For years, Wisconsin Public Television has partnered with Holiday Vacations to provide unique travel opportunities around the world. Viewers join experienced guides and enthusiastic WPT personalities to visit many sites they may have experienced for the first time through a program on PBS.
Inga Witscher, host of Around the Farm Table, recently traveled to Alaska with one of these groups. Read on for her reflections on travel, television and the world we share.
Ever since Holiday Vacations and Wisconsin Public Television asked me to host an agriculture tour to Alaska, I could hardly wait. It was a topic at the dinner table for my husband Chance and me. “Would we see a bear?” He wondered. “Will we get to sample the local fare?” I wondered.
All of our hopes were met and then some. On our first day in Alaska, we boarded a train and tested our luck panning for gold. Wouldn’t you know it, the man who greeted us at the Gold Dredge was a Wisconsin native who set out for Alaska in the ’70s! He taught us the history of gold mining before setting our group free to try our own hand.
We panned for gold as a group and all 40 of us took turns helping each other out and sharing in the excitement. It was our first day of bonding – and that was what we did! By the time we boarded the bus to head for lunch, we were all laughing and sharing stories.
After lunch, we bundled up and boarded the Riverboat Discovery to drift down the Chena River and find out about Alaska’s present and past.
We watched as planes effortlessly landed within 20 feet of our boat and take off again with amazing grace.
We floated up to the house and training facility of dog musher – and 2nd woman to win the Iditarod Race – Susan Butcher. Sadly, she passed away from cancer in 2006, but her husband is continuing her legacy of training mushing dogs. We even had a chance to visit with the dogs when we made a stop at a former village where we learned about Alaska’s native people.
And then there was Denali! Chance and I were blown away by the views in Denali National Park.
From the moment our group loaded up in the bus, our cameras were out and ready. We were hoping to spot all the wildlife the park had to offer. It wasn’t long before we were pressed up against the windows getting photos of a mother moose with her calf.
After a while, someone yelled out that they saw a bear! A mother Grizzly and her two cubs were a football field away from the bus!
I didn’t have a good camera on me, but the buses are equipped with screens, so I took the best shot I could.
As the trip moved along, we were all becoming fast friends. I enjoyed talking shop with the farmers that were on the trip with me, and sharing a brandy at the end of the day (you can take us out of Wisconsin, but you can’t take the Wisconsin out of us!).
We were able to visit a musk ox farm before heading to the State Fair. We all had fun posing with the furry creatures and learning about their wool.
We all love the State Fair here in Wisconsin; Alaska’s was a bit different. They only had a handful of cows! But the vegetables … wow! They were nothing like I had seen before. Since Alaska gets so many hours of daylight in the summer, the vegetables are huge!
Our trip ended with a stunning train ride to Seward, where we boarded a boat for whale watching and relaxing. I couldn’t help but bask in the beauty of this area. Once off the boat, Chance and I found a place on the beach to sit and watch the boats go by. We could have stayed forever.
The trip was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, with so many memories made. There are so many things I could say, the trip was stress-free, and the lodging and meals were incredible. But the folks I traveled with helped make the trip extra special, and I was happy to leave with so many new friends.
To learn more about Wisconsin Public Television’s upcoming trips with Holiday Vacations, including an English Masterpiece Tour on April 10-20, 2018, visit wpt.org/travel.
Catch new episodes of Around the Farm Table Thursdays at 7:30 on WPT.