Trees, Trains, and Tea

I’m back!  My apologies for the extended break,  but I have been dealing with quite a cold, and between medical isolation and embarrassing amounts of books, movies and sleep, there really hadn’t been anything worth sharing.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to miss any performances, despite that surprise medical isolation period (very zealous, they are!).   And even better, this week I was feeling well enough to take several excursions, so I finally have things to write about.  Ready to go ziplining, ride a train, and have high tea?  Me too.

Ready for zipline action!
Ready for zipline action!

Believe it or not, I actually went ziplining twice this week.  I’d forgotten that I’d signed up for zipline tours in both Ketchikan AND Juneau, so at first I wasn’t sure if I’d go the second time.  Ultimately, I decided YOLO, and I’m so glad I did, as the Juneau zipline was really spectacular.

Don’t get me wrong – the Ketchikan zipline was wonderful!  But it was a very different experience, in part due to the weather (a low overcast sky) and in part due to the fact that the zipline is over an animal sanctuary (which required hushed voices throughout).  The word that kept coming to mind was “contemplative,” which was quite pleasant – just not what I’d been expecting.  Here’s what the entrance and finish looked like (you can see in the pictures how mellow the day was).

Zipline2We zipped along eight lines and walked over two bridges, spotting a bear in the estuary below at one point.  I felt bad for being unimpressed by the bear, because I have quite a few memories of bears at our home in Colorado – digging through our trash cans (in our garage, no less!), wandering past our back patio, scowling at us through the window because “their” pond was empty.  So seeing a bear hundreds of yards away was somewhat anticlimactic.

I was delighted, however, to be told that I had a fantastic cannonball position while gliding.  I am not the kind of girl who does cannonballs at the pool in summer, so it was funny to learn that I can actually achieve that position anyway.  The cannonball makes you glide faster, and it gives your abs a good workout!  Given that it’s been over two weeks since I’ve worked out, I’ll take whatever I can get…

Zipline3Juneau ziplining was definitely a contrast.  For starters, we rode a BOAT over to Douglass Island, where the course was located.

“Emily,” I can hear you thinking, “you’re living on a cruise ship – what’s so exciting about a boat??”

Well, our cruise ship goes a maximum of about 22 miles per hour.  The speedboat that drove us over to the island went much, much faster – and the captain gave us some nice sharp turns for excitement!  By the time we got over there, my adrenaline was up and I was pumped.


As with the day before (the two companies are sister companies), we rode a Unimog up to the course, which I learned was a Mercedes-Benz piece of all-road engineering.  In case you have (also) never heard of a Unimog before, here’s what is looks like:

Zipline5Then it was on to the course!  The Juneau course was rigged up over an abandoned gold mine from the 1800s, and not only were the ropes higher above the ground (and often longer than the Ketchikan course), but we could make all the noise we wanted.  Apparently, that is a critical ingredient for me to have fun – being able to scream and holler made me more aggressive about leaping off the platform, and I went faster and felt more alive than I have in a long while!

Zipline6Both courses were great, both sets of guides were fabulous, and both groups of passengers were fun, but if I were to go again, I’d pick the Juneau course in a heartbeat.

The next day, I found myself on an excursion called the “Best of Skagway.”  I signed up for this one mostly because I really, really, really wanted to ride the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway that pulls up next to the ships in Skagway, but I figured it would be neat to see the other attractions in the tour, as well, which included panning for gold and a tour of the local brothel museum.

I confess, that cold I’d been dealing with began bugging me again that morning, so it made the day a little hard to handle.  I half-dozed along the bus ride to the top of the Klondike Highway, though I did my best to listen to the tour guide’s history lesson; the heavy fog surrounding us hardly helped me stay awake, reminding me as it did of early morning road trips as a kid. Then, already lulled to the shores of sleep, I barely stayed awake for the train ride down.

Soooo sleepy....
Soooo sleepy….
Such a desolate landscape up there by the Yukon!
Such a desolate landscape up there by the Yukon!

Now, granted, the train was awesome!  If I’d been feeling better, it would have been considerably more enjoyable, but even with the circumstances, I loved feeling like I was rolling alongside the late 19th century.  For some reason, trains make my day.  I don’t know, maybe I’ve watched too much of Anne of Green Gables and Sarah, Plain and Tall?  (Pfff, not possible.)  Even riding the MetroNorth trains in a long reverse commute from Grand Central to Stamford for my audiobook jobs last year was a treat.  So yeah, the train was really cool, although its history was soberingly sad at points (we were following the gold rush route that had been called the Dead Horse Trail…for a reason).

The White Pass & Yukon Route Railway Train!
Views of White Pass from the train

Then, back down at Skagway, we had a delicious salmon bake at a place called Liarsville.  It’s a lunch/show/gold panning attraction on the site of the early media circus surrounding the Klondike Gold Rush, so called because the journalists of the time decided that selling papers with completely fictionalized stories about the gold rush made more sense than honestly reporting the facts that the journey was long, grueling, and frequently deadly, and that the chance of you winding up rich was literally thousands to one.  (Of the 100,000 people who came seeking their fortunes, only 40,000ish made it to the Yukon, of which only a few thousand actually found gold, of which only a few hundred struck it rich, and only about 20 of which apparently managed to leave Alaska with their fortunes intact.)

"Elevation: 3 feet or so"
“Elevation: 3 feet or so”

It was a really cute site, perfectly “decorated” in the 1800s tent-city style.  I really got a sense of what that harsh world must have been like, even through the vintage aesthetics of the place.  And the food was great – my favorite part was the baked beans, which reminded me of childhood.  (Thanks, Dad!)

HE IS PLAYING THE SAW, GUYS. It was surreally beautiful.

Liarsville4 Liarsville3 Liarsville5I then got to try my hand at panning for gold, which was fascinatingly difficult.  They ensured that everyone on the tour got four or five flakes of genuine 18-karet gold in their pan of dirt, but it turned out that searching through the stones and silt was annoyingly painstaking.  I was so terrified that I’d wash the tiny flakes out of my pan completely, so I was a little too delicate with all the sand and rocks.  Glad I am not trying to make my living that way!  (Although the parallels of those success numbers above are slightly alarming.)

My hard-earned gold flakes
My hard-earned gold flakes

Finally, we ended up at the Red Onion Saloon, which is both a restaurant and a brothel museum.  I didn’t take any pictures here, because I wasn’t all that enthused about the prospect of glorifying a profession that has been so misrepresented in popular culture.  It was a short tour, but it really hit me hard, especially seeing the recreation of what the girls’ rooms were like.  Have you ever heard of a three-quarter twin bed?  It appeared to be hardly two feet wide, but that was the bed on which the girls slept and worked.  It made me really sad, especially hearing that they estimated around 180 girls worked there in the two years it was a brothel.

Full-size photo necessary to appreciate how delicious it all was
Large photo necessary to appreciate how scrumptious it all was

Finally, last night I had high tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria.  What a great way to end the week!  I didn’t take more than this one picture, because I was too busy sipping and eating (daintily, of course) all the tea sandwiches and scones they served.  OMG IT WAS SO DELICIOUS.  If you’re ever in Victoria, British Columbia, I highly recommend taking tea at the Empress hotel.  You will not regret it!

Whew!  What a week it has been.  I’m not sure if I’ll be quite as active this week, but know that next Sunday, my husband (Mike) will be joining me for this Alaskan cruise, so I definitely won’t be posting that week.  I should be able to get one or two posts up before then, though!

Though I am an employee of Princess Cruises, all opinions are mine only and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

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