Killing Time in Vancouver

Royal Princess at Canada Place in Vancouver BC

My sisters and I disembarked the Royal Princess in Vancouver in the morning, with hours to kill before our evening train. During normal times Amtrak runs two trains daily on the Amtrack Cascades route from Eugene, Oregon to Vancouver BC, which is a really handy way to get to the cruise port in Vancouver for anyone along that route. I’ve used the morning train going to Canada for embarkation, but the morning train from Canada leaves too early for cruise ship passengers to return to the USA unless they choose to spend a night in Vancouver before leaving – which is a good option as there are plenty of hotels and lots to see or do there. Not that there are currently any cruise ship passengers in Vancouver since Canada’s ports are closed to cruise ships because of the pandemic.

Canadians of all sorts hang around near Canada Place – including this Canadian goose

Since we were leaving town the same day we took the evening train, which meant we had plenty of time to disembark and make it to the train on time with a whole lot of time to spare. We didn’t have more luggage than what we could handle on our own so we chose the self disembarkation where you carry off your own luggage rather than turning it in the night before and having to wait until it is ready to pick up in the port to leave the ship. If you have self disembarkation you can leave as soon as they announce that you can, but we don’t always leave immediately. At some point they want people out of their rooms, which is usually when we go, generally somewhere around 8:30am.

Canada Place with the Pan Pacific Hotel on top

Since we did not want to spend the day dragging our suitcases around, the first thing we did once we left the ship was to look for the luggage storage for cruise ship passengers advertised on Canada Place’s website, only to find it was not open yet. We were sent to the Pan Pacific hotel in the Canada Place building, who was providing luggage storage service for cruise passengers at that time. It cost $5 per bag, which the bellhop said was a better price than the $9 per bag Canada Place planned to charge once they got their service up and running. The hotel had limited space for bag storage, but we were the first ones to drop bags off that day so we had no problem leaving ours.

inside Pacific Central Station there’s a big open waiting area with little shops and eateries

I had figured on picking up the bags in time to get to Central Pacific train station about an hour before our departure, but the bellhop recommended much earlier. There was nobody at the station ready to check in passengers or luggage or anything until somewhere within an hour of the train’s departure so afterword we wondered if the bellhop may have thought we meant to take a skytrain to the airport rather than meaning that we were actually leaving the country by train since he was adamant that we needed to arrive far earlier than we really did. The train station does have benches to sit on, and at that time of the day the doors are open and there are some shops, places to eat, and restrooms inside. When we caught a bus early one morning from Pacific Central the station was deserted and the doors locked until nearly time for the bus to depart. In the past there was luggage storage at Pacific Central, but the lockers have been removed and there is no luggage storage available there now.

information booth at Canada Place

Due to Barbara’s leg injury we scrapped our original plan for the day, which was to walk to Stanley Park along the sea walk and spend the day there. We bypassed the information booth where people can get tickets to all sorts of things and saw the free shuttle to Capilano Suspension Bridge and also one that looked like it went to Science World as well as one that appeared to go directly to Grouse Mountain rather than taking the shuttle to Capilano and a bus to Grouse Mountain from there as we had done the previous winter. A hop on hop off bus also stopped at Canada Place so there’s all sorts of options for people who have time to kill in Vancouver. Science World is a good option for train passengers as it is close to the train station and has luggage storage.

Waterfront Station

Waterfront Station is right next door to Canada Place so we went there and got the day pass tickets that allow rides on the city bus, skytrain, and seabus all day long. We had thought to take the bus to Stanley Park, but the sea bus left from Waterfront Station and since we were already there and hadn’t ridden it before we gave that a go instead.

seabus to Lonsdale Quay

The seabus rather resembles a self moving barge that people ride inside of. It went across the water to Lonsdale Quay which had shops, restaurants and a kid’s splash park along the waterfront.

giant crane in Shipbuilder’s Square at Lonsdale Quay

We hadn’t gone far before we saw an old-fashioned 4-masted sailboat docked at a nearby pier. Thinking it might be the Cuauhtemoc, a training ship from the Mexican Navy which I had run across previously in Seattle with Linda and in Hawaii with John, we went over to investigate. This one turned out to be the BAP Union from Peru, which is newer and larger than the Cuauhtemoc. One of the sailors said there are quite a few countries with similar sailing ships used both for training and sailing around the world as ambassadors for their countries.

BAP Union from Peru

The first sign we saw said tours had started a half hour previously, but as we stood for awhile in an unmoving line we saw a gangway getting moved around, but nobody getting on or off. Linda spotted another sign saying tours wouldn’t start for another half hour so we decided not to wait. The line started moving before we got off the dock, but having lost our place to a now much longer line we didn’t go back. It would have been difficult for Barbara to get around the steep ladders and stairways on a ship of that sort with her bad knee anyway.

view of Vancouver from the seabus

The seabus had two boats running back and forth so one was always at or headed to either end. When we wandered back there we didn’t have to wait long. The boat we came on had a nice window we could see out of while seated, giving us a great view of Vancouver through the back window on the way there. The one we returned on had the window placed higher so passengers would need to stand to see out.

seawalk near the port

We wandered around Canada Place a bit and then took the seawalk down as far as the seaplane base before sitting and watching the activity on the waterfront for awhile. Since the bellhop at the hotel had said we needed to return so early we didn’t have time for anything else so we picked up our luggage and took the skytrain from Waterfront Station to Main Street/Science World Station, which is across the street from Pacific Central Station where the Amtrack trains stop in Canada. You can catch Canadian trains there too as well as busses.

seaplane base a short distance down the seawalk from Canada Place

After heeding his advice it turned out we got to the train station an hour earlier than we needed to, but better early than late. We wandered around a bit and looked into the train station’s shops and eateries before settling onto a bench to read while we waited. Another person waiting nearby pointed out the table of customs forms in the center of the station, which everyone needed to have filled out before boarding the Amtrak train to the USA. Thanks to him we were prepared. We saw someone else get all the way through the line only to be turned back because they didn’t have the form. They had to go fill it out and start over again at the end of the line. People taking Canadian trains departing to other areas in Canada would not need them of course. Greyhound busses also use the same station, but when we took the bus from that station before the crack of dawn when nothing at the station was open they gave us the forms on the bus rather than having them filled out in advance. They’ve also given us the forms on the train when we’ve taken it to Canada.

view of Stanley Park from the ship on the way into port

With the border to Canada set to open soon people from the USA will once again be able to kill time in Vancouver – if they have had their COVID vaccination that is, as the border is only opening to vaccinated tourists.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
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Petra

the Treasury at Petra

Many people who have never heard of Petra have actually seen a glimpse of this wondrous archeological site. The façade of the temple known as the treasury was featured in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Yes that building carved in stone is a real place. And that real place is called Petra and it is in Jordan.

some structures like this one are seen before you even get to the siq

Petra has many buildings carved into the stone cliffs, not just the one. It’s an ancient city dating back to long before the birth of Christ. Though it’s not known exactly when Petra was built, evidence of human settlement in the area dates back 10,000 years. Petra was once a major trading hub inhabited by its builders, the Nabateans. It was a stop on the silk road where desert-weary travelers could do some trading while getting rested and refreshed in the manmade oasis of Petra before continuing on their desert journey.

Roman carvings high on a hillside

Some of the structures in Petra were built by the Romans, who invaded in 106 AD and ruled Petra until an earthquake in 363 AD destroyed many of its structures including the all-important water management system. Byzantines eventually took control of the region, but by the 8th century Petra was largely abandoned. Sea routes replaced it for trading and the city declined and was forgotten by all but a few nomads until it was rediscovered in 1812.

the siq is a long trail through rock cliffs

Petra’s main entrance follows a 1.2k narrow winding opening between cliffs through a gorge called Al Siq. Petra is a Unesco world heritage site and the most visited place in Jordan. Besides the rock-carved architecture, Petra’s water conduit system was also an ancient marvel. The Nabateans used a system of dams, cisterns, and aqua ducts to store and transport water from occasional flash floods to supplement the perennial stream allowing the desert city to flourish in an artificial oasis. In addition to the buildings carved into the rock face of the sandstone cliffs they also had some free-standing buildings made of rock.

goats in Petra

The name Petra comes from the Greek word Petros, meaning rocks, an appropriate name for a city carved into the sides of rock cliffs. It is also known as Al-Batra in Arabic. Petra became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1985 and one of the 7 wonders of the world in 2005, a fitting designation for it truly is a wonder. The Siq entrance is a narrow passage worn through sandstone from years of wind and rain. The Treasury is the first thing you see after passing through the Siq, and is one of the most impressive buildings in all of Petra.

donkey in front of what looked like poor people’s apartments

A chance to see Petra was the main reason we booked our cruise on the MSC Lirica, which had a port stop in Aqaba so we booked the excursion shortly after booking the cruise. For sights that are a distance away from the ship, booking through them insures that if you return late the ship will wait for you as it has to wait for its own excursions to return before it leaves. Getting there on your own carries no such guarantee and the ship will leave without you if you don’t make it back on time.

lots of people rode donkeys in Petra

On most ships if you get to the meeting area early you get on the first bus for that excursion, whereas if you get there at the time it says you end up on the straggler’s bus. We went down about 45 minutes early and were told not to come until the time on the card, but they let us in at 10 minutes early only to find that several busses for that excursion were already full so we did not end up on the first bus, or even the second. From past experience we’ve found that the earlier you are in the bus line up the more likely you are to get a good guide, and the farther down you are the likelihood of a bad guide increases. Besides the fact that the busses that are filled first leave first so they sometimes have more time to spend at the excursion destination. Not always though. Sometimes they just return sooner.

ancient and modern – solar panels and rock carvings

Our guide gave us a lot of good information about Aqaba, Jordan, and Petra on the 2+ hour bus ride there and back, but said he was taking the group through the Siq and to the treasury and from there people could either go back or explore on their own down as far as the theater before heading back. The excursion description had said it was to go to several different locations within Petra. He said besides the packed lunch we were to pick up that afternoon on our way out that our excursion also included the option to ride a horse down from the entry gate to the Siq without paying extra other than a tip. Taking a horse carriage into Petra on the other hand would cost extra as that was not included in the price of our tour.

rock stairway

On the bus our guide explained several times what to do and where to go when we got off, but even so just as we got through the entry a panicked women said her friend had gotten lost and not made it inside. Rather than spend our already limited time standing at the entry waiting for people who can’t follow directions we left the group and went ahead on our own, which the guide had said was fine for people to do if they would rather explore on their own than take a guided tour. He had thoroughly explained when and where to pick up the lunches before going back to the bus, which he had also explained where to find and when everyone needed to return by.

riding a horse from the entry gate down to the siq

We had intended to go with the flow of whatever the rest of the group did as to whether to walk down or ride a horse, but since we bailed on the tour before even getting to the horses we went ahead and rode them, though when 3 of the horse guys were fighting over which of their horses I should ride I was going to not ride any until John told them I was with him. Then all but the first guy who was not even one of the 3 left.

hillside with older carvings at the bottom and Roman ones on top

The horse guy thought I was changing my mind because I was afraid to ride the horse so I told him I used to have horses, but had not rode one recently. It was not the horses that bothered me, but rather all the people fighting over whose horse to ride. I ended up with a scruffy little horse and John got a bit bigger and much nicer looking one. Some of the horses there had the classic Arabian horse look and others not so much. Whether they were just poor examples of the breed or something else entirely I couldn’t say.

in the siq

After we got to the bottom of the hill the horse guys said we could run them back up it and then come back down, but we only went a little way for just a short canter and then back down because we were there to see Petra, not to go horseback riding and didn’t want to take the time to come all the way back down again.

excursion group in the siq

As we walked through the siq we passed by quite a few excursion groups who had arrived there before ours. They stopped to listen to a spiel about this formation or that carving in the rock frequently along the way. Probably interesting information that most people would remember as long as it took to get to the next thing and not much longer than that.

horse carriage in the siq

We took a lot of photos on the long walk in. Often along the way you have to move aside as a horse carriage comes thundering through. For an extra cost people can take a carriage ride through the Siq, which also includes a return trip. I felt sorry for the horses pulling the carriages as they were going way too fast for hard ground as well as too fast for horses going downhill on the way in. The ones we saw on the way out were quite sweaty from working so hard all day in the desert heat.

John on a camel at Petra

John wanted a photo on a camel in front of the Treasury, and there was one right there when we arrived so he did that first thing. They do offer camel rides, but he just wanted the photo. The camel didn’t seem to think that was enough though as it tried to get up again when it was only halfway down to let him off. If we’d had a lot of time to spend there a camel ride would have been fun, but we wanted to spend what little time we had seeing as much of Petra as we could. There were lots of animals in Petra. Besides the horses and camels there were also donkeys – some loose, some tied, and some giving rides. We also saw cats, dogs, and goats wandering freely.

Most of the openings into walls and stairways carved into the cliffside are off limits, but there are a few stairways you can climb and doorways you can peek into. Looking in doesn’t give any idea of how big the space inside once was though because they are currently full of sand accumulated over the centuries.

vendors line the walkway in Petra

Besides animals, Petra is full of vendors selling all sorts of trinkets. In spite of the commercialization, the site is still awesome. It’s not actual stores, just makeshift stands and local people trying to make a living.

corner building in Petra

Petra is a huge site with many sections, far more than could be seen in the few hours available on a cruise ship port stop. We went down to the end of the first section. We could see that there were more buildings not too far down the road, but didn’t really have time to go much farther and still get back to the bus on time. We had already gone well beyond the theater, but since we bailed on the group early on we had a lot more time to explore.

ruins of the Roman theater at Petra

Some of the additions built during Roman times were in the area at or near the end of the first section of buildings. The theater was at the closer end of that area to the Siq. At the far end of that section there was a place with Roman architecture high up on the cliff that people could go into. We went about halfway up the hillside to that one. I’d have liked to go all the way up and inside it, but John was worried about the time so we didn’t. We ended up making it back up to the Treasury area with time to spare. We could see smoke from a little fire and some people high on a ledge on the cliff opposite the treasury.

mountain goat trail up the rock

We decided to to climb the rock and see what all the people up there were doing. The trail there is part climbing over rocks and part what looks like an extremely narrow mountain goat trail. Some of the rock areas were almost like steps. It looked more like natural formations than an actual carved stairway in that location, though there were places in Petra with carved stairways. One of the ledges had a cat on it.

view from the start of the trail up the cliff across from the treasury

There were a lot of people coming down the narrow goat trail bit so we had to wait until they all passed by as only one person at a time could go either up or down there. Partway up there’s a fairly large ledge and lookout area with a nice view of the treasury and surrounding area, but for the best view you have to go all the way up to the highest ledge.

guy on the ledge making tea

That’s where the smoke was, a little old guy making Bedoin tea. He had a sign saying it cost $1 to come up to that ledge. The view was well worth the dollar, and he’d give anyone who wanted it a little cup of tea. Sweeter than the tea I normally drink, but delicious. He had rugs spread around the ledge and some cushions to sit on. The view from up there was amazing. There was a triangular split in the ledge where you could look down and see a camel in the exact same spot where we saw the one when we first came in. Everything about Petra is amazing, but going up to that spot was the highlight of the day.

looking through the crack in the ledge to camels down below

You do have to watch out for that large split in the rock though. John nearly fell through it backing up while looking at his phone screen trying to get the perfect picture. Luckily he stopped when I warned him when it looked like he hadn’t noticed the hole – and he hadn’t.

there was a cat on a ledge partway up the cliff

We made it back to the gate and up to the Cave Bar restaurant in time to pick up our lunches and eat there rather than taking them on the bus. Finding a seat wasn’t easy though because they were all full of other people on that excursion from any number of busses who had gotten there before we did. Everyone made it back to the bus on time, and only a couple of them hadn’t eaten before getting on the bus. One pair of people said they had gotten back way early and gone to the wrong place and ended up on a city bus into the nearest town, which has changed its name to Petra, but they made it back in time and eventually found the right bus (which was exactly where the guide said it would be.)

vendor at Petra

There are hotels right at Petra, but as we passed through the town that changed its name to Petra the guide did mention it having no unemployment and lots of hotels so likely people who google Petra and think they are getting a hotel right near the site end up in that town, which could easily be the reason they changed its name in the first place.

carving in the siq

On the way there and back the bus made pit stops at two different places that had stores as well as restrooms. Some of the trinkets in the stores were the same sort of things people had in Petra, but they also had a lot more. The most interesting thing I saw were little bottles of sand, which doesn’t sound like much except that the sand was different colors that made a picture as well as saying something like Jordan or Petra, or in the store on the way back that was near Wadi Rum some also said Wadi Rum.

living on the edge

The only bad thing about our trip to Petra was that we didn’t have enough time to explore the whole site, something that could never be done in just a few hours or even just a day. I’d love to go back again someday and stay long enough to explore the whole site.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
Posted in Lirica, Middle East, MSC, Ports of Call, Shore Excursions | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Parks of the San Juan Islands

red dots are parks and green dots are docks in this San Juan Islands and surrounding area map

Marine and state parks dot Washington State’s San Juan Islands. Some small islands are entirely state parks. Other state parks are a small portion of a larger island. Some are historic parks. Parks on the bigger islands are generally accessible by car, and may be accessible by boat as well. Some have campgrounds, some are day use only. Marine parks on smaller islands are accessible only by boat. Some have docks and/or mooring buoys. Others with access only for human powered boats are popular with kayakers.

Besides the entire island chain called San Juan Islands, there is also one island within the San Juan’s whose name is San Juan Island. State parks on San Juan Island include San Juan Island Historical Park, which has two locations – English Camp and American Camp from a long-ago boarder dispute when both Canada and the USA claimed ownership of the San Juan Islands. Lime Kiln Point State Park is another historic park on San Juan Island, once the site of lime mining and the lime kiln for which it is named. Now a popular whale-watching spot. San Juan County park is also located on San Juan Island and has camping facilities with running water and flush toilets as well as day use areas and a boat launch.

old lime kiln in Lime Kiln Point State Park (internet photo)

The other ferry-accessible Islands besides San Juan Island are Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw, all of which have parks as well. Lopez Island has two state parks – Spencer Spit and Iceberg Point. 200 acre Spencer Spit has views of Decatur and Blakley Islands and a sand spit within a salty lagoon. The park also has moorage, hiking trails, and a summertime Junior Ranger program for kids. Campsites and kayak rentals are among the amenities along with picnic shelters and potable water. Odlin County Park on Lopez Island also has campsites, mooring buoys, and a dock.

Piper on the trail at Odlin County Park

Iceberg Point is day-use trails with no facilities. Parking is available at nearby Agate Beach, a day-use county park. Shaw Island doesn’t have much in the way of public facilities besides the ferry dock and a small grocery store, but there is camping available at Shaw County Park. Orcas Island has Moran, Olga, and Obstruction Pass state parks.

on top of Mount Constitution
picnic with a view from the top of Mount Constitution on a cloudy day

At over 5000 acres, Moran State Park has more area than some entire islands. This park contains Mt. Constitution, the highest point in all of the San Juan Islands. A watchtower on the top of the mountain offers spectacular views on clear days. The park also has miles of trails and 3 campgrounds. Obstruction Pass State Park has primitive campsites and marine access. There’s also some day-use county parks on Orcas Island.

San Juan Islands
boats moored at Sucia Island

Small full island state marine parks include Blind, Clark, Doe, James, Jones, Matia, Patos, Posey, Stuart, Sucia and Turn. These islands are accessible by private or chartered boat only. All have campsites and mooring buoys. Some have docks – most of which are removed during winter to avoid storm damage. (No docks at Blind, Clark, Patos, Posey or Turn Islands.)

Most of these small island parks are just a short hop away from larger islands. Some like Patos, Sucia, and Matia are closer to each other than to any larger islands. Clark sits halfway between Orcas and Lummi Islands, not all that near to either.

boat dock at Odlin County Park

The islands are also full of county parks, some of which are marine accessible like Odlin County Park on Lopez Island which besides the dock, mooring buoys, and campground, also has beach campsites for those arriving by kayak or other human powered craft.

Day use is also possible in some marine sanctuaries such as the Kimball Preserve on Decatur Island, which is accessible by kayak.

Island Marine Parks

Marine parks are accessible by boat. Powered boats are welcome at some islands, only human powered craft at others. Most do not have fresh water available. Garbage is pack in pack out as these remote parks do not have garbage service. Some of the campsites on most of these islands are reserved for people who arrive by human powered craft as they are part of the Cascadia Marine Trail which has a series of campsites throughout the San Juan’s and Puget Sound for those traveling in people-powered boats – mainly kayaks.

Blind Island (internet photo)

Blind Island is a 3-acre state park island near Shaw Island. Because it is has only two campsites they are available only to those arriving by human powered craft. Blind Island’s campsites sit at the top of the island in the midst of a former apple orchard still surviving among grasses and brush. The island’s two wells have gone dry or stagnant so there is no fresh water available. The island has moorage available. Visitors are to pack out anything they pack in on this island as well as the other marine park islands.

Clark Island is a 55 acre state park island between Orcas and Lummi islands with sand or gravel beaches and campsites. It also has moorage and picnic areas.

beach on James Island
beach near the hiking trail on James Island

Much of James Island‘s 581 acres is designated as a natural forest area closed to public access, but this state park island still has plenty of room for hiking trails as well as a dock, mooring buoys, campsites, a picnic area, and primitive toilets – a composting toilet in the west cove and pit toilet for the east cove. There are 2 white sand beaches on the island, which sits across a small channel from Decatur Island.

Jones Island Marine State Park near Orcas Island has lots of wildlife within its 188 acres. Fresh water is available during summer months. This island state park has campsites, mooring buoys, trails, restrooms, picnic area, and a seasonal dock.

Rolfe Cove on Matia Island (internet photo)

Matia Island sits at the northern end of the San Juans. This forested state park does not allow dogs anywhere on the island. It has campsites, restrooms, trails, a dock, and mooring buoys. Campfires are not allowed on this island. Most of the 145 acre island is a wildlife reserve, not open to the public. No fresh water available on this island.

Patos Island is the northernmost of the San Juan Islands, sitting just a couple miles from the Canadian border. This 207 acre marine state park has a lighthouse, ruins of a former coast guard station, a campground, trail, and mooring buoys. Lighthouse tours may be available during the summer depending on weather and tides. There is no fresh water on this island.

Saddlebag Island (internet photo)

Saddlebag Island is at the eastern edge of the San Juan’s in Padilla Bay, just 4 miles from Anacortes. Sightings of marine wildlife and birds are common from this 26 acre island marine state park. The island has no fresh water. Motorized water sports like waterskiing and personal watercraft are allowed near this island. Wildflowers are profuse during the spring.

Stuart Island sits on the northwestern end of the San Juan’s near the Canadian border. This park is over 400 acres and includes moorage buoys and a dock as well as campsites and hiking trails. Park visitors can hike to a lighthouse, which is outside the park boundry. Potable water is available at this marine state park from May through September.

sea view
view from the bluff trail on Sucia Island

Sucia Island sits at the north end of the San Juan’s between Patos and Matia Islands. This horseshoe shaped island has a seasonal dock and mooring buoys as well as campsites, day use picnic areas, and primitive toilets. Dinosaur fossils have been found on the island, but it is illegal for visitors to remove them should they happen to find more. This 814 acre marine park has 10 miles of hiking trails and potable water available during summer months.

Turn Island Marine State Park sits just off of San Juan Island. This 35 acre island is part of the San Juan’s National Wildlife Refuge. It has 3 mooring bouys. Visitors are to stay on trails and not disturb the wildlife. Campfires are not allowed. Fresh water is not available.

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Gluten Free Molasses Cookies

molasses cookies

These gluten free molasses cookies taste just like the old fashioned molasses cookies I remember my mother making when I was a child even though most of the ingredients in this recipe of my own invention aren’t the same – and this one’s a whole lot easier to make.

INGREDIENTS

12 oz jar almond butter (1 cup)

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup brown sugar

2 Tablespoons cooking oil of choice (I used avacado/sunflower)

1 egg

2 teaspoons vanilla

1 cup millet flour

1/2 cup tapioca flour

1/4 cup almond flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon cloves

2 teaspoons ginger

2 teaspoons cinammon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

DIRECTIONS

Stir all ingredients together in a mixing bowl until thoroughly blended. Roll each cookie into a ball and dip in sugar of choice (I use raw cane sugar or coconut sugar). Place sugar side up on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, making sure cookie balls are well spaced. Bake at 350 degrees F for 13-15 minutes.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021

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3 Island Tour in Venice

Burano Island

We spent three days in Venice prior to boarding the MSC Lirica. We had enough time to wander around and see things, and to take a gondola ride. On our last full day in Venice we booked a 3 island tour through a local company called Alilaguna, which runs both public transport boats that use the vaporetto stops and booked tours that go to specific places with one group of people for the entire tour. Vaporetti are the Venice version of city busses, with stops along the grand canal and in some other places. The name means little steamer, coming from earlier steam powered versions of the public boats.

inside the Alilaguna tour boat

There’s more to Venice than just the main group of small islands connected by many bridges and Venice Mestre on the mainland which is connected to Venice proper by the bridge of Liberty. Within the lagoon where the main part of Venice sits there are numerous other more distant islands not connected by bridges to the main area of Venice. A long thin island called Lido where people go in the summer for its beaches may be the inspiration for the name Lido deck on many cruise ships, which is always the one with the pools. Many ships are built in Italy after all. While the lagoon looks like a wide open waterway, it is dotted with shallow areas where boats could easily run aground so the channels deep enough for safe travel are marked with rows of pilings like roads running through the sea. Knowing where the safe navigation areas were long before they were marked was what made Venice a safe haven for its early inhabitants as they could pass through, but even if would-be invaders had boats they could not.

waterfront by St. Mark’s Square

Besides many stops along the grand canal, the vaporetto public boats go out to some of the other islands. You can also get there by private boats or on a tour. Our 3 island tour with Alilaguna cost just 20 euros and lasted several hours with time to spend on each of the islands as well as traveling between them. The tour started from a far end of Piazza San Marco. There are boat docks all along the edge of the square for all sorts of different boats. Both Alilaguna and the vaporetti have docks in two different places at San Marco so we had to find the right one. It pays to get there early so you have time to find exactly where you need to be. The directions from the website where we booked the tour sent us to the wrong Alilaguna dock, but luckily one of their employees on a boat that came in there spoke English and was able to tell us where we needed to be.

raised walkways by Doge’s Palace in St Mark’s Square

The first time we went to Piazza San Marco (Saint Mark’s Square) it still had a lot of water remaining from a recent flood, enough that portable raised walkways were needed in parts of the square. The day we went for our boat tour the square was dry.

boarding the Alilaguna boat

Once we found the right dock we had a short wait to board. There weren’t many people waiting when we first got there, but the crowd grew quickly so we got on the boat along with a bunch of other people. The boats don’t look all that big, but they hold a lot of people. The one we went on had quite a few empty seats left after a everyone boarded even though looking at the boat and crowd from the outside it seemed like there were more people there than could fit inside. Our first stop was Murano, an island famous for its glass. Apparently the glass blowers were all moved out there centuries ago to keep their skills secret so nobody else could rival their glass art, which is quite skillful.

Murano Island glass blower

We went directly into a factory for a glass blowing demonstration. The artist had a long pole with a heated ball of glass on the end that he pulled and cut until it turned into a glass horse, but he never actually blew into the pole. It only took him a few minutes to turn a ball of molten glass into a little horse.

walkway on Murano Island

The glass factory had a shop that had all sorts of different glass figurines as well as jewelry. We had a bit of time to wander down the row of shops near to the factory, which also sold items made of glass. You would think prices would be cheapest at or near the factory, but we found a little shop on the rialto bridge that had some of the same things at about a third of the price.

canal on Murano Island

Most places in Venice you have to pay to use a public toilet, but the glass factory had restrooms available for free. It was the only stop on this tour that did, the other two islands just having the pay-to-go WC (water closets).

leaning tower on Burano Island

The next island on our stop was Burano, famous for fishermen, colorful houses, and hand-made lace. This island was smaller and less populated than Murano, but the town was very cute with a canal lined with little fishing boats running alongside all the brightly colored buildings through the center of town, and little wooden bridges crossing over it. There was also a church with a leaning tower. Not nearly so big, tall, or angled as the famous tower in Pisa, but leaning nonetheless.

Burano Island

Since we were not spending time watching a demonstration on Burano we had more time to wander about and look at things. It was hard to get a picture that captured the lean of the church tower though.

lacey things in a shop on Burano Island

A lot Burano’s shops had intricately made lace items ranging from small decorations to clothing or tablecloths, and anything in between that could possibly be made out of lace. There were also restaurants and cafes, and places selling Murano glass.

It’s a bit of a walk from the dock to anything on Torcello Island

The islands got smaller as we went. Our last stop on Torcello was the smallest and most sparsely populated of all. It had been an important religious area up until about the 14th century or so. That island’s claim to fame is the oldest church in Venice, built in the 7th century. It had a group of several ancient churches at the end of the walkway from the dock. It was probably somewhere around a kilometer from where the boat docked to anything, but it was quite a scenic walk along a canal.

there’s a few little shops and eateries along the walkway

Torcello is the farthest inhabited island from the main part of Venice, though it is barely inhabited with only about 10 permanent residents. Centuries ago there were thousands.

old church

Walking in on a brick walkway from the dock on Torcello we passed by more greenery than we’d seen since coming to Venice, though the boat guide pointed out a different island in passing as being the one where most of their produce came from. Torcello had a few small shops and restaurants, and even a couple small hotels. It was a bit of a walk alongside (of course) a canal from the boat stop to the churches.

older church

One of them was built in a different architectural style than what you usually see in Europe with the main part of the building round like a cake with ever smaller layers as it goes upward. That one was still functioning as a church, but people were allowed inside so long as there was not a service taking place.

mosaic throne and other oddities

Another of the churches has been turned into a museum. There was a charge to go inside. A stone wall between two churches was covered with giant plaques. Stone monuments on and around it looked as if they could have come from a cemetery. Some were covered in mosaic patterns of shiny little tiles or stones, including a bright red one shaped like a throne. An old cemetery next to the church had many statue style monuments on the graves.

inside one of the old churches

Unlike the Swiss and Austrians who all spoke English quite well (especially the Swiss), not all the Italians do and the ones that can are often heavily accented. Even so, interestingly enough the boat tour was conducted in English, French, and Spanish – and NOT in Italian.

Murano Island canal

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
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The Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

Great Wall of China

Considering the distance from Tianjin port to Beijing, we booked a ship’s excursion to see the Great Wall. This all-day excursion started with a visit to the Summer Palace with a lunch stop at a jade factory between there and the Great Wall.

the Great Wall is not nearly as big as the mountains it stands on

Holland America‘s excursion information about the Great Wall said construction began as early as the 8th century BC, but it was the first Qin Emperor who extended this bastion against the northern barbarians. Construction reached its zenith under the Ming Dynasty. Today, the wall stretches some 3,600 miles. Your visit features a walk along a restored section of the wall’s battlements, which are wide enough to allow cavalry and chariots to pass. It went on to say after visiting the wall, re-board your motorcoach and transfer directly back to the ship in Tianjin — a drive of approximately three hours.

there are a lot of red pagodas at the Great Wall

GREAT WALL

About 7 hours into a 13 hour excursion, a good portion of which was driving time since the port is several hours away from Bejing, our tour bus finally pulled into a parking lot at the Great Wall of China. Since the wall covers thousands of miles this was just one of many places where people can visit restored sections of the great wall. While the impressive Ming Dynasty part tourists visit near Bejing built in medieval times is made of stone with a wide walkway and fortresses, the entire wall does not look that way.

red pagoda

Original early parts of the wall tended to be made of tamped earth, stones, and wood. Portions of the wall, some built over 2000 years ago, once encircled early cities, and over time walls were joined together as cities stopped warring with one another and sought to stop enemies from the north. The wall generally runs in an east-west line along China’s historical northern boarder. The sections tourist see have been restored, but other portions of the wall are neither as impressive nor as visible. Some are wild and crumbling with pathways wide enough for just one person, and other areas of former wall are so far gone they are hard to find. Not all areas of the wall are open to the public. Little remains of the oldest original walls, those having been built over and fortified by later inhabitants over the centuries or lost entirely with previously undiscovered sections sometimes coming to light.

people going up the wall down the road from where we stopped

Where our bus went, several large parking lots spanned areas on both sides of the highway with multiple entrances to the wall. We could see quite a lot of people climbing a steep stairway up the road a ways both on the same side and across the street near different parking lots than the one where we stopped. There was yet another lot directly across the road from where we parked.

giftshop near the parking lot at the Great Wall

Our group followed the guide through the turnstile and he got tickets for everyone. Once through he gave us an hour and a half and said people could choose to take a right turn to the pathway up the very steep stairway to the wall on that side of the road, take a left turn to the pathway that dropped down several steep stairways before coming to a section of wall crossing the highway and then going back up to walk along the wall on the other side, or just take photos from there and hang round the coffee shop and gift shop in the area near the parking lot.

The side where most people went

Most people went to the pathway leading to the wall and then split one way or the other. The sun was coming down behind the mountain on the right making very bad lighting for photos so we chose the left path. Even though it was sunny and about as clear a day as Bejing gets looking up toward that mountain the position of the sun pretty much just highlighted the haze in the air and silhouetted the mountain with the wall not really visible, where going to the left the sun was at our backs making for better pictures. In spite of that almost everyone took the right turn with just a few going left.

the Great Wall crosses over water and a highway

Finding the way down to cross the road involved entering a series of buildings each leading to part of the stairway. One of them had a bit of a maze to pass through before coming to its stairs. By the time we got to the part that actually crosses the road we were the only ones there, the rest who started out that way having given up and turned back to go the other way.

little buildings down in a hole surrounded by Great Wall

On the way back a couple other people from our tour had made it down far enough to see what must have been barracks down in a hole back when that area was one of the forts on the wall, but we never saw any of the others make it any farther. We walked past the barracks and found the bit of wall crossing over the highway. While that bit was level, the stairway beyond it was quite steep.

stairway on the wall

Stairs along the wall vary from just a few inches high to over a foot for just one stair. This variation doesn’t just occur from one stairway to the next, but also among stairs in the same stairway in some places.

it’s a long way up – or down

Some are wider than others as well. The railing on the steepest part of the stairway isn’t much more than a foot above the stairs if that, but the stairs are so steep it’s still reachable without bending over and sometimes useful in going both up and down.

It always looks like the next building is at the top of the wall, until you get there and see another one higher. Surely it’s the top, but no, arriving there reveals another one higher still.

Each section we climbed ended with a little building. Though there were just a few forts along the wall, there were many guard towers so it’s not far from one to the next of those. It always looked like the next one up would be the highest point for that section of wall, but then when we got there the next one would be higher still. After we had gone quite a ways from the fort area the pathway narrowed to just the width of one chariot, which couldn’t have been much wider than the horse that pulled it. We wanted to keep hiking until we finally found a place where everything was down from there and nothing else was higher, but never got there in the time we had to spend on the wall.

there are toilets on the Great Wall

Our guide said there were no bathrooms on top of the wall, but apparently he had not gone up that side of the wall or at least not hiked it very far because after about a kilometer or so we came upon a building with toilet painted on the side of it. It may seem odd that it was written in English as well as Chinese, but a lot of the road signs were as well so seeing something written in English wasn’t that uncommon. They were of course the Chinese sort of squat toilets. It does make sense to have bathrooms there for the people who hike long stretches of the wall – or who run there. John’s Chinese aunt who lives in Beijing ran a marathon on the wall and it would be pretty tough to have a race somewhere with no facilities. Of course the soldiers of ancient times would have needed somewhere to go as well, though I have no idea if a restroom in this location was an original feature or an addition done during restoration. If it was original to the location it certainly would have looked far different in the past.

pit toilet squat toilet

In spite of being pit toilets so they still smelled bad, the wall had the cleanest squat toilets I saw in China. They may have been too far out on the wall for the average western tourist who can’t hit the hole to get to them since the floors and standing area around the toilet in these was clean and dry. There’s rarely ever any toilet paper in Chinese public bathrooms and these were no exception. When traveling in China it’s nearly always BYOB – bring your own buttwipe.

John in one of the little buildings on the wall

We would have liked to go farther than we did, but when half the allowed time had passed we turned back. We always seem to go faster on the way back, probably due to less photo stops, but not wanting to risk missing the bus or being the annoying people who don’t return on time and keep everyone else waiting we turned around short of reaching a little red building just a couple buildings down the way that actually did look like the highest point for that bit of the wall. Although had we made it there we may have found the next one still higher like we had with all the others. As with the Summer Palace that we also went to on this excursion, we would have liked more time to spend at the wall – a lot more time.

viewpoint on the Great Wall

From some viewpoints along that section of wall we could see construction going on for the new section of track for an expansion of their bullet train system that our guide had mentioned on the bus on the way there, though we had no idea where those tracks go to or from.

we took photos for the Chinese guy in red behind me

We saw very few people on that section of wall, but did come across a Chinese guy all dressed in red who wanted to hand us his phone to take a picture of him. You don’t have to speak the same language to understand when someone wants a photo.

posing with a little Chinese girl

Later we came across a family about to go up the very steep section of stairs as we were coming down it. At first I thought they wanted the usual for us to take a photo of all of them, but it turned out what they actually wanted was to take a photo of me with their adorable little girl. Apparently having a photo of her with a blond white tourist was a big thing for them. She was very cute and luckily John got a photo of me with her on his camera as well.

cannon above the barracks

After going back across the part over the highway we found a stairway down to the barracks area and a detour in the pathway that went around the other side of the barracks area with some cannons on it, neither of which we had noticed on the way out. There wasn’t anyone down by the barracks on our way out, but some people were down there on our way back. We didn’t take the time to go down there, but since we ended up making it back with about 20 minutes to spare we could have. We wandered through the gift shop instead, which mainly sold cheap tourist junk for inflated prices.

wide pathway on the Great Wall

Even though the cruise ship tour didn’t allow for as much time as we’d have liked to spend at either the Summer Palace or the Great Wall it was still worthwhile to get to see both of those things – and even though it came with a higher pricetag than any excursion we’ve ever done before it would cost a whole lot more to take another trip to China if we hadn’t seen them on this trip.

narrow pathway on the Great Wall of China near Beijing

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
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Aqaba, Jordan Cruise Port

MSC Lirica in Aqaba

AQABA, JORDAN

Aqaba is Jordan’s only seaport and the largest city in the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea. It is a free-trade zone with lower taxes than the rest of the country. People from elsewhere in Jordan don’t get the tax break by shopping in Aqaba. There is a checkpoint on the way out where people from other parts of the country have to make up the tax difference on their goods. New development is springing up in areas surrounding the older part of the city with the population there having doubled in the last decade, and foreign investment fueling some of the construction. The most popular cruise ship excursion from Aqaba is to Petra about 2 hours away. Going to Petra was the main reason we booked our cruise on the MSC Lirica. Petra had been on my bucket list for years and while a port stop on a cruise ship only allows time enough spent there to see a small fraction of it, we at least got a glimpse. I’d still like to go back and spend more time there someday.

town in Jordan near Petra

The area has been inhabited since 4000 BC, and is home to the Islamic Aqaba Fort. The city sits at Jordan’s southernmost point and is very important to Jordan’s economy through trade and tourism. Its desert climate is hot and dry. Currency is the Jordanian dinar. One US dollar is worth about 0.70 dinar. Credit cards may not be accepted, but US dollars often are. The language is Arabic, but many people understand English.

Aqaba

Aqaba was known as Ayla from pre-biblical times until the 14th century when it was renamed by the Mamluk Sultans of Egypt who ruled it at the time. Before that it was taken by the Romans in 106 AD who ruled the region until the Byzantine Empire took over in the 4th century. They were followed by crusaders in the 12th century and then Saladin of Egypt. Crusaders took over again followed by Muslims the following year. The Mamluk Sultans of Egypt built the Mamluk castle (aka Aqaba castle or fort). They were overthrown by the Ottomans who ruled for 4 centuries until 1917. At the end of WWI the British secured Aqaba for Jordan. It was a British protectorate from 1921 until 1946 when Jordan became independent. Their history with Great Britain is why many people there speak English as well as Arabic.

Aqaba

Jordan has many interesting sites for tourists to visit throughout the country, some of which are of religious significance. Two of their major sites are near Aqaba – Wadi Rum and Petra. A wadi is a valley, ravine, or channel that is dry except in the rainy season. Wadi Rum is the biggest one in Jordan. It is also known as the Valley of the Moon. Wadi Rum Protected Area is famous for its desert landscape with sand dunes, valleys, sandstone mountains, canyons, and arches. Lawrence of Arabia, The Martian, and other movies were filmed there.

treasury in Petra

Petra is an ancient Nabatean Arab city where building facades are carved into the sides of  rock cliffs. It is an extensive site with many buildings, the most famous of which is the treasury, used in the filming of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

gangway from the ship and tour busses at the port in Aqaba

AQABA CRUISE PORT

Aqaba sits directly across a narrow inlet from Eilat, Israel where we had spent the previous day. Our ship spent the night between the two ports slowly circling around the bay to fill the time between the scheduled departure from Eilat and arrival at Aqaba. From the top deck of the ship at that port you can see 4 countries. Jordan and Israel of course, and in the distance Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well. We could easily see the port in Eilat and the place where we had docked directly across the bay.

port view from the ship while docked in Aqaba

Ships in Aqaba dock at the main port about 3 miles south of the city center. This port has docking space for 23 vessels and anchorage for 8. Both cruise ships and commercial vessels use this port. Because it is a mixed use port walking through the port is not allowed, which is standard at any port with container ships. It’s a quick shuttle ride to the gate. Taxis are available there or it is a 15-20 minute walk to Aqaba Castle (Mamluk). Shuttles may also take passengers all the way into town (4k). Excursion busses pick people up at the port right in front of the ship and drop them off there upon return.

view from the ship in Aqaba

Getting off the ship in Aqaba was just as easy as any average cruise port, quite a difference from our previous day in Israel which had extra security procedures that made the disembarkation process for a port stop about as lengthy as it is for leaving the ship on the final day when the cruise is over.

view from tour bus in Jordan

THINGS TO DO IN AQABA

Beach resorts, windsurfing, diving, Yamanieh coral reef in the Aqaba Marine Park, take an excursion to Wadi Rum or Petra, Mamluk Castle (seen in the movie Lawrence of Arabia), museums, beaches, diving and snorkeling, mosques, Berenice Beach Club, Aqaba Marine Park, ruins of the ancient city of Ayla, bird observatory, glass bottom boat tour, and old town.

Copyright My Cruise Stories 2021
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Cabins at Decatur Head

Decatur Head cabin 1

Decatur Island is a private island in Washington State’s San Juan Islands. There isn’t much public land, but it does have a public boat ramp and the beaches are mostly state property. There isn’t much access for anyone who isn’t staying there though so crowds are non-existent on the island. Much of the land is forested, but there are homes and vacation houses with gravel roads providing access around the island. There’s not a lot in the way of rentals other than a couple bnb’s. The island has a couple tombolos, which is a bit of land that would be a separate island except for a connection through a sandbar or narrow strip of land.

cabin 8 kitchen

Decatur Head is one of those tombolos. The privately owned cabins there were built in the 1970’s and belong to the Decatur Head Beach Association, whose members use the cabins. There are 8 total with one for the caretakers to live in and 7 for the members vacation use. These cabins sleep from 4-10 people, but each of them have just one bathroom.

inside cabin 8

Although most people will never be able to stay there, it’s still fun to see the inside of some of these rustic cabins. Each one is different both inside and out. Local elements were integrated into the original decor and though some things have been updated over the decades since, things like driftwood furniture and sometimes stairways still remain.

top of the stairway in cabin 8

Cabin 8 is one of the larger ones that sleeps 10. It has 2 bedrooms and a loft with a bunch of mattresses on the floor.

loft bedroom cabin 8

The stairway winds up through a hole in an open sided ledge with a doorway into the bunkroom. The one bathroom in the cabin sits on the lower level between the two bedrooms.

A-frame cabin

All of the cabins have the bathroom on the main level. Not all of them have upper stories. They do all have fireplaces except for cabin 2, the one A-frame style cabin which has a wood stove.

view from the loft in cabin 8

The living room has 2 couches and lamps mounted on rustic wooden tables. The full kitchen has a picnic table for eating space, and another one without the benches for putting things on. Dishes and pans and other kitchen essentials are provided, but people have to bring all their own linens and paper products as well as food and bedding. Access to the island is by private boat or island charter service. There is no garbage service so all garbage leaves with the guests.

cabin 6

Cabin 6 is another two story cabin. It’s a bit smaller than cabin 8, but also holds 10 people. Access to the second level in this one is more of a ladder than a stairway.

inside cabin 6

The upstairs has a bedroom and a loft area with a couple beds and a futon. Downstairs has 2 bedrooms as well as the bathroom, kitchen, and living room areas.

loft view of cabin 6 living room

This cabin also has a picnic table style table for eating on. It also has a couple couches and rustic end tables.

outside cabin 8

Outdoor areas by some cabins have fire pits.

totem pole

Cabin 8 even has its own totem pole.

cabin 5 is just one story

Cabins 5 and 7 are just one story, which are similar in size and layout to the lower level of the larger cabins.

living room in cabin 8

Every cabin has its own unique character inside and out.

cabin 8 has a deck shaped like the bow of a boat

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Seabrook

first impressions

Years ago while my kids were growing up, we used to take our horses to the ocean every summer. We stayed in Ocean City at a little RV park about a block from the ocean. Up a very small hill behind the campground they had an old barn and corral with an open field where people with horses could camp. There was a horse-friendly campground closer to the water, but the tiny corrals there had very unsafe looking fencing where a horse could easily injure itself as well as no shelter for them so we never stayed there. I have no idea if either place still exists.

these people must really like birds

From the beach access road in Ocean City we would ride up north. The first year we went there the river running alongside the beach ended before the beach access road in Copalis. Extending ever northward, the river worked its way through that road at some point while we were still going there, and to this day the beach access road is still closed as they never built a bridge over the river like the access points south of there have. Our favorite area to ride was north of there as at that time horses were allowed in the water in areas where cars could drive, but could not pass through the clam beds in areas where they were not. Cars were allowed north from Copalis, but could not get there without the access road so we could ride in the water without worrying about any cars on that stretch of beach. When we were recently at the beach north of there the signs at all the access points gave seasonal times for cars being allowed, but none of them had any permanent open or closed areas. I don’t know if the entire beach is like that now or if the places further south still have open and closed areas. It was summer when we used to go there and all the places we saw recently had no cars allowed throughout the summer, where back then in the Ocean Shores area the beach was full of cars.

Seabrook town center

Back then I knew there were towns north of Ocean City. I’d heard of Copalis, Pacific Beach, and Moclips. I had never heard of Seabrook though until we took a trip out to Moclips recently. Turns out that’s because back in the day Seabrook did not exist. It’s a totally planned community first established in 2004, past the time we were bringing horses out to the sea. Which explains why I’d never heard of it.

Seabrook Map

We took a drive through Seabrook on our recent trip to the area. Strangely enough the first impression of all 3 people in our car was that the place was creepy. While it’s not what you would find in a scary movie, it was more the sameness of everything. Rows of homes all looking pretty much the same, and like they were all built at the same time. It reminded my sister of the Stepford Wives, a story where a perfect seeming town has replaced all the wives with robots. It reminded me of a fake Disney town. It also could have passed for a movie set because of the seemingly un-realness of the place.

street in Seabrook

Some of the first streets we drove down had houses solidly lining both sides of the street with no driveways or garages. A solid line of parked cars filled both sides of the road leaving a narrow passageway barely wide enough for one car to squeeze through on a two-way street. Farther into the development places were more likely to have garages or driveways. We went past a small crowded business area near the entry and found a tiny house cabin section, a dog park, and a playground farther up. We didn’t go far enough to find the stables that John’s sister and husband found when they went there to explore after hearing of our brief visit there. We thought the tiny houses were the cutest homes there.

tiny houses in Seabrook

Nearly the whole town is on the opposite side of the highway from the beach and most places have no ocean view. It does lose the initial creepy feeling after driving around there for awhile, but would not be my choice of a location to stay for a beach weekend. Apparently a lot of people like it though as the place is crawling with vacation homes and rentals. Buying one costs a fortune, but vacation rentals can be found for a reasonable price, probably due to the amount of competition.

houses in Seabrook

Online research of Seabrook shows homes must adhere to strict guidelines, which explains the sameness from one home to another. This planned community incorporated parks and trails into their design as well as shopping and an indoor heated pool, sports courts, and fitness center. It’s designed for residents and visitors to be able to walk easily throughout the town. There is beach access through several pedestrian trails as well as by road.

Seabrook houses

While this town seems to be many people’s idea of the perfect vacation getaway, we were far happier at the out-of-town place with an awesome beach view where we stayed in nearby Moclips.

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A Couple Days in Vancouver

Vancouver view

view of Canada Place from Vancouver Lookout

VANCOUVER BC

Vancouver BC has a popular cruise ship port with ships sailing mainly to Alaska docking there throughout the season. The port, called Canada Place, is a tourist attraction in itself as well as a cruise port. It’s also next to Waterfront Station where people can catch the sky train or seabus. City busses also stop nearby as do free shuttles to Capilano Suspension Bridge, or seasonally to Grouse Mountain. Of course ships aren’t the only way into Vancouver. People also come by car, bus, train, or plane. I’ve taken several cruises that started, ended, or both in Vancouver. While Alaskan cruises are their mainstay, my cruise that started there ended in Shanghai and the one that ended there started in LA. The round trip one was a typical Alaska cruise though. With Canada closed to cruise ships this year the port area will likely be a far quieter place than usual – with nearby merchants getting a major hit to the pocketbook.

Stanley Park lighthouse

lighthouse on the seawall at Stanley Park

Vancouver is a great city to visit, whether as pre or post cruise stay or as a stand alone trip. There’s quite a variety of things to do there. I’ve taken the Amtrak there on one cruise and back on another, which is convenient since there’s a skytrain station across the street from where the Amtrak train comes in as well as a skytrain stop by the port. When my daughter was in town we took the Greyhound bus to Vancouver, which  I would not recommend even if the border was open and they were still running busses there.

kids at Stanley Park

girls in a tree at Stanley Park

THE GREYHOUND NIGHTMARE

When my daughter came to visit from Australia with her 2 kids two of her friends tagged along with 3 kids between them. Add us and that’s 10 people. Rather than take 2 cars we used public transportation for our road trip adventure, starting with a trip to Vancouver BC. While we would have preferred traveling by train, unfortunately it did not have any convenient departure times so my daughter booked us all on the Greyhound bus instead. About a month or so before the trip she got an email saying there was a change and to call them. No information about what changed or why. Since she was still in Australia at the time I called Greyhound for her. It turned out they had made the time for the return bus (which was already ridiculously early) even earlier, with a 2 hour layover at a bus station before the next leg. The service representative was not helpful and would not say whether or not there was an earlier bus for that next leg, just that if there was she could not change our tickets to it. If there was one she said we could ask at the counter to change, for a fee of nearly as much as the original ticket price per person – which really adds up when there’s 10 people. She said it was the counter person’s discretion whether or not to charge that fee, but the actual counter person said they can’t wave it. She also could do nothing to help Sheri’s friends as we were not listed on their ticket so they had to call after arriving in the USA. The person Sheri’s friends talked to about changing their tickets was just as rude and made it sound like she couldn’t help them at all, though she finally did end up sending an email with amended tickets.

Stanley Park in Vancouver BC

waterfall at Stanley Park

Once time for the trip came the counter person at Everett Station was very rarely at the counter at all. The one at the customer service desk just said she didn’t work for Greyhound and couldn’t help. Anyone needing help at the Greyhound counter had to send someone from the nearby coffee shop to the back room to find her. We did finally manage to check in and she said she would announce the bus when it arrived. She was not forthcoming with any information about the bus as time for it to come got near, just kept saying she would announce it when it arrived – something she never did. Time for the bus to arrive came and went with the only announcements of bus arrivals being for those headed to Seattle. No bus showed up on their bus tracker app and as more time passed when anyone could find her she would just give a later arrival time or say the bus was on the way and would be there soon. Finally she put up a closed sign and snuck out the back without a word to any of the passengers still waiting on that bus.

Harbour Centre

giant decorations at the entry to Harbour Centre

The girl at the Amtrack counter (who was very diligent about announcing Amtrack’s busses and trains) then said the Greyhound bus had come and gone. The next one came 3 hours later and if we didn’t get on that one we were going to switch to the train which left an hour after that. We met a college boy who had been standing out on the platform the whole time waiting for the same bus and he never saw it either. Though there is supposed to be a bus tracker on each bus so waiting passengers can follow its whereabouts on an app, apparently the driver has to turn the tracker on and that one did not. The second bus did have a tracker on, but at the time it was finally supposed to arrive a bus pulled in labeled Seattle – which from Everett Station is a southbound bus while we needed northbound. Upon asking the driver what happened to the bus to Vancouver BC he said this was it and he just hadn’t changed the sign yet. So apparently if our original bus didn’t skip that station entirely it must have come in marked as Seattle too so the guy on the platform didn’t get on, and if the counter girl bothered to announce it at all she announced it as Seattle so nobody waiting inside went out either. They did announce quite a number of busses for Seattle. Other than not changing his sign in a timely manner the driver was nice, but it’s no wonder that company may not be in business much longer when all of their customer service people are rude and unhelpful whether on the phone or in person, drivers only turn the tracker on if they feel like it, and they don’t even mark the destination on the bus properly or correctly announce where it is actually going from inside the station.

Stanley Park

seawall at Stanley Park

STANLEY PARK
Our hotel was about half a block from Stanley Park, which is a huge park on a peninsula at the edge of downtown Vancouver. Unfortunately there are no skytrain stops near there. It is within walking distance of Canada Place, though it is not close. From where we stayed we entered the park on a trail that led to the seawall trail near an area called second beach. The seawall is a paved walking trail with an adjacent separate biking and skating trail running along the water’s edge all around the outskirts of the park. There are lots of things within the interior of the park, but we walked quite a distance on the seawall passing under a bridge and past a lighthouse before coming to a little waterpark and a pathway into the interior of the park leading to the aquarium, train, and other things including a little restaurant called Stanley’s Bar & Grill. We sat down to order and the waitress said if anyone wanted to go on the train they should go there first because it would probably close down soon for wind. None of us had any plans to ride it before then, but she talked Sheri’s friends into it so they took off with their kids and went for a ride. The waitress said it would take about 15 minutes, but that was the train ride itself. Add on walking there and back and time for getting tickets and waiting to get on and all and it took quite a lot longer. They all had fun and were glad that they went though. Not far from the restaurant there’s a bus station where city busses come right into the park.

parkrun

3 generations at parkrun

RICHMOND PARKRUN
parkrun started in England and has spread to many countries around the world. These weekly 5K events provide free timed runs to participants and are ran by unpaid volunteers who work hard organizing the events. Anyone is welcome. You don’t have to be fast or even to run. Some people walk the course, some push prams (strollers) and a few bring dogs. There are courses in some places not suitable for prams or where dogs are not allowed, but Richmond is on a paved mostly flat trail and is not one of those. Sheri, Hannah, and I went to parkrun while everyone else slept in. We took the skytrain, which is part of Vancouver’s public transportation. Since there were no stops near our hotel by Stanley Park we took a cab to the nearest one before the run, but walked back to the hotel afterword. There’s a stop quite close to the course with a Tim Horton’s between the skytrain and the run. Many people from the run go there for breakfast afterword so we joined them. The course runs back and forth across a public trail along a waterway with an airport near the far side so you get a lot of views of the undersides of airplanes during the course of a run – though not nearly from as close as at Saint Martin’s Maho Beach. Richmond is a small parkrun that in normal times attracts more visitors than locals due to their proximity to the airport. People register online for their home parkrun, but can take their same barcode and run anywhere in the world where parkrun events take place. This was my granddaughter Hannah’s 50th parkrun so she got a shoutout during the pre-run briefing. People there were quite friendly and some of the faster runners stayed around after finishing to provide encouragement and congratulations to others as they ran by or finished their runs. Quite a few acknowledged Hannah for finishing her 50th. There are no parkruns near where I live so this was just my second having ran one prior in Australia. They get a lot of Australian visitors there, and Sheri and Hannah were not the only ones this run. There were also people from Europe, but I was the only one from the USA. It’s just starting to catch on there and not as popular as in some other countries. parkrun tourism is a thing among avid parkrunners, with some of them so dedicated they run a race in one part of the world and then hop a plane, cross the international date line, and run another on the same date somewhere like Richmond with a course near an airport. Our road trip took us to Leavenworth and then Seattle after Vancouver. Sheri, Hannah, and I stayed an extra night near Seattle after the others left and did another parkrun in Des Moines.

Vancouver Lookout tower

taking in the view at Vancouver Lookout

VANCOUVER LOOKOUT
Quite near Canada Place Vancouver’s lookout tower sits on top of the Harbour Centre building. It’s not just a tourist tower, but rather an office building with a tower perched on top. Entering at street level, we had to go down a floor to find the ticket counter to go up the tower. There are two dedicated elevators that just go up to the lookout, one for people with reservations at the restaurant on top, who can go up without buying a ticket, and the other for people with a ticket to the observation deck. The ticket counter is near the elevators and there is a giftshop next to them as well. The ride to the top takes 40 seconds in a glass elevator. As we stepped out of the elevator, a greeter posted there tried to hand the smallest kids little stools. Anxious to get to the window the kids walked by obliviously until they realized they couldn’t see out and went back for the stools. Visitors work their way around the circular viewing area stopping along the way for different views. Windows go all the way around the tower for a 360 degree view  of the area as you work your way around. Signs posted along the way give highlights about what you can see from that particular spot. It’s a good way to get oriented to the area and see what else you may want to go to nearby.

Capilano Bridge

Capilano Bridge in the dark

CAPILANO SUSPENSION BRIDGE

We found a free shuttle to Capilano Suspension Bridge, which has 4 stops around downtown Vancouver, including one at Canada Place. The bridge is on Grouse Mountain, but not as far up the mountain as the tramway, though you can catch a city bus between the two. We had plans to go to the bridge and then have dinner up on top the mountain because the price of a meal was about the same as the price of the gondola ticket, but if you have restaurant reservations you can ride up for free. We got to the bridge after dark, but it was all lit up with seasonal Christmas lights. The bridge was quite crowded. There were also trails around the surrounding area with a variety of light displays and a sleigh set up for photo ops. There is an entry fee to get into the bridge area. We caught the bus up to Grouse Mountain and got off to find that the skyride had just closed due to high winds. They said we could still get to the restaurant by bus, but since our whole point of booking the dinner reservation was to ride up the skyride we cancelled and got back on the bus before it left. Unfortunately that bus did not go all the way back to town so we had to get off by the bridge and take the free shuttle back. There were a lot of people waiting to get on so they were passing out tickets in order of arrival to denote whether you got the next bus or one later. We had next bus, but their every 15 minute schedule was off due to heavy traffic and it took it an hour to arrive. On the walk back from the shuttle stop closest to our hotel (which wasn’t all that close) we found a little family run Thai restaurant and stopped in for dinner. They didn’t have a table big enough for everyone so the kids got one table and the adults another.

Vancouver BC

city view from Vancouver Lookout

Vancouver is a great city to visit, with many other things to see or do than were mentioned in this blog.

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