Tag Archives: Town

Juneau what we did next?

Saturday 13 August 2022 – We could afford a relatively relaxed start to the day, because Silver Muse wasn’t due to dock in Juneau until 0930. This gave us plenty of time to (a) have a leisurely breakfast and (b) fret about exactly what clothes would be the best choice for our first Adventure of the day, which was to scale the local monster, Mount Roberts. Well, as far as what they call the Tramway Station, but what we’d call the cable car station (just before the number 1 if you click that last link, i.e. about a third of the way to the top; what do you think we are, mad?).

A major consideration would be the weather – would it be cold? would it be wet? The forecast was for showers, and a temperature of about 15°C.  We both had fairly heavy duty jackets available, but we could see from the view from the boat

that it wasn’t actually raining so I decided instead to risk just a rain jacket over an extra fleece layer, with a waterproof camera bag tucked into the backpack that Jane personfully volunteered to take with her, along with a couple of small water bottles, a spare camera battery and my wallet, because she’s a sucker trouper. (Hah – Ed)

The official trail starts outside Juneau, so, to get there, we thought it would be good to walk through the town.  The ship was docked about a mile outside town, and we spurned the free shuttle bus in favour of walking into Juneau. I’m glad we did, as although the first part of the walk was along the road, it gave us a view of the ship

and we arrived in the town via a boardwalk, which was quite attractive.

(There’s little doubt about what Juneau’s main industry is…)

You can see the “tramway” departing in the photo above. We stopped by the bottom station to ask about ticket prices.  An all-day pass to go up and down the mountain in the cable car would have cost us $45 each, but the lass at the counter told us that as long as we spent $15 apiece in the restaurant at the top we could ride down for free.

We carried on through Juneau which is an attractive place, provided you don’t mind a profusion of jewellery shops.

Many of the cross streets are actually staircases

because the town is built on the side of Mount Roberts (not, counterintuitively, Mount Juneau), giving it the nickname of Alaska’s answer to San Francisco. There are quirky buildings and street art

and we particularly thought it would be worth seeing the State Capitol

which has a statue outside it of William Seward himself.

Just by the Capitol we met a Canadian couple, Cynthia and Steve, whom we’d chatted to whilst awaiting the Seward train, and we fooled around with a statue just in front of the Capitol.

This is Jane, bearback riding,

Just along from the Capitol, there’s a small but perfectly formed Russian Orthodox Church, which is really cute.

(In the competitive nature of these things, there’s a cathedral next door.)

The stream of attractive houses continued

with some lovely colours of paintwork.  We call these houses the Basin Street Blues

despite the fact that they’re actually in Basin Road, because we don’t want the truth getting in the way of a good joke.  Or even that one.

Passing a couple of other interesting sights,

we eventually reached the start of the Mount Roberts trail. It became apparent that an event was under way which involved people Running Up That Hill. We had a brief chat with a friendly-seeming marshal who told us that his brother lived in Wolverhampton and, presumably to get some sort of revenge on us for this horrible family destiny, told us that the trail was “vigorous” and the cable car station was “about 45 minutes” up it.


The trail was steep

and muddy in places


(there were marks along the way to guide us – the above is a root map)

and with some sections so steep they put in steps.

It runs through forest, which is great if you like forest, but this did mean that the trees rather relentlessly got in the way of anything like a decent view to give us an excuse to stop and photograph it in order to have a bit of a rest. It really was quite hard work for us, and presumably more so for the runners who occasionally overtook us as they headed up the mountain. And then passed us again as they came down again whilst we were still panting up.

I was very glad that I didn’t bother with the heavy jacket.  Even with fleece and rain jacket I felt distinctly overdressed, and before too long both Jane and I were in shirtsleeves – once again, very lucky with the weather.  We met a chap coming down who told us that he’d seen a bear and her cub just off the trail which made us at once excited and terrified.  We never saw the bear, which is at once a shame and a relief. We also passed a couple of girls who told us that the “sidewinder fries” at the top were excellent.

45 minutes? Hah! It was a good 90 minutes of toiling up the hill (and a climb, I might add, of 627 metres which is 2,000 feet) before we finally saw the top station before us.

There was finally a view worth looking at

and we could see our ship, too

but the main priority was to get to the bar and spend that $30,

I can report that the sidewinder fries are indeed excellent and the beer – Alaskan Koelsch – was, too.  The walk up represented the most exercise that either of us had done for some weeks, so we felt pretty pleased with ourselves, particularly since we met Cynthia and Steve again; they had ridden the cable car up so I felt we’d chalked one up for the UK. Not that we were smug about it, or anything.

I had our beer-and-fries receipt ready to show for the ride down, but no official showed the slightest interest in checking our bona fides, presumably because there were very few customers riding the cable car, so we could have saved ourselves the $30.  On the other hand, that would have meant I didn’t get the beer, and that would have been a shame.

We took the shuttle bus back to the boat, and just about made it to La Terrazza for a swift lunch.  This ended Phase I of the day, but we had still more excitement to come in the form of a whale-watching excursion. Since we had a little time to spare, I had a strategic kip by way of prep for this, and Francis brought us hot water and milk (and canapes) so we could make some decent Twinings Earl Grey tea before we headed out to the quayside again.

The excursion was billed as a “Whale Watching and Culinary Experience” with a subtext of a great photo opportunity, which is obvs why I wanted us to opt for it.  A coach ride took us to Auke Bay and we boarded a double-decker catamaran which took us out into Stephen’s Passage.  I didn’t feel a thing, your honour.

Commentary was provided by a young lass who was a marine biology student and who was clearly on top of and enthusiastic about her subject.  The skipper clearly knew roughly where to go and before too long we spotted a whale so everyone rushed to the outside deck to take photos.

This whale was called Sasha, who is sufficiently well-known to be referred to as “The Alaskan Whale”. Apparently you can see the letters A and K in her tail flukes, but I wasn’t able to verify that.  I got a couple of snaps of her, above,

and this one, showing the scar across her back from an unfortunate encounter with a ship’s propeller. We saw a couple of others as well, and if/when I get time I’ll update this post with some video.

Overall the trip, although the culinary experience was nearer being just a snack bar, was good; these were the first whales we’ve ever seen, despite having gone on whale watching trips elsewhere.

The journey back to the dock in Auke Bay took us past a decent view of the Meldenhall Glacier

and then we were back at the ship a short while before it left Juneau at 10pm.

And so ended another fairly intense day.  We have a couple of tours in the plan for tomorrow – a train ride and a bus tour of Skagway.  Since we’re likely to get rained on, being inside looks to be the best option, but you’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out how the weather treated us.

Day 9 – Korčula, and drama on the high seas. Or rather, a tiff in the harbour.

September 23rd. At bang on 0600, the engines of the Perla roared into life and sleep thus became impossible. To be fair, we were warned in the information we got that there would be engine noise, and so had packed the recommended earplugs. But they were in my spongebag rather than my ears, and less effective therefore. I shall not hesitate to use them should we be moving at night.

The mission of the day was to get to Brač before the weather closed in – Filip was talking about northerly gales, and I trusted his information sources (Tom, our skipper) better than the BBC Weather App which was forecasting showers and a north-easterly stiff breeze. Anyhoo, Tom put the hammer down and we were off!

There was one break in the journey, to visit the island of Korčula, which is a couple of hours’ motoring from Slano. This gave us time to suss out the breakfast, which was nice but made me very glad about all those Twinings Earl Grey teabags we’d packed, and then we were being ushered off the boat to meet local guide Željka. If nothing else, at least week one had prepared me for being able to spell her name correctly. It became clear that much of the (perforce) short visit was going to be spent in the local museum, which Filip had arranged to be opened especially for our group, which was a nice touch. However, faced with a new and handsome town,

and with camera in hand, my thoughts tend not to turn to museum visits, but rather to pottering around looking for nice scenes. So we excused ourselves from the rest of our group and wandered about, trying to find parts of Korčula town which were not full of Asian tourists taking selfies. It’s a small town, so this wasn’t altogether straightforward. But we managed to find some scenes which I hope you agree are reasonably photogenic.

Very near the quay where Perla was moored is a handsome staircase which was part of the old city’s walls (much of which are still intact).

The top debouches on to the cathedral square, which would have made a lovely photo were it not for the hordes of people there. Adjoining this square there is a another, smaller one

which took several minutes to photograph, as I had to wait for the oriental tour party to move on.

Just off the cathedral square is an art shop, which has a captivating display on the outside walls.

We’re not sure whether they’re for display or for sale (though I’d hazard a guess at the latter), but it’s a lovely way to display items to get people’s attention.

We did pop into the cathedral, but only for a few seconds as someone scolded Jane for wearing shorts, so we apologised and beat a hasty retreat. I felt somewhat aggrieved on Jane’s behalf, as there were ladies inside with skirts far shorter and men in shorts, none of whom were being berated. I suppose that the modern thing to do, having taken offense on someone else’s behalf, is to stir things up via a social media shitstorm with a catchy hashtag – #handsoffmywifesshorts, or something.

Anyway, we wandered on and discovered, radiating out from the cathedral square, several narrow lanes along which you can clearly see evidence of the lives of ordinary people being lived, alongside the inevitable cafes and restaurants.

All in all, Korčula town is a very agreeable place to potter around for an hour or so and I could have spent longer getting some more imaginative shots. But I hope that these give you a flavour of how pleasant the place is.

Next stop – Brač. In our previous week, we visited Bol (the principal town on the island), but our target today was a different place, Milna, which we thought would be just this little place and a venue for a meal out on the town.

The reality was a little different, and the weather played quite a part in this.

As we approached Milna, an interesting landmark was a sunken boat which was being supported by salvage buoys.

and it became clear that (a) there is a significant marina here and (b) the sailing world and his dog were headed towards it, driven by reports of the gale that Filip had mentioned – the channel in was quite crowded. Our captain had a shouting match with another vessel which clearly didn’t understand about navigation priorities under these circumstances and, as we tied up at the quay in the marina, the guy in charge there was frantically challenging all arriving boats and turning away any that didn’t have a reservation, as the marina was full. All of the boat crew said that they’d never seen it so crowded.

The late afternoon and evening light in Milna made it a pretty place.

The moon was full

and the sunset colours were lovely.

We had a very tasty and fishy evening meal to round off the day. Walking back to Perla, it was very difficult to believe that there was a storm brewing. But there was – and you’ll have to read all about it in the next entry. See you there!

In transit – 1: Ushuaia – El Calafate – Bariloche

20th – 22nd March 2018

After the several days of not packing and unpacking, we then had a burst of moving about and staying for very short periods in places.

We disembarked from Ventus Australis in Ushuaia, which is the capital city of the region, which means the island of Tierra del Fuego and the other islands that make up the region of Tierra del Fuego. And possibly the Malvinas as well – there’s a war memorial to the fallen of the Falklands war there.

We only had an hour or so to wander around Ushuaia. so we just walked along its main street (named after the liberator, San Martin). It’s a pleasant place – the buildings are often colourful and attractive


and there’s a dramatic backdrop of mountains.


The local standards of wiring seem a little alarming to European eyes (this was an example from Punta Arenas, but not untypical of the South American wiring we saw pretty much everywhere):


Ushuaia is something of a centre for skiers and snowboarders – the mountains can be reached in under an hour, and so I can imagine it draws a goodly winter sports crowd in the season.

After our short ramble around, it was time to depart for El Calafate, which would be the staging post for an excursion to the Perito Moreno Glacier (see separate post). We thus had an afternoon to wander round this much smaller, but very charming little town. Like Ushuaia, many of the buildings make great use of colour.

The sun was shining, which helped, but there was a very pleasant vibe here. I think the town is very much a tourist centre, and this gives it a laid-back feel which I enjoyed.

I particularly liked the way this public phone service is presented.

The town’s founders, back some 130 years or so, planted poplar and willow trees, which makes it very green. I should imagine that the abundance of trees is a wonderful boon for the local dogs, of which there seem to be many and whose hobbies also seem to include chasing cars and barking a lot at each other at night.

The town has several parks which also add to the overall charm.


Mind you, this one near our hotel was called the Parque Manuel Belgrano, so that gave us a score of two names with uncomfortable UK overtones in just the one day.

Our hotel was called the “Esplendor”. Unlike the Singular, it didn’t quite match up to the pretensions of its name. It did all the basics well (good food, comfortable beds – surprising given how lumpy the pillows were – and obliging service). I guess it was probably cool a few years ago, but decor based around plastic elk horns is no longer edgy, and the woollen knitted lampshades are bizarre to my eyes rather than charming. Some of the decor is a bit faded and in need of a refresh. But, hey, we slept well there and persistent searching revealed enough electric points to charge phones and cameras, so these complaints tend a bit towards nit picking.

We had a great insight into the Argentinian preference for a carnivorous diet when we ate one evening at a very good restaurant called Mako. After what seemed like a rather gruff reception, the service turned out to be very friendly. To accompany the inevitable (and delicious) Malbec, chosen, with help, from a great long list, we ordered a plate of grilled meat that was advertised on the menu as being for two people. My religion forbids me from sharing a photo of it, but it could easily have fed a family of four. Here’s the nearest I can permit to a photo of food, which is the barbecue being operated in the window (something we saw in other restaurants as well).

The “Calafate” in the town’s name, by the way, is the name of a bush, which produces a berry that has many uses – for jam, for ice cream, for beer, for a liqueur which, added to a Pisco Sour, transforms it into a Calafate Sour. It’s a spiky bush. Sorry, but the berry season has passed, so I can only show you thorns and leaves.

After our short stay in El Calafate, the next stop was in San Carlos de Bariloche, to give us another staging post before the next big segment of our odyssey.

It’s an hour-and-three-quarters on an aeroplane to get to Bariloche, and this journey started from the small but perfectly-formed El Calafate airport (perfect, except the WiFi wasn’t working, but otherwise nicely organised with charging points for the mobiles, cafés and helpful signs telling you what facilities were available airside).

We never got to see Bariloche itself, except in the passing rain, but it looks like an interesting city, with a Swiss-German architectural heritage, funiculars to take you up a steep hillside, and vast numbers of hotels by the lake. It seems to be a year-round city, with skiing faclities just 20km away for the Winter, and lots of lake-based things like fishing an attraction for the Summer.

Our destination lay some 25km to the west of Bariloche, at the swanky Llao Llao hotel. “Llao Llao” is pronounced “zsow-zsow” (with the “zs” as in Zsa Zsa Gabor) and is the aboriginal name for the Indian Bread fungus which affects the local version of Beech trees. For those who have followed this blog, you’ll have seen a picture from our condor hike about a week ago.

We arrived yesterday in torrential rain and howling wind. Today the rain has gone so revealing a decent view from our hotel over lake Moreno.


The rain may have gone, but the wind still howled. Nevertheless, we went for a walk which, by reason of missing a turn, became a 10-mile hike on to a trail that involved a 350-metre ascent. However, the view from the top was quite nice

Panorama - View from Cerro Llao Llao


and on the way we saw a lapwing

a brown caracara

and ended up with a nice view of the Llao Llao Hotel to finish off the walk.

The next stage of our journey is another transit to take us on towards a more major segment, which is a visit to Easter Island.