Juneau and Icy Strait Point
Tuesday, 10 May
This was our day in Juneau, the state capital of Alaska. About 7am the cruise director made an announcement (broadcast in the hallways) that we were docked. I got up, got clean, dressed, grabbed camera and umbrella and headed up to the buffet for oatmeal and a banana. Down the stairs to the security station to have yet another face shot of my mug and out into drizzle on the pier. At the recommendation from Mandra, I’d booked an excursion which would take me to the Mendenhall Glacier and National Park, and for a tram ride up Mt Roberts. Plus there would be enough time to visit the cathedral.
The bus ride to the park was comfortable, and a mother bear with 3 cubs was spotted on the roadside. We were given a bit more than an hour in the park, and “set free”. My first photos were long shots of the glacier and a waterfall, and then I began the 45-minute round-trip hike towards the falls. As I walked in the drizzle not needing my umbrella, I took numerous nature shots mixed into photos of the falls, the lake (with ice floes) and the glacier. A highlight was spotting pussywillows in bloom. I loved the moss that covered the trees and rocks, reveling in the encounter with nature in early spring.
On my return, there were a few minutes free before the bus arrived, so I checked out the Parks store, but didn’t find that hat pin I always seek. Back on the bus, we rode into the center of the lower town and unloaded, being handed a plastic card granting the holder a ride on the tram. Looking above me and following the cables, I noted that the overcast was much too heavy to merit any decent photos, and, since there was time before our 1:30pm departure, decided to find the cathedral.
The Cathedral of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a co-cathedral (with Anchorage) on Fifth Avenue. It was reached by walking past retail establishments before climbing a slight hill. Off to my right was a much steeper gradient, and homes seemed to have 20-feet of switchback stairs to reach the house from the street. As I approached the cathedral, across the street was the gold domed white and blue St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, an octagonal structure that looked quite dark. The cathedral was across the street on the corner, with a shrine to the Virgin outside. A simple single story plus building, it was a muted blue-gray clapboard building with six small windows visible on the side.
Entry was gained from the far side, in the U between the parish building and the church. Stairs up led to the unlit nave. A single aisle with dark wooden pews drew the attention to the bright lights of the sanctuary, under a graceful arch. The windows were filled with stained glass, bright cartoons with many featuring New Testament scenes from Christ’s encounters with women. The thirteenth station was a framed painting of the descent from the cross. Turning around at the altar, I spotted the choir loft above the entry, which had a three-panel window filled with light from outside. I was unable to spot a cathedra.
Back outside, I decided to try to find the state capitol building. Following signs posted on utility poles, I walked past the City Museum, which has a totem pole out front. Crossing a few streets, I came to a six-story building with four two-story tall granite columns at the entry. Looking much like an ordinary business building, I asked the two men carrying 6 boxes of what appeared to be pizza if it was the capitol. Confirming, they added that both the upper and lower houses were in session, so there was a lot of activity therein.
Down the hill by a different route, I observed more retail that had a tourist focus. Juneau was one of the two stops where I was asked to shop for jewelry, specifically a crow symbol in silver, crafted by native artisans. Most of what I saw was chain establishments selling the same wares as found in every duty-free area in most ports. I knew I needed a local to help me find the right store.
The sun had tried to break through (mostly unsuccessfully) by the time I reached the tram. Not one to let something go unused, I wandered the maze to queue up for a ride to the top. My Nikon stubbornly refused to focus beyond the rain-splattered tram cabin windows, which were fogged with condensation anyway. Once at the top with seeing little more than a cloud bank covering the ground below, I followed the crowd off, but immediately queued for the return to the bottom. (With about 240 days of rain a year, you might have expected the tram operator to put wipers on the exterior of the windows. Go figure!)
Back at sea level, I looked for the jitney back to the ship, without success. Two other ships were docked, so I figured to just follow along the pier to the Bliss. No joy. Encountering a chain linked fence up a hill, I got directions to climb up to the road and follow the sidewalk to the remote pier. Some 20 minutes of trudging along the roadway with buses and trucks seemingly delighting in splashing me, I made the turn in towards the pier. Still another 10-15 minutes of dodging puddles before I reached the first checkpoint where my ship card needed a photo id to pass. Damp (ha! I was wet!) and tired, I entered the ship (another mug shot) and was greeted by smiles and a recommendation for Asian food in the Garden Café. It was a bit after 1pm, and all aboard had been called (departure 13:30). Climbing the stairs, I dropped off my damp gear in the cabin and changed my attire (and shoes.) Heading to the buffet, I sampled small tastes, hoping to find something with pizzazz and spice. Nada. So I walked down a level and into the Observation Lounge to backup the pictures and catch up on the journal.
Chatting with several of my fellow passengers, we compared notes on our excursions (seeing husky puppies seemed to be the best) and watched as we slipped by small chunks of ice. Many were armed with the phone cameras out to capture an image of a glacier. My few shots (with the Nikon) were near monochrome, long expanses of smooth water and mountains and clouds off in the distance.
Joining the solo group, once again Hafsa had a craft for us – weaving a binding for a small journal. The half dozen of us went to Savor for dinner, where the Asian theme persisted. I had pot stickers and the corn chicken clam chowder (soup again was superb) to start, with an Asian noodle salad that was disappointing. For a main, Hawaiian pork belly, which I found was tough, not crisp, too fatty and generally unappetizing. (Yeah, Ken, tell us how you really feel!) The cannoli for dessert were tasty.
After dinner four of us went to The Social. A black comedian regaled the adult crowd with bawdy, near scandalous humor. I don’t think any ethnic group was left unscathed. I was too tired to hang with the younger members of the group who were on to dancing, and crashed for the night.
Wednesday, 11 May
Awaking at 6:30, I prepared and skipped breakfast, as my excursion had a starting time of 7. Not checking the meeting point, I headed to the dock instead of the theater, so had to wait for the groups to assemble on board, get their instructions, and then come find me. My excursion was to go whale watching at Icy Strait Point and then take a zipline ride. Our excursion filled two vessels, with me boarding the Eagle. This segment lasted 2 hours, and we cruised out to known whale feeding grounds where we watched the surface for the birds to alight in a circle, which signaled the arrival of a whale. I got many pictures of whale tails and even a very fuzzy zoom shot of a brown bear. The crew were fairly new at the job, but were friendly, knowledgeable and helpful.
Back to the port, we were directed to a building where we were checked out before being allowed to head up 1600-feet to the tram’s top. Once there and surrounded by trees and dirty snow, we walked down a fairly steep muddy gravel road to the zipline launch.
Mary and Margaret, widowed sisters and 88 and 91 years of age, were driven down behind us, and proved to be great sports and quite friendly. The zipline launches 6 riders at a time, and we queued up in groups. The team preparing us with harnesses balanced the load, putting heavier (men) onto the correct line. As I started to take a video of the group ahead of us being launched, my camera battery died! And the spare was down in the locker with the phone. So no thrilling 55 mph descent for 90 -seconds as we dropped 1300 feet.
But it was exciting, and my initial reaction of getting my feet back on the ground was that I wanted to do it again. Immediately! Checking, no space left and not really enough time. So I grabbed a beer in the café and stared out at the bay as a firepit provided ambient smoke. Into the gift shop, but there were no zip line t-shirts to be had – they’d run out. Bummer.
Back to the ship and after shedding my gear I headed up for “Mexican” cuisine at the buffet. I have no notes about lunch or what I did for the rest of the afternoon. I do know that once underway at 3pm the ship went near the Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier and passed a significant amount of floating ice. As the solo group was in the windowless lounge, we didn’t see much until we headed to Manhattan for dinner. From our table we could occasionally see large chunks of turquoise blue ice float by. The captain announced that we were stopping and returning to open seas as there was too much ice to be safe. My meal consisted of three starters (they were proving more dependable) of sweet yellow corn and chili bisque, a Caesar salad, and bruschetta; the main was bacon-wrapped Cajun-spiced shrimp, and because the cheese plate had been so awesome the night before, I asked for it again.
Unfortunately, Manhattan’s version was a serious step down from Le Bistro. The soup was good, bruschetta and salad routine, and the shrimp on spicy polenta was good too. We were only 6, as Laura had a guest option for a special meal, and took Ali to the Mexican restaurant.
After dinner some of the group went to the brew bar with me for one beer, and then I crashed – the next morning would start as early, and I needed my sleep.