The World’s Slowest Rollercoaster – Johnstown, PA

So my life has changed quite a bit in the last few months, but I still live on the road. In a change from the cruise ship life, where I would visit different countries every day, I now live on a train and I visit a new city each week. It’s an interesting change. Unfortunately, my job takes up a ton of time, so I don’t have the same freedom to explore that I did on the ship. That being said, my boyfriend and I have my car on tour so we travel overland (the circus term for people who have to get their car from one place to another while the train is moving), which is letting us see a lot of interesting little bits of Americana.

Roadside Attraction!

            Our first very exciting stop was on the way to Norfolk, Virginia from Youngstown, Ohio. An excellent website I found called roadtrippers.com told me that “The World’s Slowest Rollercoaster” was just an hour out of the way on our trip in Johnstown, PA. How could I resist that?

Turns out “The World’s Slowest Rollercoaster” was a bit of a gimmick. The place is actually the world’s steepest vehicular inclined plane – but it’s still a “world’s ________” so I was content. For a mere $4.00 per passenger (or $6.00 per car), you can take the five minute ride up or down the vehicular inclined plane ($4.00 will buy you a roundtrip, actually). The plane was actually built a long time ago because the lower area of Johnstown is in a flood plane, and in an emergency, they needed to be able to move most of the town up to higher ground very quickly.

 Inclined Plane - Johnstown, PA

I’m sort of a connoisseur of weird roadside attractions and I was actually very pleased with this one. The drive up the mountain to where you get to “The World’s Slowest Rollercoaster” was a little adventure. Next to it, there’s a little gift shop with every little item you can imagine emblazoned with “The World’s Slowest Rollercoaster” (including the shot glass I bought to start my new collection – I couldn’t resist it – it was slanted), cheap 5 and 25 cent candies, snacks and soda. At the bottom, there’s a little park with weird sculptures you can walk through. There’s also a poorly blocked off cave, which I suppose you could explore, although trespassing warnings and alarming evidence that someone may be living in there dissuaded us from doing so.

Check out more about The World’s Slowest Rollercoaster here.

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Victoria, British Columbia

Victoria, British Columbia has long been one of my favorite stops on the Alaska cruise route. From great food, to weird buskers, to cool sights, Victoria pretty much has everything.

Recommendation #1: Just wander. When you head downtown by the waterfront, the streets are littered with buskers. From magic/juggling acts that reminded me a little too much of being at work on the ship to Darth Vadar playing the violin, there’s pretty much anything you can think of happening all along the water and down the main street. There’s also just about every kind of food you can imagine (one of the best places being The Keg, just off the main street, which has the most amazing cheesy bread I’ve had in my whole life).

Darth Vader and his Violin

Darth Vader and his Violin

Recommendation #2: Butchart Gardens is probably one of the prettiest places I’ve ever wandered around. I’m not normally the wander around some plants type of person, but I thought that place was so cool. I loved the Japanese Garden section. Actually, I just loved all the different garden sections. There’s also a firework show in the evening and a carousel. Prices vary for admission depending of the season, with the highest rate being midsummer, about $30, and the lowest is around $16 in January.

Butchart Gardens - Japanese Garden

Recommendation #3: Empress High Tea. The Empress is a ridiculously old and impressive hotel, with an old school posh high tea that they serve repeatedly through the day. It’s pretty much every little girl’s dream tea party. I lucked out and was able to escort a tour there through the ship, so I went for free, but by myself. I further lucked out when I was seated with another girl in her late 20’s who was traveling with her grandfather. Apparently, he had really wanted to see Alaska, so she agreed to go on this cruise with him and when he asked her what she really wanted to do, the one thing she was really excited about was high tea at the Empress. So her grandfather was totally game to do this one thing his granddaughter wanted to do, and he was so cute. He would pick up his tea cup and stick out his finger funny and say “so, we drink the tea like this, ladies?” He was so clearly out of his element it was hilarious and made me more than a little nostalgic for my grandfather – a tough old Marine drill sergeant who totally would’ve gone to high tea with me if it was the only thing I wanted to do on a week long cruise too. Anyway, charming company aside, the tea was terrific and I loved all the little sandwiches and treats. My inner five year old was totally wowed by this fancy afternoon tea. If you’ve always wanted to try the high tea experience, I would definitely recommend the Empress, the price is a bit steep (about $50) and you have to be sure to dress casually elegant (whatever that means exactly – I just imagined how I would dress for the Mad Hatter’s tea party), but it is a really cool experience.

Victoria Dockside by Sunset

Victoria Dockside by Sunset

Recommendation #4: Holland America’s Victoria Ale & Brewery excursion. Now, if it’s your first and only time in Victoria, I don’t recommend this as the way to spend your evening. Definitely try to make it to the Gardens or the Empress over this tour, but if you’ve been to Victoria repeatedly, this could be a great tour for you. To begin with, we drove around different areas of the city than the same like 6 you see over and over again. I don’t even really like beer, but I liked trying the different samples from the assorted local breweries and the appetizers were pretty tasty too – not to mention, however much you drink, you just have to make it back to the bus, and then the bus drops you off right at the ship, it’s about the safest environment, other than onboard the ship, to get slizzarded in anyway.

And now, the only total failure of an activity I’ve done in Victoria, the Ghostly Walks. At no point in time was this walk interesting. The stories did not remotely approach frightening – they weren’t even entertaining. The areas we visited were not the least bit  scary. The tour guide was not engaging. The most chilling thing we did was stand outside in the cold. Save your $15 and do anything else.

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Sleepy Hollow, NY

Sleepy Hollow, NY

About two years, my boyfriend and I were watching Sleepy Hollow on TV and decided we both really wanted to go there. Over time, we’d both mention it to each other, but the timing never seemed to work out with our vacations. About two weeks ago, we finally succeeded. We only had a short time to spend there, two days, but that actually seems like the right amount of time for Sleepy Hollow.

To begin with, October is absolutely the right time to check out Sleepy Hollow. Not surprisingly, the area is really into the holiday and there are about a bajillion “haunted houses” to visit. Unfortunately, as Tim and I learned, these are all on the weekend.

Tip #1: Visit Sleepy Hollow on a weekend. Which we did not do, as Tim’s weekends are usually Monday/Tuesday or Tuesday/Wednesday.

Tip #2: Absolutely do NOT visit on Tuesdays. Like we did. Turns out everything is closed on Tuesday. So we crammed our sightseeing into Wednesday morning before we headed out of the area.

Washington Irving's Grave

Tip #3: Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is a pretty cool place. For $20 they have guided tours, but you can also check it out entirely on your own. The cemetery website has a map you can download for free, or you can pick up a hard copy at Washington Irving’s grave. It’ll guide you to Washington Irving’s tomb, Andrew Carnegie and several Rockefellers. There is also a spot marked as the Headless Horseman bridge, but it’s not authentic. The real bridge that was probably there in Irving’s time is the paved one you drive over right before you enter the cemetery. It’s a very pretty place to stroll around and the tombstones are pretty neat too. If you’re a big fan of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, one of the van Tassel’s, the one who was the inspiration for Christina Ricci’s character in the movie, is buried right next to the church, but you’ll have to find her under her married name.

Fake Headless Horseman Bridge

Fake Headless Horseman Bridge – At least it was a pretty area.

Tip #4: I hope you like old houses, because that’s the major tourist attraction in the area. Tim and I visited Philipsburg Manor, a 17th Century mill and home. It was pretty cool, and I’m a total dork and really enjoy people dressed up, doing living history tours, possibly from my brief time volunteering for my local historical society back in high school. Tickets are $12 for adults. And go visit the poor guy sifting grain out in the barn… he seems really bored and lonely out there. In the evenings on weekends in October, it turns into Horseman’s Hollow, which is supposed to be pretty frightening. You can also visit Kykuit, the Rockefeller estate, and Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s homestead. And if that’s not enough old houses for you, you can also check out nearby Van Cortland Manor and Lyndhurst, a Gothic-revival mansion.

Tip #5: Pay a little more and stay somewhere nice. Tim and I found Ardsley Acres to be the cheapest digs near Sleepy Hollow (it was about 10-15 minutes from Sleepy Hollow, in Westchester), and there was a definite reason they were so inexpensive. The bed was super uncomfortable and the room had a really strange smell. It wasn’t quite as bad as our hotel in Amsterdam, but it was up there.

Tip #6: Definitely check out the little shops in downtown Tarrytown. You’ll drive right through them to get into Sleepy Hollow. We found some nice places to eat there and a couple of cute little stores, especially Whimsies Incognito, a fun little trinket store.

Overall, not really the exciting weekend away we’d hoped for, but we were both glad we went. Curiosity satiated.

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Sitka, Alaska

Sitka really isn’t my favorite Alaskan port, and I’ve never been entirely sure why. As a tender port, it’s a pain to get in to, but that’s not quite it either. I always felt there wasn’t all that many interesting things to do in the area. I was a little surprised when my college roommate sailed with me for a week that it was actually the easiest port for me to decide what we should do, so the following are my suggestions for experiencing Sitka in a day:

#1 – Fortress of the Bear – this is actually one of my favorite spots in Alaska. Crew members get in free and for everyone else, it’s something like $10. They used to have a Bear Bus (you can’t miss it, it has a giant bear painted on it) shuttling people from the cruise ship port to the Fortress for free, but as of September 2012, it’s broken down and they don’t seem to have the money to repair it. It cost us $20 each way to take a taxi to the Fortress, split 5 ways, so it was well worth it. There are also a number of tours with the different cruise lines that include a stop at the Fortress of the Bear.

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Fortress of the Bear is the home to several different bears that were usually found as cubs after their mother was killed. The group there takes them in and raises them. After they grow up, sometimes the bears are sent off to zoos around America and sometimes they just live out their lives at the Fortress. Knowledgeable guides tell you all about the bears and the history of the Fortress, Sometimes they let you throw down oranges or meat to the bears. There is also a small petting zoo with geese, a minature pony, a ram and other small animals.

 

#2 – Baranof Island Brewing Company – from the Fortress, you can have the taxi driver drop you off at the Baranof Island Brewing Company. They also have a free shuttle that goes from right across the street from the downtown tender dock. As soon as you get off the tender, just ask around and people should be able to point you to the shuttle pick up spot. The lunch there is really good, it’s just a few sandwiches, but it’s reasonably priced. Our group split 2 beer samplers to try most of the different beers and then each got our favorites. The Spruce Beer was a favorite among the guys, and I was also a fan of the Halibut Point Hefeweisen.

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#3 – Alaska Raptor Center – this is another place it’s great to be crew, especially on a Holland America ship, since HAL helped pay for the construction of the center. For all others, admission is $12. They have lots of programs about the raptors and then you can walk around and check out all the caged birds. They have quite a few.

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On an average HAL port day, those three activities would take up most of your time and leave you with a little bit of time for wandering around in the shopping district of the city. Sitka has some of my favorite little stores because, while you can definitely still pick up a knock off totem pole and t-shirts with wolves on them, there are also several nicer stores to look into with items that don’t scream Alaska but are still definitely good souvenirs from your trip to the Great White North. And you should be sure to try a bar of Theobroma chocolate. It’s actually made by locals and it’s fantastic. If you do go on a tour, it’s pretty likely you’ll get a bar of it there. I like the Milk Toffee Crunch the best. 

 

On the flip side, if you’d rather just go on a tour, I’ve been on the following. If you visit on a cruise ship, you can probably book through them, but if you’re out there on your own, you can also just arrange the tours by yourself through the individual companies.

Wilderness Sea Kayaking Adventure – in 2 person kayaks, you explore wilderness and fauna for about an hour and a half. You take a boat out to this remote floating hut and start kayaking from there. This was one of my favorite Sitka tours because I really like kayaking and it was a crew tour. It’s always a lot more fun to go out on the tours with your friends than to escort them as a crew member with a ton of passengers. It’s not particularly strenuous and you do get to see a lot of pretty things. 

Sitka Photography Tour – 3 hours of taking photos of Sitka. My tour guide didn’t really have any helpful photography hints or much of interest to say about Sitka. Part of the tour was in a parking lot and the rest was randomly traipsing through woods. I would NOT recommend this tour (on the flip side, there is a photography tour in Juneau that I’ve heard is amazing, but I’ve never actually done it myself).

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Sitka Bike & Hike – this tour is a good time. I don’t even like hiking, but I still had fun. You bike up the 1 main road that Sitka has from the meeting point till you reach the hiking trail, stopping at Whale Park to use the rest rooms and take pictures of the big whale sculpture they have there. Then you follow the guide on the hiking trail for about an hour. After that, you turn around and ride back to the meeting point. It’s a nice work out and my tour guide was really knowledgeable and had all sorts of fun stories about Sitka since he had grown up there.

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Sea Otter & Wildlife Quest – this is one of the best nature viewing tours you can go on. Wildlife always hides from me for some reason and the time I went on this tour wasn’t really an exception, a good friend of mine went on the same tour earlier that morning and told me the water was teeming with sea otters. My boyfriend has done that tour multiple times and always comes back with pictures where there are tons of sea otters. I saw 4 sea otters in 3 hours. Don’t get me wrong, they were still cute. And the passengers were all excited because they were unaware the water should be chock full of sea otters. What got me really excited was that we did see a few whales and an entire rock island full of harbor seals (I REALLY like harbor seals). So, even on a bad day, this is still a great tour, and by all other accounts I’ve heard, bad days are super rare.

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And for people interested in finding good internet, the best place to head out to is Highliner Coffee Company, behind the Subway. You have to purchase at least a coffee, but I’ve always found the internet there to be fast and reliable. 

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Packing: My Least Favorite Part of Travel

So, I hate packing. This is really an understatement. Something about it makes me feel so overwhelmed, it’s actually ridiculous. I can manage a $13 million dollar theater, but trying to fill 2 suitcases and a book bag makes my head swim and I feel a strong urge to drink. If only my Hogwarts letter hadn’t gotten lost in the mail all those years ago, I’d just be able to wave my wand and make my clothes select themselves and dance happily into my suitcase. Sigh.

I’ve seen and read lots of packing hint websites and several of those ideas I do incorporate, but most people aren’t packing to go live in 2 vastly different climates for 4-6 months for a job that requires a uniform, casual clothes and fancy dress up clothes. Overall, I’ve got to say I’m pretty pleased with how good I’ve gotten during my last four year working at sea, so I thought I’d share some of the hints I’ve learned about how to pack AND what to bring – which could be useful if you’re heading out to work at sea sometime soon too.

#1 Split clothes between what I absolutely have to bring and what I want to bring. This is my essentials pile:

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For work I have to wear an all black uniform everyday, anytime I’m in a public space (unless I’m off duty and hanging out in a public area on a formal night, then I need to be in formal clothes). I pack 3 pairs of black slacks and 3 black polo shirts, a black belt, a HAL sweater (because backstage is always FREEZING), and a cardigan (for when the backstage is more like Maine in October instead of the subarctic). Also, a favorite item of mine, steel-toed boots… which are so not luggage weight friendly, therefore, I usually opt to fly wearing them, which isn’t actually so bad. I’m starting out my contract in Alaska, so I added a sweatshirt, a jacket, a hat, and a long sleeved t-shirt. I also pack 2 pairs of jeans, because most nights on the ship end up in the Officer’s Bar, a staff-only area where we can wear whatever we want and talk about how the passengers/other crew have driven us to drink (just kidding… sort of). It feels a lot to me like tag day used to at Catholic school. I threw in two pairs of gym shorts and t-shirts because they can double as PJs. After Alaska, we’re transitioning to the South Pacific, where it will be summer, so I have 2 pairs of shorts (one khaki, for work), 2 tank tops, a bathing suit, flip flops and sandals. I also have 2 formal dresses, 1 semi-formal dress, 1 pair of tights, 1 pair of leggings and 1 pair of high heels. A bunch of toiletries (which I actually could’ve bought most of them once I was at work if I wanted to travel with trial sized bottles – especially in Alaska because there’s easy access to Walmart in most of the ports) and enough underwear to last just over a week, because I’m lazy and sometimes my schedule is insane and I don’t have time to do laundry.

After sorting through what’s essential, I make a pile of what I would like to bring if there’s room:

ImageMy non-essential pile is usually a few extra shirts (because 4-6 months of rotating through the same 4 shirts eventually makes me snap and HATE them passionately, and then shopping gets involved and then that’s a problem packing to come home and overall, it’s just better to have packed enough clothing variety in the first place) and entertainment related items – books, my Wii, in this case – a Halloween costume I found in my closet since I’ll be on the ship this Halloween, a Keurig, an extra pair of high heels.

#2 Pack Up the Essentials. Jeans and shoes are apt to be your heaviest items. I try to cram the heaviest items into the tiniest bag first, because if you cram your large suitcase with the heavy items, it’s going to be overweight, but if you cram the smaller suitcase full of them, you’re likely to make it under the weight limit (which varies from company to company, but I’ve usually found it’s about 50 lbs. a bag). Also, suitcases have these inconvenient bumps at the bottom of them, which if you just start laying clothes over them, wastes space, so I try to cram socks and underwear actually in that gap, and you can pair two or three pairs of underwear together and roll them so they take up even less space. After that layer, I’ll usually put my dresses in their garment bag, because I can lay is across, pack on top of it and fold the top part of the garment bag over everything before I close the suitcase.

ImageI knew of my non-essentials, my Keurig was the thing I most wanted to take from that pile, so I put it in early, in my littler bag, because when you’ve got something solid like that, you want to pack malleable items like clothing next to it to optimize the space. I also ALWAY put anything liquid in a plastic bag. Every single time I’ve traveled, something bursts, but it never matters, because it’s always in the plastic bag and I can just rinse that bottle and whatever other bottles I stored in the bag with it off and I’m good to go.

Another item to maximize is your carry-on. When I travel I also bring my purse which holds my wallet, passport, a book and my computer, and that’s what I keep easily accessible, but I always utilize the carry-on option too and try to pack my heaviest things that aren’t liquid (because, honestly, all those bottles of shampoo and hair junk are probably the heaviest things in my bags) in the carry-on, because as long as you don’t appear to be crazily struggling with it, no one is going to care how heavy your backpack is.

This particular time, I did better than usual. I’m actually going to bring a spare pair of sneakers because by the time I packed up my last suitcase, I was so far under the max weight (13 pounds), that I felt comfortable putting my steel-toed boots in. Everything from my essentials and non-essentials pile made it into my bags, other than my Wii, which I haven’t really utilized the last few times, so I wasn’t totally sure it would be worth it.

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Some Items to Think About Bringing If You’re Going to Live on a Cruise Ship:

Hand Soap – I don’t know about other lines, but HAL does not provide it for you in your cabin.

A Water Filterer – Bottled water is about $1.00 a bottle, which really isn’t bad, but you can buy a pitcher and a filter for about $20 and then refill filters every 3 months for about $10 and you’re likely to come out way ahead if you drink a lot of water.

A Keurig – Ok, so this is technically contraband on most ships. You’re not really supposed to have things like hot pots or coffee brewers in your room… but just pay attention to when cabin inspection is and put it in your closet that day. I love my Keurig. I like to drink a lot of tea, but I’m also very lazy and don’t like to walk all the way to the crew mess or Lido area for a cup of hot water – especially right after getting up. Now I don’t even have to leave my room. It’s fantastic and I love it.

Hard Drives – TV shows on hard drives are like currency on a cruise ship. If you join in June and you’ve got the latest season that everyone onboard has just missed, you will make lots of new friends immediately. Even if you just join at any time, people are happy to trade TV shows. You’ll find cruising is not nearly as exciting as most people who don’t work in the industry think it is, and we spend a lot of time trapped on the ship, in our rooms, with nothing to do. New TV shows are amazing.

Laundry Detergent – Because if you work there, you wash your own clothes. However, if you’re in an American based turn around port, it’s easy enough to get to a store to buy some, because laundry detergent is heavy (back to those packing skills).

A Laundry Basket – For transporting said laundry.

A Bottle of Water – Easily accessible for the day you join the ship. I feel like a camel once I’ve dragged all my bags onto the ship, and then all over the ship, and then into whatever dank, dungeon of a room they’ve given me to live in until handover is done and the current crew member in my position leaves. And you can’t go to the public areas to eat until you are in your uniform, so having a bottle of water to chug in one of my suitcases is one of the best tricks I’ve learned yet.

I hope some of my packing tips are useful, and if you have any suggestions of your own, feel free to leave them. I always like to learn new hints!

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Sheffield, England

So, the long awaited Sheffield post… Sheffield is not the most exciting area in England, not gonna lie; however, it is a pretty nice place to live. It is also on the edge of the Peak District, so if you’re headed out there at some point, here are some things to do to kill some time in Sheffield.

#1 The Crucible & Lyceum Theatres: I spent a large portion of my expendable income in those two buildings, and they are on par with a large number of West End and Off-West End productions in London. From large scale musicals like Enron to tiny experimental theatre projects like Tea is an Evening Meal, the diversity offered in their programming is wonderful. The main thing I would suggest from a cultural standpoint is to experience a panto if you’re in the area around November or December. The year I was living there, they performed Peter Pan. I had no idea it was a panto (or even what panto was, since we don’t have that in America), and actually found that I hate panto and was not a huge fan of the production, but it was, without a doubt, the most uniquely British theatre experience I had all year (coincidentally, my Japanese friend was equally befuddled by the performance). Tickets can be purchased online through the Sheffield Theatres website, or you can buy them in person at the Crucible in City Centre.

#2 The Showroom Workstation: If live theater isn’t your thing, check out the Showroom cinema, which shows assorted indie and popular films, as well as some old classics. It’s got a lovely bar and a decent selection of food as well for meeting up with your mates before or after a show. Occasionally they also have live music in the bar. Tickets are reasonably priced – for students they were £4 Sunday-Thursday and there were often deals through Groupon and Living Social.

#3 Wander through City Centre: In the heart of Sheffield, right across from the Cathedral tram stop, is a large shopping, eating, all around everything area. There are several gorgeous buildings to check out including the Cathedral, City Hall, and Town Hall. Outside of Town Hall on the sidewalk are embedded the names of all the famous Sheffieldians. There are always lots of buskers and events happening in this area. My personal favorite is around Christmas when they build Santa’s Grotto (an amusing phrase to me, because at home we totally don’t visit Santa’s Grotto… it always made me think of the ghetto) and install an ice skating rink. They also have tons of winter-y food stands full of amazing and delicious food. If you walk through this area, you’ll come to the Moor, which is sometimes mocked for being the cheap part of town, but as a grad student there, it was pretty much where I lived. I loved a small store called Stone the Crows – definitely worth popping into.

#4 Football: If you aren’t so interested in the arts and sports are more your thing, Sheffield has two football teams – Sheffield United and Sheffield Wednesday. A friend of mine took me to experience my first British Football game and an experience it was. The security at these things is crazy, I mean, the police are a presence in America, but in the UK they’re part of the experience. The history of crazy football game riots has not left Sheffield untouched – there was a massive stampeding accident at the Sheffield Wednesday stadium years ago that killed several people. At any rate, the match was a lot of fun and actually made a very lazy football fan out of me (and by very lazy I mean, I’d tell you I’m a Blades supporter, but I have no idea how they’ve done this season, I sort of just like the Pirate).

#5 Cholera Monument & Clay Woods: Sheffield has a fair amount of hiking. There is a 10 mile or so hike called the Sheffield Round Walk that I always wanted to do, but never managed to quite complete. I did do several of the bits at different times. One nice walk I took was up to the Cholera Monument. Back in the early/mid 1800s, so many people died of Cholera in the city that they had to create a mass grave to bury them. This monument marks the spot and it’s actually a nice little park with a fantastic view down to the heart of the city.

#6 Sheffield Botanical Gardens: The botanical gardens are another nice walk. If you go down Clarkehouse Road from the city centre, it’s impossible to miss. Inside is a large and lovely park, full of all sorts of plants and flowers. My favorite area is the old bear pit, which you can go in and explore as it is now vacant of all bears. I always thought it would be a cool place for a performance piece. The park also hosts a number of activities that you can check out through their website.

#7 Beer & Cider Festivals: If you are in Sheffield in the spring and into the summer, there are lots of beer and cider festivals. They’re advertised everywhere and are pretty reasonable. I like them even though I’m not a big fan of beer (although cider and I are on pretty good terms). The craziest thing I tried at one of them was the Tactical Nuclear Penguin by a company called BrewDog – it’s 32% ABV and it’s more like a beer shot than anything else… I wasn’t a huge fan. At the time, it was the strongest beer in the world. Since then BrewDog has surpassed the Tactical Nuclear Penguin and it currently in competition with a Dutch company to create the strongest beer (notably though, their current strongest beer is served in a road kill koazie. No joke). Most beer festivals live music as well, so they’re an all around great place to spend an evening with friends.

#8 Aerial Extreme: Aerial Extreme started out as a whim with a Living Social coupon. I was looking for different things to do when people visited me and I came across this, so with no real knowledge of what I was buying, I purchased a buy one/get one admission. I actually thought it would be like a little kid playground. We had to take the tram out of the city centre towards the Motorpoint Arena (same stop), and as we walked up to the course, it all looked a little sketchy. The area was totally deserted and the whole thing looked a little lame. Boy, were we wrong. This course kicked my butt. I was so proud of myself when I completed it. I was actually a little astonished it existed in England considering how health & safety crazy they are compared to the States. That’s not to say the course isn’t safe, you do wear a harness that you are firmly connected to the course with at all times. That harness doesn’t make the course any easier though. I can’t recommend this as an activity enough, it was so much fun. Tickets are £20 per adult, but if you keep an eye out on Groupon and Living Social, you’re likely to see deals. I know it popped up more than once while I was living there.

Home of Sheffield Theatre Students Through the Ages…

#9 Places to Eat & Drink: Honestly, I was pretty lame while living in Sheffield and didn’t really broaden my eating or drinking horizons, but I did have a few regular places I enjoyed. The main place that sucked up a lot of my money was the West End pub, located next door to the Sheffield Drama Studio. Reasonably priced, decent atmosphere and tolerable food, I suspect the main reason we frequented it so much was it’s proximity to all of our classes, none the less, it was the main hang out for my MA group. If you’re looking for a quick take-away bite, I enjoyed New Roots, just down Glossop Road a bit further – possibly my favorite vegetarian place to eat, granted, as I’m not a vegetarian, it’s a pretty short list, but the food was genuinely good. If I had any idea how to cook like that, I probably could be a vegetarian. One place I miss far more than I should is the Fancie Cupcakes kiosk in the Sheffield Student Union. I have never had cupcakes like that in my life. They were so good, it was unbelievable. Fancie is actually a chain, so you can get these amazing cupcakes in several locations in Sheffield. Finally, one of the best places to grab a beer in Sheffield is the Sheffield Tap, located right at the train station. They have an extensive selection of beer and a nice ambiance.

#10: Steel City Ghost Tours: I saved the best for last. I love ghost tours. I love the weird, campy theatricality of them, and I like the creepy locations. I think that a ghost tour relies entirely on how good of a tour guide you have, and Mr P Dreadful was exactly what his name suggested. Without a doubt, he was the worst ghost tour guide I have ever experienced. I’m not sure he’s ever taken an acting class in his life and his story telling was unbelievably dull. At one point during the tour, one of the friends I talked into coming turned around and said to me, “We’ve just made a mistake, is all, a terrible, terrible mistake,” in reference to our decision to attend the tour. You know how something can be so bad, it’s good? This is not that tour. As students, we paid £4, but I believe the regular adult admission is only £5. Why am I even telling you this based on what I’ve just written? Because the night did indeed wind up unbelievably weird and worth £4 by the end of it. After an interminably 1.5-2 hours of really poorly told stories, you are deposited at a “haunted” pub. While there, Mr P Dreadful tells you stories of his life and his psychic abilities that are so odd and unbelievable, the evening truly does become entertaining at this point. While talking about himself, Dreadful is far more relaxed, entertaining and to the point than during his long winded  spiels about the actually rather dull ghosts of Sheffield. All in all, it was a  much better than evening than just wasting away in a pub or catching a movie for the 100th time.

As you can see, there are plenty of reasons to stop by Sheffield for a few days. There’s more to the Steel City than just being the gateway to the Peak District.

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Juneau, Alaska

As I’ve probably mentioned in previous posts, I work for a cruise line called Holland America as a stage manager. This job is only on the big boats, so there are only a few itineraries I get to go on, and the most popular itinerary is Alaska. Thanks to that, I’ve spent at least part of my last four summers cruising way up north. So if you’re going to Juneau, the capital of Alaska, anytime soon, here are some recommendations for places to see and things to eat.

#1 – Eat at Tracey’s Crab Shack

Let me repeat this to make sure you get it – EAT AT TRACY’S CRAB SHACK! It is my favorite place to eat in the entire world. I am addicted to their crab like it’s crack. I think I’ve probably eaten more than a month’s salary in crab over the last four summers. When you get there, you might see the prices and think that nearly $30 a person is too much to pay for lunch or dinner, but you’d be missing the best thing in Juneau if you walk away. You should also note that the place is often packed, and even more telling than that, it’s often packed with crew members. Tracey’s is located next to the library, right down by the cruise ship dock, and it is literally a shack (although a growing one – it’s more than doubled in size since I first started going).

#2 – Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is the popular glacier to check out in Juneau. You can take express shuttles from by the cruise ship terminal for about $10 and then wander around the glacier for free. If you want to go in their visitor center, it costs a few dollars. If you’re really into glaciers, it could be worth it, but for the most part, I’d skip it and just hike the trails. You can also take the Mendenhall Glacier bus for $1.50 each way. It’ll take a lot longer – probably close to an hour – but riding the Juneau busses is an experience in and of itself as the natives are very… colorful.

#3 – The Alaskan Brewery

If you like beer, or even if you don’t, this is a pretty cool stop during your stay. There is an Alaskan Brewery Depot downtown that sells all their t-shirts and cooking supplies, etc., but it’s not the actual brewery. It’s my understanding you can take a shuttle from there out to the brewery, but it’s expensive. So I’m going to redirect you again to the bus station, which is right across from the water’s edge if you walk like you’re going toward the Taku Lodge shack and heading into town. For $1.50 each way, you also take the Mendenhall bus, but get off when they announce for Costco and the Brewery. from the bus stop, you’ll be able to see Costco and the Home Depot, head in that direction, but turn down the first road on your right, which will look like an industrial section. The Brewery is on this road. Anyone 21 and over can try six good sized samples of the assorted beers they have to offer. There is also a brief brewery tour. I don’t even like beer and I think Alaskan Pale Ale and Alaskan Summer are pretty good.

#4 – Mt. Roberts

Mt. Roberts is definitely very touristy, and if you’re into hiking, you can actually hike up the mountain in about an hour and a half. I couldn’t begin to tell you where the trail is because hiking often seems like punishment for being alive to me. But if you ask around downtown, people can point you to the trail head. At the top there is a lodge, some more hiking trails, and a blind bald eagle that they keep in a cage. Most people, however, will choose to take the tram up to the top. The tram is ridiculously expensive for non-crew members. Even for crew, it’s still $10, but for passengers it’s $27. It is kind of a “thing to do” in Juneau, so if you’re into traveling and you don’t want to admit you didn’t just spend the $27 to go up in the tram, I guess that kind of makes it worth it.

#5 – Alaskan Canopy Adventures (Ziplining)

This is another of my favorite things to do in port. I luck out and often get to escort the ship tour for free, but ziplining in Juneau, if you arrange the tour yourself, will set you back about $150. It is so much fun though! The Juneau ziplining also has several suspension bridges you cross and, at the end, you rappel off a platform down to the ground. The tour takes about 3 and a half hours. I’ve done it several times and I’ve always had a blast.

#6 – The Wizard of Oz in Juneau

This last little thing is more a roadside oddity, if anyone is into them (heaven knows, I am). If you go to the Brewery, this can be found at the same stop. You’ll actually drive right past it right before getting to that bus stop. So if you backtrack the way the bus comes from the Costco/Brewery stop, you can find the Wedding Dress shop (out of business, I think), that has a ton of Wizard of Oz characters in tin on top of it. I think it’s awesome and ridiculous.

Those are really the Juneau highlights. If you’re looking for free internet in port, you can find a decent signal at The Viking, located just off the main street, near the movie theater. The Silverbow has much better signal, but is often more crowded. It’s best to hit it at the beginning of the day. The library also used to have free internet, but I’m not sure if that’s still true.

One tourist trap to decide for yourself whether or not it’s worth a visit is the Red Dog Saloon. It’s supposedly a staple from the goldrush days, but I just feel it’s overpriced food that you have to listen to an annoying guy with a guitar sing while you eat it. If you wanted an “authentic” goldrush-like meal, I’d recommend taking one of the busses they have on the pier to the Liarsville Salmon Bake, which is delicious and kind of cool. You get the atmosphere without the annoyance, you’ll just probably have to set aside about an hour and a half of your day to do it.

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