Strong US Dollar Makes European Travel a Bargain

The US Dollar is near record highs against the Euro . This makes travel in Europe much less expensive than last year, for instance, when the euro was about 20% more expensive than now.  Hotels you book for your pre and post cruise stays and purchases you make in Europe will be at a substantial discount for those whose “home currency” is the US Dollar.

Things to do in Anchorage: 1 day activity when taking a red-eye flight.

Tony Knolles Trail – Biking or walking.

After you finish your cruise line transfer from Seward to Anchorage, many times people have an entire day to kill before taking a flight after midnight. Your transfer from Seward will drop you off in the downtown area (usually the Egan Center at 555 W 5th Ave).  It’s easy to navigate the area as the East/West Streets are numbered Avenues and the North/South Streets are lettered (for example,  Coastal trail begins at 900 W. 2nd Ave. – at ‘I’  Street and 2nd Ave).

The Tony Knowles Trail is a nice way to spend the afternoon.  It  is a wide asphalt trail going along the coast of Cook Inlet, past the popular Margaret Egan Sullivan Park on the Westchester Lagoon. If you are just interested in a long walk, this is a good destination. You can simply turn around at the park and follow the trail back or go north of the park and work your way back into town on the residential streets (this area of town is very safe). If biking and you continue on you will encounter rolling hills and some sharp turns through wooded areas as well as residential. You can continue all the way to a stop where you can sit and see jets fly right over your head from the Anchorage International Airport (see map below).

For close and reasonable bike rentals see these 2 links:

After your energetic day and back in town looking for something to eat, The Downtown Deli (525 W. 4th Ave.), popular with both tourists and residents offers a variety of options in a casual atmosphere. Around the corner is the infamous ‘F’ Street Station, a popular place for both bush and jet pilots. For a such casual place, they offer an upscale menu with mostly local fresh fish items.

Enjoy your day in Anchorage!

PS – A taxi from downtown to the airport is $25-$30.

Fabulous Food in Venice, Italy at Ristorante La Caravella

One of the best meal experiences I’ve ever had happened when I was travelling with my young daughters in Venice and decided to eat at my hotel’s restaurant for convenience.  As it turned out, Ristorante La Caravella is one of the best restaurants in Venice.

The food was excellent; my steak and my daughter’s seafood dishes were all top notch.  The wait and service staff were as warm and efficient as I could imagine and went out of their way to make my daughters feel welcome in this “fancy” place.  You can seat inside (designed to resemble the interior of an ancient type of Venetian ship) or in the charming courtyard.

Venice has many excellent restaurants (and I’ll write about another of my favorites soon), but La Caravella is always the first that comes to mind when I’m asked about options on the island.

Ristorante La Caravella

Visiting the Saxman Native Village on Your Own in Ketchikan – Fresh Air and Exercise included.

The Saxman Native Village, the largest collection of standing totems, is a very popular tour with cruise lines when stopping in Ketchikan. You can easily do this on your own if you don’t mind a long walk and possible drizzle along the way.

The village is about 3 miles from town. Once off the ship, walk away from the coast on Dock Street or a parallel street to Stedman Street, go to the right and continue. Once out of the downtown area, it is an easy walk along the coast on a wide asphalt trail. The trail is used by locals who are running, biking and jogging. You’ll pass Fish Canneries, one of the largest Coast Guard stations and coastal homes – getting a glimpse of how Alaskans live. On the trail you’ll see wild flowers and fresh wild berries (depending on the season). Approaching the park there is a totem sign indicating you are approaching the Village. You will take a left and walk up a short hill. From there you will see the totems in the distance.

There is a $5.00 park fee if you want to tour the park on your own. Before going you can print out this map and description.
There are 11 poles along the road; 14 additional in the park plus the Clan house. Also a carving shed where you can watch master carvers at their trade. Definitely stop here for a few minutes.  This is very informative as each pole has its own story and history. We also we able to participate in the Clan House Tour and Native Dancing show. After your tour you will want to visit the gift shop which has a nice collection of hand carved totems, native art, Alaskan Jade and jewelry items. There is a Saxman Village t shirt that comes out every year depicting one of the Haida designs.

Depending on your energy you can walk back to town or the gift shop staff will call a taxi for you. It will be about $15.00. Either way I would make a stop at the local grocery store Tatsuda IGA at 633 Stedman. They have a small Alaska souvenir area with boxed smoked salmon. I have found this is far less expensive than what you will find in the local gift shops. Plus, you can pick up anything you might have forgotten to pack.

Just up the street on the right hand side is the New York Hotel & Café. This boutique, historic hotel is a good stop for a cappuccino or a sweet treat. It is right at the base of Creek Street, another famous area in Ketchikan. Creek Street was established in the early 1900’s as a result of the Gold Rush. By 1920, there were at least 21 “bawdy houses” on the Creek with over 37 women working out of them. Creek Street became the center for prostitution, bootleg liquor, gaming rooms, speakeasies and other wild and illicit activity. Today, Creek Street is more tame with a number of gift shops, authentic wares along with your typical t-shirt shop acheter viagra inde. There is one brothel still available to tour with girls dressed in era costumes: Dolly’s House. Also, if you are looking to fish, you can rent a fishing pole at the base of the boardwalk and fish right in the creek or from the bridge. Either way you can see the salmon swimming up-stream throughout the whole summer season.

On my way back to the ship I usually stop at Kechi-Candies (315 Mission Street) for homemade treats and then to Annabell’s Chowder & Keg House (326 Front Street) located in the historic Gilmore Hotel for smoked seafood chowder and a refreshment (Also King crab, and halibut available). Keep an eye on your watch as ships allot less time Ketchikan than other ports of call. Enjoy your time in Ketchikan.

As a note when shopping in Alaska, if you are looking for truly ‘made in Alaska’ gifts, look for this symbol for authenticity.MadeInAlaska

Hiking Lower Dewey Lake Trail in Skagway, Alaska

Avoid the tourist crush and try the Lower Dewey Lake trail.  It’s great because it is easily accessible from downtown Skagway and a short walk from the ship. It can be a short trip by hiking just to the lake, or longer by hiking around it too. There are also trails leading to Devils Punchbowl and Upper Dewey Lake if you have time – and energy.

When walking from the ship towards town turn right at the train station. At the end of the road you will see a Brown trail sign. The beginning of the hike is a fairly steep switchback trail. Once you get to the lower edge of the lake, it levels off and is a pleasant stroll among the Spruce trees. The trail is maintained. Once at the far end of the lake, you will see a bulletin describing how the lake once produced electricity for the small town. From here you can retrace your steps or go around the other side of the lake. This side is a more ‘natural’ trail and not maintained. You will encounter large rocks, tree roots and uneven terrain. Towards the end you will cross a stream with a small bridge and have the option to go to Upper Dewey Lake or back to town. This takes about 2 hours round trip depending on your pace. Of course bring bottled water and a snack if needed. I wore a rain jacket which I later tied around my waist.

The goal then is to go to the Skagway Brewing Company (not as crowded at the Red Onion and a nice walk through town) for a cup of their awesome chowder and their Spruce Tip Blonde Ale. Bonanza is also a good spot. You will see more locals hanging at this pub. Enjoy!

Great Food in London

Want great food (fresh ingredients, prepared with care) in London?  It’s a very big city, so for those willing to look for them, there are many options.  One good one, especially if you’ve been browsing the stalls of Old Spitalfields Market next door, is St. John Bread and Wine.  Their simple, but elegant presentation of great dishes will make you wonder why England sometimes gets a bad rap for food.

By the way, this is also a restaurant where you can get a taste of “offal” based food (if you’re a bit adventurous).  That’s food made from the “off cuts” of livestock.  It once made up the bulk of the meat consumed, but with the wide availability and demand for premium cuts, it fell by the wayside.  Despite it’s lack of wide appeal, however, there are still some wonderful dishes that can be made using these off cuts.  St. John Bread and Wine is among the better bets to sample some of those with the confidence that it’s been done right.

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Cruise Train to Harwich

If you’re booked on a cruise leaving from “London,” it is really departing from Harwich or Southamptom.  Either of those ports can be reached from London by train, but the train from Harwich is an especially good option.  This is the case because the station at Harwich International Port is especially close to the ship itself.  You can be off the train and in your stateroom in as little as thirty minutes if you take the 12:28 train from London’s Liverpool Street Station.  You’ll arrive at Harwich at 13:40 (1:40 PM) after the main crowd has been processed and you’ll breeze through check in.

Personally, I think just about anyone would find the train experience to be a much more enjoyable transfer than a bus or cab and it’s more economical as well.  Unless you are travelling with a large amount of luggage or physically challenged in a way that makes handling any luggage a hardship, the train is quite easy to board and get settled into.

Also, the Liverpool Street Station is not especially large (compared to Victoria, for instance) and finding your train will be no difficulty.  One thing to keep in mind at the station is that you shouldn’t try to access the platform until your departure is listed on the “board” in the main hall; there are two sets of platforms and, if you haven’t waited, you might end up at the wrong set.  Incidentally, First Class offers little in the way of amenities on this train and really isn’t worth spending more for.

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Hotel El Convento in San Juan, Puerto Rico

If you’re staying in Old San Juan before or after your cruise, you’re not likely to find a better place to overnight than Hotel El Convento, located within a ten minute walk of everything the old city has to offer. The hotel is, as its name implies, on the site of a Carmelite convent founded in the seventeenth century. Rooms are spacious and quiet. Its staff is friendly, helpful and knowledgeable about the old town and greater San Juan.

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