Friday, July 31, 2015

Alaskan Adventure - Day 3 - Olympic Peninsula, Washington

Friday, July 31st, we woke up early and rented a car so we could drive around the Olympic Peninsula.  Our epic day trip involved a train, a ferry, 400 miles of driving in a convertible, 7,000 ft elevation gain and descent, a hike above the treeline, a drive in the temperate rainforest, and circumnavigating the entire Olympic Peninsula.  16 hrs later, we had a great day!
Map I made to document our epic daytrip

We took a car ferry from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island - about 30 min to cross.  We breakfasted on the sun deck as we enjoyed the early morning views of Puget Sound.  After docking, we drove across the northern end of the Olympic Peninsula to the town of Port Angeles.  Had a hearty brunch and then drove into the National Park, up to Hurricane Ridge.  The rental place had offered us a convertible for the day and it was the perfect vehicle to enjoy the panoramic views and sunshine.  We parked up there and hiked 3 mi round trip to the peak - about 700 ft elevation gain and a total height of 7300 ft.  Could see 360° around the park and admired several glacier capped peaks.

Tom's sweet ride for a perfect sunny day

Hiking above the treeline was a new experience for both of us

Panoramic view from the top of Hurricane Ridge

After the hike, we got in the car and continued around the northern side of the peninsula, driving by the glacier fed Crescent Lake and passing through the town of Forks, WA made famous by the Twilight books and movies.  
Pulled off the road to enjoy the icy waters of Crescent Lake

Its a *very* small town!

Didn't spot any signs of vampires and werewolves, so we continued to the Hoh rainforest.  Neither of us knew what to expect from a temperate rainforest, but it reminded us of the Ewok village in Star Wars.  Lots of moss and lichen and beautiful, tall trees.
Hoh Rainforest aka the Ewok Village

We had a picnic dinner on Ruby Beach on the western coast.  First time we saw clouds and fog the whole trip!  The weather comes in off the Pacific and drops all the moisture on the western side, hence the lush rainforests, whereas the Eastern side was desert like.  After the beach, it was equidistant to either return the way we came, or keep driving around so we opted to circumnavigate.  Got back to the hotel around 11 pm and crashed so that we would be ready for the flight to Alaska on Saturday.
Foggy evening on Ruby Beach

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Alaskan Adventure - Day 1&2 - Seattle, Washington

Day 1 - Tom and I landed in Seattle on Wed afternoon for the start of our 21 day adventure in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska.  Took the train and a cab to our hotel downtown, which has a lovely rooftop terrace.  Most of the day was spent hauling suitcases and travelling, so we did not get out and explore the city but we enjoyed the view of the skyline while we ate our takeout dinner from nearby.  Turned in early on account of the 3 hour time difference.

Day 2 - Slept in this morning until 7:30 am local time, and then ventured to a cafĂ© nearby to ingrain ourselves in Seattle coffee house culture.  Tom opted for a latte and I had my usual hot chocolate in addition to some fresh pastries.

After breakfast we toured the Space Needle and the Chihuly Museum and Gardens.  We loved the glass sculptures!

We then met my 'Aunt' Kathy (mom's cousin) at the historic Pike's Place Market on the waterfront.  She guided us around the market and we enjoyed people watching, some great Italian food for lunch, and hearing about all the travel she does with her husband Jim.  We hope to link up with them for an adventure next year.

Afterwards, we strolled along the waterfront and enjoyed the ships in port for Fleet Week.  The Blue Angels will be performing on Sat, so we got to see them practicing at various times overhead. The sea breeze is a saving grace because the temps are in the low 90s here, but thankfully no humidity. Weather in Seattle is absolutely beautiful! We came in the ~90 days of non-foggy/rainy summer weather.

After an afternoon of rest, and a few work calls, we went to Walrus and the Carpenter for a tapas style dinner featuring specialties of the region’s- microbrews, cheese, fried oysters, smoked salmon, steak tartare.  It was fabulous! We took a stroll home to enjoy the views and sea breeze, and I now write this from the hotel rooftop terrace where we sit enjoying a bottle of prosecco before we retire.

Off to Olympic National Park (rainforest area on the nearby Olympic Peninsula) tomorrow, via rental car and ferry.  Weather looks promising.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Conquering the Alaskan Frontier

When the family set out to plan our summer 2015 vacation at Easter, the original plan was to visit New Zealand and Australia, since John (my brother in law) was planning to study abroad there in June and July.  After looking at the dates, the weather, and work schedules, things were not lining up well so we decided to call that plan off.  Alaska was somewhere that we had all wanted to visit and is ideal in late July/early August, which was the only time window we had available.  A plan shaped up that had John flying from The Land Down Under to Alaska and we would meet him there for 1 week touring the interior.  He then would get on a plane and fly back to college, and the rest of us would continue for a one week cruise down in the Inside Passage.

Booking the trip, we knew we wanted time to see both the interior as well as do a cruise.  We were very limited on dates, so there were only a handful of cruises to choose from.  We went with Princess because they have a great reputation for their Alaska offerings, and they also offered cruise-tours, where they plan all of the accommodations and travel for the land portion as well as the cruise portion.  This was ideal since we were planning this late in the season and were concerned about making all of the necessary travel arrangements only 2 months in advance.

Tom and I had extra time, so we opted to book our flight via Seattle so that we could explore more of the Pacific Northwest.  We planned to spend 3 days in Seattle before going to Alaska and 3 days in Vancouver at the end of the trip, bringing our adventure to a grand total of 21 days.  Pete, Ellen, and Carl opted just for the 2 weeks in Alaska portion, and John has a whirlwind 6 days in Alaska.

The Alaska crew (left to right): Christina, Tom, John, Carl, Pete, Ellen

  • Christina: that's me!  I am writing most of the travelogues, but occasionally someone else will guest post/contribute.  I do lots of detailed planning for all our trips and am in charge of event booking, background research, and information dissemination. 
  • Tom: the husband - he does all the driving and also handles navigation since I can't walk and read a map at the same time, and I tend to get carsick if I read while he drives.  Hates crowds and loves trying new food and beer/wine.
  • Carl & John: Tom’s brothers - they like high adventure activities and are willing to go along with whatever I plan to do for the day as long as they don't have to plan it themselves
  • Pete & Ellen: Tom’s mom & dad - they really enjoy exploring the local and cultural aspects of wherever we are visiting, and Ellen is great at choosing a fabulous restaurant for dinner