South to Vancouver -Part Two

On Sunday, July 27th, 2003, six days after our arrival in Anchorage, our wake-up call in Denali was at 4:30 a.m. in order for us to have coffee, shower, breakfast, and all bags ready for pickup by 6 a.m.  Landscape on the way to our cruise ship in Seward was phenomenal and included Cook Inlet, the Village of Whittier, Avalanche Alley,  the Kenai Peninsula, and other natural wonders.  That very evening we said goodbye to Colleen and hello to the Statendam.

Lifeboats clinging to its side gave me a funny feeling.  Scenes from the Titanic flashed before me, especially crashing chandeliers and the sliding piano.  Like a floating resort, the Statendam included a theater, casino, library, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a beauty salon, laundry, fully equipped workout room, jogging track, boutiques, and several lounges, dining rooms, and restaurants.  A crew of 560 tended to its 1,260 guests.  All of the above were located on the first nine levels.  Three "underground" levels housed huge kitchen facilities, which we were privileged to tour, and huge mechanical equipment.  The Statendam was built in 1993 in Italy for Holland America.  While on board the ship we were technically living in Holland.

For the next seven days our home away from home was located on Deck 9, also called the Verandah.  Our private suites were spacious, and I quickly took pictures before we messed it up and ate the chocolates on the pillows of our king size bed.  The greatest feature was on the other side of our sliding glass doors and private deck.

It was Alaska.  Peaceful.  Haunting.  Huge.  We came to know mountains and glaciers intimately, from our morning cup of coffee to our nighttime chocolates.  The sun rose the first morning at 3:58 a.m.  We were up investigating the glaciers in College Fjords by 6 a.m.  Chunks of ice were floating in the fjord all around the ship.  It was very cold out on our deck as the Statendam cruised through Prince William Sound.

When Navigator Paul joined our table in the Rotterdam Dining Room, we asked many questions.  He is from Scarborough, England, only 22 years old, and he doesn't get to see his girlfriend very often.  Located below our suites, the Rotterdam was surrounded by floor to ceiling windows and an elegant spiral staircase that showcased two floors of dining extravaganza.

Our table of friends included (seated, l-r) Jan and John Flora of Fridley, Rosalie and Lloyd Pauly of Chanhassen, and Marilyn and Dick Sobiech of St. Paul.  Allan and I are standing on the right with Paul and Mitsy, a guide who was assigned to assist and inform at every turn.

Close to our table was the group of people that we also had come to call friends from our motorcoach tours on the mainland of Alaska.  Hi, Earl and Paula, Lars and Barb, Beverly and Roy. 

When they touch the sea, they're called tidewater glaciers, like that one on the left.

Poolside was a popular place to congregate.  Hi, Rosalie, Jan, John, Lloyd, and Allan.

We sailed into Glacier Bay on Tuesday, July 29th.  It was a beautiful day with spectacular tidewater glaciers.

Some of us wore matching jackets that said "Alaska 2003" when we turned around.

All eyes on board were turned toward Margerie Glacier.  The bay was still.  The ship was quiet.  The air was cool.  Chunks of floating ice were evident from the calving glacier, which we were hoping to see and hear.

A picture can't tell the story adequately, but notice the amazing reflection on this blue-sky day.

Another of nature's magnificent monuments was drawing closer and closer to us.  We were told that the Margerie Glacier is over a mile wide, several miles long, and hundreds of feet high.  Then there was a sharp crack, like a gunshot … and we saw where a piece of glacier was breaking off … and it seemed to fall into the bay in slow motion  … but it happened fast … and the sound was like a roar of thunder when it hit the water … and it was all over while we were still holding our breath.

It seemed to be our own private glacier when viewed from our own private deck, but we couldn't reach out and touch it because it was still over a mile away.  We learned that glacier ice is extremely dense, more dense than our refrigerator ice cubes, and that the glacier surface gets all cracked up because it's not elastic.  It splits and spreads as it turns corners and maneuvers through the mountainous region like a crawling caterpillar.

Goodbye, Glacier Bay.  It was grand to meet you.

One evening we celebrated Dick's birthday and some of the crew were happy to join the festive occasion.  Then we danced to ballroom music in the Ocean Bar and sang at the Piano Bar.  Some nights we went to musical shows at the Van Gogh Theater and danced at the Crow's Nest.

Our ship anchored off the City of Sitka on Wednesday, July 30th, where we disembarked onto "tenders," smaller boats that ferried us between ship and shore.  Sitka was the Russian capital of Alaska from 1808 to 1867.  We learned that the original people to this area were the Tlingit Indians who came to split into several other tribes, including the Navajo.

Allan and I signed up for a "Sea Otter and Wildlife Quest" on a small cruising boat and saw whales (evidenced above), otters, sea lions, a rare colorful "puffin" bird -- even a deer, bear, and eagles' nest on shore.  We were served a delicious smoked salmon canape, for which I've now got the recipe!  It was a beautiful warm day, and we made it back to the Statendam just in time for our 5:45 p.m. dinner seating.  I chose beef tenderloin.  The previous night I had prime rib … and crab cocktail … and chicken tenders.

Sometimes we did the buffet thing, which was available many times in a 24-hour period, and that's when we probably ate too much, but it was all extremely scrumptious.

At Juneau, the current capital of Alaska, cruise ships simply pulled up to the huge docks.  Allan and I headed off alone to board the Mount Roberts Tramway which rose 2,000 feet for an incredible view of this landlocked port.  The cable cars each held approximately 20 people.  At the top we watched a narrated drama as performed by a descendant of the Tlingit people.

Cruise ships (formerly steamships) began arriving in Juneau in 1884.  There was no other way to get to this place.  We enjoyed shopping in Juneau and met our travel friends at the Red Dog Saloon for lunch.

St. Nicholas Orthodox Church is the oldest original Russian Orthodox Church in Southeast Alaska.  Allan and I took a trolley around town where it seems that most people are tourists just like us.  We learned that if it weren't for tourism and government and the military, most Alaskans would  be mostly unemployed.

Some of us signed on to a most fantastic helicopter ride over the mountains to the Mendenhall Glacier where "out of this world" became more than a catchy phrase.

There were six of us on the helicopter, plus the pilot.  Allan used our camcorder and I used my digital camera, but no video or photograph can capture or compare to the real thing,.

Crystal blue was a dominant color, especially in the deep crevasses of the jagged glacier surface.  Views were outstanding as we surveyed the greatness of this uninhabitable place.  I was sort of frightened by the possibility of tipping over one of the edges and was surprised that our helicopter pilot would land in such treacherous terrain and allow us to walk everywhere that we did.  He said the surface of the glacier was like "velcro" on this particular day, that our boots would stick to it, that it was not a slippery surface.  Slippery or not, I was timid on its top and glad to be back in the copter.

On the way back to Juneau I got to sit in the front seat of the helicopter.  Every moment begged for another snapshot.  Unbelievably breathtaking.  That black line in the glacier, shown above, is called a medial moraine.  It occurs when two glaciers, that are advancing down through the mountains, meet each other to form an even larger glacier.  The line results from the meeting of the two glaciers' "dirty" edges.

We made it back to ship in time for our 5:45 p.m. dinner seating.  Then we watched a musical performance put on by the many young people working on the ship.  Andyta, our own table waiter, was the master of ceremonies so we felt especially connected.  We learned that all the waiters were from the Philippines and all the kitchen helpers were from Indonesia and never the twain shall mixt.  At the conclusion the entire audience from around the world stood up and sang along when they did "America the Beautiful."  It gave me the shivers.

"Take a picture of that traffic signal," said Allan.  It was the afternoon of Friday, August 1st, when we docked at Ketchikan, a port city nestled between the sea and rain forest.  It's called the Salmon Capital of the World and home of the World's Largest Totem Pole.  Since some of these inland passage cities can only be reached by plane or ship …cars must be ferried … and they only see tourists during three months out of the year … so there is no need for elaborate traffic signals.

Much of the flavor of Ketchikan's past is preserved along these quaint wooden walkways of Creek Street.  We were told this area was once the town's bustling Red Light District.  We found the creek active with large salmon swimming upstream, and a few anglers under bridges trying to (illegally) snag one.

Houses are literally built high into the rock, as you can see, and the only access is a long stairway.  I wonder if these people buy pianos.

Allan and I shopped from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., then shipped a package home to Victoria, Minnesota, through Mailboxes Etcetera, a busy shop located on one of the little streets.  That evening it was our turn to host the happy hour on our ship before another fine dining experience, this time featuring lobster.  Later we danced with friends at the Ocean Bar.

Saturday, August 2nd, gave us the most blue sky of the entire trip, from sunup to sundown.  Gorgeous.  Warm.  Even hot on deck by the outdoor pool.

This sailing ship at sea seemed only a mirage, and I imagined it to be full of pirates.

We were on the ship all day.  There were no more port cities for us to visit as we continued to cruise south to Vancouver, Canada.  We walked the deck for sun and exercise, met Floras by the pool, and saw Paulys at an ice-carving show.  At 5 o'clock we went to Mass … and noticed that all four of us Minnesota couples were in attendance.  That evening we had reservations at The Pinnacle, finest place on board.  I had appetizers of sushi and seared duck breast, a 10 oz. entrιe of filet mignon, and chocolate mousse for dessert.  All of it was excellent.  We invited Navigator Paul to join us, and we bought his dinner.  Our suitcases had to be totally packed and outside our door  for pickup at 1 a.m on Sunday, August 3rd.  We had to be out of our suite by 7:50 a.m. and ready to receive our disembarkation number. 

It was Day #15 when we arrived in Vancouver, a city that receives cruise ships directly into its downtown area where people are shopping and sitting at sidewalk cafes.  Buses took us to the airport where we were fortunate to experience customs in a fast and efficient manner.  For others it was interminable.  We arrived in Minneapolis about 5 p.m. and were back home in Victoria about 6 p.m.  It was a trip of a lifetime, and Alaska is no longer a foreign land to us for we lived and breathed part of it for a time.  We experienced it with all of our senses.  It seems more than a memory.

The End

Love, Sue