Experience | Skagway, Alaska: White Pass + Yukon Route Railroad

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Monday, August 27, 2018

"I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center."- Kurt Vonnegut

White Pass + Yukon Route Railroad | My most favorite excursion of the Alaska trip was hands down the White Pass + Yukon Route Railroad Train. This ride is 41 miles round trip, leaving from Skagway, Alaska, entering into the summit of the White Pass in British Columbia, and then returning back to Skagway. For the majority of the ride, you are elevated nearly 3,000 feet and traveling along the edges of Alaskan mountains. 

The train is a connection of 10-12 smaller cars, each complete with its own (very clean!) bathroom and wood burning heater. We originally chose a car with several small, very loud children. Luckily, the conductor allowed us to move to the first car, even though the ride had begun and we were explicitly told on several occasions that once the train started, moving from car to car was prohibited. Of course, it helped that my dad had introduced himself to the conductor before the ride began and they became very friendly; the conductor was very fond of "Chalie from Philadelphia." We always poke fun of my dad for insisting on getting on a first name basis with literally everyone, no matter where we are, and in this case, it definitely worked to our advantage. After making our way to the very quiet first car, we were able to relax and cozy up in the warmth of the wood-burning heater, which gave off the most lovely woodsy, or as I say, "up the mountains" scent.

Once the trip began, we were quickly traveling among the Alaskan mountainside, complete with large, luscious trees and long, winding rivers below. Riders had the opportunity to stand outside of the cars in a small space with a guard rail to take pictures and be one with the surroundings. Even though it was very scary due to the height at which we were traveling and how unprotected I truly was from tumbling to my death, I am so glad I challenged myself to experience everything this train ride had to offer. I went outside on numerous occasions to take photos and get the views that individuals that stayed within the confines of the train car would not be able to experience. It was truly a YOLO moment.

The trip takes about 3.5 hours roundtrip. However, we were super lucky and traveled an additional 12 miles, which equated to a total of about 4 hours. Apparently, the train engineer picks one ride a day to take the extended trip and we were the fortuitous recipients. During the entire trip, we had a wonderful guide that spoke across the loudspeaker. He was funny, insightful, and very knowledgable about the history of the Yukon Route. We learned so much from him and were happy to say a quick hello as he walked around at the end of the ride to meet the riders.

This train ride really put into perspective the truly illustrious and awe-inspiring Alaska terrain. Among the trees and mountains, all of life's anxieties and worries fade away. How can anything in our tiny, insignificant lives matter when you are with Earth's most beautiful creations? In the current book I am reading, the author talks about how events that inspire awe within us have the ability to dissolve our mental anguish. If only everyone was able to travel to the Alaskan mountainside, maybe anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications would become superfluous. This experience also reinforced my vision for the future in which Dayv and I live in a little home among the trees and nature where we can live quiet, intentional lives. In this future, I also return to Alaska on several occasions.


Experience | Juneau, Alaska: Glacier Gardens + Mendenhall Glacier

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Monday, August 20, 2018

"Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it came from the soul of the world, and it will one day return there."- Paulo Coelho

Glacier Gardens | Glacier Gardens was another magnificent and life changing excursion that I will never forget. A man named Steve bought this 50 acre plot of land after it had been devastated due to a landslide. As a landscape architect, he was able to envision its potential, even though it was filled with overturned trees. His solution was to create "flower towers" with these trees, which utilized the roots as the vase/garden to plant flowers. 

When you first arrive at Glacier Gardens, you are greeted with several flower tower floral arrangements along with beautiful, exotic gardens filled with flowers and greenery that are not grown in northeast Pennsylvania. Since Glacier Gardens is located in the Tongass National Forest, much of the land is still untouched. The tour gathered into large Jeep-like vehicles without a roof or doors and made the way up to the apex of the area. From there, we were able to look down at the town of Juneau, which was extremely scenic and beautiful. The air was crisp and clean and the temperature was cool and airy.

The Tongass National Forest is filled with trees, bushes, skunk cabbage, flowers, creeks, and little animal friends. Its expansive lifeforce really puts into perspective the beauty of the Earth and how much respect it deserves. If there were no humans, the world would be covered in these luscious woodlands. This trip was a wonderful reminder and educator on the importance of protecting our National Forests, as well as triggered a desire within me to make it a point to visit many more in the future.


Mendenhall Glacier |  Mendenhall Glacier is a retreating glacier located in Tongass National Forest. Due to climate change, it is possible that this beautiful glacier will one day no longer exist. 

Our time at Mendenhall Glacier was only about an hour, as we arrived in the evening when the visitor center was about to close. We watched a 15 minute tour video before making our way down to the glacier. Due to the limited time, we were unable to spend much time exploring. We took the 15 minute walk down to the "photo opp" area of the glacier. There was a longer walking trail, called the Nugget Falls trail, that was supposed to be breathtaking, but unfortunately the bus driver warned us that he would leave even if not all tourists were accounted for when our allotted time was up. 

I was a bit underwhelmed by our trip to Mendenhall glacier, but it was due to the fact that we had limited time and also that it was beginning to get very chilly. I'd like to return to the glacier during the day and be able to explore more, including the Nugget Trail. Mendenhall Glacier is extremely beautiful and I know that I was unable to give it the appreciation it deserves.


Experience | Tracy Arm Fjord

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Monday, August 13, 2018

"It is a serious thing just to be alive on this fresh morning in this broken world."- Mary Oliver

Tracy Arm Fjord | I had never heard of a fjord until researching our Alaskan vacation. A fjord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by a glacier. We awoke on our third morning to find ourselves cruising through Tracy Arm Fjord, one of the most magnificent and breath-taking fjords of Alaska. Since it was late June, the bodies of land were scattered with beautiful and luscious greenery and trees. The rock appeared smooth and aged, as though the snow and ice had polished it over thousands of years. There were patches of snow and ice on the cliffs, as well as in the water. One of the most surprising aspects of Tracy Arm is that the temperature is rather mild, rather than super cold, which causes the fog to rise and settle among the mountains.

I was the first in my family to wake up on the morning of Tracy Arm. I went up to the deck at about 6 am while it was still cold and ate breakfast alone. It was difficult to find a table since many others were taking in the beauty and astonishing views. However, I eventually settled at a table with another lone breakfaster. The exquisiteness and natural refinement of the cliffs in which we were cruising though were magnificent and heart-stirring. My brain could not even begin to comprehend the magnitude and beauty of Tracy Arm, but I did my very best to take in and appreciate it as much as possible. 

In the few hours that we were in the presence of nature's true beauty and wonder, life felt both so much bigger than we can ever know but also so much simpler. Who are we and our problems compared to these cliffs and glaciers and sea green water and trees? We're not special, we are spectators of this elegant, illustrious sight. Although I am not a religious person, I would categorize my time in Tracy Arm as a religious experience and life-changing. It was one of two times during our Alaskan vacation where I felt a shift in my life and consciousness, as if I was one with nature and the Earth. In that moment, Alaska became my first true love and I wanted to escape into the mountains forever.


Experience | Ketchikan, Alaska: Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary

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Monday, August 6, 2018

"When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."
-The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry

Oh Alaska, you beautiful, exquisite oasis. 

Prior to visiting Alaska, I had two points of reference. First, the I Love Lucy episode when the gang travels up to Alaska to look at perspective property and, inevitably, Lucy gets herself into a pickle with celebrity, Red Skelton. Second, I knew of the beauty and and alluring nature of Alaska from reading and watching Into the Wild. But, as we all know, reading and watching is a lot different than actually experiencing.

Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary | My family and I went on a seven day roundtrip cruise from Seattle to Alaska. The first stop was Ketchikan. We chose the Alaska Rainforest Sanctuary walking tour, which lasted about three hours. The walk was very moderate and did not require many steep hills. The tour guide walked us through the sanctuary on a dirt path. Although some sunshine did break through the tree canopy, the walk was mostly shaded due to the large, luscious trees.

During the walk, we learned about the different trees. Hemlock can be distinguished from other trees due to the bark looking like bacon, or ham, and remembered as hamlock. The Sitka tree has bark that looks like potato chips. Skunk cabbage is also very prominent in the Alaskan rainforest and is sought after by bears for its natural laxative properties, which is necessary after their long hibernation. We also spotted berries and banana slugs along the way. Banana slugs are said to give anyone who licks them good luck, so, of course, my brother licked one.

One of the most interesting aspects of this rainforest walk was learning about the ecosystem. Since the weather is very damp and cool in Alaska, the forests do not experience fires. Forest fires are nature's way of getting rid of old/dead trees that may have fallen to the ground. However, since the trees are not removed either by nature or human, nature uses them as new ground for growing trees and other plants. Because trees are beginning their growth above ground, the roots must reach down very far before finding the earth. This pattern of growth creates a very interesting and symbiotic relationship among the trees and plant life. 

Another interesting part of the walk was seeing bear claw marks on the trees. Bears often climb trees to hide and hunt. Mama bears also tell their baby bears to climb trees while they go out and find food. Although we never saw bears during our walk, it was very evident that they were close by.

Once we finished our walk through the rainforest sanctuary, we were brought out to a pier across a body of water. We were so excited to see bald eagles sunbathing among the water. Even the employees got out their phones to take pictures since it was such a rare occasion to see so many eagles at once.

Next, we visited the Raptor Center. This center rehabilitates raptors that have been injured and are unable to return to the wild. We were also invited into the totem pole workshop of Wayne Hewson. He shared his process with us, as well as his history in the art of totem pole making. Growing up, being a totem pole carver was illegal and Natives were forced to subdue their cultural heritage. Luckily, Wayne was able to begin his journey as a carver in his 30's where he was an apprentice for about 10 years before working on his own. He is such a soft spoken, gentle man with a great gift. My favorite totem pole on display was the story of the mosquito. However, not all totem poles convey a story or legend.

Overall, I really loved this magical walk in the Alaskan Rainforest Sanctuary and would recommend it as an educational and breathtaking way to learn about Alaska's ecosystems.


Travel | Burlington, VT: Eats, Sights, + Stay

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Monday, May 28, 2018

"I will not play at tug o' war. I'd rather play at hug o' war, where everyone hugs instead of tugs, where everyone giggles and rolls on the rug, where everyone kisses, and everyone grins, and everyone cuddles, and everyone wins."- Shel Silverstein

New England is so close to Pennsylvania, yet so far away. It is definitely an area I wish to explore as much as possible and take every opportunity to visit. Luckily, such an opportunity recently presented itself! My best friend, Lora, graduated from University of Vermont and I was lucky enough to spend graduation weekend with her and her family. Although a short trip in which in mostly rained, we were able to experience Vermont's spring beauty and eat food from two awesome vegan/vegetarian restaurants.


Pingala Cafe | Pingala Cafe is a food truck-inspired vegan cafe. Lora's brother, who is also vegan, has gotten takeout from this restaurant on several occasions and it was the perfect option for us since we had to coordinate takeout for 12 people. I decided to order two small dishes and one large dish.

The first item I ate were the fresh rolls, which are summer rolls with rice noodles, pickled vegetables, mixed greens and a peanut dipping sauce. They were incredible. The dish came with two rolls which were pretty large and substantial for an appetizer and, in my perfect world, every meal would include peanut sauce.

My plan was to eat the Buddha-ful Bowl for my main course and then the Broccoli Bites if I was still hungry, or save it for the seven hour car ride the next day. However, I ended up being very grateful for the Broccoli Bites because I could not stomach the Buddha-ful Bowl. The description sounded great: Coconut brown rice with steamed kale, broccoli, roasted sweet potato puree, braised tempeh, ginger-pickled vegetables, sunflower seed crunch, topped with peanut sauce. I do not know what I found so repulsive about it, but I could barely eat anything other than the vegetables at the top. I honestly cannot remember ever not being able to eat a meal at a restaurant before, so this was a new experience for me.  Luckily, Lora's brother was up for the challenge of eating the rest and he enjoyed it.

The Broccoli Bites were really delicious, as well. I didn't taste much peanut sauce, but I enjoyed the simplicity of the meal and the pickled vegetables at the top.

I definitely want to revisit Pingala Cafe since the majority of the menu is very appealing to me. I'm slightly bummed I chose the Buddha-ful Bowl over the Kale Salad, but now I know for next time.


Revolution Kitchen | I had found this vegetarian restaurant during one of my epic Yelp searches and was extremely excited to check it out. Although Lora's brother was unable to join us (he had not yet arrived in town), we dined with her father and step-mother on Friday night. The restaurant itself is pretty small and narrow with the bar and kitchen in the front (you can see the food being prepared) and seating in the back. The walls are decorated with primitive/finger paintings and Buddha-inspired art. As for the food, I am not exaggerating when I say this was one of the most delicious meals I have ever experienced. We all loved our meals.

For an appetizer, I ordered the Vietnamese Salad Rolls, which contained rice noodles, mango, lettuce, and herbs and had a peanut dipping sauce. This dish was incredible. The rolls were light but substantial and absolutely delicious. Also, it came with peanut sauce which took my tastebuds to the next level.

My main course was the Revolution Tacos which had grilled sweet potato, oyster mushrooms, maple chipotle slaw, avocado, and salsa, and was served with cuban black beans and rice. The flavors and textures merged together in such a way I have never experienced before. I wanted to savor every bite but had to control myself from not eating the tacos in three bites. I will crave them for the rest of my life. Revolution Kitchen's Revolution Tacos are the equivalent to Sushi Samba's sushi. Life changing.

We dined at Revolution Kitchen on Friday night and had originally planned on getting takeout from there on Saturday, too. However, due to graduation weekend, they didn't have the capacity to also make takeout orders. If we did get takeout, I would have ordered the exact same thing.



Lake Champlain | Lora says you know you are in Burlington when wherever you look, you can see Lake Champlain. The lake is very large and spans New York, Vermont, and Quebec. There are tons of activities one can enjoy while being close to the lake including a stroll on the walking path beside it or a trip to the beach. Since we were only able to spend a little time by the lake, we took a brief walk and drive by the beach. I love its expansiveness, the mountains behind it, and the sailboats gliding on the water. It is extremely picturesque. Next time we go, Lora and I definitely plan on spending more time by Lake Champlain.



Townplace Suites Marriot | We stayed in this hotel, which is located in Williston, a quick 10 minutes away from Burlington. We stayed in a Studio, which has a queen bed, couch, desk, television, kitchen area with a full sized refrigerator, and a bathroom with a bathtub. Every morning, continental breakfast is offered which includes fruit salad, individual apples and bananas, cereal, waffles, muffins, eggs, coffee, and tea. There is also a small refrigerator with bottle juices, milk, and Silk soymilk in both very vanilla and chocolate varieties. Coffee, tea, and ice water are offered all day.

Overall, I really liked this hotel and have no complaints. The room was clean, as was the rest of the building. They offered very big bananas (which are my favorite) and the coffee was really good (although, not as good as Seattle coffee).

When we got takeout on Saturday night, we ate in the continental breakfast area and received no sign of disapproval from the staff, even though three rambunctious children were running around the majority of the time. It's a great family place.

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