Monday, August 31, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 17

Sunday, August 2nd, 2009 (The Last Day, The road home)
6:15am came quicker than it should as the alarm sufficiently got me out of bed to begin what would more than likely be a long stretch of unpleasantness and my goal was to do all I could to get through it all and perhaps it will end up being just a little less unpleasant than I expect.
With bags all packed, I went up to the buffet realizing that after last evening’s big dinner, I was in no shape for a big breakfast. I settled on a bowl of grits, added a touch of salt and pepper, and that was that.
I was expected to disembark the ship by 8:30 so I obliged and went from the ship to the Canadian customs counter. The process was painless, smooth, and quick; kudos to the pleasant Canadian customs agent. I arrived in the port terminal with the intention of getting a taxi to the airport but found a shuttle service offering a considerably lower fare so I bout a ticket. Moments later, I was seated in a comfortable, air-conditioned motor coach en route to YVR.
The ride to the airport was pleasant and traffic free. A group of us, including the driver, engaged in conversation which made the excursion more pleasant than expected. The airport however, was the beginning of where my patience, and certainly my endurance, would be tested.
yvr1 Here I am at YVR and it’s 9:30am. The problem, my flight from here doesn’t depart until 2:30pm and it will still be a couple of hours before I can check in, drop the luggage, or go through U.S. customs. Even more painful, the thought that the flight still 5 hours from takeoff will leave me in Phoenix, Arizona – a 4 hour layover preceding  a 5 hour flight.
As I write this sentence, it is 10:13am and thus far, I don’t yet hate everyone or everything around me – but it’s still early…
Around 11something, I had noticed the US Airways counter open so I went over to the kiosk to check in. Of course the guy who got sunburned in Alaska wasn’t going to have it so easy. After entering my confirmation code into the kiosk and then seeing my name magically pop up on the screen, I thought I would soon become the possessor of a shiny new boarding pass – I was mistaken. being me can be special sometimes, like this occurrence when I touched the touch screen where it asked me to and a longer than expected “processing” indicator soon became an “unexpected error, please see a US Airways customer service representative for assistance. We are sorry for any inconvenience”…I should pursue a career in bad luck. BTW, I don’t believe for a second that anyone was actually sorry.
The line for customer service wasn’t too bad, the agent was courteous and friendly and happily took my credit card to handle the baggage fees (how fucking bogus of the airline industry). Of course, with U.S. customs on the horizon, I had to bring the luggage along for the process. I moved down on to the line to learn that it was actually three levels deep (yikes) but moving fairly quickly (thus far). Wait! How could I forget to tell this story of incredible coincidence?
Of course, you’ll need to wait until the next post – I am pooped and must go to bed…
To be continued…

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 16

Saturday, August 1st, 2009 continued…
norwegian_sun_big After lunch I played a little game of “how many different places on the ship can I do as little as humanly possible (except of course going from place to place).” One of my main goals of this vacation was to relax as much as possible. I needed to recharge my batteries and I know once I get back home, things are only going to get stressful. The day after I get home, the vinyl siding project kicks off and then, back to work on the 10th where…I’ll stop here with that stuff. At 3:00pm I went to the Windjammer bar, call me nuts but that just oozes gay bar name to me, for another game show, “Win, Lose, or Draw”. These games shows have been great fun.
I just remembered a story. When I first got into my stateroom on the first day of the cruise, I picked up the “Freestyle Daily” newsletter to see what was going on about the ship. I took notice that at 6:00pm in the chapel, there was a “Friends of Bill W” meeting, which I know is Alcoholics Anonymous. Just beneath that listing was another group gathering in the “Havana Bar” – the “Friends of Dorothy”. I had never heard of this group before and I was curious who they were. I made the humorous assumption that it was shopaholics anonymous and even began making inquiries of my fellow cruisers. I got nowhere until several days later when I decided to Google it on my Blackberry. Now this would be the most logical place for me to reveal who the Friends of Dorothy are but each of you reading this fall into two groups: those who already know and are already laughing at my naiveté and then those of you who don’t know – and for those of you that fall into this category, I am going to leave it to you to look it up – so you could laugh at me later.
Funny thing I’ve noticed, at home, time drags when I am doing nothing; perhaps because it is so hard to be completely relaxed at home. Here though, I have loved every minute of doing something, and of doing absolutely nothing. Heck, here I went out of my way to plan special times to do absolutely nothing! I lie down on a lounge chair poolside in one moment and in the very next moment, it seems hours have gone by. Today was no exception to this odd time phenomenon and as I write this at 7:15pm – I consider the balance of my day and see dinner and a show in my relatively immediate future.
sun_four_seasons_184x133 Okay, it’s dinner time at the Four Seasons restaurant and I am taking this one seriously. “The Last Supper” as it is jokingly referred to by some and the menu choices were so wonderful, that I chose to eat like a Roman emperor. Here’s what my meal was made up of:
  • Gravlax Salmon Tartare – cucumber salad, toasted brioche, dill honey
  • Escargot “Bourgignone (sp.)”
  • Fresh Mozzarella and Vine ripened Tomato Salad with sweet basil and extra virgin olive oil
  • English Cut Strip Loin with Yorkshire Pudding, Roasted Potatoes, and Horseradish Cream
  • Raspberry-Almond Torte with Semi-Sweet Chocolate Ganache
  • Mocha Cheesecake with Caramelized Banana Sauce
For me to say that this meal was extraordinary would be gross understatement. As a plus, the waiter was a delightful and distinguished older gentleman from Jamaica who really enhanced this dining experience. I would have loved to walk around for a while after a meal such as this but the last show was set to start in less than 20 minutes at the Stardust Lounge and it would fill up fast; so I went to rustle up a seat in the theater.
I made my way to an excellent seat as I awaited performances by Brooklyn (my hometown) born tenor Alberto Sanchez and another comedy/magic performance by Jean Pierre Parent. Sanchez offered up several operatic numbers including a two song tribute to Pavoratti as well as show tunes and several standards of popular music. Jean Pierre added some material not seen/heard in his full length performance form Thursday evening. Both performers did a great job keeping the crowd entertained and when all was said and done, it was time to consider the vacation over and prepare for disembarkation tomorrow followed by a long (very long) day of travel. I returned to my stateroom, packed my luggage, set a 6:15am wake up call (paranoia) and off to sleep was I.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 15

Saturday, August 1st, 2009
I woke from a really odd dream. I was in New York City, right near my alma mater, NYIT, in Columbus Circle. At first I was in a bar talking to my pal Johnny D about a concert I had tickets for and how I was conflicted because I was supposed to start a class (as a student) the same night as the concert (keep in mind in that I currently live in Massachusetts, not NYC). The next thing I recall is being on a street corner with my cousin Julian discussing the various Blackberry telephone handsets and when I looked up, I was suddenly in Montreal and less concerned about my Blackberry than how I was going to get back to Manhattan in time for either the concert or my class. Johnny D. reenters the dream here, seemingly out of nowhere, to offer the advise of hopping in a cab, then pointing to Manhattan, which in the distance seemed only a cab ride away – very odd. I woke up right after that so I don’t know if I hailed a cab or made it to Manhattan in time and if so, whether or not I went to the concert or to class.
I checked my new watch to see that it was 7:30am and decided to prepare for my day with a shave and a shower. Have I mentioned that I somehow managed to get a pimple on my neck? Not just any part of my neck, the front, just a centimeter or so from my Adam’s apple – WTF!? I went about my business and headed down to the “Seven Seas” for some breakfast. My menu selections were:
  • Chilled melon platter'
  • Toasted bagel
  • Smoked salmon platter
  • Decaf
  • Cranberry juice
I assembled the contents of the salmon platter, which included sliced onions, capers, tomatoes and cream cheese, onto the bagel making a sandwich familiar to my native New York city sensibilities. I settled on the cranberry juice as my main beverage since I wasn’t certain I was poured decaf (the urn had a black handle and all the other urns to date have had an orange one). It was a perfect breakfast, not too heavy – a perfect precursor to my next important activity, nothing…that’s right, nothing; nothing but relaxation.
I walked on over to the Observation Lounge opting for an indoor venue as the weather had not yet been living up to the forecast and was at this time quite foggy and a touch nippy. After a good while luxuriating in a comfy chair and no responsibilities (for the time being), I relaxed my way to the near noon hour and moved on down to grab a cup of coffee on the pool deck. The weather had improved enough to hang outdoors and I was looking forward to a cup of coffee, having missed the one at breakfast.  I sat around and did nothing until around 1:30 when I recognized the fact that there were only two more wonderful meal opportunities and since the Seven Seas stops serving lunch at 2:00, I made my way there and enjoyed a wonderful meal including:
  • Roasted red pepper hummus with lavash
  • Garlic & shrimp bisque with baby shrimp
  • Churhasco (sp.) style marinated skirt steak with red peppers and carrots
  • Coconut and rice pudding layered with semi-sweet chocolate ganache
I am so happy I decided to hit the restaurant over the buffet or the BBQ on the rear deck.
To be continued…

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 14

Friday, July, 31st, 2009 continued…
I was too full to eat dinner yet so i thought I would go to the 7:30 show in the Stardust Lounge and have dinner afterwards. The show was called “Cirque Pan” and was billed as a tribute to Peter Pan. Again, there were some terrific performances, the dancers, singers, and acrobats were all quite entertaining and talented but the show itself wasn’t much – poor direction/production – very disjointed. Smack dab in the middle of the show, which to that point at least had characterizations that were relevant to Peter Pan, a group of performers come out and sing “Lady Marmalade”; it was so out of left field. It was a fabulous performance of a great song but what the heck does it have to do with a tribute to Peter Pan? Perhaps it was there for those on the heavier drinking plan than I and to them it made more sense.
DSC00180 When the show portion of the show ended, many of the staff and crew came on stage during a song – I know this is super corny but I kind of liked this. Having taken three cruises now, I’ve spent a little bit of time chatting it up with the various employees and a good part of the crew stay on board for 10 months at a time leaving their family and lives behind to earn a living – and they work very hard. So, for me, I think it is really nice to see these people who work so hard to make my vacation special get some recognition.
I left the theater around 8:40 and was ready for some dinner. Just a couple of floors down from the theater sits the familiar Seven Seas restaurant where I headed for what was a superb meal that I will share with you now:
  • Seafood ceviche
  • Curried butternut squash soup
  • “Surf and Surf” which included: shrimp, mussels, scallops, filet of snapper and a lobster tail over a bed of linguine (though it was actually fettucini)
  • Flourless molten chocolate cake with raspberry sauce
After dinner, you know by now I went walking for a while. I notice a small boat heading for the ship. As I was nearing the front of the vessel, one of the crew with a heavy Phillipino accent looked at me, pointed to the oncoming boat and said what sounded like “Pi-rate!” I got freaked out because there have been some stories in the news involving pirates and with a full belly and an evening Alaska wind blowing, muffling a thick accent – I thought, for a very short time, that there was potential trouble on the horizon. And, I was suspicious of the dude with the heavy Phillipino accent because he was smiling when he said what he did and then ran quickly inside a staff/crew only door.
So here I was, caught in a moment where I thought that a pirate ship was heading directly for the Norwegian Sun. I took cover behind a wall while peering out to see more of this oncoming boat. Very rapidly the boat got close enough for me to see a large Canadian flag waving proudly and seconds later, the word PILOT emblazoned loudly on its even louder yellow exterior. I began to laugh, almost uncontrollably, and then proceeded indoors as the wind was picking up while the temperature was dropping.
I stopped by the Internet cafe to use the last six minutes of the time I had purchased. The slow, crappy Internet rendered those six minutes useless so I just let it go – no sense being bitter at this point. By now it was 11ish and I was right next to Dazzles, the nightclub. the “White Hot Party” was just getting started, stealing a party theme from the famed Sean Puffy P-Diddy Diddy Combs. On this ship, they weren’t as strict about the white clothing only rule as Diddy is and it was something they were promoting the heck out of the last day or two. I decided to check out the action and it was quite crowded. The cruise director’s staff planted themselves in the center of the dance floor, all decked out in white. They were working the crowd as best they can while showing off the effects of an all white wardrobe under ultraviolet light. I stuck around but only for a short time realizing that my desire to sleep at some point won over my desire to continue partying. Somewhere just before the strike of midnight, I wandered back to my room and called it a night.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 13

Friday, July, 31st, 2009 continued…
DSC00177After a while I felt the need to continue to do nothing (but relax) but I wanted to do it outdoors. There happens to be a neat deck above the Observation Lounge (technically, it’s roof).
With the exception of the foghorn blowing every 90 seconds, it was a perfect spot – almost directly under the sun. You might think the foghorn blowing every 90 seconds would be annoying or distracting, but it didn’t stop me from relaxing (the proof is in the photo’s) and it didn’t take long for me to settle into the lounge chair, fall deep into relaxation and fall asleep.
I awoke with a smile and a thought that if I didn’t go to lunch soon, I wouldn’t have much of a chance at lunch (except for room service or a very limited menu). I went over to the Garden Cafe and loaded up a plate with a small sampling of items including:
  • Cinnamon scented rice with cashews
  • Marinated skirt steak
  • A sampling of cheeses with grapes and pecans
  • Ice cream
A stroll about the “strolling track” on deck six before a quick visit to inquire about transportation from the docks to the airport found me back on the roof of the observation deck for even more relaxation.
I almost forgot a few more “self-portraits” that I snapped while kernoodling inside the Observation Lounge for a short time just before returning to my little spot on its roof.
For me, one of the best parts of cruising is the ease at which relaxation comes (not something that comes as naturally in my daily life). Right now I am in the spot I’ve been speaking of, on the roof of the Observation Lounge, writing this very sentence and listening to some TBTL (being the Time Bandit that I am) and it’s around 4:00pm. For now I am closing my journal and will do some listening and relaxing – oh, can’t you just feel the sunshine?
* * * * * * * * * *
I decided to pick up the pen again because I am currently so entertained, I’d like to share it with you. I’m lounging here on the deck listening to TBTL (for the Tens that may be reading, the 7-8pm hour from July 1st). Jen is at the Shawn Colvin concert so Luke and Sean are just hanging - “bro-ing” it up and are KILLING! I am so laughing out loud, disregarding fellow cruisers relaxing nearby – very funny!
***MEDIC ALERT*** I am about to speak of an unpleasant medical condition – not super gross but unpleasant.
One of the problems I had this vacation is with, UGH, I hate to even say this, eczema. It wasn’t all gross or anything but my legs, from my knees down, were just a but rough and super itchy. This afternoon, the itch was really driving me crazy so I used some of the complementary moisturizing lotion in the room. As it was nearing 6:00pm I decided to head indoors. The minute I got indoors, I felt an intense burning sensation (pretty sexy, eh?) in my legs. When I got back to my stateroom, upon further inspection, I realized that I toasted myself while sitting in my spot on the upper deck. The exposed portion of my legs were quite red and if you think sunburn can be uncomfortable, try it out on top of eczema. I felt like I was molting at the legs, in fact, I was kind of hoping to molt at the legs.
What’s crazy is that most people that know me, know that I am not a big fan of the sun, I never “stay out in the sun”. I don’t mind it being sunny but I have been tracking the increase in skin cancer cases…okay, not really tracking it but I know of two people very close to people I know well who dies of cancers that began as a melanoma. The sun is not all that healthy and I am a burner. I know I should have used sun screen and shame on me for not doing so (I just slapped myself on the wrist) ….moving on.
To be continued…

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 12

Friday, July, 31st, 2009
With a couple of sea days in front of me before returning to Vancouver, I “slept in” today. Having to return an hour overnight as we sailed back into Pacific time, it was in the neighborhood of 9:00am as I headed into the shower, got dressed, then decided to check email on the Blackberry to see if there were any issues with my students that needed dealing with.
I had two students who reported a problem with an assignment which prompted me to seek time on an Internet terminal so that I can get those students issues resolved. The Blackberry is a handy tool but I needed a real PC to take care of this. I typically avoid the ship’s Internet cafe for (at least) two reasons: one, I am on vacation and two, it’s ridiculously priced at 75 cents per minute (unless you buy a plan for $100 which brings down the per minute price to a still insane 40 cents).
As luck would have it, with only two days left in the cruise, “bargains” were popping up and the Internet cafe was no exception (I think I just vomited in my mouth a little). As of this morning, two new time plans were made available and while reluctant at the still stupidly overpriced plan, I opted for the 30 minute plan which was priced at $12, plus a one-time $3.95 set up fee (fuckers). I do love cruising as a vacation option and I know these practices aren’t limited to cruising but I really hate being raked over the coals – you know, nickel and dimed. I really wish someone would truly embrace the all inclusive concept.
The Internet service was dreadfully snow (worse than dial-up), but I did manage to review and resolve the outstanding student issues. Oh, I almost forgot – on the way to the Internet cafe I saw a table DSC00176full of stuff for sale and walked on by to notice some “cheap” watches that were being sold a few days ago for $44 and now being “cleared out” for $10. While I hated giving in to this chicanery, I hated being without a watch on my wrist even more and for ten bucks, I was willing to call myself a schmuck and bought the watch.
All of a sudden it was 10:30”,and the breakfast choices were limited. I noticed in the “Freestyle Daily” they had listed a Jazz Brunch at “Le Bistro”. I was excited because “Le Bistro” is usually only open for dinner and always charges an additional cover charge (as it is considered one of the premium restaurant offerings). There was no asterisk next to the brunch listing so I assumed it was being offered with no extra charge. The doors opened almost at the exact time I stepped off the elevator and to my disappointment, they were asking for a $15 cover charge so I walked away and headed for the buffet where there was a plethora of delectable choices already included in the price of my cruise. The following items appeared on my plate for a brief time en route to my digestive tract:
  • Scrambled eggs
  • 1 link of pork sausage
  • 1 strip of bacon
  • 1 croissant
  • Smoked salmon
  • Cream cheese
  • Sliced onions
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • Sticky bun
  • 1 fig
  • 3 prunes
  • Cup of decaf
  • Orange juice
The weather is a bit foggy and it was only about 60 degrees fahrenheit at this point of the day. I am fine with that temperature but with the early morning breeze still blowing, there was a modest chill in the air. As morning became late morning and into early afternoon, the breeze was a bit milder and the temperature may have risen a few degrees. Either way, I opted to grab a lounge chair on the pool deck, point it at the windows overlooking the water and laid back to relax (and write some of this stuff).
After a while I moved indoors to the Observation Lounge, after grabbing a cup of coffee and seated myself as near to a window as the crowd with the same idea as me (actually, they were already there and it was I who had their idea) would allow. There was some light pop music complementing the ambient noise of the lounge which features a full length, or rather full width, panoramic view out of the front of the ship which right now, is still quite foggy but nonetheless peaceful. I even allowed myself to view the artwork on display from strictly an appreciation perspective. There were some works by Salvador Dali and one of my favorite contemporary artists, Peter Max.
To be continued…

Monday, August 17, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 11

Thursday, July 30th continued…



The Chocoholic Buffet is a neat little Norwegian Cruise Line thing.DSC00166 They did it on the Hawaii cruise I was on a few years ago and happily, I was able to attend another on this cruise. After a terrific comedy magic show, I took a little outdoor stroll and made my way to the Seven Seas restaurant a few minutes before the scheduled time for the feast of chocolate.
I made a number of choice selections such as a chocolate covered banana, a chocolate covered strawberry, chocolate cake, a different chocolate cake, yet another type of chocolate cake, and some chocolatey thing with nuts – nice, eh?
I know that you must think after all that chocolate there is no way I’d be getting to sleep anytime soon. Guess again, I was winded. This was a day that as you may recall began with a 6:30am accidental alarm and I was so friggin’ content with my day that I decided to put it to rest.
I write this sentence at about 11:30pm with a heap of memories from my day, hours of joyous relaxation in the till, and a belly full of gourmet foods and chocolate. Here are a few more pictures of chocolate masterpieces:
DSC00170DSC00171DSC00172 To be continued…

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 10

Thursday, July 30th continued…
Here’s a paragraph from one of the promotional pieces for the excursion I selected; a ride on the White Pass Scenic Railway: “Experience the panorama of the mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, tunnels, trestles, and historic sites from the comfort of vintage parlor cars. Don’t miss your opportunity to experience this historic railway." With a description like that, a $120 price tag, and having to follow all that I’ve seen thus far (most notable Mendenhall Glacier and the Tracy Arm Fjord/Sawyer Glacier), this tour had lots to live up to – perhaps too much.
While it was an okay excursion, factoring everything into play, it was way overpriced and the cars weren’t particularly comfortable – just okay. There were some very nice moments, some nice scenery (as some of the pictures that follow will show), and so – no regrets; it was and experience that I’ll always have and I shall leave it at that.
DSC00147DSC00146There was a point at the end of the run (before the return trip) where we actually crossed the border into Canada. This picture indicates the approaching border crossing as both the US and Canadian Flags are present. Since we were at no point disembarking from the train, there was (thankfully) no need to deal with customs.
DSC00148 Upon my return and re-entry on the Norwegian Sun, I passed the time before dinner doing absolutely nothing, just relaxing. There are so many high quality relaxation opportunities on a cruise and I strongly suggest that should you decide to cruise, that you explore as many of them as possible.
I didn’t have to think about where to go for dinner, I showed up at the Seven Seas where a gourmet menu was awaiting. Here is what I chose from the many options:
  • Scallops with some awesome sauce (you like when I do that) and a jasmine rice cake
  • Chinese duck salad
  • Farfalle with Italian sausage, hot peppers, and pine nuts
  • Warm strawberry soufflé with vanilla bean (fancy French word) sauce
My all too common post dinner stroll about the ship followed my delicious meal and I followed that with a visit to the Observation Lounge for yet more relaxation while enjoying some music and later, some Karaoke. I stuck around until about 8:40 and then made my way to the Stardust Lounge for a comedy magic show by Jean Pierre Parent.
Jean-Pierre was delightfully entertaining, very funny and the man has some serious prestidigitation skills.
In the next installment, I will bring you with me to:
DSC00164To be continued…

Friday, August 14, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 9

Thursday, July 30th
I awoke to a sound i couldn’t identify until I wiped enough sandman from my eyes and gain some consciousness. I realized it was my Blackberry alarm that I had set for yesterday, having forgotten it was a “daily” alarm and not a one time deal. I reaped the benefits of my mistake by having to get out of bed to unlock the safe, where the phone alarm was penetrating the solid steel walls to ring loudly, and silence the alarm.
While I never got back to sleep after the unfortunate 6:30am alarm mishap, I did lay in bed for another 40 minutes or so before hitting the showers to get ready for breakfast. With plenty of time before a 12:25 meeting time for my excursion on the White Pass Scenic Railway here in Skagway, I opted for a big restaurant breakfast. Whether you care or not, by now you know you are gonna hear exactly what is was I ate (I suspect if you’ve made it this far you actually do care but may not understand exactly why – this is the exact reason I like you):
  • Southern biscuit with gravy
  • Egg beater omelet with ham, mushrooms, and cheddar cheese
  • Hash browns
  • Turkey sausage
  • Decaf coffee
  • Tomato juice with lemon and black pepper (I forgot to ask for some Tabasco)
vacationcover2bh2 After breakfast I desperately needed to walk so I made my way around the top deck for a few passes before settling poolside for a while. Relaxation is fun, I wish I knew how to do more of it in my daily life. As I write these words sitting poolside, the song “Vacation” by the Go-Go’s just came on so now I must go for a bit so I can concentrate on bopping my head to the music while enjoying the sunshine.
As it got close to noon, I wasn’t hungry enough for a big meal after the breakfast I ate. However, I knew it would be around 4:00 before the opportunity to eat would arrive again so I stopped by the Garden Cafe and had a very light plate of food consisting of:
  • 1 pc. cantaloupe
  • 1 pc. honeydew
  • 1 pc. watermelon
  • 8 grapes
  • a sampling of 4 different cheeses
  • Pecans
  • Water with lemon
Can’t get more boring for a plate of food on a cruise ship – well, you can, but not much. I just wanted to eat something without getting overly bloated for my excursion. It was a challenge passing up all of the other wonderful choices on the buffet but the plate I chose did leave me satisfied and sans bloat (I’ll shoot for the bloat at dinner).
After lunch I sauntered to the gangway and made it to the streets of Skagway, Alaska, our last stop on land before a few days at sea en route back to Vancouver.
Stay tuned to hear about my ride on the rail.
2008-1203To be continued…

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 8

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009 continued…
rex1By 6:30 or so, I found my way to “Las Ramblas” on deck 12, a Tapas Bar, to snack for a bit before a 7:30 performance by comedian Rex Havens. I can’t say I’ve ever heard of Rex Havens before this evening, but I wish I had. Havens performance and material were stellar – this guy should be as well known as anybody in the comedy business, he is very funny!
When the show ended, I was sure of only two things: I had no desire to eat (for a change), and I wasn’t ready to retire for the evening. I wandered off to Dazzles for yet another game show mock up, this time, Jeopardy. Once again, it was a real fun time hanging, laughing, and playing along with my fellow cruisers.
After Jeopardy, I stopped by the “Observation Lounge”. The panoramic windows aim straight out the front of the ship kind of like a windshield; with a late sunset, the views were still quite spectacular. The cruise director’s staff was trying to get a karaoke thing going but there were some technical difficulties that needed to be overcome. I diagnosed a short in the video cable early on but restrained myself for the time being as I was on vacation and there was paid staff to do the diagnostic work.
Once the machine was fixed, it seems every teenager on the ship crawled out of the woodwork just fixing to hit the microphone. I hung around for about a half hour and then left for an evening stroll before going to bed.
In the next installment, we hit Skagway.
DSC00137To be continued…

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 7

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009 continued…
The ride back to the ship led to a bald eagle sighting and a view of the governor’s mansion recently vacated by Sarah Palin. Nearing noon, the next consideration was lunch and I opted again for a fine dining experience at the Seven Seas restaurant. Here were my choices today:
  • Jambal papaya with exotic fruit and ginger
  • Baby shrimp, crabmeat and salmon cocktail
  • Goat cheese ravioli swimming in a creamy pool of delicious sauce whose name I can’t give you
  • Warm bittersweet chocolate soufflé (by far the best dessert I’ve had this far)
DSC00095After lunch I found myself poolside, lounging to the views of leaving port, fellow cruisers enjoying the warm pool weather, and the oddities that clearly have no regard for a mirror that trounce around in things far more revealing than should be legal.
I wrote a bit then opted for a poolside nap and then treating myself to a local beer, “Alaskan Amber”, brewed and bottled in Juneau. The beer was cold, satisfying and delicious.
With late afternoon drawing near, I set out to find a spot at the front of the ship as we were scheduled to pass through the Tracy Arm Fjord to the Sawyer Glacier. If i had to pick my favorite part of the cruise thus far, the couple of hours in the intense, sometimes chilly winds just staring in awe at the cavernous peaks and valleys sculpted by the glacier. There aren’t enough words or photographs I could offer that would do justice to the sheer magnificence of the sights I witnessed cruising the Fjord. Here are some of the photos I was able to capture:
DSC00099DSC00100DSC00101DSC00102DSC00103DSC00106DSC00109    DSC00111DSC00112DSC00116DSC00118
There were a few other pictures and of course, these are nice but to see it up close…WOW!
To be continued…

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 6

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
DSC00071 Arrival in Juneau took place in the early morning. My tour of the city and the Mendenhall Glacier was scheduled to meet on the pier at 8:20am. Not want to even chance oversleeping (not a common thing for me to do), I set the alarm on the Blackberry for 6:30am and set a wakeup call for 7:00am. Turns out, my body clock had me awake before either alarms so I showered, dressed, and headed up to the Garden Café for breakfast (buffet style, for speed and convenience). I prefer the sit down, serve me, breakfast always but there just wasn’t enough time. Here’s what I plated up for consumption:
  • Scrambled eggs
  • 2 mini croissants
  • Grilled tomato
  • Hash browns
  • Smoked salmon
  • Cream Cheese
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • 1 Slice of ham
  • 1 Strip of bacon
  • Decaf Coffee
  • Orange Juice
After breakfast, I made my way straight to the pier finding no line at the gangway and a brief wait before the tour began.
The early portion of the tour offered a lot of general information about Alaska that was covered on yesterday’s tour along with Juneau specific facts as we eventually broke free of the downtown area and headed to the Mendenhall glacier. I wasn’t sure what to expect from visiting a glacier. I know I’ve been wowed by them on TV documentaries and even an IMAX documentary on Alaska. I has some initial reservations about visiting a large block of ice, at least doing so on a bus – I had no idea what I would see or what to expect but I knew I didn’t want to be disappointed.
Were money not an object, I would love to have taken a helicopter tour of the glacier. The helicopter actually lands right on the glacier and they let you out, with ice shoes, for a spectacular photo opportunity and a unique experience of a lifetime. At $500, I just couldn’t afford it – so the bus was really my only option.
If you look through the window of this bus you will see “Egan Drive”. I snapped this photo in honor of the fabulous blogger and fine friend Egan, from Seattle – immortalized in Juneau.
DSC00074From the very first time the glacier came into view, just before the bus came to a stop, right up until we boarded the bus to leave just over an hour later, I was mesmerized by the awesome beauty of the sight and constantly reminded of just how miniscule my human existence is in the grand scheme of the universe. DSC00079It was quite revealing to have the opportunity to hold a large chunk of glacial ice in my own hands. I had recalled some of the statistics of glacial recession revealed earlier by the tour guide; over a period of like 250 years, recession had been measured at an average rate of some 60 feet per year, varying within a relatively predictable, small, range for all but the last decade. DSC00077In 2008, the Mendenhall Glacier receded 250 feet. It’s hard to  ignore the impact of human behavior knowing that fact while holding that chunk of ice broken off from this massive, beautiful specimen of nature. Check out these incredible photos – that can’t possibly do justice to the real thing but it’s all I got…
DSC00075DSC00076 DSC00080DSC00081DSC00083DSC00085After leaving the glacier, we made our way to a salmon hatchery with the promise of seeing more fish in one place than most have ever seen. Oh, I forgot one other special moment at the glacier. While walking the trail to the glacier, there was a sign that read, “Bear activity…” and then had some silly rules – silly only in a sense that I can’t imagine that most would remember in their panicked state (that’s pre-mauling) a bear encounter might bring on or irrelevant in the passed out state for those whom the experience overwhelmed with incredulous fear. DSC00073Anyway, the point is, I actually saw a bear with her two cubs, just wandering merrily along – passing under the foot bridge we all had to cross. The way back led to a cub sighting way up in a tree; very cool.
DSC00090  Back to the salmon, the driver was right, there were a seemingly infinite number of salmon finding there way through the process of being salmon. Salmon farming, extremely common on the Atlantic coast, had been outlawed in Alaska and as such, they call what they do “salmon ranching”. Either way I found it interesting and moving inside the visitor center, there was a mock up of the process whereby they extract eggs from the female salmon and the “milk” from the males to create millions of new baby salmon each year – more than 90% of which go back into the ecosystem ( a major difference between “ranching” and “farming”).
To be continued…