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    • Day 52

      Looking for Alaska.

      September 18, 2019 in the United States ⋅ 🌧 11 °C

      I had a fantastic time in Anchorage and wish I could have been here longer. I had a luxurious airbnb suite at the coast with a lovely view. Never thought I would enjoy the sea that much. One day, I took part in a tour through the Far North Bicentennial Park on a fatbike. The oversized tires let us move through the terrain easily. While we did not encounter any bears, we stopped twice for moose, keeping our distance for careful observation. I also enjoyed some fresh seafood which was quite a delight and a welcome change to the otherwise less nourishing US-American cuisine.Read more

    • Day 22

      In Anchorage Alaska

      September 13, 2018 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 16 °C

      We left the ship this morning as per the information session from yesterday. This group is particularly good at being at the right place at the right time and we keep an eye out for each other all the time, so if we see someone taking a little longer to get somewhere, we will lend a hand or report that someone is still coming but will arrive soon. It's nice. We are being neighbourly. Many of the group are essentially neighbours, coming from the same region of South Australia, but those of us who are foreigners have fitted in just as well.

      Once off the boat in Whittier we took a tour around this town. It is one block and everything is visible from everywhere else, so the tour did not take long. We drove by the apartment building; the school which is accessible via a tunnel because of the heavy snow; the marina; the now derelict military buildings which were made unusable after the 1964 earthquake but which will not be demolished because of asbestos, and then back by the strange old building that stands boldly at the heart of the town. It is old, wood, unpainted and has a kind of crow's nest on top. It seems to be a set of businesses, perhaps tourist or fishing related, but it was not clear to see. It was a striking building hinting at a much older past.

      When the tour was over and the rain that falls 300 days a year, stayed away and gave us a sunny day, we headed for a parking bay where all sorts of vehicles lined up ready for the change over in the tunnel from "in to" to "out of" Whittier. It was a fifteen minute wait and a four kilometre drive through the narrow tunnel. Every kilometre or so there is a safe house built into the tunnel. This is to provide protection against breakdowns or crashes and to get people away from carbon monoxide poisoning. On some occasions they have actually had to close the tunnel because of CO build up.

      On the other side of the tunnel and into another valley we found ourselves in Turnagain arm of the Inlet. It was named by our own Captain Cook who was trying to find the mysterious and elusive Northwest Passage, only to find that this branch was yet another dead end and required the ship to "turn again". We were told to be on the lookout for two special sights. The first was a pod of Beluga Whales, which had been seen in this inlet earlier in the day and the Dall sheep which is a mountain sheep with big curly horns. Didn't see either. I admit now that the other day I caught a glimpse of a large white headed creature in the water and wondered whether it might be a Beluga, but dismissed it as highly improbable and perhaps a trick of the light. I convinced myself that the Beluga could not be this far south. Then I realised that we are not far south at all and this is the right place. It may well have been a Beluga!

      Let me say though, that we made up our quota of animals very quickly today. First, at a small stopover we saw a salmon stream that clearly had bear involvement. Half munched fish lay beside the stream awaiting a time when humans would not be hanging around. There were still lots of live fish hanging around. A few kilometres further in, we pulled in at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Centre. We caught up on lots of animals. Ok, they were not in the wild, but most of these animals are unable to survive in the wild because of injury or being orphaned, or being bred up for future release. We had a lovely time. I am very grateful for those philanthropic people who set up these centres. Later, governments and big organisations will take over when the very real value of the work is realised, but it takes the altruistic animal lover to begin the process.

      We saw two brown bears that were both having a lovely time in a pond licking the final bits off some meaty goodness. One of them in particular, kept lying on his back and kicking his feet about like an awkward backstroker. This was an animal having fun. He jumped and splashed and shook his great head, then bounced back into the water. He was a joy to watch.

      The black bear was dozing in a cave and enjoying the sun. I quite understood such delectable lethargy. My kind of bear. Around the corner was a small herd of Musk Oxen that is being bred up for potential reintroduction into the wild. The native Musk Ox was exterminated some time ago and a small group of Siberian Musk Ox was brought in to help reestablish it. They are apparently very closely related. They were clearly deeply involved in some sort of internal squabble because there was meaningful grunting and snorting and then the rapid departure of one individual from the mob, with a nervous backward glance. What were they talking about? Was this someone caught out in a piece of spiteful gossip and now sent to Coventry for breaking the rules of the schoolyard? Speculation is worthy.

      To the other side were elk. These had been separated on gender grounds because it is rutting season. We have met the elk before. This time we heard some high pitched noises coming from some of them. I would have described it as a birdlike noise, rather than something you might expect from such a large creature. The other elk responded to it and gave vocal responses. They were communicating something too. Maybe they had heard wind of the shattered group dynamics of the musk ox and were exploring the ramifications for themselves, or perhaps talking about the best looking male elk who might be their choice for this year. There were also deer in a nearby pen. On it goes.

      We then saw a rather gorgeous moose who had a neighbour called Swindle. Swindle was a porcupine. They didn't appear to have much to say to each other, but I did enjoy watching the moose. He was a handsome creature.

      The wolves were not keen on being seen. A second porcupine was nearby. As we walked around we also caught up with a lynx that was ignoring us because he was eating his chicken lunch and a bald eagle with only one wing. I was very disappointed trying to photograph this bird. I wanted to capture the sharpness and intelligence in the eye but the camera kept finding the wire fencing and denied me the picture I wanted.

      And so, we gorged ourselves on a feast of Alaskan animals. It was just lovely.

      Back in the bus, we followed the inlet further around towards Anchorage. It is a tidal inlet coming from the Pacific Ocean and there is a vast difference between high and low tide. Our driver, Jesse, told us of a woman who walked out onto what appeared to be mudflats to discover that again, because of liquefaction, these areas become like quicksand and she had to be extracted from waste high bog and a rising tide.

      We arrived in Anchorage quite early, too early for our hotel, so many of us ate very poorly at the shopping mall, then went for a bit of a walk around town. It is not a beautiful town. It seems reluctant to shine, with little promotion of itself in building names and advertising its offerings. The streets are wide and clear, with completely unimaginative names. All streets in one direction are 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc and going the crossways direction, they go by alphabet letters from A to I, skipping J then going on to K. I don't know what J did to deserve such neglect, but I feel for it just the same.

      It took us some time to have our rooms ready. Most people were able to access their rooms by 3.15 but Ross and I and three other pairs had to wait until 4 pm. At that time I went to see what progress had been made and found myself getting quite grumpy. Not only had I found it necessary to listen for over 40 minutes, to the bouncy concierge, who got overexcited and whiney with every person who came to speak to her. She gave them the assistance they required, then sent off her interlocutor with a grossly overstated sense of gratification that she had been able to help and that she hoped the rest of their day would be really excellent (a redundant superfluity!!!). When I got to the counter, I had a woman jump in before me. I stepped aside and let her. I then had my conversation with the receptionist who had an interminable and repetitious phone conversation with someone at a different desk as to who was responsible for resolving our rooming situation, when, before we had finished our words, we were interrupted by an angry man behind me who spoke to MY receptionist about how another man had stepped in before him in the next queue. My receptionist turned his back on me and he began to talk to the angry man and ignore me. I was not pleased. I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw someone finally talking with our group and giving us keys so I left and rejoined the group and we made our way to our rooms while the desk clerk dealt with the squeaky wheel.

      Within seconds of arriving in the room, Ross had lain down and was snoring blissfully. The hotel, to its credit, has free wifi, so I caught up on a bit of correspondence, then began writing this blog.

      Dinner was delightful. Good food, nice company, good conversation and then off to bed. I will persevere in my attempts to hunt down the elusive Aurora Borealis which failed to appear last night. Although the chances of it arriving tonight are as good as last night (and it didn't happen) we are less likely to see it in a town because of light pollution. I will watch for it for a time, but it comes and goes as it pleases and it does not seek to please me, a mere mortal. Maybe when we get out into the real wilderness we might see it. Hope springs eternal in Anchorage Alaska.
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    • Day 6

      Alaska Railroad II

      July 6, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

      Heute fuhren wir die zweite Sektion der Alaska Railroad vom Denali Park nach Anchorage. Für die 375 km brauchte der Zug ganze neuneinhalb Stunden und nicht „nur“ die fahrplanmässigen sieben Stunden und 45 Minuten. Grund war, dass die Lok wegen der Hitze nur durchschnittlich 50 bis 60 statt der 80 km/h fahren konnte.

      Ich habe mich diesmal etwas im Zug umgesehen und ging (verbotenerweise) in die GoldStar-Sektion, quasi die Business-Klasse der Alaska Railroad. Unterwegs konnte ich auch noch gleich ein Foto einer der schmucken Conductors machen.

      In Anchorage angekommen, machten wir nach dem Hotelbezug noch einen kleinen Spaziergang durch Downtown Anchorage. Mehr über die grösste Stadt des Staates morgen.
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    • Day 7


      July 7, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 28 °C

      Anchorage (= Platz, wo ein Schiff Anker legen kann), die grösste Stadt Alaskas, beherbergt mit 294´000 Einwohnenden auch gleich rund 40% aller Menschen dieses Bundesstaates.

      Gegründet wurde die Stadt 1915, als die Alaska Railroad ihr Hauptquarter an diesen Ort verlegte. Wichtiger als die Bahn ist hier aber der Flugverkehr. Der Anchorage International Airport war bis in die 1990er Jahre ein obligater Zwischenstopp zum Auftanken bei Flugreisen von Europa nach Asien, weil man damals die Sowjetunion nicht überfliegen durfte/wollte.

      Zwei weitere Flugplätze sind ebenso bemerkenswert: Vom Merrill Field Airport heben im Sommer jeden Tag rund 800 Kleinflugzeuge ab, und der Parkplatz, wo diese Flugzeuge abgestellt sind, ist schier unüberblickbar. Der dritte Flugplatz ist der Lake Hood, von wo aus auch jeden Tag 440 Flugzeuge starten, was diesen See zum frequentiertesten Wasserflugplatz der Welt macht. All dies ist nicht erstaunlich, befinden sich doch in Alaska rund 20% aller Kleinflugzeuge der Welt, und jeder 40. Einwohnende besitzt hier einen Pilotenschein.

      Anchorage selbst ist nicht aufregend: eine schachbrettartig angelegte Stadt mit ein paar wenigen Hochbauten, dies ausnahmslos Hotels. Darunter gibt es immerhin ein paar schöne Art déco-Bauten aus der Gründerzeit.
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    • Day 8

      Anchorage II

      July 8, 2019 in the United States ⋅ ☀️ 23 °C

      Im Alaska Native Heritage Center, eine Art Alaska-Ballenberg, bekommt man einen guten Eindruck über die Lebensweise und das Brauchtum in den verschiedenen alaskischen indigenen Regionen. Die abgebildete Frau gehört den Yupik an, der Stammesgruppe im Westen Alaskas.

      Und im Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center konnten wir ihm endlich auf Augenhöhe begegnen: dem Braunbär.

      Zum Schluss ging es mit einer Schweizer Gondelbahn halbwegs auf den Alyeska Peak, dem Skiberg Alaskas schlechthin.

      Und nun: goodbye Anchorage. Morgen geht‘s, wiederum mit dem Zug, nach Seward.
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    • Day 11


      June 4, 2018 in the United States ⋅ 🌙 8 °C

      This land part of the trip is not as efficient as the cruise. The speakers on the bus didn't work well yesterday, the toilets were closed on the first wee stop as they couldn't be pumped out until the spring thaw (best not to dwell on that one!) and the driver can't handle our surname so tends to pass over us on role call! The hotel is lovely but the front desk seems to make up any information they don't know, when we asked about using the bikes they told us the rental shop was open 10 am - 6 pm, in reality it is open 8 am - 8 pm! Also there was a 20 minute wait to be seated for breakfast in the dining room so we opted for the Star Bucks cafe. Our co-travellers (using the US term) are not very tolerant of poor service and are getting their dollars out of their pockets less than usual for tipping.

      We collected our cruiser bikes and set off along the bike path, passed Moose Meadow (unfortunately no moose spotted yet) into the 'town' of Girdwood. Another very small, rural town which hasn't changed in years. We went into a little cafe and observed the locals, everyone seemed on 1st name terms and we were definitely the only tourists present. There is a much higher percentage of native origin people here than in other parts of the US but 'out of season' life must be tough up here with heavy snow falls, very little day light and limited supplies etc. so only the real Alaskans are up to the challenge.

      We boarded the bus and sampled true Alaskan weather for the first time, it started to rain. Our driver had mended the PA system which proved to be a bit of a mixed blessing! He told us some bears had been scratching at the bus during the night. We only had a short journey to our first stop at Portage Glacier where we went on a boat ride out to see the glacier. One of the crew spotted a bear so we stopped to watch him on the hillside. All the bears are quite thin this time of year and very hungry as they have just come out of their winter hibernation. We had a quick food break at the visitors centre then went onto the Alaskan Wild Life Conservation Centre where injured animals are looked after. We saw black and brown bears, moose, elks, reindeer, wolves and a porcupine.

      Our journey took us along Turnagain Arm. Captain Cook was trying to find a north west trading passage and when he reached this area he kept having to turn again as there was no route through. Cook never returned to England as he was killed in Hawaii. George Vancouver was on Cook's expedition and when he returned to this area he named the bay Cook Inlet. This area has one of the biggest bore tides in the world reaching up to 10 feet.

      We arrived in Anchorage around 6 pm, it is definitely the biggest city we have seen with some smart residential areas, a few skyscrapers, parks and some shopping malls. It felt a bit like when we were in New Zealand and we arrived in Wellington and suddenly there were modern malls and shops instead of the original style settler buildings. Anchorage also is surrounded by mountains (and active volcanos!) as well as being an earthquake zone!

      We had a quick supper then went on the trolley bus tour. Like many other towns Gold played a part in the first settlers coming here, followed by the construction of the rail road, then the military were posted here and finally the discovery of oil caused another influx of people. In 1964 Anchorage was hit by a 9.2 earthquake which lasted over 4 minutes and land dropped by several feet in parts of the town. A significant rebuilding programme was required. Our tour guide pointed out where the earthquake hit, we visited Earthquake park where houses were buried. We saw the old railway station, Captain Cook's statue, the meadow area where the urban moose are often seen, the lake where the floatplanes take off and the land planes runway which crosses the road!
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    You might also know this place by the following names:

    Anchorage, أنكوريج, Ankoric, Горад Анкорыдж, Анкъридж, অ্যাংকারিজ, আন্চোরগে ব্যুরো, Анкоридж, Ανκορέιτζ, انکوریج, אנקורג, एंकोरेज, Անքորեջ շրջան, ANC, Kisaġvik, アンカレッジ, ანკორიჯი, 앵커리지, Ancoraria, Ankoridžas, Ankoridža, Енкориџ, ആങ്കറേജ്, अँकरेज, 99501, ஏங்கரெஜ், اینکرایج، الاسکا, Ankorij, Ankoridž, 安克拉治

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