After an unconventional sleep in the Barcelona Airport, we picked up our car rental and drove into town. Had to take a second or 3 to recalibrate to driving on the right side. Picked up a nifty little Fiat.
Francisca was our tour guide (very spunky but also very passionate and well knowledgeable. We had a group from all over (Indonesia, Singapore, Australia, Bulgaria, Canada, USA, Germany etc).
Some information I learned from this walk:
-1 man designed the whole outer city grid
-He tried to keep it all even and uniform but people started building taller and well, Gaudi,
-El Raval – gentrified – use to be red light district
-La Rambla – New city – chic local designers
-Barcelona was walled in – the king gave the land to the soldiers who used it to party, drugs and sex.
-There are 7 beaches – all artificial with sand from Egypt
-The Olympics made the city get visitors and they had to clean up
-The square with execution – The executioner was the local butcher and chosen. His family would inherit the business. The executioner couldn’t live in or outside the wall in fears of being murdered so they would literally live in the walls and climb down each time to perform an execution and then climb back up. The perks of being Executioner was that they could keep the body parts. Hands and feet hung on the door were good luck.
-The steps where Christopher Columbus met the king and queen of Spain is in that same Square.
-Agata – breast cut off – a pastry is named after this and feature a cherry on top
-The cathedral face of Eulalia of Barcelona (also known as Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia also known as Barcelona Cathedral) was a facade getting ready for Olympics. You can also see a image of Darth Vader if you look close enough.
-Geese live in Eulalia of Barcelona as the Saint was a goose herder. They punished her for being Christian. There her into a barrel with sharp objects and threw it down a hill. She survived. They burned her at the stake. She survived. They stepped her down naked and starfish her on a cross to shame her but snow fall covered her. They cutt off her head.
-The main Plaza Reica was cleaned up and pushed all the red light district to La Raval to prep for the volume of people coming for the Olympics
-Sport – the tower – 26 ft when a little cold at the very top. Sculpture.
-The New city uses Jewish tombstone pieces in they’re walls from the Jewish mountain where they bury the dead. It was faster and cheaper than digging up the Jewish Mountain.
-The Jewish, Muslim and Catholic lived relatively harmonious together in Barcelona until at one point, the Catholic and Muslim people started to perish rather quickly to some unknown disease at the time. They thought it was a plot to kill them as the Jewish were seen to not be suffering from loss as much. From outrage that such a thing could occur, the Jewish were murdered almost wiping them all out. Turns out because of their faith, they must wash their hands before every meal which in return kept them healthier as hygiene was also a major cause of the deaths.
Francisca also gave us a link to her website that can be helpful finding many attractions and places for food she recommends seeing in Barcelona.
After the tour, I met Winnie and off we went into the mountains. We drove over to Montserrat. Windy roads up but the environment was lovely. We had originally planned to hike Sant Jeroni but we realized late that we needed to take the funicular up to do any of the hikes and we wouldn’t have been able to finish that hike before the last train down. – GET THERE EARLY IN THE DAY!
With the time we had with the car rental, we decided to drive over to Sitges. This coastal town is known for the beaches, nightlife and being very LGBT friendly. We went midday in the off-season so it was dead and we walked Passeig Marítim and admired some of the beachfront homes.
Took it real easy in the evening and bought groceries and made our own tapas.
Since Winnie had already been to Barcelona earlier on the trip, she had also set up appointments for herself upon her return which left me to explore on my own. I had a very early start to get free admission to Park Güell‘s Monument section of the park. If you get in before 8AM or after 630PM it’s free! If you make it in before 8AM, you can technically stay all day if you really wanted. It took awhile for me to get out of this massive park but I continued on and walked over to Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia. Crazy amount of tourists and also this place is forever under construction.
Not too far away was Parc de la Ciutadella. I got a little turned around and didn’t realize that the entrance to this park was only on the North side as I continued along the east side of the wall of the park and ended up walking around the whole park but on the outside as the only entrance I saw on that side was to the Zoo (connected but not connected to the park). I did eventually make it into the park but since it was such a long walk, I quickly walked through. There is a apparently a mini Arc de Triomphe.
And not too far from that park was La Boqueria – Mercat Boqueria Barcelona in La Rambla. 1€ fruit cups and smoothies, much needed after my morning walk. As I was crossing the street, it just so happened out of all places, I just so happened to bump into a familiar face from back home who was also on vacation.
Before coming to Barcelona, I was told I should book a paella cooking class – so we did. We booked with Airbnb experiences and booked with the lovely Helina (she’s originally from Belarus and learned how to make paella the true Catalina way from her husband’s family). We were a group of 14 from all over the world (Scotland, Korea, Ecuador, South Africa, New Zealand, USA & Brasil). Helina took us through La Boqueria and explained more about jamon, fresh seafood and spices. We purchased fresh seafood and went back to her mother’s condo nearby and that’s when all the magic began.
It was a team effort as each person had a different task in the prep. We made a Spanish classic – pan con tomate (literally garlic, tomate Para pan, olive oil, a good baguette and slices of Jamon Serrano or Iberian if you want meat), sangria and seafood paella. It was such a wonderful experience and so tasty! Depending on where you had positioned yourself at the table, you were assigned a different task. My spot was in charge of cleaning the mussels, others had prepping the sangria, making pan con tomate etc.
After that wonderful cooking experience Winnie and myself parted ways as I went to Carmel del Bunkers (also known as El Turó de la Rovira, or simply The Bunker) to take in the sunset above the city. During the Spanish Civil War, this was the bunker where anti-aircraft guns were installed. I took the train to a certain point then it’s all about walking. There is a sign to a pair of stairs that leads to a lookout point and you think that this is the bunker but it is not – keep going up. I got to the top of those stairs and there is a great view up there. You think that this view is the bunkers, keep going! From these stairs, you go left and follow the bend and over the bridge. The bridge isn’t the end. Keep going up. You will definitely know that you are at Carmel del Bunkers. There will be people climbing and sitting all over the place on cement structures. You will also have a 360 view above the city and there will be people selling cervezas if you didn’t bring any to enjoy the view. The sunset wasn’t the best but for the moment, the sky opened up with a large slash across the city and that was lovely. My phone was dying and I wanted to make sure I got back to the Airbnb before it died since my phone was my lifeline so I didn’t stay until the sun went fully down. There is another alternative to get to the Carmel Del Bunkers and it is a bus route that will drop you off closer to the top and then you walk up. I walked down the street and hopped on the bus to get me home.
We had looked into going inside Sagrada Familia early morning but there weren’t anymore tickets online. Many of our friends had recommended that we go inside but since we had a short period of time, we just searched up videos of the interior since we couldn’t go in. Also, we would have to wear clothing that covers our shoulders and almost to our knees and well, it’s hot weather for us and tights we’re a no go for us.
We went to Brunch & Cake to start the day. I got the Acai bowl with peanut butter and Winnie got the brekkie board. There are multiple locations.
As we were walking to brunch, we had started to see people walking the streets in costumes and we got curious. October 12th is Spain’s Fiesta Nacional de España – Hispanic day. It is the day Christopher Columbus discovered the America’s in 1492. It is a national holiday and obviously a huge parade with so many people dressed up in colourful costumes dancing their hearts out in the heat.
The sun was finally out majority of the day so we made our way to the beach. Platja del Bogatell had beach volleyball and some cute restaurants on the beachside. We decided to just lie down and take in the sun and do nothing else. The clouds did roll in after a few hours so we left and walked around. Since it was the weekend and also a holiday, the streets were filled with so many cute families and people going to the movies.
We went to Xemei for dinner (early celebration of my birthday). My friend had recommended this Italian restaurant in Barcelona and it did not let us down. We got the Fish assortment to start and I got the Pappardelle with beef cheek ragu and Winnie got the Grilled octopus tentacle with eggplant. We finished off with Almond and orange ice cream and tiramisu.
The start of the roadtrop – Edinburgh to Isle of Skye. We booked a car rental and picked up our car at the Train Station (Note – there is an extra service fee renting from the train station) and we got upgraded to an MG car. Needed a little calibrating to driving on the left side of the road but also the speed being in miles instead of kilometers. Roads are very narrow here with roundabouts and at times, the roads become single-laned streets with little passing sections to go aside to let the car opposite direction pass.
Along the way, we stopped by the small village of Glencoe and Fort William. The Wildcat in Fort Williamis a vegan cafe serving ample variety of food, pastries and coffee as well as a shopping section for eco-friendly products in the back. We saw many chilis go out but I settled for the full vegan breakfast – chestnut & herb sausage, haggis, scrambled tofu, potato rosti, avocano, baked beans, mushrooms, baked tomatoes, wilted spinach and sourdough bread.
We continued on the road stopping by Eilean Donan Castle. It is the most photographed castle in Scotland apparently and to this day, the family does on occasion still reside in the property. It has its own bridge to get to the castle as well.
Seeing as we were making good time and weather was somewhat cooperating, we decided to go and see more. We drove to the Fairy Pools and did the walk down from Glucagon na Sithichean. The winds were brutal with mist lightly covering everything. The waters were so clear and from above. We also drove down the road to see another fairy pool on the side of the road. There is a beach further in but no point in going when it’s super wet, windy and dark outside. Please also watch out for roaming sheep.
The sun went down so we checked into our hostel – Skyewalker Hostel. Dropped all our things and drove 30 minutes to get into Portree (kudos to Winnie driving in the dark and rain). Had dinner at the Caley Bar – I got the burger that comes with fries, onion rings and coleslaw.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
Our first full day in Skye, we started our day back in Portree stocking up on groceries at the Co-op before hitting the open road. We drove to the Fairy Glen (many miniature cone-shaped hills). Next stop was Quiraing where the sun started to come out but we didn’t realize where we had stopped in that parking lot was the entrance to the 6-8KM trail. We drove down the bends to see the other side to realize this. At that point, there was no turning back. We just kept going.
Stopped by Cuith-Raing – a lookout point.
With the gorgeous sun out, we stopped by Kilt Rock with his waterfall before making it over to Old Man of Storr. We hiked to the top and we were so happy the weather cooperated. When we were heading down from our hike, the rain started up so we were lucky. We drove back to Portree and wandered the town a bit going to stores like Or and the Gathering Hall Market.
Since we didn’t really have a proper meal that day (minus the tons of snacking) we chose to stay in Portree for dinner. We went to Prince of India – I ordered the lamb Tikka Biryani and the special Pakura.
We were able to drive back to Port na Long while the sun was still up (much easier than pitch darkness and rain). Our hostel featured a see-through dome where you can relax and look upon the stars but only when the sky is clear which sadly it wasn’t.
Isle of Skye, Scotland
We kept checking the weather going into this trip and this day in particular was suppose to be raining 15-20mm. The Scottish have a word – dreich meaning wet, dull, gloomy, dreary at its most miserable of weather.
Today however, the rain for the most part stayed away and we got some golden rays.
We drove over to Dunvegan Castle – the clan of MacLeod. It is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland and goes back at least 800 years. The garden was super lovely to walk through as well.
The rays of sun were strong as we drove to our next destination – Neist Point Lighthouse. It did get dark and gloomy along the way and traffic came to a halt because of the cows. We got to the top and waited in our car until the clouds pushed away a bit. Windy but we made the climb down and up to the lighthouse.
Considering we thought the day would be rained out, we stopped into a Cafe and asked about any other hikes and a couple mentioned Coral Beach in Claigan. The walk down to the beach is easy going (about 25 mins each way). The best part was climbing up to the top of the cliff after you’ve made it to the beach. It was incredibly windy and ever more so up top.
We drove back to Portree for dinner and grabbed some classic fish and chips at Chippy’s. The rest of the night was spent trying to untangle my hair. A lot of hair was lost that night.
Isle of Skye – Glasgow – Edinburgh, Scotland
Isle of Skye was great timing for us in terms of weather especially. We left in the morning and the rain just kept pummelling down.
We drove back to Edinburgh but of course with stopovers in Fort William for lunch at Wildcat Cafe once again. I got the miso peanut butter tofu wrap. We also decided to detour and check out Glasgow on our way back.
The weather wasn’t ideal but we did manage to walk around a bit to see the church (outside because it closed before we arrived) and around the square, part of campus and the famous shopping area and arcade. I even found a Tardis. We also stopped by a piece of home – Tim Hortons (but no honey cruellers so we carried on). We made it back in Edinburgh and made a nice stirfry to end this chapter of our time in Scotland with Nuala and Maya.
Edinburgh to London to Barcelona
Early morning train ride from Edinburgh to London Euston. Of course we had loads of snacks to get us through our travels. Winnie and myself parted ways once we got into Euston. I went to explore the city and run some errands and she went to exchange clothing at her friend’s place where she was storing her larger luggage.
In my few hours walking around, I went to Novelty Automation, Oxford Street, Carnaby, the Burlington Arcade (still has its own private police in big hats and capes), and Goodwin’s court in Covent Garden.
Walked over to London Bridge train station and we both hopped onto the train to Gatwick airport using our oyster cards. It was a long ride especially with rush hour travellers.
The flight with Vueling to Barcelona was super smooth. Since we arrived late in the evening, we decided to sleep in the airport. We found an outlet behind a machine so we plugged in and slept on the floor.
Our time in Berlin has more or less been a wet one and this day was no different. We took the train to Sachsenhausen – a concentration camp that was used from 1936-1945 to the end of the Reich. It had interned 200 000 prisoners during its time. The came is about 1.5 hours outside of the centre of Berlin by train. Remember to get a train ticket for zone ABC. There are street clothed transit police on the trains who come around and check your tickets and 2 other tourists got caught and fined for not having the proper ticket for the zone.
To visit is free but you can pay 3€ for the audio guide and it is definitely worth it. There is so much information that we were only there for 3 hours and barely scratched the surface. The moment we arrived, the whole mood was set with heavy rain coming down upon us. We were drenched.
We hopped back onto the train and back into the centre of Berlin we went to meet with Lea for a late lunch and to grab tickets from her. She recommended a theatre production and wanted to take us our first night but we arrived too late. There is an abundance of Vietnamese living in Berlin and many restaurants specializing in an array of Asian cuisine in one – Viet, Thai & Japanese cuisine served in one place is the norm here.
After lunch, we parted ways so Lea could go back to work. We went to check out Tempelhofer feld – once a concentration camp and an old airport which now serves as a working natural habitat, park, concert venue, skatepark etc. The weather was a little better in Berlin than where Sachsenhausen was. This park would be nicer to visit on a sunny day to bike around in.
We’ve been told by many people here in Berlin that we must check out Klunkerkranich and so we did. Who would have thought to turn the top floor of a mall parking into an outdoor garden dance club venue. When Google maps told us where to go, we were very confused as this wasn’t your typical mall either. It is actually very quiet up there. Not to mention the views you get of the city line from there. You have to enter by going to the 5th floor parking and walk up the 6th floor ramp. It does cost a fee to enter (3-5€).
We ended up going back to the main area in the city but this time it was to try out this bakery called Berliner Pfannkuchen Café – Backerei & Konditorei. We grabbed ourselves a raspberry donut – not too sweet but the filling was plenty. Apparently these aren’t donuts but German pancakes according to the name.
We met up with Winnie’s friend Sarah at Cafe Cinema who is working for the Canadian embassy in Berlin. We were talking about Futurism and how there was a part in the exhibit discussing whether we would want our life data to be stored on USB’s for future access or deleted. Sarah’s response to that topic was “German people with their past history would rather have that stuff deleted. Germans don’t trust that data to be out there and that is also why everyone pays for everything in cash – no trace.”
To end the night, Lea recommended this play at the Deutsches Theater Berlin called the Ugly Duckling. The Ugly Duckling, the Little Mermaid mixed with Berliner dragqueens, what more can you ask for. It was such an amazing show that touched upon each individuals story. Definitely recommend!
Our time in Berlin was definitely short lived. Here is a list that my friend Jaclyn sent me of her favourite things to tell visitors to see, do and eat/drink.
The touristy things:
Berlin Victory Column
Reichstag (if you want to go inside, I believe you have to apply a few days before)
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
KaDeWe – upstairs market
East Side gallery and/or Berlin Wall Memorial berlin
Mauerpark flee market – Karaoke Sundays
Soviet War Memorial (Treptower Park)
Viktoriapark – Kreuzberg look out
Landwehr Canal walk Kreuzberg (Maybachufer), grab a Brammibal’s handmade vegan doughnut on the way
Five Elephant, Companion, Bonanza coffee
Do you read me? – Mitte books/magazines C/O Berlin – Photo
Helmut Newton Foundation
Best schnitzel – Felix Austria (Bergmannstraße 26)
Templehofer Feld (bring bikes to ride on the airport runway)
Klunkerkranich, roof top bar in Neukölln area
Open air clubs: Sisyphos, KaterBlau (day or night experience)
Max und Moritz – good German food and beer
Saam – Korean BBQ
Paris Bar – in the West – Suspiria filmed there
Hallesches Haus. Good eats, brunch and fun general store
Berlin, Germany – Edinburgh, Scotland
Berlin was fun but also very wet. We bid farewell to Lea early in the morning and made our way to the airport in the rain.
Next stop, Edinburgh. The warm sun welcomed us even though it was still around 9-10°C. It was 29-31°C in Toronto the previous day. Must’ve been nice.
We took the bus into the city (not too expensive but takes some time as it is a local bus that stops frequently). Our bus driver did a sweep of the bus before letting us on and found a forgotten watermelon. Once we finally got to our destination, we we’re welcomed by Winnie’s friend Maya and her roommate Nuala. They both are also from Toronto but have been living in Edinburgh for university.
They took us around town but first stop was for food. The Golden Chicken Chili from Union of Genius was absolutely delicious! We ate it on the grass on the university campus.
We walked the Water of Leith Walkway, Dean village, the Princes Street, near the Royal mile, plus many more. We even went all the way up to Calton Hill. You can see the whole city from up there and many monuments to scholars.
We stopped by Red Kite Cafe for some Almond black tea (one of Maya’s favourite coffee shops and tea choices at this place). Slowly made our way back to their place but stopping off to grab groceries as we had decided to make a home-cooked meal together.
Joining us for dinner festivities was their friend Alice. We made fresh basil lemon ricotta ravioli and for dessert, we (Winnie mainly) made ginger cookies.
Started off the morning with the most strenuous of activities for the day – hiking Arthur’s Seat. It was an overcast day for the most part but the 360 view was well worth it.
Walked Princes St and the Royal Mile before stopping for lunch at Henderson’s where I got the vegetarian haggis with potato and leek soup – delicious.
We met back up with Maya and she took us through Princes St garden, Greyfriars Kirkyard, Grass market and Victoria St – Harry Potter fans rejoice in this street that inspired JK Rowling.
With the weather not being the best outside, we went indoors to the National Museum of Scotland (free admission). This museum is housed in a beautiful building and it is a mishmash of the Ontario Science Centre, ROM and the AGO all rolled into one. It also houses Dolly the sheep.
We walked past this Korean restaurant the day before that Nuala and Maya were raving about and we decided to go there for dinner. Kim’s has been Michelin marked and always has a line as they are only open from 530-8PM. We got there in time to be part of the first group of people in. We ordered the beef bulgogi, kimchi jeon, kalbi beef rib stew and bimbimbap.
To walk off the delicious food we ate, we walked over to the canal before heading home.
The chilly morning feels where you don’t want to get up from under the covers type of day. It was a chilly overcast 10°C.
We had a lazy slow start to the day but I guess it’s needed once in awhile.
Our first stop was to the Dovecot Gallery where we could watch artists making tapestries.
We walked for about 45 minutes and made our way to the Scottish Museum of Modern Art. The main floor was under renovation but at least the second floor has art pieces from one of my favourite artists such as Salvador Dali and Rene Magritte. We were told that the first floor exhibit is the main attraction – bummer we didn’t get to see it first hand.
We continued on towards Edinburgh Castle where we stopped by a cafe called Deacon’s House Cafe. We ordered the Scottish Cream Tea – plain scone with jam and cream served with tea. We also ordered the carrot cake loaf.
Earlier in the day, we had decided we would do a traybake for dinner so we met with Maya to do some grocery shopping. We also stocked up on snacks for the next few days. We also stopped by some really cute design stores along the way.
After gathering supplies, we made it back to Maya and Nuala’s and prepped dinner. The traybake consisted of red onion, peppers, artichoke hearts, zucchini, thyme, tomatoes, basil, lemon, olives and feta cheese.
Since we had a sick traveller, we took it a little easier this morning. Also, Raptors had won the championship and back in Toronto, they were hosting the huge parade so we all tuned in for that.
We took our time and slowly made our way back to Healy. We stopped by Roadhouse in downtown Talkeetna for breakfast – no tipping required as the fee is included in the fee. I got the biscuit and gravy. We shared a nutty cinnamon bun. Great assortment of baked goods and each meal comes with 2 drinks.
We walked around the general area and ended up going to the Talkeetna Historical Society – $5 to go through the museum that is located in an old schoolhouse. We stayed around to listen to one of the guys who have climbed Mount Denali. The talk went on for about 40 minutes and then we decided it was time to leave and begin our long trek back in the direction of the previous day.
We drove an hour and half north to check out Hurricane Gulch viewpoint. Then onto Denali North Viewpoint – You can definitely skip this lookout point as Denali Viewpoint South is much worthwhile. The rain was on and off during our drive. I feel like this drive in particular was too arduous especially for the views. We spent a lot of time in a car and pretty much just backtracked. We already made the decision not to do big hiking back at Denali especially with one of our people feeling under the weather.
Drove back down to Talkeetna and was trying to get to XY Lake (pass flying squirrel and turn right). We missed it the first time around and ended up at Christensen lake. We dropped off Merle and Kenny back at the cabin as both were now feeling under the weather. We ventured back and found the right entrance to XY Lakes. Once you turn onto the street, the entrance will be on the immediate right side and you follow down the path. The longest of hikes is 5.2 miles around XY lakes.
Once we finished the hike, we went back for Merle & Kenny and went back to downtown Talkeetna for dinner at Denali Brewpub. I got the Belgian beer then split fish and chips with sweet potato wedges as well as a sirloin pretzel dip sandwich with Ryan. The Fish & Chips was better than the sirloin pretzel dip sandwich.
After dinner, we walked over to Fairview Inn which was literally in eye sight distance. They had karaoke that night and Kushaan sang Backstreet Boys. We also were able to play some shuffle board and ping pong before calling it a night.
Since we stayed up late the previous night, we had a late start on our final day. The group went for coffee and tea and spoke with Todd who gave us recommendations for our route back to Anchorage. We took the Hatcher’s Pass route that would take us through the mountains before bringing us back to to the highway that would eventually bring us back to Anchorage. This detoured route took us off-road and it was quite nice to see that hidden route. It did get quite intense though as we started to get higher in elevation and Ryan was driving us into the clouds. It was a literal sheet of white that surrounded us and it didn’t help that the roads were narrow and hard to see metres in front as we ascended. We did see a few people on motorbikes pass up coming from above. We made it to the top of Summit Lake which was 3500+ft above sea level. It would’ve been a beautiful view if the clouds and mist had lifted but the eeriness of the fog made the experience pretty cool on its own.
At this point of the trip, 3 of 5 were sick. We all have been in tight quarters of the car for the week and that cough just started to spread.
Since the detour was a lot slower than we thought, we stopped in Palmer to get the infamous Taco Bell we had been talking about before hitting the road again. Since the weather was much colder than Denali and we had sick people, we continued past Reflection Lake, Mirror Lake and Thunderbird Trail which are apparently great little trails and stops right off the highway.
When we reached Anchorage, we decided to spend the day indoors at the Anchorage Museum. It was such a beautiful Museum with great exhibits. We pitched in $5 extra for the special exhibit – Frozen in Time (Not worth it). The collection of art and the dedication to spotlight Alaskan history was very informative especially coming into Alaska not really knowing anything. Alaska is actually quite the melting pot. Besides the Native Americans that lived there before, there were people from Sudan, Russia, Philippines, Japan, and so on and so forth.
We would have loved to stay longer however we needed to get Ryan to the airport by 630PM and we still had one more place to go before we dropped him off. We went to Moose’s Tooth Pub & Pizzeria which apparently has been known to be the #1 pizza in America and we had to try it out. The place is pretty cool. You can sit down and eat, order out and there is also a beer garden area where you can sit in a courtyard and drink and if you do takeout, you can eat there as well. We (Ryan, Kenny, Kushaan and myself) shared the Forager – Mushroom & spinach white pizza – not bad but also not the best pizza I’ve eaten.
Kenny ended off our final meal with a gratitude and appreciation circle where everyone went around our group and you had to name at least one thing you appreciate and/or a funny moment that each person brought to the group. It was a great way to end the trip and made us feel closer especially for strangers coming together in a timespan of 6-7 days from different walks of life to experience Alaska together.
After we dropped off Ryan, the rest of us besides Kenny had a few hours to spare before we also had to get dropped off at the hostel. Once again, the light messed with our sense of time as it was already 7-8PM and we were trying to kill time but majority of establishments were already closed. We went to the park by the Airport where we saw what sort of looked like what I’d imagine a sunset would look like at this time of year. We still had time to kill and found a place called Boba Tree and got a little taste of boba before getting dropped off. I got the Banana & avocado smoothie – $5USD.
The route home such as the route getting to Alaska took us from Anchorage to Seattle to Vancouver before reaching Toronto. It just so happened when we landed in Seattle, I messaged my friend Jenn (who is also a mutual friend with Kenny) just so happen to be flying out that same morning. I caught her for a split second before she had to board her plane enroute to Montreal.
A transit day consisting of a 6-hour drive north from Anchorage to Fairbanks. We started off the morning going at Black Cup Coffee before heading to the Anchorage Saturday Market. Kenny had told us he was chatting with a girl named Michelle who just so happens to have landed in Alaska the night before and was also just travelling through the states (making Alaska her 50th state as well) documenting her own project called American Happiness. She met us at the Market and did a little interview with Kenny and we ate with her before dropping her off for her sea bus tour of Denali.
We then hopped back onto the road and started our trek to Fairbanks, which is 6 hours from Anchorage. We stopped along the way and took in the sights from Denali Viewpoint South. When you come to this lookout point, there is a tree in the middle. Look at where that tree is and look directly past it and there you will locate the top of Denali Mountain.
The weather got much warmer further inland we went. It was a long and gruelling drive but we made it in with a little rain. There definitely are more stops to make along the way. Around Denali National Park entrance is where we saw the most touristy of areas.
Originally, my plan was to reach Fairbanks around 2PM so we had ample time to explore and relax but I am glad we were able to check out the Anchorage Saturday Market and make a new friend. I wanted to check out the Chena Hot Springs but by the time we hit the road, we wouldn’t have made it in time. We mapped out the route to the hot springs from our Airbnb location in Fairbanks and that would require another hour drive – not worth it.
We made it to our Airbnb in Fairbanks where we met Kushaan. Kushaan was our final traveller who greeted us at the door but it got sticky and we got locked out. Luckily, the host was upstairs and opened the door for us. The day before, we had challenged Kushaan to greet us with a dance challenge or he couldn’t get in the car. He stepped up. Once we all got settled, we decided to leave the car behind and walk to dinner.
We went to Brewster’s for dinner. Steak bits, Popcorn Shrimp & Hoodoo German beer made up my meal for the evening – $35USD after tip.
We walked home to our delight feeling as if it was 630PM and getting that little bit of golden light but really, it was 1130PM.
With such a short period of time in Fairbanks, we drove a few streets to get the lay of the land and stopped by the infamous Antler Arch. Stopped by Alaska Roasting Coffee Co – Reindeer pockets for breakfast and off we went. A 2-hour drive south from Fairbanks to Healy where Denali National Park is located.
When we arrived at Denali National Park – Visitor Centre – You show your annual park pass (if you have one OR you pay your admission) and get your ticket to place into your car. Unlike other parks, the season pass covers 1 car but if not in the car, it covers the holder plus 4 people. It costs $15USD/pp if not.
We watched the video and then got ready to go on our first hike. We were told by the ranger to leave our car parked by the visitor centre as parking is atrocious everywhere else along the way (although there was parking and for a matter of fact empty spots). We hopped on the free shuttle bus that goes through the park and drops you off and comes around every hour on the hour. From the visitor centre, the bus leaves every :40. The bus was super slow but if you want to get further than the 18-mile marker, you require the bus.
We took the Savage River bus to the very end of the loop where personal vehicles are allowed – #18 and hopped off to do our first hike of the day – Savage River trail loop. The Loop was very easy and about an hour roundabout. We spotted a few caribou’s just hanging around by the bridge.
Once we finished that hike, we hopped back on the bus and got off at the Sled Dog Kennel. I thought we had more of a chance to play with the dogs but they are all on leashes near their dog houses. There is a sign that shows the behaviour of the dogs and yes you can pet them. There are a few dogs in the fenced off area who are off limits to play with.
We left before the demonstration and made it back to the visitor centre area to add more clothing layers before we headed to our final hike of the day – Mt Healy Overview Trail – one of the steepest hikes in the park. I brought a rainjacket and wore it for approximately 10 minutes before it got too hot. The trail itself is a steady incline – at the beginning not a huge incline but it’s a constant one.
There definitely are points where it is a consistent incline and then there are stairs. Once you’ve hit the stairs area, you are almost at the top. There are temperature air pockets along the way making it really hot then much cooler. Stop when you need to and take a moment to take in the views but don’t wait too long as the bugs start to bite.
Personally, I thought this trail was a little harder than Kenai Fjords – Harding Exit Glacier Trail. We got up pretty quick and even quicker going down. There are other points of Mt Healy that are higher but we chose a medium difficult hike route. The view is stunning from above. The best thing about hiking in Alaska in summer is that you don’t ever need to worry about it getting dark.
A 2-hour drive South to Talkeetna was to come right after the arduous hike and with so much light out, we didn’t realize that we would arrive to Talkeetna around 10PM and there weren’t many places we could find food for dinner. We had looked up all the restaurants and they all closed by 10PM but we did just barely make it in time for Subway. We arrived at 10PM but it still felt like it was 7PM with sunlight. The temperature did dip to the cooler side.
We stayed at an Airbnb Cabin – Talkeetna Wilderness Lodge. Cute little property with our cabin having a full kitchen and bathroom but also a communal fire pit.
Unfortunately from all this up and down weather especially from Kenai Fjords, Kenny ended up catching a fever and his bronchitis, asthma and whatnot was all becoming more intense.
To start off this trip, we had to fly to Toronto to Vancouver, then Vancouver to Seattle before we made our way to Anchorage. I guess there are more direct flights out of Seattle to Anchorage, Alaska. We arrived around 1030PM where Kenny and Ryan were waiting for us. We walked out to arrivals and found a SUV that had the We the North flag hanging from it (Raptors won the Championship in Game 7!).
We went to the hostel – Arctic Adventure Hostel – to drop off our things and headed to Walmart (open 24hr) to stock up on sustenance for the next few days before finding a late night place to eat and have a drink. We ended up at 49th State Brewing Co. 49th State Brewing sits on a corner of a sloped street that also has 2 levels of outdoor patio with heaters and a beautiful uninterrupted view of the waters. We got a table with a live fire going to keep us warm but also in visible sight of the beautiful sun “setting”. Since Kenny and Ryan had arrived earlier, Merle and myself ate while we all drank some local beer and cheers to arriving to Alaska, the start of our adventure and Kenny reaching his 50th state.
I ordered the Baked Alaska Ale and the Elk Crossing 10” pizza (Elk Meatballs) – roughly $24USD (after tax & tip). We left the bar around 130AM and the sun was pleasantly still up as we drove home. Surprisingly, many people were still out and about. Summer is similar to Iceland where the sun rises at 430AM and “sets” (really just sits on the horizon) at 1130PM.