Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Alaska, 2017, part 1

Saturday, July 15th  The Journey Begins…

That morning I get up early, finish most of my packing, work on the drip irrigation, attempting to give my garden a fighting chance on survival while I am away… I go to work… check in with the volunteers, then return home to finish packing, and take a deep breath before Gael arrives at 2:00… we load the dog beds, the dog food, the dog toys and such, then the dogs and finally my suitcase and bag… Then off to her house where we unload the dogs and dog accessories, and transfer bags to their pick-up…

Natalie, Gael’s daughter drives us to the airport, leaving us at terminal 3 where we find the Alaska luggage drop, and drop our bags, only after moving a few items about to get the weight below the posted weight limits… We clear security quickly, then find our gate and a nearby bar to sit until boarding…

The flight is full… we (Gail) have brought snacks… crackers and cheese and salami… We read, I write… eventually we land at Seattle but only after

Sunday Morning, July 16th

Anchorage Alaska… 5:00 am… Its early, particularly considering that we only landed at the airport at 11:15 the night before…  But, we have a train to catch, a train that will take us to Seward to meet our ship, and that train is leaving early so we must get up to catch the train.  We get up, shower, and go in search of coffee and a taxi to the railroad station.

The taxi ride is short… or driver from Turkey… we discuss their (Turkey’s) current political situation, talk about life in Alaska… then arrive at the Railroad station… where we can check bags directly to the ship… losing responsibility for our very heavy bags… then inside to get our train tickets.  Inside it is crowded… We get our tickets, discover that the door out to the trains is roped off, so explore the gift shop, then retreat outside, in front, away from the crowd where I take pictures of the Alaska Railroad’s first steam locomotive, now resting on a plinth across the street.

As we wait busses arrive… several carrying Asian (Korean?) tourists… their guide is barking instructions while his charges wander past…  Other busses and vans arrive with other tour groups… In side the depot they drop the ropes and the crowd surges outside… then mills about wonder what to do next… We board our car, and find our seats… I explore a bit, and while exploring hear a report on a staff radio that some people may be late because there is a bear in the vicinity disrupting traffic.

The train is spectacular… (but you would expect no less a compliment from me) blue with yellow trim and lettering… we are seated in a new coach, apparently built in Korea by Dawou… behind us is a 1950’s dome car… ahead a snack car… converted from a Southern Pacific gallery commuter coach, with a former Union Pacific dining car ahead of that.  There are several other ex-SP cars, now converted into Explorer class cars ahead of the diner, and several more Dawoe coaches and an open end observation behind…  All in all a proper passenger train.  Eventually, with all passengers loaded the whistle sounds and we move first westward before turning south to follow Turnagain arm southward.  The train has traditional dutch doors in the vestibules… and they let you stand in the vestibule and lean out and enjoy the ride…   

Along Turnagan Arm we see Dall sheep… a bit below at Portage we see the ghost trees killed when the land subsided during the 1964 earthquake.  Below Portage we start to climb eastward over the spine of the Kenai Peninsula, passing 2 glaciers, then over Moose Pass and past Moose Lake… eventually reaching Steward on the other side of the Peninsula.

The train stops at the edge of the village of Seward, with our ship visible in the harbor.  Unencumbered by luggage, we wander the length of the town on the main street, then wander back along the waterfront, continuing to the cruise ship dock.  It was too early to board, but they were ready and we walked on… to a nearly empty ship, with at least a few guests from the previous cruise still wandering the halls, hesitant to leave.

We left our bags in our room, which was ready, then had lunch in the main dining room before exploring the ship… Gael napped a bit… I wandered a bit then again together we toured the spa, had a drink at the stern most bar and returned to the room hoping to find luggage… which had not yet arrived… Peering over the side of the ship, we realized that they had not yet started to load luggage, but were only then setting up the scanner and conveyors…  An invitation for the “Mariner’s reception had been given to me on check in… but we were still the blue jeans we had worn aboard the train… embolden, knowing that if they had not started to load the luggage aboard, that it was unlikely that others had clothing to change into, we headed up to the crow’s nest for the party as we were…   The party was not particularly well attended… possibly because many if not most of the passengers were not yet abroad…  We enjoyed a glass or two of champagne and hor’d voirs before going down to the room, where we found my suitcase… eventually Gael’s made its way upstairs as we watched the crew continue loading bags aboard.

We fresh clothes we changed and went down to dinner… wander the ship for a bit longer then went to bed… It had been a long two days.

Monday Morning, July 17th

Somewhere in the Gulf of Alaska.  It is gloomy and grey… the seas calm with no white caps…  just a gentle slap of waves on the hull.   It is foggy with the soft white clouds merging into the fog which surrounds us creating a world which is something like a bubble, maybe 5 miles across, but without a reference point could be much smaller.

Today is a sea day… transiting the gulf.  We left Seward a little after 8:00 last night… they spent about 2 hours working our way down the sound and out to Blying sound, and from there into the gulf.  We have spent the night, and will spend today and most of the night to come transiting the gulf… then early tomorrow we will pass Cape Spencer as we enter Cross Sound. 

After two days of travel… truly via planes, trains and automobiles and now a ship, we are lazy, so are only stirring at 7:00…  Which would be at home 8:00… I have showered, dressed and am writing, Gael is showering.  In a few minutes we will go find coffee and food… on a cruise ship finding food is not an issue… deciding where and what to eat may be. 

Outside, it is slowly getting brighter… and as it gets brighter it seems our bubble is getting bigger…  the clouds tease us with hints of blue… not blue sky breaking through,  but white clouds that seem a bit bluish… suggesting that they are not completely hiding what lies beyond.  Ahead on the horizon there is a bright line of white hinting that the sun may be beyond.  By 10:00, after coffee and breakfast, the line of bright white is to starboard as well.  We are now planning our day, making choices… to we (or she) attended the flower arranging demonstration or do we meet the naturalist on deck 3 aft?   By 10:00 the fog has moved in closer, the bright white along the horizon is gone…

Gael attends the flower arranging lecture while I meet the ship’s naturalist and get a feel for our planned path… We attempt to attend the cooking demonstration but the auditorium was full and so abandoned that idea…  We sat topside with ice teas and books, then ate lunch then the beer tasting… (6 brews from the Alaska Brewing Company) then retreated to the room where I worked on this blog and Gail happily napped… I may join her…

I awake from my map to find Gael sitting out on the balcony… it is now sunny and warm… the sea still calm without white caps…  We look for whales… they are known to be about but so far none have graced us with their presence… we walk once around the ship, on the Promenade deck, in case the whales were only seen from the port side… but they are not there either.  We discuss Pixar’s Dory and her skill at speaking whale, and whether if able to speak whale one could call upon them at will…   Alas we can’t speak whale so were unable to test the hypotheses.

Now we are sitting on our balcony, still waiting for a whale to appear… A crab boat passes… Gael is  reading, I writing this… each with a glass of port… It is no longer sunny and bright, and is getting cooler… we have finally settled into our vacation.

Tuesday, July 18th

Very early, I awoke, dressed and went topside… it is cloudy, a world of grays… There are 5 or 6 passengers wandering… the crew is up, washing the decks… to port there was a dark area, with an adjoining light area… The ship’s naturalist tells me that that is a hanging glacier… I accept that I have seen a hanging glacier but it could have been a hippopotamus or a watermelon as well…  really all I saw was a light area next to a dark area along the horizon…

Now 7:30;  we are approaching the sound… the water is now milky grey… suggesting that it has come from glacial melt… there is a log and rafts of debris floating.  Question of the day, what is the difference between flotsam and jetsum?

Now 8:10 now in the sound… at some distance there is a creek meeting the sound… along one edge is a bear shaped rock… not a real bear, bit instead a quite convincing bear shaped rock. 

We made our way up to the Crow’s Nest… found wonderful seats and settled in to watch Galcier Bay go by…  First the water changed color from blue to milky teal.  Whales were seen.  Then came the glaciers… first hanging glaciers, then after the National Park interpreters joined us we began to see floating ice and tidewater glaciers.   All accompanied by a National Park interpreter’s narration…  Reed Glacier was particularly blue…  We went in the John’s Hopkins Arm, but stayed 4 miles from the face, so as not to disturb harbor seals with pups…. Then up the Taft Arm where the Grand Pacific Glacier looked like a massive dirty freeway, sitting for some time off the Margerie Glacier, which repeatedly calved.   Were, we abandoned our seats in the Crows Nest and had a massage… but while waiting for the massage we were in room with a view of the glacier, with rewarded us with an additional significant calving…

That evening the boat retraced its steps down to Icy Strait, where we turned south through the inside passage, heading for Haines, our first port of call.

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