Holidays and Other Excursions

Month: May 2023 (Page 1 of 3)

Day 21 Vancouver 22.5.2023

We visited Vancouver some years ago at the end of our trip from Toronto and the Rocky Mountaineer, before a brief flip over the Vancouver Island.  We have warm memories of that trip and of Vancouver in particular as the area where we were based had been modernised and looked like a prosperous and welcoming city.

The intervening, 7 or 8 years has seen changes.  Money and development has been enormous – the run down areas alongside the commercial port, mainly former railway land – has been hugely redeveloped with skyscrapers containing residential development and has become home to many Chinese and other Asian residents.  Alongside that a liberal view of the laws in relation to drugs is obvious.  The drug users have been displaced from the run down areas (which we did not visit last time) to an area adjacent to Coal Harbour (where we based last time) so it looks unsafe even if it is not.

We revisit the Totem Poles and make a first visit to Granville Island Public Market – which is something we missed last time around – before heading to the airport and our overnight flight home after a long and largely very enjoyable holiday.

Day 20 Inside Passage 21.5.2023

Our penultimate day and an absolute highlight as we sail the Inside Passage – essentially the gap between Vancouver Island and the mainland, although in reality it stretches further north past Juneau to Skagway – so we have already been following the route for a few days.

The narrowest point is at Seymour Narrows which is close to the Ripple Rock lookout on Vancouver Island.  However for much of the day there is land on both sides of us as we progress quite slowly.  Shipping movements are closely controlled in the area as there are a lot of vessels plying their trade between Vancouver and the various Alaskan ports (some of which we have visited) – for most of them their only access is by sea, particularly the many islands in the area.

We stay on the observation deck as we traverse the Narrows noting some very nice residences on Vancouver Island – largely accessed by sea rather than road we suspect.  However it is a little like the Norwegian Fjords – from a distance it looks impossible to navigate, close to there appears to be plenty of room.  This is supported by Wikipedia which indicates that around 2m visitors travel this way each year with all major cruise liners able to pass this way.

Day 19 Ketchican 20.5.2023

Ketchikan Log Rolling

This is our last stop in Alaska and the town is hugely dependent on cruise ships, they can berth four in the downtown area (and three are occupied today) with one or two more at our berth about 15 minutes out of town.

We pass Ketchican International Airport, as it has one flight to Canada each week, on our way into town where we are visiting the lumberjack show.  No sign of Monty Python as the four jacks demonstrate chopping, sawing, climbing and log rolling plus some inane jokes which keeps the crowd cheerfully entertained, jeering and booing is encouraged as well, so it feels just like a Southampton home match at the moment.

The drive through the town is slow as tourists are here in huge numbers.  The cruise ship season used to end in October but there is a plan to stretch into November next year to recover some of the list revenue from the covid period but our driver feels the weather is unlikely to be sufficiently kind for the travellers.

Our second destination is the Saxman native village where we are given a demonstration of native dancing which I feel loses something in translation.  We are then introduced to their collection of totem poles and the stories told be the carvings on the poles.  There is a workshop where carvers work but we can see their work but no actual carving is in progress today.

More interestingly the guide’s talk about the village house which has been built in traditional ways tells us a number of things, the modern doors to comply with health and safety composers to the original small door which would only asks one person at a time so protecting those inside.  Each adult would have a single plank to match the individual’s height which could be lifted out allowing personal possessions to be stored in the space below.  There is a large central fire pit which was always kept alight.  The reconstruction had used traditional methods so the individual floorboards rock as you walk but again in deference to current safety there is fire in the central pit.

We return to the ship and dinner is in Chartreuse the French restaurant on board and we have an excellent meal before advancing clocks by an hour again, another 23 hour day!

Day 18 Juneau 19.05.2023

State capital of Alaska and improbably only accessible by air or sea!  During the gold rush it was the landing spot for those seeking to dig up a buck in the hills inland so due to the fluctuating population it became the capital.  There was a plan to move the capital to Anchorage but there is no money to fund the relocation.

Two highlights today, one planned, the other happenstance.  Our planned visit to a dog mushing location to meet some Alaskan huskies which have less fur than the Siberian version.  There are three teams harnessed up, each team has a six seater buggy at the rear and the musher rides at the back of the buggy.  We climb aboard and set off round the loops about three times covering about a mile.  The dogs are not going flat out but the weight of the buggy is much more than the traditional musher sled.

There is then an opportunity to pet and fuss the dogs.  One of them flops on Jackie’s foot for a belly rub.  Later by the time we depart and new visitors have arrived the dogs are clearly keen to do it all again.

We move onto a lecture on the history of the Iditarod which was largely invented to prevent dog sledding disappearing from the planet.  Our musher runs around 40 dogs and whilst breeding stopped during covid it is now in progress again and the tourists are back in numbers.  The talk covers the huge changes in safety, vet checks and dog wear (including boots) which have been implemented over the years, along with required breaks and these days gps trackers on each sled!

There is also mention of the Nome run.  There was a diphtheria outbreak in Nome in 1925 and only the mail mushers could get supplies of drugs delivered in highly adverse weather conditions.  The story is unknown in the UK but is well told by Wikipedia.  An amazing feat of endurance by dogs and mushers to deliver the drugs.

Whilst there is no longer a need for mushers to move mail around Alaska the race and centres such as this ensure there is reason to keep the skills alive and sustain the breed.

Day 17 Hubbard Glacier 18.05.2023

We awake this morning and notice in the far distance a small boat which is emerging from a close encounter with the Hubbard Glacier which we can see in the even further distance.  Over an hour later the small boat turns out to be a decent size cruising ship – not as large as our Seven Seas – but still pretty large.  Meanwhile the Hubbard Glacier is even larger.

Our ship enters initially Yakutat Bay and then getting closer to the glacier is Disenchantment Bay into which the Glacier discharges – with other glaciers also reaching the sea at this point.   We have to assume that much of the grey land left and right was once covered by these glaciers as they are now retreating.

It is impossible in either my words or the photograph to convey the sheer size of the glacier as there is no real scale – however another photo may give some indication

The ship at the bottom left is much larger than it appears – we are still a long way out from the small icebergs which you can see in the first photograph to give some idea of comparative scale.


Day 16 Seward 17.05.2023

Seward is a rather more grown up place, it even has a rail link to Anchorage which is the largest city in Alaska but not the state capital, which is Juneau.  It counts as our first stop on the Alaskan mainland.

One benefit of being on the mainland is that transport today is by a standard coach, not a school bus.  Like the other ports we have visited there is a heavy dependence on the fishing industry to underpin local activity.

Our trip today actually has two highlights.  Initially we head into the countryside to see the Exit Glacier.  Compared with our experience of the Athabasca Glacier (in Canada) this one is slightly underwhelming.  What is dispiriting is that much of the drive to the viewpoint is alongside the grey ground which the retreating glacier leaves behind as it retreats / shrinks having ground the rocks over the thousands of years the glacier was slowly flowing over the land.  On the way we pass the “Salmon Bake” bar; apparently the local moose can gather and prevent potential customers leaving their cars (or the bar to get to their cars which I suspect is engineered by the bar owner)!

At the other end of Seward is a Sea Life centre (probably center) which has a wide range of local fish and sea birds, one of the latter seems to be particularly keen on being caught by camera.  We use the local bus to return to the ship.

Day 15 Kodiak Alaska 16.5.2023

We wake to find ourselves moored close to Kodiak as expected.  What is  not expected is blue sky and sun shining so after a number of drab days it feels more like holiday and holiday weather.

Kodiak is an island famous for particularly bears which are native to the island.  We are taken, this time in a “First Student” bus, around the town being shown the main highlights (including Safeway) as well as a couple of very attractive views.   No bears are spotted.  Kodiak is a large island compared with many others off of Alaska mainland and it is an attractive spot – at least with the sun shining as today.

Just opposite the town is Near Island – a simple name for the next nearest piece of land!  We can watch the planes landing and taking off from Kodiak Benny Benson State Airport which is away to the right as we look out at the sea.

On return to the ship it is sufficiently warm for us to sit by the pool and enjoy the warm sun, indeed I end with a touch of sunburn on my nose, although I am not tempted to remove many layers – but it is nice to be out of doors and feeling some warmth.

Day 14 Sea Day 15.5.2023

Seven seas explorer

Seven seas explorer

Sea days tend to revolve around staying awake, we cannot sleep properly at night and can drop off just about anywhere during the day.

At one point we have a very cold night as the heating has simply stopped working, turns out that it had tripped out from working too hard.  Once reset the temperature improves.

The masking tape on the balcony door has been removed and the whistling reduced.  A further complaint means a visit from an engineer with a hammer, followed by some hammering and the whistling does then seem to go away.

Finally the television seems unwilling to talk to the network at any time to which the solution is a couple of technician visits, the first to remove the television and to bring a new one and thereafter we largely have a working box.

With a lot of spare time, we have had been watching a lot of news programmes, the choices being mainly BBC and Sky.  Odd moments spent watching Fox News add little enlightenment.

Day 13 Dutch Harbor 14.5.2023

Russian Orthodox Church

Russian Orthodox Church

Our first landfall on this side of the Pacific is the tiny outpost of Dutch Harbor which can just about find room for cruise ship amongst the fish processing plants.   The cruise port is on the small island of Amaknak which is Bridge linked to the main island of Unalaska and was named simply because there was a Dutch boat in the harbor!  The main port was initially developed by the Russians and it was later one of the few locations in the USA bombed in WW2.

One of the stranger oddities is that we are on “ship” time which is an hour adrift from local Alaska time.  We had not anticipated this and had advanced our watches to local time so until we discover our mistake we are running an hour early.  However our planned breakfast restaurant was not open simply because we are too early, the first world problems of cruise ship passengers!

On disembarking before going completely cabin stir crazy the first sight is of an eagle sat nearby plus further examples soaring overhead.  The second sight was a somewhat dirty school bus which constitutes the available local transport.

The bus takes us to the sights, a WW2 museum, the Safeway store, the Museum of the Aleutians and the Russian Orthodox Church.   We do the last round trip simply because it was the only one planned to visit the church as earlier it would be in use.  However we cannot attempt to see the interior as we are concerned about vehicle capacity to get everyone back on board as the bus timetable has become disrupted.

Time to move on and we swing back south of the chain of Aleutian Islands and continue heading West.  Talking of time it is a 23 hour day and from tomorrow we shall be on true Alaska time.

Day 12 Sea Day 13.5.2023

RSSC Explorer

RSSC Explorer

We are now tracking to the south of the Aleutian islands which is a very long island archipelago which stretches south westerly in a very long arc from the mainland.

Jackie is disappointed as once again there are not enough takers for the games of bingo – it seems that they schedule them at the same time as the major lectures in the theatre so there is a split of those on board between the two events – so no bingo for Jackie.

The lectures are recorded and can be watched on one of the television channels in our cabin at another time – so people could go to the bingo – but perhaps the passengers are not that keen on a little flutter.

Never mind the on board food and drink continues to flow, as does the toilet!   Talking of the food the various restaurants on board publish their daily menus onto one of the television links and we can think about what we shall eat later during the day – and seeing the possibilities sometimes determines where we will eat in the evening.

Sleep patterns are poor, the bedding and heating system combining to be too hot when under the sheet and quilt whilst too cold if on top of the covers.  Added to which my left knee seems to provide discomfort at almost any time – it seems to be playing up more than at home.

I am unable to concentrate sufficiently to read despite having brought a lot of reading material.  Over the holiday I just about manage a couple of chapters of one book and not a lot else.

« Older posts