had the advantage of letting us sleep if the train ended up behind schedule.

Day 1

The day before we were suppose to leave I installed the Amtrak app on my phone. The train we were taking is the 11 Coast Starlight that starts up in Seattle. I looked up our train status and realized that our train was already wildly behind schedule. On one hand, this was good as we could lounge in bed and take our time with the final packing. However, this also meant that we were estimated to arrive in LA slightly past midnight. When I woke up, I checked the status and it was even more behind schedule. I re-evaluated our packing scheme and packed pajamas in one of our carry-on bags.

Around 1:00pm we meandered down to the San Jose Diridon station (our train was initially scheduled to leave at 10:26am). We got there an hour prior to when it claimed the train would arrive so we could check our bag. It was very unclear what the parking situation was. The website said that the Amtrak ticket agent could give us a parking pass but at the same time, referred us to another website to reserve parking online. There was no online parking for the entire time we were going to be gone. So, our plan was to check at the Amtrak station and if there wasn’t parking, Jaeger would drop us off, park in airport parking, and take a Lyft to the train station. Fortunately, Amtrak did have parking for round-trip passengers. The San Jose station is functional but not very luxurious. It reminded me a lot of the Kelso Amtrak station. This is also a Caltrain station and the status boards only had Caltrain info on them, not info on our train. Our train’s status kept slipping later and later. Eventually, the train arrived and we boarded at around 4:00pm.

When we boarded the cabin steward showed us where our roomettes were located. Julian and I ended up in one roomette and Calvin and Jaeger in another. They were right next to each other, rather than across from each other, so it was easiest most of the journey to communicate via chat/text rather than popping over to the compartments.After we started our journey the cabin steward introduced herself and double checked if we needed anything. Shortly after that, a dining car attendant came by so we could reserve a dinner time. After that, we were mostly left to our own devices, aside from the occasional station announcements.

I was a little worried the roomette would be too cozy with two people. Most of the reviews I had seen online were for single travelers. However, I was pleasantly surprised. There certainly isn’t a lot of space but it was comfortably cozy for Julian and I. After closing the door and curtains it felt like we were in our own little world. Here’s a good overview of what the room looked like (around 6:20): The seats are a good size but there isn’t a lot of space for carry-on. However, both my little red suitcase and Julian’s backpack fit under the seat. That left our old Rick Steve’s bag to awkwardly perch on the “stair” to the top bunk. However, it just contained Julian’s sleeping bag, my pillow, and our pajamas so it was nicely squishy. There was also a hanger for our coats as well as additional hooks for coats4.

Because of COVID-19, we were required to wear masks except when we were eating in the dining car or when we had the door closed in our roomette. So in practice, this meant we didn’t have to wear masks most of the time.

Prior to leaving, I had created a long checklist of relaxing things to do on the train. This included things like catch up on emails to friends (of which I am desperately behind), read books, organize my digital books, and journal (something I am also terrible at finding time to do). As far as I could tell, there wasn’t WiFi on the train. My phone’s internet connection was sporadic. Much of the time it worked fine but occasionally we went through areas with no service. Fortunately, there was an outlet (one per compartment) so I was able to hook up a USB charging station and hook in most of our electronics. In any case, I didn’t have as much time as I expected to get through my list because of how late the train left our station.

At 6:00pm we headed for dinner. My understanding is that usually passengers share tables with others. However, because of COVID-19 they currently only allow people on the same ticket to sit together. This greatly reduced the dining car capacity and presumably is why they weren’t allowing coach class the option of buying dinner (at $45/person!). They did end up with a couple of extra tables (probably because of other families like ours that took two compartments but only one table) and did give business class the option of buying dinner. The snack car was available for everyone. I did not bother checking it out as I had brought lots of snacks with us. They had white tablecloths on the table and real roses in vases on each table.

I was expecting something along the lines of airplane (economy class) food but was pleasantly surprised. We were able to pick our food from a menu. There weren’t a lot of vegetarian choices but enough. Vegans would have been out of luck. Unfortunately, Julian spent most of the dinner perilously close to melting down. I don’t think it was because he was hangry, I had been feeding him snacks just 10 min prior to eating, but he was definitely out of sorts for some reason. At one point he broke down it tears for reasons that were a complete mystery to me. My best guess was he was more tired than hungry.

We finished dinner around 7:00pm so it was theoretically time to start Julian’s regular bedtime routine. I got Julian changed to his pajamas and read Ottoline and the Yellow Cat. Then I pressed the attendant call button in hopes of getting the beds setup. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear back, my best guess was they weren’t expecting anyone to go to sleep so early and were taking a supper break. However, Julian noticed that the tray had instructions for how to setup the beds so we were able to do it ourselves. I did discover that once the beds were laid down, I could no longer access the luggage under the seat. I pulled out my red suitcase and put it in front of the door so I could grab various things like charging cables and books.

I decided to give Julian the bottom bunk to reduce the chance he would somehow manage to roll off. I belatedly realized I had miscalculated my reading material, leaning more toward physical books rather than eBooks. There is a reading light for the top bunk but it wasn’t great and Julian was still having trouble settling down so I eventually turned it off and read an eBook instead. I couldn’t sit up in the top bunk so was reading lying down and the rocking of the train was making me sleepy. I gave up around 9:30pm and settled down to sleep for the rest of the trip. While I was a little disappointed I hadn’t made much progress on my train to-do list, it was very fun to be sleeping in a train. There were regular station announcements so it wasn’t a fantastic sleep experience but I did still manage some high-quality dozing.

Our cabin attendant woke us up about 20 minutes prior to arriving in Los Angeles. In spite of the sporadic sleep, I felt pretty good and gathered up our stuff. We arrived right around 2:00am to pouring rain. Parts of the underground walkway to the station were flooded and we had to walk around large puddles. We got to the station too late to take the underground Metro to our hotel, our initial plan. Instead, Jaeger tried to summon a Lyft. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of Lyft cars designed to take four passengers so we had about a 20 minute wait. Union Station is a beautiful train station. Though, it was also immediately clear that Los Angeles has the same housing and homeless issues that every city I’ve lived in has (and I’m including smaller cities such as Boulder and Santa Cruz in this).

We exited our Lyft and I did a bag check to make sure we had gotten everything out of the car. It was at that point I realized I had left Julian’s backpack under his seat on the train. I hadn’t pulled it out when I converted the seats to a bed so it was hidden and I just didn’t think about it. However, it was now close to 3:00am so I decided to try to problem solve later.

We checked into the hotel without incident and then tried to go back to sleep. I had gotten enough sleep that my body wasn’t interested in going back to sleep right away but eventually I nodded off again.

First thing the next morning I filled out Amtrak’s online lost luggage form and later in the day we went back in-person to see if they’d found the backpack. They hadn’t but noted that the massive amounts of rain was making it hard to be as efficient as normal. I was afraid the backpack, and the things I had packed in it which included our iPad 2 were lost. However, I got a call on Friday that they had found it and everything was still in the backpack. This definitely falls into the “where we got lucky” part of the trip.

Overall, I really enjoyed this train ride. Though, I would have preferred more daylight hours. That said, being able to sleep on the train was a decent consolation prize for getting in so late.

  1. I envy the Canadians their Thanksgiving.
  2. After spending way too much time trying to figure out what version I should watch. I eventually followed’s recommendation and watched the 1974 edition. Good but Poirot was kind of weird.
  3. It’s not just concern over getting sick but also concern about being stuck in a tiny cabin quarantining for weeks.
  4. This ended up being particularly handy when I was in the top bunk as I used it to hang up my mask for easy access.

Alaska Cruise: Cost and Reflections

I really enjoyed this cruise but I also think a substantial reason I enjoyed it was because I was traveling alone. It was glorious to only be responsible for myself and not to have to consider anyone else’s preferences. I’m really going to miss a lot of things such as taking a nap whenever I feel like it and food magically being ready whenever I want it without me having to think at all.

Costs (excludes shopping)
This cruise wasn’t cheap. If I had been sharing a room with someone else it would have been much cheaper, at least as an average, but when traveling alone you basically pay double for the base cost. People tend to be very vague about costs which makes it hard to predict how much one will end up spending. So, in case anyone stumbled across this and wants to know, here’s the breakdown of what I spent:

Base cost of cruise (for a solo traveler) – $1,662.00
Airfare/Hotel – $0 (since I departed and returned directly to Seattle)
Bus to Cruise Ship – $2.75
Lyft Ride Home – $23.85
Thermal Suite and Thalassotherapy Pool 7-Day pass – $139.00
“Premium” Internet – $111.99
Hotel Service Charge – $1401
Spa Pedicure/Manicure/Products/Tips – $311.68
Juneau Shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier + Tips – $62.25
Sealaska Heritage Museum – $5.00
Totem Center (Ketchikan) – $6.00
Southeast Alaska Discovery Center – $5.00
Total – $2,357.53

If I were to do it again, I’d probably skip all the spa stuff. The pedicure was probably worth it this time, because I definitely needed it and I’d never had one before, but this is something I could do much, much cheaper elsewhere. I also found interacting with the nail technician to be slightly stressful which was contrary to my goals in taking the cruise (nothing to do with the nail technician, this is a me thing). If you like drinks (not just alcohol but things like soda also), that would be extra and I believe the cruise tends to make a lot of money that way. I also didn’t go on any of the official excursions. For me, this was the right choice but others might enjoy some of the excursions. I only ate on the cruise ship and only in the included dining room/buffet. I might have eaten off the ship if I wasn’t a vegetarian but, as far as I knew, there weren’t any world class vegetarian options in the towns I visited so there wasn’t much point in eating off the ship.

What Went Well and/or Lessons Learned

  • In general, I preferred eating in the dining room. It was the one social thing I did and offered a social situation in a formal enough setting it didn’t cause much stress. In addition, the dining room offered a built-in portion control that the buffet didn’t (though, dessert was offered for every meal).
  • Liked hiking by myself
  • Skip shopping – it’s not for me, particularly with crowds
  • The therapy pool was lovely and, for me, was worth the extra cost.
  • Internet . . . I’d pay again but would know that I couldn’t rely on it.
  • Going alone was fantastic as I could completely focus on what I wanted to do without any guilt.
  • Skip the spa stuff
  • Liked taking the morning/evening deck walks
  • I took the right amount of luggage, even though it felt like I over-packed.
  • I really liked departing and returning to the city I live in. Flying would have added more stress to the adventure.
  • Alaska had a pretty good mix of sea days and shore days. However, I would have preferred longer on shore (the 1/2 day made it challenging to do anything other than the cruise excursions and shopping).
  1. $14.50 is charged automatically per day unless you specify otherwise.

Alaska Cruise: Day 7

Today was our last full day. I woke up around 7:00 and walked 2 miles around the deck before going to the dining room for breakfast. Then, I went to one of the lounges and read until lunch time. I went to the dining room again for lunch and then came back to my room. I intended to walk around the deck some more but got sucked back into reading.

Right before arriving in Victoria I grabbed some supper from the buffet. I was on the fence regarding whether or not I should get off the ship but I had just finished my book so decided I should probably stretch my legs. I walked to the Royal BC Museum but, once there, wasn’t sure I wanted to pay attention to the exhibit. So, I walked to the lighthouse and then came back on board ship.

I finished a novella and then procrastinated on packing my luggage. Once I finished packing my luggage I placed it outside the door, as instructed, and then went to bed.

Alaska Cruise: Day 6

Last night I was planning to watch a movie before going to bed but I was so tired I went to bed at 7:30 (Alaska time). I set my alarm for 6:00am both because we were scheduled to dock at Ketchikan at 7:00 and also to get myself somewhat back on Pacific time. When I got up I only walked a mile around the deck and then went to the buffet for breakfast.

Not surprisingly, it was raining in Ketchikan. I had thought about going on another hike but my body was still a bit tired from yesterday. Plus, I had to be back on board ship by 12:30 so it didn’t allow for a lot of time. Instead, I decided to wander around town. Unfortunately, only the super touristy shops were initially open. I can’t figure out why there are so many jewelry stores around the docks of both Ketchikan and Juneau. Why would I buy stuff on an Alaskan cruise that I could pick up anywhere else?

Ketchikan Creek with iridescent mosaic sculpture of a salmon.

Terry Pyles “Yeltatzie Salmon” Sculpture

I stopped by Artic Spirit Gallery and bought a butterfly print. I talked to the owner for quite a bit and he said I should go to the Totem Heritage Center. It was already on my list of possibilities but based on his recommendation I decided to do that next. On the way, I stopped by Parnassus Books & Gifts. When I had first looked them up, Google had said they weren’t open til 10:00. However, it was open well before 10:00 today. I picked up a book for Julian and one for Calvin (because neither have enough books).

The Totem Heritage Center was very interesting. It provided more context than I had gotten the previous day from the Totem Trail (though, to be fair, I didn’t listen to the audio tour so possibly that would have gone into more detail). Unfortunately, my back started hurting while I was walking around which distracted me a little bit. I must have done something to it while hiking yesterday but nothing obvious springs to mind.

I walked back to town and was contemplating going back to the ship early. However, I meandered around town instead. I went into a Salvation Army thrift store and found a Lightning McQueen life jacket. However, given Julian already has a good life jacket, I did not purchase it. Next, I stopped by Crazy Wolf Studio and admired all the art. I ended my Ketchikan experience by visiting the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. It wasn’t huge but had a variety of exhibits and was definitely worth the $5 entry.

Since it was almost time to leave anyway, I went back to the ship for lunch. Then I went back to my room and took a nap. I was a glorious nap. The kind where when you wake up you’re still floating in a delightful haze. Eventually, I did wake up all the way and spent the rest of the day reading until it was supper.

After supper I walked two miles around the deck and then soaked in the thermal pool for a bit.

In retrospect, I think I probably should have made a hike work, in spite of the short shore time, rather than wandering around the town. I seem happiest when I don’t have a lot of other people around me.

Tomorrow we going to Victoria, BC. However, we don’t get in till 6:00. I’m planning to spend most of the day reading. I’m still debating whether or not to get off the boat in Victoria. It might depend on how much reading I get done. I can visit Victoria sometime with my children. It’s much harder to get time alone to read.

Alaska Cruise: Day 5 (Sitka)

Today we arrived in Sitka. We were suppose to get into port around 8:00am and I was planning a long hike so I didn’t bother walking the deck this morning. Also, I didn’t want to wait for breakfast in the dining hall so I braved the buffet instead. Given I was planning a reasonably ambitious hike and wasn’t sure I would get lunch, I ate a fairly large breakfast. After breakfast I had just enough time to go downstairs and double check my plans before it was time to disembark.

Sitka islands.

Oosterdam docked at the Old Sitka Dock at Halibut Point Marine which is about 5 miles away from downtown Sitka. Fortunately, they had shuttle buses to get us downtown. Once the bus arrived I double checked all my time assumptions and then headed off on my hike.

My plan was to hike the Indian River Trail and hope I had enough time to get to the falls before coming back. First, I had to get the the trailhead which was about a mile away from where the shuttle bus dropped us off. There was a city bus, which would have gotten me very close, but I suspected that it would be faster to walk. I think this assumption was correct as the bus did not pass me on the way. It rained but I had my wool socks, raincoat, and a cover for my backpack1. On the way I passed a cemetery which looked more like a park than a cemetery. The graves were nestled in between trees. It looked really nice. I’d definitely like being buried in a setting like that.

I did take a little, slightly unintentional, detour on a trail along Yaw Dr. It was pouring so I was amused to see a bench with the sign “Here comes the sun”.

Bench with plaque saying Here Comes the Sun

While cutting over to the official Indian River Trail I passed a couple who pointed out blueberry bushes. Once I was on the Indian River Trail I continued to see masses of blueberries as well as huckleberries and salmon berries.

Blueberry bushes

Huckleberry bushes.

Salmon berry bushes.

I don’t think I’ve seen so many (non-blackberry) berries in the wild before. The hike was gorgeous.


Indian River.

Devil's Club

I was fascinated by the bridges they built for the trail. They took what I assume was original trees and augmented them with supplies brought in. The bridges were very sturdy.


Tree sections cut as stepping stones.

The path was very clear until it wasn’t. I was probably about a mile away from the falls when the path disappeared into a thicket of salmon berry bushes.

Trail disappears into Salmon Berry Bushes.

I could see that the path continued under the bushes but it looked more like a deer path rather than a path made for humans. I double checked the way I had come and confirmed I was definitely on a human path which appeared to continue through the bushes. So, I went through the bushes. I mentioned it was raining? The bushes got me sopping wet. From that point on I went through multiple salmon berry thickets while staying on the trail and it was the wettest I remember getting in recent memory. The water soaked my hiking pants and then ran down into my socks so I started squishing as I walked.

At one point the path was what looked like a seasonal creek bed and I missed the turnoff for the real trail and ended up off the trail facing the remnants of a rock slide. For a while I couldn’t figure out if the rock slide was the trail or if I had made a wrong turn. Eventually, I figured out the wrong turn and got back on the correct trail.

Because I needed to make sure I was back on the cruise ship before it left, I had set myself a soft deadline of 11:00. Soft in that if I thought I was close and heard the waterfall I’d continue up to another 15 min but would turn around right at 11:00 if I thought I wasn’t close. I was starting to get nervous because it was almost 11:00 and I hadn’t heard any obvious waterfalls yet. However, I ran into two Forest Service people, the first people I had seen on the trail, and asked them if the waterfall was close. They told me it was right around the corner. Right as my 11:00 alarm went off I arrived at the waterfall.

Indian River Falls

I rested briefly at the waterfalls and drank most of my remaining water. I thought about eating some snacks but at Mendenhall Glacier that were very adamant that one not have food because of the bears. So, I decided to play it safe and not open up my snacks at Indian Falls either.

Nurse log between two trees.

Walking back was a lot quicker. Both because I didn’t have to wonder if the path really went through various salmon berry thickets, it did, and also because it was a slight slope downhill rather than up. From the trailhead, it took me about 2 hours to hike to the falls but only about 1 1/2 hours going back. On the way out I ran into a random gnome village in a tree. It was not what I expected to see in the forest but it did add interest.

Gnome, AK sign

Tiny gnomes kissing.

Gnome in jail.

Once I got back to the main road I got out my snacks and started eating “lunch”. I was ahead of schedule and decided I could get in one more attraction so I walked to Sitka National Historical Park and wandered around the totem trails.

Totem Pole.

They were really interesting. I would have liked to have spent more time there and listened to the audio tour but I didn’t feel like I had enough time to listen to them all. Part of the trail was parallel to a river and I glanced out and saw what I assume was salmon spawning. There were just masses of fish. I also got to see several bald eagles hunting the fish (though I was unable to get pictures).

After a quick walk through the totem trails I headed back to the bus. I made it back onto the boat with about a 1/2 hr to spare (before we were due back, not before the boat left). My clothes had mostly dried by the time I made it back to the boat. However, my shoes and socks were still sopping. Plus, it turns out I had somehow collected a huge number of pine needles in my shoes. Not sure how that happened. I had eaten a couple of energy bars for snack but decided to go up to the buffet to see if there was anything else I could eat to tide me over till dinner. I was hoping they had chocolate milk but settled for tomato soup instead.

After the snack I headed up to the therapy pool in hopes of mitigating some of the aches due tomorrow. It was the busiest I’ve seen it. Not sure if everyone else had the same idea or not. (Though, I’m willing to bet I hiked farther than anyone else.)

I came back to the room and read a bit before the dining room opened. I was delighted to sit with the same people I had the previous night. The prior night I had talked about my hiking plans and one of the gentlemen was obviously worried about me going hiking by myself. So, I was happy he could see I made it back on board without any incident.

I’m very tired. I’m contemplating watching a movie for the rest of the evening but I may not have enough energy. Tomorrow we get into Ketchikan around 7:00am and have to be back on board by 12:30pm. I don’t think I’m going to go on any hikes tomorrow (among other things, I doubt my shoes will be dry by then). However, I might try to get up at 6:00 to start getting me back to Pacific time. I have a feeling getting up at 6:00 Pacific next week for work is going to be very hard.

  1. I don’t think my backpack really needs a cover, it’s never gotten wet inside before. However, since I just discovered the hidden pocket that contained a cover for the backpack I decided to use it.

Alaska Cruise: Day 4 (Hubbard Glacier)

Today we visited Hubbard Glacier but we didn’t visit any ports. I had a manicure appointment at 9:00am today which messed up the routine I’ve started following. I figured I’d just skip my deck walk and go straight to the dining room for breakfast. However, I belatedly realized the dining room wasn’t open till 8:00 and expecting to be done in one hour would probably be overly optimistic. So instead I braved the buffet and then used the extra time to walk 1 2/3 miles around the deck.

The manicure was ok. In retrospect I wish I had stuck just to the pedicure which had the very noticeable benefit of getting the calluses off my feet. The manicure wasn’t quite as useful. I had intended to go to another America’s Test Kitchen demo but was sleepy and so went and napped instead.

After waking up I started reading The Poppy War, by R.F. Kuang, and read until it was time for lunch. I went to the dining hall for lunch and met more nice people. I was facing the window and watched us pass chunks of ice all during lunch. After lunch I went back to reading my book until we got close to the glacier.

Ice in water.

There was an excursion to get really close to the glacier. However, I was impressed by how close the cruise ship itself got. I was surprised by how loud the glacier calving was. It was raining so it was hard to get good pictures. I stayed outside and gawked a little bit and then went back inside. I grabbed my book and found a comfortable seat that had both a view of the glacier and was by speakers that were playing dramatic classical music.

Hubbard Glacier

I continued reading until supper and went to the dining room again and met more people. So far, I haven’t sat with any of the same people more than once. We had a nice long conversation about many topics and I also got a chance to do some education about library budgets and electronic resources.

After supper I walked two miles on the deck and then ended by soaking in the thermal pool. Tomorrow we’re suppose to arrive in Sitka at 8:00am so I don’t want to stay up too late.

Overall, this was a really nice relaxing day.

Alaska Cruise: Day 3 (Juneau/Mendenhall Glacier)

Last night we switched to Alaska time. Because my body does not like changing time, I woke up at 6. I got up and walked two miles around the deck. This time I remembered the binoculars and saw multiple whales! After walking I decided to have breakfast in the formal dining hall. It definitely takes longer than the buffet area but my hunch from yesterday was correct, I prefer the mediated seating and formal ordering versus the buffet free-for-all.

(There are no whales in the picture below.)

After breakfast I went to the thermal pool. I woke up stiff this morning, probably from last night’s ab/core exercises, and I thought the heat might loosen me up a bit. After that I watched another demonstration with America’s Test Kitchen. This time it was do-it-yourself takeout meals (Pad Thai and Scallion Pancakes).

I was feeling really sleepy after the presentation so I headed back to my room and considered napping. However, I decided there wasn’t really enough time until lunch to nap. I wanted to eat lunch on the early side because we were docking at Juneau around 1:30. Like breakfast, I chose the formal dining room for lunch. Unfortunately, the specialty was fish and chips, not exactly vegetarian friendly. However, I did find one dish that worked. I sat with an interesting mix of people, included one guy who is also from Seattle.

Because it was in the formal dining room, lunch took a long time. By the time I got back to my room there was just enough time to remind myself of what I was wanting to do in Juneau before we docked. It turns out that my room is beautifully positioned to get off the ship quickly. I was in the first group off the ship, even though I hadn’t really tried1.

One of the things I really wanted to visit was the Mendenhall Glacier. I had contemplated signing up for one of the cruise excursions. However, the Alaska tour guide indicated that it is really easy to hire a shuttle. I got off the cruise ship and a couple of yards away was about 6 different stands selling various tours and shuttle bus options. I paid $50 for a round trip ride to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor’s Center. The shuttle had drop offs and pickups every 1/2 hr till 7:00 so it provided me with a lot of flexibility.

Mendenhall Glacier (view near visitor's center).

I arrived at the visitor’s center and asked the rangers if there was a map of the trails. However, they requested I take a picture with my phone because their promised maps had not arrived on the barge it was suppose to come on. I contemplated the trail options. I knew I wanted to take the Nugget Falls Trail, because that’s where you go to get the good glacier pictures. However, it was only a 2 mile flat hike which seemed kind of short. After talking to a ranger, I decided to first go on the East Glacier Trail and then follow-up with the Nugget Falls Trail. The East Glacier Trail was really nice. It was a hike, versus a walk, and not many people were on the trail. It was beautiful, relaxing, and had enough uphill hiking I felt like I got some good exercise.

Reflection of trees in a pond.

After East Glacier Trail I walked on the Nugget Falls Trail. It was packed. So many people2.

People around Nugget Falls.

Most of the people were meandering very slowly but spread across the path in ways that made it hard to pass without running into people coming from the opposite direction. Both the glacier and the falls were nice but overall I liked the East Glacier Trail better. I thought the view of the glacier was better farther away but Nugget Falls was nice.

Nugget Falls.

Mendenhall Glacier (view near parking lot).

I got done with both hikes just a smidge after 4:30 and waited at the shuttle stop for the 5:00 shuttle to take me back to downtown Juneau. I had a list of other things I wanted to do but realistically was running out of time. I decided I could probably squeeze one more thing in so I went to the Sealaska Heritage Museum. It was very interesting. The museum also has a shop with Southeast Alaskan Native art and gifts. I was excited to see that there was a picture book about Salmon Boy3 that contained the story and illustrations one of the museum exhibits had featured.

By the time I finished with the museum and store it was after 7:00 and I was hungry (I hadn’t eaten lunch, only snacks). I decided to return to the ship and eat supper at the buffet. It wasn’t as crowded as previous days but still was busier than I preferred. However, fast food was what I needed at the time. After supper I took another dip in the thermal pool. I needed to take a shower to wash off all the sunscreen and bug spray anyway so I figured if I needed to get wet anyway I should relax in the pool some more and hopefully prevent any new aches from appearing tomorrow.

  1. They did expressly forbid people from lining up on the stairs or in the entry ahead of time.
  2. Yes, I realize I’m a tourist complaining about other tourists.
  3. The picture book is in Tlingit and English. The website has an audio reading in Tlingit.

Alaska Cruise: Day 2

I slept really well last night. Except, it turns out that I forgot to bring my nighttime audiobook phone with me. I improvised with the mini iPad but it doesn’t work as well since the sleep timer setting isn’t sticky so it can easily drone on all night unless I wake up enough to turn it off but not enough to need it to go back to sleep. I remembered to turn off my 6:00 AM work alarm. However, I forgot to turn off my 6:55 AM bus warning alarm. So, I woke up at 6:55 AM. However, I already had more than 8 hours of sleep at that point so I decided to get up and walk around the deck for some morning exercise. I walked two miles around the deck again. There were quite a few whales. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to bring the binoculars and they were close enough I could tell they were whales but far enough away I didn’t really see any details.

After showering I went and explored the breakfast buffet. There was a very nice variety of breakfast foods available. However, I wasn’t fond of the seating. It was busy enough that there wasn’t a lot of seating available and there wasn’t any formal seating to introduce seat mates. I ate quickly and then found a nook to read in. I first tried the observation deck, but it was really busy and not really conducive to reading. However, there was an interesting LEGO model of the Oosterdam. Eventually, I discovered some nice seating outside the Lincoln Center room.
Lego model of the Oosterdam.

When booking the cruise I had decided to splurge on a pedicure. I was a little nervous about the whole thing because I’ve never had a pedicure before. However, I had terrible calluses on my feet so I figured this was as good a time as any to try it out. It was . . . fine. The calluses are gone and professionally painted toenails do look a lot better than what I can do. However, there was the whole awkward conversation bit. I think I might find massages more relaxing in the short-run but you can admire painted toenails longer than a massage. The nail technician did talk me into getting a manicure later on.

After the pedicure I came back to my room and read for a bit. Just as I was contemplating lunch, the steward appeared ready to clean my room. So went up to the buffet for lunch. Like breakfast I found the seating situation to be awkward. I decided it might make sense for me to take most of my meals in the formal dining room instead of the buffet. I might try that approach out tomorrow.

After lunch I had just enough time to finish my book before there was a cooking demo by America’s Test Kitchen. This one talked about chilies. Neither of the dishes were vegetarian (though I think one of them could be made vegetarian). However, the cooking techniques and tips were really interesting and I’m definitely glad I went. After that I went to an “Ask the Captain” session where the captain talked about the boat. It was fairly interesting but I was getting sleepy so I slipped away once the captain started taking questions from the audience.

I took a nap and it was glorious. After my nap I briefly caught up on email and then decided to get ready for dinner. Tonight was a “gala” night so guests were expected to dress a little nicer than usual. Though, in practice that appeared to vary a great deal. I was seated at a table with 4 other people, all southerners and a very different demographic than my first group. However, I decided that even if we were polar opposites in many ways 1, it was good to be familiar with other perspectives.

After dinner I decided to go use the Thermal Pool2. It was really nice. In the pool there were metal bars along one side that were shaped similar to a lounge chair. So you could lean back and bubbles floated around. Kind of hard to explain but very relaxing.

I eventually got out and wavered between walking around the deck some more and going to a dance show. I eventually settled on the show. After it started, I decided I had made a good decision. Except, only a couple minutes in they had technical difficulties which they were unable to recover from. So, I ended up walking another two miles on the deck after all. Like the morning, I forgot the binoculars and there were whales. However, this time they were close enough that I could see them pretty well without magnification. Also, my (phone) camera is clearly not designed to take pictures of whales. If you look at the picture below you may see a black blip on the water. That would be a whale.
Tiny whale fin in a large swath of water.

When I got back to my room there was a stingray waiting for me.
Stingray towel.

Tomorrow will be our first port day, in Juneau.

  1. One older gentleman proudly told me he had only read one book in his life: the Bible. I really hope that was an exaggeration. You can’t get through school without reading at least several books, right?? I mean, not everyone has to be a reader but one books ever? I was also really curious if he had actually read the Bible all the way through but decided not to administer a pop quiz on his favorite passages.
  2. An extra charge but I bought a 7-day pass for it.

Alaska Cruise: Day 1

Many months ago Jaeger’s mom offered to take the kids for two weeks in July. I had the foresight to request a week of vacation off. I had no plan, it just seemed like I should take advantage of the kids being gone.

Toward the beginning of July I started trying to figure out what I wanted to do on vacation. Part of the problem was I wanted a very relaxing vacation and Jaeger, I believe, wanted an interesting vacation. This disconnect in what we wanted in a vacation proved to be a problem until I stumbled across some last-minute cruise fares and came up with the brilliant idea of going on a cruise. I’ve never been on a cruise before but it seemed like it could work. I could lounge around in the cruise ship and Jaeger could go off on daring expeditions. Jaeger was not excited with this plan. However, I had sold myself on the concept of lounging on a cruise ship with no responsibilities. So, after some back and forth discussion with Jaeger, I decided to go on my own and booked a cruise on Holland America’s Oosterdam ship to Alaska1. The ship both departed and returned to Seattle so it avoided the complication of having to fly or drive to another location.

While going on a cruise sounded like a grand adventure, it also was intimidating because I’ve never done anything like it before. I approached departure day with a mixture of glee and trepidation. As instructed, I checked-in online more than 72 hours before the trip. Naturally, there were issues retrieving my booking because of my hyphenated last name. Turns out I needed to leave the hyphen out of my name and replace it with a space. However, once I figured out the hyphen issue the rest was pretty easy. Having only done flight luggage tags before, I wasn’t sure how printing luggage tags at home would work. For the cruise I printed out the luggage tags on a standard piece of paper, followed the folding directions, and then stapled it around my suitcase handle.

Sunday morning Jaeger and I slept in and then had brunch. I puttered around the house doing last minute packing and a couple small chores such as watering the front yard and the edibles on the living room deck2. Finally, it was time for me to leave.

Saturday I had looked up Port 91 and determined that I should be able to get there via city bus. Jaeger thought it was bizarre I would take a bus to a cruise ship. However, I had time and it avoided the awkwardness of talking to a Lyft driver. While waiting at my bus stop I ran into a woman who looked at my suitcase tag and said, “Oh! you’re going on a cruise!” Which provided a conversation topic while we waited for the bus. She had been on a cruise once before and said she was glad she had the experience but probably wouldn’t do it again. However, she did really enjoy Sitka, also a place my cruise stops at. Among other things, she mentioned it has a really nice thrift store which was not mentioned in the tour book I had gotten.

I had virtually run through the walking route on Google Maps and it looked very feasible. I was a little worried about the overpass, because my suitcase was very heavy 3 and I wasn’t looking forward to hauling it up stairs. However, I lucked out and it was a ramp up to the overpass instead of stairs.

I followed the signs to the passenger terminal and entered the building. I had to show my passport, mainly to prove I had one, and then was waived through to drop off my luggage. I had been emailed instructions saying that people with staterooms on the first floor should checkin at 2:30. I had budgeted to arrive a bit early, in case the bus was late, and was surprised to see there was no line. 2:30 was the very last slot so I don’t know if everyone else ignored the instructions and came early or if it was just spaced apart really well. Regardless, after I dropped off my luggage I went through the check-in process where they confirmed my passport, boarding pass, and took a picture to give me my room key. That done, I boarded the ship.

Have I mentioned I’ve never been on a cruise before? I entered the ship but wasn’t quite sure what I should do next. I just kind of milled around the entry for a bit while I tried to come up with a plan. Everyone had been very clear that my luggage was going to take a while to get to my room so I should put anything I might want for the next couple of hours in my carry-on bag. My bag was fairly heavy so I decided to find my stateroom and then go on a self-guided ship tour4. I got to my room and was surprised to see a completely unobstructed view, I’m sure the booking said I was getting an obstructed view. Unobstructed view in stateroom.The room wasn’t large but more than adequate for one to two people. I think this particular room is suppose to be able to handle up to 4 people and that might be a bit cozy.
Sofa and desk of stateroom.

As I was acclimating myself to my room a ship-wide announcement went off saying that they were going to perform the mandatory safety drill in 20 minutes. Instead of setting off to tour the ship immediately, I decided I would stay in my room and get settled as much as I could without my luggage. Of course, the first thing I did was activate my internet5. The internet worked fine. Though, I did discover it only allowed one device to be connected at a time. A little awkward for me, having three internet enabled devices, but it wouldn’t have worked with a second person at all. Well, unless we were willing to take turns sharing.

About the time I figured out the internet, they started the emergency drill. The speaker in the room told us what we would normally do if there was an emergency and then made some specific exceptions for the drill (mainly, they didn’t want us to put on the life jackets). We then had to find our muster stations and get checked in to prove we’d been there. We had to wait around for a bit, but less time than I expected, and then got to go back to our rooms.
Life boat on cruise ship.

My luggage had arrived by the time I got back to my room. I started putting clothes away but the ship started moving right at 4 and I decided I should leave unpacking for later and go on my ship tour. I took the stairs6 to the top and started working my way down.

I had worn a skirt today because it was really hot in Seattle and I don’t have enough shorts for hot weather. This was a little awkward with the wind of the deck, which I had been half afraid of. However, the wind did make the temperature a lot more bearable. Deck 10 has the observation deck and what remains of the library. There were quite a few books about Alaska but not much fiction that would interest me. They did have a section for paperback exchange that had some books but not a lot and none that looked interesting to me. I had visions of populating it with my favorite authors. Possibly I’ll visit the Sitka thrift store and see if any of my favorites are available.

I stopped by the dining hall to figure out how that worked since I ended up with open seating instead of a set seating time. They told me I could just show up. I asked about the vegetarian menu, which Jaeger’s mom had told me about, and they said there wasn’t one available for this evening but I could order for tomorrow night if I wished. I was hoping I would be able to order via the app but it turns out one has to call7. So, I’ll probably just end up eating the vegetarian options on the main menu.

When I got back to my room I finished unpacking. I had brought hangers, because I wasn’t sure how many, or what kind, they had. However, their hangers were sufficient. There’s also a clothes line in the bathroom that allows you to hang your bathing suits on. Next to the sink is a medicine cabinet mirror that has a good amount of storage in it. I found a place for all my stuff and then pushed the suitcase under the bed, out of the way.

I was hungry, and it was just a little bit after 5, so I decided to go back to the dining room. I was quite nervous about this part, not sure of what to expect, particularly since I was alone. They asked me if I was fine sitting with other people and I said yes. I ended up sitting with a group of 4 other people: one from Oklahoma, one from Arizona (a mother and her daughter I later learned), and two from Oregon. The conversation went surprisingly well. Not too awkward. For food, I got a quinoa and pomegranate appetizer which was fantastic. The main entry and dessert wasn’t as exciting but still good.

After we finished I decided it was time to get some exercise. I changed into exercise clothes and then walked 2 miles (6 laps around the deck). Then, I finished up with some core exercises in my room. Finally, to end the day, I grabbed This is How You Lose the Time War, by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone, and found a comfy chair next to a window.
Puget Sound with Seattle in the distance.

I’m not sure yet what I’ll try for tomorrow. I’m struggling with finding a balance between everything I could do and making sure I’m actually relaxing. So, we’ll see.

  1. Sadly, I learned when booking as a solo traveler you often end up paying essentially a double fare. Apparently there are some cruise lines that have the concept of a solo cabin but they tend to sell out quickly.
  2. The cherry tomatoes are really starting to produce and I had to harvest a lot of basil to keep it from flowering. Hopefully Jaeger can find a use for it.
  3. I wasn’t sure what kind of clothing I needed, so I did a little bit of everything, and I also packed 9 books because this is suppose to be a relaxing vacation.
  4. One of the first-time cruise tips I had read strongly suggested touring the ship first thing so you knew where everything is.
  5. I had prepaid for the expensive internet.
  6. Another cruise blogger said to always take the stairs because you have to burn off the cruise food somehow.
  7. As you know, I abhor phones. I’m so happy Millennials seems to agree with me.