Thursday, July 30, 2009

Alaska Trip, Part I

Alaska is a place of wonderment, a vast wide-ranging territory, unspoiled and with beauty so breathtaking that these mere words cannot describe the grandeur. From frigid streams and lakes to coastal waterways and racing rivers, from glacier-carved fjords and forested islands to the rugged slopes and granite cliffs with cascading waterfalls, wilderness as far as the eye can see, and from plains to oceans and expansive glaciers and the frozen tundra. Truly God's country!

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the population is 686,293 people, of which 15.2% are American Indian and Alaska Native persons. The state has 589,194 square miles, is one-fifth the size of the U.S. and has the largest state park system with 3.2 million acres, and a coastline longer than all the other U.S. states combined.

Our first visit to Alaska was nine (9) years ago when we cruised the inland passage from Vancouver to Seward and took an extended rail tour to Denali, known not just for its phenomenal beauty, but for having its own weather. I recall the great anticipation of seeing Mt. McKinley, the 20,320' highest peak in North America. A beautiful blue sky greeted our arrival that cold, crisp afternoon, but a morning of fog and cloud cover allowed no view or continued trip in order for us to experience it.

During that cruise we took additional excursions along the way, including a spectacular helicopter ride which landed and allowed us to walk upon the glacier. (I'll show you that later.) However, this year's cruise would be different, more relaxing and casual exploration. There were several books we brought to read; we would walk about the towns at which we docked; and best of all was that our two great friends, Donna and Ray, traveled with us, and with them we shared quality time and sooo many laughs.

16JUL09 Early morning found us flying into Vancouver, BC, going through customs and summoning a cab, what proved to be a thrilling taxi ride and one during which I closed my eyes and held my breathe on more than one occasion. We arrived safely at the hotel, Pan Pacific Vancouver, located on the waterfront and within a few steps of our ship. Excellent accommodations and location at a discounted price made our choice simple, and the bellman would see that our luggage was transferred to the ship the following morning, thus, the first step toward a relaxing time began, except for one tiny thing. Upon opening our luggage, we found a love note from the TSA, 'Notice of Baggage Inspection'. Who would have known? Oh yes, it was finding our garments all rearranged!

The day in Vancouver: sunny, 70's, and a most delightful cool breeze; lunch at a quaint little Greek restaurant, Stephos, recommended by one of Donna's friends; a little walkabout, conversation with some local folks, shopping at the neighborhood fruit market, and later in the evening, dinner at Joe Fortes. The latter was an adequate meal, reasonably good food but a bit expensive and extremely uncomfortable as no air-conditioning was used. So enjoyable were the West Coast local oysters Donna and I shared, and the waiter, knowledgeable and excellent, added to our enjoyment. We had had a fine day.

Interesting observations: we took 6 cab rides while in Vancouver and 5 of the 6 drivers were from India and we always engaged in conversation with them. Several indicated there being no affordable housing inside 100 kilometers of the city, so they had to drive nearly an hour into work each day; Canadians had been experiencing unseasonably cooler than normal temperatures; additionally, they loved Vancouver as opposed to Toronto and the New York influence, preferring the western attitude as friendlier and more polite.

17JUL09 A light breakfast, some milling about outside on the terrace, and the view before us prior to going aboard the Ryndam...

Lunch would be available on the ship and we could unpack and begin our leisure excursion once all were on board by 4 p.m.

Out of Vancouver Harbor toward the Lion's Gate Bridge, we looked back again, passed beneath the structure, waved hello/goodbye to the tug and then a plane flying overhead, and made our way into the evening and toward Ketchikan.

8 p.m. and we are well on our way.