Friday, July 21, 2017

Titanic at the Reagan Library

2.37 miles under the surface of the ocean lies an unsinkable ship with incredible stories to tell.  The resting place of the Titanic is a sacred place.  The bodies of those that died that day still rest there.  The ship and its contents are frozen in time.  We have been to Titanic exhibits before but none like this one.  James Cameron is an explorer and a storyteller.  Much of what you see here is from detailed reproductions from the 1997 film Titanic.  No material was salvaged from the wreck site.  Some items we did see were those that survived the disaster and lived on to tell its story.  At over 10,000 sqft of exhibit space we can only show a peek at what is there to experience. 

This is the actual pressure sphere that Dr. Ballard, Ralph Hollis and Dudley Foster used to make the first dive to the Titanic in 1986. This pressurized sphere allowed Alvin to dive deep enough to land at the Titanic wreck site. This is helped by the sphere shape and the two inch thick walls to fight the pressures of having two miles of ocean water weigh in on you.  It is very dark there and Dr. Ballard is quoted as saying this.  "I'll never forget seeing the Titanic for the first time.  It's pitch black, and you don't see it until the last minute. It's as if someone pulls back the curtain.  It comes out of this black velvet void of nothingness." 



This carefully arranged debris field was made for the movie with attention to detail.  Time and ocean seafloor will uncover and cover the items below so it is an ever changing view.  Many things in this exhibit are from the movie and created with the same care to detail.  Jacks room was carefully reconstructed as were the suite rooms B52, B54 and B56 where Rose was staying. 

It's hard to even imagine what it would be like to look down on that wreck site.  They have built a scale model of what we might see and it is incredible.  There are also multiple pictures on the wall of Alvin's first view of the Titanic in its final resting place.



This deck chair survived the wreck of the Titanic because it was made of wood and it floated.  It is one of only seven in existence.  Many chairs were thrown off the boat to give survivors something to hold onto until help arrived.  Sadly it was the freezing temperatures of the water that would claim their lives instead of drowning. 

One of the most powerful stories from the Titanic is the story of the band that played on as the ship went down.  They played upbeat music to help calm the crowd.  As the ship went down it is reported that they ended with the hymn Nearer, My God, To Thee.  This is a display of the music personal items of Wallace Hartley, who was a musician on the ship.  His body was recovered as well as his violin case floating in the sea.  The hymn was played at his funeral, which drew in around 30,000 people to pay their respects. 

  
Titanic lifeboat replica.
A view inside the lifeboat replica. 
The Titanic carried sixteen wooden lifeboats and four canvas collapsibles, which could hold 1,178 people.  There were more than 2,200 people on board.  At the time the safety standards were based on the weight of the ship.  The original plans called for 64 lifeboats but 
that idea was scrapped so that they could use the space for something else on the unsinkable ship.  After the Titanic went down safety changes would be made that are in use today on the cruises we so love to take.  Lifeboat regulations would be based on passenger count instead of weight.  Lifeboat drills became required and all lifeboats were to be inspected regularly by trained employees.  Ships now monitor distress frequencies 24 hours a day and maintain constant contact with other ships and the shore.  It makes you wonder a bit how many lives would have been saved if these safety rules were in effect before the unsinkable Titanic would set off on their voyage. 

While this exhibit is only available until January 7th, 2018, there are other traveling exhibits as well.  Each can show you a slightly different view of the story being told.  This exhibit here is in the Ronald Reagan Library located in Simi Valley, California. 

I'll finish my post with this quote that I love so much. Thank you, and happy travels. 
❤ Misty

I am a storyteller; that's what exploration really is all about.  Going to places where others haven't been and returning to tell a story they haven't heard before.  - James Cameron 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Sespe Creek Car and Cycle Show

 Each year people across the nation look forward to celebrating the Fourth of July. Backyard barbeque's, cold drinks and fireworks are the standard. But it's also an opportunity to get off the couch and find an adventure. It doesn't have to be a big adventure but we aren't a group that like to be idle. Having said that, I have to admit that this year we were maybe a little unprepared for the 4th this year. We had just gotten back from Alaska and we only had the day of the holiday, a Tuesday, to take advantage of. No worries. We're in California and there is plenty to do and see.

  Eh, not really. sure there were things to do but it seemed like the crowds were going to be too much of a hassle and I had to be in bed early as usual in order to be functional at work the next day. Then I stumbled upon a little something interesting that wouldn't take too much time and would still be interesting to most of us. We jumped in the car and headed to Fillmore, CA for the 31st annual Sespe Creek Car and Cycle Show.

  I like car shows. I like to see old cars restored and maintained. People that own and maintain cars from the mid 1900's and earlier have a certain appreciation for the automobile that the regular person wouldn't understand. To them a car is like a piece of fine art that is to be displayed and admired. Just admire from a distance, though. It's not cool to touch.

 The best part is that for the most part these people do the work themselves. When you put something together with your own hands it just makes all the work that much sweeter when the project is completed. It also helps if your ride ever breaks down. Hey, it happens to everyone no matter what car you drive but someone that knows their car inside and out has a much better chance of getting home without a tow.
  I've been on a big Chevy Bel Air crush as of late and there happened to be quite a few from the mid 50's that I was able to drool over. Of course the Ford Mustang and Chevy Camaro also made a strong showing which will always be favorites of ours.

  All in all our first California car show was a fun and quick way to get away from the house for awhile and the best part is that it didn't cost anything. It won't be the last car show we visit while we're here but for now it will suffice. If you're a car person, don't forget to look up some classic car shows near you this summer and get your family out to enjoy some steel beauty.

Brandan 

Friday, July 14, 2017

Alaska Cruise Final Thoughts and Tips

 The last day of our Alaskan cruise would take us through the Inside Passage, the narrow route that extends from the Alaskan coast line down into Canada. This route can be scenic because the ship's are close to land rather than just boring ocean. But on this day the weather would choose to obscure the mountains with a thick cloud cover and an occasional drizzle that kept the majority of people indoors.

  As I've mentioned before, sea days are not my favorite but we did make the best of it. It was, after all, our last day aboard the Radiance of the Seas. Misty spent a little time in the casino where she was entertained and didn't lose a lot of money. This fact of course makes me happy. We also participated in two, yes two rounds of trivia. The crew put on multiple trivia games throughout our days on board and we took advantage as often as we could. We put in solid performances at each game but our last game would be our best. We won that round and ended up taking home half a dozen Royal Caribbean hats as our prize. The hats were the best of the prizes we had seen so far. Much better than the pens and zipper pulls they gave out earlier. 
  We ended the night watching our singing comedian for the second time of the week and like before, he did a pretty good job. We hit a few shows during the week but not as many as we had during our cruise to the Caribbean a few years ago. I believe the reason for this ended up being the time zone. In Alaska we lost an hour due to the time zone and while it shouldn't have been a big deal it seemed like we were constantly tired during this cruise. While in the Caribbean the time zone was more in our favor and staying up for the later shows didn't seem to phase us. In the end it didn't really matter because we had a great time and we enjoyed the shows that we did make it to.

  Now that I've been on a few cruises, each with a different cruise line, I feel comfortable giving a few tips on what I think may help you on your next or even your first cruise.
  First, book early. In order to feed thousands of people they have to split dining times. On this cruise the dining times were 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm. The earlier dinner time slot was already filled so we had to eat at 8:00 or we could skip the more formal dining experience and try the pay restaurants. For some the late dining time may not be a problem but to me I didn't like waiting that long for dinner and by the time the meal was finished we ended up going right up to bed. It's all up to your preferences but if you want a choice in the matter, book early.
  Breakfast can also be a problem. The hours of the buffets vary from ship to ship but you'll be fighting for a seat if you don't get up early. Being early risers this wasn't a problem for us but on sea days it didn't seem to matter what time you showed up. If your group is small (under 4 people) you will have an easier time finding a seat. There were eight of us and it proved to be challenging on some days to get us all together. 

  When it comes to excursions we take advantage of the cruise line's web sites. You can see exactly what excursions are offered at each port of call and you can book them for your group right there in the comfort of your home long before your departure date. You can still book excursions once you're on the ship but you risk not getting the excursions or time slots that you want because they had already been booked. We booked an excursion on all but one of our stops on line months in advance to make sure we got what we wanted. We managed to book our whale watching tour at Icy Strait Point on the ship just two days before we arrived and it worked out but I wouldn't recommend waiting to book if you know there is an excursion you really want to experience.
  You will not be able to use cash on the ship. Period. Your room key is attached to your credit card and is your lifeline on the ship. Depending on where in the world you are cash will work in port but not on the boat. 
  If you want to save money stay in an inside cabin. A balcony is nice but they are more costly. If you can handle spending time on the upper decks when you want to see the sea then I would save the cash and skip the balcony. We spent the same amount for four people to stay in our inside cabin as others spent for two people in a balcony room. 
  Airplane mode on the phone. You're in international waters so if you choose to make phone calls or you need to send text messages know that it's going to cost you. Turn your phone off or keep it on airplane mode while on the ship. When you are in port in Alaska you can use your phone because you are in the U.S. (depending on your phone plan.) This won't apply when you're cruising outside the United States, however. Disney Cruise Line supplies their rooms with two cordless phones that allow you to talk with your kids (or whomever you're traveling with) while on the ship. This fills in great when you can't use your cell. Too bad other cruise lines haven't picked up on this perk.

  Well there it is. The end of our trip to Alaska. I started missing it the moment I got off the ship. I don't know when I'll return to this beautiful state but I know I'll get back up there soon. Hopefully by Jeep rather than a cruise ship, though. Regardless of which cruise line you choose I would urge you to go to Alaska. It may not be as warm or glamorous as the Caribbean but I don't think you will find a more scenic cruise anywhere.

Brandan  
   
 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Ketchikan, Alaska

 Ketchikan would be our last port of call for our Alaskan cruise. Ketchikan is known for two things, salmon and totem poles. Since we had already experienced a salmon bake during this vacation we chose to experience a little more culture while in town. That meant we were hopping onto a bus headed for Saxman Totem Village.
  Ketchikan has more totem poles than any other place in the world. They are scattered throughout town and each one stands for something. Saxman Totem Village has the greatest concentration of poles with twenty five. 
  We were greeted by two young men from the local Tlingit tribe. They spoke a little about their traditions and the history of their people before we were taken to the Clan House.
The Clan House
 Inside the Clan House we got to see the local Native American's perform a few dances. These are traditional song and dance that have been practiced for generations. Each dance meant something different but the last dance represented welcoming or friendship if you will. For this dance they invited all who were interested to come up and dance with them. Much like the shy group that we had at Liarsville most people sat silent and avoided eye contact when they asked for volunteers. Normally I would have been one of those people but for some unknown reason I said, What the heck. It's not everyday you get to experience something like this and I know it will be a long time before I end up this way again. In total there ended up being four of us that danced and lucky for us the moves were simple.
  This was an experience that I found to be quite fun. I got to dress up in a fancy robe (I represented the Raven Clan) and got to let loose for a few minutes. To the Tlingit these dances and the people they welcome each day is special. It is their way of passing on the history of their ancestors and it gives them the opportunity to live their traditions in a modern, technology driven world. I would urge everyone that visit Ketchikan to make sure to stop by the Saxman village. You might even get some good, embarrassing video of your family members.
  Once the dance ended we were taken out to totem poles. Our knowledgeable but driver told us the stories of each of the poles and the one thing that she mentioned that surprised me was that none of these poles are the originals. Eventually these poles succumb to the elements and fall over and get damaged. When that happens the totem poles are re-carved and placed back where its predecessor stood. 
  Bonus activity! We were taken to a small, wooden shack just below the Clan House to see where the poles are carved. We were lucky during our visit because the "Master Carver" was in town. So who is the master carver? He's pretty much the best there is at what he does. With over fifty years of carving totem poles under his belt, there isn't another person in the village that can match his talent. But they are learning. He is passing on his knowledge to the few young men of the village talented enough to carve the poles.
  Carving poles is how this man makes his living. Anyone can commission a pole but beware, it's going to take a while and it's going to cost a lot. Hey, greatness isn't cheap.
 With the totem village experience behind us we had some time to wander town. We breezed past the buildings of the old "red light district" which were very well preserved but now house shops and museums. Not that I'm complaining. Don't get the wrong idea. We walked past my favorite attraction in town, the lumberjack show where the hoots of the patrons cheering on their team spilled over into the streets. And of course we perused the shops that stood everywhere you looked. Unfortunately rain had been falling since our arrival and by the afternoon we had had enough. We headed back to the ship and waited for our departure time.
  Tomorrow we would float through the inside passage toward our final destination of Vancouver, Canada. Our exploration of Alaska had come to an end and it was time to head home. I know that I'll return one day but I'm hoping to do it by land rather than by sea.    Come back on Friday to hear how we ended our trip and we'll share a few tips for when you plan your own Alaskan cruise. See you then.   

Here is a peek at some of the fun we had. 



Brandan

Friday, July 7, 2017

Icy Strait Point, Alaska

 Icy Strait Point, the only port of call that we had not previously visited, seems almost out of place on the itinerary. The shoreline is lined with trees rather than jewelry shops. In fact there are only a few shops for the shopaholic to peruse and the port only has room for one cruise ship at a time and the day that we were there, only one other ship would visit. But don't let the sparse and rugged terrain fool you. There's a lot of bang for the buck at this little community.

  If you were to look up Icy Strait Point on YouTube you would find a plethora of videos about zip line. It's what they're famous for. They boast the world's largest zip rider and although we didn't take the ride I can tell you that I wouldn't try to dispute their claim.
  After some debate among the group it was decided that we would skip the adventurous zip line in favor of the more leisurely activity of whale watching. I was okay with it. I've never been up close to a whale outside of Sea World so why not? The best and most surprising thing was that they guaranteed you would see whales. That's pretty bold. They had two hours to fulfill this claim and they delivered withing the first thirty minutes. We made our way within a hundred yards of a nice hump

back whale making its way to the feeding grounds. It wasn't really interested in us much which I suppose I don't blame him. It's an interesting game to play this chasing whales. We learned real fast that when you see that tale come out of the water you wouldn't see him resurface for around four to five minutes. The tail up is a sign the whale is diving deep. Once below the surface it's anyone's guess as to where they'll pop up. Once they do the engine comes alive and the chase is on. 
    Chase is strong word. They aren't out to harass the whales. I noticed they keep a good distance away from the animals and they are extremely careful about maintaining that distance. As the crew comes through the cabin they make sure to teach you about the whales and it is apparent that they care about the well being of the animals. Overall, very cool and now I want to go back to California for a chance to see Blue Whales when they are in the area.
  After the tour we walked he shops on shore and learned about how Salmon fishing and canning was the lifeline for Hoonah, the small town just a mile out of port. The shops still have some of the old machinery used to process and can the fish and I'll warn you that the displays are...detailed.
  Before heading back to the ship we walked a path that takes you into the lush forest along the shore. It's a short walk and well worth he twenty minutes it takes to traverse it.
 
  If you ask me Icy Strait Point is a nice change of pace in the middle of a busy cruise. The beauty and rugged atmosphere is a sharp contrast from the shopping bombardment you receive at the larger towns. It feels more like Alaska rather than a tourist trap. But make no mistake, it is a tourist trap. Look for Icy Strait Point before booking a cruise. I think you'd be missing out if you didn't get to visit. 
 Next week we'll finish up our Alaska cruise with our last port of call, Ketchikan. If you come back for that I may tell you about how I ended up on stage with the local tribe. See you next week.

Brandan


Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Happy Birthday America

 Today I woke early not because I wanted to but because of habit. It's a ritual that occurs most everyday of my life. This morning is different, however. Today is a day of celebration; a birthday that every citizen of the United States Celebrates each year. Today is Independence Day.

  241 years ago a group of brave souls made a decision to break the thirteen colonies of the new world free from British rule. It would be a decision that has helped shape the world ever since. We made a statement. We would be free to govern ourselves as we saw fit and that we would welcome anyone who dreamed of being free. 
  Freedom hasn't always been easy. Differences in opinions have led us to war where brother killed brother to stand for their beliefs during the American Civil War. Right or wrong it was part of progress. Like your favorite button up shirt, sometimes you have to iron out the wrinkles and this nation has had its fair share of wrinkles. 
  The world has gone to war with itself on two occasions and both times we tried to avoid it; both times we failed. During World War II we were faced with the potential to lose the freedoms that our fore father's fought for. A Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor slapped the U.S. awake as we were hit on our own soil for the first time. We were reminded that even when you have a good thing going, you still have to fight for it every once in awhile. Thanks to the "greatest generation," we pushed on with our freedom intact. 

  Today I have the freedom to choose. I have the freedom to travel where I want, when I want and I get to write about and put it out to you. In turn you have the choice whether to read it or not (I'm thankful when you do by the way.) I've seen Bison roaming across Yellowstone's steaming meadows. I've watched Eagles in flight over Alaska. My family gets to go to Disneyland any day they choose. All of this is because of the freedoms we were given when the Declaration of Independence was signed. 
 Happy Birthday, America. Today is your day and we'll celebrate with you by lighting fireworks and having backyard cookouts with our family and friends.

  We'll be back on Friday and pick up where we left off in our Alaska series as we watch whales in Icy Strait Point. See you then.

Brandan 
  

Friday, June 30, 2017

Skagway, Alaska

Day 4-Skagway
On the morning of day 4 we found ourselves up bright and early to meet in the auditorium of the ship to get instructions on our excursion. We were about to take a bus through Skagway, Alaska to a little place called Liarsville. After that we were to be taken to the railroad station to board the White Pass Railroad back to Skagway. Lucky for us they opened up the breakfast buffet an hour early so that we could make our 7:10 departure.

Looking back I think it was a little early for our bus load of cruisers for the Liarsville camp. Actors started us off with a little show that explained a little history of the area through a bit of song and poetry. It was cute enough for the kiddos and had a few adult jokes that should go over most kids’ heads but I thought were a little edgy for the environment we were in. I think it was a little early for our group because there were only 24 of us and it seemed like most of them were still asleep. These kind of cheese ball shows need good audience participation to work and it just wasn’t happening. Despite my best effort to laugh at all the right moments I couldn’t help them save it. My light hearted chuckles sounded forced and full of pity amongst the somber group of twenty five. Heck, even our bus driver was laughing a little extra loud to try to wake these people up. Sorry, bro. These geezers hadn’t had their coffee yet.

What did wake them up was the chance to do a little gold panning after the show. Each person got to take a pan with a “salted” load of dirt over to the panning station to try their hand at this lost art. “Salted” meaning that there were four or five flakes of gold placed in the pan to ensure everyone found something. The stations are long wooden troughs that stand about counter top height from the ground. The troughs are filled with water and after some instruction you can easily remove the dirt out of the pan revealing the gold flakes caught in the lip of the pan. Some in our group were old pros at this and were able to get this done pretty quickly while others from our group had a bit more of a challenge. Anyway if you did it right you should have walked away with 4 or 5 flakes of good old fashion gold to take home as a souvenir.

 Due to tight scheduling we shuffled back onto the bus and left our friendly “liars” behind us. We had a train to catch. Our bus growled its way up in elevation toward the Canadian border where we would have to clear customs prior to boarding the White Pass Railway for a ride back to Skagway. This winding canyon is the same canyon that thousands of prospectors traversed to reach the gold fields to strike it rich and to change their lives. Today all there is to see is beautiful vistas, rock formations and small lakes. It hasn’t changed much since those days. It’s actually amazing that in this day and age there is still so much untouched land. Well almost. The bus stopped at a small shack in the middle of the road. We were entering Canada. A gruff, quiet gentleman boarded the bus to inspect everyone’s passports. You could tell that he took his job serious by the look on his face and he seemed to enjoy having the power to ruin your vacation if you had mistakenly left your passport on the bus. Typical cop (just kidding, I love you guys.) Although he may be angry because he was stuck working in the middle of nowhere in freezing temperatures checking passports all day. I’m not sure. Without much of a word from him we were cleared and he stepped off the bus. We then made a U-turn around the shack and pulled into the parking lot next to our waiting train.

The old train was like any other vintage train I had been on before, narrow, rickety and stale smelling. But we were free to take as much bottled water as we wanted which was nice. In the back of the car sat a heater in which I’m fairly certain everyone aboard was thankful for. To this point I had only been wearing my favorite hoodie and I had decided to spend as much time outside of the train as possible. There was two problems with this, however. First, we were allowed to step out onto the front or rear platform of the railroad car. Each of the platforms topped out at around twenty four square feet or roughly the size of a small closet. You could not pass between cars though. That would get you into trouble although I’m not exactly sure what they would do if they caught you. Most people decided to stay in their seats and enjoy the canyon views from the large windows. The four or five of us crazy folk stayed out on the platform to take pictures and video. Why so few people? It was too cold to spend much time out there. It put my hoodie and my resolve to the test. I’m used to working outdoors during the winter but I think my twelve months in California has weakened me. It had been a long time since I’d felt it that cold. But I toughed it out and got the photo documentation that I crave.
Back in Skagway the train dropped us off a few hundred yards from Main Street so we walked the shops in town. We weren’t swayed into buying jewelry or Ulu knives at this port of call. No we chose to find ourselves some waterproof, insulated jackets that would get us through the week, embroidered with an Alaskan logo of course. Hey, when the forecast calls for rain all over Alaska for the next few days and the price tag is below twenty bucks you jump on it.
I think I like Skagway the best. It has history and the town embraces it. Historic buildings and trains are scattered around town and its small size makes me feel at home. It would be hard to make a life there full time though. During the winter only 800 residents stick around. The grocery stores take turns being open as some type of fair trade deal that could only be brokered in a town like this. But again, it’s part of the charm.

Well tomorrow we go to Icy Strait Point where we will jump onto a smaller boat and go in search of the illusive humpback whale. Well, maybe not illusive, they guarantee we’ll see one. Sounds a bit arrogant doesn’t it? We’ll see about that.

Brandan