June 18, 2018

Flattop mountain hike, Anchorage

What do you do for a long holiday weekend? If you are in Alaska, you probably try to get outside and enjoy the short summer months while you have them. We decided to head to one of Anchorage's most popular hikes, the Flattop Mountain trail.

You know you live in Alaska when your Costco, (and everywhere else), has large bear spray displays. As usual, we forgot to bring ours! 

But we forged ahead anyway. Apparently the biggest bear deterrent is making lots of noise as you hike. The girls definitely had that covered!

The landscape was very unusual at the beginning of the trail.

I'm not even sure what kind of trees they were, but such an interesting look!

Then, just like that, we were above the tree line, and into wide-open spaces. 

I like this type of terrain much better in Alaska. At least you could see the bears coming! Though I don't know if that's good or bad....

The problem with late May, however, is you still find lots of winter. I wasn't really prepared for ice climbing....

But the views were spectacular, from every direction.

 We even had a great view of Denali, North America's tallest peak.

Most of the hike was a wide open trail,

some stair cases, which were almost straight up, 

and near the top was very rocky, necessitating the use of our hands. For a moment we thought we were back on Mt. Fuji!

There were also areas of small ledges with a steep drop-off, to navigate. Not my favorite.

And in Alaska, there is always copious amounts of mud. Always.

We enjoyed watching the paragliders high above the mountains. Who is wired that way, anyway? Actually, Ella is wired that way. Much to my dismay!

The higher in elevation we climbed. the more spectacular the views.

Nice place for a rest stop.

I absolutely loved the memorial plaque on the bench. What a great way to honor a loved one's legacy!

Onward and upward. See how Flattop Mountain got it's name?

The closer we got to the top, the more difficult the terrain. In fact, we could no longer see a "trail" at all.

After watching some people (who were much younger than us), nearly loose their dog on the steep slide of snow and ice, and still not make it to the top, we decided that we had gone far enough. (See the flag on top? Apparently the summit is the size of a football field.)

Oh well, a selfie from the almost-summit.

And with that, we began the hike back down. I don't like leaving things unfinished though, we will be back when there is less snow!

A lot less snow....

Potter Marsh
While driving through south Anchorage, we always pass a large boardwalk area and have wondered what it was. Well, wonder no more, it is the Potter Marsh Wildlife Refuge.

Complete with amazing views, of course. Spectacular views are pretty much a given in Alaska.

Some of my favorite beauties.

We enjoyed wandering the lengthy boardwalk, watching for birds.

Found one!

And another!

We also spotted moose tracks, but no moose. They really love the marshy areas as much as the birds!

The complimentary binoculars were also a nice touch.

Lots of educational info, as well.

So now we finally know what the boardwalk area is, and we were glad we stopped!

Nothing like finishing the day at Cabela's. All things considered, I prefer this type of wildlife the most. No bear spray needed.

A great long weekend, indeed!

May 10, 2018

The forever exotic Hong Kong

Our late January trip to China concluded with...Hong Kong, one of my favorite cities in the world.

Located at the southeast corner of an enormous country, Hong Kong was formerly a colony of the British Empire, and still maintains it's own economic and political structure from the rest of China. (English is one of the official languages of Hong Kong, making travel a breeze! So if you are uneasy about visiting Asia, start with Hong Kong or Singapore to get your feet wet.)

From Macau, it was back to the ferry, for a one hour cruise across the Pearl River Delta.

The windy day made for a VERY bumpy ride. It's a good thing none of us are super sensitive to motion sickness! Though I must admit, I was a little 'off' for the rest of the day.

After a quick pit-stop at the hotel, we were off to find Tim Ho Wan's, one of the world's cheapest Michelin Star rated restaurants.

On our first trip to Hong Kong, we experienced Tim Ho Wan's and have dreamed of their pork buns ever since.

(***Hot tea is always served in China with meals. Ice water, even room temperature water, is considered unhealthy and poor for digestion. I must say I've come to agree, or maybe the cold Alaskan living has converted me.)

When we ordered our pork buns, we already knew one order contained three buns, so an order of six would equal eighteen buns total. Follow? After much clarifying, the server thought there must be some sort of misunderstanding, or language barrier, and also sent the manager to double check. Yes, that was in fact, what we wanted. Eighteen buns. No soup, no award-winning dim sum, just six orders of pork buns. Thank you.

The staff was reluctant, but obliged. Yes, I may have felt a tad foolish when the eighteen buns arrived, (and the adjacent table laughed right along with us), but that foolishness quickly faded.

The momentary embarrassment was sooooo worth it. A slightly crunchy and sweet exterior,

combined with a tangy barbequed pork interior. Perfection. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about them.

The face says it all. And yes, we finished them. All eighteen, with no regrets.

Okay, maybe it was time to walk off a few buns. A stroll along the Voctoria Harbour promenade, was the perfect backdrop.

Who needs Bruce Lee!? Look at that form! You should see his roundhouse kick....

Hong Kong is actually an island, and the promenade was in Kowloon, which was across the harbor on the mainland China side.

The views of Hong Kong island were spectacular!

The Star Ferry runs continually, all day long, and is a quick ten minute ride to the other side.

And we practically had the place to ourselves.

I was still so full of pork buns that I even turned down an egg tart!

But one bite confirmed that they didn't even come close to the original, Lord Stow's in Macau...

We spent our last few nights in Hong Kong at the gorgeous Conrad hotel and received an unbelievable upgrade! This was our room and our view. Yes, please! (Matt is a master at leveraging travel deals and card benefits. We are in the process of starting a travel blog together which hasn't been officially released yet, but get a sneak peek about how we spent ten days in China on about $800, here!)

(And the view at night was just as incredible!)

The afternoon called for rooftop swimming on a beautiful seventy-degree day, which for an Alaskan is pretty much a heat-wave! I laid on the pool chair and let the sun's rays penetrate my soul, just like warm and loving embrace from Jesus himself. Quite possibly my best moment of the entire trip.

And we still made it to afternoon tea,

with a view!

Adjacent to the hotel was Hong Kong Park, which made for a lovely and peaceful evening stroll.

And the weather could not have been more perfect.

We admired the Chinese New Year decorations,

stopped in a historic British tea house/museum,

took pictures of a waterfall,

observed lots of turtles sunning themselves on the rocks,

and took some selfies.

We HAD to!

We started our final day in Hong Kong at the top of Victoria Peak. A bus ride with many twists and turns, got us to the top. Some of the views looked to be straight down, so prayers were in order that the large, double-decker bus would clear the turns!

Hong Kong is known as the Vertical City, and from the top of Victoria Peak, it was easy to see why!

We opted to walk down from the peak, which was a lovely thirty-minute walk through a forest. I think we made it down in faster time than the bus ride up.

Back in the busy city streets,

I fell in love with the energy of Hong Kong all over again.

And we even saw a familiar face!

Though we seemed to be aimlessly wandering, we were actually on a mission....

more pork buns!

Only nine this time, but now I'm regretting that decision!

Until we meet again....

That evening it was back to the Hong Kong Park aviary.

We enjoyed watching the birds, and tried to soak in every moment of our last evening.

Hong Kong never disappoints. It's a beautiful and exotic city, and is truly one of my favorites the world over.

But alas, the morning meant it was back to the airport for our long trip home.

As we relaxed in the fancy American Express Centurion Lounge, leisurely sipping signature cocktails, we almost missed our flight home due to a mix-up on our part. Walking up to an empty gate is not exactly a comforting feeling. But, WHEW we made it with five-minutes to spare. FIVE!

So there you have it, how to survive an Alaskan winter. As a friend said "get out OF it" and "get out IN it". Back at home, the girls got out IN it by building a ....snow-graveyard? Whatever it takes!

But, I'll take China any day of the week!

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