Alaska – the trip where everyday started out wrong but was made wonderful by the amazing Alaskan people

Alaska

Alaskan people are the most friendly and wonderful people in the world!!!

Day 1 – Anchorage to Seward – Wildlife Cruise Kenai Fjords National Park

The bad: Upon checking in at the cruise ship office, we were informed our cruise was down for the day due to mechanical problem

The good: Free upgrade to a longer duration cruise including buffet lunch (Alaskan grilled salmon & prime rib). So glad we got this upgrade because this cruise brought us further out to the open water. We got to see wonderful wildlife and amazing glaciers.

The good didn’t stop there. Upon checking in at our hotel, we were also given free upgrade to a better room, just because the cool guy there felt like doing so:)

Orca family

Orca family

Harbor Seals

Harbor Seals

Humpback whale tale

Humpback whale tail

Day 2 – Harding Icefield trekking – Coastal Classic Alaska train

The bad: It was raining nonstop during our 5-hr hike to Harding icefield. The weather at high elevation was so bad that we had to cut our trekking short when we were only a few feet away from the Hill top.

Icy and windy at high elevation - Harding Icefield

Icy and windy at high elevation – Harding Icefield

The good: Experiencing the kindness of Alaskan people: the guy who gave us a free ride to the train station, the kind bus driver who gave everybody free rides to the nearby Safeway, the man at the train station who took care of our luggage, friendly staff on board the Coastal Classic train from Seward to Anchorage. And of course, we experienced one of the most beautiful train ride in the world.

Coastal Classic train - Alaska

Coastal Classic train – Alaska

 Day 3: Road trip from Anchorage to Hatcher Pass to Talkeetna to Denali

The bad: Hatcher pass closed indefinitely.

The good: Talkeetna is such a cute little colorful village. So glad, we made a stop there. Our little cabin near Denali national park far exceeded our expectation in all areas. Couldn’t ask for a better place to stay near Denali.

Razor Back cabin panorama - Mountain Morning hostel

Razor Back cabin panorama – Mountain Morning hostel

Day 4: Exploring Denali on an 11-hr bus ride

Denali bus stop

The bad: Upon checking in at 9:45am, we were informed our bus to Kantishna had left for the day at 7:45am and it was the only bus that would go all the way to Kantishna

The good: The kind people took pity on us and agreed to book us on stand by for the tour to Wonder lake, departing at 10:15am. The Wonder lake was only 1 hr shorter than the Kantishna route. So, technically, we didn’t miss a whole lot. Tip: you have better odds at seeing wildlife by taking longer route such as Wonder lake or Kantishna. The part after the second visitor center is where the good stuff really start. And, we saw amazing wildlife living in their natural, undisturbed (hopefully) environment. And, have I mentioned “snow in June”?

Beautiful Denali

Beautiful Denali

Moose

Moose

Grizzly bears - it's rare to see a bear couple since they only get together once for 1 week every 4 years

Grizzly bears – it’s rare to see a bear couple since they only get together once for 1 week every 4 years

Dall sheep

Dall sheep

Caribou

Caribou

Day 5: Road trip from Denali to Matanuska Glacier via amazing Glenn highway

The bad: On the way to Matanuska glacier, we met with at least 5 roadwork sites and were delayed by almost 1 hour. We almost missed the check-in time for the glacier walk. Also, a small rock chipped our windshield. Imagine the horror that we felt since we didn’t get the insurance coverage.

The good: After raining nonstop for 5 days, the sky finally cleared for us, revealing its deepest blue color. Glenn highway looked even more amazing under the great weather. We were also technically given a private glacier walk on Matanuska glacier, given we were the only 2 people in the group.

The goodness didn’t stop there. When trying to pay for parking at Anchorage downtown, a gentleman, upon seeing our clumsiness at handling the parking machine, has kindly covered our parking fee. Have I already mentioned Alaskan people are awesome??? Last bu not least, Alaskan king crab at Bridge seafood restaurant is DELISHHHHHHHH!!!

Glenn Highway

Glenn Highway

Glacier walk under the blue sky

Glacier walk under the blue sky

Day 6: Alyeska Gondola and leaving Anchorage

The bad: This might be number 1 in my top ten bad day list. We started out by getting stuck in a dip while backing out of our Airbnb host. What a horror!!! After half an hour of digging and lifting the car, we managed to free ourselves, not forgetting to damage a few flower bushes during the process. The “good” luck didn’t end there. While waiting to board our plane, hubby realized we left our camera in the rental car. With only 50 min left till take-off, we ran back to the rental office just to discover the car was already sent back to the car shop.

The good: The staff at AVIS was so kind to drive us to the car shop. We managed to retrieve the camera, made it through security check point after cutting in front of a few kind passengers, got an upgrade to First class and boarded our plane with time to spare. Perfect ending to an eventful trip.

And not forget to mention, while driving to the airport, a Moose made its appearance right in front of our car. Had we not got stuck in the dip for 30 minutes, we would have not been able to witness it.

We got Moose, we got Moose

We got Moose, we got Moose

 

ALASKA – Itinerary & tips

Glenn Highway

Alaska 2015

7-day itinerary (6/6 to 6/13) overview:

Day 1: Landed in Anchorage at 18:30. Explored the town since the sun wouldn’t set until 23:30.

Day 2: 7:00 to 9:45 – Took the Park connector bus from Anchorage to Seward. The bus drove along Seward highway which is one of the best scenic drives.

11:30 to 17:00 – Enjoyed the 6-hr Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise to see glaciers and wildlife.

Day 3: 9:30 to 16:00 – Took a shuttle bus to the park entrance to hike the Harding Ice Field.

18:00 to 22:15 – Took a Coastal Classic train from Seward back to Anchorage. Awesome views along the way.

Day 4: 10:00 to 16:00 – Rented a car to drive from Anchorage to Denali national park. Made detours to visit Hatcher Pass (scenic drive) & Talkeetna (very cute and colorful little town).

Day 5: 10:15 to 21:15 – Took the 11-hour shuttle bus (Wonder lake route) to visit Denali National park. 11 hr included stopping time for toilet breaks & lunch break.

Day 6: 8:30 to 17:00 – Drove from Denali to Chikaloon for a 3-hr Glacier trek. The drive on Glenn highway was amazing.

17:00 to 19:00 – Drove from Chikaloon to Anchorage

Day 7: 9:00 to 14:00 – Visited Girdwood (1 hr drive from Anchorage) and took the Alyeska gondola up to the top of the mountain for a panorama view of Turnagain Arm.

14:00 – Left for airport for a 6pm take-off.

Tips

Transportation: Summer in Alaska is road work season. Build in at least 1 hour additional driving time

Hotels: Avoid following hotels in Anchorage: Ramada Inn & City Lofts.

Highly recommend Denali Mountain Morning hostel & cabins, especially the Razorback cabin.

Alaska seafood: Bridge seafood in Anchorage. King salmon & king crab legs were fresh and done perfectly.

Dessert places to try in New York

Spot Dessert Bar <- Yet to try

ChikaLicious Dessert Bar <- If you like light, airy, not heavy desserts. This is the place!!! Go for the tasting menu.

Dessert Club, ChikaLicious <- This is the fake place, right opposite the original “Chikalicious Dessert Bar”. Though it’s fake, their goodies are not bad. The green tea chocolate lava cake is a bit too rich for me.

San Juan – Puerto Rico – May 2014

Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. It is about 3.5 hour flight from Atlanta. If you visit Puerto Rico from the U.S., no visa is required.

The most popular place to visit in Puerto Rico is Old San Juan – “The city is characterized by its narrow, blue cobblestone streets and flat-roofed brick and stone buildings dating back to the 16th and 17th century when Puerto Rico was a Spanish possession. – Wiki”

Transportation: It’s highly recommended to rent a car in Puerto Rico. Otherwise, be prepared to pay $15 for every single trip by taxi no matter the distance (they don’t run by meters). Public transportation is extremely unreliable (almost non-existent). We made a mistake of not renting a car after reading reviews about how bad the drivers in Puerto Rico are. The truth is: Yes, they are reckless but they are slow. If you can drive in Atlanta, L.A or any other big cities, this should be a piece of cake (statement coming from a bad driver).

Old San Juan

Old San Juan 

El Morro Fort - Old San Juan - the locals like to play kites here

El Morro Fort – Old San Juan – the locals like to play kites here

San Juan has many sandy beaches, clear and warm water, perfect for swimming. However, be ware of rip currents. The waves are strong and unpredictable here. I've lost my Ray Ban and my hubby lost his prescription glasses. When we went to LensCrafter to make new prescription glasses for him, the staff there said that a lot of people lost shades/ glasses too; hence, the 1 hour service for glasses is very popular here.

San Juan has many sandy beaches, clear and warm water, perfect for swimming. However, be ware of rip currents. The waves are strong and unpredictable here. I’ve lost my Ray Ban and my hubby lost his prescription glasses. When we went to LensCrafter to make new prescription glasses for him, the staff there said that a lot of people lost shades/ glasses too; hence, the 1 hour service for glasses is very popular here.

About 1 hr from Old San Juan is The El Yunque Rain Forest. There are many hiking trails to explore within the forests.

About 1 hr from Old San Juan is The El Yunque Rain Forest. There are many hiking trails to explore within the forests.

One of the many waterfalls inside El Yunque rain forest.

One of the many waterfalls inside El Yunque rain forest.

Natural swimming pool inside El Yunque.

Natural swimming pool inside El Yunque.

Famous food in Puerto Rico: Deep fried fish, Mofongo (a fried plantain-based dish) and Lechon (slow roasted pork). The best meals that we had were at "Lechonera Los Pinos (for the roasted pork)" and "José Enrique"

Famous food in Puerto Rico: Deep fried fish, Mofongo (a fried plantain-based dish) and Lechon (slow roasted pork). The best meals that we had were at “Lechonera Los Pinos (for the roasted pork)” and “José Enrique” (be prepared for at least 1hr waiting time)

1 day in Tokyo _ August 2013

Last year, on the way from America to Vietnam, we made a one-day transit stop in Tokyo. We fell in love with the city and the people instantly.

Tokyo's modes of transportation: bicycle, truck, car, train... all are so tiny.

Tokyo’s modes of transportation: bicycle, truck, car, train… all are so tiny.

Tsujiki fishmarket - open from 4am everyday. This place has some of the most famous sushi. Waiting time averages 2-3 hours and lines start as early as 5am.

Tsujiki fishmarket – open from 4am everyday. This place has some of the most famous sushi. Waiting time averages 2-3 hours and lines start as early as 5am. Look at those Sashimi knives. They average $50/knife.

Meiji Jingu Shrine - quiet place in the middle of bustling Tokyo. Some basic etiquette: bowing before entering and after leaving the main gate, washing hands and rinsing mouths before offering prayers

Meiji Jingu Shrine – a solitude in the middle of bustling Tokyo. Some basic etiquette: bowing before entering and after leaving the main gate, washing hands and rinsing mouths before offering prayers…

Meiji Jingu Shrine - draft of rice wine - gifts from foreign countries

Meiji Jingu Shrine – Those on upper right are drafts of rice wine – gifts from foreign countries

The famous Shibuya Central - a perfect spot to watch the locals crisscrossing this junction is from the 2nd story of the nearby Starbucks.

The famous Shibuya Central – a perfect spot to watch the locals crisscrossing this junction is from the 2nd story of the nearby Starbucks. Famous Hachiko situates here too.

Foodshow supermarket at Shibuya has a huge selection of yummy Japanese goodies. Everything is beautifully presented like Origami.

Foodshow supermarket at Shibuya has a huge selection of yummy Japanese goodies. Everything is beautifully presented like Origami.

Random shots of the streets, the market and some sushi place.

Random shots of the streets, the market and some sushi place.

Sensoji Temple in Asukusa - an old quarter in Tokyo. People in traditional Kimonos are easily spotted here.

Sensoji Temple in Asukusa – an old quarter in Tokyo. People in traditional Kimonos are easily spotted here.

59 National Parks of United States – Tracking tool

DONE

  1. Death Valley – California, Nevada
  2. Yosemite – California
  3. Redwood – California
  4. Sequoia – California – Kinda passing by on the way from Yosemite to Death Valley. Probably won’t go again…
  5. Kings Canyon – California – Same area with Sequoia National Park
  6. Grand Canyon – Arizona
  7. Rocky Mountain – Colorado
  8. Great Smoky Mountains – North Carolina, Tennessee
  9. Denali – Alaska
  10. Kenai Fjords – Alaska
  11. Shenandoah – Virginia

TO DO

Gates of the Arctic – Alaska
Glacier Bay – Alaska
Katmal – Alaska
Kobuk Valley – Alaska
Lake Clarke – Alaska
Wrangeli – St. Elias – Alaska
American Samoa – American Samoa
Petrified Forest – Arizona
Saguaro – Arizona
Hot Springs – Arkansas
Channel Islands – California
Joshua Tree – California
Lassen Volcanic – California
Pinnacles – California
Black Canyon of the Gunnison – Colorado
Great Sand Dunes – Colorado
Mesa Verde – Colorado
Badlands – Dakota
Biscayne – Florida
Dry Tortugas – Florida
Everglades – Florida
Haleakala – Hawaii
Hawaii Volcanoes – Hawaii
Mammoth Cave – Kentucky
Acadia – Maine
Isle Royale – Michigan
Voyageurs – Minnesota
Glacier – Montana
Great Basin – Nevada
Carlsbad Caverns – New Mexico
Theodore Roosevelt – North Dakota
Cuyahoga Valley – Ohio
Crater Lake – Oregon
Congaree – South Carolina
Wind Cave – South Dakota
Big Bend – Texas
Guadalupe Mountains – Texas
Arches – Utah
Bryce Canyon – Utah
Canyonlands – Utah
Capitol Reef – Utah
Zion – Utah
Virgin Islands – U.S Virgin Islands
Mount Rainier –  Washington
North Cascades – Washington
Olympic – Washington
Grand Teton – Wyoming
Yellowstone – Wyoming, Montana, Idaho

50 States of America – Tracking tool

TO DO

50-StatesArkansas – Hawaii – Idaho – Indiana – Kansas – Maine – Michigan – Minnesota – Missouri – Montana – Nebraska – New Hampshire – New Mexico – North Dakota – Ohio – Oklahoma – Oregon – Rhode Island – South Dakota – Texas – Utah – Vermont – West Virginia – Wisconsin – Wyoming – Washington

DONE

1. Arizona (Grand Canyon – Dec 2011) – 2. California (San Diego, San Francisco, LA, Lake Tahoe, Yosemite) – 3. Florida (Orlando, Miami, Key West)- 4. Georgia (Atlanta, Savannah)- 5. Illinois (Chicago) – 6. Massachusetts (Boston) – 7. Nevada (Las Vegas) – 8. New York (New York, Niagara Falls) – 9. South Carolina (Hilton Head Island) – 10. Tennessee (Nashville) – 11. Alabama (Birmingham) – 12. Iowa (Cedar Rapids 2013) – 13. Maryland (Baltimore, DC – July 2013) – 14. New Jersey – 15. Pennsylvania (Philadelphia – July 2013) – 16. Colorado (Dec 2013) – 17. Mississippi (Oct 2013) – 18. Louisiana (Oct 2013) – 19. Virginia – 20. North Carolina – 21. Kentucky – 22. Delaware (Wilmington, Oct 2014) – 23. Alaska (June 2015) – 24. Connecticut (July 2015)

Tracking tool – 27 best coffee places in the U.S.

http://www.thedailymeal.com/americas-best-coffee-shops-slideshow#7

DONE:

5. Café Grumpy, New York City – very good with fruity taste, blend of 1 Ethiopian + 2 Colombian beans.

WISHLIST

27. Kaffe 1668, New York City

26. Blue Bottle Coffee, Various Locations

25. Happy Coffee Co., Denver

24. Panther Coffee, Miami

23. Spyhouse Coffee, Minneapolis

22. Verve Coffee Roasters, Santa Cruz, Calif.

21. Ipsento, Chicago

18. The Wormhole, Chicago

20. Boxcar Coffee Roasters, Boulder, Colo.

19. Caffé Medici, Austin, Texas

17. Victrola Coffee, Seattle

12. Milstead & Co., Seattle

16. PT’s at College Hill, Topeka, Kan.

15. Artifact Coffee, Baltimore

14. Peregrine Espresso, Washington, D.C.

13. Everyman Espresso, New York City

11. Commonplace Coffee Co. House and Roasters, Pittsburgh

10. Intelligentsia, Various Locations

9. Joe the Art of Coffee, New York and Philadelphia

8. Ritual Coffee Roasters, San Francisco

7. Stumptown, Various Locations

6. Lamill Coffee Boutique, Los Angeles

4. Courier Coffee Roasters, Portland, Ore.

3. Barista, Portland, Ore.

2. Gimme! Coffee, New York

1. Ultimo Coffee , Philadelphia

DONE