Building a smart device without writing code

A while ago (2019 according to the repo), I was learning about the Internet of Things (IoT) and went through the process to prototype a smart indicator light. I made it communicate with AWS IoT where I could both change the color of the light on the device (and it would report to the cloud) as well as change the color in the cloud (and have the indicator light change).

Separately, I’ve also been spending more time on home automation. I have Home Assistant setup in my house and had been reading on ESPHome but haven’t come up with a good test project–so I decided to repurpose my indicator light to work with ESPHome!

Original Hardware

I wanted to see whether I could use the original hardware without modifications–mostly because instead of recreating the board, I just dusted it off…

Original prototype on breadboard

As the name may imply, ESPHome must be used by hardware supporting the ESP32 or ESP8266 (or RP2040, but that’s for another time) chipset. I originally made this prototype on a Raspberry Pi but wanted to use a smaller form factor for portability and yet retain the ability to connect using Wi-Fi. I’ve been using the Adafruit Feather HUZZAH on a few projects, and had back then, so I stuck with it.

Removing the Software

This project has been through a few iterations of software. I first started with python on the Raspberry Pi [code]. This would use the GPIO to control each leg of the RGB LED and would communicate with an IoT shadow in the cloud for the status. This meant AWS IoT was my interfacing layer and I could build a web-based GUI, Alexa skill, or mobile app to control this light.

When I switched to the Feather, it meant I needed to change programming languages. While MicroPython was an option, it still required the interpreter at runtime and didn’t have the benefit of compiled code. I also wrote the program in C (using Arduino) but never bothered to become proficient with C’s syntax, and ended up using JavaScript (using Mongoose OS). The trouble with all of these approaches is that the intent is simple (power to pin when condition) but writing the code becomes more difficult.

ESPHome has a different approach–you declare which components to use and provide the configuration for those components, then ESPHome compiles the modules and configuration together and produces an artifact that can be loaded onto the device. Anyone familiar with kubernetes will recognize this pattern: declare your intent in a resource file and let kubernetes build it. With ESPHome, I declare the light and which pins to use for output, and it builds the rest of it for me.

This is the configuration section for the LED in ESPHome:

  - platform: rgb
    id: torch_led
    name: "torch_light"
    red: led_red
    green: led_green
    blue: led_blue

  - id: led_red
    platform: esp8266_pwm
    pin: GPIO14
    inverted: true
  - id: led_green
    platform: esp8266_pwm
    pin: GPIO12
    inverted: true
  - id: led_blue
    platform: esp8266_pwm
    pin: GPIO13
    inverted: true

While this appears simple enough, I still did have to spend time learning the different values, but was able to piece it together by looking at the examples on ESPHome’s website.

There’s an added benefit of “no code” solutions like ESPHome like the included features regarding Wi-Fi, Over The Air updates (OTA) and API integration. For every programming language, adding these features meant extra lines of code and setup, but ESPHome packages them as part of the configuration and build process. Much of the code in the earlier revisions was dedicated to Wi-Fi and API connectivity, with only a small section actually controlling the physical hardware. I added OTA when moving to ESPHome, and wrote less lines as a result of the switch!

Migrating from AWS IoT to Home Assistant

While I was able to build interfaces that worked with IoT and the cloud, I wanted something that was already interconnected and didn’t require me to build the integrations. I also prefer for control traffic to be kept as local as possible. While the cloud rarely goes offline, my internet connection is much more susceptible to outages which would render the light inoperable. With a local brain, I can save on both.

Like this project, I’ve built Home Assistant a few times over the years and have been slowly expanding it to incorporate the features I need. I have the Home Assistant Podcast on my feed and it seems like everyone kept mentioning ESPHome and how it integrates with Home Assistant. Plus, ESPHome is easily run as an addon for Home Assistant. However, the best part is the interfacing is done for me! When I create the light in ESPHome, the device and entity show up in Home Assistant and include the interfacing.

The color and brightness controls come automatically in Home Assistant since I selected a RGB light as the platform in ESPHome.

Because I’ve integrated Home Assistant with Alexa, I also automatically get an Alexa interface through the Alexa app as well as voice control!

Alexa app also automatically can control the light.

Okay, now what?

What’s the point of a RGB light that’s “smart-controlled”? The device isn’t practical–but it’s one of the first small board projects I built and have spent a lot of time with. I’d already completed this project, but was able to repurpose it and find out something new. So the point–is discovery.

That’s because great achievement has no road map. The X-Ray is pretty good, and so is penicillin, and neither were discovered with a practical objective in mind. I mean, when the electron was discovered in 1897, it was useless. And now we have an entire world run by electronics. Haydn and Mozart never studied the classics. They couldn’t. They invented them.

Dr. Dalton Milgate, exerpt from the fictional series The West Wing S3E16

The project itself is a learning tool–now that I’ve made this work, I’ve also been able to add smart controls to a LEGO set with lights. Now as I’m automating my house, if I need a random motion sensor that communicates with MQTT then I can build it and integrate it quickly!

ESPHome also makes home automation more available to everyone. I speak more programming languages than languages–but not everyone does. Writing a config file is much easier than writing code and it cuts down on development time. Less time on software means that I also get more time on hardware!

Image from Yarn
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Cheap and quick Mastodon alias

EDIT: The format is JRD+JSON per RFC 7033. Changed the reference below, and thanks to mdaniel on HN.

With the uncertainty of Twitter looming over us, I did what everyone else in the community did and looked to alternatives, including Mastodon. The appeal of Mastodon is the distributed nature, but that’s also a pitfall to muggles (non-technicals).

I want to use a simple alias for being able to find my Mastodon name, and went and purchased I have a number of Twitter aliases (because of course I do!) so I wanted something incredibly simple. Unfortunately, most of the Mastodon hosting providers are completely overwhelmed right now as we all figure out how to do with the influx of demand.

I did consider setting up a Mastodon server, but I definitely started to over-engineer it (was gonna host it in Kubernetes on my homelab) so instead I changed gears and said “what can I do fast that’s a temporary alias?”

There’s been a few technologies that I’ve been looking for a use case. I need something now that’s cost-predictable, simple, and easy to setup–and put these together real quick:

  • DigitalOcean droplet (1 vCPU, 512 MB RAM, 10 GB SSD, $4/mo)
  • Caddy server

The droplet was simple enough, and I get a credit for two months (somehow I’ve never used DO before) which gives me time to customize and find a long-term solution. However, the exciting part is using Caddy. It’s written in Go and includes some nice features including automatic HTTPS. This means with almost NO configuration I can have a secure website that will alias to my mastodon alias.

I wasn’t really sure what to do to get it working though, but fortunately I came across Mastodon on your own domain without hosting a server by Maarten Balliauw which walked me through the technical details. I took his discovery and used it to setup my alias server.

Steps to recreate

First I had to get my webfinger details from the current provider–a simple cURL helps here.

$ curl
    "subject": "",
    "aliases": [
    "links": [
            "rel": "",
            "type": "text/html",
            "href": ""
            "rel": "self",
            "type": "application/activity+json",
            "href": ""
            "rel": "",
            "template": "{uri}"

I also pre-built a droplet and set my DNS for the domain to point to the droplet.

I then saved this to a file in the droplet, and moved to installing Caddy. I went the package route so I could make quick updates if necessary, then had to find the Caddyfile (which was in /etc/caddy). The Caddyfile has enough to launch a web server locally. The only changes I had to make was to change the listener to the domain (which enables automatic HTTPS) and added the header so that the webfinger response would be JRD+JSON. I’m not sure it was necessary, but when you work on load balancers as I have, you want to make sure.

# The Caddyfile is an easy way to configure your Caddy web server.
# Unless the file starts with a global options block, the first
# uncommented line is always the address of your site.
# To use your own domain name (with automatic HTTPS), first make
# sure your domain's A/AAAA DNS records are properly pointed to
# this machine's public IP, then replace ":80" below with your
# domain name. {
	# Set this path to your site's directory.
	root * /usr/share/caddy

	# Enable the static file server.

	# Another common task is to set up a reverse proxy:
	# reverse_proxy localhost:8080

	# Or serve a PHP site through php-fpm:
	# php_fastcgi localhost:9000

	route {
		header /.well-known/* Content-type application/jrd+json

# Refer to the Caddy docs for more information:

A quick restart, and my server was running. I tried cURL on the new URL:

$ curl
    "subject": "",
    "aliases": [
    "links": [
            "rel": "",
            "type": "text/html",
            "href": ""
            "rel": "self",
            "type": "application/activity+json",
            "href": ""
            "rel": "",
            "template": "{uri}"

And that’s it! Now if you go to your Mastodon client and search for my comes up!

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Building PI-BERNETES: a home lab

I bought my first Raspberry Pi (B+) in 2014 when they first launched. I remember buying it because I was spending my time coding but wanted to do so on personal hardware that was accessible and replaceable, and the B+ was $35 USD at the time. I still have it, and it still works (though not in use today).

At the time of writing, I have 23 different single board computers (SBC) but was mostly intrigued by the Raspberry Pi 4 because of the arm64 architecture and 4 GB available RAM. So I set out to build what was completely unnecessary and yet fun–a Kubernetes cluster out of Raspberry Pies!

Design Phase

I turned to the one “true” source for inspiration: the internet. #100DaysOfHomeLab

I really like this case and how clean it looks!
A really neat project with some additional ideas on interfacing between the cluster and the environment.

I found a few ideas and started to figure out what my design considerations were.

  • Cable management and airflow is important. Since I’m an ex-Network Engineer (though those skills have yet to leave me), I wanted to make sure I could keep them running cool without a lot of noise, and that means spending a little extra on power over ethernet (PoE).
  • Modular and expandable. I’ve seen the TuringPi boards, but this doesn’t fit my need as I want to be able to remove or add boards without affecting the surrounding components.
  • Mix of compute and storage. I knew I had some workloads that would need more than I wanted to (reasonably) fit on a SD card, so I wanted the cluster to support both compute units and storage units. In this case, that’s just mounting the hard drives as bays and attaching them to a raspberry pi.
  • Self-sustaining. I plan to use this cluster for operating my home automation and running private services for projects and community contributions outside of work, so I don’t want to depend on any outward services that I can’t swap out.



Selecting a container scheduler. Given my experience with containers, I knew that I wanted to run containers across these devices. With the rise of arm64 architectures being massively commercialized through AWS Graviton, Apple silicon, Azure VM, and GCP Tau series compute, I wanted to build an arm64-based distro that was capable of running containers. Since I wanted to keep the cluster self-sustained, I ruled out the typical AWS services like ECS Anywhere and EKS Anywhere because they have to communicate with the cloud on some level (plus EKS Anywhere doesn’t have arm64 support yet!). Given how much work I do with kubernetes, I wanted to select a k8s distro and ultimately selected K3s (pronounced “kates”) because it’s backed by SUSE (Rancher), is lightweight (helps save resources for running containers) and has packaging included.

Packaging with addons. Since kubernetes doesn’t provide a lot of services on its own (by design), there are a few things to include into this cluster build that will help offer the same services and kubernetes resources like you would get from a cloud-based distribution. K3s includes, helm, serviceLB, and traefik–but it was hard to customize the last two so I disabled them and installed traefik on my own plus MetalLB for load balancing. Since some of the nodes have extra storage, I wanted a storage controller that could integrate with scheduling pods that need hot storage to schedule onto the nodes with the SSDs, and selected longhorn.

Customizing these addons wasn’t difficult, but like with many open source solutions, different version documentation can be a real problem. For example, MetalLB recently switched from a ConfigMap to CRDs for defining resources, so it took extra digging to get it running but I did with these resources:

Traefik required customizations, mainly to the helm chart to automatically use the MetalLB load balancer and VIP and to enable ingressClass resources. I also added cert-manager to support encrypted endpoints using LetsEncrypt.

Instead of trying to list every customization, I also spent some time making this process repeatable. I originally bought all this hardware in 2020 and built a cluster but ran into problems early and made too many changes to record. This time, when I started, I made sure I documented the process. My manifests and notes all will end up in a Github repo (with the secrets removed) for anyone else to learn from my experiences.

What’s the point?

So far, other professionals would tell you that I have a working kubernetes cluster that does absolutely NOTHING. Why connect all of these nodes together? What can you do with it?

Since I’ve been an operator for most of my career, I tend to get everything ready for use before building a single thing. But I do have ideas of what to run on this cluster and how it’s used.

  • Home automation. I currently have Home Assistant running on its own Raspberry Pi (as one of the blades in the picture), but I’d like to move this to containers and work with that community on repeatable processes.
  • Git server. Sometimes, there are code projects you don’t want out on the public internet. I plan to run Gitea on this cluster and back it on the SSDs.
  • Home cloud. If you develop on AWS and haven’t seen LocalStack, I highly recommend checking it out. The idea started behind lambda-local and dynamodb-local but quickly expanded and added arm64 support.
  • Minecraft server. Because I have kids, and one of them is learning to program.
  • Media server. I have a bunch of DVDs and Blurays that never get used because I’m too lazy to put the DVD in the tray, so I’m gonna digitize them and host on Plex or something similar.
  • Code server. It’s been a dream of mine to work from a tablet, and coding always tends to be one of those misses. At least with code-server, I can make it easy to use an IDE (as long as there’s reliable internet).
  • Donate unused compute. There’s services like Folding@home and BOINC that allow scientific & academic communities to run their code on remote machines, and I can donate my “unused” CPU cycles to one of these programs. I’ll of course prioritize my own workloads, but if I’m not using those cycles then they might as well go to a good cause.
  • Random sparks or ideas. Because I had set most of this up before KubeCon North America 2022, I had a running cluster ready for running coding challenges and testing out new projects and ideas and was able to complete most of the challenges on the showroom floor, during sessions, or while at the hotel.

Ultimately, having this cluster gives me the freedom to run side projects and test various ideas from my house. It’s not production-ready, but rather experimentation-ready!

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Days 15 & 16 – Heading Home

Today’s the last day (kind of—I’ll get to that) of the trip, and we felt both accomplished (from doing mostly everything we wanted to do) and burned out (from doing mostly everything we wanted to do), so we were keeping it easy today and gonna head to the airport in the afternoon.

We stopped by our coffee shop and made sure to tell them to stop making extra sandwiches on our account because it was our last day here! We (by “we”, I mean “me”) broke one of their plastic Adirondack chairs yesterday, but not wanting to put any kind of burden on a deserving small business, we (by “we”, I mean “Megan”) bought two new chairs and set them to be delivered a few hours later!

We wanted to get an early lunch (so we didn’t have to have airport food ALL DAY), and there was only one place we hadn’t been that had been on our radar: Bear Tooth Theatrepub. This half-restaurant/half-theater is a not-so-distant cousin of Moose’s Tooth and Broken Tooth Brewing—and it was close by—so we got there just as they opened (luggage in tow) and got a booth. While we didn’t see a movie (showtimes were in the evening) we did check out the connected theater and had a good lunch, then made our way to the airport.

And that’s when the fiasco started. We arrived at the airport around 1:00 PM and Megan was off to catch her 4:00 PM flight while I went to check my bag at the American Airlines counter for my night flight which left at 9:40 PM. It took some time to find the counter and even more time to find out that it’s only open from 6:30-8:30 AM and 7:00-9:00 PM because they only operate two flights out of Anchorage!!! I thought about using the “bag check” service at the airport (where they hold your bags while you explore the town) but I was already tired that I just waited…

…and waited…

…and waited…

…and the counter crew came out around 7:15 PM, but the self-check machines were also down, so those then had to be fixed. I ended up pretty far down in the luggage check line, but knew that everyone there was on the same flight and they’d make sure everyone made it. Plus, I basically skipped to the front of the line when it came to TSA security checkpoint because of my status. It was at least a 30-45 minute line but I was next because of PreCheck, so I waltzed right in and headed toward the gate.

I had my first dirty martini 🍸 on this trip, so I decided to make my last alcoholic drink also a dirty martini at a bar near the gate. Plus, since I have a night flight, I wanted to be extra relaxed for the flight.

But alcohol also inhibits my ability to do time zone math, which is particularly interesting. I’m starting in Anchorage which is AKDT (-07:00), connecting in Dallas which is CDT (-05:00) and my final destination is Tallahassee which is EDT (-04:00). There’s a 4 hour difference between Alaska and Florida. This means that my 9:40 PM AKDT flight is already 12:40 AM CDT and 1:40 AM EDT, but really there’s no telling where my day 15 ended and my day 16 began.

The first flight was 6 hours long. I had my portable CPAP and used it but felt like I got 6 one-hour naps instead of 6 hours of sleep. I arrived to Dallas at 7:00 AM CDT/8:00 AM EDT/4:00 AM AKDT and had 5 hours before boarding my second flight. I basically wandered DFW like a zombie 🧟‍♂️ but didn’t want to sleep because if I fell asleep then I’d likely miss my connecting flight (I was THAT tired). I boarded at 12:00 PM CDT/1:00 PM EDT/9:00 AM AKDT and basically slept soundly (without the CPAP—sorry flight mates) until we arrived in Tallahassee at 3:30 PM EDT/2:30 PM CDT/11:30 AM AKDT.

Even though I had made it home, I wasn’t quite done. I took the taxi 🚕 to the house, only to get in my car and pickup the dogs 🐶🐾 from boarding. Now, when they come home from boarding, they’re excited for 2.3 seconds then they basically sleep for the next 3 days. I’m gonna try, but it feels like the middle of the afternoon to my body. The only advantage is I finally have seen the night! 🌃🌚 Good night!

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Day 14 – Fishing (or not)/Museum/Another Rest Day

Before the trip began, one of the things I wanted to do as a “bucket list” item was to go fishing in Alaska. I had scoped out a place near downtown called The Bait Shack that would rent the rod, reel, waders, net, lures, etc. and were right on the creek. They even provided the fishing license and would send you on your way.

I woke up, got our usual breakfast from our coffee spot, took the bus 🚌 downtown, and walked toward the area. One big thing I’ve noticed is the vibrancy of color in all of the flowers here. The fireweed may still be my favorite, but the park had all sorts of colors, and across downtown there were the combination purple/yellow flower bushes hanging from the street lights. I also passed the Eisenhower monument, and some black roses.

Past the monument was the same railroad depot we had taken yesterday, but behind it was another building, the Alaska Railroad Corporation—the headquarters was right behind the depot! That’s twice we saw the same name and company in two separate buildings. I’m just glad we made our train yesterday.

Alaska Railroad Corporation building to the left, but notice that you can’t walk straight across. This is on purpose so you have to look up (presumably from your phone) and see whether a train is coming!

Right before you get to the shack, there’s a bridge where you can see the fish right from the water, and right next to it is a restaurant called “The Bridge” which actually is a bridge!

You may have noticed A) the tide is really low and B) there are NO FISH! 🐟 We learned yesterday that the tides can change 30-40 feet, and this was the low tide part. I still went on to the shack and spoke to the team. To their credit, they were honest with me that tide wouldn’t be later (too late for me) and that I was about a month too early for the good fishing! DRAT! But I guess that means I’ll have to come back… 😉

With “plan A” gone, I needed a new “plan B”. Megan had planned on going to the botanical gardens, but it was an overcast day which meant her pictures wouldn’t have the right lighting (at least as much as I understood what she said), so her “plan A” was gone so we met up in downtown and set our destination to a restaurant we had heard from all the Uber drivers that was a must-eat: Simon & Seafort’s. It was a decent walk away, and the food was okay—but it reminded me of more of a “business lunch” venue (for those in Tallahassee—think The Governor’s Club) and it just wasn’t our scene. Once we finished, we then went to see the Captain Cook monument, then did some more shopping downtown, including a yarn boutique and a few places with real Alaskan craft.

Captain Cook

Heading back toward the bus stop, we decided to add one more cultural stop on our tour at the Anchorage Museum. It had an eclectic collection of art, culture, education, and history that I crave in museums. My favorite exhibition was the Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage exhibit that had artifacts from all the major/minor Inuit tribes in Alaska and Siberia. You could see clothing, tools, etc. from each tribe and note the differences based upon environment, geography, etc. (No pictures)

After the museum, we took the bus back to the Airbnb and came up with two solid ideas for that evening. Idea #1 is to go to Arctic Sushi (which we had passed in downtown Anchorage) and walk around downtown some more. Idea #2 was to order Arctic Sushi delivery and eat it while watching TV. After two weeks of moving around—we opted for staying in. And for those keeping score, I actually LIKED the sushi 🍱 today—I might not wait another 10 years to have it again!

Tomorrow’s our last day, so we also spent the evening (because there is no night anymore) packing up, and I even shipped some of my stuff back home so I wouldn’t have to deal with it through airports.

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Day 13 – Train to Whittier and Glacier Tour

When we left the cruise ship, we were definitely underwhelmed by the glacier…but then in Seward we found a flyer to see 26 glaciers in a day (on a 5-hour cruise). Long story short…today’s that day!

So far on this trip, I’ve taken a car 🚗, a plane ✈️, a bus 🚌, and a ship 🛳, but no train 🚂! We also got that as part of the glacier cruise deal, so we were super excited this morning as we headed for the Alaska Railroad Depot in Anchorage…after stopping at our coffee shop!

Megan and I are both infatuated with trains. My love comes from not having access to trains growing up—I was an adult before riding on my first train and I enjoy the ability to walk around and “stretch out” without bumping 12 people in a 4-person row on an airplane. This particular train runs from Anchorage to Whittier (another cruise terminal) for 2.5 hours. We checked in, boarded, and left!

If you can’t tell, we’re train enthusiasts.

We enjoyed a few sights along the way, including the “mud flats”. In Anchorage the tide changes 40 feet 😳 so during low tide you can see land much further out. They did advise us not to walk on it ever because it’s like quicksand. And then, when the tide is in, it’s back to “River” status. We should see this on the ride home.

We pulled up to the Whittier “train station” (literally half of a tent) and crossed the street to the cruise terminal to pickup our tickets and board our vessel 🚢 for the day!

Because we were a last minute booking, we didn’t get a prime location for seating. It wouldn’t have mattered—the people with the good seats booked months in advance, and everyone was free to walk around. The seating advantage was really only about meal delivery. The cruise included a meal of either seafood chowder or vegetable chili (I couldn’t have the chowder because of the dairy 😭). They also had a bar and were serving “glacier ice margaritas” (basically a margarita with blue curaçao added) so we got some…but they were made using regular ice. It was a little of a let down, but was also tasty so we went with it.

As we made the cruise they told us about the wildlife and different glaciers as we passed them. We also passed sea otters and a few other critters and finally ended up at “the big one”—Surprise Glacier. (I was not in charge of naming the glaciers.) This one glacier alone made the trip worth it!

We were stopped at Surprise Glacier for awhile, and to our enjoyment, they fished some ice out of the water (not chipping off the glacier but had already detached) and took that onboard to make glacier ice margaritas WITH GLACIER ICE!!!🧊 I’m not sure it tasted different, but it felt colder! 🥶

There was one other oddity on our way back. It’s either referred to the “wall of birds” or “wall of 💩” because it’s where all the gulls nest near a waterfall. It was intriguing, but I wasn’t getting up any more—I had my margarita(s)! (So I got a few pictures from my seat)

Once we made it back, we took the 45-second hike to the train station, where our train pulled up about 5 minutes later and we were off.

I’m not exaggerating—it’s 500 ft from the dock to the “depot” (half a tent)

Our train arrived back in Anchorage a few minutes early, and we had seen the 49th State Brewing Company on the train out, so we decided to sample the local food & brew, and it was close enough to walk…once we got the address right!

We did pass the brewery on the way, but it was their canning/bottling facility. The actual brewery was (of course) uphill from where we went. Then, because we came from the wrong direction—we couldn’t find the entrance. We ended up at the talent entrance (they have live music often) but there was an elevator with a hefty queue, so we walked around the building some more until we finally reached the entrance.

In addition to some rich stouts & porters, we also ordered dinner. I ordered a pizza (again, vegan cheese was available) and “cauliflower wings” with blue cheese dressing on them. And yes—it was VEGAN blue cheese dressing! I had Megan try it since I don’t like blue cheese to start with, and she confirmed that she wouldn’t know it was vegan! The wings themselves were super crunchy and spicy.I ate it all, and my sinuses definitely thanked me for it!

The worst part of the day was when we left the restaurant, it had closed already—so it was about 10:30 PM AKDT…but still looked like daytime! I think it’s starting to get to me—I haven’t seen nighttime in a few days…

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Day 12 – Anchorage Rest Day

We opted to make today a rest day so we could wash clothes, get groceries, and settle in.

We started by discussing the coffee ☕️ option and found a little coffee house called Aftershock Espresso. It was a 9-minute walk away and had a grocery store nearby, so we put on our Alaska clothes and went out…which lasted about a minute.

It was hot! 🥵 When the sun is out, it was warm enough that we only needed short sleeves. Regardless, we moved on, and I’m glad we did. The coffee shop itself was a tiny freestanding building that displayed a PRIDE flag and had stickers signifying a woman-run business. They had closed the lobby due to COVID but converted the drive-thru to a “drive & walk”-thru and had some outdoor seating available. They also had alternative milk options AND vegan breakfast sandwiches (all stuff I can consume) and very quickly became our Anchorage Coffee Spot. (P.S. if you’re Megan’s Seattle coffee spot—you’ve got competition.)

We enjoyed our breakfast then went to the grocery store for a few items. Back at our Airbnb, there was a paper bag filled with other paper bags, and when we got to checkout we then knew why. Apparently most of Alaska has a plastic bag ban but they readily have paper bags available for $0.10. We didn’t have much so we got everything into the paper bag and headed back.

Since it was a rest day, we had made plans to see a movie. On the way to the theater we had a conversation about yarn (Megan is an artisan knitter) and we actually found a yard store within walking distance of the theater AND had about 45 minutes to kill. So, without further ado, I present the Megan in her natural habitat…

One of the theater options we considered was called Bear Tooth Theaterpub, but our movie wasn’t playing there that day. But a few taxi 🚕 drivers told us to try Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria. Bonus: it was within walking distance of the theater! Double bonus: they had vegan cheese!!!

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Day 11 – Departing cruise into Seward

Today’s our final day of the cruise, but unlike other cruises, we had to be off by 9:00 AM! 🥱

We did have time for breakfast and then went to our staterooms to wait on our number to be called. Luckily, we were only waiting a few minutes then got called through.

I’ve seen the cruise terminals at Port Canaveral, Tampa, Miami, and Vancouver. All were fairly massive. The Seward cruise terminal was…NOT. It was about half as long as the ship itself and we just walk in, find our luggage, and walk out.

Megan and I stopped to porter our luggage and then met the others’ taxi driver who was taking them to Anchorage. She did offer us the nickel tour of Seward so Megan and I hopped in and rode around to see where we would go today, then got dropped off at our first spot and off they went!

Seward has a population of around 2,800 and mostly relies on summer tourism, so we wanted to spend some time and see a few places here. The first stop of any day is coffee ☕️, and I had pre-selected Mermaid Grotto for our coffee. It has a nice decor, alternative milk options, and a shop out front. We settled in with our coffee and started to get used to steady ground.

Mermaid Grotto

Seward also operates a free community shuttle for getting around town, and we left at the perfect time to catch the shuttle! We rode it a few stops and reached the South side of Seward at the Alaska SeaLife Center. We took a self-guided tour through the center and saw many aquatic and avian animals including sea lions 🦭, seals, otters 🦦, fish 🐟, and PUFFINS! I had never seen them before!

Toward the end there was also a demonstration on how trash (especially plastic bags) in the waters can affect the ecosystem, and check again—those aren’t jellyfish, but it’s enough to confuse other sea creatures. We then went to the gift shop and I got a few souvenirs and guess what kind of bag they gave me for my souvenirs??? Actually…none. Most everyone has a backpack (including me) and I was happy they stuck to their beliefs and didn’t provide a bag.

The Iditarod historic trail marker is also in Seward and next to the Sea Life Center, so we went over for a quick picture.

A little ways down is Lowell Creek Waterfall, which made the news when a rockslide washed out the road a few years back. You can see the remains as well. And in case it wasn’t clear…This is not New York.

Around this time we were hunting for snacks/places to eat and stumbled into a restaurant near our next destination that had food and beer, so we checked in. They had empty tables but we later found out those were for a tour group coming in later. We managed to get served before the tour group came in, so it didn’t really impact us and allowed us to get out of the rain.

Since getting to Alaska, we had been trying local Alaskan beers. So when we saw that one of those beers was from Seward Brewing Company, we knew we had our next destination! (Those lunch beers were our warmup.) They also didn’t open until 3, so the late lunch bought us some time. And then beer! 🍻 We sampled a few of the local brews, then headed out to catch our bus.

The bus stop (also doubling as a hotel) was on the North side of Seward…but the town is only 2 miles long so we opted to walk the 17 minutes to our stop. One key difference between Alaska and Florida is the humidity—we didn’t even break a sweat. Once there, we boarded the bus 🚌 and made our way to Anchorage!

On our way, we did get a short glimpse of a moose! One more animal on our “Alaskan Animals” BINGO card.

A few hours later, we got off the bus and took a taxi to our Airbnb, got settled in, and then looked outside. It was almost 10:00 PM, yet this is what we saw…

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Day 10 – At Sea/Hubbard Glacier

Despite our best efforts to relax yesterday—we didn’t. Fortunately, today is “Hubbard Glacier day” as we pulled through the waters to get a monumental view of the glacier.

I also got the bright idea to use a Zoom lens…which is just me holding the phone up to the binoculars to take the pictures.

Last night at dinner, our Head Waiter gave us the opportunity for a discount on a specialty seating on a specialty restaurant experience called the Taste of Royal, where we enjoy a four course meal where each course is from a specialty restaurant across the Royal Caribbean fleet of ships! Most importantly, they accommodated my dairy allergy with every course!

Everyone was trying to pace themselves during the risotto meal, so Megan asked for a “to go” container to consolidate the risotto and not waste food. They told her that she must have fresh risotto to go, and brought her out an ENTIRE container of risotto before we left! 🥹

There were some post-meal naps that I also got photos of, but it is bad for “my health” to post them! 🤪

We were moving pretty fast by the afternoon and my cellular data worked for about a second, but I did snap a quick screenshot of our progress. Yakutat is the mouth up to the glacier and we’re heading to Seward.

There was ONE place on this ship that I wasn’t allowed to go…

Hair salon is for those with…hair

Overall, it’s been a great cruise. We had to pack up our luggage and souvenirs (to which I’m stoked that I brought a packable duffle bag) and put them out for disembarking tomorrow. But tomorrow also starts the post-vacation. It was cheaper to fly back in 4 days than to fly back tomorrow, so we rented an Airbnb for tomorrow onward, and play to spend the day in Seward.

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