North! To A-las-ka!

That magical word that conjures up images of endless hours stuck in traffic trying to get to the Shore, fighting with your siblings for precious square inches of backseat real estate, painful sunburns chafing under shirts that somehow aren’t as soft now as they were but a few days ago, standing in long dismal lines in sweltering heat and humidity with thousands of people for a 45 second ride and wondering where the ‘amusement’ part of ‘amusement park’ comes from. Or perhaps it means going on a tour, hoping to see different cities and sights but instead mostly seeing different hotels as you endlessly pack and unpack every night at yet another new lodging…at times ‘vacations’ are more work than, well, work, which somehow seems to defeat the purpose.
With a cruise you get to take the hotel with you. Great in theory, but my fear has always been that once I got out to sea I would decide that it…sucked and then I’d be stuck. I’ve never been tempted by a Caribbean cruise. Oh sure, I’ve known lots of folks who have gone on them and loved them, but I find the Caribbean to be, well, boring (I also find the Caribbean by looking on a map, but that’s a different thing entirely); I’m just not a sun or beach person.
I have been tempted, however, by the idea of perhaps a cruise in the Aegean amongst the Greek Isles, sniffing the vapors at Delphi, or perhaps a river cruise waltzing down the Blue Danube…or a cruise to Alaska. Ah, Alaska! That final frontier, bastion of manly man-ness, where the eagles fly free, the salmon always run and the polar bears are all sopranos. My Bride and I have always wanted to go there and when the chance appeared we booked a week-long cruise out of Seattle on the Celebrity Infinity.
As we’d never been there before, and to make sure we had no danger of missing the ship, we flew out a few days before to do some of that touristy thang, like dinner at the Space Needle. Great views

Crappy food.

There’s a great museum on the Klondike Gold Rush that gives you an appreciation for the absolute hell that those folks went through, mostly for naught. The only lasting fortunes that came out of the Gold Rush were made by the people who sold the prospectors supplies, such as a fellow named John Nordstrom. There are also a hell of a lot of homeless folks and beggars in Seattle, at least in the main tourist area, a lot more than there are in New York. There are also many many stores selling a vast array of trinkety tourist crap…including little models of New Jersey Light Houses

And judging by the note of desperation in the shop owner’s voice when I made the mistake of looking at that thing I can assure you that Jersey paraphernalia is not a big seller in the Pacific North West…shockingly.
So the time came for us to get on our ship, and the first thing they do to make you feel at home is conduct an evacuation drill

That bit of jolly fun out of the way it was time to say Bon Voy Agee to Seattle

and get started on the important things

The views as the ships leave Seattle and wander up the Puget Sound are lovely

especially for us East Coast types who aren’t used to all this craggy mountain grandeur stuff; we thought “wow, it’s so beautiful here!” Little did we know that we hadn’t seen nothin’ yet.
One thing that we noticed was that most of the cruise line itineraries followed more or less the same pattern, which makes sense when you realize that Friday to Friday or Saturday to Saturday cruises are the most convenient for folks. What this translates into is that there tends to be a bit of a conga line when you left a port

and when you arrive at one, as they all go to Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan at some point.
We left Seattle in glorious 85º weather on Friday and the weather got markedly cooler very quickly as we traveled north on the long sea leg to Sitka (which we wouldn’t reach until Sunday morning); in fact, I woke up on Saturday to the serenade of the fog horn every three minutes

a sound which continued all day. Luckily, they started making Bloodies

at a very civilized 8 am which helped greatly in my appreciation of the view we had all day

At this point we were starting to get a little bummed, because while we knew it rained a lot here and we had seen the weather forecasts predicting basically 55º and misty rain for the entire trip we had hoped that we still had some of our magic left over from Scotland where we had an amazing 7 sunny days out of the 10 we spent there.
Sunday morning when we arrived in Sitka the fog lifted somewhat

and as the harbor pilot came aboard

we could see another ship had snuck in ahead of us

There are a bunch of neat houses scattered about on the islands

and once you take the tender ashore you are greeted by the first of many totems

Sitka has a long and important history but what I find striking is that with approximately 9,000 inhabitants it is the fourth largest city in Alaska…and it has the largest incorporated area of any city in the country at just a touch over 4,800 square miles. That’s 3 times the size of Rhode Island and damn near as big as Connecticut.
Sitka’s Russian Orthodox cathedral was established in 1848 and has many lovely original icons from that time

and it’s still used to this day.
And next is one of those times when I get a strange feeling of connection to someone: Rev. Sheldon Jackson, 19th Century Presbyterian minister. He was born in NY state, went to Princeton Theological Seminary in NJ near where I used to live, he founded the church in Minnesota where my Bride and I were married…and he was instrumental in the creation of a college in Sitka for native students

Sadly, it closed this past June due to a lack of funds.
My Bride walked through the Sitka National Historical Park and thoroughly enjoyed the many totems placed amongst the towering spruces of the rainforest.
But by now it’s time to head back to our ship

and say buh-bye to Sitka

because our overnight cruise to the Hubbard Glacier awaits!

4 Responses to “North! To A-las-ka!”

  1. greg newson says:

    Beautiful! The whole saga of your journey to the
    North is fantastic.
    I think you are a great writer.Who you are doesn’t
    matter,the written word speaks for itself.But,remember one thing-Titantic and icebergs,
    Ha, Ha!

  2. The_Real_JeffS says:

    You ate in the Space Needle?!?!?!?! Anyone who lives in the Northwest knows better than that; you would have been better off to hit one of the seafood eateries on the piers.
    Or McDonald’s.

  3. Mr. Bingley says:

    When I go Tourist I fully immerse myself in the role, Jeff.
    Often to my detriment.

  4. lawhawk says:

    Great photos! Reminds me of my trip to Seattle and elsewhere in Washington State.

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