Seward Alaska

Our next day began with a very early morning departure from Anchorage on the Alaska Railway. Sitting on the train, ready for the trip to Seward, sounds of reveille were heard, carried in the crisp morning air from the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The music was unexpected but carried beautifully as the day began. We were in the “D” car, which is similar to first class in commercial airplanes with more comfortable seating, a bit more leg room and fewer assigned seats in the car. The prior day, we were in the “C” car which was comfortable and we had no complaints with either arrangement. The train depot has a white tent for luggage service, and our bags were checked through to the ship for drop-off at our cruise ship’s cabin later in the afternoon.

Anchorage to Seward

Anchorage to Seward

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Anchorage to Seward

Along Route from Anchorage to Seward

Along Route from Anchorage to Seward

 

 

 

 

 

 

The train route was much more scenic than the prior day’s trip. In this route we encountered fields, streams, lakes, mountains, and glaciers. We saw an eaglet in a nest and a parent eagle in a neighboring tree.

 

 

 

We arrived in Seward around noon and began the search for lunch. Along the main route, the Chilkoot Restaurant was a convenient choice. We arrived before many of the lunch crowd and had window seats overlooking the marina.

Doorways...Chinooks Restaurant in Seward Alaska

Doorways…Chinooks Restaurant in Seward Alaska

For lunch we split an order of Smoked Scallop Mac and Cheese. This was comfort food at an elevated level with abundant cheddar cheese covering pasta, mushrooms, onions, spinich, and pancetta. We watched a slow chilly rain through the window and saw the fog creep down the mountains in the distance while we enjoyed the perfect comfort food for a chilly afternoon.

Venturing back into the streets, our museum for the day was the Kenai Fjords National Park Information Center. This museum has a small gift shop and several video documentaries on continuous run cycles during the day. We watched several of the films and browsed through the museum for awhile before heading towards the cruise ship.

If you were to ask how to get to the cruise ship from the downtown area, the answer is to NOT do what we did! We walked, along the edge of a street with no sidewalk, dodging splatter from the puddles in the roads. There are cruise ship buses in the town for transport along with a free city bus that makes various stops and will also do cruise ship drop-offs. Walking was good exercise, expecially after sitting on the train during the morning, but not the best choice in retrospect.

The cruise ship check-in and embarkation process was about half an hour and well-organized. Our cabin assignment for this leg of the trip was a balcony stateroom, located aft/port (#8164).

Relaxation Time, Winding down as clouds and fog lower into Seward harbor. Photo from cruise ship cabin balcony.

Relaxation Time, Winding down as clouds and fog lower into Seward harbor. Photo from cruise ship cabin balcony.

We toured the ship while cruisers boarded, and were able to get some photos of the ship without the usual extra people mingling in the background or photo-bombing our shots.

Flight Seeing in Talkeetna, Alaska

What an amazing experience. We started the day with a walk from the hotel to the Alaska Railroad Depot, which was about three blocks away. It was a good walk and we saw our first bear! The bear statue was along our path to the depot. In the distance, I saw a building featuring a huge gold monogram of the letter G. Interesting, so we walked closer. It was a hotel and with all of the monogramming in my past, I never considered a monogrammed building.

The small park and statue are to the west of the train depot, but we were well ahead of schedule and took some time to explore the immediate area.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Alaska Railroad train depot is small and has limited seating, but the staff was friendly and helpful. The check-in process for boarding passes was fast. The depot does have a coffee kiosk and the line for coffee was much longer than the line for boarding passes! There were pastries and limited fruit available for purchase at the kiosk. One of the travelers for the train was celebrating his fifth birthday, so we sang a celebration song and he was honored as the crier
for “All Aboooaaarrrddd” and the embarkation began! The tickets are clearly numbered with seat assignments. The train cars were clean and well-organized so the preparations for travel were stress-free. The ride to Talkeetna was comfortable. The dome car has open glass and a much broader view, which was pleasant.

Mountain view during flightseeing trip. This is not Mt. McKinley, but another in the same ridge, as seen through the plane window.

Mountain view during flightseeing trip. This is not Mt. McKinley, but another in the same ridge, as seen through the plane window.

Upon arrival in Talkeetna, we walked to the local airport field and checked in at K2 Aviation. We had booked the summit tour for Mount McKinley, but due to clouds shifted to a slightly different flight and were among the clouds in about an hour after our arrival. K2 Aviation was great! The pilot of the 10-seat twin engine plan was our tour guide through the mountains, glaciers and clouds for just over an hour. The tour was educational and entertaining. All passengers were outfitted with microphone headsets so that we could talk as a group. This provided two benefits – reduced engine noise and increased the ability to hear and understand the tour guide. At the conclusion of the flight, K2 took photos of the tour participants and then we retrieved our backpacks and other items from their locked storage units.

Wildwood Cafe, Talkeetna AK

Wildwood Cafe, Talkeetna AK

Walking to and through Talkeetna did not take very long at all. Wildwood Restaurant was our choice for lunch. After lunch, we walked along the Main Street of the small town and then back to the train depot. The train arrived back in Anchorage around 8pm and, although the day was busy and had several strict deadlines, it was the perfect start to our vacation.

Anchorage Alaska

Wait Time at DFW

Wait Time at DFW

This was our flight day to Anchorage, Alaska. We had a minor delay at DFW, but arrived safely at the destination. One of our larger suitcases arrived minus a wheel, which proved to be a challenge until the last day of our travel when John’s friend offered a luggage cart which was SO much appreciated on the final legs of the trip. After collecting our luggage at the Anchorage airport, the shuttle from airport to hotel arrived quickly and we were soon settled into the Ramada Inn Anchorage.

 

Alaska Ramada Inn Anchorage

Alaska Ramada Inn Anchorage

The hotel has been recently updated with spa-style shower and decorator touches in the rooms but maintains a historical feel with the many framed photos from early years of the city. The shuttle bus driver gave an interesting commentary as we traveled through the downtown area in route to the hotel.  The city has a marked walking tour path with large markers along the way.  The Wendler Building is a notable site, with a dog statue just outside on the edge of the street. This is no ordinary dog statue, but the marker of the Iditarod’s ceremonial race starting point. The statue is intended to represent all sled dogs, but is often associated with Balto the Wonder Dog.  Balto claimed fame in the wilds of Alaska as the lead sled dog for the final leg of a treacherous journey delivering diphtheria medicine to Nome, Alaska in 1925. This medicine was then used to successfully combat an outbreak of diptheria. This journey by sled is commemorated annually in the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race.

The Alaska Statehood Monument is a very small park at an intersection near the hotel.  In this park, a bust of President Dwight Eisenhower commemorates Alaska achieving statehood in 1959. This park is small but rather scenic. The Alaska Railroad is just a couple of blocks away and very visible (great vantage point for photos).

Eisenhower Statehood Monument

Eisenhower Statehood Monument

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We had dinner at the Slippery Salmon next door to the hotel. John enjoyed Reindeer Hot Dog for dinner and I had a hot bowl of delicious salmon chowder. We visited with another traveler who was wrapping up a week of independent solo travel and shared stories of the many locations she had visited. This only caused us to be more excited about the week ahead!

First night in Anchorage Alaska - view from hotel window

First night in Anchorage Alaska – view from hotel window

Menu at Slippery Salmon Restaurant, Anchorage, Alaska

Menu at Slippery Salmon Restaurant, Anchorage, Alaska

Menu at Slippery Salmon Restaurant, Anchorage, Alaska

Menu at Slippery Salmon Restaurant, Anchorage, Alaska

 

Intrepid Museum

The rain was cold and fierce as we began Day 3. Our first museum destination was the Intrepid Sea Air and Space Museum, located 46th @ 12th. We had not mastered local bus routes and set out on foot with umbrella in hand. The umbrella was of little use, as we were soaked in short order due to the wind drafts. After trekking across the many city blocks, we arrived at the entry to the Intrepid museum. A bagel from the local street vendor restored our spirits and we were ready to explore the aircraft carrier. With appropriate identification cards, there is free admission for retired military personnel. This access includes the Intrepid, the Space Shuttle Pavilion, the GrowlerSubmarine, and an interesting historical film of the ship.

Our next tourist destination was Grand Central Terminal, which was quite a journey back across the city. By this time, we were accustomed to walking but did consider taking a taxi or pedi-cab. Instead, we made several stops along the way and planned on taking a break at the hotel to regroup for the afternoon. Deli sandwiches and chips were a perfect light lunch and we enjoyed talking with the locals at the sandwich shop during our brief stop there. During our visit to Grand Central Station, we used a free tour app to learn about the main terminal area. There are free guided tours on Friday @ 12:30 pm but we did not arrive in time to participate. The app audio had appropriate descriptions to capture the listener’s attention and provide an educational experience.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A good day of learning and light on the wallet too!

Central Park and Upper Manhattan

This is our Saturday in the Big Apple! It was great to see the sunshine out and a forecast of perfect weather ahead! The first destination was Central Park, by way of the Waldorf Astoria, Trump Tower and FAO Schwartz. A lot of information to absorb as we walked through this east section of the city. The Waldorf Astoria was a walk through the lobby where we admired the craftmanship in the central clock. This was a memory lane moment for me. In June of 2010, I stayed at the hotel during some business meetings that changed my life in many ways. The weekend prior to the meeting, a head cold started and it was in full combat by the time I arrived in New York. A sinus infection moved the mere head cold to all shades of miserable. At some point, I escaped from meetings long enough to go to a Duane Reade doctor facility and start on antibiotics for the remainder of the week. It was June, but rainy and cold. I recall holding my head and ears during the flight back to Dallas and being pleasantly surprised that my hearing was not damaged from the event. Anyway, to this day, I say “If you are miserably sick in NYC, the Waldorf is an excellent choice for a sick bed!”. The hotel comforts were the only bright spot in that week of pain. Anyway, back to the present.

We moved on the north and made stops in various stores and buildings along the route. We walked through Trump Tower and rested for a bit in the atrium. The next stop was the FAO Schwartz toy store, which was very enjoyable. We found the keyboard used in the movie “Big” and saw the Statue of Liberty made of lego blocks.

Central Park was a must-see on our list, but we were both rather weary of the long walks and may not have given it the proper attention. There were some highlights that we enjoyed in the couple of hours that we spent there. We saw the fountain and strawberry fields and the promenade. We noted that the park is very photogenic. Our best photo series of the entire trip was at Central Park.

Dining Out in NYC at Scalini Fedeli

This night out will become much like a restaurant review. A subway ride to TriBeCa put us only a block from our dinner destination at Scalini Fedeli (165 Duane Street, between Greenwich and Hudson). We hopped onto the subway near the hotel and arrived at the restaurant early for our 7 pm reservation. There is a small city park across the street from the restaurant, so we sat and recapped the favorites of the trip thus far.

Gwyn at Scalini Fedeli in TriBeCa for evening dinner

Gwyn at Scalini Fedeli in TriBeCa for evening dinner

Going into the restaurant, we were immediately seated and welcomed. The restaurant was recommended by friends and business acquantances who frequent the city, and it lived up to the recommendations. The welcoming atmosphere was much appreciated and set the tone for the evening ahead.  The staff was professional and very efficient through the entire evening which was impressive and added to the enjoyment of the evening.

As we began to make our selections from the prix fixe (fixed price menu), special treats began to arrive as sampler items. Oh how delicious! We wanted to order one of everything! Some of the favorites were the soft egg yolk ravioli  and the regatoni appetizers. The pumpkin risotto was a special for the season and also quite tasty.

Moving into the main course, the oven roasted salmon was juicy and intensely flavorful without becoming overwhelming in the flavor palate. The roasted chicken breast with rosemary and garlic sauce accompanied by pasta was cooked to perfection and delicious. The dessert choices and samplers included gelato and several selection with chocolate.  They had me at the word chocolate!

This evening and the meal together were ranked as our best dining experience during the New York City trip (a much coveted award!).  Hat’s off to Executive chef Michael Cetrulo and the wonderful staff at Scalini Fedeli!  We’re looking forward in great anticipation of our next visit.

 

 

Mamma Mia! at the Winter Garden Theatre in New York City

NYC Subway

NYC Subway mural with Alice in Wonderland theme

Our evening activity for the second night in New York City was a trip to the Winter Garden Theatre to see Mamma Mia. Originally built in 1896, this theatre is located at 1634 Broadway, between 50th and 51st street. The original structure was not a theatre, but the many building renovations have restored it to the style of live-performance theatres of the 1920’s and is a very comfortable venue. Our seats were purchased at a discount through broadwaybox.com for an evening showing of the Mamma Mia live performance. I don’t know if we found the best deal available, but we were able to purchase the tickets online prior to our departure and had our seat assignments in hand while others were shuffling through lines and seeking tickets to the popular show. We were seated on the first row of the balcony, which was an excellent view. Our neighbors to the right were three ladies on holiday from Australia. Their enthusiasm was contagious and soon the balcony patrons were dancing right along with the show performance. The ABBA songs and humor of the show just make for a fun experience and we left the performance in a happy mood and still humming along. There was window-shopping and people-watching to finish off this second day in NYC.

Top of the Rock, Battery Park & Trinity Church

Busy Day ahead as we continue our adventure in New York City!

Top of the Rock

We started the morning at Top of the Rock, which was just across from our hotel room. The admission fee was $12 each with military ID and we also purchased the view identification card for $3. The view identification card is simply that – a card that identifies the major buildings and other sites in each view as you walk around the open area at the top of the building. It is worth the price if you are not familiar with the city.

John at Top of the Rock

John at Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock

Top of the Rock

Along the route to the elevators, we had a fun time with a photo shoot and took time to enjoy three short movies about the building and location. Acclimated to the city from on high, the next activity was buying subway tickets and heading south to Battery Park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Battery Park and Statue of Liberty View – We sat on the benches in Battery Park and looked at the Statue of Liberty from afar. The boat dock is at the southern tip of the park and street vendors provided much needed refreshments to enjoy while we rested.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

 

 

This artwork was in front of the World Trade towers and I recall my first business trip starting my career and seeing the towers as part of that first New York City experience. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

Fraunces Tavern 54 Pearl Street New York

Fraunces Tavern Historical Marker

Fraunces Tavern Historical Marker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Federal Hall and the Trinity Church Tour

Enroute to the Trinity Church for a free tour, we discovered the Federal Hall building and used our extra 30 minutes exploring this facinating structure. Managed by the National Park Service, the building has excellent exhibits and was well worth the stop.

At the Trinity Church, we were ready with a few others for the 2pm tour which is billed as a 15 minute overview of the church, but no tour guide in sight! At 10-15 minutes after the hour, visitors began to drift away from the tour gathering. Then a young woman appeared who does not typically do the tours, but works in the communications department of the church. She gave an amazing tour of the church, the graveyards and insight on history, architecture, and cultural significance of the Trinity Church. It was the BEST tour of our trip and lasted almost two hours! What a pleasant surprise for us! After finishing there, we walked by the former site of the World Trade Center buildings. I reminisced a bit about other trips to the area and memories of the park and buildings back in the ’80’s.

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

St. Patrick’s Cathedral, New York City

After a quick stop at the hotel room, we were ready for a night out exploring! Our first stop was the St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Having just entered the city, I was taken in with the simple theme statement for the cathedral website. “In the City that never sleeps, everyone needs a place to pray”

Stained Glass Window at Saint Patrick's Cathedral

Stained Glass Window at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

Renovations underway at Saint Patrick's Cathedral

Renovations underway at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral

 

 

 

History and modern times are linked by technology when using this St. Patrick’s Cathedral tour app. Even with ongoing renovations, this is a remarkable building with interesting architecture and historical significance. After about an hour visiting and learning about this landmark, we journeyed on.

Next stop was dinner – destination Times Square! There is no better way to get into the rhythm of New York City than to be in the mix at Times Square. We had a fun walk from 5th Avenue to 7th Avenue and enjoyed the varied architecture along the route. New York style pizza was on the menu at the famous John’s Pizzaria on 44th street. Have you ever eaten pizza inside a church? This restaurant has retained the beauty of the Gospel Tabernacle Church design and features the roots and history of a structure from the late 1800’s. After our fill of pizza, we were ready to wind down for th evening and made our way back to the hotel.

St. Patrick’s Cathedral– 5th Avenue @ West 50th Street

John’s Pizzaria – Times Square/West 44th Street

New York City and Exploring Manhattan

Flags @ Rockefeller Center, New York City

The beginning of our journey to NYC was uneventful with a flight from Jackson to Atlanta and then Atlanta to Newark after a short layover. Arriving in Newark, I began to look for the Airtrain, but then found and took the Newark Airport Express service for $16 per person (cash only). We considered that to be a good deal for a 45 minute bus trip into the city center. The final stop on the bus route was at Bryant Park. There is a subway station at Bryant Park (Orange Line). If we had taken the subway, the next station to the north would be about a block from our hotel, Club Quarters-Manhattan. However, we decided to hoof it, with our luggage in tow. The sights and sounds during our 10 minute walk to the north was the acclimation needed to feel the rhyme of the city. Our check-in a Club Quarters was quick and easy and our room was a corner room that was larger than many that I have previously experienced in NYC. There was no view, well, a view of concrete and heat/air units, so we didn’t gaze much at the “view”. A much better scene was a few steps out the front door where we could see the international flag display at Rockefeller Center.