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Day 4: Juneau

Hump Day? Humpback Day

sunny 73 °F
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large_JuneauFromVeranda.JPGWe arrive at Juneau at 9:30. Pecking order here was: Coral Princess (1,975 passengers) at 6:30, Grand Princess (2,600 passengers) at 8:00, Celebrity Millennium (1, 950 passengers) at 9:00, then us, and later on, the Explorer of the Seas (a whopping 3,835 passengers) at noon. large_IMG_6201.JPGThat’s five ships total on this day at this, the capital of the State of Alaska where the weather forecast today is for a high of 73 degrees, a low of 55, partly cloudy skies and, again, a 10% chance of rain. Imagine it: 10,742 tourists all at once. Do the locals love it or hate it?

As an aside as it is really a quite different animal altogether, the National Geographic Quest is moored adjacent to us. This 100 guest, 50 cabin explorer vessel is equipped with Zodiacs (an inflatable dinghy powered by an outboard motor) and a mud room. You can book eight Alaska days aboard for around $6,000 each/double occupancy and listen to whales on their hydrophone or kayak in the fjords.large_NationalGeographicQuest.JPG

Located on the Gastineau Channel in the Alaskan panhandle, Juneau is the second largest city in the entire United States—by area.In two days, we will visit the largest city by area which is Sitka. Juneau is over 2,700 square miles; that’s bigger than the states of Rhode Island and Delaware. 31,275 people live here at sea level under the visage of 4,000-foot Mount Juneau and across the channel from Douglas Island. Juneau gets its name from Joe Juneau, a gold prospector from Quebec. No roads connect this city to the rest of the state or, for that matter, to the rest of North America. The terrain around here is not road friendly so all goods come and go by boat or plane.

Juneau was initially here because of great herring fishing. The first European to see the place was Joseph Whidbey, the captain of the good ship Discover during George Vancouver’s expedition in 1794. After the California gold rush miners headed this way and, in 1880, nuggets “as large as peas and beans” were found here. It wasn’t until 1959 that Alaska was granted statehood and not until 1977 until the Alaska Pipeline made the state flush with cash. It is the only state capital located on an international border; Canada is just to the east.

The 2014 Palma Bay earthquake caused quite a bit of damage to the fiber optic cable that connects the city to the rest of the world and in 2008 avalanches knocked out the power so the city had to switch to diesel power for a short time.

The government is the largest employer accounting for about a quarter of the economy followed closely by us: tourism. Fishing is still big with gillnet and troll salmon fleets sailing from here. Juneau International Airport boasts of 11 daily departures. The Juneau Empire newspaper recent headlines of note are: “Dog wakes residents, alerts them to house fire,” “Pilot rescued after Glacier Bay emergency landing,” and “Five passengers safe after canoe flips at glacier.”

Upon arrival, B4 and I ate breakfast outside at our favorite place outside La Terrazza and then I took off for a 5-mile walk while she continued with her book and emails. I found bald eagles feasting on salmon in a stream and a quite fine whale statue.

EagleProfile.JPGlarge_BaldEagleWater.JPGlarge_JuneauStatue.JPG

Our adventure here is with the Gastineau Guiding Company. We’re going whale watching and on a Mendenhall Glacier photo safari departing at 2:45. We meet our naturalist photography guide, Jim, at the pier in front of the ship. We drive to Mendenhall Glacier, walk an easy trail into the forest and take in the amazing scenery and wonderful silence. There is much talk (much of it of no interest to me) of botany and plants and trees and remedies available from this fauna and that. If only I suffered from those maladies, I would be fascinated. Finally, without seeing any bears, we come to a vista from where The Mendenhall Glacier can be understood.large_GuideJimCaptainJen.JPGlarge_MendenhallCouple.JPGlarge_MendenhallCalvingBergs.JPGlarge_MendenhallWaterfall.JPG

The glacier is just over 13 miles long and, along with its surrounding territory, is protected as part of the almost 6,000 acre Mendenhall Recreation Area, a unit of the Tongass National Forest. The Mendenhall has retreated 1.75 miles (12%) since it was first measured in 1929. Average yearly temperatures here are currently increasing but the good news—such as it is—shows that the increasing tide of moist warm air is carried up the icefield and turns into snow. The snow feeds the icefield and may offset a bit of the increasing melt. If temperatures continue to increase this trend will be threatened because the glacier won’t be cold enough to create conditions necessary for snow to form. Jim, our guide, explains in great detail the science of global warming and is cautious, I can tell, to determine whether or not he has deniers among his audience. Today, he does not.

Later on, we see what I am told was a bear. Everybody else in the throng that had appeared saw this creature except for me.BearNoReallyItsABear.JPGBearVsMamaBear.JPG

Every local we have met here is marveling at the "hot" weather; twenty degrees warmer than average (in the 70's rather than the 50's) while we are visiting.

The historic melt has created Mendenhall Lake which is growing in size. Another interesting feature of the melt is that tree stumps and logs with roots and bark still attached are appearing below the glacier’s leading edge. Scientists report that the stumps are between 1,200 to 1,400 years old with some much older—as much as 2,000 years according to one report. As we walk a heavily trafficked trail, we see posted reminders of where the ice boundary was; in 1916, 1920, 1936. It's a very long walk to where the ice boundary is today. A very long walk.

Later we are aboard a safari boat with a sheltered cabin ringed by large windows. I am in my element here; this is what I love to do when I travel. I didn't own a 400mm lens when I last visited this place. If I can just hold it steady enough but that is a difficult task on a rocking boat trying to shoot a perfect photo of a moving target. I do my best; you see what that is here.large_SashaDiving.JPGlarge_SashaTail.JPGlarge_SashaWithBoat.JPGlarge_SashaWithBoat2.JPGlarge_FaustRockSealsAndEagleGlacier.JPGlarge_BaldEagleInFlight.JPG

We are soon complete. Back to our ship we decide to shower and do room service. Our suite is perfect for that and we are perfect for it. B4 has finished her book, "Bad Blood" and is astounded. She recommends it heartily.effc4eb0-9404-11e8-b8b0-bf3a4cba6d8a.png large_HarborSeal.JPG

As 11:00 approaches, we are still tied up in Juneau which has rolled up the sidewalks long ago. We are finished for the day and so are they. B4 dozes on the couch as I write; I envy her blissful sleep but I have a day to document. Tomorrow is another day for us all.

I note as we sail that we are the last of five ships to leave Juneau on this beautiful, unseasonably warm and calm evening. Will we ever return?

Posted by paulej4 09:35 Archived in USA Tagged alaska juneau Comments (0)

Day 5: Skagway

Who needs Bears when you've got Beryl?


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We arrive at Skagway at 8:00am. I am enjoying my early morning coffee(s) while B4 snoozes which is unusual for her. The weekend was filled with emails to the senior team back home and more. Sleep for her is well deserved.

FYI: I got a question about the statue in Juneau asking if I was lucky to be that close to a breaching humpback or if I photoshopped the picture. It is a statue but the question gives credence to the description, "lifelike." It's just a statue.JuneauStatue.JPG

The Celebrity Millennium, Royal Caribbean Explorer of the Seas (tied up mere yards from a vertical forest wall) and the Princess Cruise Lines Grand Princess all arrived earlier and are securely tied up to piers parallel to ours. 6b7825a0-940a-11e8-b8b0-bf3a4cba6d8a.JPGThe high temperature today is supposed to be 75 degrees, the low 59 degrees with sunny skies and no chance of rain. We have "The Russell Luck" when it comes to weather on this journey (if you forget all about the fog on our first day).

Skagway’s population is estimated to be just over 1,000 in the winter, double that now during tourist season. Nine hundred thousand visitors stop here. Lots of tourists hop aboard the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad. I rode it the last time I was here and was delivered to a hiking trail where we were dropped off; the train stopped to pick us up on its way back to Skagway. I was travelling solo then but had hiking friends from my ship. Jack London’s great book, "The Call of the Wild" was set near here and John Wayne filmed "North to Alaska" here in 1960.

Beryl says she does not remember the once-popular song: North To Alaska. You can listen to the Johnny Horton classic on Youtube. Here are some of the lyrics:10761cc0-940a-11e8-b8b0-bf3a4cba6d8a.jpg

George turned to Sam with his gold in his hand
Said "Sam you're a-lookin'at a lonely, lonely man"
"I'd trade all the gold that's buried in this land"
"For one small band of gold to place on sweet little Ginnie's hand"
"'Cos a man needs a woman to love him all the time"
"Remember, Sam, a true love is so hard to find"
"I'd build for my Ginnie, a honeymoon home"
"Below that old white mountain just a little south-east of Nome"
Where the river is winding
Big nuggets they're finding
North to Alaska
They're goin' North, the rush is on
North to Alaska
They're goin' North, the rush is on

If you make minor changes you can capture my mindset 58 years later: from "on sweet little Ginnie's hand" to "on sweet little B4's hand."
If you make major changes you can capture her mindset: "For one small band of gold" to "For one gigantic diamond..."

It was Klondike gold in 1896 that made this place. After initial reports of riches to be had, the steamer “Queen” docked here on July 29, 1897, with a load of prospectors followed by more and more who were determined to make the 500-mile journey from here to Canada’s gold fields. Skagway became a place for merchants to provide the prospectors. During that time, this place was described as completely lawless and, “little better than a hell on earth,” according to North-West Mounted Police archives. Fights, prostitutes and liquor were paramount. Con man “Soapy” Smith reportedly swindled all he could charging five dollars to send a telegraph message to anywhere in the world even though there was no telegraph service here. Smith was shot and killed in 1898 at the Shootout on Juneau Wharf and is buried at Skagway’s “Boot Hill,” the Slide Cemetery, the only cemetery that is within the bounds of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. He was 38 when he died after being shot by city engineer Frank Reid who himself died twelve days later from injuries suffered from the final bullet fired from Soapy’s pistol. Smith earned his nickname from selling bars of soap wrapped in blue tissue paper after having promised prospective buyers that a few lucky purchasers would find a $100 bill wrapped inside of the bar they bought for $5. Of course, someone would step up to buy a bar and scream with delight and hold high their found $100 bill. It is reported that the finder was a plant in the employ of the man who came to be known as “Soapy.”

The lawlessness of yesteryear appears to have abated. The website of the Skagway News provides a link to the Skagway Police & Fire Blotter. Here is a bit of what I found: May 8-18: An officer helped a lost tourist reunite with his family. A lost wallet was turned in and later returned to its owner. Multiple lost cell phones were reported. Fire Department personnel responded to a false alarm.

It’s a good day to be in Skagway which, I surmise, is particularly clean because over this past weekend the annual Household Hazardous Waste Collection Event was held at the Public Works Shop at Fifth Avenue and Main Street. The highest numbered number street in Skagway is 23rd Avenue but Main street isn’t the main street. State Street is. Our dock is a couple hundred yards from First Avenue; the town itself is a mere 1.6 miles long and 4.5 blocks wide.

After breakfast outside astern, we meet Jami and Fred at 9:30 for our Haines private photo tour by Rainbow Glacier Adventures which entails, at 10:00am, a 45-minute ferry ride to Haines. We ride along steep-walled fjords past dozens of waterfalls, humpback whales and harbor seals. We are here to see wildflowers and eagles and maybe some bears. The bears come out to feed on the salmon but they don’t normally begin their run up the Chilkoot River to spawn here until next week or the week after.

Today, there are no bears to be seen and I am, to put it mildly, bummed. Two days; no bears.

But the eagles are soaring. My eagle expectations are blown away. large_64906290-9462-11e8-b877-c3acd48c8d3b.jpglarge_5abde3a0-9462-11e8-b877-c3acd48c8d3b.jpglarge_b7cc2cb0-9461-11e8-9ad5-a59dce778840.jpgAt one point, we encounter three bald eagles, two adults (mom and dad?) and a young one. In the photographs below you will clearly see mom and dad but you may have to look to see the young bird. Look closely; it is there.large_ef284620-9462-11e8-905d-2de400a8ab6a.jpglarge_e73312b0-9462-11e8-905d-2de400a8ab6a.jpg

Oh, and we spot three seals far up the stream where they normally might not be.large_0e1e4ca0-9463-11e8-905d-2de400a8ab6a.jpg

The space is beautiful, our guide Jen was fun and knowledgable, Fred and Jami are wonderful travel companions and my Beryl beats bears any day.large_MountainChair.JPG

The ferry ride back to Skagway takes 45 minutes and it is just as beautiful as was the ride to Haines. Beautiful is the word that best describes the view left and right, fore and aft. Alaska--this part at least--is gorgeous and breathtaking and must be seen.

Tonight we have a mini-cocktail party at Fred and Jami's suite. We expected a ship's staff representative to be our host but he or she didn't show. We were then off for La Terrazza for dinner. Fred was refused entry because he didn't have a jacket; he went back to 729 and got one. Later, we watched others arrive without jackets. La Terrazza has jackets for "loan" if need be and a handful of gentlemen needed those for admittance. The interesting point is that they did not need to wear the jacket; they needed only to accept it and then drape it over their chair back. One gentlemen wore a sports jersey, shirttail out, #13, with the name "LUCKY" printed on the back. The dress code situation is an absolute joke. For me--a man who likes to dress up--it isn't an issue other than the fact that I would like everyone to comply. But, when being a "rule-follower" makes you out to be a fool, one second-guesses one's hosts. We are doing that.

In a conversation today, we have all agreed that the superiority of Silver Sea is probably a myth. The food is better on Silver Shadow. The suite is oversized and fine but oversized and fine suites can be purchased on most ships if you are willing to pay more. But, on Silver Sea, the service varies based upon who your butler is. Fred and Jami have a gem who anticipates their needs, puts welcoming notes on their mirror at day's end and decorates their bed with "bath-towel animals." Our butler comes when we call him but anticipates nothing and provides no elegant touches. Therefore, given that their suite is five doors down from ours, "service" is inconsistent.

Entertainment is sub-par at best. Were I Silver Sea I would be embarrassed at what they are offering. I've been on lots of cruises on several lines and they are all superior to what we have this week on Silver Shadow. Activities are limited on Silver Sea with much less on offer than what I have seen on Celebrity, Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Princess or Cunard.

The ship is smaller but I don't know what the advantage in that is. The key is space per passenger. We have never felt crowded here and never stood in a line. That is quite nice and I can't say that about other ships I have been on. Lines are, in varying degrees, a way of life on ships. Not here; that is quite wonderful. The disadvantage to "small" is when seas are rough. What six foot waves do to this ship is a fraction of what they do to a large ship. Is the passenger subject to seasickness or queasiness? Then don't sail with Silver Sea; take a mainline line instead.

On Silver Sea, beverages are included. Beverage packages are available--often as an incentive for no charge--on other lines. When not available on a complementary basis, that is a definite cost benefit--depending on how much you drink. WiFi is complementary with our suite level on Silver Sea. So is laundry and pressing...a fact we didn't know when we purchased our cruise. Gratuities are included as well. Arithmatic can easily be computed to determine the value quotient for these items versus the fare paid.

All in all, we have come to this conclusion: if you want a first class experience buy a larger accommodation on Celebrity or Norwegian and you'll get the same or higher level of service but you must pay for your beverages, WiFi, gratuities and laundry but still save money while enjoying a more stable ship, vastly more in the way of activities, much better entertainment but tolerate slightly less in the way of cuisine. You'll have more choices of where to dine, where to drink, where to play, where to relax and more. Skip Silver Sea. Sad and unexpected but true.

Does all of that mean we aren't having fun? Absolutely not. Does that mean that if we had it to do all over again that we would have gone for the large suite on Princess or Celebrity or Norwegian and had a better experience? Yes; we think so.

This is my third Silver Sea cruise. One was wonderful, one was disappointing and one was, well, also disappointing. Shame on me for not figuring that out next time.

It is not the fault of Silver Sea that I have yet to photograph a bear.

Posted by paulej4 08:03 Archived in USA Tagged alaska skagway Comments (0)

Day 6: Sitka

semi-overcast 62 °F
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Sitka is located on Baranof Island, on the outer coast of Alaska’s Inside Passage. Like most Southeast Alaska communities, Sitka is accessible only by air and by sea. At Sitka, it is just us. The weather is more Alaskan with arrival temperatures at 54 degrees and clouds in the sky broken by an occasional shaft of sun to shine a spotlight on a group of harbors seals ignoring us while hunting for their breakfast. large_e625c0f0-94dc-11e8-b6c7-ff4fe62a821e.JPGlarge_e98f78d0-94dc-11e8-b6c7-ff4fe62a821e.JPG

Our solo ship 9:00am until 4:00pm stay is not unusual as this is a smaller port. large_SitkaHarbor.JPGlarge_TenderAlongside.JPGLooking at Sitka's port schedule, it is a very unusual day when three ships are here, less unusual to host two and normal to have just one. Most ships that call here are smaller: Oceania Regatta (824 passengers), Seven Seas Mariner (752 passengers), Seabourn Sojourn (450 passengers, Windstar Star Legend (212 passengers); but Sitka also hosts the Eurodam (2,250 passengers), Amsterdam (1,653 passengers), and Zaandam (1,440 passengers) call here. By the way, when a ship’s name ends in “dam” that means it is a member of the Holland American Line’s fleet.

It is forecast to be cooler here with a high of only 65 degrees and a low of 56 degrees under partly cloudy skies with a 10% chance of rain. It did not rain.large_FoggyMountain.JPG

Formerly under Russian rule, in 1799 this place was named Novo-Arkhangelsk or New Archangel. It too is on an island, the Baranof Island and Chichagof Island provides the landmass for Sitka. In 1802, local Tlingit warriors destroyed the original settlement, killed many of the Russians and those who survived were ransomed with a 10,000 ruble payment. Angry, the Russians returned in 1804 and, after two days of fierce fighting, reclaimed the place and it became the capital of “Russian America.” Sitka was the site of the transfer ceremony for the Alaska Purchase in 1867. Russia was in a bind after having gone through tough times after it lost the Crimean War to Britian, France and Turkey in 1856 and entered into what some would say was a forced sale rather than allow the British to overtake the place by force.

There are just under 9,000 people here now. There are more people employed in the seafood industry than anything else with one in five earning money from fishing, seafood harvesting and processing. Interestingly, in 2010 a Texas company named S2C Global Systems announced that it was going to ship 2.9 billion gallons of fresh lake water from Blue Lake near here to the west coast of India. The deal fell apart.

The Alaska State Trooper Academy is here. The First Presbyterian Church held its last service on July 8th. “The church has struggled as its congregation has aged,” according to broadcaster KCAW. However, thirty people showed up for Sitka’s first ever Gay Pride celebration last month at the Pioneers Home Manager’s House. And “Captain Chip Lewin handed over the keys to Air Station Sitka and its three helicopters to his successor, Cmdr. Michael Frawley in a change-of-command ceremony in the air hanger station” in late June. Lewin had served two consecutive tours in Sitka—a rarity in the Coast Guard.

But, perhaps most interesting and certainly a priority piece of news to me is this: From the Sitka Sentinel: "Bears Seen in Town, Police Urge Caution; 30 Jul 2018. This weekend alone, some 15 bear sightings were reported." This is not at all the sort of bear encounter I had imagined but, at this point, I just really want to see and photograph a bear. (Later, we learn that three bears were shot overnight. Residents who fail to properly secure their trash are blamed for providing an attractive nuisance that attracts bears and, ultimately, causes them to engage in behavior that results in their destruction)

Our day involves boarding a tender from the ship to the Sitka Dock. We are met by our tour providers in their bright blue jackets at the staging area just past the vendor selling area. We get a narrated tour of Sitka and Japonski Island which boasts a fascinating World War II history. Then, we are offered an opportunity to enter the Fortress of the Bear where we can meet rescued orphaned Alaskan Coastal Brown Bears. The mission, controversial in some quarters, is to save from destruction bear cubs whose mother's were destroyed. The problem is that these cubs--and some apparently disagree on this point--cannot ever be reintroduced into the wild because they don't know how to hunt and forage for themselves and have become acclimated to humans instead of afraid of humans. I decide to skip that because I want to see bears in the wild rather than in captivity. I walk back to the dock but there are no tours here to see bears in the wild. I will have to save that experience for another year. B4 attends the Fortress of the Bear tour and gathers several wonderful bear pictures and one quite orderly Raven Shot.large_BerylBearSplayed.JPGlarge_BerylBearPrayed.JPGlarge_BerylBearWalking.JPGlarge_BerylRavensLinedUp.JPG These are her photographic work; not mine. Bravo B4!

Before the bears is the Sitka National Historic Park past totem poles and Indian River views. I've never been a fan of native American art and I find that after having seen several totem poles, seeing more fails to impress or entertain. It’s quick lasting a mere two hours leaving time for B4 to shop a bit. She finds a wonderful piece of art that will make its way from the shopkeeper to the Alameda Tower in 8 to 10 weeks time.

B4 returns to join me aboard Silver Shadow and we enjoy lunch by the pool on Deck Ten and then retire to 719 where we watch a bit of downloaded Amazon Prime video together. B4 never saw The Sopranos so we are slowly making our way through that wonderful TV series. We are almost through season two. We weigh anchor at 4:00pm leaving this Russian heritage behind. Dasvidaniya* is wished us by seals and a single whale as we sail away though waters first calm, then with six foot swells and higher and first clear, then with patchy fog and then with heavier fog. *Russian for "Goodbye"large_SealsExitingSitka.JPGlarge_e7c6a0a0-9595-11e8-88a7-47c15d67112c.JPG

At dinner, the dress code battle begins. According to the daily bulletin on the ship, Daily Chronicles," The Silver Shadow "Dress Code: Informal" means "For Ladies: DRESSES OR PANTSUITS. For Gentlemen: JACKETS (TIE OPTIONAL) after 6:00pm. Gentlemen who present themselves at a dining venue after 6:00 who are not wearing a jacket are asked to return to their suite to retrieve one or, in the alternative, the ship will loan them one. Those who accept the loan are not required to wear the jacket. They invariably drape the jacket over the back of their chair. Therefore, I propose a change in the Dress Code so that it reads: For Gentlemen's chairs: provide a seat for a gentleman in a jacket or serve as a hanger for a jacket if providing a seat for a gentleman without one. There is, therefore, no code for the gentleman; just the chair.DressCodeforChair.JPGDressCodeForChairs.JPG

We got a chance to see 729's bed as prepared by their Butler and Steward. This is what it looks like tonight: large_729Bed.JPG
This is what ours looks like tonight:large_719BedJPG.JPG

Jami suggests that perhaps it is not a difference in Butlers and Stewards but, instead, a difference in passengers. Perhaps they have projected a vibe of fun and receptivity to whimsey and a high level of frequent service while B4 and I have projected a vibe of aloofness or a preference to be left alone. If true, I did not intend to send that message; maybe she's right. But, maybe it is not a difference in us but a difference in Butlers and Stewards and the service level they provide. And maybe the level of service they provide impacts the mood of their passengers; the question becomes one of "who is in control of the experience here...the staff or the passenger?" I do not have enough data to know for certain.

Posted by paulej4 11:14 Archived in USA Tagged alaska sitka Comments (0)

Day 7: Hubbard Glacier

overcast 52 °F

Today we were to cruise the Hubbard Glacier. As we entered Yakutat Bay from the open sea the waves calmed from seven foot swells to nearly dead calm but we were enveloped by fog. It is 52 degrees outside with a 20 mph breeze blowing on our bow. As we sailed further toward Disenchantment Bay, I yearn that this body of water does not live up to its name by hosting, along with us, this horrid unending soup.large_FogBlocksDisenchantmentBay1.JPG

Hubbard is a much larger glacier than the Mendenhall of three days ago. It originates just west of Mount Walsh at 11,000 feet and reaches us—at the sea—76 miles later. We can see the mountain through the layer of cloud and fog. large_MountainsInFogOverDisenchantmentBay.JPGAlong the way it is joined by the Valerie Glacier. In May of 1986, Hubbard surged forward and blocked the outlet of Russell Fjord creating Russell Lake. Around midnight of October 8 the dam broke sending 1.3 cubic miles of water (equivalent to 35 Niagara Falls) gushing through the gap reconnecting the glacier to the fjord. It was the second largest glacial lake outburst flood in history. HubbardGlacier.jpg

From head to sea, it takes about 400 years for the ice to traverse the glacier’s length. That means that the ice we were to look at from Silver Shadow froze about four centuries ago. When it calves (pieces of the glacier breaking off and sliding into the sea) the chunks are about the size of a ten-story building—but most of that ice is below the surface—and creates a dramatic wave. We would keep our distance from the edge of the glacier if we were in Disenchantment Bay because calving is an unpredictable event. As it is, we are not entering Disenchantment Bay for fear that we might collide with such an obstacle without seeing it (because, of course, ice does not appear on any navigation chart). This is a piece of floating ice shot by Jami this morning to give you an idea of what the Captain would have to dodge.large_JamiIcebergPic.JPG

Hubbard Glacier is named for Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the first president of the Bell Telephone Company and the founder of the National Geographic Society; one of his daughters was married to Alexander Graham Bell whom Hubbard financed to develop the “acoustic telegraph.”

Russell Fjord was so named in 1906 by Marcus Baker of the U.S. Geological Survey in honor of the then recently deceased explorer Israel Cook Russell, apparently no relation to yours truly. Russell was born in New York in 1852, long before my grandfather emigrated from Ireland. Israel Cook Russell is also the inspiration for the names of Mount Rainier’s much smaller Russell Glacier in Washington State, Mount Russell in California and Lake Russell in California’s Mono Basin. Insofar as I know, nothing is named for my grandfather nor for myself. Maybe we can refer to the weather as "The Failure of The Russell Luck."large_BayDressedInLayers.JPG

I was last here on August 31, 2013, aboard my ship, the Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas which, during this year's Alaskan cruising season, arrived in Skagway at 7:00 this morning before heading here tomorrow. Small world. I remember that day almost exactly five years ago quite well. The temperatures were in the low forties and was misty as I came to a dead stop about a thousand yards from the glacier face. We were told—all 2,500 of us—to be perfectly quiet. We watched and heard sheets of ice calve from the glacier, slide into the sea and send waves toward the Radiance of the Seas. When they arrived at the ship, I remember being surprised that, due to the size of the vessel, half again longer than the Silver Shadow, I felt nothing. It was that day that motivated me to vow to repeat a cruise to Alaska and today, alongside B4, here I am. The experience is completely different because none of what I just described is available this morning. It is just too dangerous to steam into Disenchantment Bay without being able to see uncharted obstacles such as larger icebergs.

When one can see them, the colors of Hubbard are remarkable fading from stark white to azure blue. This is quite different from the color of regular ice. Glacier ice is so dense that it absorbs every other color of the spectrum—except blue—so blue is what you see. Inside this ice is dirt and gravel and organic matter that has collected inside as the glacier moved down the mountain at its slower-than-snail’s pace. It also contains countless pressurized air bubbles; no, this isn’t regular ice at all.

Hubbard is one of 616 officially named glaciers in Alaska but there are many that are unnamed that make up the balance of the approximately 100,000 glaciers that are found in this state. For a bit of local color, know that around 700,000 years ago, a continental ice sheet extended all the way to downtown Kansas City and was estimated to have been “hundreds of feet thick.” My curiosity aroused, I did a bit of reading and came across this: “A partially filled spillway valley crosses the central portion of Kansas City, Missouri. The Union Station is located in this valley which is filled with as much as 200 feet of sand and gravel. This valley functioned as a meltwater spillway when the ice margin lay across modern downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The Missouri River was blocked and upstream meltwater from the Missouri and Kansas River valleys overflowed to erode a series of outlet channels across Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri.”

Back in Alaska, around 9:30, after lingering at the mouth of Disenchantment Bay, we retreat to make way for the Celebrity Infinity to take our spot. We enter dense fog as we stand off. The mood aboard Silver Shadow is shadowy indeed. The silence is broken by the sound of foghorns, forlorn and moaning as if, well, disenchanted.
large_FogEntry1.JPGlarge_FogEntry2.JPGlarge_FogEntry3.JPG

At 10:30, the worst occurred: the captain gave up. He announced that we are disembarking the Alaskan pilots and then heading out, away from Disenchantment Bay. I had held onto false hope that we would persevere and that, perhaps, the low cloud and fog would burn off. It is not to be. I am heartbroken that B4 does not get to see what my mind's eye recalls with such clarity. The foghorn's lament speaks for us all.

To sooth our disappointment, we go to "Rock & Roll Diner" at 12:15. "Join us for traditional diner comfort food and a good old fashioned rock 'n roll sing-along with the Voices of Silversea and the Silver Shadow Trio." We have been unimpressed with the Voices of Silversea but this is a different genre or music so we are hopeful. But, as it is with hopes sometimes, these were dashed. These six young people kept the lyrics to their songs in their hands and, believe it or not, had to read them to know the lyrics. You are thinking that the songs were obscure, perhaps. No. The songs were: "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond, "Let it Be" by Paul McCartney, "Too Good to Be True" by Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons, "I Saw Her Standing There," by the Beatles; they had to read the lyrics, they did not harmonize nor, seemingly, had they rehearsed because they would come in and go out at times different one from the other. It was amateurish and nearly high-school-ish. We were seated with newly met Paulette and Ken from Chicago along with Fred and Jami and we all sort of looked at each other in amazement. But then, high comedy sometimes originates from low places so we laughed and we needed to laugh. We just tried to not let the Voices know that we were laughing at them.

Jami was at Reception and overheard a gentleman inquiring as to whether or not he and his wife could sign up for the 4:15 BRIDGE TOUR. "No," said the receptionist, "it is sold out." Jami, being Jami, popped in and said, if you can get them to do an extra bridge tour, I have four people who would like to attend. Why don't you see if you can make that happen."

Our BRIDGE TOUR is at 4:45. You've got to love people who can make things happen.

We didn't eat the traditional Diner Food at the Rock n' Roll Diner songfest because the things that were to be hot were cold. So, we headed up to La Terrazza. Over lunch in La Terrazza, I began to marvel at how unstable Silver Shadow is. The swells are running about three feet yet the ship is rocking and rolling. I intend to inquire, during our BRIDGE TOUR, whether or not Silver Shadow is equipped with stabilizers. I certainly would not want to do a crossing on her as I fear that in truly rough seas she must bob like a cork. I've been on big and on gigantic ships in rough seas and it has never bothered me. Maybe it is the fog that is complicating the feeling we are getting. Without being able to see land or even the horizon, ship movement is probably more disorienting than it might otherwise be.

When we returned to our suite, B4's bag was perched atop a luggage stand with this note on it:PackingAssistance.JPG We agree that this not a service we would utilize. Somehow, it doesn't make sense to me or even seem desirable to me to have someone else pack my bag at the end of a trip. How non-Downton Abbey of me (us).

Here is one area where Abraham and Donna truly excelled. Only once during the entire week did I have to request more ice for this bucket and never did I have to ask for an empty bottle to be replaced with a full one. Kudos Abraham and Donna!ProseccoBucket.JPG

As is customary on cruises, on this the last and final night, we must have our properly-tagged checked baggage out in the hallway by 11:00pm for collection. Since we do not have an early flight, we are lumped with the BROWN group and must be ready with our hand luggage to disembark the vessel between 7:00 and 7:30 following the announcement for BROWN luggage tags. Silversea will transport our luggage to the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage where we will pick it up and make our way over to the Marriott for our one night stay. The weather forecast for Seward tomorrow: Heavy Rain.

More about all of that in tomorrow's missive.

Posted by paulej4 23:22 Archived in USA Tagged alaska glacier hubbard Comments (0)

Day 8: Seward

Take the Train to Anchorage

rain 60 °F
View Silver Seas Cruise on paulej4's travel map.

We end our 1,650-nautical-mile cruise as we dock at Seward, Alaska. Named for? William H. Seward, the former U.S. Secretary of State who, in 1867, totally took advantage of Russia by purchasing the State of Alaska for $7 million. HowBigIsAlaska.jpgSewardToAnchorage.jpg We are the only ship arriving today which will make--should make--our transportation from here to Anchorage a breeze. No crowds to fight, no jostling for the best seat on the train which we will take from Seward up to Anchorage. Nobody will be staying here in Seward as there is no reason to stay here; this is but a port for Alaska cruises and nothing much more.

Only about 750,000 people live in Alaska. That makes it, as the largest state, the most sparsely populated. Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, both Republicans, are the two U.S. Senators from here. Out most populous state, California, is home to just under 39 million people who are represented in the Senate by Kamala Harris and Dianne Feinstein, both Democrats. Yet the fact is this: 750,000 people from Alaska get two votes while 39 million people from California also get two votes. This made sense when the Constitution was written and "state's rights" were critical to the formation of a "Union." Today, not so much from my perspective. I live on a state line and cross it multiple times a week. Nobody here that I know--except die hard politicos--thinks about "state's rights" when it comes to national issues like defense or federal taxation or immigration. We think about those things as Americans, not Kansans or Missourians. So, to me, it makes no sense that Alaskans have, per person, vastly more power than do Californians or New Yorkers or Floridians.

I got curious while thinking about this. California, with 39 million people, gets two senate votes. Alaska, Wyoming, Vermont, North Dakota, South Dakota, Delaware, Montana, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Hawaii, Idaho, West Virginia, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Arkansas, Mississippi, Iowa, Connecticut and Kansas combined have a population of 40 million people and get 44 votes in the Senate. 2-44. Somebody should explain to me how a representative democracy works. One “man” one vote? I’m confused.

The days are long here in August. The sun rises at 5:37am and does not set until 10:30pm as the days are, at this time of the year, actually getting shorter. Tomorrow, there will be 5 minutes fewer daylight hours than today. SewardArrivalBusTrainAwait.JPGAlaskaRailroadClubCarInCenter.JPGAlaskaRailroadGrandviewTrain.JPG

Disembarking is as painless as was embarking one short week ago. So it goes on a small ship.

After breakfast, we took our carry-on bags down two decks to Reception on Deck Five and soon were called (by luggage tag color) to scan our ID cards (they keep them) and depart Silver Shadow. Down the gangplank and through a reception hall we were once again “checked-off” and “handed-off” to the Alaska Railroad Desk where two tickets were provided for our train to Anchorage.

Since we are the only ship in port today, the train is provided for us automatically unless we opt out and is exclusive to Silver Shadow passengers on this journey. That would not be the case if multiple ships were in port. As I recall, the train sells out; reservations are advised far in advance if not provided by your cruise line.

Out the doors of the reception hall building we undertook a short thirty-yard stroll to Car Two, Seats 3A and 3B, tucked our carry-ons under our seats (there are no overhead bins for luggage as that would block the view) and settled in. We were quickly joined by an English couple from Surrey and B4 commenced a convivial conversation about “The Royals,” a favorite subject of hers. All aboard is at 7:40am.AboardAlaskaRailroad.JPG

Later, we moved to an empty booth to stretch out and enjoy the scenery. There is no WiFi on board the Alaska Railroad and mobile phone service is non-existent for the first half of our journey through the Alaska wilderness. It is rainy and heavily overcast as we pass the 20-miles long Kenai Lake which is fed by the sport-fishing haven, Kenai River. The 82-mile long Kenai River bans motors so only float/drift boats are allowed.

The Alaska Railroad, established 104 years ago, prides itself as being “The Last Full-Service Railroad in America.” There is a full hot breakfast and hot lunch menu available in our car and more at a Club Car farther forward on our seven-car train. Four of the cars are like ours and seat 76 passengers in a four-person booth arrangement. The other two are newer and seat 68 passengers each. There are lots of empty seats since the train can hold more passengers than can the ship and some Silver Shadow passengers opted for busses to Anchorage which save time for making earlier flights. This train journey is expected to last 4 hours and 50 minutes.

There is but a single rail line from north to south in Alaska. From time to time we pass sidings. Southbound trains (heading toward cruise ships) have the right of way so we stop for them to pass. We also stop for wildlife on the track. Frankly we stop, if not for long, a lot.

Early on, our track hugs a hillside on the right and offers long vistas over the Kenai Lake on the left. Later, there’s a river and the Trail Glacier on the right side and forest on the left. On which side should you sit? The answer is “both.” There is lots of glass so the views are fine everywhere.
You can easily pass from car to car but the car you’re leaving and the car you’re approaching will be rocking in different directions as you transition; hold on. We are cautioned regarding safety aboard the always wobbling train. Gentlemen are advised, out of courtesy to the ladies, to sit when using the toilet as the target is always moving. In all my travels, this was the first time I had heard that admonishment. One other announcement requested that we kindly remember to lock the toilet doors so that only bear sightings (rather than bare sightings) occurred.AlaskaTrainLockDoorSign.JPG

Sometimes adjacent to the highway and sometimes not, the passing terrain is always interesting. Mountains lurk, lakes and streams embrace and trees of all sorts—but mostly spruce—insulate us along the way. There are the occasional homes at the side of these tracks, many hewn of logs.

Every fifteen minutes or so, our Car Hostess, Lisa, picks up her microphone and provides us with local color. She’s very good at what she does. Her second announcement out of Seward occurs at Moose Pass, a community of 80 or so residents which, by vote, does not have a gas station. She had a joke about them not wanting something called “Moose Pass Gas.” They drive 60 miles round trip to Seward to fill up.

Rivulets of rain race down the curved glass elbow-to-center console windows as we pass over the Trail River and a red homesteader’s cabin. Lisa tells us that often the 80-year-old residents of that “dry” cabin make it a point to wave to the passing train. Today, only a wisp of smoke lets us know they’re home. A “dry” cabin is one without running water or electricity.

The train ride gives B4 an opportunity to do her letters which consist of congratulatory messages to HDS associates celebrating employment milestones or achievement of sales or production goals. She does this a lot. AlaskaTrainBerylWorking.JPG
And, she never just signs her name. There is always a personal message on each and every letter. Today, she has one for “Cathy” at one of the stores who has been with the company for—get this—fifty years. At least that’s what the letter says. B4 wants to verify that saying, “I’ve got to do more that sign a letter if she has worked here for fifty years.” B4 never goes anywhere—vacation or otherwise—without toting (or having me tote) pounds of paper which may be letters to sign or spreadsheets to analyze). Often, an idea of concern pops into her head and out pops her iPhone while a text or email is composed. Here, however, that’s the limit for her as, being away from connectivity, she cannot send.

This is not a “flag stop” train. North of Anchorage, those who want to board the train run up a flag at appointed potential stopping points. If the flag is up, the train stops. No flag; no stop. The rivers from glaciers bring grey colored silty water to the lakes while runoff streams bring clear water. The two “colors” don’t mix so, in many spots, the water is clearly demarked with a grey side and a clear side, something else I had not seen before.

As you would imagine, the track is anything but straight. We seldom get much speed because the track winds, twists and gyrates accommodating the terrain through which we pass. There is a groaning sound that eminates from the coupling between cars when the bend is sharp and a click-clack sound which overtakes all others when the automatic doors between cars slide open. Also when the bend is sharp you can see the front of our train from the rear portion where we are. It is quite picturesque, even romantic in a way.large_TrainCurving.JPG

At precisely 10:00am, two hours and twenty minutes into our trip, we reach the summit of our journey at 1,197 feet above sea level and begin going back downhill. Remember we began and sea level and finish at nearly that.

On the way down, we pass through a series of tunnels granting vistas of lakes full of icebergs and streams and forests, glaciers, rapids and waterfalls but no bears.

FishermenBelowTrain.JPGSpencerGlacierTrailBridge.JPGGlacierAhead.JPGSpencerGlacierAndMelt.JPG Lisa announces, at 10:30, that we are the halfway portion of our journey and offers to bring food or drink to those who so desire it. She has turkey and cheddar or ham and swiss or veggie garden delight sandwiches or a nice chef’s salad. Prices range from $12 to $14 for food to go along with your “Moose Mary” which is “Our version of the classic Bloody Mary; Anchorage Distillery Vodka with our signature spicy mix,” priced at $8.25. Top it all off with an “Original Alaska Bar” which is “A thick slice of vanilla ice cream covered in a layer of rich milk chocolate” for only $4.45.

She also tells us to watch out for moose. So, we do. We pass by one at a distance which I may or may not have seen (it was fleeting) and a mom and her baby which virtually nobody saw because that sighting, also, was quick. B4 and I swap childhood Rocky and Bulwinkle stories.

Our ticket was included in the Silver Shadow fare. The one way fare on this train is $212 in Gold Star Class and $108 in Adventure Class.

Our train arrives at the Anchorage International Airport at 12:30 where we transfer to a bus for a 15 minute ride to the Egan Center where our bags have been pre-delivered by box truck. From there it is a five-block walk to the Marriott where we are spending the night. It is four blocks to the iconic but aging Captain Cook Hotel, two to the Hilton and eight to the Sheraton. After walking to the Marriott and checking in, we walk two blocks to the Glacier Brewhouse for a late lunch. we both opt for halibut and are well impressed. Our dinner reservation at 8:15 is at highly recommended Simon and Seaforts which is four blocks away. Downtown Anchorage is compact but in the rain, which we have this evening, Uber is best for even a short journey.

We enjoy an appetizer of halibut cheeks which is wonderful, a couple of entrees which were quite good and then, poetically, we end our meal with a metaphor: Baked Alaska.

Posted by paulej4 10:27 Archived in USA Tagged alaska seward Comments (1)

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