Dr Seuss, frozen snot and one more rail journey before leaving Alaska…….

Sitting humbly in the great shadows of Mt McKinley is Talkeetna, a rather quaint little settlement just over three hours north when on board the Denali Star from Anchorage.  This is another lovely Alaskan rail journey and I can’t imagine there to be a train I would not take somewhere……..

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The rhythm of train travel always feels good and on this trip the vastness of such poetically lonely but beautiful scenery just slips by your carriage window.  You will see moose, bear and untouched wilderness and you will also stop in at a couple of little historic townships along the way.   What I fondly remember too of this trip, was the beading of raindrops on the glass and of how pretty it was and of how those big clouded skies just seemed to go on forever.

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‘From there to here, and here to there, funny things are everywhere’…….Dr Seuss.   During this rail journey, and between the townships of Willow and Talkeetna, stands a gorgeously whimsical house.   This house is so odd but so wondrously eccentric that I just fell in love with it.  The house, after 15 years is still incomplete and it remains uninhabited, but it really looks as though Dr Seuss himself built it.  This remarkable and very narrow 185 foot tall house is right in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness.   How perfectly wonderful…….

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From the train, the house can be seen but it is difficult to photograph.  This stunning image was taken by ‘Nice Gaffs’………

Talkeetna is a great little place to stroll around plus it is the convergence point of three major glacial rivers.  From the centre of town, you can easily walk to the pebble and mud lined banks of these wild and raging torrents.   Large runs of salmon are known to inhabit these waters too and Talkeetna is also renowned as a great fishing destination.  Lucky is the angler who casts his line here.

And ever so interestingly, since 1977 the Mayor of Talkeetna has been a cat.  That is correct!  The honorary Mayor is a cat and in my book, that’s a pretty darn good choice of a public official.   Unopposed since her first birthday, ‘Stubbs’ the current Mayor, is a beautiful aging-gracefully ginger feline who has held office for the past 20 years and she does it seems, have nine lives.

Dear Stubbs has survived a serious mauling during a dog attack, survived an ‘assassination attempt’ – a gun and very stupid young men are never a good mix, survived an encounter with a truck and when younger poor Stubbs fell into a restaurant fryer.  Very thankfully, the fryer had been turned off and the fat was cooling at the time.

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Although Talkeetna is small you will find plenty to occupy your time.  Fossick around to discover quirky little stores, walking tracks and trails, very friendly and welcoming locals who are all up for a chat, a brewery, great places to eat and there is much history to learn given Talkeetna’s past roots are entrenched in gold, aviation and the railroad.

And the best food tip for what and where to eat when in Talkeetna!  Well that would be the spinach bread served out of the silver air-stream and trust me, it is far more appealing than it sounds.  This is a slab of toasted thick home-made spelt grain bread slathered with roasted garlic, chopped spinach and a mix of several cheeses all melted to  blissful perfection.   This simplistic dish would make any true food lover swoon……

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Our last days in Alaska were spent in simple appreciation.  This is such an easy place to ‘just be’ and the tranquil beauty will stop you in your tracks.  Alaska is a pretty casual place to hang out for a while too and it is also where checkered flannel has become a formal fashion wardrobe statement……..as well it should!  I’m quite partial to a bit of flannelette but in Alaska you will also need polar fleece and thermals, gloves, the odd scarf, a beanie and the warmest of coats and pants…..and a little fringe trimmed buckskin for good measure, which I happen to find very desirable on a man.

I  also picked up a couple of useful tips while in Alaska with the first being about socks.  Apparently in this climate, ‘cotton is rotten’ so you need to wear wool or a wool and synthetic blend of sock.  And the next tip.  Keep a hanky handy!   Your nose will run in Alaska and in the midst of the harshest and bleakest of winters you will be required to ‘break’ snot from your face as it will have frozen.  Oh come on, its not as bad as it sounds and there are far worse things you could be required to do in your lifetime!

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I really loved every moment of being in Alaska and I am surprised at the affection I developed for this beautiful American state.  I savor the heat and I have a passion for the ocean but due to some strange alchemy, I know in my heart I will return.   My homeland, a beautiful island continent, simply infatuates me but I am drawn to those soaring snowcapped alps, the moose and the harshly romanticised and remote landscape of Alaska regardless the frigid temperatures.  I know too that I could easily live in Alaska, for a while at least, and perhaps they will allow a peaceful settlement in the Dr Seuss house.  ‘You’re off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way’……..Dr Seuss.

It was a wrench to leave but sometimes you need to leave somewhere in order to discover how much you really don’t want to.  I will always adore travelling as I am so welcoming of the idea of those great horizons unfurling before me, the guaranteed adventures along the way and the fact that most travel involves an amazing experience filled with beauty and wonderment, fascinating people, architecture and food.

Travel pushes you and it challenges you and it opens your mind and your heart to so much more.  Maybe too, it also allows one to find that somewhere special they could perhaps one day call home………

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Be bold.  Be brave.  Travel well……….xx

Next stop, Hawaii 🙂

What a Prince……. Alaska Part II

Early morning, still dark and while the inhabitants of Anchorage continued to blissfully slumber on, we left our warm bed and headed downtown to the train station.

And our destination!

Well we were headed to Seward………

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The journey from Anchorage to Seward is long yet so enjoyable.  This is slow travel.  Unhurried and timelessly beautiful and I’d like to think this is the way the world should always be viewed when travelling……….

We rocketed over bridges and over white water rivers.  We surged past ice blue glaciers and the rail tracks ran alongside grassy meadows full of wildflowers favored by shy moose and bear.  We wound our way below incredible ever-green covered mountains with their peaks occasionally hidden by mist and rain then lit by perfect sunlight and we travelled through those small maverick townships.

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For the most, the sky was impossibly blue and the water reflected the landscape like that of a mirror.  You cannot help but be affected by the beauty and magnitude of the landscape in Alaska because it is simply that spectacular.

Hours later, and greeted by heavy salt laden air, we arrived in Seward.  Seward is a city at the head of Resurrection Bay in the Kenai Peninsular and this coastal area is one of Alaska’s oldest communities.  The draw card however, is that Seward is the perfect launching pad from which to explore the Kenai Fjords National Park and Prince William Sound.

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Its funny how people remember significant events during their lifetime.  Tragedy is so often marked by a graphic memory of where you were and of what you were doing on a specific day which etches itself into your psyche for reasons best known only to you.   I  remember the oil spill from the Exon Valdez and of where I was on that fateful day in March 1989.  You could ask me what I had for dinner two nights ago and I would have little  recollection but the sorrow and heartbreak from me of this ecological disaster remains vivid.  I sometimes allow myself to be haunted by images or events and this was certainly one of those moments as the suffering and distress of the wildlife was so visually powerful.

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The above images are from National Geographic…….

It has been almost 28 years since the tragedy of the Exon Valdez where more than 11 million gallons of oil was spilt onto the fragile and beautiful ecosystem of Prince William Sound.  Even all these years later, this area is still yet to fully recover from that  man-made environmental catastrophe.  Unbelievably, the spill of oil stretched well over 1,000 miles and it is believed to have decimated up to 250,000 sea birds, 2,800 sea otters, 300 seals, 22 Orca from which the pods never recovered and 250 bald eagles.  The spill wiped out clam and muscle populations and it obliterated the salmon, halibut and herring populations by killing billions of eggs.   These numbers and the destruction done really is unfathomable!   Will we never learn!

Not long after leaving the boat harbour, we saw sea otters.  Happy and content little otters just floating about doing sea otter things.   These are such sweet little characters and what I loved was to learn that sea otters hold hands with each other while they sleep or rest so as not to drift apart and lose each other.  While watching these little otters I thought of someone dear and hoped she knew I was holding her hand so as not to drift too far away as the miles continued to separate us…………

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Out on the water and under a massive Alaskan sky of snow winter blue we saw impressively stunning glaciers.  There are well over 100 glaciers in and around the sound and they are all uniquely different with their wintery colouring.  These glaciers are actually massive walls of rivers of prehistoric ice that slowly and continually move their way down the mountains.

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While looking at one of the glaciers we heard the sharpest of cracks.  It sounded like a loud whip crack which was followed by a long low rumble not unlike thunder then we saw a large shard of ice fall from the glacier into the water which then became an ice berg.

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This entire area is an oceanic landscape of raw and wondrous beauty and I would have to say that for me, Alaska would be unrivaled with its national parks and reserves.  During our hours on the pristine waterways we saw cresting whales grey, minke and humpback, orca, puffins in their rookeries who are too cute for words and which reminded me of little British gentlemen, glaciers, seabirds, seals and otters.

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We marveled at the rugged coast line and the incredible floating ice fields.  It really was nothing short of spectacular and this is what you get when you allow wilderness to just be wilderness.

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With all that we saw, I was captivated by the orca.  They often broke the surface in their small family pods and lord, their skins, so distinctive in black and white were as glossy as silk.

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When you travel and appreciate what you have experienced you layer memories upon memories and these moments are to be treasured.  This is why you should always have mindful gratitude in all that you do especially when you travel as it brings such love and wonderment into your life.

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I will long remember this time spent out on that vast body of water as its beauty and the life force of it will forever resonate with me.  I’m so in love with Alaska in a way that I did not expect and trust me, that’s not such a bad feeling to have………..xx

‘North to Alaska, you go north the rush is on’…….

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Alaska.  The Last Frontier and a fabled kingdom which is unfathomably HUGE at almost 425  million acres.  It can be a wet, very wild and somewhat lonesome a place and they say the winds can howl for weeks on end but it is one of the most stunningly beautiful places on earth.

Isolated and extreme, with glaciers that can be larger than some States in America, Alaska is beauty and wilderness beyond measure.  I think what I am going to find frustratingly difficult for these posts about Alaska, is that I may not be able to find words deserving enough to describe this part of the world.  Perhaps, it is just too big for words…….

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Alaska is a haven for hikers and walkers as wilderness trails and tracks abound.  There are pristine lakes, glaciers, abundant wildlife, snow-capped mountains, curious and unconventional townships dotted throughout the landscape and the summer days stretch right on in to midnight.

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 This photo was taken at 10:58 pm.   Most folk in Alaska have very wisely invested in heavy-backed drapes…….

And ladies, if you are single and on the lookout for a man then Alaska is the place to be.  Men significantly outnumber the women so the odds of you finding someone is very, very good.  But just remember that isolation can sometimes encourage small eccentricities in some so although your odds are good, the goods could be a tad odd.  But from where I stand, originality and a truth beholding to oneself is something to be prized.

Some of our days were spent under a sky heavy with cloud and peppered with rain which gave off a serene, almost black and white appearance to the landscape.  Other days, the sky was the prettiest of wren blues you could ever imagine.  One major bonus of these big Alaskan skies is that star gazing here is better than anywhere else in the world……..

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Although we were in Alaska during their warmer months, they say the best time to visit is between May and September, it was cold and there was snow about although I do acknowledge it does get much, much colder!    I am an absolute frog when it comes to the cold.  I have been known to wear flannelette pj’s in summer so it was a highly unexpected turn that I fell in love with Alaska.  I was cold , yet I was filled with such warmth and comfort.

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Enjoying a Reindeer gyro…….oh deer!

I had a mission while in Alaska and it involved three things.  One: see a moose.  Two:  stay warm.  Three:  see a moose!

I had so dearly wanted to see a moose in the wild and how blessed were we in that we saw several.  I find moose to be the most endearing looking of creatures.  To my eye they appear gentle, unassuming, compliant and completely harmless.  Just like Bullwinkle in the cartoons 🙂  And just like the cartoons, the moose also have the most humorous and lovable expression.  Somehow though, I really don’t think they are the brightest of all creatures but when you look that adorable face, it doesn’t matter a dot.

These beguiling and gangly legged beasts roam about so serenely as if they don’t have a care in the world.   They browse on green shoots and tips of plants and trees and you can actually see where they have been as the grass is stomped flat and the bark upon the trees is scraped and marked by the larger moose with their magnificent velvety antlers.

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I for one, could not possibly ever imagine anyone wanting to hunt these lanky beasts as I don’t believe it would be much of a contest, let alone a fair one.  To me, it would be like hunting your neighbours sweet and docile pet milking cow named Clarabelle.

We were in a bar in Anchorage and I was chatting with a local Alaskan gent who I was sitting next to.  Over a glass of very good red wine the conversation turned to moose whereby he exclaimed  ‘Moose!  Why moose are one of the most aggressive and dangerous animals around these parts.  They are the worst animal to ever encounter in the wild’.  

Now I did note he forgot to mention polar, grizzly, brown and black bear as being dangerous but what would I know about danger as I am a lover and crusader of the shark and in particular The Great White, not to mention my fascination for free diving!

What a peach, just look at that face……….

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Photo courtesy ‘Natural Habitat Adventures Alaska’

Is this not one of the most joyful thing you have ever seen……..

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Photo courtesy ‘Visit Anchorage Alaska Visitors Bureau’

We stayed in Anchorage, a very neatly set out and rather quaint little city surrounded by the Chugach Mountains and the waters of the Cook Inlet.  This is a transient area but somehow, it doesn’t really feel that way.  No doubt though, Anchorage will be around forever even surviving through those constant seismic tremors of the underground quakes.   And those tremors are very real as frighteningly, Alaska can register an average of 1,000 earthquakes a month.

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Anchorage is a great base from which to explore Alaska as you have access to rail, very good roads and air and sea connections.  It may appear a relatively small city, given the size of Alaska, but it has all your essentials, the locals are very friendly and all you need to see and do is as close as a train or small plane trip away.

Something quite fascinating about Anchorage is that right in the heart of town you can salmon fishing at Ship Creek…….and almost all of the locals do.   We stood and watched, spellbound by the urban angling trend where runs of Chinook and Coho salmon are caught.  And some of those fish were huge!  There really are big and plentiful fish in those waters.

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Now as much as I have loved to eat salmon I really don’t think I could eat it every day and not tire of its oily taste but I could and would go salmon fishing in Ship Creek every day.

This gives a whole new meaning to the words ‘stuck in the mud’.  I guess sometimes, you just have to sit it out and wait for a helping hand to come along……..

And speaking of mud!  You will be well advised by signage and by the locals to stay off the mudflats.  Especially those of Cook Inlet.  These expanses of mud are formed from glacial silt and although appearing a place to walk and explore, they definitely are not.  These grey muddy flats have been likened to quicksand in that you will get stuck and stuck fast.  The mud acts as a suction and if alone, you will have very little chance to free yourself and you will be drowned by the incoming tide.  Having said that however, the mudflats are quite beautiful especially at low tide as patterns emerge in the mud and these flats are also a sanctuary for birdlife.  And all of this can be viewed from the safety of terrafirma.

There are an awful lot of clichés about Alaska and very happily, I can report they are all true.  Well, with the exception of Russia.  I didn’t see the country of Russia when visiting Wasilla.   You do however, have those big wild bearded mountain men in their buckskin, the ruggedly cantankerous gold prospectors and the extreme survivalist loners very happily eking out a self sufficient existence away from the confines of civilization and conformity.  There are those odd and very quirky little townships full of dark charm and characters, the crazy thrill seeking fishermen on the hunt for the Kings of the crab world and those ‘sourdough’ locals who have been in Alaska forever and who intend to keep on living that way.

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Alaska really is majestic and it is unpredictable and it is beauty at its incredible best.  It is a place that will render you breathless every single day such is the impact this land can have.  I think too, if given long enough the essence of this place would seep so deeply into your soul that you could not stand to be anywhere else and to live here would leave you forever happy.

Even those with the most jaded of hearts could fall in love with Alaska where time and distance becomes irrelevant simply because you are somewhere that is just so big……..xx

Part II coming soon.