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Pre-Cruise Anchorage AK

Early in May I took an Alaskan cruise.  Now, I know what you’re thinking, but believe it or not, the weather in Alaska was MUCH better than the weather back home.  In fact, it snowed THREE TIMES at home while I was in AK, and we had nice, sunny weather the whole time!

I have been on one Alaskan cruise before, I’d never been to Anchorage, the state’s largest city.  I decided to go a few days early, and then take the bus transfer to our departure port of Whittier.

In a nutshell, Anchorage was GREAT!  I got there on a Wednesday afternoon, and took a taxi to my hotel, the Anchorage Grand Hotel.  (You’ll find more info about the hotel in my Anchorage City Guide, including my TripAdvisor review.)

I got to Anchorage before the cruise hordes did.  In fact, ours was the first ship to leave from Whittier, but the first ship into Alaska was still a few days away.  I was there just before the high season began.

The first thing that strikes you about Anchorage is how friendly everyone is.  Being a native New Yorker, I tend to be a bit skeptical of overly-nice people, so I made it my mission to find an UNFRIENDLY Alaskan.  I’m happy to report that I didn’t meet a single one in the nearly two weeks I was there.  And I don’t think it’s just people putting on a show for the tourists: I went to lots of non-touristy places and never once encountered anything fake or put-on.  Alaskans are just nice people!

Downtown Anchorage is not a large area, and it is a very “walkable” place.  Signage is really good everywhere, and the handy (free) tourist maps you can get at the Tourist Information Office either in the airport or downtown makes it very easy to find out what there is to see, and how to get there.

One of the highlights of my time in Anchorage was meeting the sled dog, “Denali”, in the Log Cabin Tourist Information.  (It’s right downtown: you really can’t miss it!)  One of the very friendly and helpful ladies that works there brings her dog to work with her (she’s a retired “musher” and still trains dogs!)  There are lots of places in Alaska where you pay to see sled dogs and puppies, but usually you’re fighting a crowd and it isn’t much of an experience.  But here, you just walk in and the dog walks right up to you!  Very friendly and GREAT with the kids.  I thought to myself, “THIS is Alaska: get a city map and play with an Alaskan sled dog!”

For me the most amazing place to visit (after I finished playing with the dog!) was catty-corner to the Log Cabin.  It’s actually the old Federal Building in Anchorage, and there are still courts and other “official” functions in the building, but it also contains maybe the BEST collection of knowledge and information anyhere in Alaska.  It’s called the “Alaska Public Lands Information Center” and if you miss this, you’ve missed a LOT!

This is what it looks like from across the street, at the Log Cabin.

You’ll have to go through security at the front door (like at the airport) but here the officers are (big surprise!) FRIENDLY and it’s a very quick process.  Once you gone through that, you walk straight into literally a gold mine of information about everything Alaskan.

For passport stamp collectors, they have stamps for:

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve

Iditarod National Historic Trail

There are other stamps but I can’t remember them at the moment!

There are literally dozens of interactive displays, videos, maps and so on here.  It is DEFINITELY kid-friendly: they even have little animal stamps scatttered around, which kids can add to a little booklet as they learn about the animals of Alaska.  The rangers here are first-rate: more knowledgeable you’ll not find!  They do all kinds of demonstrations and will answer all your questions, in as much detail as you’d want.

They also have a list of movies that anyone can request to watch.  Just check in at the desk and find out “what’s next”: if no one has requested anything, take your pick!  Here’s what they had in May:

Alaska’s Coolest Animals (26 minutes)
Narrated by a young boy, this charming film provides spectacularly fun footage of some of Alaska’s coolest wildlife! This Emmy Award winning film is suitable for all ages.
Alaska’s Wild Legacy (14 minutes)
 Join former President Jimmy Carter, former Alaska Governor Jay Hammond, and others as they discuss the unique history of public lands in Alaska
Heartbeats of Denali (17 minutes)
From the ruggedness of North America’s tallest peak to the delicate eco-system in the low-lying tundra, this film explores one of America’s most wild landscapes through all four seasons.
Alaska Railroad History (14 minutes)
This film provides a brief history of the construction and operations of America’s only state-owned railroad.
 
The Day the Earth Shook (27 minutes)
filled with survival testimonials and historical footage, this gripping film recounts Alaska’s 1964 Good Friday earthquake, the largest earthquake ever recorded in North America.
 
Bears and Volcanoes of Katmai (28 minutes)
Explore the extreme remoteness of Katmai National Park, while observing the greatest population of brown bears in the world!
 
Gold Fever: Race to the Klondike (26 Minutes)
This high definition documentary illustrates the rich history of the Klondike Gold Rush and it’s impacts on Alaska

Here’s a clip from “Alaska’s Coolest Animals”, which is very popular with kids!

 

I could’ve spent days in here, there was that much to see and do.  Oh and maybe the best part, if you’ve got a family: IT’S ALL FREE!  🙂

 

 

 

Passport Stamp Collector!

I love to visit new places, to experience the foods and the cultures of those places, and learn about the peoples that live there.  I’m an “intensive” traveler: I want to get all I can out of a journey.  I would rather spend a week in one city or town or village, really getting “under the skin” of a place, than to do the usual bus-trip, 7-day tour of a country or area.  Superficial, I am not!

Having said that, however, t must be admitted that I am more than a bit of a “checklist traveler”, in one particular area.  I love to collect passport stamps!  I’ve been known to travel two days just to get a simple stamp in my passport.  I know it’s crazy, but I can’t help it!  What’s been fun, in the past few years, is to realize that there are a lot of people like me out there!

A trip to Europe, back before the European Union, was a stamp collector’s paradise!  You got all kinds of border crossing stamps, entering and leaving a country, and they were all different.  Now, you’re lucky if you get one arriving and/or leaving.  Most of the time, customs officials don’t even bother.

Fortunately, there are still plenty of really cool stamps you can get, even in Europe!  You just have to know where to go: and that’s why I’m here!

Before I continue, I must give you this disclaimer, which comes from this really good website:

Should You Get That Souvenir Passport Stamp?

“The US State Department’s rules on passport markings are clearly stated on your passport. On Page 5 of all US Passports, in a section marked “Alteration or Mutilation of Passport,” is printed the warning that “only authorized officials of the United States or of foreign countries may place stamps or make notations or additions to this passport.” Authorized officials include US State Department staff, US Customs and Border Patrol officers, diplomatic and consular officials of foreign countries, and immigration officers at international borders.”

I put that out there for those that are wondering if souvenir passport stamps are appropriate.  I will state that I have been living and traveling overseas since 1974, and have been getting these stamps all that time.  I’m on my fifth US passport since then, and have never had any problems anywhere.  In fact, most non-US customs agents will spend several minutes going through my passport, often asking me “you’ve been THERE?  How was that?”  They’re very curious about the stamps.

One other caution I should address here, especially for veteran travelers, is that the US State Department will no longer add additional pages to an existing passport.  Back in 2006, I got the standard passport, it contained 26 pages (of which only 17 are for visas, stamps, etc.)  I was living overseas, and quickly ran out of pages.  I was able to send it to the local consulate, and have an additional 26 pages added.  Within a few years, it was full again, and I was able to send off for ANOTHER 26-page insert!  That is one FAT passport, let me tell you!

However, in 2016 The State Department changed its rules.  When you now apply for a passport,  you can receive the standard (26-page) OR a 52-page passport.  BUT if that fills up before  it expires, you now have to apply for a NEW PASSPORT.  So be smart!

What I’ve done is use other small books to collect stamps.  For example, when I’m in the US, I visit a lot of state and national parks.  Rather than putting all of those in my passport, I bought a really cool passport book from the National Park Service, and that’s what I use now!

There are three sizes of passport books that you can get at most national parks or online at

nps.gov

Most people use the small pocket-sized passport book:

I bought one that is larger, because it has lots of information about every park and monument, and holds a lot more stamps!

You can also buy blank-page books to collect  your stamps in.  However, if you’re a purist like me, if it’s a foreign stamp, it goes in my passport.  I just make sure that I don’t waste space.

Like most collectors, I like to brag about my acquisitions, so here are some of my favorites!

Got this stamped literally in the middle of the jungle on the Thai-Cambodian jungle.  (And that passport has long expired!)

I would put more pictures, but for some reason all my passport scans got saved to Google Docs, and working that is like being a Catholic and trying to do the hajj in Mecca: good luck with that!

 

Edinburgh Fringe Festival: An Introduction

First off, some background on The Fringe, for those that may not know about it.

Here’s what it says on the official webpage:

“THE ALLIANCE OF DEFIANCE”

“The Fringe began in 1947 when eight groups arrived in Edinburgh hoping to perform at the newly formed Edinburgh International Festival but were refused entry. Rather than being discouraged from performing, they went ahead and performed on the fringe of the Festival anyway and so the Edinburgh Festival Fringe was born.

“2017 marks the 70th anniversary of these eight groups’ defiance and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is now the largest arts festival in the world.

“The Fringe is a truly open access festival where, in the spirit of the original eight, no one is denied entry, making it the largest platform on earth for creative freedom.”

Essentially, The Fringe is pretty much whatever you want it to be, and that’s not just hyperbole.  Anyone that wants to perform may do so.  There is no “vetting” or application process.

For spectators, just name an artistic genre, be as “out there” as you can, and the odds are good that you will find at least a few groups presenting in that field.  Art and photo exhibitions, musical theatre, drama, comedy, stand-up comedy, mime, international circus acts, kids’ show (LOTS of these!), poetry, rap, dance, street performers, and probably more that I can’t think of.

The Fringe runs for several weeks in August.  To find out the schedule for the current year, and to see what’s on, check our their website:

https://www.edfringe.com/

The website has lots of information for visitors and performers.

There are hundreds of venues all across Edinburgh (and in a few cases, OUTSIDE of Edinbrugh!)  Most can easily be reached on foot.

I’ve got lots of useful information on my Edinburgh City Guide.  Just click on the “City Guides” tab above, and scroll down to Edinburgh!

This is an event you don’t want to miss!  Maybe I’ll see you there one day!

 

These guys are doing what most of The Fringe performers do: passing out flyers to attract people to their shows!  One of the cool things about The Fringe is that, if someone hands you one of these cards, there’s an excellent chance that that person is in the show!  Stop and talk to them: it’s a great way to connect with people from literally all over the world!