My job allows me to visit a lot of Alaska on a yearly basis. I wanted to capture the trips in one location!

Little Diomede, you CAN see Russia from this Alaska town!

Jan. 15-16, 2015

opik crabbing_10201918398510867_6874398955344371888_n Opik and her scoop to help grab the crabs with! (photo courtsey of Opik Ahkinga)
little with big distance224_10202162234806622_8244573605986660090_n this photo was taken on Little Diomede but you can see how close Big Diomede is. Big is part of Russia! (photo courtesy of Opik Ahkinga)
little-diomede Little Diomede sits in the Bering Sea just off the coast of AK near Nome.
the town201832445082085_6403267181590825491_n This is Little Diomede (photo by Opik Ahkinga)
helicopter land big background201063887468625_996764091_n There is one helicopter flight in/out of Little Diomede each week, there are no planes as there is no place for a runway. This is a remote community.(photo by Opik Ahkinga)

Okay, NO I did not get to go to Little Diomede, but there was a woman at my training ( which was held at the regional office in Unalakleet https://timistravels.wordpress.com/2012/01/24/flying-wild-alaska-unalakleet-adventure-jan-16-18-2012/?preview=true&preview_id=34&preview_nonce=6a772c9321 ) that grew up there.  I felt like a reporter asking her questions about her home town!  Her name is Opik Ahkinga, Opik is her Eskimo name and the name she has always gone by.  Opik translates to “snow owl”!

opik and crab0179335674_269752413_n Happy Crabber Opik Ahkinga! So blessed to meet this woman! (photo courtesy of Opik Ahkinga)
hole1918323989004_4710106530687486734_n the hole made in the ice to get crab! (photo by Opik Ahkinga)

Opik spends much of her time helping her village become aware of humans environmental impact.  She shared many stories of growing up there and how for years there were ‘disposable’ items such as water bottles.  They had never seen such a thing, but once ‘western ways’ moved to Little Diomede there was a need to educate on how to remove unwanted material.

pile oh crab4702046678404_1030976808_n a days catch! (photo by Opik Ahkinga)
crab hole253503_413916261_n one by one! (photo by Opik Ahkinga)

Another interesting discussion I had with Opik was her talking about subsistence living.   She is a crabber.  She crabs by digging a hole through the ice of the Bering Sea and dropping a line with bait.  She prefers smelt, but any fish is acceptable.  She drops down about 60-80 feet but can go down as deep as 100 feet.  Opik talked about 2 main kinds of crab that she gets; Blue King which is very tasty, Blue King is fished where there is a rocky bottom.  The other is Red King, not as good as good as Blue but still yummy.  Red King is caught in more mucky bottom areas.  In the winter these crab come ‘in’ to spawn where in the fall and summer they are further off shore.

And though Blue King is so sweet and tasty, the Spiny King is the best!  Historically  these Spiny Kings were found Japan and eastern Russia.  The first time they were found in AK were off of Little Diomede in 2003.  However, by 2010 they were really showing up in the waters around St. Lawrence Island and other communities in the Bering Sea.

Opik shared other interesting stories with me including the fact that she remembers going with her Grandpa to the international date line to trade with the Russians. Big Diomede is part of Russia, though it is just miles from Little Diomede and can been seen across the Bering Sea.  The international date line separated them and they are less than 2 miles apart.  Big Diomede is actually only a Russian military base.  Both Big and Little Diomded ‘communities’ are on the west side of the islands.  She shared that her father used to go to school on Big Diomede.  Another story was that  in 1952 her uncle (mom’s brother) went out to hunt and  was found and taken by the Russians.  He was kept captive for 50 days before he was released and sent home.

There is so much history in this part of our great state and so few know anything about it.  I feel blessed to have met Opik and look forward to more conversations in the years ahead.

side note that made me smile; the mascot for Little Diomede; the “dateliners”  isn’t that cute?

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Gibraltar quick stop to see “the Rock”

Jan. 5, 2014

Unfortunately we were not able to take the ferry ride over to Morocco. This gave us an opportunity to visit Gibraltar and explore the upper rock a bit more. During the visit several times I commented that Gibraltar reminded me of Juneau. A tourist town surrounded by water and cliffs.

We had to show our passports as we enter Gibraltar as it is part of Britain. There are 8000 to 9000 Spaniards that enter Gibraltar on a daily basis to work. The gentleman at the information center indicated that they mostly did jobs that the British did not want to do. A tad bit condescending but I suppose if it’s good for the Spaniards then I’m happy for them.

We got directions on how to go to the upper rock. Once we arrived we parked the car and took off on a hike to the very tip top of the rock. Along the way we saw several monkeys and surprisingly they were not aggressive at all. There’s a huge fine if you are caught feeding them. In many ways I felt as if we were hiking to the top of Mount Juneau at home. It was steep, however here they were sidewalks to hike on.

It ended up being a beautiful day and we can see for miles and all directions including down to Morocco. The gentleman at the information center also indicated that we were on the most southern tip of Europe however we disagree with him and think that Tarifa, Spain is the most southern tip of Europe. Typical Gibraltar to think that they are better than Spain!

Gibraltar is only 2.3 sq miles and all 30,000 residents live in those 2.3 sq miles. One of the most interesting things is that as you enter Gibraltar you actually drive across the regional airport runway, planes often make car stop is there taking off or landing, kind of crazy.

Historically this rock plays a big part in the history of Europe. There has been much military presence there over thousands of years. Most everyone has heard the saying “solid as the Rock of Gibraltar”. This usually refers to a person that is unfathomed by a situation, as this rock remains in tact after centuries of war!

Certainly not the best stop on the trip, but can say we’ve been there. Locals were quick to say they’d accept Euros but gave a terrible exchange rate. The only thing we paid for was park entry so we used cc for better rate. The British Pound is high in value currently.






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Sun filled Sevilla Spain

Jan. 3 & 4, 2015

Sevilla is surrounded by farmlands and orchards, and full of history and Morrish Influence. As we drove towards the city it is a quick transition from these rural areas to the city. Ride bus #3 into the town center and back to our hotel. (1.4 Euro pp.)

First stop Torre Del Orso. This tower marks the spot where ships would return to Spain after their exploration of the new world. They would offload all the gold they had collected and give it to the Queen. The cost to go to the top was only 3 euro, and gives you a great view of the city.

Next stop the Alcázar of Seville or the royal palace in Seville, Spain. It too has Morrish roots as it was originally a Moorish fort. The palace is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe, and it was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site! The palace is much less elaborate than other palaces we’ve visited on this and other trips but has the most beautiful gardens we’ve seen. There is much Morrish influence that mostly shows in the tiles that adorn every corner of the palace.

Final major stop, the Sevilla Cathedral, is right across the street from the palace. This cathedral took our breath away. Originally it was built as a mosque though most of that was torn down by the Christians who desired to build an even more impressive place I worship. The only remaining part from the mosque is 2/3-3/4 of the bell tower, or the Giraldais, it was originally built as a minaret during the Moorish period, with a Renaissance style top added by Spaniards. It too became a World Heritage Site with UNESCO in 1987.

We enjoyed the climb to the top, 34 flights but no steps. It was purposely built without steps so historically during the Morrish period horses could take people to the top to call for prayer!

There’s a lot to see and do in Sevilla, we tried to hit the highlights in our short time there, getting a good sense of the city. Out big take away, they smoke a lot of cigarettes and there are 1000’s of babies/children in strollers everywhere.













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Two days= 2 rural Monasteries! Guadalupe and San Francisco Palma Del Rio

Jan. 1-2, 2015

After ringing in the new year with friend in Madrid we took off for our southern route visits. First stop, Guadalupe Sanctuary and Monastery. The drive from Madrid was beautiful and quickly we found ourselves in farm land, fruit, chestnuts and olive trees! We had booked a room in the monastery and signs were trying to direct us there, however they sadly were not helpful. We parked in a community lot and went on foot to find it, finally getting to our room!

We toured the Monastery (5 euro pp) and enjoyed all we saw, but understood very little of what the tour guide said as it was all in Spanish! A fellow tourist helped us a few times translating a few thoughts to us. They explained that they have made a conscious effort to NOT offer tours in other languages because they don’t want it to become a huge “tourist destination” rather a place people want to come because they feel a connection to the place.

The sanctuary was built sometime near the end of the 1200’s. But in 1330 Alfonso XI, King of Castille and Leon thought it was too small and ordered another be built which occurred from 1336-38. The monks of Jeronimo used this location for the next 4 centuries. It became a National monument in 1879 and in 1907 Our Lady Of Guadalupe became its patron saint.

Beautiful small town with a charming central plaza. We had a delightful dinner of regional food: beans with chorizo, garlic soup, goat stew and fish with spinach sauce! Though Guadalupe is “off the beaten path” some pass on visiting here. We sure are glad we didn’t miss it.

The next day we awoke and headed to our second monastery, San Francisco Palma Del Rio. However we decided to stop in Portugal before heading there. We had lunch in Elvas, Portugal the took back roads to Palma Del Rio. Enjoyed the country side we saw along the way including cattle, sheep, pigs, etc. as well as storks, hawks, and blue herons. But most of all we saw orange trees, this is the area they obviously come from.

Arrived to our room easily tough had some issues with booking. Finally figured it out but must thank Anna at the front desk for all her hard work. I’d say we could have skipped Palma Del Rio as there is nothing exceptionally interesting here but the drive through farmlands were nice.








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Flamenco dancers; Casa Patas, Madrid

Dec. 21, 2014

Thanks to our sweet hostess Blanca we had front row seat tickets to see the Flamenco dancers. Flamenco is a traditional folk dance in Spain. It originated in the southern region of Spain, in Andalusia.

The show we attended contained all the traditional components, “cante” (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance) and palmas (handclaps). It was very strong and powerful. Reminded us of the strength of Alaska Native traditional dance. This form of dance is related to the Romani people of Spain and dates back to the late 1700’s.

Our tickets were for the Casa Patas show. They were all the traditional guitar player, violin player, percussion player, and 2 main vocals, as well as three main dancers. We left there feeling as if we’ve had a very powerful cultural experience. My only disappointment was that the vision I’d had in my of head of many women in beautiful dresses was not in this show. Only one female dancer with no flowery flowing dress.

However the two male dancers were powerful and we enjoyed it very much.

If you want to go get tickets in advance and reserve a front row seat, the dancers are in your lap and you even get some sweat tossed on you 😕http://www.flamencotickets.com/casa-patas-madrid




A full day exploring Barcelona!

Dec. 24, 2014

We stayed on the outskirts of town but 2 blocks from the metro, so first stop tickets for metro! Bought a 10 pack for about 10 euro and headed into the center of town. First stop, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. We are always in awe of the churches in Europe, so detailed and beautiful. We were able to go inside, and take photos while in there.

Work began on this cathedral in 1298 and did not finish until late in the 19th century, though most of the work was done in the 14th century. Surrounding the building are many gargoyles both real and mythical animals fare represented. The inside had a stunning dome and countless stain glass windows. The organ was not in the traditional location rather along the wall on the right side.

We continued towards the water front and opted for a boat ride on a “golondrinas” which we hopped on right near the Columbus statue. The ride was about 45 minutes but gave a great view of the city.

We continued on foot to Las Rambras street probably the most famous street in Barcelona. We ate lunch here, drank sangria, walked through the market and soaked in some culture. We even saw a guy with an Alaskan Brewery shirt on! (Figured he was most likely a cruise ship employee).

Next came Gaudi’s apartment that had been designed for a wealthy couple at the turn of the century. Though interesting, NOT interesting enough to spend 20 euro/pp to go inside!

A few blocks away we spotted the Casa Terrades, Another castle in the Gothic style. The spires of this castle can been seen from many blocks away and they made us want to venture out and see it.

Last stop of the day was The Arc de Triomf. It was built as the main access gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair, and is a gathering place for many locals and tourist, a place to enjoy an evening walk, sit and people watch or be entertained by street vendors.









Madrid’s Museums Reina Sofia and Prado!

Dec. 20, 2014

What a wonderful day to begin exploration of Madrid. First stop, The Reina Sofía National Art Centre. We came here specifically to see som Picasso’s and Dail’s paintings. There is much work from the Surrealism period and covers artwork from 1930’s through 1980’s. As I expected some of it was just bizarre to me personally. It was as if all these artist friends tried to out wired each other for a certain time period.



Onto our next stop the Prado Museum which was just blocks from Sofia.
However unlike Sofia this museum is full of European art dating back to the 12th century, stunning oil paintings lined the walls. We viewed much work by Francisco de Goya, Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Titian, Peter Paul Rubens and Hieronymus Bosch are some of the highlights of the collection. No photos are allowed to be taken inside the Prado!

Two pieces that stood out to me were: Las Meninas, as We have statues of it given to us as a gift years ago. To see painting was stunning. We are NOT allowed to take photos so theses both came off the website of the museum.


Second stand out was The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch. To me it’s a painting before its time. It was painted sometime between 1490 and 1510. It is a 3 panel painting done with the 2 side ones being shutters. The left shutter is Adam and Eve, the middle has a lot of nudity, animals, fruits, etc and the right shutter then displays hell or what happens after adultery etc. they say it shows what happens with life’s temptations. The reason it stood out to me was because it seems ahead of its time. It is more Salvador Dali like than something done in 1490-1510!




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Palace of Versailles in Paris

Dec. 18, 2014.

We were so excited when we bought all day train/bus passes to realize we could go all the way to The Palace of Versailles on the total opposite end of town from where we stayed. We awoke early and headed out arriving about 8 am knowing it did not open until 9, but wanting to avoid lines we’d read about. Let me assure you we were the first in line at 8;45, there were no lines for tickets in Dec!

Originally a cottage or hunting lodge this castle sits in what used to be the country for those living in Paris. Now the area is a suburb for people with money! It is easy to find the castle once you get off the train just go around the corner and head in the direction you are facing when you get off the train.

Louis XIV moved to the castle in the late 1600’s and began the elaborate decorations and expansion of the palace. That is of course until the beginning of the French Revolution when the family was forced out of the castle and back into France due in part to His arrogance and extravagance while many lived in poverty. During the Revolution much of the original furniture was auctioned off or pillaged by Parisians unhappy with the monarchy.

On the tour one of the most stunning room was the Hall of Mirrors. The chandeliers that line this room are stunning. The windows (mostly original glass) help make the room bright and airy. There were rooms/apartments for everyone, the king, his wife and their daughters. Another standout room was the Public Dining Room where common Parisians would come by nightly to watch the royals eat dinner. Such arrogance.

Another beautiful area of the castle are the gardens. Though they were dormant in Dec it is easy to imagine these gardens in the spring/summer. The fountains were off and the statues were all covered for winter. However, from reading posts it sounds like many of the fountains are off all summer as well.

We also ventured to Marie-Antoinette’s estate which is a (poorly signed) 1 mile walk from the castle through the gardens. It was worth the visit but almost a let down after the castle. NOTE: This does not open until noon!

All in all we spent about 4 hours exploring. Thankfully there were not as many tourists as in the summer months though there were many “tour groups” entering vs independent travelers like ourselves.








The Catacombs of Paris

Dec. 17, 2014-Day 1 in Paris, we were so jetlagged but decided to hit the ground running til we dropped. We decided to visit the Catacombs, which was interesting to say the least. 6 million people buried in the limestone caves under Paris.

A bit of how this came to be. For years Parisians buried the deceased near churches and along their neighborhoods. By the late 1700’s these burial areas were very large and growing. Parisians wanted more of the real estate to build homes houses not for burial grounds. King Louis XVI decided to investigate the abandoned underground limestone mines as an option for burial.

In 1776 Graveyards all around Paris were dug up and moved in mass to the abandoned mining area, now called the catacomb. Cemeteries were moved to this location for many years. To this day there is still a lot of space for burials however there are no large buildings in this area because the foundation is so unstable as the tunnels are right below the streets.

The visit left me a bit uneasy but it was intriguing though I’m glad we visited.








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Iao Needle~ Maui


it was a beautiful day for viewing the needle


there are short trails around the park but NO hiking trails


sunshiny day

Each time we visit Maui we are in awe of the stunning, lush valleys that you can find on the island.  One of our favorites is the one that houses the Iao Needle.  It is easy to get to from any where on the island and only costs $5 / per vehicle to enter the park.  One of the bonuses of going to the needle si that you get to drive through historic Wailuku, one of my favorite communities on Maui.  It is a lush region with a lot of the island’s history.  The Iao Needle is 1,2oo feet tall and is a lush green rock outcropping that rises above a local river to an elevation of 2250 feet.


this is looking back towards Wailuku and the ocean. You can see how far up the valley we were

Kuka’emoku as it is known in Hawaiian is an “erosional remnant.  It is at the end of a ridge comprised of denser dike stone.  The softer rock around the dike stone was eroded by steams and waterfall” reads one of the informational signs at the site.  IMG_1599   IMG_1598

This area is beautiful and full of history in this area.  In 1790 there was the Battle of Kepaniwai.  The needle was a lookout point for King Kamehameha as he beat the Maui army; changing the course of history on Maui.

Last time we were here, the needle was in a fog/cloud as it gets a lot of weather changes in this area, but this visit was perfect, it helped that we went early.

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