Alaska Cruise: Ketchikan

Well here it is already, my last post on our cruise to Alaska with our final stop at Ketchikan!

Ketchikan is in fact, the first city you would normally encounter cruising north into Alaska’s Inside Passage.  Our itinerary however, took us to Juneau first, then to Glacier Bay, followed by Sitka and lastly to Ketchikan.  Of the three cities we visited I think Ketchikan is the most colorful of them all.

And the rainiest, it turns out.

202 inches in 1949?  That my friend, is some serious rain!

And then there’s this, taken from the ‘Alaska Cruise Handbook,’ by John Upton:

“Ketchikan visitor to child: How long has it been raining?

Child: I don’t know;  I’m only five.”

So yes, it was raining in Ketchikan and we pulled out our umbrellas and explored the town on our own. I headed for colorful Creek Street, a historic boardwalk along the banks of Ketchikan Creek .

Creek Street used to be the red light district of this rough and tumble fishing and logging town. Its colorful buildings now house shops, art galleries and restaurants. Salmon still swim upstream in the creek to spawn.

Most of the sawmills in Ketchikan have closed down but you can still see the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show on the pier. The show is fun and also demonstrates serious logging skills by young athletes.

We finished up our shopping before returning to the ship to start the journey home. The next two days we would cruise south under overcast, but beautiful skies.

While walking the promenade deck, or gazing out the window from our balcony I liked to watch the sea, hoping to catch more of this.

And this.

No, not a sea monster.  A humpback whale!  Yes, we saw them several times on our journey and every time it was a thrill!

After a week of sailing we arrived back in Seattle, happy to be home again but also happy to have finally seen Alaska.  In fact it left us hungry for more.  And though I can now cross Alaska off my list, I’m sure we’ll be back someday to see more of this wild and beautiful state.

~  Susanne

Alaska Cruise:  Sitka

We left Glacier Bay and after cruising all night, woke up early the next day in Sitka, a small, rainy, town with a large size and history.  Though the town has only 9,000 residents it also happens to be the largest city in the United States by area, at 4,811 square miles, encompassing the entire Baranoff Island and surrounding sea. (It turns out the second largest US city by area is Juneau. Everything is bigger in Alaska I guess, even the definition of a city.)

The downtown harbor is too small for cruise ships so we docked 5 miles from the center and took the provided bus to town.

Sitka is not technically on the Inside Passage as it faces the Pacific Ocean. This means the sailing gets a bit rougher. It also means it lacks the crowds and sameness of other cruise ship destinations.  We stopped at a local coffee shop and enjoyed our drinks and pastries slowly. Then with umbrellas in hand we took the boardwalk along the waterfront and watched the eagles overhead and on the nearby beach.

A few blocks away we arrived at Sitka National Historical Park. Here the Tlingit people clashed with the Russian fur traders destroying their first outpost in 1802. But the Russians  returned in 1804 and drove the Tlingits out at the Battle of Sitka.  Sitka was reestablished on the site of the Tlingit village, Shee Aitka, and eventually became the busiest port on the entire west coast of all the Americas. But by 1867 the resources of the fur trade had drastically diminished as sea otters were practically exterminated, and the Russians sold Alaska to the United States for 2 cents an acre.

The park includes a trail through the rainforest where many native totem poles stand guard.

As we stopped to admire them a very talkative raven spoke urgently and rapidly to us from a nearby tree and I began to understand its prominence in Tlingit culture.

After leaving the Park we wandered through town and picked up some mementos including some flavored salt  processed from the sea.

Then it was back to the ship to cruise to our final stop in Alaska:  Ketchikan.

~  Susanne

Alaska Cruise Highlight: Glacier Bay

After leaving Juneau we cruised through the night and entered magnificent Glacier Bay the next morning. As we entered the Bay, National Park Rangers boarded the ship and narrated the cruise for us.

According to the National Park website:  “Covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines and deep sheltered fjords, Glacier Bay National Park is a highlight of Alaska’s Inside Passage and part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site—one of the world’s largest international protected areas.”

And to think I’d never heard of it before planning our cruise!  Once I learned of Glacier Bay,  I knew any Alaska itinerary must include it.  It did not disappoint. Indeed it became the highlight of our trip. Though the skies were overcast and a light rain was falling as we entered the Bay, we knew we were in for something special. Wispy clouds covered mountain tops and glacier polished rock stood proudly on all sides; sea otters and seals swam in the beautiful milky green waters, mountain goats as puffs of white could be seen on steep hillsides.

Our first major destination was Margerie Glacier which we approached around 10:00 am.  “If a glacier is fed by enough snow to flow out of the mountains and down to the sea, we call it a “tidewater” glacier – the type many people come to Glacier Bay to see. The park and preserve includes 7 tidewater glaciers that break off or “calve” into saltwater at sea level, and a few others that reach the sea at high tide only. The show can be spectacular.”  (From the National Park Website.)

It was. As we neared the glacier, we heard the thunderous roar as chunks of ice exploded and crashed into the water.

We lingered near Margerie for an hour before moving on to nearby John Hopkins Inlet and its glacier.

John Hopkins Inlet is a narrow fjord inaccessible to most ships. It’s closed during July and August as the seals of southeast Alaska congregate here to give birth to their young. It reopens in September.

‘Look ahead for what appears to be little black sausages on the ice,’ the Park Ranger told us over the loudspeaker.  ‘Those are the seals born this summer.’  And there they were!

This one even posed for us.

After several hours of cruising we finally departed Glacier Bay in the afternoon and headed south towards Sitka.

Yes, the weather could have been better. The cloud cover meant we missed some of the mountain peaks in the background. But no matter; we have seen mountains.  We were there for the glaciers.

A place I aspire to visit again.

~ Susanne

Alaska Cruise: Juneau and Mendenhall Glacier

We left Seattle on the cruise ship Eurodam on Saturday afternoon and sailed through the Strait of Juan de Fuca and around Vancouver Island towards Alaska. The first day was mostly sunny and clear but clouds and light rain descended on the second day.

Still we enjoyed our time at sea exploring the ship and walking the Promenade Deck. And eating. A lot.

On the third day dry land appeared out of the clouds and the sun was shining as we neared Juneau, our first stop and Alaska’s state capital. Another cruise ship was not far behind us and looked beautiful in silhouette against the mountains.

Juneau is the largest of all the state capitals at 3,000 square miles and the only capital to border another country (Canada.)  Of course you can’t get there from here. There are no roads into or out of the city.  Arrival is by boat or air only and all roads out of town dead end. Our informative bus driver shared these facts with us on our drive to the Mendenhall Glacier, 25 minutes from town.

Mendenhall Glacier

We arrived at Alaska’s most accessible glacier, one of 38 large glaciers that flow from the Juneau Icefield.

We took the trail to Nugget Falls, a perfect hike for us at 2 miles round trip, and were not overly concerned about this sign.

Afterwards Bob stopped by the Visitor Center while I wandered around taking more pictures of the surrounding lakes and beautiful fall colors.

Later we stopped at Gold Creek for a salmon bake.  We enjoyed our dinner next to the creek, where gold was first discovered in Juneau by two miners in 1880.  One of the miners was Joseph Juneau who lent his name to the city.

We returned to town for a bit of shopping, then headed back to our ship where we would rest and be magically transported to Glacier Bay the next day.

Up next:  the magnificent Glacier Bay.

~ Susanne

Home Again Home Again

Jiggety Jig. From the Cruise, that is. Yes I’m happy to be home again with my feet firmly planted on the ground after our wonderful cruise to Alaska.  Benji and Tiger are also happy and welcomed us back with love and open paws, not to mention forgiveness for having left them for the week. Of course they were well cared for in our absence but they have assured me they much prefer my presence to not.  Benji, the most affectionate one, is insisting on being near me, beside me, or soft and snuggly on my lap since our return. Tiger is also looking for his share of love and assurance that I will never leave again. (At least anytime soon.)

Now, about that cruise!   l think I may have discovered the very best way to travel!  Okay, I also love flying, camping, road trips, bicycling, etc. but at least for now cruising has my vote.  Just check right into your floating home and leave the rest to them. Let them do the navigating while you take in new vistas minute by minute, hour by hour and day by day! Breathe in fresh marine air every morning as you walk on the Promenade Deck.  Three laps and you’ve walked a mile.  You’ll need that walk to work off all that wonderful food you are eating morning, noon and night.  But don’t walk too fast or you might miss the whales or the glaciers or the seals or the mountains or even the mountain goats as you make your way into Southeast Alaska.

I am still sorting through the best of the Alaska photos (I won’t tell you how many hundreds I took) and will bring them to you in my coming posts.  But for now, I leave with you the views from our ship as we departed Seattle and our first sunset cruise that evening.

More to come.  Stay tuned.

~ Susanne

Fourteen States to Go and Countdown to Alaska!

I never intended to visit all fifty of these United States of America but once I realized I’d already made it to thirty-six of them, the remaining fourteen seemed a worthy goal. What are those states you may wonder?  Well they are last for a reason.  Most of them appear on someone’s list of least visited states (with the exception of Alaska, my apologies to them.) Here they are by region.

The Far West

  • Alaska – That big beautiful icebox up north.  I’m from Seattle so I have no excuse.  I mean come on, it’s just up the coast from here. I’m a bit late, but I’ll finally check it off the list when we set sail for the Inside Passage soon!  (Yes, it’s my first cruise too.)  I plan to take way too many pictures and hope to share the best with you.  A bit more on that later.

The Middle West

  • North Dakota –  A great place to be from, my mother in law used to say.  She should know. Born and raised in the small town of New Rockford, she moved to Seattle during the War to work at Boeing.  She met her husband and the rest is history; rather good history it turns out for me. I’ve already been to the best of the Dakotas but I hope to see this one someday too, if only on the way to somewhere else.
  • Nebraska –  Because it’s there, and like every state, has something worth seeing, like landmarks from the Oregon Trail (Chimney Rock, Scott’s Bluff.)  And for what it’s worth, my dad was born there.
  • Iowa –  ‘You really ought to give Iowa a try!’  this from my favorite musical, ‘The Music Man.’  So I’ll try. I really will.
  • Oklahoma –  Another one of my favorite musicals.  I’m afraid I expect it to look like the movie and will be disappointed. (And not to mention, they took our basketball team.)

Great Lakes Region of the Upper Midwest

  • Michigan – It’s easy to forget Michigan, as I almost did!  You might think only of Detroit and who goes vacationing there, am I right?  But look a little closer and you will discover the Upper Peninsula and Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

The Northeast

The remaining northeastern states are small and off the beaten path so I will group them together. They also have something to offer in the way of quaint towns, fall color and another National Park – Acadia, in Maine.

  • Maine 
  • New Hampshire
  • Vermont
  • Rhode Island

The Deep South 

A whole different culture to be experienced and explored. If our cruise to Alaska goes well, we may try another one down the mighty Mississippi and tackle a few of these at once.

  • Arkansas
  • Alabama
  • Mississippi
  • Louisiana

There you have it, a list of states I need to visit to see all fifty.  I admit some of them will be challenging.  Hopefully I won’t lose my resolve!

I’ll start with the easiest first, the great state of Alaska, by cruise through the Inside Passage.  Itinerary includes Glacier Bay National Park, and stops in Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan.  Stay tuned for that!

~ Susanne

A trip to Siberia … and a Coup!

Would you vacation in Siberia?  Would you?  What if it you knew there would be an attempted coup that might threaten your return home to these United States of America?  Well no, I wouldn’t, but yes, my mother did.  And so I will take you on a journey to Magadan and Khabarovsk in Russia’s Far East, during the waning days of the USSR.

It was August of 1991 and Alaska Airlines had begun flying to Russia from Anchorage, Alaska.  My mother had remarried after being widowed some years before and she and her new husband decided upon this unusual vacation. (Apparently after the honeymoon in Hawaii the next logical place to go is Siberia?)

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Magadan

After spending a few days in Alaska, they fly west to Magadan, a port city on the Sea of Okhotsk in Russia’s Far East. Magadan was a major transit center during the Stalin era for prisoners sent to the Siberian labor camps. It served as a staging ground to the Kolyma gold fields, the deadliest of the camps in the Soviet Gulag.

It is still a difficult existence. Their two local Russian guides are teachers, and they earn the equivalent of eight dollars a month.  Senior citizens in town are required to clean the streets to receive their pensions.  Scenes from a town in disrepair reflect its painful past.

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The accommodations at the Magadan hotel (the only hotel in a city of 100,000) are what you might call basic. The hotel was previously used almost exclusively by government officials.

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The beds are tiny though each room does have its own private bath. (Uh-huh, see for yourself.)

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No, she’s not complaining. The water was hot (at least when the pumps were working according to one local) and the experience invaluable.

They tour the town and visit the Magadan Theatre, famous for the actors, writers and directors who had worked there in the past as prisoners.

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Golden Bread

It’s a good thing they didn’t go for the food.  One time they sat down to a lunch that included Russian bread the color of gold.  Beautiful gold that seemed to flow. And as they watched, the gold poured out of the center of that bread in the form of tiny ants.  Lots of them.  (So mom, tell me again why you wanted to vacation in Siberia?  Oh yeah, I remember now, because it’s there!)

On to Khabarovsk

They head south to Khabarovsk, a much larger city on the Amur River near the border with China.  The people are friendly and the children beautiful, as are children everywhere.  It was customary for the little girls to wear big bows in their hair.

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They visit an old-fashioned theme park..

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Take a cruise on the Amur River..

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And stop at a Military Museum complete with Russian tanks.

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But why settle for that when you can see the troops roll down the streets for yourself? They are in Khabarovsk when news arrives that hard-line Communist Party members have staged a coup to take over the Soviet government from President Mikhail Gorbachev. Things are tense as KGB officers are seen huddling in front of Military buildings and troops roll down the streets in army trucks. (Tourists were cautioned not to take pictures but as you can see some did anyway.)

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And then, after two days, the failed coup was over and Gorbachev was back in power.  But it was the beginning of the end of the USSR.

The Americans had been scheduled to fly back through Magadan but the city is closed and no one is getting in or out. They would have to fly directly to Nome instead, refuel, then continue on to Anchorage.

When the plane reaches its final destination it is met by TV crews and my mother is one of the first to be interviewed. Was she afraid at any time while she was there?  No, she replied honestly. It had all been so interesting, there was no time to be afraid.

Years later I am going through her scrapbook to write this story and come across a handwritten letter from a friend they made while in Russia.  It read in part, “Do you remember my state of mind on that terrible day – the 19th of August.  All of us were greatly depressed that there existed a probability of democracy defeat in our country those days.  Thank God, it never happened though we still have no surety of a better life.”

I don’t know whether they attained to a better life or not. But as I consider these words I am reminded that we are really not that different.  People all over the world have the same needs and wants, aspirations and struggles, for freedom and a good and decent life.   It is still true that there are no guarantees.

~   Susanne