The trip was marvelous. I kept a travel journal, so I'll just transcribe what I wrote and put some pictures in. (I'd include pix of my nephews, but my brother and sister-in-law probably don't want me to plaster their kids all over the internet, so I won't.) Occasionally I'll add a comment in brackets. Warning: this will be long--but, I hope, entertaining.
When I got to the airport, I was starving and thirsty, so as soon as I checked my bag, I bought an enormously expensive Coke and a donut and bolted them. About the time I had to step in the scanner and get cancered, the caffeine and sugar was kicking in so much I was shaky. It's a wonder I wasn't disappeared for appearing nervous. I was so relieved when I got through security without being arrested that I stopped at Starbucks and got a vanilla bean frappuccino, but the idiot barista added--ick--coffee. Vanilla means no coffee! It's practically the only drink on the Starbucks menu without coffee. I'm drinking it anyway (good thing I have Tic-Tacs to combat coffee breath) and the caffeine is surging through my system. They could use me to power the entire airport until my flight leaves. Hell, I could just run to Chicago in time to catch my connecting flight.
I have over an hour to wait. They'd probably object to my climbing up to hang from the skylights, so I guess I'll just sit here and vibrate and pop Tic-Tacs.
August 16, 2012
about 7:30 pm (Chicago time)
Pizza for supper. I bought some gummis. The little bag was $4.29 and as I was checking out the cashier said, "They're four-twenty-nine," in a warning voice. I told her if I'd neglected to bring candy with me I deserved to have to overpay for it at the airport. She didn't laugh.
On my flight up I sat beside the guy who bicycled with his wife and three daughters from Kentucky to Alaska about a decade ago. I vaguely remember hearing about it on the news. He told me about it when I told him I was going to Alaska, and he was the one who started the "where are you headed?" conversation. I don't typically talk to people. Ever.
There was a lot of turbulence during our flight. I had to fight the almost overwhelming urge to giggle and squeal. It really does feel like a roller coaster. The world's most expensive (and awesome) roller coaster.
1 am Vancouver time
4 am Tennessee time OMG
Made it! I had to fight a girl for my seat by the window. She had parked herself in it and spread 4,000 items about her person, including an enormous salad she was sitting there eating while I blocked traffic down the aisle and snarled at her. It took her forever to move into her actual seat, right next to me. She did apologize (and later, when we were descending into Vancouver with the lights spread out below like a fairy blanket, she said wistfully, "Is it pretty?", which made me feel a teeny bit guilty).
The flight was uneventful and seemed very long although it was only about four hours. I read some and tried to doze some and mostly looked out MY window at the stars and the lights and the pale haze above the horizon that in places seemed to climb into the sky in nearly invisible columns of gray.
I got the first stamp in my new passport, and this is the first time I have been to Canada. I hope we have a little time to explore in the morning.
Now a shower for me and bed. This is a really nice hotel.
I tried to sleep later, but woke at 6am. That's nine my time, and for me that's sleeping late. Richard [my brother] said we might meet around 7 or 7:30, so I have time to kill since I'm all ready to go except for my shoes.
The first thing I did when I got up was look out the window. The OCEAN is out there! Seagulls are flying around instead of pigeons!
I'm eating the gummis I forgot about yesterday. Maybe I'll read for an hour.
August 17, 2012
I am on a SHIP! We have embarked although we won't leave shore until around four, I think. I am sitting on our little deck and can feel the ship rocking very gently. Only time will tell if I get seasick.
We are underway! We went under a bridge! Tara [my sister-in-law] got glasses of wine to toast to the cruise and to departing Vancouver. We're sitting on our little deck now, watching the land slide by. The sea rushes in foamy swells from the ship and I can hear the music faintly from where they're dancing around the pool. I'm not sure if I'm feeling swimmy-headed from the ship's motion, my lack of sleep, or the wine. Maybe all of them.
I am going to gain one million pounds on this cruise. I will say no more about supper.
I showered once we got back to the room, and changed into capris. Now I'm full and comfy and sleepy, and the sun is not even down. Tara is reading on our little balcony, I'm here with her, and the two younger boys have the binoculars and are debating the merits of various speedboats visible from the ship.
Tara wants to go to a documentary about Alaska at 9pm. It's poolside so I don't have to worry about my hair being wet. I just hope I don't fall asleep.
We're in deep water here and it looks almost black next to the ship. The sun is setting behind the hills--so much craggier than the ones at home.
about 6:15 am
"Early bird" breakfast means coffee and tea, not food. I am slurping down tea and waiting for a food place to open. Tara elected to sleep in, not to my surprise. She was worn out, and I'm more of a morning person than she is. It's foggy this morning. Tara said (in a creaky morning voice), "I've never been on a ship where it wasn't foggy in the mornings." This is her third cruise.
Hey, there's a clock. It's almost 6:20 am. The foghorn keeps sounding, just like something out of a movie. The dining room where I'm sitting, waiting for food, is open at its far end where the pool is. The air rushing in is cold and salty, and tendrils of mist wisp toward me until they dissolve in the blasts of heated air. The floor is wet. I can still see the ocean sliding by, although I'm up on deck 11 so I can't see it very well from here.
Man, am I hungry. 6:25. I think they're going to bring out some food at 6:30. The big buffet restaurant opens at seven, but I don't know if I can make it that long without toast.
More tea, please.
August 18, 2012
Tara came to find me before I had my second tea, and we went for breakfast once it opened. I ate one of everything I could fit on my plate. Then we went to the gym and worked out, which is probably a good thing although now I really have a headache. I should have had that second tea after all.
I put my new [fountain] pen together, the one I bought in Vancouver. It's gorgeous.
The boat was rolling a bit earlier and Richard and the kids were feeling a bit seasick. They are all doped up on Dramamine now. I took Tylenol for my headache and feel better too, but I had a light lunch. Comparatively speaking.
Tonight is the first formal dinner. Tara and I looked at the menu and have already decided what we will order. I'm getting the duck, which is mostly why I didn't have much lunch.
I've discovered that I love strolling around outside on deck 5, which is the lowest deck where you can actually go outside. It's chilly and damp down there so I mostly have it to myself. I keep taking photos of the bow waves and our wake. Tara pointed out that I'm going to end up deleting most of my pictures. [She was right.]
We saw WHALES. Or orcas [actually they were probably humpbacks] which are, I think, a type of dolphin rather than a whale. We saw a lot of them and Tara got some pictures, or at least she did after she appropriated my camera's memory card. She'd forgotten hers and my camera was refusing to focus when I zoomed in. Teamwork! She made me promise to email her the pix after we get home.
Tonight was formal dress for dinner. I forgot to take pictures, but the boys were so adorable dressed up. I had oxtail soup, duck, and berry pudding. I feel kind of sick from too much rich food. I have no one to blame but myself.
We are sailing alongside land, possibly islands. It's only a little foggy this morning, so I can see the low hills very closely, craggy with pine trees, and glimpses of higher hills beyond. And there are lights in the distance. People live here.
I love early mornings by myself. I tried hard not to wake Tara when I got up and dressed, but the way I was thumping around she was probably wide awake but too polite to say so. [She was. I woke her up every single morning.]
I have my tea and I'm waiting for breakfast to open or for someone I know to show up and say hi. No headache this morning, no queasiness. Richard has a supply of Dramamine and ginger products so big he could set up a drugstore in his stateroom. I have a ginger chew he gave me yesterday in my pocket. He says he eats them all the time--like, constantly, the way other people chew gum. They're good, but lordie, not that good.
August 19, 2012
about 7:30 am
I never thought I'd eat grits in Alaska. They're not bad, though.
We went on our first excursion today, a canoe trip and little nature walk in Ketchikan. It was fun, and the foggy, gray weather turned abruptly warm and sunny while we were out, giving us a brilliant view of some mountains with streaks of snow at their summits. From the water of the small lake, we could smell the cold, clean scent of evergreens that climb the steep sides of the mountains.
I bought a brown fleece jacket with a bear stitched on it, which is snuggly warm and which is probably why it turned so warm out. But even with the sun out, the breeze has a snap to it that feels more like early spring to me than late summer.
We saw a bald eagle and found a book store.
I thought it was closer to 6am and got up and dressed and slipped out to drink tea and wait for breakfast. Imagine my surprise. No wonder I'm still so sleepy, but the tea and coffee things are already set up so at least I can get some caffeine down.
We go ziplining today. I probably want to be over-caffeinated for that.
It's light, which is why I thought it was closer to six, but only just. After I finish my tea, I'm going to walk around on deck and take pictures. A lot of the mountains here have snow on them. I am all snuggled up in my brown bear jacket. Best $15 I ever spent.
August 20, 2012
We're stopped at the port where we go on the zipline. It's strung up above the hills like a radio tower guywire. There's three lines [actually it turned out to be six] so we can all three go at the same time and race. In honor of that #3, I ate three breakfasts. Hobbits are amateurs.
There's no dock for cruise ships here, so we'll have to cross to land in little boats. Tara told me the name of the boats but I can't remember it. All I can think of is 'trebuchet' and 'punter,' which are just random words.
No, wait. They're called tenders. Makes me think of chicken.
The zipline. OMG, the zipline! It was co cool.
We rode up to the top of the mountain in a bus, and the driver told us some stuff about the town and places we were passing. The ride was about 45 minutes and he stopped once so we could take pictures out the windows. From what he said, the zipline is owned by the Tlingits (pronounced sort of like Klinkits) and has brought a lot of prosperity to the village. The bus driver said that he was one of the village elders, and told us the traditional greeting to visitors and how he would introduce himself to them. Then he let us all out at the top of the mountain and we walked down a short distance to the zipline launching pad or whatever it's called. There was one poor lady who got scared and decided she couldn't do it, and when she found out the bus had already started back down and she couldn't catch a ride with him, she got kind of hysterical. I felt sorry for her. I wished I could reassure her that the scared only lasts briefly but the awesome remains forever.
Richard, I. [my oldest nephew; I'll be referring to my nephews by their initials], and I were among the six who went down on the very first trip. They strapped us in, had us put our feet on the wooden door thingie in front of us, gave a quick 3-2-1 countdown--and we were gone. The door dropped and we fell off the mountain and rode all the way down in 90 seconds. I screamed, but it was a lot of fun too--and beautiful. I had my camera but the first thing I did was accidentally turn it off, and it took me a few seconds to get it back on. I did take some pictures, though.
I bought a black hoodie that says "Icy Strait Pointe, Hoonah, Alaska," which is of course where we are. About half a dozen people, mostly strangers, have pointed out that I paid too much. $35 is not too much for a nice warm hoodie that's also a souvenir, plus I think the profits may go to the village so I don't mind paying a bit extra.
Tomorrow we go to Juneau and I will probably buy a tote bag, if I can find one. I need it since I am constantly dragging my spiral notebook around with me and one day I'll drop it overboard if I'm not careful.
August 21, 2012
My six-year-old nephew climbed all the way to the top of the climbing wall yesterday and rang the bell. It was unreal--he took off just like a gecko. Richard was the next person to climb and also rang the bell, but his accomplishment was a bit overshadowed by M's.
Today Richard and I go on a hike together, which will be fun. I am already wearing my hiking boots.
Obviously I don't have a lot to say since I'm sitting here staring out the window at the long silhouette of a ridge sliding by against the dim sky. It's bristly with fir trees. The water is placid, barely rippled.
Despite me taking forever and a half cup of tea to write this, it's still only 5:07. Breakfast opens at six. I guess I'll finish my tea and go walking around out on deck. Maybe I'll see a whale.
August 21, 2012
about 6:30 am
I have finished breakfast, although if today is anything like yesterday I will return for more when Tara arrives to eat, and possibly more again with Richard and the kids.
This is what I ate just now--I finished everything but the scrambled eggs:
1 poached egg
scoop of scrambled eggs with tiny shrimps
2 pieces bacon
grits with butter
English muffin (small) with butter
1/2 piece French toast with strawberries
small raspberry danish
small slice of bread with berries that I can't identify
In future days, when I'm back to eating a bowl of Wheat Chex with almond milk for breakfast, I will look at that enormous list with awe. And irritation, since it's going to take a while to drop the weight I'm gaining. And this doesn't even include the fruit I'll probably get later, along with another slice of the mystery berry bread.
I ought to leave the rest of my tea and go down to see the dinner menu for tonight. At least it will get me out of the cafe and its enormous buffet that never ends.
August 21, 2012
about 6:40 am
2 sliced half-peaches
2 chunks pineapple
2 chunks watermelon
small piece mystery berry bread
The hike was excellent, although my feet are tired. It's gorgeous around here, lush and stark at once. This is technically a rain forest and everything is covered in moss. It's spongy underfoot and hangs from trees. In some places there is so much moss on everything that it doesn't look like a scene from Earth--surely it's Venus or Degobah or the holodeck. The mountainsides are steep, and exposed rock is scraped from the passage of glaciers thousands of years ago. The glacier here--which I've forgotten the name of [Mendenhall]--fills a valley, with its blue feet in a lake 200 feet deep. Icebergs drift along like fairy boats.
My camera batteries died halfway through the hike. Of course.
After we got back, Richard and I had a few minutes to ourselves in Juneau. I bought fresh batteries, postcard stamps, a paperback, and a candy bar. Oh, and a tote bag so I can carry my notebook around in the mornings without having to stuff it in my waistband to free my hands.
Tara went off shopping by herself and the two younger kids are in a supervised activity (Richard's just gone to pick them up). So when we got back to the ship, Richard and I went to lunch, with I. along to keep us company although he'd already eaten. While we (mostly me) were stuffing ourselves, our waiter from the nice restaurant in the evenings noticed us and said hello. I didn't realize he had to work lunch too. I feel guilty for complaining that my feet hurt from my hike when Sathish [I think I'm misspelling his name] works every single day cleaning up after me and bringing me food. I hope they pay him well and that he actually gets the tip I'm going to leave him instead of the cruise company keeping most of it.
Venison for supper. REALLY. It was excellent. I started with smoked duck, and it was perfect wiht pieces of candied walnuts. After the venison, I got the chocolate-whiskey-raisin cake, which came with vanilla ice cream. I ate it all, and our server brought me the maple pudding too because he said he didn't want me to miss it, and it came with more ice cream, and it tasted like the best pancake with syrup EVER and I ate most of it. At that point I started to wonder if the kitchen staff was taking bets to see if I'd finish it or if I'd explode. I pictured them in the back, saying, "Give her more ice cream. See if she'll eat it." So I quit eating and waddled back to the stateroom.
It's not even light yet. Why am I up?
Today Tara and I go on a horseback ride in Skagway while Richard takes the boys to see husky puppies. This is the last port of call and our last excursion. Tomorrow we sail by some big glacier but we don't stop.
Tara and I were talking about going for breakfast in the nice dining room today instead of the buffet. I think she is trying to save me from myself.
August 22, 2012
Tara still felt full from last night, so she didn't want a big breakfast. Amateur. So I had my usual too-much breakfast. It's still drizzling slightly and fog has rolled in, so thick we can't even see the other cruise ships nearby.
The fog mostly lifted before our horseback riding trip, although it rained. I didn't mind. Tara had never been on a horse before and was nervous. I hadn't been on a horse in 25 years and was nervous. I was put on a horse called Moose and Tara on a horse named Spike. Moose and Spike were best buddies, which was fortunate because Spike was really slow so Moose kept crowding him--so much so that he actually rubbed his cheek against Spike's rump to scratch an itch at one point. Moose also kept farting. Moose the farting horse.
Tara did great. I acknowledge that I have forgotten most of what I ever knew about riding. Maybe I'll sign up for lessons somewhere when I get home.
The ship will be moving away from Skagway in about half an hour, which means the cruise is almost over.
August 22, 2012
I got chicken tonight although it was lobster night. Tara let me taste her lobster and I'm glad I got the chicken, because apparently I don't like lobster.
Tonight at 11pm they have a special chocolate dealie. I'm not sure I can stay awake another hour and a half, though, even for chocolate. Tara's staying up because I.'s curfew is 11:30 and she can't fall asleep until he's back.
It's cold and windy and rainy out. We have a lot of ocean to cover to reach Hubbard Glacier by morning, so we're racing along. Apparently two people never made it back from today's stop at Skagway. When they didn't show, their passports were left on shore and the ship left without them. I bet they're having a rotten day.
Last night Tara and I managed to stay up until 11pm and went to the chocolate thing. They had ice sculptures lit up with colored lights, and melons carved into ships with spoons for oars, and cakes decorated with fruit and chips of chocolate, and every delicious, fanciful thing. We filled out plates, sat down, and Tara took maybe three bites before sliding hers away and saying, "I don't need this." Then she sat there looking desperately tired while I crammed cake in my face.
We both agreed to sleep late this morning. And we did! When we both stirred and raised our heads to look outside--she did first, which woke me too--it was 5:30 am instead of 4:45.
I think I may be able to sleep on the plane tomorrow night.
Tara went back to sleep, or said she was going to try. I really enjoy my quiet mornings on the ship so I went ahead and got dressed. My jeans are too filthy to wear and my slacks don't have pockets, so I'm wearing capris. Thin cotton capris. Because before I got here, my brain simply could not fathom true cold in August.
It's getting light out. The sea is calm with swells that rock the ship gently side to side. I hardly notice the ship's motion anymore, although in Juneau and Skagway both I felt occasionally that the ground was moving underfoot like a ship. I guess I have my sea legs, or I'm just crazy.
Richard and I took M with us to the nice restaurant, Cascades, for breakfast. We were sailing near the Hubbard Glacier then and got to see a yellow boat full of crewmembers manhandling a chunk of iceberg onboard. I got pictures. They put it up on deck 11 for people to examine, and they'll make an ice sculpture out of it tonight. They think of everything.
I've spent most of the morning outside on deck, except when I was eating exquisite French toast at breakfast. Tara was with me a big part of the time. When we went down to deck five around 7am, we stopped first at the dinner menu near the door out. I made my selection right away, pumpkin soup, roast turkey, and key lime pie, and was ready to go on out and look at the glacier filling the horizon. But Tara was still studying the menu. She said, "Some decisions are important and shouldn't be rushed."
The glacier is immense. The water near it is full of icebergs, large and small, and as the ship moves through them they slap and crackle in the water like an enormous bowl of Rice Krispies. The glacier several times made a noise just like thunder, booming as it cracked somewhere inside. I saw the spray and big wave as the glacier calved an iceberg, but I didn't see the ice fall.
It's so desolate here, cold and empty. Tara says it's like the end of the world. The ship turned around and crept its way back through the rattling icebergs, and now we're back in the open ocean headed for Seward, Alaska and the end of our cruise.
I was going to take a much-needed shower but N has a strange genius of knowing when I'm about to go into our bathroom and rushes in to grab it. So I'm waiting, since he's in there singing. Sounds like he'll be a while.
My stuff is all packed up and ready to go. Dinner tonight was underwhelming--turkey that tasted like it came from a school lunchroom--so I'm not over-full. I'm thinking about my cat and my yard and how I will need to get groceries when I get home.
Tomorrow we have to be up and out by 6:10 am in order to catch our train to Anchorage, where we fly out tomorrow evening. The train will be an adventure: I love trains, and the scenery is supposed to be spectacular.
The waves are still high, rolling the ship along. This afternoon it rained and got very choppy, but now fog is blowing in. I saw two whales earlier, but the ship is going so fast I couldn't get a picture before we'd passed them by.
We're on a train! It's moving!
Richard and Tara and the boys are in line to board their flight. My flight doesn't leave for another four hours. Really. And then I fly to Houston, arrive about 6am, and fly to Knoxville (I even just writing Knoxville) to arrive around 1pm tomorrow. It's gonna be a long night. [I didn't get any sleep at all.]
They are gone onto the plane. Vacation is over. There's nothing left to do except go home.