Monday, July 28, 2014

Mid-to-End of July update

Two weeks later...I get back to posting.

The kids and I took a quick trip to visit the Troll.  The thing about touristy places, is they're always crawling with tourists.  We had to wait several minutes for a threesome to get out of the way so I could get a few pics with the kids.  As soon as they got on the creation, a group of what I suspect were college kids came by to get photos.  They could have been a sports team or a famous rock band, for all I know...  We headed to Green Lake to splash around, but I couldn't find a place to park.  Stupid parking lot is SOOOOOO tiny!  I saw some spots on the road around the North end, but by then, I just wanted to get back to our neighborhood.  We stopped by the park near our house and Cammie splashed around in the water.  Ben forgot his swim trunks, Cammie forgot a towel, and Emma wanted nothing to do with it.

Our deck is done.  The slippery wood and wobbly railings indicated that it was truly done for.  Kelly ripped it apart and found that it had far more rot than we first thought.

Cammie and I went to July Coronation while Kelly and the other two kids held down the fort.  I was able to see a friend get elevated to the Peerage, and another friend was offered the peerage as well.  Sigh.  Always the bridesmaid...

Cammie was able to work with the blacksmith for a while.  Last May, when she visited his shop on Merchant's Row, he said if she came back at the next event, he'd let her make something.  Needless to say, she was excited to return to the July event and learn the trade!  This is what she came away with!

We also got a chance to shoot some archery.  The trick with shooting arrows into a grassy field is trying to find the arrows again afterwards.  Straw colored shafts hiding amongst the straw.  After shooting about 10 of them, followed by a great deal of digging, I managed to find an arrow from the Archery Marshal that was lost the day prior.  We shot some more arrows, being short now three, and after a great deal of searching, found a bright green "war" arrow (with a large blunted tip).  I held it up and read the name on the label.  The Archery Marshal walked over and said, "I don't believe it.  This guy isn't even here this weekend.  This arrow has been hiding in the field for two years!"  About that time, another archer brought out her dog to help search for the arrows.  She had scented her arrows with birch oil to make it easier for her dog to find her arrows, but he was pretty good at finding other people's arrows as well.  At the end of the day, all the arrows that were lost had been found!  I was happy to go home with as many arrows as we arrived with!


Kelly and Emma went to Eastern Washington to visit with family and do some country stuff, like shooting targets.  Apparently this one wasn't designed for .22 gauge weapons.  PS - Emma did a lot of the shooting of this thing.  Annie Oakley, move over!

He made her drive part of the way, as evidenced here:

She doesn't really want to drive and hates being forced to practice.  I keep asking her but she keeps saying no.  I figure if we can get her the license, then she can drive as much (or as little) as she wants, but she won't have excuses to not do things like go see friends or run errands.  I hate fighting it.  It's not like she's refusing to go to school or something, but it is a life skill.

I took the little guys out to explore a new park (well, the park isn't new, but we hadn't been there before).  The sign said that it was for children ages 5-12, but this was the biggest toy there.  The swings were for infants and the climbing toy was less than 18" off the ground.

The park had a "fishing pond" (lots of frogs, a few fish that we could see, but it was really murky), an English Garden with lots of flowering plants, and a ball field as well as an old settler's cabin.

Benjamin had a cub scout outing to Gameworks where he won a sort of One-Armed-Bandit and got 1,000 tickets!  In the end, he had 1,600 tickets that he spent on this pile of loot.  The snake is named Oscar.  I voted for Nagini, but I was overruled.  I guess Harry Potter is officially passe.

Benjamin helped me make Monkey Bread.  It's French bread in a tube, cut into rounds then cut into quarters and tossed in sugar and cinnamon, then put into a bundt pan.  Then you take butter and brown sugar and melt it down and pour it over the blobs.  Bake for about 30 minutes at 350 (I think).  Then you can just tear off bite size pieces of bready bliss.  I have ideas for doing the same thing but tossing them in graham cracker crumbs and tossing in marshmallows and chocolate and baking.  Everything tastes better when you make it taste like s'mores.

Excess salt and sweat makes a great hair styling tonic.  Here's the Son of the Heat Miser during the off-season.

Cammie started piecing some blocks together for her first quilt!  She wanted to do some sewing, so I pulled out my baggie of 4" scraps and let her design her own blocks.

We worked on doing good 1/4" seams, then I let her have at it.  This is what she made in the first day!  She made a few more the next day, and her goal is to make 48 total to make a twin bed quilt.  This is a great project for her to start on, and I love that she's so eager to learn!

One more month of summer.  I still have to take Mr. B to the pool to teach him to swim.  Probably this week, now that we finally have the open swim hours at the pool.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Alaskan Adventure

Sailing Day Minus One

We arrived at DH’s parents’ place with all the kids and their medicines and medical devices (that’s a lotta stuff), and one small bird.  We decided that the bird’s cage was too big and bulky to pack, so we decided to buy a portable one when we got closer to the house.  They’re not terribly expensive, and I’m sure we’ll use it again in the future.

My in-laws (well, my MIL) had lots of great activities planned for the kids—swimming, going to the beach, going hiking in the Olympic mountains, making some kind of clay out of white bread and glue (I have no idea…she’s crafty that way).  She even looked into some art classes and other community activities that she was thinking of inflicting on the kids.

We spent the evening with several relatives at the beach at Hood Canal.  It’s a private community beach entrance for people who live in the community, and DH’s uncle had rented the shelter for the family to have a crab feed.  Kelly’s cousins, Joe & Jeana, Jeana’s husband, and four kids—two of Jeana’s and two of Joe’s (between them there are six kids total), joined us at the beach.  Uncle Lowell took out the boat and pulled Dungeness crab out of the pots he had set in the area, and we feasted on five or six crabs that he caught.  One of them was a MONSTER of a crab.  They were so fresh and sweet we didn’t need any butter.  Amazing!  The shells are also soft enough that you can crack them with your hands.

Kelly’s parents had to leave early when FIL wasn’t feeling well, and we wandered off to get ready for the annual village firework displays, which they hold on the 3rd rather than the 4th, which makes it convenient for those who want to spend time with families or see other firework displays in the area.  We found a rather awkward space, but it was good enough to satisfy most of the kids.  We got them situated with glowy necklaces and when the show started just after 10, they enjoyed the lights and sounds of the evening.  The park by the waterfront was *packed* with people and there were all kinds of food and activities going on.

We headed back to the house to get the kids to bed and be ready for an early morning.

Day One

After waking up rather early-ish, we packed our things and got a ride from FIL to the ferry docks.  We had intended to walk from the ferry docks to the port, Pier 90, a distance of about 3 ½ miles.  I figured we’d stop for lunch somewhere, and wander up the street following the walkways and running trails along the waterfront.  We ate lunch at a little seafood place next to the Seattle ferris wheel.  I don’t know if you could call it an “eye” like London has; it moves too quickly to be a view-of-the-city type tourist attraction.  I mean, it’s still a tourist attraction, but it’s more like a carnival ride.  

We started walking again and I think we got about a mile up the road before my feet were done and we needed to be at the port in 15 minutes.  There was no way we were going to make it.  We walked up the entrance to the Edgewater hotel and hailed a taxi.

Our arrival time was supposed to be 2:15, and we arrived right at our boarding time and went through all the TSA screening that is required for going on a plane.  It’s pretty much the same routine, but it seemed more relaxed—maybe it’s because they didn’t have tens of thousands of people trying to push through the building to get to one of dozens of flights leaving that hour, hurried and anxiety-ridden, but instead it was a couple thousand people trying to get onto one vessel before a relaxing vacation. Most people were truly HAPPY to be there. 

We got to the end of the line…yes, we were just about dead-last in line…and slowly made our way to the front.  It was about 30 minutes of standing in line, and my dogs were really barking by then.  We got our boarding pass cards, which are used to get on and off the boat and for charging services and things to the room.  As you get on the boat, they scan it to record that you’re on board.  As you leave, you scan it again to say that you have left the vessel.  Pretty cool and easy.  Makes it easy to know whether or not everyone returned from shore leave.  I'm not sure what happens if you don't get back to the boat on they leave without you?  I didn't want to take that chance to find out.

We were given our room number for our “state room”, which isn’t very stately (although our housekeeper guy was really good at Towel Art).  It turns out is on the 2nd floor and all the way at the bow.  We were basically in steerage.  If we were on the Titanic, we’d be the poor Irish immigrants that died in the sinking.  Luckily, they have enough lifeboats for everyone and went through the emergency drill with all the passengers at the muster stations on floor 5.  That was another 30 minutes of standing, and we were both really hurting by then.  When they dismissed us, they didn’t allow us to use the elevators.  Seriously?  The emergency drill is over.  Let us use the elevators.

As soon as we pulled away from the dock, it was party time!  They actually had a cast-away party.  Or a launch party.  Or sail away party.  Whatever you wanna call it, they cranked up the tunes and brought out the drinks!  We bought a pair of these drinks in festive party glasses (that we got to keep).  The bottom of the glass has a button you can push to make the LED lights twinkle.  It was a party in a glass!

There are a few things that we learned in that first couple of days.  First, there are SOOOO many add-ons that they try to squeeze more money from you.  Services, jewelry, perfume, clothing, fancier restaurants, mixed drinks, spa services, laundry....  These are all optional, so we were able to ignore most of it, but it seemed like every time you turned a corner, someone was trying to sell you something.

The second floor of the ship is the lowest floor for passengers.  The only thing lower is the medical area and staff quarters, and where you sometimes disembark at ports of call…depending on which side is next to the dock and, I suppose, the way things are laid out at the port.  Getting higher floors costs a little more, but I can see how it could be totally worth it.  Also, some upper floors have balconies that you can sit on and eat breakfast, watching the islands and marine life as you sail along.  Coolness.  After searching one cruise line for prices, it looks like it's only about $400 more to get a balcony than to be in steerage.  If you're talking a 7-day cruise, this is about $55 a day more.  Totally worth it.

We took our elevator down to the 2nd floor and a woman’s voice announces, “Deck 5.  Deck 4.  Deck 3…” as we descend.  However, English is clearly not her first language, and as was pointed out by a fellow passenger, it sounds like she’s saying, “Duck 5.  Duck 4.  Duck 3…”  Now I giggle a little every time I ride the elevator.

We left Seattle at 4 pm, heading out of the Sound, then West passing Port Townsend, Port Angeles, and the Makah reservation (near Forks, WA).  I thought maybe that we were going to head for a path between the lower mainland and Vancouver Island, but no…we headed out to International waters…and there was a storm brewing. 

Kelly and I went to dinner at one of the restaurants on board, the Italian place.  Funny enough, none of the people working there were Italian.  Or European, for that matter.  They were, in fact, from India, mostly.  However, almost every one of the people working on the boat are polite and charming.  Not everyone…but ALMOST everyone.  I had a ridiculous argument with a waiter in the bar at the top floor when I said he hadn’t come to take our drink orders in 30 minutes.  He said it hadn’t been that long, yet I was actually looking at my clock as I looked for him to return.  He claimed that he walked by "over there"--two rows of tables away and we hadn't signaled for him to come over.  I didn't see him walk by, and certainly not close enough to call him over.  Any waiter worth a penny would approach each table and ask if they needed anything.  

I dressed up in my one-and-only dress that I brought (to be honest, it’s probably the only one that fits that I would consider wearing now…and I just bought it before we left), even though the dress code for the night was “smart casual.”  I thought, WTF does that mean?  I understand “Casual”.  I also understand “Seattle semi-formal”; that means you wear jeans with no holes in it.  What is “smart casual”?  Well, apparently it means pants that are made of any material other than denim (absolutely no shorts) and a shirt with a collar.  The only pants I have that aren’t denim or short length are of the yoga variety.  Dress it is, then.

We sailed along, eating our multi-course Italian dinner and trying to see out the windows.  I asked the waiter if they were paying the window washers enough—for a first night out, I would have thought that the windows would have been cleaned for departure, but the waiter said that they usually do that the second day…but that didn’t happen, either.

Wandered around the ship after dinner, exploring the various floors.  We found the climbing wall on the top deck (duck) at the rear (tail).  As we approached the front of the ship again, we saw two orcas dive under the bow.  We tried to chase them to the stern, but we didn’t see them again until we were a long ways off. 

The Egyptian pool area is amazing!  I took several photos and was able to send a few of them to Bekah, who was an Anthropology major, studying Egyptology.  I said, “You’re gonna plotz!”  She wrote back saying that she was very impressed!  Someone really did their homework in designing it.  I had to go back to take more photos later of all the details that we discovered when we finally made our way up to the pool area in our swim suits…

The theatre on the 5th & 6th floors (two stories!) is enormous and looks rather grand and opulent.  A lot of the ship is decorated with brass, which makes it look grand in 1980s standards (although its maiden voyage was in 1997).  Maybe they’ll take out all the brass and have it chromed someday to make it look more modern.  Then again, maybe the brass will make a comeback.

Day Two:  Storm at Sea

I’m not sure that you could call it a “storm” per se, but it was overcast, the wind was blowing, and it was raining off and on.  We were also battling against the tides and the seas were confused. The waves were building a bit through the day.  The weather was, as you might say, rather nautical.  The rocking of the ocean was not too bad at first, but as the hours progressed, it started to really wear on many of us.  I was feeling a little green—not pukey, but nauseated, at least—and DH had the foresight to bring some Dramamine!  I love that man…I took one just before lunch, waited a couple hours, then took another.  By late in the day, the seas were calming down a bit and by bedtime, it was much better.  He, luckily, did not feel it at all, nor did some of the other passengers we talked to. 

One thing we realized, as I was fighting the nausea with so many others (he didn’t need any), was that the steadiest part of the ship was in the middle.  Rocking on an axis, either up and down or side to side, the middle of the ship experiences the least amount of movement.  In this case, 4th floor in the center of the ship would have been the best option.  The jazz bar, where they also play goofy game shows.  It happens to be the loudest place in the ship most of the time.

This second day out, we spent this day learning more about the layout of the ship and where all the food was.  On this ship, there are a couple places that you can get food for no additional charge—they’re part of the room & board of being on the ship.  One is a sit-down restaurant with menus, and you sit 10 to a table, so you’re forced to socialize with others on the ship.  If you feel like being social, this is awesome.  If you just want to sit with your honey or with your family, you might want to consider eating at the buffet place.  Now, you might be saying to yourself, “Ewww…buffet food?!”  Oh, my sweet merciful Lord…this is actually prepared by people who know what they’re doing.  This is all-you-can-eat with lots of choices for meat-eaters, vegetarians, dairy or gluten-free, or just a big pile of unadulterated sugar.  Carrots and zucchini stir-fried to give it just enough bite so it’s not crunchy or squishy; chicken with a sweet chili sauce; beef shoulder with a rosemary sauce; chicken cordon bleu; fish fillets with a lobster sauce; pastas and several sauces to choose from; salads of every variety; carved pork loin; an entire deli counter to fix your own sandwiches; and the list goes on and on.  And it changes daily! 

The burger that I selected for lunch was, to be honest, pretty terrible, but I only took the patty (which was cooked with onions…not my favorite) and cheese on a dry bun.  I was also trying to eat while fighting an oceanic-induced nausea.  I gave up a few bites in.  I decided that what sounded better was just a plate of rice.  Much better.  It was delicious; buttery and starchy…it was just what I needed to calm my stomach a bit. 

What I discovered about seasickness is that laying down is better.  I laid down on the deck chairs near the pool, at the center of the 9th floor.  The still water was churning like a wave pool and water sloshed over the sides with great vigor.  I thought how a person might enjoy the stillness of floating in the water while the boat rocked around you.  Several kids were enjoying the pool, which was taking their minds off the seasickness.  Barf bags were made available in the stairwells for those with motion sickness.  That was thoughtful of them.

We went to the pool area and laid on the deck chairs to watch the world cup on the giant screen TV, but a couple minutes into the game, they turned it off.  Said it was too stormy.  Seriously?

Later, the next game was airing, but the weather had improved somewhat.  We went up to the bar area and watched it there.  There was no sound, but the two of us and about 20 other fans turned couches and chairs toward the glass and watched the game.

Dinner that night was Formal Night.  Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like—you dress up in your glitzy formal wear (suit and tie…tux optional, or a dress…usually just for the women), and you go to dinner lookin’ all gussied up.  You know what this also means?  A shit-ton of photographers taking pictures at various places around the boat.  One of these places is right in the middle of the bank of elevators, so if you push the button on one side, and the door opens on the other side, you have to make sure that the photographer and subjects are not in the middle of a shot, or the doors will close without you.  Such was the case when I wanted to go down two decks (ducks), and I nearly had to shove three sweetly dressed ladies to get to it, and missed it anyway.  Screw it.  I squished through the crowd to go to the stairs.

That evening, the theatre had a comedian show—a Jew and a Gentile...what were their names?  James and Wilde?  Something like that.  They did quite a few nose jokes as well as mentioning that both guys went to Catholic school, which was just a little awkward…being Jewish.  They did lots of juggling and played with a giant unicycle.  It was a very good show.  We got a chance to talk to the guys the next day when we docked in Juneau and had a few more laughs.  They were heading home for a week, then boarding another ship to do their show there. I took a couple pictures, but they're really blurry, so I won't bother posting them.  Meh.

Day Three:  Arrival in Juneau

We arrived at about 11 a.m. and everyone seemed upbeat now that 4G service was available.  People collected emails, checked and posted to their Facebook pages, and surfed the web. 

We had selected an excursion for our day at Juneau going up to the Mendenhall glacier and having a salmon feast at the Liarsville Salmon Bake.  While we waiting for the bus to take us to the glacier, I sought out a Munzee in the parking lot, and stumbled across a Geocache in the same location.

We took a cruise bus from the boat up to the glacier and I was able to find and capture a Munzee right by the bus.  It had a Rover on it, so I snagged the pooch and put him in my kennel (I’ll unleash him somewhere in Seattle).  We walked the path down to the waterfall, about ¾ of a mile, and took some pictures of this impressive runoff.  

We had to wait a while for some of the visitors to GET OUT OF THE WAY so I could get some images without them in it.  (Seriously—I’m sure you’re a great person, but I don’t need to immortalize strangers in my blog forever-and-ever.  Thanks.)  We then hiked all the way back, and within about 10 minutes, had to get back on the bus.  The driver happily told us some great history and amusing anecdotes about the town, some of the areas where the locals live, work and shop, and pointed out some young American bald eagles who were hanging out in the fields (they weren’t actually bald yet, so he estimated they were about 3 years old). 

We arrived at the salmon bake near a lovely little waterfall, and were welcomed by a man dressed in his best turn-of-the-century duds and we were served a cup of clam chowder, followed by a salmon with a sweet sauce, cole slaw, cheesy potatoes, corn bread, baked beans, blueberry cake and several other things.  

Greedy crows hung about and did some dumpster diving to get scraps of food. 

A lazy bee rests on some flowers near the waterfalls.

Arriving back in town on the yellow Liarsville shuttle, we did a little shopping downtown (and Munzeeing, where I found another Rover), and skipping about every third store, which was hawking jewelry to everyone—something I have little interest in—before stopping in at a local watering hole for a couple drinks and a plate of clams.  Good stuff!  The shuttle to take us back to the boat was in that parking lot, so we only had to hobble over and stumble onto the bus.  We didn’t want to have a big dinner since we figured we could catch a late dinner on the boat. 

The shuttle dropped us off at the dock at about 8:15 and we wandered back to our rooms to drop things off and wandered upstairs as the boat was preparing to set sail around 8:30, on to our next destination:  Skagway!  We headed upstairs to find some dinner, only to discover that the cafĂ© had already closed.  Everything was closed.  I thought there would be food somewhere almost 24/7, but that’s only partially true.  You can get room service 24 hours a day, but there’s a surcharge between midnight and 5 am.  The cafeteria closes at 8:30 pm, so if you get back from shore leave at 8:30 pm, right at the all-aboard time, or a few minutes before and you dilly-dally at all getting to the restaurant, you’re hosed.  The bars around the ship don’t have any food at all, except for pineapple wedges, lemons, limes, cherries….  We went back to our room and ordered room service from their very limited menu.  It took almost an hour to get to the room and it was cold.  I wasn’t impressed.

Day Four: 

Sleep was not easy…the seas were smooth, but I couldn’t get to sleep for some reason, and we were woken up from heavy engine noises as we docked at Skagway at some god-awful hour...3 a.m, maybe?  Remember, those of us in steerage are right above the machinery…or darn close…and it took seemingly forever to get parked.

We got off the ship and were met by two very charming young ladies in Newsgirl costumes with the Skagway Times, which included lots of local history and fun stuff.  

We had to be up early for an excursion by bus up to Fraser, BC, on the way toward Yukon territory.  We stopped occasionally to look at some really pretty lakes and mountains, built some rock monsters (Inukchuk, a sign of welcome to passers by, although I called him Gorignak)

There was one of these guys at the border between Alaska and BC.

One of our stops was a sign that read "Alaska" on the border between Alaska and BC on the Yukon Highway.  The bus driver, "Cupcake", offered to take photos for everyone, so we all dutifully lined up and took turns getting our photos taken by our driver.  Kelly and I were last in line after dilly-dallying a bit, and watching over her shoulder as she took photos of the couple right before us, I noticed something rather unusual with her technique.  I snickered as I saw what she was doing, and she turned and quietly said, "Shhhh!"  

She happily took selfies with everyone's cell phones.  This is our driver, "Cupcake" (whose real name was Allysa, but she said that most people just call her by a silly nickname that's easier to remember.  Then she said that her husband is also a driver, and they call him "Sweet Tooth".)  Isn't she pretty?  

The border crossing into British Columbia was, at best, a formality.  The border guard walked down the aisle, looking at the ID of each person, comparing only the face in the passport to the face on the seat.  Less than 1 second per person.  It could have said we were Captain Jack and Dr. Seuss, and they wouldn't have noticed.  However, given that we arrived on this tour bus and were going to be boarding the train momentarily, and there was nothing in the way of civilization for 25 miles at the Canadian border crossing by Bernard Lake, there was little doubt that we wanted to stay in Fraser, Yukon for any length of time.

We unloaded from the bus and took some more photos by a mirror smooth lake, swatting at the millions of insects that bombarded us.  (I think there may be some kind of partnership with the tour guides and the bugs).  


Afterwards, we took boarded the ancient train and took a ride back down the mountain to Skagway.  We didn’t see much wildlife—just a couple of fluffy sheep on the distant hillside and some Alaskan hikers.  But, it was a beautiful ride with lots of rich history about the Klondike Gold Rush and the harsh weather and reality of the rush (compared to the lies that were told by the resident reporters to the prospectors—hence the name “Liarsville” where the reporters were living). 

Our ancient train

The scars of the trail left behind by the prospectors during the 1898 gold rush to the Yukon.  116 years ago.

On the back side of the US border crossing, there's a painted tribute to Buchanan, who brought boys and girls (mostly boys) from Detroit to Alaska in the 20's and 30's.  The history, thanks to, says this:

"George E. Buchanan, a Detroit coal merchant, began bringing boys and girls to Alaska on adventure trips in 1923. His goal was to help young people learn the art of earning and saving money. To accompany Buchanan on these special excursions, a young person had to earn one third of the cost of the journey. The parents could pay one third and Buchanan contributed one third. If necessary he assisted the would-be adventurer to earn his share of the costs.

"For fifteen years groups of approximately 50 young people, mostly boys, made the annual summer excursion from Detroit to Alaska. The travelers departed from Detroit in mid-July traveling first class by train across Canada to Vancouver B.C. and Puget Sound. Three days on a steamer and then arrival in Skagway. They boarded the White Pass & Yukon Railroad to travel to the lake country and then a transfer by boat to Atlin.

"The young folks, dressed in coat and tie, had to be on their best behavior. Many years later members of the various Buchanan Boys groups returned to Skagway to ride the WP&YR and to revisit the memories of their special and happy trips. Reportedly the boys from one of the summer trips painted the sign "On To Alaska With Buchanan" on the side of the mountain to commemorate their inspiring leader, George Buchanan."

We need more men like George Buchanan.

A retired the tracks follow the contour of the valley, but this bridge was built in 1898 along with the rest of the tracks from Skagway to Whitehorse, a distance of 110 miles through mountains and valleys in harsh conditions...a task completed in 26 months by 35,000 men, resulting in the loss of only 35 men.  I would like a light rail installed between Seattle and Everett--a distance of 20 miles--but it'll probably be another 10 years before that happens.

Returning to Skagway’s waterfront, we had lunch at the local fish and chips restaurant that apparently was a local favorite and was always busy, even in the off-season.  Then they suffered a devastating fire in the kitchen and lost everything.  The community rallied and they raised enough money for them to rebuild, and now the tour organizers do what they can to throw business their way whenever possible.  They had a small menu, but it had king crab, shrimp, fish n chips, clams, which is what we ordered.  Everything was delicious! 

After lunch, we then did a tour with Madam Essie X (say it out loud, people) at the Red Onion Saloon who told us all about the ladies of negotiable affection and their skillful ways of making a living.  $5 for 15 minutes (well, half went to the Madam of the house, 25% went to the bouncer, but with a high turnover, the girls could be getting as much as $5 an hour, which was pretty good for the 1890s.  OK, maybe not the most respectable of jobs, but it's a harsh environment.  We got a walking tour of the city and a glass of champagne at the famous saloon, which has been used as many things in the intervening years (laundry, bakery, union hall, post office, army barracks, etc.).  Fun stuff!

A little bit more looking around and skipping all the jewelry places (there are a metric shit ton of them) and found a few things that we could bring back to the boat…fudge, popcorn, and a couple t-shirts.  We kept looking at the Ulu knife-and-bowl sets, but they want $30 and up for them—the cheaper ones made in China, which defeats the purpose of getting a traditional Alaskan knife—and we’d have to have it shipped back home since it’s a knife.  Finally decided we didn’t really need one…no matter how cool they are.

I picked up another Munzee Rover in Skagway, but wasn’t able to find any more tags to scan after that—the internet connection said “3G” but most of the time, I couldn’t get the maps to load or be able to receive my email, so it was just killing my battery.  Horrible.  Someone in town said that when there are lots of people in town, the system gets overloaded and people with Verizon phones, especially, can’t get any kind of reception.  Sad that a touristy town isn’t more prepared for that.

Headed out at 8 pm for our next destination, which is a 2 day sail to get there—so two days at sea.  I wish we had some movies to watch, like on a hotel's pay-per-view system, but we’re kinda stuck with what they show in the theatre.  Because this is a family venue, they are limited to PG-13 movies, and usually only one movie a day, or every other day since they also use the theatre for other things, like comedy shows and other performances. 

One of the performers they had on was Marcus Terrell and the Serenades, who competed in American Idol and America's Got Talent.  I don't recall exactly, but apparently he showed up at one audition and sang Elvis's "Heartbreak Hotel".  They said that they didn't know why he'd pick something so dated to sing and he didn't get past the first screener.  The next year, a friend dared him to put on an Elvis suit and sing the same song.  He did.  He got to sing in front of Randy, Simon and Paula Abdul.  They approved and said that he could have come dressed as Bobo the Clown and he would have gotten through...but clearly, he demonstrated that's not true.  Anyway, he eventually got cut and is now doing the cruise circuit with new backup singers.  He was very entertaining. 

Day Five:  Sailing and glaciers

We sailed through the night and at about 6 a.m., our captain, “Gustavo”, comes on the intercom and wakes everyone up to tell us that we are about 45 minutes away from the Glacier at Tracy Arm Fjord.  This was TOO EARLY, but we got up anyway and eventually made our way up to the port side of deck (duck) 5—the non-smoking side—and took photos as the ship slowly turned in a circle to allow everyone an opportunity to see the hills all around and photograph the glacier and some of the little iceburgs.  Luckily, we didn’t hit any of them, so all the lives of the passengers in steerage were spared.  Huzzah!

Then we started heading out of the fjord to head back out to sea, but since everyone was up, they might as well go to breakfast.  And EVERYONE wanted to eat right then.  There was nowhere to sit, so we went out to the open-air deck (duck) next door.  After a few minutes of looking out the open windows, Kelly claimed a table and we took turns going to fetch food.  There’s an attendant who stands at the entrance (sometimes more than one…once there were six standing there and I wondered what function each of them played), who reminds you to use a squirt of Purell before entering the dining room.  While I hate hand sanitizer in general, I love that it’s placed so conveniently there, and they are really rigorous about cleaning and encouraging hand washing—because who wants a roto-virus?!  Not me!

We were joined by a very nice lady from Mississippi who is a high school math teacher at a private school.  A bit later, another woman stood and chatted for a bit; she’s an elementary school teacher from Vermont.  We had a great chat about the state of the public schools and how fun teaching can be—although the HS teacher said that she couldn’t deal with little guys, and the elementary teacher said that she wouldn’t be able to handle the bigger kids.  It’s great when you find your niche. J

Dark skies and rain threatened us with another day of Rock n Roll Green sickness, the boat stuck to the inside passage and the seas were much more calm.  A number of people headed to the theatre at noon to watch the Brazil-Germany game of the World Cup.  A group of Brazilians were seated behind us and they stood and sang their national anthem.  The funny thing about the Brazil national anthem is that half way through, they run out of music, but the people keep on singing the second verse.  I never quite understood why they did that.  I’ll have to look that up…  Of course, due to two of the star players being out of the game due to illness and yellow card accumulation, Brazil lost 7-1…but even though the team lost, the fans were still in pretty good spirits…at least on the boat.  I was assured by Daniel, who is in Brazil now, that if they lost, there will be rioting and the city would be burned to the ground and civilization would cease to exist.  It’s like a religion to them.  However, he also said that if they won, there would be wild celebrations and the city would be burned to the ground and civilization would cease to exist.  So…win-win?  I dunno.  I understand that the power was out over most of the city due to a huge storm, so maybe it was a sign? 

Kelly decided he wanted to compete for an Xbox One—the prize they were offering to the winner of a game of Bingo!  So Kelly joined all the little old ladies for a few games (after a nap) while I found a quiet place to knit a few rows on the Norwegian sweater.  I got one whole row done just before the soccer game before I realized that I was following the directions from left to right, when I should have been going right to left on the purl row.  Carefully un-knit during the half-time, although it was hard to see what I was doing in the darkened theatre, and started it up again while sitting the Centrum, which is the center of the boat where all the loud stuff happens. 

The Captain sponsored a Walk for Wishes onboard to raise money for the Make a Wish Foundation!  Well, those of you who know us, know that we’re big supporters of Children’s Hospitals, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Make a Wish Foundation.  Since the weather was pretty blustery and rainy, they cancelled the walk part but were selling the t-shirts for $10 each, the proceeds going to Make-a-Wish.  We got shirts for each of the kids…to add to the collection of t-shirts they we already got for them…

Dinner at the sushi place again, and afterwards we heard about a sushi-making class the next morning!  Not only do we get to learn how to make it, but we then get to EAT it!  Yum!  Sushi lunch!

After dinner, we made appointments at the spa, then went over to the Egypt pool again (the Solarium).  I said, “Let’s get in the pool!” We went down to change, then spent a bit of time floating around in the pool.  It was a salt water pool, so you naturally float easier than a fresh water pool.  The rumor is that they grab ocean water, filter it (get all the seaweed and jellyfish out), and put it in the pool.  If the water gets kinda skunky, they can re-filter it…unless they dump it and start over.  There are also two hot tubs for up to 8 people.  It’s really warm in there…nice and relaxing…and it’s indoors, so even on rainy days, it’s really nice.  It’s also not as fun for kids, so it’s mostly adults hanging out there. 

Day Six…Anniversary day!

A day at sea…  It is out in the open ocean, not protected behind the islands, so it’s a little rockier than yesterday, but definitely not as bad as day two.  It appeared that we were going with the tides and were a little closer to shore.

After breakfast I went up for an acupuncture consultation.  After 20 minutes of discussion, I decided that I would need to consult with my foot doc and see if he would recommend this as an additional therapy and if he would recommend anyone in the area. I had a haircut appointment for 4:00 anyway, so meh.

We then headed up to the Japanese restaurant to take the class on making sushi.  They gave us all the ingredients and tools (most of which we have at home), and taught us how to properly make hand rolls, California rolls, and nigiri.  Then we got to eat it!  Several people decided to take it with them to their rooms or head out to other activities, but we stayed behind and joked around with the Filippino chefs and waiters.  Since we were the only ones there, they offered us more sake and the chef’s demo rolls.  We feasted on sushi for lunch!  They were also offering a cookbook for $25, and the proceeds go to the Make a Wish Foundation!  The cook book contains recipes from all the restaurants on board, but it includes information on how to make the rice vinegar, spicy mayo, and eel sauce.  Emma should enjoy the prospect of making more Japanese foods at home.  I’ll have to teach her how to make the rolls properly.

Kelly went for a haircut at noon, while I went to find seats around the big screen by the pool.  There were none to be had, so we went downstairs to watch the game between the Argentines and the Dutch in our room.  After the game ended in penalty kicks (worst way to decide a winner), the captain announced with a very hoarse voice that Argentina won the game against the Netherlands!  He was so happy!  I went up to get my hair cut from a Dutch girl…I asked she not take it out on my hair.  She said that the Argentine captain, Gustavo, just had to rub it in her face…  After I got the most expensive haircut I’ve ever gotten, I told the ladies at the spa to take Cynthia, the stylist, out for drinks…and to charge it to the captain’s tab.

Dinner at the steakhouse for our Anniversary dinner.  Our waiter was from India, like so many employees on board, which might be a little awkward for any Indian folks who object to eating beef.  Maybe he's Catholic instead?

We wandered around the boat--it was a day at sea, you know--and we got someone to take a photo of us.  Only one good one came out--the wind was against us.  But before it got too late, we decided to take in a show in the theatre.

Performing twice that evening was a reality contestant on American Idol and America's Got Talent, Marcus Terrell and the Serenades.  His show is really a trip down Reality Lane and his experiences in reality TV.  You can see a promo of his show here.  The Serenades in this video are not the ladies he's touring with now; his new backup singers are gals he's known for a long time, and not just in show biz--one of them he met when they were in preschool to 2nd grade in Kansas City and he met her again in LA.  It was really fun and he was entertaining as well as talented.  

When we landed in Victoria the next morning (not 2 a.m., thankfully--it was closer to 8 a.m.), we had already breakfasted and headed down to catch the first on-and-off tour bus in town.  These are really cool double-decker British busses, and our driver was from New Zealand.  He said, "I'm driving on the right side of the bus, but the wrong side of the road..."  

There were 8 stops on this on-and-off tour, including Beacon Hill Park, Chinatown (all three blocks of it), the Empress Hotel, the Government buildings, Fisherman's Wharf, and a castle built by a coal baron.  That was our first stop.  I took tons of photos of the interior, but here are just a few really stunning ones.  Then we had dim sum in Chinatown (too expensive, honestly--we get food that's just as good in Seattle's International district for 1/4 the price), and rode the bus around some more ending up at the park.  I went to find a Munzee at the Mile 0 marker, but found a Geocache instead.  At least I got credit for something. :)

Our first jump-off point was at the Craigdurroch castle built by Robert Dunsmuir, a coal baron.  The building was sold after his wife passed away and the land surrounding it was sold into lots for building, then the castle itself was raffled off to one of the new neighbors.  He mortgaged it for some other business ventures that failed, eventually landing the property into the hands of the Bank of Montreal.  It was used as a military hospital during WWI, and later by the University of Victoria, which used one of the top floors as a study area and library.  The floor in that ballroom is now deemed unsafe to stand on.  Structural engineers will have to do more study to determine what can be done, if anything to stabilize the floor.

We toured the house and I took dozens of photos of the beautiful stained glass, fireplaces, and antiques that fill the home.  It's simply gorgeous!


Drove by the Empress Hotel, but didn't stop in.  We'll have to make a trip of it someday.

For our next stop, we took the bus back to Chinatown and had lunch at a dim-sum place.  The food was good, but easily four times as expensive as the place we have gone to in the International district in Seattle.

We ran into Marcus and his Serenades on the tour bus in the afternoon!  He and his ladies happily posed for a quick picture.

  One of my favorite artists of the 80s was Wyland, who painted these large murals on buildings in various places.  This one, from 1987, has seen better days.

Our next stop was the park, where we found a couple Munzees (by accident since my phone couldn't pick up a signal for nothin).  We also saw some herons nesting:

A giant totem hand-carved by one of the leaders of the native community:

Some turtles and ducks sunning themselves:

Local hero, Terry Fox (who attempted to run across Canada to raise cancer awareness and money for the cause.  He ran 3,339 of the 5,200 miles from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans before he was too sick to continue.  He got as far as Thunder Bay, Ontario (about an hour away from the Northeast tip of Minnesota) before he was having medical issues and doctors discovered that his cancer had recurred in his lungs.  He was a national hero who met the likes of Bobby Orr, Darryl Sittler, the Prime Minister, and the Governor General.  When he returned to the hospital, he got a letter from Pope John Paul II saying that the Grand Pontiff was praying for him.  When died in June of 1981, his funeral was televised nationally.

I know...this post just keeps going on and on.  I'm wrapping it up!  We wandered back to the boat, I went on a short walk down the sea wall (looking for Munzees--only found one out of 30 or so), and we set sail at about 5:30.  We had dinner in the restaurant for the first time.  We confused the waiters since we hadn't been there all week.  Our table, it seemed, had been moved to accommodate a large family that wanted to sit near each other.  We met some really nice people--a newly-married couple who are shortly to move to Madison, WI for masters degrees; and another couple who had been on several cruises to Mexico and the Caribbean, but this was the first time to Alaska.

We arrived in Seattle at 7 a.m. or so, had breakfast and started the extended check-out process.  We caught a cab to the ferry, was picked up by Kelly's dad in our car, and retrieved our children before heading home.  Laundry, laundry, laundry....