Tag: trip

Scintillating Skagway, Alaska: a Wilderness Wonderland!

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White Pass railway train

Skagway, Alaska is a remote wilderness wonderland, and frequent port on Alaskan cruise itineraries. Nicknamed “gateway to the Klondike,” Skagway has an illustrious history of people embarking on a risky but exciting adventure with the ambition of getting rich during the Gold Rush. Today it’s a sleepy town that resembles an Old West movie set combined with tourist commercialism in response to the large number of cruise ships that dock here throughout the summer. I visited while on the Alaska itinerary for the Norwegian Bliss. Luckily, the commercialism does not significantly detract from the historical interest of the architecture in town.

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“Downtown” Skagway today

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Skagway in 1898, during the Gold Rush (public domain image)

My highest recommendation for what to do in Skagway after a stroll through town to observe the Old West late 1800s architecture is a ride on the White Pass train. This train ride affords spectacular views of the White Pass Mountains, including remote wilderness, vast forests, waterfalls, wildlife, and glaciers (including during the summer.)

 

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White Pass train engine

Besides the scenic views, it is fascinating to contemplate, as you listen to the whistles and chugging of the train and feel the vibration of its powerful motor, the efforts involved in building this rail track through these steep, imposing mountains. You traverse over massive bridges, through long tunnels, and on the edge of the mountain. (Afraid of heights? Consider yourself warned!)

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Views from the train

There are a variety of train routes you may take in varying lengths, the longest making it’s way up into the Yukon Territory of Canada. You may purchase tickets for the train ride directly from the operator in town, or purchase an excursion or tour that includes the train ride as one of the included attractions, as I did.

 

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Gold panning lesson

Another attraction included on my tour ticket was a gold panning lesson. During this experience, a very animated woman in period costume explained and demonstrated the process of panning for gold. Following the demonstration, I was handed a pan and given a trough out of which to pan for my own gold. Staff make the rounds to help anyone in need of assistance, but I was still confused… when turning in my gold for an appraisal, it was appraised at about $5. (You do get to keep the gold as a souvenir.) Others did better than I did! The experience was very touristy, but I learned a thing or two about the Gold Rush culture and process of panning nonetheless.

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Iditarod racer lecture

The other portion of the tour I participated in included a sled dog lesson and demonstration. This began with a lecture given by an Iditarod racer, who showed and explained her equipment and discussed what the experience of participating in the Iditarod entails and what life is like for both racer and sled dog. Her presentation was, albeit somewhat touristy, engaging and informative. A short video presentation was also given.

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Sled dogs on a dry run in the summer

After the lecture, a sled dog “race” was simulated on dirt (given it was summer) on a dry run. The audience was introduced to the sled dogs on the team, and allowed to pet both the sled dogs and the puppies on site.

The train experience was definitely the highlight of any trip to Skagway, but if you can overlook the touristy veneer of some of the other offerings in the area much can be learned about history and culture in Alaska!

You may view my full video tour (including all of the above listed attractions!) here:

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A Tale of Two Cities: Pushkin & Peterhof, Russia!

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Peterhof Palace, Peterhof

St. Petersburg, Russia provides an excellent home base for exploring more of the splendor of Russian culture outside of an urban setting. Pushkin and Peterhof are both nearby towns that can be visited on the same day (albeit in rushed fashion) in an excursion from the city. The highlight of both of these towns is that each is home to a spectacular rococo palace that will leave you both gasping for breath and awe-inspired!

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Catherine’s Palace, Pushkin

Pushkin is home to Catherine’s Palace, summer palace of Russian royalty about 18 miles outside of St. Petersburg. With grand staircases, larger-than-life halls, and abundant with masterpieces of art, it is lavish and luxurious on a scale impossible to contemplate without witnessing it first hand. Unfortunately, many people seek to do just that – and the crowds here are suffocating. But the experience of being able to witness the surreal spectacle of this place is worth the effort.

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Catherine’s Palace: Pure Rococo Splendor

The incredible exterior is a mere sample of the rococo majesty that you will find when you enter its sumptuous interior. You progress through rooms, each one so rich and indulgent in detail, size, and extravagant materials it gives you a feeling like a sinfully sweet dessert buffet with no end would give. I felt spoiled rotten and stuffed full indulging in so much eye candy.

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Incredible Interior

While the gilded trim may be the most eye-catching decoration, I found my favorite rooms to be the complexly detailed and highly colorful rooms like the one pictured below. I was reminded of Wedgwood and cameo style of interior decor objects and jewelry pondering the majestic qualities of rooms like this.

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Intricately Detailed Interiors of Catherine’s Palace

Peterhof Palace, as pictured below, and about 24 miles from St. Petersburg, is best known for it’s grand gardens and fanciful fountains. For very quickly apparent reasons, it is often referred to as the “Russian Versailles.” Like Catherine’s Palace, the crowds are unbearable – but well worth bearing.

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Peterhof Palace

Here gilded statues gaze as whimsical waters perform a delightful dance. To have a sense of the size and scope of these fountains, compare the size of the people processing along the paths that surround it. These fountains are larger than life, and still only a small part of the immensity of the meticulously manicured gardens in your midst.

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Gorgeous Gardens at Peterhof

But the beauty doesn’t stop there. Venture inside to complete the spectacle, feasting your eyes on interior details and rococo extravagance only rivaled by Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin.

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Playfully Pastel Peterhof

Whether the room is a pastel paradise (above) or gloriously gilded (below), each room is different yet equally as flamboyant and fanciful as the last. It is a maze of wonder that will leave you flabbergasted.

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Peterhof: Gilded Grandeur

You can find your paradise in Pushkin and Peterhof, soaking in their ornate opulence and imagining what life would be like to live within these gilded walls. The visit is well worth the side-trip from St. Petersburg!

You can view my full tour of Pushkin and Peterhof here!:

 

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Brilliant Berlin: City of Contrasts and the Vital Lessons of History

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Checkpoint Charlie

Aboard the Norwegian Breakaway’s Baltic Sea cruise, the first stop (after embarkation point at Copenhagen) is Warnemunde, the gateway to Berlin for cruise ships. However, it’s no small feat to get to Berlin from there – as a 2 hour train ride each way is required. Fortunately, the trip is well worth it! Be prepared for a very long but exciting day if you decide to make the trip!

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Holocaust Memorial with Reichstag in the Background

The Holocaust Memorial is one of the most compelling sites in Berlin. I was fascinated by the positioning of the Holocaust Memorial in relation to the Reichstag building. The official name for the Holocaust Memorial is the “Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe,” but this name is controversial given the fact that Jews were not the only population of people sent to concentration camps or the gas chambers. As someone with Polish ancestry I can appreciate the spirit of this controversy and will refer to it as the Holocaust Memorial here. The memorial encompasses 2,711 concrete blocks of varying heights lined up in rows. It is a sombre sight, in many ways resembling a cemetery, but one where the departed are nameless and without individual identity, perhaps a metaphor for the way that those who died in the Holocaust were perceived by their executioners. It is movingly fitting that the Reichstag stands tall in the background – its giant glass dome a metaphor for the new transparency that would be imposed on German leadership for the people. It is the Parliament building, where the general population can advance up through the dome and have an overview of the political proceedings below. Like many landmarks in Berlin, these places and their design serve as reminders never to repeat the mistakes of history.

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Kaiser Wilhelm Church

Another stunning reminder is the ruins of the Kaiser Wilhelm Church, standing crippled next to its modern reconstruction. It stands testament against the perils and destructive forces of war, at once eerie and beautiful, a deeply moving sight to behold.

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Checkpoint Charlie “soldiers”

Checkpoint Charlie is yet another reminder of the possible consequences of war – of people divided, of people deprived. This was the gateway through the Berlin Wall, passing through which was a dream for many that would never come true. Despite the fact that it is a highly touristy photo opportunity, it is still well worth the visit for its historical significance and the chance to reflect on the lessons of the past.

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Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall is an impressive span of eclectic art, much of it promoting freedom and celebrating human resilience and will. Given that the wall previously represented oppression, this is a fitting message for the former East German area of modern Germany.

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TV Tower

The Fernseheturm, or TV tower is the tallest structure in Germany. It towers over the city of Berlin, in the heart of the former East Germany, like a giant exclamation point amid the capitalist bastion of Alexanderplatz, abound with corporate skyscrapers and an abundance of retail shops. The irony is inspiring!

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Brandenburg Gate

No visit to Berlin is complete without a visit to the Brandenburg Gate, symbol of Berlin. Originally commissioned by Prussian King Frederick William II and completed in 1791, it was here that the ceremony to celebrate the reunification of Germany post-Cold War took place. It aptly represents the span of German history and resilience of the German people.

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Charlottenburg Palace

Charlottenburg Palace, completed in 1713, is the largest palace in Germany. It serves as Berlin’s best answer to the baroque style of architecture so prevalent in many of the historic structures throughout Germany. Here in Berlin, this baroque style fascinatingly stands in such sharp contrast to the brash and minimalist Socialist Classicism architecture of the former East Germany that you can still find in other neighborhoods of Berlin.

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Bebelplatz

Bebelplatz is the site of the State Opera, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral, and university buildings. The greatest draw to Bebelplatz, however, is that it was the location of the Nazi Book Burning in 1933, where approximately 20,000 books were burned by the Nazi Students’ League and Hitler Youth following a speech given by Joseph Goebbels. A memorial of empty bookcases can be viewed beneath a glass panel on the ground.

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Lunch featuring German specialties

Berlin’s a big city to explore, and what better way to refuel your resources mid-visit than a delicious lunch of German specialties? This plate of Sauerkraut, German potatoes, sausage, pork, and tasty meat patty can really give you the energy boost you need to embark on such an adventure!

Berlin is a fascinating city of contrast and the vital lessons of history. You can view my tour here:

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Hamburg, Germany: Industrious, Iconic, and Inspiring

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Hamburg: “Venice of the North”

My visit to Hamburg, Germany was intended to be a stopover to facilitate catching a train to Copenhagen the next day – but turned out to be so much more than I ever could have anticipated! What an unexpected pleasure! Often referred to as the “Venice of the North,” Hamburg is adorned with cerulean canals and boats bobbing in the breeze everywhere you look. But it has so much more to offer than that.

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Elbe Philharmonic Hall

Perhaps the most captivating building in Hamburg is the Elbe Philharmonic Hall on the waterfront. The modern glass top mimics the waves of the water below, poised atop an old brick warehouse. This structure perfectly exemplifies the spirit of Hamburg, at once old and new. Hamburg embraces its future while honoring its past through its architectural wonders.

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City Hall

Opened in 1897, City Hall showcases the older side of Hamburg. Bedecked with intricate detail, it is a majestic sight to behold, and provides and impressive backdrop for the crowds of locals congregating to socialize, enjoy the spectacle of street performers, or conduct business.

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Modern Metropolis

Modern structures in Hamburg challenge the passer-by to discover the many inter-mingled components that allow them to be viewed in different ways from different perspectives and by different people. As diverse a city as Hamburg is, the diversity of architecture is distinctly fitting. Playfully defying our assumptions and notions about geometry, function, and color, Hamburg’s modern buildings are a delight to examine from every angle!

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Waterways, boats, and towers are omnipresent in Hamburg

Hamburg qualifies as a hidden gem, and highly underrated tourist destination in Germany. Hamburg’s many charms should not be overlooked! Whether you spend your time strolling along the canals, reveling in the sounds of street musicians, or marveling at the industriousness of it’s massive port, a memorable time is sure to be had by all who give Hamburg a second look!

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Hamburg’s busy, bustling port

Video tour of Hamburg is available to watch here!:

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Marvelously Medieval Rothenburg, Germany

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Marvelously medieval Rothenburg

Rothenburg is probably the best place to see medieval architecture… and maybe one of the best places to see crowds of tourists as well! Admittedly there is an over-abundance of tacky souvenir shops and getting trampled by legions of tourists is not out of the question, but if you can overcome these downsides Rothenburg is a fascinating place to explore.

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Quaint, cobbled streets

Here half-timbered houses painted in bold hues compliment cute clock towers on cobblestoned streets. Fortunately, it’s an easy enough escape to slip down a side street and get away from the touristic masses and gaudy commercialism.

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The side streets are quieter

The Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Museum and Shop probably is well packaged in the category of “you either love it, or you hate it.” If sugarplums are dancing in your head at the thought of being enveloped in the wonder of Christmas in July (or June, or August… or whenever you’re there), and boisterous decor does not bother you, you may love it. If “Scrooge” is more your style, you may want to say “bah, humbug” to this attraction. It’s replete with both people and baubles, like Black Friday on Christmas themed steroids.

Feel free to stroll aimlessly, for the city is surrounded by medieval walls and no matter how far you walk you will eventually make your way to the main square again. It’s a great place to safely get lost in.

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The main square

Rothenburg is charming, colorful, and distinctly delightful, despite the crowds. It’s a great place to step back in time a reasonable day trip from Munich.

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Colorful half-timbered houses

This video will give you a tour of the town:

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Holiday Inn Express Baltimore Cruise Package: Tour and Review!

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Holiday Inn Express, Baltimore Hotel Room

Welcome to the first installment of my series on April’s back-to-back cruise on the Carnival Pride out of Baltimore, Maryland!

Parking is always an important consideration when you are road-tripping to your cruise port. The ports charge a premium for parking that can really add up depending on the length of your cruise. In many cities, there are lower-cost parking alternatives with free shuttle service to the port. These options are very limited in Baltimore, making the cruise package with Holiday Inn Express on Russell Street a good option. I was driving from Virginia and didn’t need an overnight stay, but it turned out the hotel night plus parking only cost a negligible amount more than if I had parked only at the port for the back-to-back cruise. So I planned on staying the night before to relax and have a stress free transfer to the ship on cruise day!

Pros:

  • Convenient round-trip shuttle transfer to the cruise port included
  • Free parking for up to 8 days, and discounted extra days if needed
  • Comfortable hotel room in a great location next to Horseshoe Baltimore Casino
  • Breakfast included (although it was underwhelming, and available to everyone)

Cons:

  • Fairly expensive when I reserved (although your results may vary, and it was a better value than just parking)

I appreciated the ability to get my drive out of the way the day before, even though I could have fairly easily made the trip the morning of the cruise. There was no rushing to get ready and get on the road in the morning. Instead, I woke and had breakfast at my leisure before boarding the shuttle. And the night before was enjoyable and relaxing. I had a great dinner steps away at Guy Fieri’s Bar-b-que Joint at Horseshoe, followed by trying my luck on the casino floor. Horseshoe Baltimore is a Total Rewards casino with a large assortment of table and machine games, a lively poker room, and several restaurants. After the fun and exciting nightlife, I was ready for a good night’s sleep on the comfortable bed in my room to prepare for the full day of cruising ahead!

I recommend the cruise package at Holiday Inn Express Baltimore. Considering the cost of parking alone, I found it to be a very worthwhile value, and enjoyed my stay.

My YouTube video on the Holiday Inn Express Baltimore cruise package is now live!:

 

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Next week: a review of the Carnival Pride cruise ship!