Archive for the 'Travel' Category

Alaska – Part 2

October 22nd, 2019

Continuing where we left off the first episode at the end of Day 2 we arrived at Ford’s Terror where we were not alone.  As we approached our anchorage for the evening, another boat was already there – crowded!

We went for another walk near narrows on a rising tide.  We had no problems landing from the dingy on a pebble beach – after our walk, and after the tide rose a bit more, we had more problems getting back onto the dingy as there was no beach left.

The walk was very nice – and we did not see bears, maybe because Kristin kept yelling “Hey Bear” – I have already shown you a picture of Kristin fully equipped for our defense, but she took no chances.

We were walking through beautiful scenery – this is a view of Ford’s Terror from land.

Time for portraits!  Behind is the narrow inlet that leads to the rest of the bay.  With the rising tide, the water was violently flowing making a roar, which you cannot really see or hear on this picture.

More spectacular views along the way

I liked this little pond reflecting the mountains and trees.

At the end of the walk, as we were wainting for the dingy to take us back to Catalyst, we saw a few curious harbor seals

Later in the evening, when the tide reached its highest point, we took a dingy ride around the whole bay and into West Arm Anchorage. Unfortunately it was raining the whole time so there are no pictures of that. Continue Reading »

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Alaska – Part 1

September 28th, 2019

For a long time, I have wanted to go to Alaska and it seemed to me that a cruise would give me a good chance to see some of it.  However, the idea of sharing cramped quarters with 1000-4000 other guests did not thrill me nor Bee.  When we moved back to Houston, an Alaskan Cruise was one of our priorities which became even higher when it became clear that my Dad was interested in coming to visit us and would be interested in a cruise too.

We found the PERFECT way to do this!  On 31 August, we left Houston for Seattle and later Juneau where we arrived in mid-afternoon (there is a three hour time change).

We would board our boat on 1 September around noon and therefore we had a full evening to enjoy and then a morning to ‘kill’.  We had a very nice dinner at a Fish&Chip shop right on the old harbor (In the old Warf right across from the sea plane docks – Alaskan Fish and Chip Co – it was quite good).

In the morning, we went to visit a salmon hatchery which was pointed out to us by the taxi driver who took us from the airport to our hotel.

There are salmon stairs to allow the adult salmons to climb back into the tanks were they will lay or fertilize the eggs.  Unfortunately, we were there at low tide and therefore the salmons could not reach the first step.  We saw a few salmons swimming around looking for the entrance though.  It is amazing that even in this very artificial situation the instincts of the salmon pushed them back to where they were born.

Inside the hatchery there were four tanks which were filled (we were told) with 190,000 young salmons.  You can see a few swimming around where the lights from the windows shine but do not reflect.  The photo below shows two of the four tanks.  The young salmons spend 1-2 years at the hatchery before they are released back into the wild.  After 5-6 years, 1-5 % will return to create the next generation; the rest were food for men and animals throughout the region.

From the hatchery, we had a good look at the Gastineau Inlet, the narrow sea arm in front of Juneau where harbor seals were hunting the salmon waiting to get up the stairs.  Juneau is actually at the end of the inlet which creates a dead-end at low tide due to shallows – one can almost walk across it at very low tides.

A view of Juneau – these are not the boat we took!  The one on the left is one of the Mega-Cruise sips that just pulled into Juneau around 11:30 AM.  It has over 5000 passengers! The one on the right is a lot more modest – it si a National Geographic ship that was also loading as we went by.  Probably holds 200 passengers and that was still a lot more than our boat.

This is not the boat we took either.  It is a private yacht that left just as we were boarding ours.  For a moment, I thought it might be nice to take that one – the I discovered all the great features of the boat we would spend the next 7 days on and did not regret anything anymore.

This is “The Catalyst” – our home for 7 days.  The boat was christened in 1932 (there was only one passenger on board older than the boat) as a research vessel for the University of Washington.  She was a patrol boat in the Aleutian Islands during WWII and changed hands several more times after that.  She is now owned by a couple who take very good care of her and she makes regular voyages between Juneau and Petersburg from May to September.  We are actually making her last trip of the 2019 season.

Catalyst only has 6 cabins, 4 below the main deck, one at the back of the dining area and one (the one where Bee and I stayed) located on the top deck right behind the pilot house.  She has sea kayaks for 14 people, a fast tender and 4 wonderful crew members.  Since there were only 6 gusts on this particular cruise, we quickly became one happy family.

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Las Vegas – 2019

August 24th, 2019

I first went to Las Vegas in 1998, on a package deal and stayed at the Luxor Hotel.  They made us enter through a back entrance, with a small registration desk, away from the main reception! I felt small and decided that I would never go to Las Vegas on a package again.

I came back to Las Vegas in 2014, during a business trip and stayed at the Hilton, which was a little out of either the strip or the downtown area – sort of near nothing.

This time, we stayed at the Tropicana – recently renovated and now part of the Hilton Chain and on the strip!  I finally got it right.

Since we are not big gamblers, we decided to rent a car and visit areas around Las Vegas first.

The first day, we went to Hoover Dam.

We went on a tour of the Nevada Side turbine room.

The room is very impressive wit 8 original turbines (seven were in operation while we were there)

They are equipped to repair all machines right there.  This is the eighth turbine going through maintenance.

The highway used to go right over the dam – it was usually a major traffic jam and became very dangerous for pedestrians.  A few years ago, they built a new bridge that by-passes the dam and the road on the dam is now essentially a dead-end with limited traffic.

The downstream side of the dam as seen from the Visitor’s Center

The upstream side of the dam from the Arizona side – water level is low (very low) as there has been only limited rain and snow on the mountains.

The dam as seen from the new bridge.  The Nevada and Arizona turbine rooms are visible, respectively, on the left and right of the photo.  The dam remains a very important source of electricity for both states, but even more important is the water reserve that is used in many surrounding states, including California. Continue Reading »

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Costa Rica – Part 4: Tortuguero (1)

April 9th, 2019

After a very short flight from Arenal, we approached the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica and the isolated village of Tortuguero.  We could see some houses and quite a few hotels and resorts as we approached.  It used to be that the only way there was a long drive followed by an even longer boat ride.  Tis is a lot quicker and more comfortable.

The airport that we are approaching, actually just a long asphalted strip is near the breaking surf, towards the top end of the last thin island on the right.

After landing, we needed a very short ferry ride and we arrived just in time to have lunch at our resort located across the water from the airport.

While we were having lunch, we watched amazed as green macaws flew in and out of the trees across the way from us.  Even though they are called Green Macaw, they have a very colorful back that you can only see when they fly, or even better wen they are are about to land on a tree.

Some flew right over us and I was able to get closer shots.

There we also vultures looking for something to eat.  They were rather far, so I was not too worried about me or my food.

Not sure you can still call these Green Macaws!  My list of birds from Costa Rica does not seem to include “Brightly colored blue, yellow and red macaws”.

And the spectacle continued – nice to have entertainment during the meal. Continue Reading »

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Costa Rica – Part 3: Arenal Volcano

March 12th, 2019

After two wonderful days in Monteverde, we slowly made our way to Arenal Volcano, first by 4-wheel drive through the mountain, later by boat on Lake Arenal and fianlly back with our driver William for the last few miles.

We first stopped in an area that had pretty good views.  You can guess at Arenal Volcano in the back ground.  It is the somewhat darker shadow capped by a big cloud.  This is how we saw the mountain for our whole stay, it seems…

On the way to the view point, we discovered some leaf-cutter ants, hard at work. The pieces of leaf that they carry are several times larger than they are.

They have been doing this for so long that they have acutally carved a path throug the grass.

A different view from the same view point.

On Arenal Lake, we had a private boat which took us across the lake.  Another typical view of the Volcano – summit still not visible.

There is a lot of bird life on the shores of the lake and we had time to stop and observe.  Great Egret, Cormorants, and Herons are all looking for fish. Continue Reading »

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Costa Rica – Part 2: Monteverde

March 5th, 2019

Following our successful stay in San Jose, we joined our Wilderness Adventure Group and headed off to Monteverde.  We had a very good driver and arrived there in good time.  Early enough for lunch and a first exploration of the lower tropical forest nearby.

Costa Rica is known for its very rich fauna and so we went immediately in search of  interesting creatures.  We all had a list of the “must see” on the trip.

This was not one of mine, still quite a nice centipede, I think…

Our guide was excellent at spotting small birds; I am not good at remembering names.

This was a stroke of luck, actually spotting a butterfly as it is coming out of its cocoon.

The feeders afforded a unique opportunity to see hummingbirds.  They are still not easy to catch, particularly to catch them in flight.

This one appeared to be posing for me – or was it just waiting for its turn at the feeders.  Not sure what the protocol is among the hummingbirds. Continue Reading »

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Costa Rica – San Jose

February 19th, 2019

Every year, Bee and I try to go somewhere new for New Year. This time, we had decided rather early that it would be Costa Rica, but given that we moved to Houston and were distracted by many other things, we only booked our trip very late. Most of the time was spent with Wilderness Travel on a fantastic tour of some of the best National Parks and wildlife reserves in the country.

However, before and after this adventure, we spent a few days in San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica.

On our first day there, we took a walking tour of the city. We started at the Post Office a superb pre-Art Deco building (completed in 1917) with a secret inside (which we discovered the next day on our second walking tour). Still today, most people do not receive mail at home. The use of street name and addresses is rather new in the country and people still use landmarks rather than street names to give directions. Families own post office boxes and there are thousands of them in this building.

San Jose is also full of street art. These are just some of the better statues that we saw on our walks

My favorite is this tribute to the ordinary working men and women, placed right in front of the Central Bank. Members of our tour group decided to pair up with the statue they liked best.

This is a metallic building from the late 1800’s.  It was made in Belgium and shipped here in parts then re-assembled.  There is also a metallic school, all pink that was also made in Belgium.  It seems Belgium was very famous at the end of the 19th century for its metallic constructions and exported them all over the world. Continue Reading »

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Greece – Santorini

July 23rd, 2017

I am very late, but I want to continue the Greek Odyssey before I start other trips.
From Amorgos, we headed to Santorini, the place I probably anticipated the most of the whole trip. There is indeed room for disappointment here.

As we left Mykonos, we passed the fast ferry probably coming from Santorini.

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We approached the Caldera from the South and this is our first glimpse of Fira, the main ‘urban’ center in Santorini

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This is Oia, the city right at the entrance to the caldera.  We will explore this on foot our last day.

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Another view of Oia – the main sites are all right at the top of the caldera, and there are wide open spaces in between these.

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Fira – You can see the path that descends from town to the old port, now only used for local tours.

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Greece – Naxos and Amorgos

December 26th, 2016

After a few days, it was time to leave Tynos and we moved to Naxos, a large island to the South.

We took another ferry to get there and had interesting views along the way.  Travelling by ferry, at this time of year, is very relaxing.  The ferries are not very crowded and therefore we just lounged around on the top deck, looking at the islands float by.

On the way we met this very interesting cruise ship which was making a stop at Mykonos – there are more and more sailing cruise ships and I think it would be a nice experience to try it, one of these days.  However, I suspect that these are fully automated and therefore there is not much “sailing” involved.

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We ended up spending only one night in Naxos as the weather was getting worse and our guide feared that ferries may not be able to sail on our planned departure date.  He gave us the choice of one extra day in Naxos, or one extra day in Amorgos and the group chose Amorgos (and I think we made the right choice).

One of the attractions is the Temple of Apollo with the “Portara” which is an almost intact door frame.  It sits on a peninsula just outside of the main town.

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We saw ferries come in and out while we were walking around.  There was a very strong side wind at the docks and we watched with interest as the “Cosmote” high speed ferry took 5-6 attempts to get its landing right.  It made for good lunch time entertainment.

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I had to take a picture of the town viewed through the Portara.

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A better view of the town, with the castle up at the top and the docks on the right.

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As I said, we did not spend much time on Naxos and took our next ferry to Amorgos.  This took several hours and was due to make three stops along the way.  We were relaxing on the top deck and I just happened to be looking around when I saw this strange sight.  Looks like a dozen high speed boats heading straight for us.  The first thing that came my mind was: “I did not know they had pirates here in Greece! What do we do now?”

Why else would a formation of high speed boats come towards us like this?

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As they approached. I noticed they were actually going past us, and I started to feel better, then they slowly, still in formation, started to turn around and come after us again.  There were 3-6 people on each boat but they did not look too menacing.

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Greece – Athens, Tinos and Delos – Part 1

December 11th, 2016

In May 2016, Bee and I spent three weeks in Greece, mostly visiting the Cyclades Islands on another Wilderness Travel adventure.

Before we joined the group, we had a couple of days in Athens on our own.

We explored the small streets of Plaka before ending in Monastiraki, which I remembered well from my first visit in 2009.

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The is the daylight view.  I had taken this night time view of people in front of the church back in 2009 – I was publishing  smaller photos at the time.

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Another church is this one, the Church of Panaghia Kapnikarea, situated in the middle of the main street from Monastiraki to Syntagma Square.  We were able to see it inside – by pure luck as we saw someone getting out and managed to convince the cleaning lady to let us in as well, for just a few minutes.

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As if often the case in Athens, the church is a lot older then the neighborhood around it.  It is thought to have been built in the 11th century, probably around 1050 (according to Wikipedia).  It may have been part of a convent at some time.

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We spent the first night at the Hilton, and our view of the Parthenon and Acropolis was blocked by a construction crane.  When we joined the tour group, we moved to a different hotel, much closer to the Acropolis and we had this great view f the Parthenon from our room.

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