Sault Ste. Marie on Day 3

With a takeaway decaf coffee from Robin’s Donuts in hand, we left Villa Bianca Inn early in the morning on day 3 of our Great Lakes Road Trip 2017. We weren’t driving far but I was anxious to depart our 2.5-star accommodations. Our goal for the day was to reach Sault Ste. Marie, a mere 308 miles away, but who knew what adventures we might find along the way?

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Our first stop at Aguasabon River Gorge, where we discovered our third waterfall in as many days, convinced us this trip would be as much about waterfalls as it was about the Great Lakes. We would soon also add lighthouses to our list of highlights.


Aguasabon Falls and Gorge

The walk to the viewing platform provided us with gorgeous views of autumn color just beginning to appear. The walkway is wheelchair accessible to allow people with mobility issues to enjoy this beautiful place, too.


Walkway to Aguasabon Falls and Gorge

The Trans-Canada Highway, Provincial Hwy 17, offers stunning panoramas of Lake Superior along this stretch from Schreiber to Sault Ste. Marie. We didn’t pull over at every opportunity but we looked forward to every spectacular view like the one below.


View of Lake Superior

At our next stop at Old Woman Bay in Lake Superior Provincial Park, I tried a panorama photo to capture the size of this bay with limited success. I’ll have to practice this feature on my iPhone more to achieve mastery.


Old Woman Bay

As Jim drove on, I read in my AAA Ontario Tour Book about the Agawa Canyon Tour Train which departs from Sault Ste. Marie to tour this area. They strongly recommended advance reservations so I called on my smartphone to reserve for the following day. At $1 per minute through AT&T while traveling internationally, I was anxiously watching the minutes fly by as I sat on hold. I finally reached a customer service person and provided all the required information and then the call failed. I called back to discover I had to repeat all the information I had previously provided. I figured our tickets cost about $12 extra for the phone call, but we finally had a reservation for the following morning.

We arrived in Sault Ste. Marie around 3 pm and found a Holiday Inn Express right downtown across the street from the mall and close to St. Mary’s River Boardwalk. We immediately loved this hotel and planned to stay for two nights. The customer service was terrific and because we had to wait briefly for a room, they gave us an upgrade to a suite.




Kitchenette through the doorway

The Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site was within walking distance from our hotel and we had plenty of time to explore St. Mary’s River Boardwalk and the locks before dusk. The boardwalk is a mile long scenic walkway following the river and leading to the historic site.


St. Mary’s River Boardwalk

Built in 1895 to connect Lake Huron to Lake Superior, the Sault Ste. Marie Canal completed an all Canadian waterway from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean.  The Canadian canal became necessary when a ship transporting British troops was denied passage on the US side. When opened, it was the world’s longest lock and the first to operate by use of electricity which incidentally was generated on-site. Today, the world’s only remaining swing bridge dam is located here. The swing bridge dam is located upstream and can be deployed to protect the lock in the event of an accident. It was used once and worked successfully.

The visitor’s center is currently in a temporary building and while it was nearly closing time, the Park ranger stayed and visited with us, providing a wealth of information. She was obviously very knowledgeable and engaged in her position.


The old Administration Building at Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site


The lock at Sault Ste. Marie Canal National Historic Site


The Canadian lock with the International Bridge linking Canada and the US

Today the lock is used primarily for recreational craft. I remember visiting the canal with my family as a kid in the 60’s. At the time, I didn’t understand why the adults were so interested in the lock but today I understand their enthusiasm. It really is an engineering marvel.

Following our visit to the canal, I asked the staff at our hotel where I could get local fish for dinner and was directed just down the street to Gliss Steak and Seafood. After sub-standard meals the previous two nights, we felt we’d finally hit pay dirt. We were both satisfied with our choices.


First course: Greek salad for me and garden salad for Jim


Prime rib and Yorkshire pudding with sweet potato fries


Local white fish with sweet potato fries and veggies



Day 3 successfully completed

Satisfied with day 3, we looked forward to the Agawa Canyon Tour Train tour the following morning. Come back to see and hear all about it.



Based on events from September 2017.




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Silver Bay to Schreiber, Day 2 of GLRT 2017

We drove just 302 miles from Silver Bay, Minnesota to Schreiber, Ontario, on day 2 of our Great Lakes Road Trip 2017 but we saw some amazing sights along the way and we missed a few, too. We like to get an early start and after a complimentary breakfast at the hotel, we hit the road but soon thereafter made a brief stop at mile 78 on Hwy 61 at Father Baraga’s Cross.  Here the Slovenian priest erected a cross to offer thanks to God for his survival in 1846 when his small boat was blown ashore during a terrible storm on Lake Superior. He had dedicated his life to minister to the Ojibwe Native Americans and came to this area to offer assistance when he heard of a possible epidemic.


Father Baraga’s Cross


Early morning view of Lake Superior near Father Baraga’s Cross

Nearby Grand Marais, Minnesota, is a popular tourist town on the North Shore and one of my personal favorites. In fact, I would love to spend a week here as a base to explore the Gunflint Trail and Isle Royale National Park, two places we have skipped previously and missed again on this trip. We spent an enjoyable hour or so in Grand Marais, however, walking out to the lighthouse along the breakwater.


Lake Superior from Grand Marais with lighthouse on the breakwater


Grand Marais Light


Grand Marais Light on the breakwater

It was here we learned that each lighthouse is unique both in design and signal to ensure that sailors don’t get confused and lost by lighthouses looking alike.

Check out the Bear Tree on the photo below. This sculpture was dedicated to the town of Grand Marais and depicts two bear cubs whose mother has ordered them up a tree to stay until the danger below has passed.


Grand Marais with Bear Tree on the right


Closeup of the Bear Tree

We haven’t visited Grand Portage National Monument previously but for a couple of history nerds, this was one of many highlights of our trip.



Grand Portage National Monument overlooking Lake Superior

The Heritage Center is a modern building full of creative and informative exhibits.



Heritage Center at Grand Portage National Monument



View of Lake Superior from Heritage Center


But the outdoor exhibits and the Park Ranger interpretive walk really brought this monument to life. Grand Portage was the home of the Ojibwe Indians and the tour begins with a reconstructed village. The Ojibwe women built the lodges using a wood frame covered by bark. A fire burned in the center of the lodge in winter.


Our guide explaining the Ojibwe lodge


Interior of lodge

After the British defeated the French in 1763 in the French and Indian War, British traders flocked to the area and trading companies sprang up. Based in Montreal, the Northwest Company was established in 1784 and operated the largest fur trading post at the Grand Portage Depot. Here fur traders would bring their pelts and trade for goods transported along the Great Lakes. The depot fell into ruin after the American Revolution when the British company moved buildings and all to Fort William near present-day Thunder Bay, Ontario but the reconstructed depot is archeologically accurate.


The Warehouse


Supplies that were packed on a single canoe from Montreal


Entrance to the Buildings Complex


The Great Hall


Pelts in the Great Hall


Birchbark Canoe


The Great Hall


Outside the Buildings Complex

Grand Portage is near the border to Canada and for many years my family traveled to nearby Come By Chance Resort on Whitefish Lake for an annual fishing trip. Jim wanted to stop by and see the place and relive some great memories.


Turn to Come By Chance


Cabins at Come By Chance


Dock at Come By Chance on Whitefish Lake, Ontario

One year I went along with Jim and our kids on the fishing trip and we also visited Kakabeka Falls so we thought a stop there would be fun for old time’s sake. I was surprised to see the sign.


Entrance to Kakabeka Falls

We thought the falls were created during the last glacial period. (Just kidding. The park was established 60 years ago.) Incidentally, these falls are nicknamed the Niagra of the North and for good reason. They are truly impressive and the extensive accessible walkways allow visitors to enjoy the falls from both sides.


Kakabeka Falls, Ontario


Kakabeka Falls, Ontario

We thought we’d spend the night in Thunder Bay but somehow we missed it and we have a semi-rule about continuing on rather than going back. When we found no hotels along our route we thought surely something would appear further along. I was getting nervous, however, seeing these signs as evening approached.


We stopped at a restaurant blaring hard rock music with rooms to rent above and inquired about hotels further up the road. The young lady assured us we’d find plenty in Nipigon so we drove on. When we reached Nipigon, we found no vacancy anywhere due to all the road construction workers who had rented every room. One kindly inn-keeper offered to call and reserve a room for us in Schreiber, an hour away. We, naturally, agreed. When he told us we had a room at Villa Bianca which we would recognize by the gas pumps out front, I was skeptical but what choice did we have with night danger lurking on the road?

We finally arrived in darkness and regardless of my impressions, we were staying the night. We inquired about restaurants to discover we were limited to the three counters side by side at Bianca Villa selling Pizza Hut, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Robin’s Donuts. No wine either. This gluten-free girl settled for pizza and beer. Desperate times call for desperate measures.



Fine dining in Schreiber, Ontario



The next morning at Villa Bianca

These are the chances you take when you don’t plan ahead but all in all, it could have been much worse. We didn’t hit a moose and we didn’t have to sleep in the car.

Come back for Day 3 and more adventures on the Great Lakes Road Trip 2017.























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Great Lakes Road Trip 2017

We like to take a road trip in the fall. The kids are back in school so there are fewer tourists competing for views, roads, hotels, etc. The weather is usually pleasant. We try to plan our trip around our anniversary in September but we also have to work around home football games at Iowa State where we’ve held season tickets for over 30 years. We had planned to circle the Great Lakes in late September 2016 but when a good deal on a river cruise in France came up, we canceled the Great Lakes trip. We rescheduled the Great Lakes for 2017 when we had a 2-week window of opportunity in September.

I’m normally a careful trip planner but frankly, very little advance planning went into this trip. Here’s what we knew: we would begin by heading north to Duluth; we wanted to see all five Great Lakes; we wanted to drive along the lakes whenever possible; we wanted to stop at Jim’s former fishing spot in Canada and visit Niagra Falls and Mackinac Island; we wanted to avoid Toronto having read about the traffic; we also wanted to avoid Chicago traffic. Beyond those parameters, we had no plan. We weren’t sure how far we would travel each day or how many stops we’d make so we didn’t want to reserve lodging ahead and we had not even plotted the route.

With maps, AAA Tour Books, and my smartphone, we planned as we went. We didn’t use my phone for the internet while driving in Canada, however, because data charges through my provider are high. (We did have wifi in hotels at night.) While Jim drove, we watched signs and I studied the AAA books or internet to find places of interest and we stopped at anything that struck our fancy. When we were tired or just felt like stopping, we found a hotel for the night.

How did it turn out? We visited the places on our list, we discovered some amazing places, and we missed a few due to lack of advance planning. We saw all five Great Lakes, we have a new appreciation for them, and we definitely want to return to some areas for further exploration. We got off the beaten path and drove a lot of two-lane roads with little traffic, beautiful views, and road construction. One night we did have a problem finding lodging but we’d brought an air mattress and sleeping bag in case we had to sleep in the car and didn’t use them in the end. Not having internet access in the car while in Canada was a mistake I’ll not repeat. We have these and many more stories to tell about our experience so watch this space.

Would we do it again? Absolutely! The sense of adventure and freedom it gave us was priceless.



Embarking on our road trip


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Our route




Based on events from September 2017.



Categories: Canada, Travel, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , | 3 Comments

All Aboard in Skagway, Alaska

The White Pass Scenic Railway is Holland America’s most popular excursion in Alaska and it was the one I was most keen to take. It’s also one of the few excursions that costs essentially the same price whether you book through the cruise line or privately, so I booked through HAL. (Otherwise, I often book privately to save money.) Passengers board the train just steps from where the ships dock in Skagway in front of the graffiti wall where cruise ships have recorded their maiden voyage to this port since 1917. A three hour roundtrip ride to the summit of White Pass is fully narrated while you climb to 2865 feet of elevation in just 20 miles.


View of the train and graffiti wall from our verandah on the Oosterdam

The railroad was a direct result of the Klondike gold rush. When gold was discovered in 1896 at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers in northwestern Canada, stampeders flocked to Skagway and nearby Dyea by the boatload. But the trip from there to the gold fields was long and arduous. The route from Dyea, along the Chilkoot Trail, was shorter but the Golden Stairs, a 1,000 foot vertical climb in a quarter mile, was a definite drawback. The White Pass Trail starting at Skagway was 10 miles longer but less steep. When prospectors factored in the transport of a ton of supplies to last a year as required by the Canadian government, the White Pass Trail was the preferred route. Skagway became the Gateway to the Klondike.


Display of 1 ton of supplies required by the Canadian government for each prospector to ensure their survival at the gold fields

Although the White Pass Trail was somewhat less treacherous, it was not without danger and hardship. The trail became a muddy quagmire resulting in the deaths of 3,000 horses and the nickname of Dead Horse Trail. The 21 year old then unknown writer, Jack London, who sailed to Skagway in 1897 penned, “The horses died like mosquitoes in the first frost, and from Skagway to Bennett they rotted in heaps.”

Building a railroad was the logical solution to move men and supplies to the gold fields and this capitalist venture commenced in 1898. The project was a remarkable engineering achievement. A narrow gauge track was employed due to the tight curves required by the terrain as well as plenty of steep grades, tunnels, and trestles. The project was completed in 1899 at a cost of $10 million with the construction efforts of 35,000 men.

In 1994, the White Pass and Yukon Railroad received the designation of International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, an honor shared by the Panama Canal and the Eiffel Tower.


Conductor on the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad



Looking back to Skagway from Inspiration Point to see the cruise ships in the harbor


View of the Skagway River from the train


Another view of the Skagway River from the train


Views from the train


View of the terrain and the train


View of one of the tunnels from the train


View from the train


White Pass Summit, official border between U.S. and Canada


White Pass Summit, mile 20.4, elevation 2888 ft.


The old trestle that has been replaced


Jim reading and Sheryl enjoying the view from the train

After our train ride, we explored the restored gold rush town of Skagway, Alaska. By 1897, after gold was discovered in the Klondike, the population swelled to about 20,000 but today there are only around 850 year-round residents.


Restored gold rush town of Skagway, Alaska

We especially enjoyed Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park which is integrated into the town with information and historical displays in several buildings. The photo above of the 1 ton of goods is one such display. There were also many photographs from the time period and lots of explanatory material. It was a history lover’s gold mine of information.

All that history can bring on a powerful thirst and a good place to quench it is the Red Onion Saloon. When it first opened in 1898, the Red Onion served alcohol on the main floor with a brothel above. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Landmarks and a popular site in Skagway. We stuck to the main floor but for $10 a madam will talk dirty to you (in a guided tour of the brothel museum.)


Red Onion Saloon


Our server at the Red Onion Saloon

After a fun-filled day on the train and exploring Skagway, it was back to the Oosterdam in time for our departure.



Based on events of June 2015.


Categories: Canada, cruise, History, Uncategorized, USA | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Leaving Vancouver

Before leaving Vancouver, I’d like to share just a couple more places that we found worthwhile.

We walked through Gastown, which has been restored and today is a popular neighborhood frequented by tourists. You may recall from an earlier post about Vancouver that Gastown was the original town that preceded and was replaced by Vancouver. I read about the Gastown Steam Clock and mistakenly thought it was original to Victorian Gastown. It was actually built and installed in 1977 by Raymond L. Saunders as part of the revival of the neighborhood. In reality, the clock isn’t totally steam-powered; it also employs gravity and electricity to operate the weights. The sign on-site explains that “the live steam winds the weights and blows the whistles.” It is nevertheless, a favorite among tourists and one of those “can’t miss” attractions.

Gastown Steam Clock, Vancouver

Gastown Steam Clock, Vancouver

In nearby Chinatown, we visited the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, a tranquil oasis in the middle of this large, bustling, cosmopolitan city. The garden consists of a free park and the garden that charges admission. We visited the free park.

Chinatown, Vancouver

Chinatown, Vancouver

The entrance to the garden that charges $12 admission is located next to the sign shown in the picture below.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Entrance to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Continue past the first entrance to find the entrance to the free park behind the statue of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen in the plaza.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen

The entrance to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park is behind this statue

The park provided us with a lovely serene respite with lots of bamboo plants and ponds with koi and turtles.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

The signs of the Chinese zodiac were embedded in the surface of the plaza and we each found our sign based on our birth year. I was born in the year of the snake. Those born in the year of the snake are (supposedly): intelligent and wise, good communicators, deep thinkers, easily stressed by a noisy environment, needing lots of time and vacation for relaxation. Hmmm, good to know.

Chinese Zodiac at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Chinese Zodiac at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden

Food is such an important and memorable aspect of any trip for me that I have to share our dining experiences and a few food recommendations. First of all, let me say that our breakfasts at the Barclay House were lovely and they were so kind to accommodate my gluten free diet.

Breakfast at Barclay House

Breakfast at Barclay House

While exploring the waterfront near the convention center, we discovered hapa izakaya. (They use lower case letters so I did, too.) The sushi and the torched hamachi and scallops were in a word, outstanding. Our server explained that patrons generally share plates so we followed suit, getting to taste and enjoy more dishes.

Dinner at hapa izakaya

hapa izakaya

Over breakfast at our B&B, one of the other guests told us about a nearby Greek restaurant, Stepho’s Souvlaki Greek Taverna. We thought we’d check it out and, as luck would have it, we happened to spot the restaurant by chance when we were beginning to feel a bit peckish.

Stepho's Souvlaki and Greek Taverna

Stepho’s Souvlaki and Greek Taverna

Restaurants in a city are usually quite expensive, but the prices at Stepho’s were reasonable and the portions were generous. We started with a favorite of mine, saganaki, a Greek appetizer of fried cheese.

Saganaki at Stepho's

Saganaki at Stepho’s

Sheryl and I each ordered the two skewer option of souvlaki so that we could trade and try both the lamb and the prawns.  Jim got the house specialty which was the roast lamb that came with an extra side of vegetables in tomato sauce. We all agreed our food and the house wine were good. When I return to Vancouver, I will definitely return to Stepho’s.

Prawn Souvlaki

Prawn Souvlaki with Greek salad, rice pilaf, and roast potato

Lamb Souvlaki

Lamb Souvlaki with Greek salad, rice pilaf, and roast potato

Roast Lamb

Roast Lamb, Greek salad, rice pilaf, roast potato, vege briami

Japadog is a Vancouver original and an institution in the city. Started by immigrants from Japan, this couple began with an idea for a hotdog stand with a distinctively Japanese flair, hence they named it Japadog. I read about it online and we were determined to find it and give it a try. Although we were looking for a food cart along the street, it turned out they’ve expanded several times and while there are still food carts in various places, there is now an actual storefront at 530 Robson Street.


Jim and Sheryl at Japadog

You can see on the sign below several of the best sellers were sold out so we had fewer choices. At first, I resisted the original best seller, Terimayo, because it contained seaweed but in the end, I wanted an authentic experience so I ordered it. (Well, I requested no bun since I’m gluten free which caused raised eyebrows and may have also affected the “authenticity.”) While I heartily dislike seaweed alone, the taste of the seaweed strips on top of the hotdog combined with the teriyaki mayo was actually very yummy.

Menu at Japadog

Menu at Japadog

Terimayo Japadog, no bun

My Terimayo Japadog, no bun


Japadog combo with fries and drink

I’m sure there are many more interesting places to go, things to see, and food to eat in Vancouver, but I think we covered a good bit of ground in less than two days. It’s a great city.

Based on events of June 2015

Categories: Canada, Food, Travel, Vancouver | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Cruising Through Stanley Park

Vancouver’s premier park bordering the downtown area was established in 1888 and has attracted residents and tourists ever since. When I first visited Stanley Park in 2010, we walked for hours through the park. There are many other ways to enjoy this 1000 acre park, including by car, bus, trolley, horse-drawn carriage and even by roller blades but this time, we rented bikes. There are several bike shops directly outside the entrance to the park and miles and miles of bike trails within the park to explore. We rented one-speed cruisers with helmets and a map from Spokes. Sheryl and I selected bikes with front baskets to hold our backpacks and we each had a bike lock for parking the bikes, but we didn’t use them. In retrospect, Jim thought we should have rented bikes with more speeds because he had a hard time with the old-style coaster brakes in place of hand brakes. When he tried to stop, all he accomplished was ringing the bell which happened quite often. Frankly, the wide comfy seat on the cruiser and the low price tag dictated my choice.

Sheryl and Jim with their cruisers in Stanley Park

Sheryl and Jim with their cruisers in Stanley Park

Because our time was limited, we rode along the Seawall, the main route around the perimeter of the park, but we saw a lot in just a couple of hours. The Seawall is 8.8 km and then with the distance to and from Spokes, we probably rode about 11 km or almost 7 miles.  It was the perfect distance on a perfectly glorious day.

Our first stop at the First Nations totem poles is the most visited tourist attraction in all of British Columbia. Totem poles carved from red cedar trees are unique to the Pacific Northwest and a must-see on any trip to British Columbia or Alaska. They are not idols for worship, as once thought, but rather storyboards with recurring themes. The eagle represents the air, the whale represents the sea, the wolf stands for the land, and the frog links the land and the sea.

Totem Poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver

Totem Poles in Stanley Park, Vancouver

I love lighthouses and Brockton Point Lighthouse is a charmer. Built as a replacement in 1914 with an automatic light, it’s one of the well-known landmarks in the park. It’s small, almost dainty, but I’m sure the light does its job welcoming ships into the inlet and warning them where the land begins.

Brockton Point Lighthouse in Stanley Park, Vancouver

Brockton Point Lighthouse in Stanley Park, Vancouver

Our next stop was to get a photo of the inlet with a view of iconic Lion’s Gate Bridge in the background. This suspension bridge connects Vancouver to North Vancouver along a major artery through the city.

View from Stanley Park

View from Stanley Park of Lion’s Gate Bridge

Nearby, the sculpture Girl in a Wetsuit perches on a rock. Designed to represent Vancouver’s dependence on the sea, she’s been sitting in the same spot since 1972 when the sculptor, Elek Imredy, gifted her to the city.

Statue of Girl in a Wetsuit in Stanley Park

Statue of Girl in a Wetsuit in Stanley Park

The Empress of Japan Figurehead is a pleasant resting place with benches and great scenic views. The masthead graced the container ship RMS Empress of Japan until the ship was scrapped and the masthead was rescued, restored, and displayed in Stanley Park in 1927. This figurehead is actually a replica; the original is on display in the Vancouver Maritime Museum.

Empress of Japan Figurehead in Stanley Park

Empress of Japan Figurehead in Stanley Park

The day was warm with bright blue skies and every view was photo worthy. We stopped often for views and photos and while others joined us along the Seawall route, it was never uncomfortably crowded.

Seawall, Stanley Park

View from the Seawall, Stanley Park

We had been advised by our host at the B&B that on warm sunny days, everyone in Vancouver stops what they’re doing, strips off their clothes, and heads to the beach. Sure enough, the jumble of bikes and sunbathers at the Third Beach confirmed his warning.

Third Beach in Stanley Park, Vancouver

Third Beach in Stanley Park, Vancouver

When we spotted cairns built all over this rocky bit of shore, we couldn’t resist a photo. Since these cairns clearly weren’t here to mark a trail, I assume they are a bit of art created by passersby to announce “I was here, but I won’t permanently affect the environment.”

Cairns along the Seawall in Stanley Park

Cairns along the Seawall in Stanley Park

And further along the Seawall at Second Beach, there’s even a swimming pool.

Pool at Second Beach, Stanley Park

Pool at Second Beach, Stanley Park

There is so much more we didn’t have time to see or do in Stanley Park. The Vancouver Aquarium, located in the park, is Canada’s largest with over 70,000 creatures. Several restaurants located inside the park provide varied dining venues. Many more trails, lakes, and even a miniature railroad offer additional experiences to the visitor.

But what we enjoyed most were the scenic views all around us while riding on our cruisers.

Seawall, Stanley Park, Vancouver

View from the Seawall, Stanley Park, Vancouver

Based on events in June 2015.

Categories: Canada, cruise, History, Travel, Vancouver | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Capilano: It’s All About the Bridge

All my life I’ve been afraid of heights.  Never one to give in to my fears, however, I’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building, the Eiffel Tower, the St. Louis Arch and the Washington Monument. I’ve looked into the abyss at the Grand Canyon, the Royal Gorge, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and the Black Canyon of the Gunnison. With a feeling of dread, I’ve climbed ladders into the sky to paint our house and watched my children hopping and cavorting around the roof of our two-story home with my husband. Honestly, I disliked each and every experience and many more that I’ve either forgotten or omitted. So why is my number 1 favorite attraction in Vancouver the Capilano Suspension Bridge? Simply because I conquered it and I felt fearless.

The first bridge across the Capilano River was constructed by the owner, George Mackay, in 1888 from cedar planks and hemp rope to connect his land on either side of the canyon. It soon became a popular destination for locals and while the bridge and the land have changed hands a number of times, its popularity hasn’t diminished over the years. The bridge is 459 ft long and 230 feet above the Capilano River. It shivers and shakes as you walk across it and many of the visitors do, too.

I found out about this bridge purely by happenstance. I received an email from a travel site about a suspension bridge north of Vancouver a month or so before our trip which I forwarded to Sheryl, who was traveling with us.  I forgot the name of the bridge and when we got to Vancouver, I mistakenly thought it was Capilano when it was actually Lynn Canyon. It turns out Lynn Canyon Suspension Bridge is free but considerably smaller so I think this mistake actually worked in our favor.

We noticed a number of tourists had purchased package deals from tour company operators for transportation and the entrance fee, but that’s not necessary. There’s a free shuttle to Capilano from various points around the city and you can find the schedule on their website here. Then when you arrive at the park, you purchase your tickets. At $37.95 for adults, $34.95 for seniors, $24.95 for youth 13-16, and $12 for children 6-12, admission is, admittedly, somewhat pricey but we had an AAA discount and you can find discount coupons online, too.

Immediately inside the park, we enjoyed the history presentation by storytellers in period costume to set the stage before our first view of the bridge.

Storyteller sharing the history of the bridge

Storyteller sharing the history of the bridge

Then we saw this.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Capilano Suspension Bridge

And this.

Capilano Suspension Bridge above Capilano River

Capilano Suspension Bridge above Capilano River

Capilano Suspension Bridge

Capilano Suspension Bridge

In addition to the bridge, there are a number of other experiences and educational opportunities. Naturalists are on hand with educational programs about the flora and fauna in the rainforest and you can schedule guided walks with a naturalist.

Douglas Fir

1300 Year Old Douglas Fir

Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron

Great Horned Owl

Great Horned Owl

Treetops Adventure is a treehouse with a series of suspended walkways between trees that has particular appeal for children.

Treetop Adventure

Treetops Adventure

Treetop Adventure

Treetops Adventure

The presenters at the Kia’Palano exhibit told us about the First Nations people who created the totem poles which are actually storyboards. I was particularly interested in the totem to the right in the photo below. This iconic totem pole was actually created by the Canadian government after passing the Indian Act which banned the First Nation’s culture. The totem contains only symbols approved by the government and the resulting pole was actually an insult to the First Nation.

Totem Poles at Capilano

Totem Poles at Capilano

Cliffwalk, which opened in 2011, is a walkway along the canyon, high above the river affording stunning views.





Waterfall from Cliffwalk

Waterfall from Cliffwalk

I enjoyed all the activities, spectacular views, and educational information but in the end, for me, it was all about the bridge.

Based on events in June 2015.

Categories: Canada, History, Travel, Vancouver | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Less than 2 Days in Vancouver, BC

Vancouver, B.C, is the largest city in western Canada with a population over 600,000 and 2.4 million in the metro area. Incorporated in 1886, it replaced and absorbed Gastown which was established years earlier when “Gassy Jack” opened the first saloon in 1867. I first visited in 2010 on a girlfriends trip to Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver, but we didn’t really explore Vancouver except for a long walk through Stanley Park. This time I was determined to see as much as possible in less than 2 days. We wanted to stay downtown within walking distance of the cruise-ship terminal and the city attractions. You don’t really know whether you found the perfect place until you get there, but this Victorian mansion on a shady residential street in the middle of the city hit the mark.  Our B&B, the Barclay House, in the West End neighborhood was close enough to the sights to walk almost everywhere. That said, we noticed that no matter which direction we walked, it seemed to be uphill both ways.

You can orient yourself by the map below. Our B&B was in the West End just south of Stanley Park and west of Coal Harbour. We easily walked (uphill) to Coal Harbour, Downtown, Stanley Park, Gastown, and Chinatown and back (uphill).

Vancouver Neighborhoods

Vancouver Neighborhoods

Sheryl arrived first and explored the area so when Jim and I got there she led us directly over to Coal Harbour Walkway. Coal Harbour was originally an industrial area that has been transformed into an upscale neighborhood with many high-rise condos, a marina, plenty of green space, shops, restaurants, and a lovely walkway along the waterfront stretching from Stanley Park to Gastown.

Coal Harbor Walkway along the Marina

Coal Harbor Walkway

I was surprised to see a little house on stilts in the middle of the walkway. The local artist, Liz Magor, created and gifted the sculpture, LightShed, to the city in 2004. It’s similar to the sheds that lined the harbor years ago where fisherman repaired their boats.

Lightship by Liz Magor

LightShed by Liz Magor erected in 2004 along Coal Harbour Walkway

We watched seaplanes take off and land loaded with tourists seeing the sights from the air.

Coal Harbor

View of seaplane from Coal Harbor Walkway

Keeping our feet firmly on the ground, we ambled as far as the Vancouver Convention Center and Canada Place, reading signs about the history of the area along the way. Outside the Convention Center, the Olympic Cauldron on Jack Poole Plaza is a permanent reminder of the 2010 Olympics held in Vancouver. It’s still lit on special occasions today.

Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza

Olympic Cauldron at Jack Poole Plaza

From there it was back to the Empire Landmark Hotel located within a couple blocks of our B&B for a nightcap while we enjoyed the 360 degrees panorama of Vancouver from Cloud Nine, the revolving restaurant on the 42nd floor. Cloud Nine welcomed us graciously when we explained we just wanted to enjoy a drink and the view.

Downtown Vancouver

High rise buildings in downtown Vancouver

Cloud Nine revolving restaurant atop Landmark Empire Hotel

Cloud Nine revolving restaurant atop Landmark Empire Hotel

Nightcap at Cloud Nine

Nightcap at Cloud Nine

View from Cloud Nine

View from Cloud Nine

Sunset from Cloud Nine

Sunset from Cloud Nine

City View from Cloud Nine

City View from Cloud Nine

This was probably my husband’s number 1 favorite sight in all of Vancouver. (Next time I’ll share my favorite sight.) The full rotation took about 1.25 hours while we enjoyed the view in every direction. What a relaxing way to end a day of travel and sightseeing and orient ourselves to the City of Glass with the mountains in the background.

Based on events of June 2015.

Categories: Canada, cruise, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

North to Alaska 2015

I’ve known since 2012 it was time to go to Alaska. That was the year Jim and I went to Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine bringing to 49 our total states visited. Prior to that, my state total was 46 and Jim’s was 43. Honestly, Alaska was never really on my short list but when it’s the only state in the U.S. you haven’t visited, it’s time to make a plan.

I sent for the Alaska Official State Vacation Planner at to begin my research. The sample itineraries in the planner were invaluable for narrowing the options. Many friends cited their Alaskan cruise as their best trip ever so I began exploring cruises. Most itineraries depart from Seattle or Vancouver and typically include the inside passage. A cruise seemed like a pretty efficient way to start to see our largest state but frankly, it looked like we’d barely scratch the surface of this vast area. That realization caused me to look at a combination cruise and land tour. The cruise tour would add a land trip by coach and train to Denali National Park with possible views of Mt. Denali, aka McKinley, the highest peak in North America.

Recommendations and research led me to Holland America, the largest tour operator in Alaska. I knew I wanted to go in June and I wanted to get the best price for a stateroom with a verandah on the starboard side, hoping to spot wildlife as we cruised north. I didn’t have a preference for a particular ship or whether the land portion was before or after the cruise, but I did prefer a cruise starting or ending in Vancouver. We’ve never cruised Holland America before but Norwegian, my usual cruise operator, couldn’t beat their price so I booked with HAL.

Holland America

Holland America Cruise Line Logo

Our original price was just short of $2500 per person but then a friend, Sheryl, decided to go with us so with three in the cabin the price went down to $2035 each.  Then the closer we got to our departure date, the more emails HAL sent us offering upgrades and the lower the cost was for the upgrade. With three in our cabin, we decided to spring for the suite upgrade for an additional $100 each which gave us considerable extra space both in the cabin and on our verandah plus two sinks and a whirlpool tub in the biggest bathroom I’ve ever seen on a cruise ship. The total for the three of us for the 11 Day Double Denali which included the 7 day cruise, coach to Denali, 2 nights lodging in Denali, tour of Denali, domed rail trip to Anchorage, and one night of lodging in Anchorage was $6400 or about $194 per person per day. I tell you this for reference purposes in case you want to go to Alaska. I do believe I got the best deal available at the time.

Here’s our itinerary from HAL’s website:

Day/ Port
1 Vancouver
Sail from Vancouver, glide under Lion’s Gate Bridge, and enter the scenic wonders of the Inside Passage
2 At Sea
Relax and enjoy a full day of scenic Inside Passage cruising and immerse yourself in Holland America Line elegance
3 Ketchikan
Explore this uniquely Alaskan port, famous for its rich native culture, salmon fishing, and scenic Misty Fjords
4 Juneau
Enjoy a full day of exploring Alaska’s capital-choose from exciting shore excursions and still have time to shop
5 Skagway
Step back to the days of the last great gold rush-choose from exciting shore excursions and still have time to shop
6 Glacier Bay
Cruise the ice-studded fjords of this national treasure for a full eight hours as a Park Service Ranger narrates
7 At Sea (Gulf of Alaska)
Enjoy a leisurely day of cruising
8 Denali National Park
Disembark and enjoy deluxe motorcoach sightseeing to Denali National Park for a two-night stay at this majestic national treasure (lunch included)
9 Denali National Park
Venture deep into Denali on the Tundra Wilderness Tour (snack included), the best way to see wildlife and hopefully Mt. McKinley too
10 Anchorage
This morning, board the luxurious domed rail cars of the McKinley Explorer bound for Anchorage
11 Anchorage
Your Land + Sea Journey concludes this morning in Anchorage.

Map View

Itinerary Map View

The cruise began in Vancouver, B.C, and ended in Anchorage, so after booking the cruise, my next goal was to find and book reasonable “open jaw” airfare. (Open jaw means your roundtrip is from different airports, e.g., the departure is DesMoines to Vancouver and the return is Anchorage to DesMoines. I searched on Kayak but I’ve since learned about ITA Matrix and I’ll try that, too, next time. As long as we were going to be in Vancouver, we wanted to explore the city a bit but the less expensive flights were mostly red-eye or arrived late in the day. I found two one-way tickets actually offered the best times and rates in this instance. Orbitz offered a one way from DesMoines to Vancouver on Air Canada for $291.59 and Delta had a return from Anchorage to DesMoines for $404, bringing the roundtrip total to $695.59. It seemed high but summer flights to Alaska are expensive so I booked it.

Finally, we needed two nights accommodations in Vancouver to allow plenty of time before the cruise in case we had flight delays and to properly see the city. Hotels there are very expensive, as I soon found out. I found a Hampton Inn at $260 a night and booked it but canceled it when I found a darling bed and breakfast, the Barclay House, in a great walkable neighborhood for $230. That rate changed when we added Sheryl to our room, but it was still lower than the hotel would have been if we added a third person.

Barclay House

Barclay House

So, with all the arrangements made, we were ready to set sail to visit our 50th state in June 2015.

Next time I’ll show and tell you all about our departure port, Vancouver, B.C.

Based on events from June 2015

Categories: Anchorage, Canada, cruise, Denali, inside passage, open jaw, Travel, USA, Vancouver | Tags: , | 10 Comments

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