Alaska Archives

August 15, 2008

What, Again?


Man, I just unpacked from Amsterdam and Paris; and now need to cram hiking gear, formal wear, and whatever the hell else one wears on an Alaska cruise into our suitcases. Lucy is not helping one bit.

August 20, 2008

Sleepy in Seattle

Travel yesterday was frighteningly easy, especially compared to the fun and games of missed connections and delays of the Europe trip. I could have done without the obnoxious cabbie who regaled us with his scary political views as the overblown rants of talk radio blared from the speakers. If anyone ever starts a "Silence is Golden" cab service, sign me up. In any case, flights both left on time, and our luggage was on the belt 15 minutes after landing in Sea-Tac. See, Logan Airport baggage slowpokes, it can be done.

Apologies to everyone in Seattle, but as soon as our plane landed, the week of beautiful weather dissolved into raindrops.

The rental house is very cute, comfy, and right around the corner from the University shopping center. Went over to Zao's Noodle Bar last night, had an excellent meal, and then poured ourselves into bed.

August 21, 2008

Seattle--Underground, Pike Place, Experience Music/Sci Fi


I swear, you look out the window here, see blue skies and wispy clouds, so dress accordingly. By the time you get the t-shirt on, the skies have greyed up and 15 minutes later cold rain is pouring down. I've read that there is only one outdoor swimming pool in all Seattle, and I'm understanding why.

So, raincoats in hand, we headed downtown Wednesday morning. I was amazed that it only took 10 minutes. Cheap Larry made up for the fast travel time by circling around looking for parking spaces and pricing parking garages. He finally admitted defeat, and pulled into a garage near Pioneer Square. I think the poor unfortunates who had been muttering into their brown bags last time we were there 16 years ago were still on the benches.

We got tickets for the Underground Tour, and then went into the Mystery Bookstore around the corner to kill a few minutes. Yes, books were purchased.

The tour begins in a reproduction of a saloon, where a guide gives a pretty good talk about Seatttle's early history, peppered with enough bad jokes to make even Dan's eyes roll. Actually, this guide was entertaining, and at least the toilet jokes were in context when talking about 19th century attempts at civil engineering. Then, we were split into groups, and let down into the abandoned areas under Seattle's current streets. More toilet humor from our guide, who wasn't nearly as effective as the last one. It was interesting to see and hear about this underground area, made by diffferent levels of streets, sidewalks and buildings as Seattle tried to cope with tide flats, unstable ground, rebuilding from fire and earthquake, and growing population.


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August 22, 2008

Out of Town


Thursday morning we called the Boeing Visitor Center in Edmonds to book a tour of the airplane factory. Under the rather overblown name "Future of Flight", Boeing has a slick, and fascinating tour of the enormous facility, and an exhibit of their old and new products. Given the size and complexity of what they make, this is no ordinary factory tour. Sadly, you are not allowed to take any photos of the factory tour (and you need to check all electronics and bags), only of the exhibit. You can get a glimpse on this video--

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REI, Sculpture, Space Needle--and Sun!

We're not big on shopping for the sake of shopping, but a stop at the flagship REI store meshed nicely with our plans for the day while we waited for the morning haze to clear. It's enormous, and has a beautiful outside area landscaped with native plants, a little hiking path for trying out boots before you buy, a small biking trail, and an enormous climbing rock. Oh, and the big yearly sale was starting today. *grin* As if I hadn't dragged enough stuff on this trip, I walked out with a new pair of light hiking boots and a fleece. Hey, 50% off what was already 20% off.

We drove up the hill in Queen Anne, full of gorgeous victorians and arts-and-crafts houses, and woah, Mt Rainier is really out today!


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August 27, 2008

Saturday and Sunday--Ballard Locks, At Sea from Seattle

(Apologies for the late posting, but internet access is hard to come by or obscenely expensive on a cruise)

Saturday morning we packed up our bags again, and headed over to Ballard to see the Ballard Locks and the fish ladder. Its set in a lovely little park where you can watch the boats as they approach to enter the lock, which brings the boats up or down to the level of the water they’re entering. Beyond is an artificial fish ladder, where mature fish jump up on their way to inland streams to spawn. You can walk below to see the fish through windows. Some nice sushi down there.

From Ballard, we drove over to the cruise ship pier. Man, these ships are enormous. The Oosterdam is a huge white thing. Holland-America has embarkation down to a science, and within 10 minutes had checked luggage and were were walking up the long gangway, after going through security and passing several ominous signs about gastro-intestinal infection. These ships are floating epidemics waiting to happen.

We were herded onto an elevator to go up and eat lunch at the Lido buffet. The doors closed, and the elevator just stayed there. Remember the kids adventure in a Paris elevator? Three of us turned to glare at Dan, who insisted “it wasn’t me!” We eventually got out and tried another elevator.
At this point, I need to talk about the Oosterdam’s décor. About the best I can say for it is that some maker of mirrored surfaces had a great year when the ship was decorated. Imagine bright blue and red carpet and paint, mirrors, shining ceilings, glowy walls, oddball faux Far Eastern carvings, and some of the most atrocious furnishings and artwork I’ve ever seen. It’s like Vegas-era Elvis meets disco, with a side of 1972 ethnic. As the motion of the ship increased throughout the evening, I found the ships public spaces more troubling to my vertigo than the sway and roll of the water.


Lunch could be summed up with “eh.” Cafeteria-style in flavor, but there sure is a lot of it. We eventually were told our cabins were ready, and headed down to deck 6. Larry and I have a nicely laid out cabin with a little verandah. Thankfully decorated with less mirror than outside. The boys have a tiny interior cabin, which they began calling steerage. We unpacked, and then wandered around. People were already bellying up to the 11 bars. We had a hysterically funny Lifejacket Drill, where one crewmember told us to go stand at one station, and then another led us back to where we had started out. My class of preschoolers is better at recognizing their own names at a firedrill than our fellow passengers. In any case, I fail at lifejacket tying.

The ship finally began to pull out. Room service delivered a cheese plate and some smoked salmon. Sitting on the verandah with a glass or wine was lovely, watching as we went past Seattle and up through the bay. This I like.



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August 28, 2008

Monday--Juneau--The One That Got Away, Glacier, etc.


I had booked a salmon fishing trip in Juneau, and we had a full day in port there. Juneau is the capital of Alaska, and interestingly enough is quite isolated. Its said there are three ways to get to Juneau--boat, plane, or womb. The road stops 23 miles from the center of town, and there are no roads over the icy interior. It's a smallish town, with a few office buildings. lots of cruise ship shops selling tanzanite jewelry (whatever that is), t-shirts, and assorted made-in-china junk, and cruise passengers wandering about.

We first picked up a car from Rent-a-Wreck so we could roam independently. We drove out to Auke Bay, and picked up sandwiches from a very cute and friendly cafe. We met up with our boat, and headed out on the miserable cold and drizzle. We set fishing poles. It rained some more. The hooks got caught in seaweed and debris. The captain untangled things and reset the lines. It rained some more.


Larry eventually got a bite, and hauled in the biggest fish he'd ever seen. It was a King salmon, almost three feet long. And then his heart got broken, becuase it wasn't large enough to keep. Because of this years limit on Kings, an out of state resident can't keep a King under four feet. The photo is lousy (you don't want to get in anyones way when they're trying to haul in a huge fish on a boat), but that tip of a grey thing is the one that had to be thrown back.


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August 29, 2008

Tuesday--Hubbard Glacier

Mid morning, we began going out on deck to peer off into the distance as we approached Hubbard Glacier. At first we saw dark, jagged mountains, and eventually a lighter color in between. As we approached, the lighter color took on a bluer tone.



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Early this morning we sailed into Sitka, located in an impossibly beautiful cove surrounded by mountains on two sides and water ringed by islands in the others. Larry and Dan were going Kayaking, and Evan and I were going on a wildlife boat and beach hike. And amazingly enough, the overcast sky showed signs of brightening.

The trip Evan and I went on was run by Allen Tours, and the crew did a great job talking about what we were seeing, the local environment both natural and social. The other passengers were also very into the trip, and we had a great time looking and walking. We immediately sighted a whale, and then sea otters, seals, bald eagles, and even a far-off grizzly bear. The thickly wooded islands are spectacular, especially Mount Edgecomb the volcano looming in the distance.



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August 30, 2008



We only had the morning in Ketchikan, so I was off the ship quite early. Larry and the boys were going ziplining, an activity which I’d as soon do as undergo abdominal surgery without anesthetic. I had been considering a floatplane trip to Misty Fjords, but after hearing about several downed planes and the lousy weather conditions and visibility in the area, I decided to not do so. As it turned out, the sun peeping through the clouds for the first time in weeks would have made for a fabulous day to fly. Ah, well.

Ketchikan is another fishing and cannery town in a beautiful setting. Its old goldrush history is largely reflected in the creekside shanties built on the hillside formerly housing a huge number of whorehouses. Nowadays the money changing hands buys fake diamonds and trashy souvenirs. What is Tanzinite, and why are people buying it?


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August 31, 2008

Friday--At Sea, Victoria


We spent Friday at sea between Ketchikan and Victoria, British Columbia. From what I understand, there's some Maritime law that the cruise ships need to comply with in order to not be classified as ferries that makes then stop in a non-American port. In any case, it gave Larry and the boys the opportunity to sing "Oh Canada" all evening until I threatened some minor domestic violence. I think Larry has been to far too many hockey games.

It was interesting hearing about McCain's choice of running mate just a day after visiting Ketchikan. Sorry, but Ketchikan is no preparation for the complexities of heading the US. And from what I saw of Ketchikan, with the town under control of cruise ship companies, its even more frightening.

We spent the day sitting on the venandah, enjoying the increasing warmth, or at least the lessening of the bone-chilling wind we've been experiencing. We crammed our clothes into suitcases. The boys played pingpong, watched movies, and enjoyed the last day of room service snacks. I am a little concerned that when we get home Dan will use his cellphone to call me downstairs and ask for a cheese steak sandwich and fries to be sent up.

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