Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day!

Chugga, chugga, chugga, choo, choo...our time on the train is going well. Rennie and I are off for three days, which includes Memorial Day. We feel blessed to be here in Anchorage working on the train, blessed to live in a country where we are free, and blessed to have service men and women who defend our country everyday.

This past weeks travels were quite interesting and exciting. While traveling from Denali to Talkeetna we spotted a momma black bear and her cubs, so the train begain to slow down and even stopped. When the momma bear heard the train, she turned toward the woods and begin running, however, one of the cubs decided to climb up a tree - which just so happened to be right in front of our car windows. This poor little frightened cub was hanging on for dear life, right at eye level for all our guests. Camera flashes were popping everywhere and shouts of joy filled the air! It was if we had qued the animals for the perfect photo opportunity! Needless to say, I had some very happy campers aboard my train car! Once the cub realized he was no longer in danger, he worked his way down the tree and ran to join his mother. We then realized that another cub was hidding in the bushes below. Nature plays such an important part in these Alaskan vacations...and NO, I didn't have my camera on this trip - bummer!!!

We hope everyone has a safe and happy Memorial Day - we miss our family greatly as well as the beaches of Florida, but the weather is awesome here today, so we will most definately be out and about, enjoying every minute together.

Until next time...Pamela

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Land of Oz

It has now been almost a month since we have arrived in Alaska. Time is quickly going by and we are experiencing a plethora of new things.

The land in Alaska is breathtaking. Snow capped mountains everywhere, moose, black bears, caribou, and other critters, as well as the signs of spring surround us as we make our train ride from Anchorage to Fairbanks and back. Excited guests aboard our rail cars are full of anticipation as some are beginning their once in a lifetime vacation. They are happy to hear us tell them about the scenery and most of them are wide eyed looking for any sign of wildlife outside the domed windows. We enjoy talking to our visitors from all over the world - where they are from, telling them our story when asked about it, and sharing their joys that Alaska brings.

We are slowly getting accustomed to the long hours that the rail brings. Most days, we work between 14-16 hours and then we are up the very next morning at 4:30am preparing to work another long day. We look forward to our days off in between runs. Sleep comes easily and our fifty year old bodies have no problems letting us know how out of shape we are. I did break down and purchase an expensive pair of work shoes (most recommended by previous rail guides) and my feet have thanked me by not pounding with pain at the end of the day. Joints, muscles, and our backs seem to creek with each step up and down the spiral staircase in our rail cars. We are grateful for Aleve and hot showers that relieve us temporarily from our aches and pains. Sunday, on one of our days off, we visited the Summer Market in downtown Anchorage and gladly paid for a ten minute massage that was worth way more than what we paid! We both felt like new people afterward.

Memorization of our scripts is a slow process still, but we are associating dialogue with landmarks on each trip we take. We can now name some mountains by sight and are beginning to differentiate the multiple bodies of water we see along the rail. We glean new ways to deliver our tour by spending time with past and present rail guides who have been most helpful in sharing their tips and techniques. We appreciate their willingness to share their knowledge with us because we are extremely "green" and Rennie and I want to do all we can do to make our visitors have a memorable vacation.

The photo in today's post was taken about 46 miles away of Mt. McKinley (also called Denali - the tallest mountain in North America). This grand mountain stands at 20,320 feet and only 30 percent or less of anyone who visits Alaska actually see it in all its grandeur. Most of the time it is partially blocked by cloud coverage because it produces its own weather. It can be bright and sunny on the track, but be cloudy around the mountain, sometimes hiding it completely from sight. We have been told by previous rail guides that last season they only saw the mountain a few times. We have been blessed to see it seven out of eight times so far on our train rides. Sometimes it looks as if it is fake - like a painted background from Universal Studios. It is simply breathtaking each and every time we pass by. Also, in the photo, you can see what looks like big rocks in the water, which in fact it is large blocks of ash and glacier silt covered ice. The ice in the rivers are breaking up, but melting slowly as the warmer days are arriving. The ash is from a volcano, Mt. Redoubt, located south of Anchorage, that erupted in April. We are amazed at how far ash can travel!

Today we're resting, gearing up for the next trip tomorrow. Blessings to all on this Memorial Day weekend!

Until next time...Pamela

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Rail Guide Uniforms

On the third day of training, we were required to wear our official Rail Guide uniforms. We actually have two different sets of uniforms, one to wear on the Holland America cars and one to wear on the Princess cars. (During our time here, our schedules will fluctuate between both companies - now merged as Holland America PRINCESS - much more complicated to explain on a blog!)

The uniforms we are sporting below, are for Holland America. We especially like these because they are the most professional looking - and we both look fairly good in blue and black. Hopefully as we are here and working on the train, we will begin to loose our "winter coats" and will have to trade these uniforms in for much small ones.

More "Dinking"

Here are some more photos of us enjoying Anchorage.

I'm sure this is the only chocolate moose/bear in town!

This photo makes me want to sing Debbie White's "Moose and Bear" song.

We ate at a restaurant called "The Peanut Farm," which is situated on a creek. We were able to sit outside on the balcony. breathe in the fresh air, and enjoy some really good food. Afterward, we walked down around the creek and explored a bit. Again, Anchorage is so beautiful and the weather has been magnificent - the locals say the wonderful weather is extremely rare - usually it is raining and quite cold. We have said that we brought the Florida sunshine with us.

If you look at the banks of the creek, you can see that there is still thick sheets of ice. Over the winter, this creek is frozen solid. Spring has finally come to Anchorage.

These statues just cracked us up - they are located outside a bank that has a Starbucks attached. We stopped for a coffee break and had to take photos of these funny things. I don't know which one is the funniest - I guess you can decide!

Guess what time this photo was taken (taken about 10 days ago)??? On this date, it was 10:30PM. The daylight is beginning to stay around more and more. Last night, I begin to yawn and said to Rennie, "Why am I so tired"...then I looked at the was 10:00PM and the sun was still shinning brightly! Well..duhhh...

Until next time...Pamela

"Dinking" Around Town

This is proof that we are very far from our home!

The Anchorage Visitors Center in downtown Anchorage. Grass grows on top of the roof and gets quite beautiful during the summer months.

A small replica of the Alaskan Railroad train that pulls the Holland America and Princess cars for us.

Gray Wolf - they are huge, but so beautiful! The males can weigh between 85 and 145lbs., stand 26 to 38 inches at the shoulder, and live for approximately 10-18 years. As much as I want to see a wild bear or moose, seeing a wild wolf would be a highlight for me.

Which one is the brown bear??

The Chugach Mountains surround Anchorage - we are blessed to see these mountains every day!

A Puffin - up close and personal!

Two cute brown bears :)

Got my moose lips on!

This is a pretty accurate size of a real moose. We haven't seen a wild one yet, but we still have five more months for that! We were told the other day that a female moose was walking through the rail yard - I was so bummed that I missed it!

Pictures Of Our Home

Ahhhh, home sweet home. As I stated before, we were able to move into our rented town home on May 1. We are renting this town house from a rail employee, Laura, who works in Fairbanks over the summer. We share this beautiful place with our housemate, Richard. The town home is located on the south side of Anchorage, which is about 12 miles from the rail yard and only takes us about 15 minutes to get there, if traffic is not too busy...and compared to Jacksonville, traffic here is NOTHING! More times than not, traveling anywhere takes approximately 10-15 minutes.

Several things that we love about where our home is located, is that it is convenient to most stores (most are just down the street - some within walking distance), the Alaska Zoo is only 2 1/2 miles away (no we cannot smell the animals from here...), walking trails are everywhere, and that is has a washer and dryer, so we don't have to go off the property to wash clothes - Praise the Lord!

We consider it a true blessing to have such a nice home for us to enjoy over the next five months.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Home Away From Home

Praise the Lord, we have finally gotten settled in our townhouse. We are renting a home from a rail employee who works in Fairbanks over the summer. She was kind enough to rent us her abode for the summer as well as her room mate is allowing us to rent her car.

We also have a house mate, Richard, who is back for his third summer as a rail guide. Richard is from Virginia, retired from the State Department, and is a wealth of knowledge about the narration on the train as well as Alaskan history. The likelihood of us actually seeing him once the season begins is slim. The office usually schedules roommates or house mates at different times to give people privacy.

Our home is about 12 miles from the rail yard but extremely close to most conveniences, like Sams and Wal-Mart. Today, Rennie and I laughed that we need to visit Wal-Mart more often, just so we can feel better about ourselves...I think my children and my sister would be the only people to really understand that statement!

Some interesting things we have noticed about Anchorage so far:
  • No sales tax - so strange when we purchase something and there is no tax added
  • There are about 270,000 people here - much, much, smaller than Jacksonville and we are expecting over 1 million visitors to Alaska this season
  • The natives here want to be referred to as Native Alaskans, not Native Americans
  • Gas is a little bit more expensive than home
  • Food is quite pricey yet delicious! (Produce is not the greatest)
  • When you walk down the street, you hear a bubble-clacking kind of noise - that is the studs on the snow tires - it sounds so weird
  • So far, the weather is great - we have "rap and peel" days - blue skies and beautiful scenery - it does get nippy at night
  • The air is so dry - very low humidity, so your skin feels a bit like shoe leather, but my hair is looking great
  • We are finding most people friendly and helpful - they always want to know why we are visiting from Florida
  • There is still THICK ice around the lakes and ponds but it is slowly melting
  • There is ash everywhere from the recent volcano eruption - that mixed with dirty snow is gross
  • We are on an earthquake fault - we haven't felt any movements yet, but we have been told it has happened since we've been here
  • The water out of the tap is ICE cold and tastes like bottled water - no need to purchase bottled water while we're here
  • We are getting closer to the Summer Solstice, which means more daylight. Each day we are getting about five more minutes of sunlight. During the month of May we will have 19 hours of sun, June 21 hours, and July 24 hours of sun - and I mean SUN - it is as bright as 12:00 noon - thank the Lord for black out shades and sleeping masks!
It is time to return to my studying. I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. We are traveling south to Seward on Sunday to go whale watching. We are hoping that the whales are ready to pose and smile for tons of photo ops!

Until next time...Pamela