Sunday, September 20, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 10

August 6, 2009

The ship came in to port in Juneau. Far more a bustling port than Haines. I was early, so I strolled along the pier until I saw the sign for the Mendenhall Glacier & Salmon Bake. I boarded the motorcoach with the twelve other passengers & listened to a young, precocious driver as she pointed out various sights. She mostly talked about herself, which didn’t interest me, but one comment she made was note worthy. She was talking about the ratio of men to women, I think she said Juneau was 8:1, other Alaskan cities can be as much as 14:1. “The odds are good, but the goods are odd

We spent an hour at Mendenhall Glacier. After touring Denali, then Glacier Bay, Mendenhall was “just another glacier”. The fact that it exists smack in the heart of the city, however, is the draw.

We got back on the bus and traveled a short distance to an outside barbecue and the salmon bake. I bought an Alaskan amber and got a cup of chowder. I joined a couple at one table aaa7 ate the soup which was totally delicious. The couple was from North California, retired from a CA state university. I was on appetizer (soup) and they were on the main course. This served to my advantage, as they were commenting on the sauce that was over the salmon – so when I got my plate, I asked for the sauce on the side. Good thing, as it would have ruined the fish = it tasted like liquid brown sugar – heavy, gritty & way too sweet. Everything else was quite delicious – rice, beans, cornbread – they also offered chicken & pasta and various salads - bean, cole slaw, romaine – but I can eat greens anytime!

My dinner mates sampled the desert which looked like a type of blueberry buckle – they said it was the best blueberry cake they’d ever had. Blueberries are in season. This was quite a clever set up with covered tables and chairs, enough for nearly 200 diners. A woman played acoustic guitar & sang folksie tunes. There was a gift shop, restrooms, & a trail that led along a stream to a beautiful waterfall and an old gold mine.

(can you notice my beautiful salmon pendant!?)

Big yellow school buses stood ready to take folks back to town. I got off at the pier & chose to visit the various shops. Much of the wares are the same at all the shops - same ole stuff. I did happen on one shop with unique jewelry. I bought a pendant for Sarah – a mammoth ivory carved wolf head in a sterling silver setting. I hope she likes it. I bought a pair of sterling & ivory earrings that I thought maybe I’d give to one of my daughters, but when I got back to the ship, I liked them so much, I decided to keep them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 9

August 5, 2009

Today was our first port of call, Haines, AK. The captain announced dockage & the gangplank deck for disembarkation. I had selected the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve Float Adventure, & were to meet ashore pierside at 8:50 AM. Haines was small, quaint, quiet. The tide was extremely low, & I heard a local guide mention it was 25 feet. Tour guides stood about, holding signs identifying the different excursions. I signed up the waiver, & joined others on the bus.

“Tom” was our guide, although he never did tell us anything about himself. He was lively & gregarious & pointed out local points of interest. Across the aisle from me sat a young woman who wore a HAL name badge with photo: she identified herself as a travel guide. “Tom” chatted it up with her, & IMO, it became an unspoken contest between them of who knew more about local history.
As we approached the “put in point” inside the preserve, Tom explained to us what to expect. We’d split up into groups in 5 or 6 different rafts, we’d be given rubber boots & life jackets, & leave behind anything we don’t need. I offered to fill in wherever they may need one person, & Tom directed me to the raft being paddled by Brodie. Also in this raft was a 4-some form Colorado Springs, Paul & Joyce and daughters Judy & Makella. Kimberly, travel guide, was also in our group & she, Paul & I took the front of the raft.

It turns out Paul was (is?) a professor chemistry at some state university in CO, as well as an experienced mountain search & rescuer. I was certainly in good company.
The Chilkat River was quite turbid – a deep blue grey silt in motion. There were frequent sections that were quite shallow, & the bottom of the raft scraped as we crossed gravel bars. Brodie pointed out infrequent sightings of immature eagles, & frequent sightings of large, jet-black ravens.

Travel guide Kimberly continued her chat-contest, this time with raft-guide Brodie. Brodie was compassionate & tolerant; I grazed the random information, sifting through the ego. Chemist Paul had a good bit to add about the composition of the waters & the mineral deposits & their interaction.

The float trip was calm – no misrepresentation about the skill level for this. I did expect more Eagle activity. We passed a mature eagle perched on a point along the delta – the familiar white head is present on the mature birds, but the distinction between male & female is not obvious on mere observation. I did manage to get a great shot of a mature eagle perched adjacent to its nest. Brodie said these nests can weigh as much as a ton & achieve a depth of 8 feet. I don’t doubt these statistics, but they do seem extreme. I probably will research their veracity.

We reached the take out point & were met with the tub of shoes we’d exchanged for the rubber boots.
Tour guides set up tables & benches, & coolers of ice water, lemonade, coffee, tea & hot chocolate. They opened up trays of sandwiches & bags of sun chips. The sandwiches appeared to be turkey & cheese with lettuce on various choices of breads. There was also a large tray of chocolate chip cookies

We applauded our river guides – some were tipped, we returned to the bus & headed back to the ship. While on the bus, Tom promoted his books & sold T-shirts of the Preserve. I bought one at $20 – believing that a portion of the proceeds would go to the preserve.
Back at the pier, other ship’s passengers were waiting for their next scheduled excursion. I wonder how it’s decided how long the ship moors in each port. Haines seems to be our longest stay. I had only booked the one excursion, & so chose to venture up the hill to some of the shops.
Walking up the hill, I saw tour guide Tom. I sought – and received – his recommendation about a local shop selling smoked salmon. They had free samples of smoked salmon, halibut, various relishes & mustards. I purchased a couple of packs of halibut, one salmon, a few packs of chews for Ruca and Gracie, a whale bottle opener (novel!) and a salmon cookbook. They’ll ship.
Across the street was a gift shop with a lush floral garden at the entrance. The garden was what attracted me. The wares were rich – exclusive. The shop was small; the shopkeeper was sharp. “Where’r’ya’ from?” he asked, as did most. When I responded, “Southwest Florida” as I usually did, I was dumb-founded to hear his reply – “Fort Myers Beach?” No one said, fort myers BEACH. He had beautiful jewelry. I slowly, carefully inspected each piece, and he casually assisted my viewing pleasure by bringing various cases from the displays to the counter tops. I was mostly looking for gifts for Sarah & Lauren, but I saw a piece that was “PERFECT” ! for me!! It was a “have to have” It was a pin that would double as a pendant – sterling silver with ivory inlay. It was about 2” long – it was – a salmon. It was beautiful. I had to have it.
I stopped in another shop along the way, that advertised “local art.” The work was unique, & quite beautiful. I looked it all over – at least twice. I was about to leave & offered my thanks to the shopkeeper. She commented that I’d certainly given it quite the look over but hadn’t found anything. I told her I was looking for a gift for my daughter, that last year I visited Mt. Rainier in WA & brought back some dream-catcher earrings. She’d since lost them, and I was looking for a replacement, but it seems that noone makes dream-catcher earrings anymore, as the intricate details are too much for most bead-artists’ hands. Did I see the lavender pair in the front showcase, she asked. No, I hadn’t, so looked again, and WOW! They were absolutely beautiful! Lauren will love them!

I returned to the ship. It was “unseasonably warm” I dropped my backpack, my binoculars, camera, raincoat & hat, changed my boots to sandals and my long-sleeved shirt to a sleeveless Tee. I went up to the Lido Deck where others were sunbathing. The ship’s party planner / entertainment director “Bekka” was in the elevator when I entered. She called me the Paula Deen look-a-like. I’ll have to google “Paula Deen” to see if she was complimenting me – or not - .
At about the time we were set to sail, I went up on the fore deck to see how they undid the ships’ lines. I ran in to Dick – the male half of the couple I’d met in the lounge of the Hilton in Anchorage. He was doing the same thing – checking out how the ships’ lines were drawn. We chatted about cruising – this was his first experience on a major cruise line as well.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 8

August 4, 2009
Glacier Bay National Park was impressive. Probably the benefit of a smaller ship like the Veendam is its ability to get “up close and personal” in small passages like those of Glacier Bay.
A ranger from Glacier Bay NP gave a presentation in the showroom, which highlighted the park’s wildlife & ecosystem.
The ranger’s presentation was followed by a presentation from a woman identified only as “Alice.” As she spoke, it became apparent that she is native Tlinglit. She taught us how to say “hello’ in native tongue, which is something like:
“Wasa I ya té”
She referred to the people as “Hunnah” which reminded me of the Hawaiian “Huna” culture. I remembered a conversation with a man from Fairbanks in which he said that Hawaii is the vacation destination of choice for many Alaskans, as it is only about 600 miles away. Perhaps Hawaiians and Alaskans are descendants of Mü [Lemuria] – the Pacific Ocean’s lost continent.

Alice explained that water is the way of life for these people, that there are two houses: Eagle or Raven. The two intermarry (Eagles marry Ravens, Ravens marry Eagles), that the people follow their mother’s heritage. Totem poles serve to identify the people and to function as a sort of history book. The harbor seal is their main staple – making full use of all the parts – the pelts, intestines and sinew. They respect the need to preserve the natural resources, and gave the example: If there are 3 bird eggs, take 2 and leave 1; If there are 2, take only 1. Alice ended her talk by singing a song her mother taught her – it was beautifully delivered in a tone that resembled what I have understood to be native American – Alaskan, Hawaiian.

The ship stalled some time in front of Marjorie Glacier. Photo ops abounded. We witnessed the glacier calving – the initial ‘crack’ sounding like a shotgun firing.
As we turned around and headed back out of the channel/ canal, I made my way down to Explorations Café. I decided to set up a ship account and pay the 75ȼ per minute for internet. I didn’t intent any extensive searching, only check my AOL mail. As it turned out, connections were painfully slow and I was probably online close to an hour, I did manage to jot a quick e-mail to family and to the blog.
At one point I noticed the time on the computer tool-bar said 11:165 am. My plan was to have lunch in the Rotterdam dining room, and lunch was served only 12 noon to 1:00 pm. I finished my e-mail and logged off, (which took about $5.00 in itself) and headed to deck 7 for the dining room. In the stairwell I noticed the clock read 1:00 pm and realized the online clock was wrong – had to be – as the tlinglet presentations was at 11:00. I got to the dining room and was told they were no longer serving.

I enjoyed an aimless stroll around the promenade deck and then returned to my cabin. I saw an envelope being slid under the stateroom door. It was from the guest relations manager – a polite note of acknowledgement for my letter sent the night before. Within minutes, my phone rang and it was she. Did I get her note, yes, she was sorry I had the experience, etc. We chatted briefly and politely. I understood” and thanked her for taking the time to follow up.

I dressed and went to dinner which was delicious. I picked up a tip from observing veteran diners/cruisers: I don’t have to order ‘one appetizer’ ‘one soup or salad” etc. The appetizers were more appealing – shrimp, scallops, crabmeat and son on. I ordered two appetizers & skipped the salad. I’m usually not a desert eater, but decided to try some of the chef’s special treats..
After dinner I enjoyed the comic Jeff Nease in the Showroom He was very, very good. A chocolate martini at the Martini Bar made a great night cap

Friday, September 11, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 7

August 3, 2009

We toured College Fjord starting at 6:00 AM. On less than 5 hours’ sleep, I jumped into some clothes, grabbed camera & binoculars & headed up on deck. It was FREEZING! But the weather was surprisingly clear and the views were STUNNING.

After a couple of hours the mist or fire smoke rolled in and views became null.

It was about 10 AM – I crawled back in bed & set the alarm for a 3 hour snooze.
After 2 hours of laying awake, I got up. I took a leisure shower, watched a movie while I dried my hair, and fiddled with my stuff.; Dinner was “Formal” so I took my time getting dressed. My plan was “open seating” as opposed to “fixed seating” and the front office told me reservations were not necessary. However, when I got to the dining room at 6:00 PM, I was given a pager and told it would be a 45 minute wait.
I sat on a divan behind the hosts’ station and watched all the cruisers in their finery. Some folks were in little more than ‘smart casual,’ while others were truly in their finest. I love the look of the gentlemen in their black tie formal wear. I hope some day before I die I will have a date with a man in a tuxedo.
As I sat there, I saw Kellanne and Dick – Kellanne asked me something that I didn’t quite understand until I played it back in my mind. It was a compliment, but in the fashion of “did you get sprayed with a fire hose, or what? You look great.” … I saw Donald, the acquaintance from the train, as well as Janet and William from GA. Next to me on the divan was a family of 4 that switched off between them for the seat.
The restaurant was sorely ill-equipped for the open seating patrons. The host was yelled at, threatened & the diners grew indignant. I sat - & waited - & waited. (I was wearing a great blue and green dress with a halter-style top, so I sat erect, like a board was in my back.) Over two hours passed. Every single patron – reservations & not – had been seated.
I’m not sure how, but finally the host saw me, although I had been in the same seat less than 10 feet from his podium. “I tried to call you!” he said, referring to the beeper. “Just find me somewhere to get something to eat” I told him, hungry and irritable, and surprised at how close I felt to tears.
I had shrimp cocktail and Alaskan King Crab legs, cappucino and baked Alaska for desert. Quite frankly, I don’t even know if it was any good.
When I returned to my cabin, there was some literature about tomorrow’s activities, including a map of Glacier Bay National Park, a letter from the guest relations manager about the gastro-intestinal illness some had reported, and the ship’s measures to combat it. There was also a note from the guest relations manager as “how are we doing?” Y’ gotta know, I put pen to paper and let her have it. I placed it in an envelope with her name on it and and delivered it to the front desk.
I watched some stupid TV for a bit until I put out the lights and went to sleep.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Vacation Day 6

Eight hours’ sleep felt good. I dressed & re-arranged my luggage in preparation for the train to Seward & the cruise ship. I had a couple of hours before the courtesy van to the rail. I walked over to the Ulu Factory, shopped & bought a few souveneirs – including an Ulu. The sun was warm, the skies clear & I strolled over to Ship Creek to watch the folks fishing.

The courtesy van pulled up & the driver didn’t agree that I could take the train to Seward – seems he heard all the recent rains caused a landslide that blocked the tracks. “Well let’s just get to the depot and we’ll see” I said with a pseudo-air of confidence.
The depot doors were open, but there wasn’t a soul in sight. I wheeled my suitcase across the concourse following the arrows upstairs that said, “TO TRAINS” At the far end of the room, at one of a dozen tables, sat two women with piles of papers spread about. “Can I help you?” she called out. “Well, I hope so – “ I said, & gave my story from the courtesy van driver’s point of view. The tracks had been cleared, the rail would run. I was in the right place.
Gradually, other folks began filtering in. I struck up a conversation with a couple who had just returned from a remote fishing camp in western AK. Dennis grew up in that area and brought his wife, Sandra to see it. We boarded the train & instead of customary lounger-style chairs, this train had booths with tables. My assigned seat was across from a couple from GA – Janet & William. Just as I was thinking I’d have some room to move about, our car filled up and an elderly gentleman sat next to me. His name was Donald.

The train served food, but nothing appealed to me… I opted for Alaskan amber beer. We traveled through some pretty country – especially Turnagain Arm – which got its name when Cook went looking for the NW passage & became frustrated at having to turn around, or, “turn again” They tell of tides coming in so quickly & silt beds being like quick sand … dangerous stuff.


Eventually we pulled in to port, boarded the ship & located my stateroom - #500 – forward port. The captain announced a mandatory life jacket/ life boat drill – of course I participated, although that stuff bores me & I find it silly. Embarkation was without fanfare, contrary to what I had heard about throwing out the lines, etc

Not knowing any better, I found the Lido Restaurant just mere minutes before closing. Since I hadn’t eaten in 24 hours, I had a plate of less-than-exciting pasta. I found the self-serve laundry, got change at the front office & laundered my clothes form Denali. I finally unwound, and turned in well past midnight.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Michelle's Excellent Alaskan Vacation Day 5

August 1, 2009

This morning’s wake up call was in the form of a quick knock on the door at 5:15 AM. We were asked to respond & have our baggage outside the cabin door by 5:00 AM. I was so cold that I shivered & huddled as I stumbled into my clothes.
I was in the breakfast hall by 5:45 AM & had scrambled eggs & a piece of wheat toast. I barely had three bites when the announcement came to load the bus for the return trip out.
Mark was our driver & he was very good. Wiley had chatted with him & learned he was a math teacher & drama coach when he wasn’t doing Denali Backcountry tours. Because it was very early in the morning, we saw lots of caribou – herds of caribou. Since most of us had other connections to make, we didn’t stop for photo ops.

We made it back to Denali Rail Depot in 5 hours compared to the 7 ½ hours it took on the way in. We exchanged contact information with invitations to visit, etc. Pam & Wiley in WA & Tucson, Sue & Joe in CT. They were not taking the train – they had private cars – so we said goodbye at the depot. Bill kept to himself & didn’t exchange contact info, & quietly slipped away at the depot. I enjoyed a strong embrace with Sue & Joe – Great, Great folks that I would like very much to see again.
Marian & Al were taking the train to Anchorage, as was Glad-Anne. We sort of worked off of each other trying to figure out what the system was. We checked in & were pleased to know that we were in the same rail car with seats very near each other. We boarded the Holland America Gold Star & were found it to be a top-of-the-line, first class dome car. Marian & Al were two seats in front of me, & Glad-Anne was one seat behind. This was a first class ride.

Shortly after we were underway, I had a shot of Dewars (neat) which put me into a light yet enjoyable nap. The four of us dined together in the dining car – Marian & Al having prime rib, Glad & I ordering salmon.
I was feeling grumpy – even before dinner – probably due to sleep deprivation, which was exacerbated by the too-cold A/C, the geriatric tour guide who was barely audible at best & especially two, 2-4 year old toe-headed girls who couldn’t stop their high-pitched, incessant vocals for one minute.
Glad-Anne was one of those personalities that seemed to create for herself a very negative existence – everything was a “situation” – a hurdle, an issue. I practiced patience & offered suggestions of how she could cast a brighter picture. She didn’t know how she’d do on the train, she gets motion sickness, etc. She needed to use the bathroom but can’t walk when the train is moving; she would surely spill her glass of wine; and so on. She attempted conversation but backed off when my responses didn’t include inquiries that continued to engage.
We pulled into the depot in Anchorage. Apparently, the depot is under construction – I’m not sure what the situation was, as we weren’t at the actual depot, but just before it. All the cruise line motorcoaches were lined up; the rail porters unloaded the luggage & it looked like a swarm as passengers scurried to claim their bags.
The bags were being unloaded in two locations about 40 feet apart – hneither location showed signs of my luggage. This was one time I was glad to have silver luggage instead of the ever-so-common black. Marian & Al were just as aggressive as I in trying to locate our bags. As the train hatches were closed, we questioned several porters only to be told our luggage was going to our hotel. “No! It’s not!” Marian retorted. “We are not with the cruise! We are independent!” Oh, in that case, we were told – your bags are at the big white building about 50 yards up. Marian & I nearly galloped to the “big white building” wanting to claim our bags before trains & buses pulled away. Al, a 6’4” probably 250 lb man in his 60’s lumbered behind. The “big white building” was the actual rail depot, & sure enough – there was our luggage.
My hotel was in sight, even from the train, & it was an easy walk across the street & down a block. I checked in to the Comfort Inn & discarded the boots and socks and long sleeved shirt I’d worn all day. I washed & brushed and checked a local map for nearby points of interest. It was already 9:30 at night, although the sun was just as bright as ever.
At the front desk I signed up for the shuttle to the airport where I would (once again!) hop a train that will take me to the pier in Seward. I then asked the desk clerk if there was somewhere I could walk to & get a cocktail. She pulled out an Anchorage activities map & circled the Comfort Inn and drew a line down a street circling a local brewery. “They have their own microbrewery” she said. I was told to be sure to sample Alaskan beer, as its said to be outstanding. I’m not a big beer drinker, & after my 7 hour train ride of constant irritants, I wanted a martini.
I walked out of the Inn, past the Ulu Factory & window shopped, making a note of the store’s hours to be sure to visit tomorrow. I strolled along the river & watched local fishermen. I assumed their catch was salmon. I headed in the direction of the microbrewery the desk clerk recommended, but spotted the familiar logo of the Hilton Hotel.
I entered the lobby, strolled into the lounge and took a seat at the bar. A couple sitting next to me was talking about their day up in Barrow. I was interested in what the ‘far north” was like, and they were a lively couple – her name was Kellanne, his was Dick, and we chatted about Barrow, Alaska in general and martinis.
I walked back to the Comfort Inn in the Alaska midnight twilight.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Choices we make

I am enjoying compiling my journal notes and photos from my excellent alaskan vacation; I hope you are enjoying it as well.
I wanted to take a few moments in the now. Over the course of the past month, I have a new boss with a completely different management style - so far it's been positive for me. Gracie turned a year old and is not so much of a baby anymore. The days of "accidents" are over. My younger daughter has returned to Tampa for fall semester, and it's nice to have my house back. I ran into a former co-worker today and I think he was surprised at my response when he asked how things were going for me. I sort of surprised myself, because I very honestly and without hesitation said that things were very good. Things are very good.
There are times when we know things in our head, but not in our heart. We can know them in our heart but not know it to be. Such it was with me about the choices we make. Life is all about the choices we make. It is a plain and simple exercise of our free will. Somehow it took the exercise of my free will, my choice to take the vacation I'd always dreamed of, to not only know it in my head and in my heart, but to know it to be. I was watching "Dr. G Medical Examiner" and an autopsy showed a man died from an infection in his jaw that went untreated. In the end she said, "It's all about the choices we make. If you choose now not to go to a doctor for a sore throat, then I'll see you later" (or something equally profound).
I happened on the below excerpt in a book I'm reading, "Children of the Law of One"

Every moment we come upon another
Fork in the Road
Every moment we choose
Our Way Our Destiny
Every Action creates Reactions
Choosing not to act, is an action with a reaction
No Choice Have You
But to Choose
Choose you WILL
Where you are
Where you have been
Where You will be
Is affected by Your Choice
Our Consciousness is the result
of our own Choosing
Where you are is
Where you have come
Where you WILL go
Is decided by how you are
With Free WILL we choose our Destiny
We were destined to Choose
The destiny we have Freely Chosen