Category Archives: Vacations

Describing vacations we’ve taken.

Touring Victoria

Before I go on, I’d like to share some observations on large cruise ships, which I take from my travel diary:

I find cruising odd.  There are no public trash cans.  The staff takes care of everything.  When you finish eating, you walk away from the dirty dishes; the staff will pick them up.  I discovered that some people make cruising their hobby; it appears to be the only way this group takes vacations.    It’s all kinds of people – fat, thin, young, old, disabled, active, with and without kids.  They’re mostly very chatty and friendly.  Cruises have activities every waking hour.  In addition to the obvious – movies and music – there are towel animal folding competitions (I’m not making this up), game shows, lectures, and auctions.  Many bars have live entertainment.  The ship had 2 jewelry stores but no “convenience” store:  I couldn’t buy a pencil, or a candy bar, or a bottle of water.  Or, per my roommate, a hearing aid battery.  Except for in your room, or outside, there is no silence; and it’s kept air-conditioned a little too cool for my taste.  Now, on to Victoria.

Our last stop on the Wade in the Water cruise was Victoria, B.C.  I like Victoria; my husband and I have visited it several times, the last in 2016, making our own reservations.  There are some very nice bed and breakfasts there.  Our option on this trip, of course, was one of several bus tours – only one, because the ship was scheduled to leave at 1:30PM! Cruise tours do not leave much time for contemplation.  There was a bus tour option to the fabulous Butchart Gardens, which is a solid half hour north of Victoria; I doubt they had time to view the whole thing.  Last time my husband and I toured it, we took most of a day.

All my photos from this stop are in my gallery Victoria, which I encourage you to check out; I took many more photos than I’m sharing here.

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Endicott Arm

On our way to the last stop, in Victoria, B.C., we stopped to look at the Endicott Arm.  We were supposed to tour the better known Tracy Arm, a common stop for cruises; but according to the information desk, the ice there was too thick.  So we stopped at the Endicott Arm, a larger fjord a little south of Tracy Arm.  Nothing much happened except views of beautiful water, mountains, and glaciers.

Endicott Arm

Sumdum Glacier in Endicott Arm

Endicott Arm

A few more photos available in the gallery.

 

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Skagway

Before I talk about Skagway, I want to share an incident from the cruise ship which made my day, and almost made me miss the Klondike Highway tour (which left at 8:30 AM, gah).  My “official” dining room (I think it was Botticelli) was way at the back of the boat, but Da Vinci dining room was much closer to my cabin, and I could eat breakfast there if I didn’t mind sharing a table with other lost souls.  At the table that morning was Ed (not his name), 89 years old, a Korean War vet.  He was recently widowed and was on the cruise looking for a “nurse with a purse!”  He was so funny I couldn’t leave the table as early as I should have.  Still, I made the tour.

We got back to the Skagway area around 11:20, and the tour stopped to look at the reconstruction (preservation?) of Liarsville.  If you read the Wikipedia article I linked, you’ll find that Skagway was a major entry port for the Klondike Gold Rush.  The first steamer full of prospectors docked in Skagway at the end of July 1897.  Wikipedia doesn’t give the pre-gold rush population of the town (they may never have bothered to count), but Wikipedia says,

The population was estimated at 8,000 residents during the spring of 1898 with approximately 1,000 prospective miners passing through town each week.

In fact, according to Wikipedia, by June 1898 Skagway was the largest city in Alaska, with a population between 8,000 and 10,000.

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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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