Concert Breaks

Tieing in my love of gigs with my love of travel.

On the Hollywood Walk of Fame with Backstreet Boys’ star

I am a huge music fan. Pop music to be exact. With a particular love of all things boyband. And one of my favourite ever boybands, the Backstreet Boys, just happen to be an internationally known and loved group who tour across the World giving me the perfect excuse to tie together two of my passions at once – travel and concert going!

In Frankfurt for a concert break

When I first began going to concerts, I’d never go further than my home town of Birmingham. We have 2 arenas and a multitude of smaller music venues so if an act is touring they’re more than likely going to pass through. But with some of my favourite pop acts, seeing them just once per tour doesn’t quite cut it for me so I started to venture further afield – popping down to London or up to Manchester for example and making a weekend break of it.

Sightseeing in Brussels before a gig

I first considered travelling further afield in 2005. Backstreet Boys were in London for some promotion and while waiting for them, I got talking to some other fans who had just come back from seeing them in Germany. With cheap short haul flights now being rolled out, they said it had worked out cheaper to do that than to travel within our country by rail.

In Oslo for a gig

So when a European tour was announced shortly after, as well as booking tickets for venues in Birmingham and London, we booked to go to Rotterdam to see the show too – cheap return flights and a budget hotel on the outskirts of the city but still within walking distance of the centre did indeed make this cheaper than the weekend we spent seeing them in London and getting to explore somewhere new made it all the more exciting.

Off to the Olympiahalle Arena in Munich

For their next tour in 2008, we ventured to Germany where we city hopped seeing 3 gigs in 4 days in Stuttgart, Munich and Leipzig (I city I’d never even heard of before, never mind thought of visiting!).

Visiting Stuttgart, Germany for a concert
Exploring Zurich during a concert weekend break

We also had a fantastic weekend break in beautiful Zurich and spent the early May bank holiday weekend in Luxembourg City and Brussels.

In Luxembourg City for a concert and, below, visiting Lisbon, Barcelona and Madrid for concerts

Often, as in the case of Luxembourg, these were places we would never have thought to go to otherwise and we’d picked them purely because the flights were reasonably priced and, as I was full time teaching at the time, the dates fitted in with school being on a Saturday or in a school holiday.

Off to the o2 arena in Dublin and, below, in Prague for a concert break

In 2009, I used the tour dates as excuses to visit Lisbon and Madrid in October half term, in 2012, Dublin, Barcelona and Frankfurt and just last year, Prague.

Waiting for the gig to start at the arena in Munich and, below, at the Ravinia Festival in Chicago to watch the Backstreet Boys.

Each time, we made sure that other than the concert, the trip was spent sightseeing and exploring whichever city we found ourselves in. Sometimes, like with Munich sandwiched on the middle day between Stuttgart and Leipzig, or the time we spent less than 24 hours in Oslo, we had very little time to see much but it gave us a feel for the place and we could always go back and spend more time there – you can read about my return trip to Munich here.

In Washington DC

At the end of 2008, I ventured the furthest I had been so far to see Backstreet Boys, the USA, spending just over 2 weeks visiting three cities – New York, Washington DC and Chicago – seeing them in concert at a venue near to each place we were visiting.

At Wolftrapp, Virginia for a concert just outside of DC

While the concerts were our reason for deciding to take the trip and the reason for choosing those particular cities, they were a very small part of the holiday and we had a great time in each city doing all the touristy things anyone else would do on a city break there.

At the venue in Atlantic City
Day trip from NYC to Atlantic City, NJ to see the Backstreet Boys play a gig there.

Seeing Jonas Brothers play in Central Park, NY

We enjoyed that trip so much that we went back to the USA in 2010 visiting San Francisco, Boston and returning to New York. That time, we couldn’t get their US tour dates to suit our plans (although we did, by coincidence, get to see the Jonas Brothers play a small gig in New York!) so instead, we tacked on a few days in Canada to the end of our trip seeing them in concert in Toronto and Montreal. Again, 2 places we probably wouldn’t have made plans to go to otherwise but once there, we thoroughly enjoyed visiting!

I’ve been back to the USA to see the Backstreet Boys many times since, sometimes going there specifically for that reason, like when they did a Las Vegas residency in 2017.

In Vegas for the Backstreet Boys’ Larger Than Life residency
In the theatre waiting for the show to start at Planet Hollywood, Vegas and, below, seeing a gig in Chicago.

Other times it has been pure coincidence that their tour dates coincided with a trip we already had planned – like when they announced a gig with country band Florida Georgia Line in Chicago, also in 2017, and it just happened to be on a date we were already going to be in that city.

Last year, we had a roadtrip along the Californian coast planned and were able to alter it ever so slightly to be in San Jose on the day Backstreet Boys played the SAP Center there and this year we should be seeing them on a roadtrip through the Pacific Northwest in Washington state although both the roadtrip and the concert is now more than likely to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Off to the arena in Melbourne, Australia

The furthest I have been to see the band is Australia in 2015. One of my friends, who is also a big fan, moved to Melbourne a few years before. She had no one to go to their concert with and I had recently quit full time teaching at that point so when she half-jokingly suggested I go with her, I thought, ‘why not?’. As I had been to Melbourne a few times already to visit her, I justified the trip by making the concert and Melbourne part a very small part of a longer time spent travelling in the South Pacific, deciding to do a tour of New Zealand and spending a few days in Adelaide in one of the only Australian states I hadn’t visited, South Australia, before going to Melbourne for the gig.

Backstreet Boys are pretty much the only band I would travel the World to see although I did recently see the Jonas Brothers in Italy but only because my friend, who is also a fan, lives there and the concert happened to fall in the UK half term.

Off to see Britney in Vegas.

I saw Britney during her Vegas residency in 2015 but didn’t travel there specifically for that reason. I was on a small group tour across America at the time and she happened to be playing there the night we were in the city.

At Britney’s Piece of Me residency in Vegas
Off to watch the Vengaboys play a gig in Dubai and, below, in Belfast to see Steps in concert.

In 2018 I saw a Vengaboys gig in Dubai when, purely coincidentally, they announced they were playing not far from where we would be staying and I have travelled the length and breadth of the UK, including flying to Belfast, seeing my favourite British pop band, Steps.

It is always fun when a city break or my travelling plans can be tied in with a gig even if it is just a trip to London and I will continue to use my love of concerts as an excuse for travelling as soon as they are both up and running again!

Have you ever travelled somewhere exciting to see a gig? Let me know in the comments!

A midweek budget break in Copenhagen

Wanting an October half term break without paying over the odds, we used Skyscanner to price flights to ‘Everywhere’ deciding to pick wherever we hadn’t been that was cheapest. Copenhagen won with flights from Luton coming up at under £50 return. We managed to find a well-reviewed budget central hotel for under £100 each making it a pretty cheap break as long as we could keep the costs down while there in what is a notoriously expensive Scandinavian country!

After a bit of research on things to do, we decided to buy a £57 Copenhagen tourist card giving us entry to a variety of attractions and use of public transport throughout the city, including to and from the airport, all for one price. Our hotel included breakfast and, with it being Continental, we were able to make up sandwiches for lunch to take out with us to save on buying anything. It also offered free tea and coffee in the lobby throughout the day so, with it being in a central location, we were able to return to sit down for a while and have this instead of popping into a cafe and buying a hot drink.

Arriving into Copenhagen airport early evening, we easily managed to navigate the public transport system into the city centre and walk the short distance to our hotel. After checking in, we took a walk to Nyhaven then wandered in the immediate vicinity eventually stumbling across a ‘hole in the wall’ type cafe selling reasonably priced take out pizza which sorted that night’s dinner!

We were up early for breakfast the next morning then walked back to Nyhaven where we used our tourist card for a boat ride on the Copenhagen canals. It was a guided tour with an English commentary and helped us to get our bearings a bit, see where some of the attractions we wanted to visit were and learn a bit about the city.

After our canal tour, we walked to the first of many palaces to explore in the city, Christiansborg Palace.

It was free to go up the Palace Tower to enjoy beautiful views across the city and our tourist card gave us access to look around various parts of the palace buildings including the Royal Reception Rooms, the stables and the ruins underneath the palace.

We had lunch sat out in the palace courtyard before moving off to our next destination, the Museum of Denmark to learn some of the history of the country and see artefacts from it’s past. Our Copenhagen Card also got us a free pack of postcards souvenir from the museum!

From the museum, we caught the metro across to the Hans Christian Anderson Fairytale House. The attraction was really aimed more at kids with its exhibit of tableaux depicting the various fairytales written by the famous Danish author and we’d probably have thought it not worth the money had it not been included on our tourist card but as it was, it was worth a quick saunter around.

Returning to the main centre of the city and after quickly popping back to our hotel for a cup of tea, it was off to another palace next, Rosenburg Castle. We walked around the rooms of the castle before descending to the basement to see the Crown Jewels.

It had been a busy day of sightseeing but we still had time to fit in one more attraction on our Copenhagen card so we walked to the Rundetaarn, or the Roundhouse, so called because of it rotunda shape. This is a 17th Century tower which you can walk to the top of up a winding spiral path to an observation deck.

The sun was just starting to set as we reached the top making for some pretty views over the city.

With it now being evening and most of the attractions closing for the day, we instead walked to Strøget, the city’s main shopping street which was still buzzing with shoppers and tourists.

Our first stop on the busy pedestrianised street was the Lego Store, the flagship store for the famous Danish construction toy full of lego reconstructions of famous Danish icons including Copenhagen’s Nyhavn area!

We shopped in a few souvenir stores along the street then went for dinner at nearby buffet restaurant, Dalle Valle. We had seen the restaurant advertised with a money off coupon in a tourist leaflet we had picked up at our hotel and its all-you-can-eat option, along with a variety of foods to suit our plain tastes, seemed a good idea especially being on a budget. Then, exhausted after a jam-packed day, it was back to the hotel.

We began the next day back at Nyhanv where we used our tourist card to visit the Amber Museum before spending a bit more time looking around the area and finding the houses there that were once lived in by Hans Christian Anderson.

Continuing the Hans Christian Anderson theme, from Nyhavn we took the 20 minute or so pretty walk along the waterside out to see the iconic The Little Mermaid sculpture.

While there, we stumbled across Kastellet, or The Citadel, a fortress which is now mainly a park and historic site. We had a stoll around before walking back towards the city and the third palace of our trip, Amalienborg Palace, current home of the Danish Royal family.

Our Copenhagen card included entry to the Amalienborg Museum – access to some of the rooms in the palace and after our visit, we exited the palace just in time to watch the Changing of the Guard ceremony in the palace courtyard.

Getting through the list of attractions included on our card a lot quicker than we had planned to, we decided we had time to fit in one more attraction this morning before heading to Tivoli Gardens this afternoon as planned. So after looking at the map, we decided to head across to the district of Christianshavn to visit the Church of Our Saviour where you can climb the stairs to the top of its steeple.

This was an interesting experience as most of the stairs are on the outside of the steeple and they narrow as they near the very top making it tricky to navigate past those coming back down as you go up. Stopping to let people past does at least give you time to catch your breath though!

That was our third observation deck of sorts since arriving in Copenhagen but all were worth a visit as their different situations in the city each gave a unique vantage point.

After sitting in the church grounds to eat our lunch (once again made up from our hotel buffet breakfast!), we caught the train over to Tivoli Gardens.

Our Copenhagen Card included entry into Tivoli Gardens but any rides were extra. Seeing as ride tickets were a lot more expensive than we had expected we decided to give them a miss and just walk around the grounds. As it was autumn, the park had been decorated heavily for Hallowe’en with hundreds of pumpkins making it a fun place to just wander around and explore.

Not going on any rides meant our visit didn’t take up as much time as we had planned for so we checked the map that had come with our card to see what included attractions were nearby and decided to walk to the nearby Planetarium where we had entry to exhibits and to watch a film in the dome-shaped theatre. We were handed some headphones as we got our tickets for the film so we could listen to the narration in English. It was an unexpected but interesting way to spend an hour!

After our Planetarium visit, we walked back to a diner we had seen near to Tivoli Gardens and grabbed pulled pork sandwiched and fries for dinner before returning to Nyhavn where we visited a waffle shop for desert before returning to our hotel.

The following day we would be flying back home from not until the evening still giving us plenty of time in the city.

Having exhausted all the city centre activities offered on our Copenhagen Card, we decided to venture out a bit and visit the Carlsberg Brewery. The card included entrance to a tour of the old brewery where we learnt about the history of the drink and visited the World’s largest collection of unopened beer bottles!. The tour ended in a bar where we could have a free drink of Carslberg but as neither of us drink, we swapped our voucher for a delicious Diet Coke instead!

Next up, and purely to fill the time, we headed to Copenhagen Zoo, entrance to which was also included on our Copenhagen Card. The zoo was quite small and didn’t take us long to walk around. We caught the train back to the city centre after, walking back to our hotel for a hot drink while we decided how to spend the last few hours in the city.

Spotting something called the Experimentarium in our Copenhagen Card booklet, we decided to give that a go. We had see it across the river from our boat tour on the first day in the city but it hadn’t been on our list of places to visit in the city. Seeing as the only other places left on our card were those out in neighbouring towns and cities and therefore too far away to reach at this point, we caught the metro across the river.

This turned out to be one of the best decisions we made all trip.The Experiemetarium was an interactive science museum, perfect for big kids like us. We took part in a range of activities including running in a giant hamster ball, attempting to get across a room without our feet touching the floor, obstacle courses, and pedalling on giant bicycles. A super fun way to spend an hour!

Exhausted from the various activities, we caught the train back to the main shopping street, Strøget, for some last minute shopping and returned to the Dalle Valle buffet restaurant for dinner. We followed that with a dessert of chocolate covered Churros from a gelato store we’d been eyeing up all week before returning to our hotel to collect our luggage and make our way back to the airport.

It had been a fun and busy few days in the city and we really felt like we’d seen a lot of what Copenhagen hass to offer while sticking to a tight budget!

Denver, Colorado and Rocky Mountain National Park

A trip to the Mile High City

The D&F Building on 16th Street

It had been a busy few weeks. The start of our trip in Vancouver seemed like a lifetime away; Seattle and Portland nothing but a distant memory; 10-days in Alaska had passed in a blink of an eye and now we were onto the final leg of our adventure, a 2 night stopover in Denver, Colorado on the way back to the UK.

Swinging chair fun along 16th Street Mall

Arriving in Denver early morning after an overnight flight from Anchorage, Alaska wasn’t ideal, especially as there were no rooms available for an early check in at our hotel. But we fought through the tiredness, grabbing some lunch to give us some energy, and caught the train into the city centre from the suburb we were staying in.

Colorado State Capitol
The Mile High club

From Union Station, we found our way to 16th Street Mall and started walking towards the state capitol building at the far end. We passed the D & F Tower, stopped to play on some of the twirling chairs laid out in the middle of the street and popped into a few stores along the way but still, the tiredness along with the affects of the high altitude of the ‘Mile High City’, made our walk take a bit longer than it should have!

Finally reaching the state capitol building, we posed for photos on the steps marked ‘one mile high’ then wandered around the park across the street before exhaustedly beginning our walk back.

As we returned, we detoured past the city’s Convention Centre to see the huge blue bear sculpture that appears to be peering into the building!

After a while, we decided to hop onto the free tram that runs up and down the main street to take us back to Union Station.

Posing with some Denver art

We decided to stay on a few extra stops and took a quick walk across to the river before catching the train back to our hotel where it was finally time to check in!

After dinner, our evening was spent catching up on lost sleep.

The next morning we were up early to catch the train back into the city. After grabbing breakfast at a train station cafe, we waited outside to be picked up for our day trip to Rocky Mountain National Park. Being short on time, we had opted to take a small group one day highlights tour to the park which lies less than 2 hours’ drive from Denver.

A quick rest stop

We were picked up on time by our bubbly tour guide/minibus driver and began to make our way out of the city towards the mountains looming in the distance. We made a stop in a small town just outside of the park to pick up our included lunch orders then continued to the Estes Park entrance of the park.

At Sheep Lakes Overlook

Our first stop inside the park was at Sheep Lakes Overlook, a meadow area, to see if we could spot any wildlife but there wasn’t anything about.

We continued along the road through the park stopping at viewpoints along the way as we gradually climbed to a higher altitude.

View from Falls River

We stopped for lunch at the Falls River Visitor Center Area just as it began to rain, the cloud slightly obscuring the view.

Looking out from the Falls River area
Following the Alpine Ridge Trail

After lunch, we began a rather precarious uphill drive in a thick fog that had descended up to the highest visitor centre in the park, Alpine Visitor Center.

We were given free time here to walk up the Alpine Ridge Trail which ended at a view point over 12000 feet above sea level.

Despite it being a relatively short hike, the high altitude made it physically exhausting and our lungs were burning by the time we reached the peak! Unfortunately, with the cloud, there wasn’t much of a view at the top but we were at least pleased to say we had made it up there.

Spotting a marmot
Beautiful mountain view

After looking around the visitor center, it was back on the bus to begin our descent through the park. We stopped at a boardwalk area to take another short hike to a viewpoint and spotted a marmot sat out on the rocks!

We pulled over a few more times on the road out of the park to enjoy the views now that the cloud was beginning to clear then it was time to leave the park.

We made one last stop on the way back in the town of Estes Park where we bought ice cream and wandered around some of the souvenir stores before heading back to Denver.

Down by the river

Millennium Bridge

I had one more morning in Denver before flying back to the UK.

The sky was blue and the sun was shining so I caught the train back into the city and took a walk along the river.

Spotting a trolley bus traveling along the riverside, I decided to get a ticket and take a ride. The trolley bus took us along the Platte River and back with the driver telling us some of the history of the area.

Back by the Colorado State Capitol

After my stroll along the river, I walked back towards 16th Street Mall. A free tram runs back and forth along the street so I hopped on and took a ride back to the capitol building then walked back towards the station again. Everything looked so much better now the sun was shining!

!6th Street Mall

I detoured off 16th Street to walk to the pretty Larimer Square area, the oldest block in the city and now home to a variety of bars, restaurants, cafes and small independent stores.

After a look around and a bite to eat, it was time to wave the city, and the USA, goodbye after another incredible adventure!

Watch my vlog of my trip to Denver here:

Watch my vlog of my visit to Rocky Mountain National Park here:

Related pages

Alaska: Denali National Park

In Denali Village

As we left our overnight stop at Maclaren River, there was one topic of conversation on the bus – would we join the “30 per cent club” and get to see Mount Denali? We’d been told that the Alaskan Range is so often covered by cloud that few visitors to the park actually see Mount Denali itself but we were all hopeful that over the next 2 days, the weather would clear enough for us to get at least a glimpse!

Arriving in time for lunch, we went straight to Denali Village rather than stopping to check in at our cabin accommodation and had some time to grab a sandwich and look around the local stores before heading into the park itself.

Watching the sled dogs demonstration

Our first stop in the park was at one of the park’s visitor centres to look around and grab any information we wanted for the next few days. The park runs a series of shuttles to take visitors around the park and after a while, we met at the bus stop outside the centre to catch a shuttle to the Denali Kennels for a dog sled demonstration.

Before the demonstration begins, visitors are able to wander through the kennel area to meet the park’s sled dogs which, being a total dog person, I absolutely loved being able to do! Then we found spaces in the viewing area as the park rangers led the demonstration with a little help from their 4-legged friends.

Glimpsing Mount Denali

Some of us had taken up the optional extra of a scenic flight over the Alaskan Range that evening with a glacial landing so after our visit to the kennel, we were dropped at the airfield where we were kitted out in some special boots to stop us slipping on the ice before boarding the third small aircraft of our trip so far.

On board our small plane

Like our previous two scenic flights in Anchorage and Wrangell-St Elias National Park, this was not a cheap excursion but we knew we’d not get the chance to visit this part of the World again for a long time, if ever, so we saved hard in order to make the most of these experiences.

Mount Denali
Glacial landing

The saving paid off as this was without a doubt the absolute highlight of our entire trip to Alaska. The views as we flew over the mountains were absolutely beautiful and to top it all off, from above the clouds, we joined that 30% club and caught a glimpse of Mount Denali. It was strangely quite an emotional experience!

Snowball fight!

Landing on the glacier at the end of our flight was also an amazing experience. The air was so crisp and clear and we had a fun time letting our inner child out and playing in the icy snow in between taking photos and standing gaping in awe at the surrounding scenery.

Pizza!

After flying back, a shuttle bus took us to our accommodation of cabins just outside of the park and we met with the rest of the group at the Pizza Pub across the road to share our stories.

Hiking in the National Park

We began the next morning back in Denali Village to grab some breakfast then a quick stop at the park entrance to take pictures with the sign.

It was a miserable, wet day meaning there was little chance of catching another glimpse of the elusive mountain.

Evidence of beavers!

Today, we had tickets to ride the Denali shuttle. This 8-hour round trip was one of the included experiences in our Alaskan Highlights Tour. We had a bit of time to spare before the shuttle left so we spent some time hiking in the rain on the short trail out to Horseshoe Lake, keeping an eye out for beavers along the way.

Spotting a moose from the shuttle bus

Then we boarded the shuttle bus to see more of the park. We saw plenty of wildlife in the park from the very first few minutes of the trip but it was mainly caribou and moose.

Teklanika River

The bus made a few stops on the way around giving us the chance to stretch our legs, take bathroom breaks or take a short hike.

We stopped at a viewpoint for the Teklanika River and then at Polychrome Pass where we walked to a Mount Denali viewpoint but the rain and low cloud meant all we could really see was the river below us.

At the information area at Toklat River

The other main stop of the day was at the Toklat River Rest Area where there was an information area along with a gift shop then it was back on the bus to our final stop, Eielson Visitor Centre.

Here we took a short hike out to another viewpoint. Still no sign of Mount Denali but we did see a really cute arctic ground squirrel!!!

Bears in the distance!

From Eielson, we boarded the bus again to return to where we started. The return trip was mainly uneventful except for when we finally spotted bears! It took us until our penultimate day in Alaska and they were pretty far in the distance but we were excited that we had at least ticked that off our Alaska bucketlist!

Back at the Toklat River rest stop in Denali National Park

Once back at our cabin ground, it was time to get ready for our last group meal of the trip as tomorrow we’d be heading back to Anchorage. We went out to a local restaurant where we had an excellent 3 course meal and reminisced about our amazing trip.

Our final day on the Alaskan trip was quite low key. We stopped for lunch in the town of Talkeetna, famous for its mayor once being a cat called Stubbs! Then continued to former Governor of Alaska, Sarah Palin’s home town of Wasilla looking to see if we could see Russia from there (we couldn’t!).

Spotting caribou from the Denali shuttle bus

Then, with one last blast of our ‘morning song’, Joe Croce’s I Got a Name (despite it now being the afternoon, it had become out tour anthem!), we were back to where we started 10 days before. Some of the group were heading straight off that afternoon and, having already spent time exploring Anchorage before our tour started, we were off to the airport to fly out of Alaska that night but there was time for one last meal with some of the group so we walked downtown and went for a meal together at the Hard Rock Cafe.

It had been an amazing trip with so many highlights. Looking for bears at Lake Clark, wildlife spotting while cruising through Kenai Fjords National Park in Seward, kayaking out to see magnificent icebergs in Valdez, taking a scenic flight and hiking across a glacier at Wrangell-St Elias National Park, canoeing down the Maclaren River and joining the 33% club by actually laying eyes on Mount Denali! But now, it was time to say our final goodbyes to the group and it was back to Anchorage airport to wave goodbye to this beautiful State!

Watch my Denali National Park vlogs here:


Alaska: Maclaren and the Alaskan Range

The bumpy road to Denali

A walk through the park

Saying goodbye to the historic town of McCarthy and the nearby Wrangell-St Elias National Park – for now at least – we were back on our Grand American Adventures minibus this morning to start the drive to the final National Park of our trip, Denali. The road to Denali was so long that we were having to break it up with a stop somewhere around the half way mark so today, we’d be travelling to a middle-of-nowhere town called Maclaren.

Alaskan Range viewpoint along the road to Denali

Our first stop today was back at the national park we had just left behind. Wrangell-St Elias is the largest National Park in the USA so despite being on the road for a while, we parked up to find we were in another part of the park giving anyone who hadn’t had the chance in Kennecott the day before to visit a park Visitor Center and pick up maps and souvenirs and giving us all the chance to experience more beautiful views across the park.

Arriving at our overnight accommodation

The rest of the drive was along another long, bumpy road. We made frequent stops to stretch our legs, see the views of the Alaskan Range and take photos and there was a bit of excitement when we saw a young caribou on the road.

We arrived at our overnight stop of Maclaren Lodge around lunch time. We’d be staying in, as the name suggested, lodge style accommodation with shared facilities. The main lodge area had a restaurant and communal area and after checking into our rooms, we went straight there for lunch.

Canoeing on the Maclaren River

After we had eaten, we had the opportunity to canoe down Maclaren River. Our arms just about recovered from our strenuous Kayaking experience in Valdez a few days earlier, we signed ourselves up and were soon being sped down the river on the lodge’s boat to the canoe rental hut.

Maclaren River is a braided river with some quite fast moving water and we had a great afternoon paddling along, especially when we accidentally got caught in a current and went took the opposite fork in the river to everyone else. We did of course all meet up again a few moments later when the 2 parts of the river once again blended into one ending our brief panic!

Games night – playing Cards Against Humanity with the group
Lying down on a quiet road bridge

Our canoeing experience over, we returned to the lodge for an evening of socialising with the group culminating in a hilarious game of Cards Against Humanity. Then it was off to bed ready for an early start to get back on the road to Denali in the morning.

The next morning, after a delicious pancake breakfast at the lodge, it was back on the long, bumpy road. We made a few more stops at scenic spots to view the surrounding scenery of the Alaskan Range along the way and had reached Denali by lunch!

Alaska: Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and McCarthy

Spotting a bald eagle just outside of Valdez

After an exhausting but amazing day kayaking out to an iceberg field in Valdez, it was back on the van today to set off for our next stop on our Alaskan Highlights tour of Alaska, the historic town of McCarthy from where we’d be exploring the largest US National Park, Wrangell-St Elias.

The long, straight road ahead!

After a quick breakfast stop in Valdez, we began our long drive, stopping just outside of Valdez after spotting a bald eagle in the trees on the roadside and then again at an overlook for Lowe River.

Roadside stop on the way to McCarthy
Casper the Friendly Ghost mural in Chitina

We made more frequent stops at various viewpoints to stretch our legs along the way including one at Liberty Falls State Recreation Area to see the waterfall.

Another delicious dessert
No traffic on the road bridge!

Our lunch stop today was in the small town of Chitina. As we’d once again made our own lunch up to keep costs down, we again bought a dessert to share at the cafe the group were eating at!

The road to McCarthy was long and bumpy and following yesterday’s exhausting full day’s kayaking excursion, after lunch, I did something I rarely do and fell asleep in the van!

I woke up just before our final stop before McCarthy at an overlook for the Copper River. We stopped at a long road bridge crossing the river from which there pretty views of the chalky river flowing through the canyon below. The road was so quiet, we sat on the bridge posing for photos – something we’d rarely be able to do on road bridges in the UK!

Our McCarthy guesthouse

Once we reached the vicinity of McCarthy, we stopped and parked up near an old railroad bridge. We were told to retrieve our luggage from the trailer and to take it over the river bridge and once on the other side, we would be met by vans belonging to the guesthouse we were staying in who would take us the rest of the way into town as larger vehicles such as our tour van are not advised to drive the last stretch of the road.

The hotel’s cosy common area

We were staying at Ma Johnson’s Hotel, a historic guesthouse in the town. There was no wifi, no power points in our rooms – we had to use the few in the communal areas – and bathrooms were shared rather than being en suite but it had a real charm about it and the rooms were really lovely. The whole town was like something time had forgot with its swinging saloon doors and Wild West style fronts.

About to board our small aircraft

That afternoon, some of us had opted to take a scenic flight over Wrangell-St Elias National Park so, after a bit of time to settle in to our accommodation and look around the small town, we met at the front of the hotel to be shuttled down to the local airfield and board our small aircraft.

Flying over the ghost town of Kennecott

The flight was an amazing experience with stunning views of the park below. We flew over the braided Copper River, over the ghost town of Kennecott and then over mountains and glaciers, the scenery taking our breath away as our pilot told us about the history and geography of the area and answered any questions we had as we communicated with him through our headsets. We had saved furiously before the trip to be able to do these optional extras as we knew they would be what made the trip and while this was certainly not the cheapest optional extra on offer, it was absolutely worth every penny.

Pulled pork dinner
Diet Coke summing up the trip so far!

After our flight, we were dropped back in McCarthy town and all went for dinner at local diner, The Potato, where I had an amazing pulled pork sandwich. The group was really starting to gel now and the banter was in full flow as we were all on a high from our scenic flight experience.

Day 2 in McCarthy and we were off to Wrangell-St Elias National Park for a glacier hiking experience. Once again, we were picked up and shuttled out of McCarthy, this time to the old mining town of Kennecott, now a ghost town, where we met our guide for the day and got kitted out with special grips that fitted over our shoes enabling us to walk on the icy glacier.

Starting the hike across the glacier

Taking a short hike out to the glacier’s edge, we followed the glacier trail until the rocky path disappeared to be replaced by ice. It was surreal walking across the seemingly endless icy plain which we had been flying over the afternoon before. We came across huge walls of ice and deep crevices with no bottom in sight. We stopped for snacks and drinks sat out on the glacier and stopped to fill up our water bottles from the icy springs – the clearest, freshest water I’ve ever tasted!

At the National Park Visitor Center in Kennecott

After returning to Kennecott and handing back our equipment, the afternoon was free for us to either explore Kennecott or to return to McCarthy. We decided to stay in Kennecott, grabbing some lunch and visiting the national park visitor center before signing up for a tour of the old abandoned copper mine.

The mill in the old copper mining town of Kennecott
In our protective gear to enter the old mill

The tour was really interesting, taking us through the town of Kennecott hearing all about its history and then up into the remains of the old, red mill building. Although the building had been stabilised to allow visitors in, we had to wear hard hats in case of any falling debris!

After the tour, we caught the shuttle back to McCarthy taking another trip to the Potato Cafe for dinner and relaxing after a busy day.

The next morning, we had breakfast and spent some time down by the river before we were dropped back at our tour van ready to set off for our next destination, an overnight stop in Maclaren.

Watch my vlog of my visit to McCarthy and scenic flight over Wrangell-St Elias here:

Watch my vlog of my Wrangell-St Elias glacier hike and visit to Kennecott ghost town here:

Alaska: Visiting Valdez

Alaskan Highlights Tour Days 3-4

Salmon swimming in the weir

After beginning my trip exploring Anchorage and a couple of days in Seward exploring Kenai Fjords National Park, it was back aboard our Grand American Adventures tour bus early this morning to start the long drive to our next stop, Valdez. Following a supermarket stop to grab breakfast and snacks for the day, we continued on to our next quick stop of the day, Bear Creek Weir, not far outside of Seward to watch the salmon swimming through.

Water wheel and grindstone at Moose Pass
Message board the entrance to Moose Pass

Next up was a stop at the Moose Pass Water Wheel and Grindstone which sit at the side of the highway at the entrance to the town of Moose Pass.

Continuing towards Valdez, our next stop was at a viewing point for Mantanuska River and Glacier before we stopped for lunch at the cute Sheep Mountain Lodge from which there were more beautiful views of the surrounding mountains. Having realised just how expensive Alaska was over the last few days, we had opted to buy cheese and rolls on our supermarket stop that morning and had made our own lunch to eat on the van so instead, we ordered a delicious warm cookie and ice cream dessert to share from the lodge’s menu!

Worthington Glacier

We were slowly realising that the main thing to see is Alaska is glaciers and sure enough, our next stop was a viewing point for another one, this time, Worthington Glacier.

Luckily, the views were always so beautiful, we never tired of this kind of stop to enjoy the Alaskan scenery.

As we neared Valdez, we started to pass a few waterfalls trickling down the cliffs either side of the highway. We pulled over to get a closer look at some of these and also see the Old Railroad Tunnel, a historic unfinished tunnel nearby.

Salmon at Soloman Gulch Fish Hatchery

Our last stop before we reached Valdez was at Soloman Gulch Fish Hatchery where we watched in amazement at the hundreds of salmon swimming at the weir. Then it was onto Valdez where we checked into our hotel and then went for a group dinner at Roma Italian restaurant.

Rabbits are everywhere in Valdez

The evening was ours to wander through Valdez or – in our case – do laundry!

We did find time for a quick walk around town, spotting some of Valdez’s many rabbits as we went!

Off on a kayaking adventure

It was an early morning the next day. Although it was a free day to spending Valdez as we liked, 4 of us had opted to spend it taking a full day sea kayaking tour. After checking in for our tour and getting kitted out in our thermal, waterproof gear for the day, we boarded a small boat carrying our kayaking equipment and sailed out to sea.

Kayaking out to a waterfall
Off out to sea

This part of the day was exciting enough as we sped across the waves and even passed a group of seals. Once at our destination, we boarded our kayaks and set off, paddling out to a waterfall in a calm lagoon at first before heading out to sea.

It was a long, cold day and by the end of it, our arms and shoulders ached a lot, but it was totally worth it as we kayaked out to see huge icebergs floating in the icy sea. We even saw one enormous iceberg start to roll until it was completely the other way up, sending small waves towards our kayaks. Just amazing.

Spotting some icebergs

We docked on an island for lunch and a warm cup of tea, stunning views of the icebergs in the sea in front of us before kayaking out to them again, getting close enough to touch some of the small pieces of floating ice. An incredible experience!

Not a bad place to stop for lunch!

At the end of the day we clambered from our kayaks back onto the boat which had come to collect us and take us back to Valdez where we went for a well-earned pizza and to tell the rest of the group about our adventure.

Pizza!

We slept well that night and the next morning, after a breakfast stop at Valdez’s famous Roadside Potatohead Cafe, it was back on the road to begin our journey to our next Alaska destination.

Watch my vlog of our journey to Valdez here…

and my vlog of my sea kayaking experience in Vadelz here:

Alaska: Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park

Day 1 of our Alaskan Highlights Tour

After 2 underwhelming days spent in Anchorage, the day we had been waiting for had arrived – the start of our 10-day Grand American Adventures Alaskan Highlights tour.

On our tour van
Potters Marsh

Having got the introductions and paperwork out of the way at a welcome meeting the previous evening, it was straight to loading up the trailer with our luggage, hopping on and setting off. The tour was off to a precarious start when moments after leaving the hotel, a huge moose leapt out in front of us just as we had started picking up speed down a main road. Luckily, there was nothing in the lane next to us and we managed to swerve to avoid hitting it. Danger over, we were relieved and excited to have had our first Alaska wildlife spot!

Spotting a moose

Our guide explained to us that she had a tour ‘morning song’ – a song she played as the first song of the day on the bus each morning and which we’d all get to know and be able to sing along to by the end of the tour. The song was I Got a Name by Joe Croce. It wasn’t a song I was already familiar with but by the end of the tour, we did indeed all know and love it.

Views from Potters Marsh

Our first stop of the day was at Potter Marsh Wildlife Viewing Boardwalk just outside of Anchorage. We wandered the board walks and were rewarded as we looked out over the marsh with another moose appearance!

Aerial tramway up Alyeska Mountain
View from Alyeska Mountain

Back on the bus, we continued to Alyeska Mountain where we had the option of riding the aerial tramway to the top of the mountain. Never ones to turn down the opportunity to take a gondola ride, we got our tickets along with a few other members of our tour group and soon we were at the top taking in the beautiful views of the mountains and glaciers.

Trail to Byron Glacier

We next stopped at a section of the Byron Glacier Trail in the National Forest. We followed the short section of the trail down to the glacier viewing area then returned to the bus to continue on to Seward arriving early afternoon.

Byron Glacier

Dropping us off in downtown Seward, we visited a cafe for lunch before going to check in at the motel we’d be staying in for the next 2 nights.

In Seward
Visitor Center at Kenai Fjords National Park

While in Seward, we would mainly be exploring Kenai Fjords National Park and this afternoon we would be heading to the Exit Glacier part of the park.

We were dropped off at the Exit Glacier Visitor Center where most of us decided to take the guided ranger tour to the glacier. After taking a walk in the park ourselves while waiting for the guided walk to start, we made our way back to the visitor centre meeting point. It was quite an easy hike to the glacier with plenty of stops as the ranger talked to us about the park and explained how quickly the glacier is receding.

The Yukon Bar

Dollar bills on the roof of the bar

After our hike, we all boarded our tour bus again to be dropped back in Seward where we had a group meal after which a few of us decided to head to one of the local bars, the Yukon Bar, where it was open mic night then after a few drinks, we walked back to our motel.

Inside the Yukon Bar
On the boat

Day 2 in Seward we were taking an included full day cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park. After grabbing breakfast at a cafe in town, we met with the rest of the group at the marina, spotting an adorable sea otter playing in the bay as we waited. Our cruise was lead by a National Park Ranger who pointed out where to look to spot wildlife in the area – and there was certainly plenty of it to spot! We saw seals, puffins, bald eagles and goats on the cliffs we sailed past and eventually, our patience paid off when we saw a whale swimming ahead.

Becoming Explorer Rangers!

During the cruise, the park ranger announced that they were running an Explorer Ranger programme on board, jokingly suggesting that adults could get involved as well as children. So, of course, we requested booklets and completed them to earn our Explorer Ranger badges by the end of the cruise.

Once back on dry land, the evening was ours to spend as we wished. We decided to walk in the opposite direction from the town where we found Seward Lagoon. After having a quick walk along the boardwalk, we went for dinner at Red’s Burgers where you get to eat your food sat on an old converted school bus!

School bus diner

After dinner, we walked back into town taking more pictures around the seafront then returned to the Yukon Bar for drinks at the end of the evening.

Beautiful views from Seward

It had been a great start to the tour. Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park had been really fun places to explore and now, we were excited to head to Valdez for the next part of our tour!

Watch my vlog of my journey to Seward and visit to Exit Glacier here:

and my vlog of my Kenai Fjords cruise here:

Alaska: Exploring Anchorage

Part 2 of my Alaskan Adventure

Star the Reindeer

Having had a disappointing trip to Lake Clark on our first day in the state of Alaska, we figured things could only get better! This evening, we would be kicking off a 10-day Grand American Adventures tour of the state with a Welcome Meeting at our hotel and tomorrow we would be departing for Seward, the first stop on our Alaskan Highlights tour, but first, we had the whole day ahead of us to explore Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city.

It was about a 10 minute walk from our hotel to the main downtown strip where all the shops, bars and restaurants were. On the way, we passed famous Anchorage resident, Star the Reindeer.

In one of the many Anchorage gift stores

Once downtown, we grabbed some breakfast from Starbucks in the shopping mall then spent some time exploring the many souvenir stores, picking up a few last minute essentials for our upcoming tour. There was a good selection of stores, our favourite being the huge Polar Bear Gifts, claiming to be Alaska’s largest gift store!

All shopped out, we then found ourselves at the Anchorage Visitor Information Center where we saw a trolley tour of the city departing. Still having a few hours to kill before our Tour Welcome Meeting, we bought tickets for the next trolley tour.

Anchorage Trolley Tour

The trolley took us out of downtown, along to the Port of Anchorage and past the Captain Cook Monument then down past Westchester Lagoon and Earthquake Park where we were told how Anchorage had suffered a huge earthquake in the 1960s – the largest quake ever recorded in North America – and how it’s effects to the landscape can be seen in the park. Then, we headed back towards downtown Anchorage past Lake Hood and Lake Spenard. Here we saw lots of small aircraft and seaplanes and were told that it’s almost as common to have these to get around in as it is cars in Alaska!

Although there wasn’t really a lot to see on the tour, our tour guide was really interesting to listen to with lots of facts about the city. But it was a shame there wasn’t the opportunity to hop off at any of the places pointed out as it would have been nice to explore Earthquake Park but we were unsure how to get back to it, not to mention short on time, after.

With it now being way past lunchtime, we decided to make our way along one of the city’s many walking trails to a retro diner we had seen on the way to our hotel the other night. Unfortunately, when we got there, it was closed – one of the downfalls of not having internet access in other countries is not being able to check these things first! – but it had been a pleasant walk past Westchester Lagoon to get there. We made do with a Subway sandwich instead and also stopped by a Walgreens to stock up on some snacks for our tour so it wasn’t a complete waste of a walk!

Walking back to downtown Anchorage

By the time we got back it was time for our tour welcome meeting. We met the rest of our group, just 9 of us, ranging in age from 28 to a very active 75, and our tour guide who just happened to be an Alaskan native! With the introductions and paperwork all done, we walked back into downtown to grab some pizza for dinner.

Our Alaskan adventure had been a bit underwhelming so far. We found that Anchorage didn’t really have a lot to offer and was really just a gateway city for tourists beginning or ending Alaskan tours or cruises but we were still excited to see what the state had to offer away from its largest city were eager to get on the road the next day.

Watch my vlog on my day in Anchorage here:

Alaska: A bear spotting trip to Lake Clark from Anchorage

My Alaskan Adventure Part 1

Having ticked off over 20 states on my Trek America Southern and Northern BLT tours along with a few I’d already ticked off on a few previous trips to the US, it suddenly became my aim to tick off all 50 states. So why not start with one of the most difficult?

Alaska had first crossed my mind while sat on the Trek America van the summer. A few of us were browsing a brochure that was lying around in there and all agreed the Alaskan BLT looked amazing. We jokingly agreed to all meet up again to take the tour the following year and for 2 of us, that joke became reality.

Alaska bound!

Planning the trip wasn’t all smooth-running. We added in a few days in Vancouver, Seattle and Portland before flying to Alaska and a trip to Denver after the tour, all carefully planned around the start and end date of the tour as soon as it was confirmed as running. The problems began when we were contacted by Trek America to say they had accidentally confirmed the tour and actually, we were the only 2 who had signed up for it so they’d rather not run it. We could, however, upgrade to a similar tour offered by their sister company Grand American Adventures instead.

The benefits of this would be that we’d be getting a more expensive tour with better accommodation than on our originally booked tour. The downside being that 1) it started a day later – and therefore finished a day later – meaning it didn’t fit in with the flight to Denver we’d already booked, 2) the itinerary was ever so slightly different, it didn’t go to Homer and we really wanted to do the ‘Bear tour’ – an optional extra for Homer on the original trip where we’d fly somewhere and go bear spotting, and, 3) Grand American Adventures tours are open age unlike Trek America who have an 18-38 age restriction. We were worried the trip would attract an older clientele and the social side of it wouldn’t be what we’d come to expect from Trek America tours.

Arriving at the airfield for our bear spotting trip

With the airline agreeing to change our Denver bound flight and the hotels also accommodating changes to our plans, we eventually agreed to swap tours. As the ‘bear tours’ also ran out of Anchorage, we decided to use the extra day we’d now have there to do that to make up for the opportunity not being on the new itinerary. And so, after a few days spent in Portland, we flew to Anchorage.

Despite landing at around 11pm, it was still light there and we were pleased to find blackout blinds on our hotel room windows so it at least felt like nighttime in there!

Off to Lake Clark

Trek America had organised for us to the ‘bear tour’ on our first day in the city through a company they had recommended after we expressed our disappointment at it not being an optional extra on the Grand American Adventures tour and so we were up and waiting for our pick up outside our hotel the next morning. We waited. And waited. And waited. Tour anxiety is not unusual whenever we book these type of tours but usually, just as you think you’ve been forgotten, the minibus turns up. But not today. We managed to get in touch with Grand American Adventures to find out what was happening and later found out they had accidentally booked us on the tour for that date but a month earlier! A different tour was running that afternoon which was still to view bears in the wild so as there were places left on it, we were quickly booked onto that!

No sign of any bears

So after grabbing some lunch, we again waited outside the hotel for our pick up. This time it arrived on time. As we headed to the airfield, we noticed the weather was changing and there was some talk about whether our tour would go ahead but soon we were boarding a small aircraft and taking off for Lake Clark National Park. The bad weather continued forcing the pilot to fly low beneath the worst of it but eventually, we arrived safely at our destination.

Waiting patiently…

After being kitted out with binoculars, we took a short drive and an even shorter hike out to an open field where we stood hidden in the trees waiting for a bear to hopefully make an appearance. It was absolutely pouring down at this point and as the weather got worse and worse, we knew that the chances of actually seeing anything out there was getting less and less. After an hour or so, we were forced to call it a day. Deflated, cold and wet, we returned to the airfield and were lead into a small cabin where a lunch – and delicious brownie dessert! – had been laid on for us before we flew back to Anchorage.

Cheering ourselves up with some cake!

The weather now clearing, it was a much more pleasant flight than the one up to Lake Clark. Unlike the company we would have used in Homer which refunded you of you didn’t see bears, the Anchorage company had no such policy in place so it had pretty much been a waste of a day and money. We knew there was a chance of this from the start but were mainly annoyed because we knew plenty of bears had been spotted on the morning tour which we should have been on if it wasn’t for the mix up.

Not the best start to our Alaskan adventure but we had at least enjoyed the scenic flight to Lake Clark and back and we were hopeful that we would get the opportunity to see bears in the wild elsewhere on our trip!

Watch my vlog of my trip to Lake Clark here: