The Klondike Highway

Our next stop after Juneau was Skagway, buried deeply in an inlet in Alaska’s Inside Passage.  To get an idea of how deeply it’s buried, take a look at this Google Maps link; the map should be big enough to show the inlet:   Google Map of Skagway

Skagway has its own history, of course; you can find a general overview on Wikipedia.  But it’s primarily remembered as the jumping-off place for the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush, in the Canadian Yukon.  Billy Moore, an early resident of Skagway, homesteaded at the mouth of the Skagway River in 1887 because he believed there were goldfields in the Klondike, and also that Skagway was the most direct route to the goldfields. 

So obviously, the major cruise ship activity on arriving in Skagway is the bus trip up the Klondike Highway to the top of the White Pass, which was the route taken by the prospectors who came by way of Skagway.  The trip was fascinating when you considered that the original prospectors would have taken it on foot or horseback.  It is not gentle country.   The rock formations below are typical.

Taken from the Klondike Highway

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Passing By Juneau

I had a plan for Juneau.  I was going ashore for one of the excursions, I forget which, and returning to the ship in time for a 2:30 massage appointment in the spa.  I was sidetracked by an incredibly stupid problem, which I’ll describe below; but because I never got ashore, all the Juneau photos I took were from the boat.  I ended up with a few, which you’ll find at my gallery JuneauJuneau, like a lot of towns on the Alaska coast, sits in a deep inlet among mountains.  A look at it on Google Maps will show you what I mean.

Juneau harbor

So, my stupid problem.  When I travel, I occasionally need to do laundry.  I wear high strength compression hose, and since they cost over $60 a pair, I have just enough for a week, and the cruise was 10 days.   So on the day we landed at Juneau, I went to the laundry in the morning to run a small load of compression hose.  This should have taken about an hour.

To do laundry on the ship you need a $3 bronze token, which you get from a vending machine, and you pay for it with your room card, which operates as a kind of credit card on board the ship.  The machine in the laundry on my floor wouldn’t accept my room card.  I called for help.  A nice young man came in response, took my card, and vanished for some time.  When he came back he said he had tried it on all 12 floors (?! yes, the ship has 12 floors with laundries), and it wouldn’t work in any of the machines.  The nice young man then produced another man, with a key, who extracted a bronze token from the coin box of another washer for me.  I got my laundry done; but by then it was too late for me to go ashore and still get back from the excursion in time for the massage at 2:30 PM.

I dimly recall that when I first got my room card, there was some kind of mixup and I had to have it rekeyed; I don’t know if this is why it wouldn’t work but I’m suspicious.

The other event while we were in Juneau was the affair of the purple bear.  In Ketchikan I poked around in a gift shop, where I found and bought a little pendant, a bear totem carved out of what I’m pretty sure is low-grade amethyst.   It was $16 so I snapped it up, and it’s one of my favorite pendants. I had it on when I went to the massage appointment I mentioned.  As I was dressing after the massage, a young woman came into the dressing room; we chatted, and I showed her the bear, which she liked.  When I got back to my room I realized I wasn’t wearing the bear.  Well, I convinced myself on zero evidence that the young woman had palmed it.  I checked with Lost and Found, who didn’t have it, and asked them to notify me if it turned up.  Then I went back to my room to fume.  Later that day they called me – a nice lady from a room down the hall had found it on the hall floor and turned it in.  (Fortunately I hadn’t told anyone of my suspicions.  I felt very silly.)  It looks like the string it’s on was tied in a single knot, and simply untied itself while I was walking.  When I got home, I asked Google how to tie a knot that wouldn’t do that, and the pendant is now secure.

My other grumps about the day in and around Juneau were that the service at early breakfast was awful (no details recorded), and the boat was freezing cold all day.  The massage, however, was very nice indeed.

Apart from the photos of the harbor around Juneau, I took a couple of photos on the ship that I’d like to share.  First was the chess board on deck 16.

Chessboard on deck 16

That’s not on a table. That’s on the deck, and the pieces are about 3 feet high.  Players walk around on the board to make their moves.  I wish there had been someone playing so I could show the scale.

And here’s the outdoor swimming pool on deck 14.  You notice nobody is swimming in it; it was a cold, overcast day, and there’s another pool on the same deck with a glass roof.

Outdoor swimming pool on deck 14

I never did get a full count of all the swimming pools on that ship.

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Lumberjacks

On any cruise you have the option of choosing multiple things to do in port, and in Ketchikan I chose two, the walking tour I described in my last post, and a lumberjack show in the late afternoon.  I’m still not sure why I decided it would be fun, although it had its moments.  But it was primarily a huge testosterone festival, with two competing teams of lumberjacks (U.S. and Canadian) showing off their skills with long-handled axes, two-handed saws, and gasoline powered chain saws.  The photos I took are the last 13 in the Ketchikan gallery.  I’ll share some of them here.  Here’s one of the U.S. contestants:

Lumberjack competitor (U.S.)

See what I mean by testosterone?

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Ketchikan

I see from my first post on this trip that I planned to write it up sooner.  Well, I won’t go into details here but 2018 has been more chaotic than I expected. Before I talk about Ketchikan I’d like to add some more comments on cruises, from my notes in transit.  As I mentioned in the first post, we had 4 hours a day of seminar lectures and rehearsals.  They were very interesting and I always like to sing, but the ship’s management on this round apparently wasn’t nearly as cooperative as the ones on the first cruise, and our assigned rehearsal space was an empty bar, and the only seating was backless padded hassocks.  The area also had very poor lighting and very loud air conditioning.  Lynne put up with that for about 2 days, then moved us to the other end of the bar, a quieter location with better seats, on the principle that it’s better to ask forgiveness than permission.  We stayed in the new spot for the rest of the trip.  I also have a note about formal nights, when everyone was supposed to dress up for dinner.  In most cases this was just nice dresses and sports jacket, but I swear one formal night I saw a man in white tie, tails, top hat, and a cane!  He didn’t sit at our table. On to Ketchikan, where I opted for the walking tour of the town.  All the Ketchikan photos here, and a number of others, are in my photo gallery Ketchikan, which you can see by clicking on the link. Ketchikan’s harbor is very small, and looks even smaller when it’s full of cruise ships. 
The Grand Princess in Ketchikan harbor
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Last Day in Vancouver

I haven’t mentioned the b&b we stayed at in Vancouver.  The West End Guest House was fascinating.  Built in 1906, it’s very central, between the center of the city and Stanley Park; you can walk to Robson Street for shopping and dining.  When we were there it was run by a young gay couple, and while I think they were in the process of refurbishing it (my diary suggests not everything was perfect), it now gets 5 stars from TripAdvisor.  And the breakfast conversation was amazing.   The other guests included a Scottish couple (leaving next morning for Moraine Lake near Banff, where we stayed in 2004), a British couple (eventually planning to go out to Tofino, before visiting a son in Melbourne), a Swiss couple, a Chinese couple, and an Iranian named Ali from Houston, Texas.  The Chinese couple didn’t talk very much, although another guest said that the man’s English was better than his Chinese!  We were there on the day of the Brexit referendum, and I remember having a long discussion on it with the British woman in the afternoon.

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Exploring Vancouver

When we go to Vancouver, we almost always visit Van Dusen Gardens. And so we did this time.  We spent an afternoon wandering around, looking at the changes they’d made since the last time.  We’ve been there so often I only took a few photos this time; click here to see the whole gallery.  I’ll share a couple of examples.  This is their swamp garden:

And this is the fountain in the lake, which is kind of their signature view:

Feel free to go look at the whole gallery, and also to check the gallery I shot when we visited in 2011 – click here for that link.

The second day we were there, though, we did something new.  We’ve found Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach Shakespeare company to be very rewarding, so we had bought tickets to their production of the Merry Wives of Windsor.  Instead of just going out there for the play, however, we decided to spend the entire day in Kitsilano, which is a charming district in Vancouver fronting on English Bay.  We’d stayed in Kitsilano before, but had never just hung out on the beach. 

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Waiting for the Ferry

After a pleasant weekend visiting our friends in Powell River, we drove off toward Vancouver.  Powell River being where it is, our first stop was the Saltery Bay – Earl’s Cove ferry terminal.  On a Monday morning, it wasn’t very busy, but the view was nice.

Saltery Bay Ferry terminal

Having nothing else to do, I got the camera out and went looking for things to photograph.  By gum, I found a bald eagle perching in a tree next to the terminal.

Bald eagle

He eventually flew down and landed on the sandbar, where I couldn’t get a decent shot of him.  I watched a 6-person canoe or scull paddle by:

Paddling down the inlet

Eventually the ferry came in:

Ferry arriving at Saltery Bay

The Saltery Bay ferry takes you just over the inlet to Earl’s Cove, after which you drive the length of the Sunshine Coast to the Langdale-Horseshoe Bay Ferry, which you take to the mainland.  Then you drive on into Vancouver.  I regret to say there are no reasonable photo ops from the Sunshine Coast Highway; it’s just a highway, mostly surrounded by tall trees on both sides.  Pretty; hardly photographic.  The drive takes about an hour and 20 minutes (79.8 km or not quite 50 miles). 

I took some photos from the ferry, of the area around the Langdale ferry terminal, and of the trip among the islands as we traveled down to Vancouver; if you’d like to see them, the whole gallery is called Ferry to Vancouver.

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Visiting Point Reyes

On December 29, Jim and I decided to drive over to Point Reyes Lighthouse and see if we could see any whales.  It was a mild sunny day, the Friday before New Year’s, and he thought there might be a smaller crowd than on the actual weekend, when we’d have to park well away and ride a shuttle bus in.

We drove over in the late morning and were stunned to find very light traffic – on Interstate 80, on 580 over the Richmond Bridge, and almost no traffic at all on Lucas Valley Road, which we took out to Highway 1.  We planned to have lunch in Point Reyes Station.  As we got to Highway 1, we saw the first serious traffic of the day – apparently everyone else was going to Point Reyes Station too.  We parked and started to look for a restaurant, and were stopped by an older woman who was standing on the corner marveling at the crowds.  “I’ve never seen so many people here,” she said.  She then turned to us and asked, “What are you two doing here?”  We laughed and said we were on our way to Point Reyes.  She wasn’t hostile, merely amazed; we chatted briefly and she recommended a restaurant.  Point Reyes Station is a very small town.

After lunch we drove on out to Point Reyes.  If you’ve never done it, it’s a long drive, through farm country – you do the entire trip on Sir Francis Drake Blvd West, turning off Highway 1.  The directions on the park site say turn off Highway 1 onto Bear Valley Road, but that shortly becomes Sir Francis Drake West.  At several points the road ran through the inhabited areas of local ranches; once we had to stop and wait until the cattle finished crossing the road.  It’s very beautiful and very far from anywhere else.

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At Sea on the Cruise Ship

I have no photographs from the cruise while we were at sea.  Frankly, the open ocean, or even the ocean relatively near the coast, is not very “photograph-able.”  It’s a flat blue expanse below a featureless blue sky, when it isn’t a flat gray expanse below a featureless gray ditto.  That’s why most of the photos I took were in port.  I’ll get to them in later posts.

If I ever cruise again, which is not a given, I’ll want to find a female friend to room with.  There weren’t any real problems with my roommate, except that she is very close friends with the couple who organized the trip, and she preferred to hang out with them.  She and I were the only people in our group who weren’t part of a couple.  I can’t speak for her, but I spent most of my meals alone in the buffet – or briefly alone.  I soon found that if I sat down at an empty table with 4 settings, within 10 minutes or so a couple would come along and ask if they could join me; and most of them were quite friendly and chatty.  So that was interesting, and passed the time.  It isn’t a way to make friends, but people on cruises tend to be quite friendly and outgoing.  I was amazed at the number of people who prefer cruising as their chosen vacation.  I had no idea.

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On to Powell River

Janet, a girl I went to high school with in Napa, California, married in the late ’70s, and she and her husband Wes moved to Powell River, British Columbia, where they stayed and raised 2 children.  When we’re in the area, we often go to visit them, and so in 2016. 

Where, you ask, is Powell River??  Well, it’s on the B.C. coast, just north of the “Sunshine Coast” (which I normally associate with rain).  From Vancouver it takes 2 ferry rides and about a half day driving.  From Victoria, still a half day driving but only 1 ferry ride, from Comox to Powell River.  It used to have a paper mill (Macmillan Bloedel), but that closed; now it’s mainly tourism.

Here’s the view across the strait from the Comox Ferry terminal, waiting for the ferry:

View from Comox Ferry terminal

The ferry looks like a ferry; there’s a photo in the gallery, to see the whole gallery click here

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