Canada, O Canada!

Saturday, September 14–Wednesday, September 18, 2019,

SPOILER ALERT: EVERYONE IS FINE!

Our last morning on the ship. We woke early and had a quick breakfast at the buffet. We had requested the latest disembarkation time possible and had also requested wheelchair assistance for our folks. The wait for available wheelchairs was only slightly shorter than when we boarded, but we did eventually disembark, get our luggage, and find our way to the taxi line. This time we did have curb service, unlike when Sayeed dropped us off.

We had a flight out of Vancouver for the next afternoon, so we checked into our hotel near the airport. We had another “learning” experience courtesy of our taxi driver. The fare from the port to the hotel was $37 and change, Canadian dollars. I handed the driver my credit card. He asked for cash. Dad pulled out his wallet and offered a large US bill. The driver said he only had Canadian bills for change. I gave him $45 US for the fare, which included a (I thought a nice) tip, since he’d been helpful with our luggage and had asked questions about the cruise and seemed interested. It only occurred to me later … the fare in US dollars was less than $28. So I gave him a $17 USD tip, equal to $22 in Canadian dollars. Lesson learned.

The Pittmans and Padgetts walked to the nearby McDonalds for lunch while the Harjos went a bit farther away and also did some shopping. After lunch, we relaxed for a while, then walked the opposite direction to a Chinese restaurant for dinner. The hotel was in a very Chinese neighborhood and we passed at least four other restaurants, but hotel staff had suggested this one. It was quite authentic and very good. Dad asked for coffee. The waitress asked if he wanted, “Hot or cold?” He said, “Hot.” She then asked, “Hong Kong or American?” He responded, “Never mind, I’ll have a beer.” We didn’t know coffee could be so fraught with choices outside of Starbucks.

The food was very good. We ordered an assortment of dishes to share. A chow mein, a fried rice, some shrimp and vegetables. We started with three dishes and the waitress said we needed a fourth. So we added something else and, of course (because we didn’t learn our lesson from the taxi driver) we ended up leaving the equivalent of one full order of food as leftovers behind.

Back at the hotel, we turned on the television and some of us watched, some of us read, some of us dozed. Dad still hadn’t been feeling well, but hadn’t said much.

At about 4:20 Sunday morning, he woke us up and said he wanted to go the hospital. David and I jumped out of bed. David got dressed while I (tried) to call the front desk to ask for an ambulance. The phone in our room wouldn’t work. I finally just went downstairs and asked the desk clerk to call an ambulance. He did. He asked what room number. I told him, “823.” He looked at me a moment then said, “We don’t have 8 floors.” Duh. I don’t know where that came from. “Right. 423.”

I hurried back upstairs and got dressed. I could hear the phone in the room ringing, and Mom trying to answer it, but not connecting because the ringing didn’t stop. We decided that I would go to the hospital with Mom and Dad while David would stay at the hotel to tell the Harjos what was going on, contact the airline if we needed to cancel/change flights. Again: Duh.

The fire truck EMTs were first to arrive, but the ambulance/paramedics were right behind them. They took Dad’s vitals and info, loaded him on a gurney and out of the room. Downstairs, I asked the front desk clerk to call a cab for me (knowing I would pay with a credit card, because … NO MORE CASH PAYMENTS FOR TAXIS!!) The fireman in the elevator told me Dad would probably be taken to Vancouver General because they had the cardiac unit and Dad was a cardiac patient.

Dad was loaded into the ambulance. Mom got into the front to ride with him. David and I conferred quickly. I forwarded him the info about our flights and our trip insurance information, so he could cancel our flights. My taxi arrived, and I asked him to wait because I needed to confirm we were going to Vancouver General. After about five to seven minutes, the ambulance pulled away, but I hadn’t been told where to go. The fire truck fired up their engine to pull out. I waved and hollered, “Vancouver General?” The same fireman from the elevator nodded and hollered back, “Yes, Vancouver General.”

I got in the cab, told the driver, “Vancouver General,” and we took off. As we left, I saw that the ambulance had not actually left after all. They were still in the parking lot. But … maybe it was a second ambulance? That I hadn’t seen? I decided to go ahead to Vancouver General. It was early enough that there was very little traffic. So little that at one intersection, the lights wouldn’t change for us to make a left turn. We had a red light. We waited. And waited. There was no traffic coming from either direction. The driver backed up and pulled forward again to try and trip any sensors. Then we waited some more. And waited. He reversed and drove forward. And we waited. He finally put the cab into Park, opened his door, and ran to the curb, pressed the button for the pedestrian crosswalk. The cross traffic green light immediately turned yellow. And also immediately, a car appeared coming from the opposite direction. So even though we finally had a green light for a left turn, we still had to wait. Sigh.

He eventually delivered me to Vancouver General and took my credit card without a murmur. I found my way to the ER, asked for Dad, but they had no record of him. Of course. So he hadn’t arrived yet. Which was odd. But that just meant he probably was in the ambulance I passed in the hotel parking lot. So I sat and waited.

Vancouver General is a typical urban hospital. I saw … patients from all walks of life there while I waited.

After about ten minutes, an officer asked for names, did some radio chatting and told me Dad had been taken to Richmond General. She directed me where to call for another taxi, which I did. The new cab arrived very quickly and took me to the new hospital and that driver also accepted my credit card without asking for cash. I guess it’s just drivers at the docks who use the cash scam. 

Dad had apparently “crashed,” in the ambulance and they spent some time in the hotel parking lot working on him before transporting him to the hospital. I don’t know if his crisis event made the paramedics decide to take him to the closer hospital (Richmond General) instead of Vancouver, or if the fireman gave me wrong info accidentally.

Mom and I spent Sunday at the hospital, most of it in the ER. We finally went to the cafeteria to get something to eat around 10 am. David was at the hotel dealing with the airline, telling the Harjos what was going on, helping them get off okay to the airport for their flight home, asking the hotel for another night or two for us, or at least getting a late check out while he found somewhere else. I called the travel insurance company and was reassured that everything would be taken care of. In the meantime, David texted to say our hotel was booked and couldn’t give us anymore nights. But–they found us a room at a hotel near the hospital! David transferred all our luggage by himself to the new hotel. 

The new place turned out to be perfect. It was expensive, but we shared a large double room with Mom. It was literally next door to the hospital. We could walk there in three minutes. And a huge, gorgeous park was nearby so we’d see rabbits as we walked.

                      

 

It was still near the airport, so there were lots of hotels around. Which helped with finding dinner places when we were dependent on our feet or taxis or DoorDash for meals.

After several hours in Richmond General ER, Dad was transferred to a room. He ended up spending several days there.

In the ER, a fireman sidled up to me. “Please tell me you have insurance,” he said. I nodded. “Yes, we do. They have excellent insurance.” “Good. You wouldn’t believe the number of Americans who say, ‘But it’s Canada, the health care is free.'” He shook his head. “It doesn’t work that way.” He went on to say Dad was really sick when they picked him up. The fireman also questioned me about the cruise, said they were essentially, “petri dishes,” of germs and gave me the impression that Dad’s issues weren’t related to his heart, that he’d picked up a flu bug or something else on the ship. He was wrong.

Dad had another crisis event Monday morning. He had an angiogram Monday, and an  echocardiogram Tuesday.  

Tuesday was our 42nd anniversary. We went to a nearby hotel for dinner. It was lovely, even though it was not how we’d planned to spend our anniversary. Wednesday was David’s birthday, another day spent not as we’d planned. Dad was released Wednesday, but without clearance to fly. 

Overall, Dad got excellent care. We had opportunities to chat with Canadians about their health care system and we got to observe it up close. It some ways it seemed 20 years behind the US. Supply carts were in the halls, unsecured. The rooms were wards, 4 beds to a room.Patients could watch television on a 1990s blocky computer monitor for $7 CAD 😉 a day. Not that there’s anything wrong with any of that. It’s just different. The people we talked to admitted they had to wait months for procedures, but you could buy additional insurance that would speed up the process.

Anyway, once Dad was well enough to be discharged, we discussed our options. Wait a week until he could fly. Take a train home. Rent a car and drive. But you can’t rent a car in Canada to drive one-way to the US. We ended up taking a bus to Bellingham, WA (hoo boy–this post is already too long but that bus trip deserves its own post. Customs … !!), then renting a car, and driving the 1000 miles home.

We left Vancouver around 11:30 AM Thursday morning, September 19, and arrived in Bellingham around 2:15 PM.

Next up: The journey home

Alaska, continued.

Thursday, Sept. 12 – Friday, Sept. 13, 2019

Thursday was our last port day, in Ketchikan. We had booked a crab feed and the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show.

This time, Dave and I got off the ship a little early with Lee and Karie, to explore Ketchikan a little bit. It’s a fun and rustic town. We visited some souvenir shops and just wandered the downtown area. At the appointed time, we met up with our folks and got on the bus for the half hour ride to the George Inlet Lodge for our crab feast. I do like crab, but the last few years the crab we’ve gotten in California has not been great. Well. The Alaska crab was phenomenal. Sweet and tender and delicious. I ate most of it plain, with very little butter. It was perfect just like that. The crab feast included a salad and cheesecake.

After lunch, we got back on the bus and returned to Skagway where we had a short walk to the lumberjack show. It was a little corny, but very entertaining and those guys are definitely athletes as well as entertainers.

After the show, we wandered back to the ship. I detoured into a Christmas shop and bought an ornament, then it was time for dinner. It was also “Orange Night.” Passengers were encouraged to wear orange and come to a party in the BBKing Lounge. The orange was to celebrate the ship’s Norwegian “heritage,” and Norwegian treats would be served.

Karie and Lee were stunning. I had an orange top and Dave had an orange shirt, but he was tired and opted to go back to our cabin after dinner. Lee, Karie, and I went to the Orange party for a while and had a great time.

Friday

Our last day at sea we cruised the inland passage on our way back to Vancouver. Dad wasn’t feeling well and spent most of the day resting in their cabin. The seas were pretty rough all night. We had a time change, from Alaska time back to Pacific time. David and I slept in and skipped our regular breakfast in the dining room and went to the buffet.

We enjoyed the day, relaxing some more. I did some reading while David had a cigar and watched the scenery. Then we made plans to meet up again where he introduced me to a woman he’d met in one of the observation decks, Edith Wallace. She’s a musician and songwriter and we had a delightful conversation about life and goals and second chances and art and writing and spirituality and trusting.

Then we went to high tea. It’s served every day in the dining room, but this was the only day we made it there. It was very fun to enjoy the tradition. I don’t think I’ve taken tea since our trip to Ireland and the UK in 2017.

 

We had an appointment to look at some photos we’d had taken Wednesday evening. We only bought a couple because they were expensive, but they were also really, really good and we haven’t had pictures taken in a long time.

We ended the day with dinner and some time in the Billboard lounge and BBKing, then we had to pack since our luggage had to be out in the hallway by midnight.

Tomorrow, we disembark and say goodbye. It’s going to be a sad day …

More Alaska

Wednesday Sep. 11 – Thursday Sep. 12, 2019

Wednesday we had an excursion planned for our day in Skagway. We got up, had breakfast, and prepared to disembark around noon, or just after. We were supposed to meet the tour at the dock and then either ride a bus or a train to the White Pass summit and then ride the opposite mode of transportation back.

Lee and Karie disembarked before us, to explore Skagway a bit. I got a text from Karie that they heard a rumor that a train had broken down and tours were canceled. So we zipped up to the excursions desk to get the scoop, but it was shut down so all the employees could be on the docks, helping passengers.

We went ahead and disembarked, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.

Sure enough. A morning train had broken an axle and was blocking the tracks. Our tracks. We had the choice of skipping the excursion or taking the bus up and back and getting a partial refund. We decided to go ahead and take the bus.

It was a beautiful trip, full of amazing and rugged scenery. We saw more glaciers and glacial lakes and made plenty of stops for pictures. And, to top it off, we got word that the broken train had been moved and we’d be able to ride the train back to Skagway after all!

So it worked out perfectly. And we had a small refund on our cruise tab at the end, too.

Anyway, this trip does go into the Yukon territory (in other words–Canada) so we had to bring passports and Canada Immigration officers boarded our bus to check everyone’s passports and paperwork.

The train ride down was spectacular. There was a narrator/guide who told us over a sound system what to be looking for and historical facts about the railroad. It was built to carry Gold Rush miners into the Yukon. It was built very rapidly, for the time, but even so, the Gold Rush was over by the time it was completed. The engineer behind it had a high regard for the safety of the employees and they had a much smaller loss of life than other railroads constructed during the same time period.

At one point, the guide announced we were coming up on a bear on the right side of the train. Everyone leaned over to look out and I saw it! It was small and standing right next to the tracks. I think I was the only one in our party to see it.

By the time we pulled into the Skagway station, it was nearly dinnertime. Our excursion included a stop at the Liarsville Gold Mine camp, but because of our delays, we decided to skip that portion and head back to the ship for dinner. After dinner, we visited the BBKing Lounge again, then off to bed.

Thursday was cruising Glacier Bay. Talk about amazing views! We spent time in front of Margerie Glacier and saw a couple of calvings. That when chunks of ice break off. We could hear the cracks and pops before the ice fell, as well as the splash when it hit the water.

We spent the day relaxing, watching the scenery, and enjoying the peace.

Glacier Bay is a National Park, and several Park Rangers came aboard to give talks and information to passengers. I happened to be reading in one of the empty bars (empty because it wasn’t open yet) and had a great view of when their boat came to pick them up and return them to shore.

That evening was the second gala evening. We enjoyed lobster for dinner, though I neglected to take a picture.

It was a great day, and one I thoroughly enjoyed!

 

Alaska!

Monday, September 9 – Tuesday, September 10, 2019

We woke to beautiful views as we pulled in to the dock in Juneau, Alaska, Monday, September 9th.

We stood on our balcony a few minutes and saw a bald eagle perched on a walkway as we were pulling into the docks.

We used to see bald eagles in Madera County, up by Hensley Dam/Hidden Lake, but not in a few years. (Side note: I’m writing and posting this while we’re on the road with the Code 3/RALI drug education trailer in the Chicago area. Yesterday, we saw a bald eagle circling above us in suburban Chicago. No. Big. Deal. Like, we didn’t travel 1600+ miles to see this one bald eagle in Alaska. Although, I did see one more later, sticking its bald head up from a tree, but this is definitely the best view of the one we both saw.)

Our excursion was to a salmon hatchery, Mendenhall Glacier National Park, and a salmon bake (“all you can eat”). We also had reservations for dinner with my folks for dinner at one of the ships specialty restaurants, one of our perks from our awesome travel agent, Cheryl at Hey Wanna Go. (Thanks, Cheryl!)

All of the “older” generation had decided this excursion involved too much walking, so it was just the four of us. Lee and Karie disembarked a little early to see some of Juneau. Dave and I took our time, then met up with Lee and Karie, boarded a bus and headed to the salmon hatchery.

It was very interesting to learn about the salmon industry in Alaska. We’ve watched Deadliest Catch about crab and some of the other reality fishing shows about tuna and salmon, etc. The salmon industry in Alaska makes sure that it is sustainable for future generations. David bought some salmon jerky to enjoy later.

After the hatchery, we loaded back onto the bus, and headed to Mendenhall Glacier National Park. It’s very well organized, as far as letting off bus passengers. We walked a fair amount (good thing the parents decided to cancel this excursion since it did entail some walking–much of it uphill, too). From the Visitor’s Center, we had a great view of the glacier itself, as well as displays to read. There was a film to watch, also. I was trying to record a wolf’s cry for a certain grand-daughter who is currently enamored with wolves, and I missed the film. Dave, Lee, and Karie were able to see the film though.

We then walked down one of the trails for a slightly closer view of the glacier.

When we hear that the glaciers are receding at so many feet per year, I, absolutely, feel a responsibility about global warming. But then I read a bit more. The glaciers have been receding for hundreds of years. Since long before humankind had anything to do with air pollution, emissions, and so on. Because let’s be real. The Grand Canyon was cut by glaciers. There were very few humans around then. Their effect on the glaciers receding through the Grand Canyon was negligible, at best. The Alaska glaciers have been receding for several hundred years. Since long before we arrived. I don’t minimize the effect we have on our environment, but I also don’t think we humans are to blame for everything the natural world is experiencing. Some of it is just a natural cycle of events.

After Mendenhall Glacier, our bus took us to a salmon feed. But we had dinner reservations at a restaurant on the ship. I had made them for later in the evening, to allow for extra time if we were late returning. Good thing! We got to the salmon bake and were told we could take as long as we wanted there. And there were buses ready to take us back to the docks whenever we were ready.

We stood in line for a portion of salmon each, but we knew we had a full dinner waiting for us back on the ship. ** The salmon at the salmon bake was … mmmm … how to put this?? Ah. May. Zing!! Fresh. Tender. Succulent. There was a buffet with salads and scalloped potatoes, then you went to the grill where the chef gave you a piece of salmon and offered you some glaze. I accepted a small piece of fish and the glaze, which they were selling (of course 😉 ) in their gift shop. But it was delicious! As it cooled, it started to congeal and harden a bit, but it really was amazing. Sweet, but not overpowering. I would have bought some, but I knew we were going to be bumping up against space and weight limits for the flights home. Of course, I didn’t know what awaited us as far as “flights” home. Stay tuned for more about that.

After David and gobbled down a few bites of salmon, we said bye to Lee and Karie and jumped on a bus back to the dock, and got ready for our dinner at the Pinnacle Grill restaurant with my folks.

Another amazing experience! The service was awesome! It was like they wanted to find a reason to shower us with love and attention. They kept asking if there was an occasion to celebrate. A birthday? Anniversary? It finally occurred to me–we had our 42nd anniversary a few days after the end of the cruise. I mentioned that and the staff exhaled a collective sigh of relief. Whew! They had a reason to be extra attentive, I guess?

I ordered the “Clothesline” appetizer. Candied bacon hanging from a line. Mom and I had a tenderloin steak that was wonderful. Even though we said we were too full for dessert, because we were celebrating an “occasion,” we were brought a dessert. It was delicious, but we were truly full, so we asked that it be packaged up and we took it back to our room’s mini-fridge for later.

Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Skagway, Alaska

We had booked an excursion from the docks in Skagway, taking a train into the Yukon, then a bus back into Alaska. Or it might be the opposite. You don’t know until you’re there. It’s at the tour’s discretion which way you go. Up by train and back by bus, or up by bus and back by train. But this was one tour we were assured was very easy and suitable for all ages and abilities.

Lee and Karie disembarked a little early to explore Skagway, then texted me. They heard that a train had broken down on the tracks and all tours for the day were canceled. Could we find out if that included ours?? We zipped up to the Excursions desk, but no one was there. Apparently, on shore days, they’re all on shore, booking tours, guiding people, etc.

As David and I disembarked, we ran into a woman he’d chatted with in his cigar smoking area. She had been in the train that had broken down. Yep. It was our train.

We continued on to where we were supposed to board and got the scoop. Yes. A train had broken an axle on the tracks. We had a couple of options. We could take a bus up and back. And possibly get a partial refund. We decided to go ahead and do that. We waited a little bit and boarded a bus for the ride up to the boarding point for the White Pass Yukon Rail. The driver takes his time. We stop many times for photo ops of glaciers and rugged mountainsides.

As we’re on the bus, we get word that the broken train had been moved off the track and we would be able to ride the train back to Skagway.

Because part of the bus and train route moved from Alaska into the Yukon (Canada), we were required to bring our passports. We had to show them twice. Once in the bus, on the way up. We had to get out the passport, hold it near our face, look straight ahead, “don’t make a joke,” etc. The Canadian Immigration official who boarded the bus to inspect us made a joke about how serious we all were. We had no response. “Ummm … we were told to be boring?”

The train followed a route built in 1898 for the Yukon Gold Rush. I really wanted to see several things while in Alaska. A bear. The Northern Lights. A moose. During the ride, our guide announced that a bear was on the right side of train. We were on the right side of the train and I was on window side, so I leaned over to look and there s/he was! It was very quick, but I saw a brown bear in Alaska! I didn’t see the Northern Lights since it was still bit early. And no moose. But I saw a bear! I think I’m the only one of our group of eight who saw the bear.

Coming back to the US, the immigration process was about the same as going into Canada. “Hold your passport in your left hand, near your face, don’t make jokes.” We were in the train at this point, with a few passengers from other buses, so it took a little bit longer. But we got the same response from the U.S. Customs & Border Protection officer. “Hey, did you all have a good time in the Yukon?” Ummm … no!! We were told we have to tell you we had a horrible time. We hate Canada! We want to come home to the US!! (Which is not true. Canada is lovely.)

Our excursion included a trip to a gold camp with a snack and gold panning. But because of the delays, after we arrived back in Skagway, (after passing through Customs & Immigration twice–once into Canada and once out) we decided to skip the gold camp and head back to the ship for dinner.

IMG_4323One of the fun elements of the cruise was during dinner, our stewards, Hri and/or Sri, would come in and turn down the bed and leave information about the next day’s stops. And there was always a cute towel sculpture on the bed.

We all made it back to the ship and had a lovely dinner in the dining room.

Then we ended the evening in the BB King lounge, listening to some great music, watching passenger’s dancing, talking with friends, and even (a little) dancing.

 

 

 

 

 

Alaska, Ho!

Saturday, Sept. 7 & Sunday, Sept. 8, 2019

Saturday

When we’d checked into our Vancouver hotel, the desk staff had recommended a shuttle to take us to the port for boarding the cruise ship. The driver, Sayeed, assured us he could deliver all 8 of us, and our luggage, right to the curb where we could drop off our bags and be met with the requested wheelchairs for the folks. Well. It turned out Sayeed was working a bait and switch.

He did have an 8 passenger van. But counting him, there were 9 of us. So an extra person was scrunched into one bench seat and seatbelt-less. Then, yes, he delivered us to a curb. Just not the curb at the baggage drop. So it was a looooong walk to the actual baggage drop, where the taxis and buses were delivering other passengers. He did help with the bags, but we still had a lot to wrangle through elevators and walkways, while shepherding the folks who’d been told they would have wheelchairs and wouldn’t have to walk far. So we didn’t start off on a happy note.

 

Once we dropped off the bags, it got a little easier, but it was still a fair distance to the check-in. But once there, and checked-in, we could sit while we waited for the wheelchairs that would take us on board. We waited a loooong time. I guess they had about four chairs for the 400 passengers requesting assistance. I probably exaggerated, but not by much. David accompanied Mom and I walked along with Dad. An attendant pushed the chair, Mom or Dad held a carryon bag on their lap and we zipped past some lines at Customs, showed our passports and then scooted up the gangway and onto the ship. We were on the 8th floor, at the front of the ship. Mom and Dad on the port side, David and I on the starboard side. Our friends and their parents were also being accompanied and using a wheelchair, so it didn’t take long and we were all on board.

We met our room stewards, Hru and Sri. They were all smiles and welcomed us with genuine warmth. We then headed to the dining room for lunch. After lunch, Mom and Dad went to rest in their room, while David and I explored the ship. We sat in on an orientation talk for first time cruisers. We also went up to the shore excursions desk. We had booked our excursions ahead of time, but after seeing how much walking there was on the ship, Mom and Dad were rethinking some of our choices. We decided they should cancel Monday’s excursion to Mendenhall Glacier. We also asked the consultant there about the other two excursions we had booked, but she assured us there was very little walking on both of those. That we’d be met by a bus on the dock and taken to the site. So we left those on the schedule and just canceled the glacier trip.

By then it was time for the muster drill. We hurried back to our cabin and waited to be called to the deck near the life boats. All 8 of us made it to the drill. Whew! Then it was time for sailing!

Although the Pittman’s room was on the port side, the other three rooms in our party were on the starboard side, which was the side facing the dock, so we gathered in our room, on the balcony, for a toast and to wave farewell to Vancouver. And … Sri arrived with a lovely gift from our awesome travel agent, Cheryl, at Hey Wanna Go. She sent us an appetizer sampler that we enjoyed while watching Vancouver slip away. Thank you, Cheryl!

 

Then it was time for dinner! Seafood, steak, pasta, so many choices …

After dinner, we were tuckered out. Lee and Karie explored the nightlife and entertainment options, but we called it a night.

Sunday, Sept 8

 

Sunday was a cruising day. We sailed up the Inland Passage and admired the gorgeous scenery. We saw a pod of dolphins and a few whales. Dave found the smoking area where he could enjoy a cigar. One of the “bargain,” offers on ship, was a “free” bracelet and then the opportunity to buy a charm each day. I was able to use my coupon as well as both folks’ and so assembled three bracelets and gave one each to Amber and Taryn when we got home.

 

After breakfast, we were able to take a tour of the kitchen and meet the chef. He talked about how they prepare, assemble, and serve the meals to the 2000+ passengers and crew, how they plan the menus. He also mentioned that on the second gala night, when lobster is offered, that the numbers are very consistent, for every cruise! Nearly every passenger orders the lobster.

Sunday evening was the first of the two Gala Nights where we dressed up for dinner. It was a fun evening. After dinner we enjoyed some music at the Billboard Lounge then at the B.B. King nightclub.

 

Tomorrow, Mendenhall Glacier National Park!

CO –> CA

Thursday, August 22 — Monday August, 26, 2019

I left off after we picked up Jeff and Katia at the airport in Denver. They’re from El Paso, Texas, and will be taking this trailer west to Nevada, New Mexico and California. We spent Thursday afternoon getting acquainted and showing them the trailer.

On our way back from the airport, I noticed one of my favorite California restaurants, the Lazy Dog, so I knew where we’d be having dinner! Then on the way to Lazy Dog, I saw a sign for HuHot, a Mongolian Grill place IMG_2779I’d visited two years ago in Fargo, North Dakota when I’d been at a pesticide conference. I knew Dave would love it, so problem solved about where to have dinner tomorrow night!

Friday morning we began training Jeff and Katia. We unloaded the boxes of RALI supplies, the popup shelters, the generator, etc. We set up the trailer from its travel mode. Jeff and Katia had watched the videos I took in Indianapolis of Joe and Frank training us, and read the transcripts I’d done, so they basically knew the info. I gave them my tour. Dave gave them his tour. Then the guys did some shopping and worked on truck and trailer maintenance while I went back to the hotel to work.

As I predicted, HuHot was a hit for dinner. Saturday involved more training, but this was about driving the truck and trailer. First, Dave drove all of us to downtown Denver to

check out the venue where the trailer was scheduled to be Monday and Tuesday on the grounds of the Capitol. Downtown venues are always tricky, with narrow, one-way streets. We had directions about where to place the trailer and we wanted to be sure it was possible. We found the location, discussed how to make it happen, and we were satisfied. It would take some maneuvering and stopping traffic for a few minutes, but it was doable.

Back at the hotel, the guys dropped off Katia and me, hooked up the trailer and drove to a truck wash to get both the truck and trailer washed and all pretty for the trailer’s Denver debut on Sunday. It was also Jeff’s first trailer driving lesson. I had work to do. IMG_2785 Part of my work involved repairing a part of the trailer decor which kept losing its horns during transport and finally one broke.  That night we walked across the street to a BBQ place, Jim ‘n’ Nick’s, that was amazing! The cheese corn muffins are to die for! We shared riblets, a salad, and blackeyed peas.

Sunday we had an event in Greenwood Village. This was Jeff and Katia’s first event, so they got to ease into giving tours. They did great! We were also treated to a visit from our cousin, Trena, who moved to Denver a few years ago. Catching up with her was wonderful! It was a warm day and everyone kept apologizing for the weather, but honestly, after what we’d had in Iowa, it wasn’t that bad.

The event itself didn’t have a great turnout, but it was sponsored by state representative, Meg Froelich.  As usual, everyone who came through was surprised by what they learned. I did one media interviewAnd HuHot was such a hit Friday evening, we went back again Sunday for dinner. 

Monday morning Dave and I rode in the back seat and Jeff and Katia drove us to the Capitol. We did stop traffic, but we got the trailer in position relatively quickly. After a IMG_2809smooth set up, but a not-so-smooth unhitching of truck from trailer (which involved a broken jack), I gave one tour to some RALI people. We took some pictures, said goodbye, then headed to the airport via a free downtown shuttle and Denver’s light rail.

We’re now at the gate, waiting to board our flight to San Francisco, then to Fresno. I’ve written this post in three stages today. At the hotel this morning, on the train, at the airport.

Make that four five stages. I had to board the plane. I finished writing on the plane, and in San Francisco, I will insert the pictures and (I hope) post.

We’ll be home for about a week, visiting family and going to see the Fresno State vs. USC football game this weekend. Then we fly to Vancouver for our long awaited Alaska cruise. We’re not quite sure when and where we’ll rejoin the trailer. We thought it would be DC on Sept. 17, but we were just told today plans and schedules have changed, so … once again, we’re being flexible. Stay tuned …

 

The Adventure Continues!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

We needed to leave San Francisco first thing Thursday morning, because we had a flight out of Fresno at 4:02 that afternoon. We missed our final breakfast with our friends at Dottie’s True Blue Cafe, one of our favorite places, but work called.

We got home about 10:30 and threw one load of everything into the washer. The cat insisted he’d not been fed even once in the four days we’d been gone so we took turns feeding and petting him. At 2:00 our friends arrived to shuttle us to the airport and we were off again.

The ticket agent informed us that our connection in Denver was delayed due to storms. They couldn’t land and so our flight was impacted. Okay, not great news, but it would only make us half an hour late into Des Moines.

Well … that was only the beginning.

At our gate, we waited for the boarding call. And waited. And waited. Then came the announcement that the incoming flight was delayed. And delayed. By the time it finally arrived, and we were onboard, we still waited to take off, and we were grateful the Denver flight was delayed. Bottom line: we’d have about 30 minutes to make the connection.

In Denver, that’s risky. It’s such a huge airport. Even if you’re in the same terminal, it can be half an hour to walk to your next gate. But there was nothing we could do except try.

We landed. And we waited again. There was a problem with the jetway. If we’d been able to get off right away, we’d have made the connection. I’m convinced those ten minutes cost us that flight. We ran the half mile to the next gate only to be told we were too late. The flight hadn’t left the gate yet, but they wouldn’t let us on.

So we joined the line of roughly 200 other stranded passengers for customer service. I used the app to book us on a flight the next morning as standbys, but we needed to talk to a live person about other options and also where our bags were. It took two and a half hours to work our way to the front of the line. Because the delays were weather related, all the airline offered us was bottled water while we stood in line and a “Freshness” Kit, of an empty water bottle, toothpaste, toothbrush, etc. The rep also gave us three blankets instead of two, since we’d be sleeping in the airport that night and it was already midnight. 

The best the agent could do for us was to get us on an 11 am flight to Moline, Illinois where we’d rent a car and drive two hours and forty minutes to Des Moines, pick up our bags at the airport, return the car, and finally begin our fair time.

We hiked the mile from B Terminal to A Terminal to the gate where the 8:00 AM flight to Des Moines was scheduled to depart, hoping it wouldn’t be changed to a different gate (and that our standby status would get us on the flight).

IMG_2626Now I can say I’ve slept on an airport floor. And I actually did sleep for a couple of hours. The lights were bright, so I was grateful for that third blanket. Dave let me have it, so I was covered, toes to head, and the lights weren’t in my eyes.  As close to heaven as one can get on the floor of an airport.

In the morning, we shared a breakfast sandwich and had coffee and prayed and hoped. Dave talked to the  gate agent. She said the flight had one empty seat, so we needed just one passenger to not show up. You feel bad hoping someone misses their flight, but … there could be lots of reasons they don’t make it. I think. Maybe.

As boarding began, we watched and waited. Then we gathered our things and hovered near the gate, hoping the agent would see us and have pity. She called for three passengers, “Final boarding.” One woman ran up, huffing and puffing. She swore her friend was right behind her. She squinted and pointed down the terminal to someone running.

The agent kept calling for one more passenger, “Barbara, final call.” She went out the door, closing it behind her and we thought we were headed to Moline and a rental car. I started searching my United app for its departure gate.

Then the agent was back and asking, “Were there standby passengers for Des Moines?”

“Us!” We rushed toward her.

“Come on! Hurry!”

She flung the door open and trotted down the ramp and onto the tarmac, waving at the pilot who was already going through his checklist and not looking up. The runway employees had pulled the stairs away. Dave shook his head. The plane backed away.

The agent jumped up and down, waving two fingers.

Finally the pilot saw her. The plane stopped. The door opened. Stairs lowered.

We dashed up, apologized to the flight attendant. “I’m sorry, they forgot us! We slept on the floor!”

I stopped at the first vacant seat. A man sat at the window. A water bottle and a small bag were in the seat. I indicated I needed to sit there. “Oh, sorry. Your seat?” He picked up the things. “This was my wife’s. I guess she didn’t make it.”

Oops. I guess his wife was Barbara. He had on headphones and it was obvious he did not want to talk, so we sat in silence for the hour and a half flight. Except when we deplaned. I had brought the blankets on board, just in case. Then I left them behind on the seat. As I stood and started to move down the aisle, he said, “Ma’am, your jacket.” I turned around. “Oh, no. It’s blankets from sleeping on the floor.” He nodded. So yes, we shared a moment.

Next, our bags. They should have been on the plane with us. The agent last night assured us since they were tagged in Fresno to Des Moines, they would make it to Des Moines, even if we went to Moline. So we headed to baggage claim, and sure enough, first Dave’s bag came out of the slot, then mine! Finally, things were going right. 

Then I called the hotel. I hadn’t thought to call earlier, but our reservation was confirmed for the day before, so arriving before official check-in time, a day late, shouldn’t be a problem. We just needed to get to the hotel. I called to ask about a shuttle, but nope. So we Ubered to the hotel, checked in, and collapsed.

After naps, we looked around for a place to get an early dinner. Google maps said there was a BBQ place just a block away so we headed out. We found it easily enough, but it was closed up tight. At 4:00 on a Friday. Sigh. Later, we found out they were probably out at the fair with a booth.

There was also a diner right next to the hotel so we returned there, shared some grilled chicken and vegetables. Then we called up another Uber for a ride to a drugstore to buy a few supplies. We had a lovely driver named Veronica. This was definitely a God-ordained appointment. She drives Uber on weekends as a second job, putting the money toward a ministry she’s launching to bring electricity to Africa. She’s also a survivor of a workplace shooting. By the end of the ride, we were all talking super fast, trying to get everything said that needed to be said, before we had to get out of the car. Uber sets a limit on how much I could tip, or I would have given her more for the electricity project.

We had an early night and still fell asleep quite easily. Then Saturday we hit the Iowa State Fair!

The Adventure Interlude: Home and SF

July 30 – Aug. 7, 2019

We got home on the 30th and kept busy with laundry, my work, and household stuff. We celebrated a family birthday and got to see the grandkidsIMG_2496. We had hired a lawn service and the guy decided we live too far away and quit, so we scrambled to find someone else. Which we did. Whew! My mom and I took in a presentation of Calamity Jane, starring Louise Mandrell. Dave and I hosted a family gathering on IMG_2503Saturday, August 3rd. Our niece, Katie, and her daughters were visiting from Maryland, so we got to see them and get caught up.

Then Sunday August 4th, we left again. This time for a personal vacation in San Francisco with two couples, both longtime friends. Wally and Deb are moving out of state soon, and they generously shared their timeshare points with us so we had very nice accommodations near Union Square.

We went to church Sunday morning, then we had a bit of tidying up to do around the house from the day before, so we didn’t get away as soon as we’d hoped. Let’s just say Dave made up for the late start by driving like he couldn’t with the trailer behind him in Indiana, Illinois, and Minnesota. We got to SF about 5, checked in, found our friends, and settled in with drinks and snacks and catching up and stories and laughter.

Monday was a day of fabulous firsts. We went to Sears for breakfast. I’ve already mentioned my issue with eggs. I ordered one egg, over hard. This was the best restaurant cooked egg I’ve ever had. It was perfect! A first! I neglected to get a picture, because the thing with eggs is, they have to be eaten while still hot. There’s a very slim time margin. But trust me. I’m a very picky egg eater. This one was perfect.

After breakfast, we headed to the Ferry Building, then walked to catch a ferry to Alcatraz. Dave and I had never been there. Another first. It’s a fascinating place, with so much IMG_2525history. It was quite breezy out there and Dave’s audio tour/headphones got out of sync, so he missed some parts, but it was still a great experience. We spent a couple of hours wondering the island.

After coming back to the city, Tony researched restaurants. A mention on the tour of spaghetti in the dining hall had several of us wanting pasta for dinner. Tony found a place with great reviews and we headed there. We found it, but there was a problem … they served no alcohol. After walking 10,000 steps, we needed a glass of wine to go with our spaghetti!

The staff there directed us to their second location, which was more of a sit down place, since their’s was more take-out. We conferred. No one wanted to walk the additional half mile. Luckily, we were in North Beach, which is rich with Italian restaurants. I pointed across the street and squinted. The sign said Luisa’s … Something or other. 

We crossed the street. A lit sign in a window said Pizza. Two men sat at a table on the sidewalk. There were lights on inside, but no other indications that they were open. Now we could read the name of the place: Luisa’s Ristorante.

Little did we know the treat awaiting us.

One of the men out front wore an apron so we asked if they were open. He said yes,  stood, and we entered.

A woman was sitting at a table. We asked again if they were open. A waiter said yes,  gestured to us to choose a table, any table. The woman stood, gathered her papers, and shuffled off. The waiter gave us “menus.” Three sheets of 9×12 papers, stapled together.

IMG_2545The woman shuffled back, sat at our table, and introduced herself as Luisa, ninety-one years old, the owner and chef. She proceeded to show us pictures of celebrities who had dined at her restaurant in the past, including Sophia Loren and Guy Fieri. Her accent was thick, her hair very dark (for ninety-one years old), and her attitude presumptuous. I asked what Guy had eaten and she told me he loved her gnocchi.

On the menu, the gnocchi was listed as, “Gnocchi ***** Yelp” followed by a brief description and the choice of sauces. (I figured out that meant the gnocchi has a 5 star rating on Yelp. We also learned later that she’d recently relocated the ristorante to that North Beach location. SF leases and landlords being unreasonable and all that, you know.)

Tony and Dave asked about the wine selection and Luisa reached for a bottle of red, announced it was her own blend and it was an excellent choice, even if the alcohol content was a bit over what was strictly legal-wink, wink. Tony ordered a bottle for the table. Since I stick to white (red gives me leg cramps), Dave ordered a bottle of Pinot Grigio for the table as well. It was realllly good. Deb started with a glass of the red, but she switched to the white after she tasted it.

Then. We attempted to order our dinners. As the first person ordered, Luisa not-so-gently corrected their order. “No. You want that with the pappardelle. I make that. I don’t make the spaghetti.” By the end of the ordering, each of us was looking at Luisa for approval. Dave ordered a Napalese pizza. That passed fine. I ordered the gnocchi. Instead of the four or five sauce options on the menu, she gave me a choice of two: the pesto or the vodka sauce. I chose the vodka, a light pink sauce. IMG_2543Wally chose Luisa’s sauce (pancetta, peas, and a few other ingredients) with his pasta and he said it was excellent.

I’ve ordered gnocchi before. I like it. I always think it’s going to be better than it is.

Until Luisa’s.

I will never order gnocchi anywhere else, ever again.

Ah. May. Zing.

Light. Velvety. Delicious! The sauce was perfect with the gnocchi. I don’t care if I ever eat gnocchi again, because I’ve had them as perfectly as they can ever be made. Another first!

Luisa is a true character. While she sat with us, she shared some of her stories. She zeroed in on the men in our party. (Talk about a flirt!) She knew Tony was a salesman. He’s also Italian, so they traded stories about the old country.

While we were eating and chatting, a young woman bounced in, handed Luisa her resume, and bounced out, in about twelve seconds. She wasn’t out the door three seconds before Luisa ripped the resume in half and tossed it aside. Our table hooted. Kim and I exchanged glances and whispered consultations. That was not the way to go about applying for a job with Luisa.

Another customer came into the restaurant. He sat near us. Listened. Ordered. Luisa paid no attention to him. Another young woman came in with a resume. She did sit and chat with Luisa before leaving. Her resume did not get torn up.

Kim and I watched the other customer order and eat. Remember, this was a Monday. And early in the evening. I’m 90% sure he was a chef. He dined alone. He knew who Luisa was. When he was done, he approached her, introduced himself, chatted for a moment. I wasn’t near enough to hear their conversation, but he was invited to sit. They talked for several minutes. I’m quite sure he was either scoping out the competition or applying for a job. And he knew how to go about it, not like the first young woman with the resume that got torn up.

We finally left to catch a cable car back to our hotel. Our whole experience was wonderful. And all because the takeout place across the street didn’t have a liquor license.

I have two more days in San Francisco to talk about and two travel days to Des Moines to catch up on. We are safely in Des Moines. After some delays and excitement in Denver. But this post is already too long. I’ll continue to post and catch up in the next few days. Thank you for reading!!

 

 

 

The Adventure: Day 16

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Happy Birthday, Amber!

We got up early in Minneapolis, and made it to the airport and through security with just about fifteen minutes to spare before our first flight. Our layover in Salt Lake City was just enough time to run from Terminal C to Terminal E and catch our flight to Fresno.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough time for Dave’s suitcase to make the flight. Mine did. We hope his caught the afternoon flight and will be here this evening sometime.

We will spend the next few days catching up on work and house and yard chores and laundry. We’ll see family and friends and celebrate a birthday or two.

We’ll leave again Sunday for a few days in San Francisco with friends. The Great Adventure blog will resume when we fly from San Francisco to Des Moines on Thursday, August 8th. First stop: The Iowa State Fair! Fair fare!

Thank you so much for reading and commenting and being encouraging!

The Adventure: Day 15

Monday, July 29, 2019

Another crazy, exhilarating, exhausting day. We left our hotel in Austin, MN and hightailed it to the SPAM museum ASAP as we could. The museum opened at 9 AM and IMG_2469we got there about 9:30.

True confession: I thought we’d be the only ones there, wandering a cavernous building all alone.

David, of course, thought the opposite. We’d be crowded, shoulder to shoulder, shuffled along, already too late to see anything of interest and having to hurry past the exhibits.

Thankfully, the truth was somewhere in between. There were people in the museum, but it wasn’t crowded. And it was more interesting than I expected.

There was lots of history about the Hormel family, how the patriarch started as a butcher and entrepreneur and meat processor and the “empire” started with the Hormel sealed/packaged ham. And then it expanded to the Dinty Moore canned stews, then Jay Hormel wanted to bring chili to the northern states.

SPAM was actually a late comer to the Hormel family (kinda-sorta). IMG_2472I was really impressed how Hormel is still actively seeking to keep their brand relevant and meaningful.

In the last two weeks we’ve been in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. Dave and I have quizzed each other about what’s unusual in each state. What do we see that’s different? What do we not see that we’re used to seeing at home? One of my comments was the ubiquitous array of trash containers for “Trash,” “Plastic Recyclable,” “Glass Recyclable,” and “Paper/Cardboard Recyclable.” I’ve seen signs reminding me to recycle, but there haven’t been a lot of different containers. Except at the SPAM Museum. They had them all!

Dave had been talking to the staff at the Minnesota Farm Fest about when and where we could drop off the trailer for the event there. While we were wandering the SPAM Museum, he got a call. The woman on the other end of the phone, over 100 miles away, told us we had  to go to the Tendermaid Cafe for lunch and get a hamburger. But it’s not a usual hamburger. It’s a loose meat burger.

Well … when someone, two hours away, calls to make a restaurant recommendation, we listen!

The Tendermaid was less than a block from the SPAM Museum and it opened at 11 AM. We arrived a few minutes after opening and scored a couple of seats at the counter. We IMG_2474had no clue what we were doing or ordering, but we managed to order a “hamburger,” to share and a malt (which we were also told we “had” to order).

When I had researched food in Iowa, the loose meat sandwich popped up, but I didn’t know it was also a thing in Minnesota.  It’s kind of like a Sloppy Joe, but without the sloppy sauce.

The Tendermaid has been serving loose meat burgers for 81 years. Of course Dave wondered why they didn’t have a SPAM burger (insert rolling eye emoji), but I didn’t. They’ve been in business nearly as long as SPAM has been around. Who knew SPAM was going to be a thing 80 years later? The Tendermaid found their wheelhouse and stuck with it.

The diner is super small. The steamer/cooker is the original (i.e. 81 years old!).IMG_2477 The staff  comes in at about 9 am and start cooking/steaming the meat and breaking it up. We ordered a hamburger. Dave watched when an order for a cheeseburger came in. The waitress/cook scraped together a bunch of meat, laid down a slice of cheese, pulled more meat on topIMG_2479 … let it sit a minute, then pulled it all onto a bun.

Made me wish we’d ordered a cheeseburger! Actually, we did. We ordered a Western Bacon Cheeseburger to-go for the guy we were meeting at the Minnesota Farm Fest to drop off the trailer. Someone who called and made the recommendation might have agreed with a question about should we bring a loose meat burger from the Tendermaid.

🙂

IMG_2480By noon-ish, we were headed to the Farm Fest site to drop off the trailer. And, once again, the winds were in full force. If we could just drive a truck and pull a trailer, everything would be great, but the winds! I can’t post videos on this blog (I’m cheap and haven’t upgraded yet), so check out my Facebook page for the 60 second video I took of Dave wrestling with the steering wheel, wind, and drafting vehicles.

We dropped off the trailer (and a gift of SPAM and a loose meat burger) at the Farm Fest venue and headed to our hotel near the Minneapolis-St.Paul airport. Surprisingly, for two Californians, we’ve actually been to this part of Minnesota before. We both came for the American Christian Fiction Writers conference in 2009 and I came for a deep/intensive/OMWord-I-can’teven-writers-conference a year or two later. But for both of those events, we/I saw: the Minneapolis-St.Paul Airport/The Mall of America/the venue hotel. And, sadly, this visit to Minneapolis doesn’t seem to be shaping up to be much different. We checked into our hotel a little after 6 pm.

Dave cleaned up the truck. We’re across the street from a strip mall, so he asked the front desk staff for a recommendation. He told them we were Californians, so they steered us away from the Mexican restaurant. We went to the “bar and grill.” While we were there, I researched the parking options at the airport. I’d assumed we’d leave the truck at the Long-term parking for our boss to pick up when he got into town in about a week.

That made sense. Until … the regular “Long Term” parking said the clearance is 6 foot …something. Given our experience last week,  we’re not willing to park there. So we (I) went looking for other options. There is another choice for long-term parking, And! they offer a 7′ clearance … but … you have to use the same credit card for entry and exit. Well  … that won’t work since we’re leaving the truck and someone else is picking it up.. 

Sigh …

We went to front desk and asked if they offered a “Park and Fly” option. They do. With shuttles to and from the airport. For the time we need … $60. The other options at the airport were going to be double that. At least.

We called our boss. He agreed to go with the Park and Fly. So … we’re in our room. We’ve got to get up earlier than we’d expected to get the shuttle to the airport.

We’ll be home around noon tomorrow. Probably stinking. Unshaven (both of us — no judging, okay!?!?).

We have some family and work and medical appointments to take care of the rest of the week. Sunday, we leave for an already planned vacation with friends. We’ll fly out of San Francisco (we think) to Des Moines for the Iowa State Fair (Deep-Fried Butter? More Loose Meat Sandwiches?) on August 8th. After the fair, we’re scheduled to move the trailer to Colorado.

But … as we’ve learned … stay tuned … who knows what’s next?? We don’t … only God …