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Shopping Ain't Always Easy:

Diamonds May Not be Forever

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AD6F522E0171FB87CF998F8AF97D40CA.jpgSo having been stunned by those amazing cathedrals of ice and snow that are Alaska’s glaciers in the earlier part of our Alaskan cruise, for the next 3 days on the boat (sorry Martin I keep forgetting it’s a ship) we visited a new port a day.

Skagway is a town that reminded me of Sovereign Hill, the pretend goldfield town in Ballarat. Lots of Alaska’s European settlement history revolves around the Gold Rush to Klondike, where they got out heaps of gold for small numbers of people. But the traumas of passage, and then access to the goldfields were like logistical nightmares on speed for those unprepared fortune seekers. Skagway sets itself up as the town that looks like an old late 19th century town complete with (temporary) wooden boardwalk in front of the shops down the main street. The rest of the town looks perfectly normal, if a little rough around the edges, thus befitting a small town on the Alaskan coast.

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(Note the sign in the window about the brothel tours! It gave P a chuckle! Apparently, it was a brothel in goldrush days, but we hasten to add - not any more!!)

Fortunately, Phil and I had booked a photography tour and only meandered for about 90 mins in Skagway. Our tour was 3 hours with a German magazine photographer who took us up to see glaciers waterfalls and stunning scenery and teach us how to best use our cameras, compose our shots, and improve our skills. Me? I was far behind the 8-ball but even my photography has improved since then. There were only 5 of us, so we got to see such beautiful places in peace. The sound of snow melt running down the mountain was like taking a peace pill that just filled the soul. And the Inuksuk symbol was a really powerful piece of First Nation symbolism that I personally was fascinated by. It pointed a follower in the right direction, by looking through the hole (between the legs) to the next symbol and that was the path to follow!

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To make up for the ho-hum of Skagway's main street, that night at 1030 we decided to attend an organised event on the ship. As P went to collect our jackets for rugging up for Exploring The Stars on the Top Deck outside, he met a woman running down the corridor squealing that the Lights were out! All talk of exploring stars by the entertainment crew was quickly abandoned as Mother Nature turned on one of her glorious Northern Lights spectacles. Even now as I type and recall the sky that night I have goosebumps! It was ALL we'd heard it could be. Amazing colours, swirling action, and just a few of the 1000 passngers and crew there to watch it. The Bridge turned out the lights on the top deck to help us and we just stood in wonder, maybe 60 or 70 of us! It lasted less than 30 mins or so but eclipsed what we had seen the previous time by a 100 times!! Truly magical! And this old Oma did a little dance of excitement on the deck at her good fortune at seeing this wonder!! Photos just do NOT capture it. It's weird! Like it has to be seen in reality to really get it's wonder! So two happy little campers took to our very comfy cabin and watched for longer from our deck but nothing more was to be seen!

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The other two ports, Juneau (Alaska’s capital) and Ketchikan were sadly underwhelming repeats of Skagway (only without the wild west boardwalk). All three had a small shopping area OVER-RUN by diamond and semi-precious stone sellers that are gone in a few weeks once the summer cruise season is over and winter sets in. They were beside the occasional First Nation gallery, with some Alaskan handiwork, and then the inevitable cheap souvenirs’ shops that all had variations of the same things mainly made in China!

Don’t ask me why people would buy diamonds from Alaska but seemingly they do. I think it avoids a sales tax but even so, you wouldn’t feel confident that Mr Dodgy Bros had even sold you a real one!! Some looked reputable and others claimed their integrity with cheap tacky signs with the predictable spelling errors. But when the sales staff are leaning in the doorway trying to lure you inside, you want to run a mile! It reminded me of the worst of Lygon St on a Saturday night!

In Juneau, I went to the sled dogs summer camp and learned some more about Alaskan huskies which tend to be bitzers bred by mushers for particular qualities. I nursed some 9 week puppies, met some others, and got dragged around a track in a wheeled enlarged golf buggy pulled by a team.

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Then I was silly enough to wander around town only to make the discoveries about the repetition of shops. See dear reader, I went and did all that for you! I call it Research, whatever you might call it!! So I could report back. General consensus across the people we talked to, was that the ports were disappointing, and no-one ever wanted to see a diamond seller again! But then the shop onboard was doing their best to persuade jewellery purchases too.

Meanwhile Phil went to Mendenhall Glacier from Juneau for more glacier action and a salmon hatchery watching the salmon swim up some steps. They need to have done the whole swim upstream and fight their way upwards to allow some unexplained biochemical process happen and allow them to hatch. he's captured a great shot of the glacier wall which i have put here! And also the waterfall that went with it.

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By the third day I’d had it and just meandered instead of touring anywhere, while Phil went off on an underwhelming tour that didn’t deliver anything thrilling except a bit of a drenching. So he returned a little peeved, and we sat on our deck and drank wine instead. That improved our humours and we were ready for a final day of sailing. That doesn’t sound like us at all does it?

Of course not all sailing is exotic and luxurious. If you're like us you get your washing done and hang lines all over your cabin so you can hang you jocks and knickers and shirts and pants all over the place. However there were some lovely moments on our own little deck where we shared wine and watched for whales - WHICH NEVER BLOODY APPEARED! I'm convinced it's all BS, all this wildlife in Alaska business! We saw bugger all but I guess that's the luck of the draw. But in the scheme of things those Northern Lights will do it for me more than bears or whales, so I'm happy!!

My next post will be about a princess. Tell you more then!

Love C!

Posted by OwenGadflies 19:33 Archived in USA Tagged alaska juneau skagway ketchikan pacific_princess mendenhall_glacier sled_dogs white_mountain_pass Comments (0)

Glaciers All About

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First item on the agenda once on the ship was to have a Muster Drill and learn the safety stuff and how to put on a life jacket. Unlike on planes, we had to actually PRACTISE it! And all before we left the shore. Ohh, I look sooo fetching in a life jacket. In fact, so fetching that we “forgot” to take a photo!

First night on board, I slept out of sheer exhaustion! Apparently the Gulf of Alaska (where we headed) can be a bit blowy and bumpy. I’d never have known! Sleeping-in helped and eating breakfast in our room helped a lot! By lunch time when we reached Yakatut Bay (home of the Hubbard Glacier) I was ready to stand on our balcony and revel in the glories of Glaciers.

With a Professor of Natural History up on the Bridge giving commentary (which could be heard on our in-room TV) we realised just how much we had learned from our little mate Steve the Naturalist/Bus Driver. Much of what the commentator said made sense, and was even familiar from our Steve-induced Fact-Absorption! And the beauty of the Glacier was just marvellous. We were bathed in glorious sun which made the glacier just more enticing, sparkly and just plain beautiful..

We spent most of the day on our balcony in AWE! With the occasional visit upstairs to the top decks to catch something on the other side (starboard or something or other!) which we were missing. (More story below these photos because I'm being slack and putting them all together!)

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Formal Dinner followed that day’s entertainment. Not sure Formal Dinner could be classed as entertainment though!

Just to give you some background, the information we had received said there were 2 formal dinners on our cruise and you could hire a dinner suit on the boat! But definitely, jeans were unacceptable and a jacket and tie or business suit would be accepted at a pinch!

Well, needless to say there was no way Phil wanted to do a tuxedo or even travel with a suit (lugging it around uselessly for the other 5 weeks of our trip)! After a clever suggestion from a Been-There-Done-That friend, (thanks Greg) we bought Phil a sports jacket at an Opp shop before we left, and made sure we had a shirt and tie and slacks for these events. The jacket will be redonated in Canada or USA after our cruise!

So back to Dinner. We spruced ourselves up and went to the preceding Captain’s Cocktail Party (free booze). Had our photo taken and then went into dinner. A rectangular table for 8 was our allocated table. It had a great view out the front of the boat (sorry Martin, I mean bow of the ship)! Two couples were already sitting there nattering away. We sat down and no-one took any notice, stopped their conversation, or even shut up for the next 20-30 mins! Nor did anyone else come along to take the last 2 seats.

By this time, mightily cheesed, we were happily chatting with each other and choosing to ignore them. (Secretly though, I was wondering if I could arrange with the Maitre d’ to move us to another table from the next night, seeing we were allocated to share dinner with this lot for the rest of the trip!!)

Eventually the couple nearest to us (they’d chosen to sit across from each other) introduced themselves. We responded but not super warmly and they at various times tried to be polite people in the middle. But it was very obvious that the husband in the last couple was somehow getting peeved if attention was not on him! Yes he was a grown up, and contrary to expectations, was the first Canadian we met who wasn’t friendly!

Americans seem to find Australians fascinating, and are genuinely interested in finding out more or telling you about their travels to Australia! Except of course when they think you’re a Brit, which we busily tell them is an unforgivable offence! (Sorry Pauline, but what would Aussie life be without a bit of Pommy-bashing? Especially when you are a hidden Pom heh Phil?)

The next day had us up early with the enticement of seeing whales. But our wildlife Jinx held up, and all we were rewarded with was lovely views as we headed towards Glacier Bay. Again sunshine and blue skies had the sunnies being dragged out. So so so different from freezing cold and snow in Denali. It was lovely sitting on our balcony and lapping up sun and views! Layers and sunglasses were needed but after Melbourne’s winter just-passed, we were happy to take it! Temps were about 16C.

We got to see more glaciers and some extras that can’t be neared before Sept 1. Until then, the seals have calved and are rearing pups, so must be left alone until the pups are reared sufficiently and left to get on with living by themselves by their slightly ruthless parents. (we are talking about 6 weeks here!)

The face of Hubberd’s Glacier is not as high as the ones in Glacier Bay but had been 3 miles wide right at the edge of the water. Margerie Glacier It's 21 mind-blowing miles long) and the Johns Hopkins Glacier were awesome in their heights and right at the water’s edge. The ship edged really close (the advantage of a small boat) and just stopped there so we could all see for about 45 mins!

The thunder-cracks that attended the calving off of sections of ice were resounding through the silence. People on the ship held their breath in the hope of seeing this exciting piece of natural theatre. So so peaceful, and so exciting at the same time. Like cathedrals of ice that deserved your respect and admiration.

Just fabulous, and I will always be grateful for seeing them in all their shiny sunlit beauty.

Eventually it was time for dinner. We’d decided we wouldn’t be late as we had been the night before. Maybe we’d even be first, and see just what effect that would have on the dynamics, and level of politeness. The couple who’d made the effort the night before came next and we were immediately engaged in great conversation. You know the story, ask people about themselves and just sit back and let em talk. Throw in the odd question, and all goes smoothly. Mr Canada’s look of horror at being left at the end of the table and intermittently out of the loop was karma really!

From then on dinners have gone quite well, and we have become fans of talking to our New Jersey fellow diners, and conversation flows easily and across so many subjects.

Ahh karma indeed is a pleasure.

Talk soon

Love Chris

Posted by OwenGadflies 20:21 Archived in USA Tagged alaska margerie_glacier hubbard_glacier pacific_princess Comments (2)

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