Picture Gallery 72

Alaska Trip, Summer 2009

I realize this travelogue is way too detailed for most people. Skim or skip according to your level of interest....

Sorry about the odd mix of present tense and past tense. Most of this came from emails I sent to Bengt during the trip.

Sunday, June 21: Travel to Canada

Long flight, but we made it. Not much different from a flying to Detroit. Except we hit some turbulence and Max threw up twice. Then we had a rough landing—hit the ground with a WHAM and alarming wobbling from side to side. And then we got in a traffic jam in the taxi on the way to our hotel and Max threw up again.

However, after we checked into our Comfort Inn, Max perked up and requested a meal at Denny's. He loves Denny's. We each ordered a grand slam breakfast. Now it is 7 pm local time and we are winding down and will try to sleep. I'm hoping we can sleep for at least 10 hours.

Monday, June 22: Vancouver

Max and I slept quite well, ate breakfast at the hotel at 6:30, and walked the approx. 2 miles to Capilano since we had loads of time before it opened at 8:30.

Had a nice time at the impressive Capilano suspension bridge and treetops adventure. It was a bit smaller than we expected, so we had a very leisurely three hours there.

Eileen on the suspension bridge.

The suspension bridge from a distance.

Looking down into the gorge, and jumping from a stump.

Too bad we didn’t have time to see Stanley Park (except from a distance). That was number two on our list. We think Vancouver is nifty. It is surrounded by mountains and has a very international atmosphere—many different languages spoken here.

Walked back to the hotel, ate lunch at Denny's (at Max's strong request), then picked up our bags and got a taxi to take us to the harbor, where we boarded the Island Princess. We shouldn’t have eaten lunch, as they were serving lunch on the ship.

Max posing in front of the Island Princess.

Check-in went smoothly and quickly. We checked out our stateroom (which is quite nice) and picked up a phone message from Lin, who had already checked in, and she told us where they all were. So we found them quickly and said our hellos. Everyone is in good shape.

Before the ship departed, all passengers were required to attend a meeting where they explain what to do in various emergencies, plus show you how to use your life jacket, etc. Max was slightly freaked out by that. But he is overjoyed to be on board a vessel like this. It's an interesting place, our stateroom is plenty big for us and has a nice little balcony, and everyone is very friendly.

Tuesday, June 23: First day on board

The service on this vessel is outstanding, except we had to wait a very long time to get a table for dinner yesterday. and then we waited even longer for the food. By the time we were halfway through dinner, Max had faded dramatically (having woken up at 4 a.m.). He came back to the room by himself to go to bed, skipping dessert (if you can believe that). I came soon after, having eaten dessert (bad idea). Max was dead to the world, and I fell asleep very quickly. But I woke up at 3 a.m. with a bad headache and diarrhea. I've taken four painkiller pills but still have the headache—typical jet lag symptoms for me. It will pass by tomorrow morning at the latest.

Meanwhile, the weather is cloudy with some drizzle. Bummer. They are having beautiful weather in Sweden.

The breakfast buffet was nice this morning. Then Max and I played a round of mini-golf. Now he is reading. We will soon get out the map and figure out exactly where we are, then go exploring and find out what is going on onboard today. They have lectures and stuff about the route, the wildlife, etc. A comedian is performing tonight, and I think we will see him.

Max is a little seasick. You can barely feel the motion of the ship, but it's enough to make him woozy. By the way, this is a much nicer ship than the one we took to Helsinki. The staterooms are much bigger and it's a completely different crowd and whole different level of service. You can barely hear/feel the engines, and the ventilation is excellent.

Everyone is getting along great. Max and Elliot seem to be getting along well. Ben is now an adult. At least he seems very grown-up to me. Responsible, pleasant, and all that. Elliot's still a kid—a nice one.

Wednesday, June 24: Ketchikan

We had a fun day today. Turned clocks back 1 hour and thus woke up at 4:15 a.m.—which was fine because we had to meet our tour group on the pier at 6:50. Had a leisurely breakfast etc. and then disembarked for the first time and caught a bus just off the boat. It took us about 15 minutes outside of Ketchikan, where was had a 1½-hour nature walk in a rain forest.

And it was really a rain forest—the place was waterlogged. Our guide was great—talked a blue streak and was very knowledgeable. Saw many bald eagles, which was exciting. We saw slugs and dandelion plants that make those in our yard look like miniatures. Talk about dandelions on steroids.... Also saw bear scat. At the visitor's center we got to see an injured bald eagle and injured owl up close, too. And reindeer and a master carver creating a totem pole.

Max at the trailhead, and the making of a totem pole.

Juvenile bald eagles.

Then we went back to the pier and met our next group, which was for the much-anticipated floatplane excursion.

Max was very nervous that he would throw up or need to use the bathroom. But we took precautions and he was just fine. After he realized nothing bad was going to happen, he really enjoyed it. The view was magnificent. We were out for almost two hours and took tons of footage and pictures, but those don't do it justice.

A view from the air.

Another view from the air.

Max enjoying the view.

Max and Eileen standing on the plane's float after landing on water at Misty Fjords National Monument.

Max rode in the cockpit on the return flight.

Were back onboard the Island Princess by 1:30 (as required). After lunch I went to photography seminar, while Max went to the kids club ("Shock Waves") and learned to dance hip-hop. Then I went to an interesting lecture on whales, while Max dissected a squid with the kids' science team.

At 5 p.m. we all met at Marlin & Jackie's room for "happy hour" and to hear about how we all spent the day. Then we went to dinner—good food, but we had to wait quite awhile again.

It's quite cool, so I ran out of pants already (having expected to be able to wear shorts), so I'm doing a little laundry before bed. Sitting on our balcony at the moment—you wouldn't believe the view. It is so peaceful. It makes me feel very tiny looking out onto the giant ocean with mountains all around, with huge whales swimming around under the open sky. Gives you a new perspective.

Wow, what a view from our balcony!

Everyone is getting along, and enjoying their activities. All is well. Great cruise so far.

Thursday, June 25: Juneau

We had another busy day today. We were on the pier by 9 a.m. for our helicopter tour to Mendenhall Glacier, with a landing on the glacier itself, but it was canceled due to fog up at that altitude. Both Max and I were very disappointed. Instead, we got a bus to the glacier, but of course that is nothing compared to getting a helicopter ride to the glacier, landing on the glacier and walking around on it. Still, it was okay, as long as we didn’t compare it to the tour that was canceled.

Max at Mendenhall Glacier.

We ran into Marlin and Jackie at the glacier. Turned out we'd been on the same bus! And we took the same bus back to the ship for lunch (Max insisted, because he wanted the pizza they have here on board), and we ran into the rest of the gang, so we all got to eat together.

Then all of us except Marlin and Jackie went on a "whale watching and wildlife expedition" excursion on a catamaran. It was great! We saw orcas (killer whales) and hump back whales very close to our boat! We saw seals and many bald eagles, plus several glaciers and great scenery visible from the boat. It was really something.


Ben, Lin, Elliot and Mark on the catamaran. (It was windy!)

The personnel was great. Great snacks and drinks, too.

While on our wildlife expedition we heard that Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcell died. We like Michael Jackson’s work, and he was pretty young, so it was oddly upsetting to hear he’d died.

After that outing, Max and I took a tram to the top of Mount Roberts.

There was a great view, plus a live bald eagle that had been injured and was therefore being cared for in captivity. We nearly got eaten alive by mosquitoes up there, despite Apoteket's non-scented bug repellent that I had with me, which if it had any effect at all seemed to attract the mosquitoes rather than repel them. Grrrr.

We also saw some cute ground squirrels. And right before we came down, we spotted a very large porcupine not far from us. That was really neat. It was just hanging out and eating. I could have watched it for an hour or so, but Max lost interest and wanted to get back to the ship. Oh well, at least I got to see a wild porcupine for the first time in my life.

The porcupine that Max and I saw up on Mount Roberts.

A view of our ship from the tramway.

Came back and immediately went to Marlin & Jackie's for 20-minute happy hour, then a late dinner (reservation for 7:45 p.m.). That was enjoyable. Now it's 10 p.m. and we are exhausted.

Elliot and Max at dinner.

Earlier today I accidentally left my jacket on the bus back from Mendenhall Glacier. By the time I realized it and got to the tour office (not associated with Princess), it was closed. But a cashier in the store next door got me the phone number. I called from a pay phone, and someone was still answering the phone from some other location. The man took my info and said he’d look into it and have the jacket delivered to the ship if he found it. I was ready to write off the jacket, since the ship was due to leave port two hours later, but after dinner I checked the ship’s lost & found, and my jacket had been turned in. I was really happy. That’s typical of how helpful people are, both on the ship and in ports of call.

Tomorrow we spend a day in Skagway. Our first and only outing (a nature hike) doesn't start until 1:30 p.m., so Max and I can "sleep in" (we'll probably wake up by 7 or 8 o’clock) and take our time before disembarking and doing a little leisurely exploring before we do our hike. I really hope it doesn't rain in Skagway tomorrow. We had a few drops of rain here in Juneau today, but also a little bit of sun. But it was windy and cool. I wore long underwear, a fleece, and then my windbreaker (plus jeans and thick winter socks), and I was comfortable. Max needed fewer clothes, but he and I both wore hats and gloves over at the glacier. Feels pretty weird to dress that warmly in late June. But boy was I happy I had followed the advice and brought along warm clothes.

Friday, June 26: Skagway

We had another terrific day today. The ship docked at Skagway early this  morning. Max and I slept until 8 a.m., had breakfast, and disembarked at around 10 a.m. for our own little walking tour of Skagway.

When we were walking towards Skagway, Max commented that the only thing missing from this adventure was Bengt. He misses his dad.

Mailed postcards, bought some souvenirs. Max bought this little bear keychain—you squeeze the bear and poop balloons out the rear end. He found it  hilarious—good grief. But he also got a frisbee and some other stuff that changes color in the sun, and some nice Alaska T-shirts.

Max in Skagway and in front of the Island Princess in Skagway.

Vancouver and Alaska have the best souvenirs of any place I've ever visited. A lot of the stuff is very tasteful, and not all of it is expensive. It’s much more interesting than the souvenir junk you can buy in Sweden. Or could it just be that the Swedish stuff is old hat to me, so this Alaska stuff is so new and interesting? I haven't bought much, but I did get a blank scrapbook album with "Alaska" on the cover, and some Alaska-themed scrapbooking materials.

We came back to the ship for lunch, then left for our scheduled tour, which was a nature walk in Haines. We took a half-hour ride on a high-speed catamaran to Haines, where we met our two great tour guides. They drove us (about 12 people) in a van through Haines and to a hiking area. It was a 4-mile hike and Max was moaning and groaning about going, but once we got out there he loved it. It was uneven terrain, and Max was jumping around like a mountain goat. He says he really enjoys hiking on uneven ground, where there are rocks and stumps and stuff to jump on. Plus, immediately Max and the other kid who was along, almost-8-year-old Mike, met and hit it off. Those two stuck together like magnets and really enjoyed the whole hike. They acted like such good buds that the tour guides couldn't believe they'd just met.

We hiked out to a natural beach unlike any I've seen before. We got to hang out there and eat a delicious light dinner before hiking back. The guides were great, encouraging Max and Mike's curiosity, answering their questions, etc. They said it was great to have kids along—it doesn't happen very often. It was a temperate rain forest and the weather was perfect for hiking - cool with just a little breeze to keep the mosquitoes at bay. We found bear scat and many interesting plants, rock formations, and birds.

Eileen at the trailhead.

Max at the beach we hiked to, Kelgaya Point.

Max and one of the guides.

Max climbed this outcropping very carefully, always keeping three points of contact.

We got back just before 8 p.m., just in time (actually a little late) to meet the rest of the gang in the dining room. We didn't eat much since we'd eaten just 3 hours before. Max came back to the stateroom immediately after his main course to "chill" by watching TV. Many new impressions and much physical exercise today.....

Now we've departed from Skagway, and tomorrow morning we enter Glacier Bay, which for many people is the highlight of the trip. We will move slowly through the bay so we can view the wildlife and the glaciers. Hopefully we'll even see one calving. I just hope I can get Max to practice a little patience and sit and watch the view with me, at least for a little while. You have to be patient if you want to see something other than the static view (which is pretty magnificent, but apparently after 5 minutes gets boring to kids raised on Animal Planet).

Everyone is very friendly, not just on the ship but at every port so far—not too friendly but pleasant, curious, and willing to help and converse with the tourists. People are obviously proud of their beautiful state and they like to hear its natural beauty praised. It would have been neat to have Bengt along and get his impressions of all this.

Ben made a funny joke this evening: The captain has invited passengers to a champagne reception. Elliot asked, “If the captain is drinking champagne, then who's piloting the ship?” Lin said, “The co-captain.” Someone asked, “Who's the co-captain—we haven't heard anything about him. Wonder who that is?” Ben said, “Auto pilot.” I thought that was witty.

Saturday, June 27: Glacier Bay

Today we cruised Glacier Bay most of the day. Saw a lot of spectacular glaciers, including some calving. It was interesting and beautiful at times, though I wouldn't call it exciting. They had a couple of naturalists on board who talked over the loudspeakers about the glaciers and wildlife, which was interesting. You could listen on deck, or you could play it on your TV if you wanted to watch from your stateroom balcony (or even watch and listen to the whole thing on your TV, though I don't know why anyone would do that unless they were sick or something).

Max was bored after a half hour, and I understood him. It was also freezing cold outside. I could have used my heaviest winter coat. As it was, I just put on just about everything I had, including a scarf and gloves.

Ben, Max, and Elliot checking out the glaciers. Glacial silt colors the water greenish white.

Jackie and Marlin on deck for glacier viewing.

Can you see all the shades of blue, green, white and gray here? Those colors, along with the sheer size of the mountains and glaciers, were the best part.

After awhile Max hooked up with some kids and was watching TV. But Elliot (bless him) went and got them and they played mini-golf (I think) and then went swimming for hours in the indoor pool. I still had a chill from the glacier viewing, so I got my bathing suit on and spent a long time in the hot tubs. Ahhh!

On our way out of the area, there were whales all around our ship, and that was very exciting. A few of them were playing (or something) and jumping around, breeching and waving their tails. It was unbelievable. Many of us were watching the show using our binoculars. Unfortunately it was too far away to film that. (Plus I was too riveted to put down the binoculars and pick up the camera.)

We also saw a sea otter (CUTE!), some porpoises, sea lions, and many birds (including puffins). One young whale came very close (probably dangerously close, for the whale) to our ship.

Max was interested but not as thrilled (too much Animal Planet, which gives you a better close-up view), but Nichols and I were glued to the balconies and were scurrying back and forth between their room and our room (on opposite sides of the ship, but otherwise close to each other) in order to get the best view. Marlin and Jackie were watching from another part of the ship. We called their room but there was no answer.

Now we are out at sea, on our way to College Fjord. The waves are big and Max is throwing up (despite Dramamine). I am completely unaffected, for some reason. The water in the onboard pools is sloshing around alarmingly. I hope we can sleep well and then get up early to see College Fjord, where the wildlife viewing is expected to be fabulous. The morning after that it will be time to disembark.

Sunday, June 28: College Fjord

We had a good night's sleep despite Max being ill yesterday evening. Waters were calm this morning. We ate breakfast and then Max went to a "hilarious cooking demonstration", which he said was funny but not hilarious. I wanted to go, but did laundry and sorted our "stuff" instead.

After the cooking show, Max went to the pool, where he stayed for many hours. He has a bunch of new buddies who hang out there. I kept looking in on them, but it's such a small and shallow pool, with so many adults around, and he’s so well behaved, that it feels fine to leave him there. He is in constant motion, so I predict he'll fall asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow tonight.

The indoor pool on the Island Princess. That's Max in the red bathing suit, eating an ice cream cone.

I've been enjoying the scenery, playing Set with Lin and Ben (who was sick but is recovering), eating and packing. We have to put our bags outside our staterooms this evening before dinner. Princess personnel will pick them up and have them waiting for us in our hotel room when we arrive at our next stop.

This has been a great cruise and I'm sorry to see it end. The neat thing is that you just relax and stay put, and the ship and its personnel do everything for you. The scenery changes right in front of your eyes, there is entertainment, food and drinks galore, and great scenery any time you care to look out. It's a no-brainer once all the arrangements are made. Kind of like a charter trip, except you don't have to take care of your own bags, and you move around from place to place effortlessly.

Max in one of the many well-maintained public areas on the Island Princess.

Monday, June 29: Travel to Denali National Park and Preserve

We left the Island Princess at 7:15 this morning. Boy, Princess has it set up to run like clockwork, and it’s idiot-proof. Right at the dock we boarded their Denali Express, which is a glass-topped train offering a wonderful view as you travel.

Leaving the Island Princess behind in Whittier.

Elliot and Lin unpacking on the Denali Express.

Elliot and Mark enjoying the view a bit later.

Unfortunately the train took nine hours (ugh) to travel the couple hundred miles to Denali National Park and Preserve. I don't think the thing ever went faster than 40 miles per hour. They said it was because of "track conditions." The train swayed back and forth (and we were on the top floor of the double-decker) and bounced and jolted quite a bit compared to Swedish trains, so I’m guessing "track conditions" referred to their state of repair rather than weather or wildlife or anything else. Or, even more likely, the slow train is considered on par with a sightseeing excursion. They cheerfully stopped along the tracks to watch a fisherman reel in his catch! I got a kick out of that. It says a lot about how people are here. Very leisurely..........

The fishermen and their chopper. (Most of these places aren't accessible by road.)

Anyway, we were a little cramped in the train, and the temperature swung back and forth between about 16 and 24 degrees C. But the food was good; I had a cod burrito in the restaurant car that was really tasty (and cost $13). And several of us had "bottomless soft drinks"—buy one for $2.50 and get free refills throughout the trip.

During the trip, we were entertained by various speakers, some better than others. We heard lots of bad jokes, but also some good Alaska stories & history, plus an explanation of the area we were travelling through. And, though I still say you can't absorb nine hours of scenery, it really was spectacular:

Ok, so we got to Denali Depot and transferred to buses for the 5-minute ride to the lodge. Then we sat in the bus for about ten minutes as our bus driver rambled and took his time getting started. We were all exhausted and it was tempting to call out, "Hey, please get us to the lodge, will ya?" It was like a psychology experiment: How long can the bus driver keep yakking before someone speaks up?

All eight of us got rooms right in a row—gigantic rooms in a beautiful lodge with an awesome view of mountains, woods, and a river of glacier run-off. It reminds me very much of the view from the room we had in Abisko, except the window is much bigger.

Immediately after arrival, Elliot got sick—really sick, with the Norwalk virus (Norovirus) that's going around (and that we figured out Ben had on the ship). It's only a 24-hour thing, but quite nasty. The rest of us (except Elliot and Mark) gathered for dinner at the local pizza joint, where I paid $50 for two large pizzas. Woa, things are expensive out here in the boondocks, where everything has to be trucked in. The water tastes strange, too, and Max wouldn't drink it so I had to buy bottled water.

Now we’re utterly exhausted. Off to bed!

Tuesday, June 30: Denali National Park

After our long day yesterday, we were up at 5:30 this morning for the 6:15 start of our tour of Denali National Park. Oh my God, eight hours on a school bus (which is the only type of bus allowed into the park)…. We stopped about every 60-90 minutes for a 10-minute bathroom break, and one 20-minute stop to walk around (thank you very much). It was brutal—especially after having spent the entire day yesterday on the train. But we had been assured it would be worth it.

And it was, though the price was high. We saw grizzly bears (close up! and not tame!), moose (much larger than the Swedish variety), snowshoe hares, pikas, golden eagles, ptarmigans (Alaska's state bird), and even a wolf! We even saw the top of Mount McKinley (Denali), which is 70 miles away. And lots of unique geological formations and other scenery.

Our first moose sighting.

A great view.

A grizzly bear, bleached blonde from the sun. She completely ignored our bus and sauntered off down the road.

Another great view. Can you see Mt. McKinley (Denali) 70 miles away? It looks like a cloud here. (See next picture.)

A close-up. There it is!

Eileen, Max, Marlin, Jackie, Lin and Ben at a rest stop with a magnificent view.

So we were all glad we went (except Elliot and Mark, who didn't go because Elliot was sick), but as I said, it was a high price to pay. Amazingly, no one got motion sick on the train or the school bus. Maybe because our eyes were almost constantly glued to the scenery out the window.

When we got back, I tried to take care of my bill from the Island Princess, where I was charged $598 for the helicopter tour that was canceled. It turns out to be a real PITA and it's still not settled (though they assure me it will be—within a couple of weeks). Apparently I was supposed to settle my bill before I left the ship (even though I'm still on a Princess tour, and even though I got the bill only ten minutes before I left the ship and couldn't possibly have had time). Argh!

Then we took a quick shuttle to the Visitor's Center and looked at some neat pictures and artifacts. Jackie and Max and I walked back (3 miles). It felt good to get a little exercise, and we saw some neat flowers, hare scat, some cute little pine cones, and some snow still left over from winter.

Nifty little pinecones (sorry the picture's not clearer) and, yes, that's snow left over from last winter!

Snowball flowers and some other kind of flowers I'm not familiar with.

Afterwards all of us except Elliot and Lin met at the Salmon Bake restaurant for dinner. (Unfortunately, Elliot’s still not feeling so great.) These dinners have been one of the highlights of our trip—good visiting with family and finding out what everyone got up to that day (if we weren't together).

The Salmon Bake was very relaxed and woodsy (some might call it unhygienic), complete with gunk in our drinks and bugs crawling around on the tables. Max ordered the most expensive thing on the menu: King Crab, which he now loves after having had it on the ship. I had the most excellent salmon. Normally I wouldn't have ordered salmon, as I don't much care for it, but this was a local "Salmon Bake" thing, with the fish seared on a cedar plank after having been marinated in ginger, honey (I think) and Kentucky Bourbon. Delicious!

The Salmon Bake.

Lin joined us for ice cream, and we picked up a shake for poor Elliot.

Then we had some delicious ice cream. Then we picked up a few things from the grocery store for tomorrow's breakfast, and then Lin and I checked out the gift shop at the lodge. I haven't been buying much. But on our first day here I got myself a nice sweatshirt on sale—it says "Denali Park Alaska 2008". I started wearing it immediately, and Mark noticed it right away, asking, “Hey, did you get a deal on a sweatshirt?” J Yup!

Anyway, by the time we got back to our room, it was 10 p.m. and I was dead tired (after having gotten up extremely early two mornings in a row). Max was ok, as he napped both days on the train/bus. But I still had to pack our suitcases, which were to be outside our rooms by 8 a.m. for transport to our next destination. It's nice that they take care of your bags for you the whole way, but not so nice that you have to put them out the night before, as we did on the ship, or early the next morning. Traveling by truck is much faster than traveling by train and bus. Someone suggested we send the luggage on the train and take the truck ourselves. J

Anyway, after a little while I realized that I was too tired to be efficient. I kept wandering around the room, forgetting what I was doing and where I was putting things. Especially since Max kept yakking and asking questions, despite my pleas to let me concentrate. So I set my alarm clock for 7 a.m. and am now in bed.

Wednesday, July 1

Today I feel much better. Showered, got dressed, and packed our suitcases and had them outside the door by 7:50. By now I've had breakfast and two cups of coffee (while writing this). It's 9 a.m. and Max is still sleeping. Sweet.

At noon today we get back on that same train and head back the same way we came, to Talkeetna, which is almost a 5-hour trip. Ugh. There we board a bus for a 75-minute trip to the Mt. McKinley State Park. I guess we'll get there just in time for dinner, and then we have the "evening at leisure"—to recover?!—before heading back to Anchorage the next day.

Right now we don't see that point of going to Mt. McKinley lodge. I think all of us would rather stay here and explore "at leisure" for another day. It's a gorgeous place, but we've been running around so much that there has been precious little time to relax and enjoy it. I guess it's the American way: Rush around to see everything, and then quickly move on, due to lack of vacation time.

Although, granted, we don't leave McKinley until 3:15 p.m. on July 2, and there are no activities planned, so we will have time to explore and relax. Maybe we'll even take a helicopter tour, if the weather is clear. Right now it's completely sunny and reasonably warm, which is apparently unusual. I'm even wearing shorts, which I haven't yet been able to do during this trip.

Elliot has recovered but is still a bit weak. We have our fingers crossed that none of the rest of us will get it. I'd say there's a grave risk that Lin and Mark will get it, since they took care of Ben and Elliot during their puking stages. Boy that would stink, having to travel with that virus. If Max or I get it, no way we can travel back to Sweden while we're sick. Nor would they want us to—Norovirus is very contagious. We'd have to change our flights somehow.

There are hand sanitation stations everywhere, as well as the constant reminders to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds, often, throughout the day. Wise advice, actually. And they make it easy for you. No doubt it prevents a lot of illness. Too bad it didn't prevent Ben and Elliot's!

A hand sanitation station (this one of the more in-your-face variety) in Skagway.

Marlin and Jackie waiting for the train to McKinley.

Thursday, July 2

Our train trip to McKinley State Park yesterday was pretty uneventful. The bus ride to the state park was kind of nice, and interesting since we experienced a freak hail storm. (The weather both before and after the hail storm was pretty clear.)

Upon arrival we all immediately went to the lookout point behind the lodge to see “the mountain.” The view was beautiful and you never know how long the weather will hold. [Actually it got even better the following day—what luck!]

The whole gang posing in front of Denali. (Marlin, Jackie, Elliot, Eileen and Max, Lin, Ben and Mark.)

Just me, Max and Denali. Oh, and some cast-iron wolves.

Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge.

Then we had a nice dinner at the lodge’s fancy restaurant with a view of Mt. McKinley. We thought the food was great. The rooms at this lodge are a bit smaller than at our last place, but still nice. It’s a bit more difficult to find your way around, as well.

GORGEOUS day today. The weather could not be better and we are sitting here enjoying a spectacular view of Denali (Mt. McKinley). We don't leave until 3:15 p.m. Max had a great kayaking trip with Lin, Ben and Elliot. He was in a tandem kayak with Lin—very generous of Lin to offer to take him with. He was anxious to get out on the water. Lin said it went great. They were all in a good mood when they got back, and Lin got some awesome pictures (including some with Max in them). Really cool.

I was happy to have a break from the little talkaholic. Jackie and I went for a walk on the 2.5 miles of “trails” on and around the hotel property. These “trails” were largely just extra space (concrete) at the side of existing roads, so they were easy to walk on but not so pleasant. Princess has some work to do in this area.

Mark is sick as a dog—he got that Norwalk virus. So shortly after the return of the kayaking group, Max and I and Marlin and Jackie said good-bye to Lin & Ben & Elliot since they had to stay behind. We boarded the bus for Talkeetna and then the train from Talkeetna to Anchorage. Hopefully Mark will be well enough tomorrow that they can take a van or something back to Anchorage for their evening flight back to Detroit. Unless Lin gets it.....

Our trip to Anchorage was surprisingly pleasant. It felt pretty short since it was broken up by eating dinner, plus it was comfortable because we each got two seats (we took the Nichols’ seats). It was a gorgeous day. There was only one little hiccup: Max and I felt nauseous for about 20 minutes at the same time. I thought, “Oh crap, it's the Norwalk virus. We're screwed.” Fortunately, it passed. It must have just been slight motion sickness.

Got to the Captain Cook Hotel around 8:30. Our room is pretty nice, as this is an upscale hotel. But we liked the room at Denali National Park best.

Said good-bye to Marlin and Jackie since they are leaving at 5:20 a.m. tomorrow morning – yikes!

Friday, July 3

Seriously, those Alaskans know how to do hanging baskets. I've never seen such huge ones in my life.

Max and I got a good night's sleep and then had an excellent day in Anchorage today. First we lucked out and found a little teeny café (called Side Street Espresso) that is run by a local couple and frequented by super-friendly regulars. We got a great breakfast for $7, and the place was just plain nifty, with a shelf of used books ("If you see one that appeals to you, please take it!"), cool decorations, old furniture, stained carpeting, and the friendliest (and cheapest) service around.

The people we were supposed to meet ended up having to change their plans, but the sister, Lea, who lives about a mile from us (or something) in Sweden was here and so we instead got together with her and her daughters. We went to the Imaginarium, a hands-on museum for kids. It was great! It had a great gift shop, too. We all got cool stuff.

Then Lea drove us all to Qdoba restaurant (Max's favorite), where we all had lunch. It was neat that Lea's family had never been there and they loved it. We all had a terrific lunch.

Then Lea dropped us off back downtown at the Anchorage Museum, which had a temporary exhibit of gold in its various forms. Max and I both enjoyed that exhibit. For children they also had a section where kids could make their own crowns using cardboard, stickers, and stick-on "jewels". Max made himself a neat crown and then, interestingly, wore his crown around the museum and even outside on the street without an iota of self-consciousness.

As an added bonus, the museum had a free 1-hour movie at the museum about climbing Mt. McKinley (Denali). We both enjoyed that, plus it was a nice chance to get off our feet for awhile.

Then we made our way to Walmart. J We were in such a good mood that we walked the approx. 3 miles (!) happily. (We had been told it was only 1.5 miles....) Then we spent 2.5 hours browsing at Walmart. I left Max by the toys, games and DVDs and shopped the rest of the store, coming back every 20 minutes or so to check on him. Being used to Swedish stores, we were both overwhelmed by the volume of cheap stuff. Max spent the rest of the money that Sven gave him. The biggest purchase was two Nerf guns. He also got some other cool stuff, like some more Mad Lib books and a couple of DVDs.

I got gobs of stuff, too, like a T-shirt, some scrapbooking stuff, Tylenol, vitamins, triple antibiotic salve, a little soup thermos, etc. Practical stuff, mostly. We dropped over $200 at Walmart – geez.

Then we caught a bus back to the hotel (only $1.75 - bonus!) and by that time it was after 8 p.m. So we each ordered a healthy appetizer at one of the hotel's three restaurants. And I had a glass of wine. A light and tasty dinner. We are very happy campers.

As far as cooperation and harmony, I have to say this was our best day yet. I mean Max and I were both in a great mood, and we were very cooperative with each other and not bothered by setbacks such as the 3-mile walk or not getting to meet the Alaskans we were supposed to connect with.

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July. We heard they make pancakes over at the park tomorrow morning and it's really fun, so we'll go for that. I'm going to hit Nordstroms and Title Wave Books while Max (if he wishes) hangs out in the room. Then we'll see what we feel like going. We have a whole list of possibilities, of course. Maybe rent a tandem bike (cool!) right across the street and ride around for awhile. Maybe walk down to the water's edge and take a few pictures of the festivities. Max has a "popper" that a very friendly kid at the bus station gave him this evening.

Max is being so cooperative and grown-up. He seems to have gained confidence and worldliness in just these couple weeks. It makes him feel grown-up, in control and happy. He hasn't been clingy at all this trip. It has been a pleasure to travel with him, 95% of the time. The only down side has been his almost constant chattering and asking questions. It's hard for him to be quiet when I need a little down time. But he tries and he's getting better. Jackie told me she found Max a delightful boy – nice to hear.

For some reason the "housekeeper" changed our sheets this morning, instead of just making the beds. In the change, Max’s stuffed animal (Bunny) disappeared. He’s had it since he was about five months old. I called Housekeeping and they said they should be able to find him today. It is curiously upsetting to have Bunny disappear. Almost like a kidnapping. Max and I are both a little rattled, though of course it’s no catastrophe.

Saturday, July 4

Today we went to the pancake breakfast as planned, then saw the Fourth of July parade, which was a hoot. Max and I each had a corndog (mine was vegetarian), barrel corn (caramel corn) and a Coke. Yuck, not a good lunch.

Hmm. Not the best choice for lunch.

The Fourth of July parade.

After the parade, I deposited Max in the hotel room and went shopping again. Got a bunch of books at a used bookstore. Went to Nordstroms for some shirts for Bengt (which they didn’t carry, despite evidence indicating the contrary on their website) and checked (in vain) for a suitable hard-shell suitcase to replace the one damaged by Princess during transportation.

Later I took Max back to the bookstore and got him some books, too. Then we had a light dinner (just a tasty appetizer each) at the Whale’s Tail restaurant and then went down to the shore (Cook Inlet) and had a look around. Max jumped around on the rocks a lot and showed me some le Parkour moves that he’s picked up somehow. Then we went and relaxed in our room (and I packed) while we waited for midnight, when there were supposed to be fireworks. I’d scoped out a good spot where we should have been able to see them from the hotel. But by quarter after twelve there were still no fireworks. Disappointed, we went to bed.

Bunny still hasn't turned up, despite various phone calls and a conversation with the hotel manager. I told Max that he grew up and set out on his own adventures.

Sunday, July 5 – Monday, July 6

Got up, showered, closed up the suitcases, had a quick bite of breakfast, checked out, and took the shuttle to the airport. Found I didn’t have my British Airways flight details except on the computer, so Alaska Airways couldn’t check our bags through to Stockholm. Doh! Plus one of the bags exceeded the weight limit. So in the middle of checking in I had to redistribute the weight in our bags and fire up the computer to get the flight details. PITA. Meanwhile, I was paged from someone on the other side of Security, which seemed odd since we were travelling alone.

When we finally we got our bags checked and got to the meeting point that I’d been paged to, no one was there. So we went to our gate, and there was a Princess/Holland America lady standing there with Bunny! Hotel personnel had found him at the last minute. (He’d gone through their laundry, so he was very clean.) I was really pleased. I think Max was pretty relieved, too, but he was embarrassed to show how much. Wasn’t that amazing of Princess/Holland America to send someone to the airport with a stuffed animal?

The short flight to Seattle was no big deal. But I sweated during the whole flight to London, trapped between a very large furnace of a man and Max (a.k.a. mini space heater). Then, after the original 2-hour layover at Heathrow, we had an additional 3½-hour delay. (We sat inside at the gate for 1½ hours, then boarded the plane and spent another 2 hours in the plane at the gate - argh!) Otherwise the flights were long but uneventful. Max and I managed to nap a little on each flight.

We arrived at Stockholm-Arlanda at 8 p.m. and were really glad to see Bengt. We were tired but not crispy fried when we got home. We unpacked a little, hung out with Bengt, and all fell asleep by about 11:30 p.m.

Tuesday, July 7

Max and I woke up around 7:30 and feel perfectly normal, without any jet lag to speak of. I feel like my body is saying, "Hey, I recognize this time zone."

Stockholm had two weeks of fabulous weather while we were gone, but now it's cool and rainy. However, that makes it easier for me to go to work today. I'm just going to check what's going on, take care of any urgent tasks, and then hopefully take the rest of the week off. Our friend Bernhard will be visiting us Wednesday evening to Saturday morning.

I'll be sorting our pictures (we took 894 of them! but of course all but the best will be deleted) and movies (26 GB) in the coming weeks.