Tag Archives: Anchorage

All a-bored!

Friday 12 August 2022 – We’re now aboard Silver Muse and underway. This is the view from our cabin’s balcony right now (it has been like that ever since we left Seward); appropriately we are in Disenchantment Bay.  (It improves – keep reading.)

We’re not missing anything right now, therefore this  is a fantastic opportunity to bring you up to date with how everything went yesterday.

This being a holiday, we were up earlier than would normally be the case at home. OK, the jetlag helped. Thing is, we needed to hand our luggage over to the nice Silversea people, conveniently located at a desk in the hotel lobby, between 8am and 9am, which means 8am ‘coz we always want to give ourselves maximum contingency for cock-ups. As well as handing over the suitcases, we had to prove that we were free of the Dreaded Lurgy and that we had ‘fessed up to the Canadian authorities about our imminent arrival in a week’s time. Jane, as always, had done a mistressful job of marshalling the necessary paperwork, which left the Silversea folks almost as impressed as I was.

It was our lot to travel by rail down to Seward, where the boat would leave. We actually had no particular idea about whether this was better or worse as an option than traveling by coach, but, whatever, we had to be ready to be picked up at 1215.  This gave me the opportunity to finish writing about our day in Anchorage on Wednesday, which had been sufficiently eventful that it took two days to write it up.

The rail trip to Seward starts, somewhat counterintuitively, from the airport. There are no scheduled trains from Anchorage to Seward, so this was a Silversea Special and it departed from the rail depot at the airport (presumably needed because of the massive logistical significance of Anchorage as a hub). A coach took us to the airport, where we joined a queue to prove, once again, that we had the paperwork, then another queue to get a boarding pass for the train and our cabin keys. There was a holding pen whilst we waited to board the train

and then we were called by carriage number.  They called carriage 555 first, and we were carriage 554, so held ourselves in readiness to sprint forward. Then they called….carriage 553. No matter, they hadn’t forgotten us and we were next to take the walk down the platform.

The carriage had big observation windows

and for the journey we had the pleasure of the company of the two ladies bottom right, Rebecca and her mother Margaret. Notice that there’s nowhere to put bags, so my super-heavyweight backpack had to be stashed somewhere else.

The carriage was run by a chap called Christian, who did the best he could to gee everyone up with tales of possible sightings of moose and eagles and bears and that, but his news that the train trip was going to take four and a half “ish” hours came as a bit of a surprise. The weather conditions also quite literally dampened expectations of fabulous and interesting views.

Christian started serving people from the far end of the carriage and it became clear that it would take him some time to work his way up to our end.  Happily, we discovered that we were next to the buffet car, which was rather like any British Rail buffet car except the lady serving behind the counter knew how to mix cocktails.  We satisfied ourselves with a hat trick of G&Ts before we were able to get a salad via Christian’s service, and that nicely lubricated the conversation with Rebecca and Margaret as we ground our way slowly along.

The most interesting challenge, photographically, was seeking a gap among the trees in order to get a photo.  The train might have been moving slowly, but the gaps between the trees seemed to flash right by.  I managed one glacier

and one lake

and that was about it (no moose or eagles or bears), which meant that by the time we got to Seward we were beginning to feel rather bored with the whole process. I don’t know whether the coach option might have been swifter, but we were all glad to get to Seward, where the weather conditions (as forecast)

weren’t all that conducive to any further beautiful photography.  Scurrying from the train to the boat was actually a higher priority

and, naïve soul that I am, I was surprised at the size of the ship.

The boarding process was very smooth and it was soon clear that we were going to be very well looked after during our cruise.  Every cabin has a butler; ours is called Francis and he came and introduced himself and talked us through some of the information we’d need throughout our cruise.  We also found the launderette, which is a nice thing to have the use of. These things are important, you know.

The rest of the day was taken up with the inevitable and important safety briefing and dinner, which we took in a restaurant called Atlantide.

Great food, nice surroundings and efficient and courteous service. After dinner, we thought it would be good to stretch our legs, so we walked around the ship to orientate ourselves.  It’s a big ship in our experience, but quite small in the general cruising context – a maximum of 596 guests if full. Relatively small as it is, it’s still an 11-story building  so there was a lot to take in.

We learned from one steward (Simon, German) that there are 437 guests on this cruise and somewhere around 360 crew, so the service level is near one-to-one; also that even if the numbers had been higher post-pandemic, the ship would not have been full, as they have to reserve some cabins for quarantine purposes. The pandemic’s consequences continue to affect the hospitality industry, even after all this time.

The strains of the day began to tell, and even the prospect of further free booze wasn’t enough to keep us going, so we called it a day at this point and got our heads down in order to prepare for a day at sea containing the prospect of seeing the Hubbard Glacier at reasonably close range from the ship. We therefore hoped for decent weather, not something that we’d seen thus far.  However…..

….the skies have cleared, making today’s activity a bit more promising.  I’ll write about that in the next post, so do come back and find out more, won’t you?


Up Ship Creek in Anchorage

Wednesday 10 August 2022 – Long Read Alert!

Anchorage!  Such a lot packed into a single day! I recommend you get yourself a stiff drink and settle in for a long session if you want to read this at a single sitting.

The main task for the day was to take a Covid test as a pre-requisite for being allowed to join the cruise that starts tomorrow.  We’d tried to pre-empt it yesterday by going to the Egan Congress Center in the optimistic hope that the testing facility might be open.  It wasn’t – we’d arrived too late – but at least we now knew where the testing facility was.  Optimism ruled our hearts once again as we headed there just after 8am today hoping that it might be open.  Again, the Congress Centre appeared to be still closed, so we retired to the hotel for breakfast before trying again just after 9am, by which time it had opened its doors. The testing process was efficient – a QR code to register on-site, test kits ready to hand out, a promise of results by e-mail within 20 minutes and contactless payment to relieve you of the fee – $89 per person, which is a scandalous amount, but if it gets us on to the boat, then that’s a win.

By the time we’d walked the two blocks back to the hotel and got a coffee from the lobby café, the results were in, and we were officially declared free of the Dreaded Lurgy, which should make the blog entries for the next few days a little more interesting than they might otherwise have been.  To add further to our joy, the sun had come out and the day was warming up nicely. We had decided to take a Trolleybus Tour to give us some idea of what Anchorage had to offer, so we wandered off in the general direction of the Visitor Center to see what the deal was.

The Visitor Center features a log cabin, which is quite fetching, particularly when viewed through the Spirit Bridge, a 1985 sculpture by Roger Barr.

You can also see our hotel in the background.  Nearby the Visitor Center is a hot dog stand with some interesting wares.

Had we not just had breakfast, the spicy reindeer dog would have exerted a strong draw, I think. Also by the centre is a statue along a rather common theme in these here parts.

Wherever you look, it seems there are references to bears.  Our hotel’s bar/restaurant is called Bruins, for example, and just outside its doors is the reason why.

Trolleybus tour operators proselytise tirelessly outside the center, happy to explain what was on offer, and they proved as efficient at parting us wirelessly from our dollars as was the Covid Test site. The deal we settled on was the Luxury version of the tour, distinguished from the standard version by occasional stops with the opportunity to get off and take photos. That started at midday and it was just 10.30 when we bought the tickets, so we had an hour and a half to kill. This we did by our normal tactic of Going Off For A Wander.  We had a vague idea of a direction to go in, as we’d seen some pleasant-looking timber houses on the taxi ride in from the airport. Jane accordingly navigated us in the general direction that we thought we might have seen them.

On the way, we passed some quirky street art touches,

the local take on Barcelona’s Sagrada Familia, the Sacred Family Cathedral of Anchorage

and the Veterans Memorial

before reaching the area we’d sought, which did indeed have a very nice selection of timber buildings.

By this stage we were at Delaney Park, a long stretch of green space between 9th and 10th Avenues, which was originally cleared in the early 20th century as a firebreak to stop the wildfires that are part of the warp and weft of life in Alaska from destroying the developing city. From the park, you can see distant mountains.

We passed the First Presbyterian Church

and “556”, an S-160 class steam locomotive built in 1943, one of 2,300 built for the American army and missing the typical steam engine domes because many were used for the war in Europe and Africa, where tunnels and bridges were lower than in the USA.

(Very creative use of rolling stock wheels for seating purposes, I thought.)

Around here, we met a Friendly Native (there seem to be plenty of them hereabouts – it’s a very amiable place) who suggested a couple of things we should have seen, so we tucked them away for future use after we’d finished our trolleybus tour.  As we worked our way back towards the tour meeting place, we passed some striking murals.

The Trolleybus tour was delightfully led by a lady called Donna who was a mine of interesting information, leavened by very good humour.

One of the strongest threads running through her commentary concerned a major event, not only for Alaskans, but with global impact – the 1964 Earthquake. This was absolutely massive – 9.2 on the Richter scale, thus the most powerful earthquake recorded in North American history, and the second most powerful earthquake recorded in world history. Six hundred miles of fault ruptured at once and moved up to 60 ft. Post-quake tsunamis severely affected Whittier, Seward, Kodiak, and other Alaskan communities, as well as people and property in British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. Tsunamis also caused damage in Hawaii and Japan. Evidence of motion directly related to the earthquake was also reported from Florida and Texas. The repercussions even caused church bells in Johannesburg to ring. It is a candidate to be the third most massive shock to the planet after the Chicxulub meteorite which did for the dinosaurs 66 million years ago and the meteorite which exploded over Antarctica 430,000 years ago.

The incredible thing about the Alaskan earthquake is that although property damage was huge, very few people in Anchorage were killed, because it happened on Good Friday – schools and businesses were closed and the areas affected were largely deserted.

The tour route took us to the James Cook monument, where Donna gave a summary of the huge (but not quite earth-shaking) impact that Cook had had on our knowledge of the world in the 18th century;

he discovered and mapped Alaska as he searched for the fabled North Western Passage that, were it found, would open up trade to Asia. The monument site offers views across the water to distant mountains

and to the “Sleeping Lady”, Mount Susitna, which has an Athabascan mythical story attached to it.

From there, we went to Earthquake Park, where the Pacific and American tectonic plates meet, enabling someone to stand with a foot on each.

A short walk into the woods reveals the waves that were caused as the surface moved up and down during the earthquake.

Shortly afterwards we came to the point on the coast which enables a view back over downtown Anchorage

as well as two significant mountains over the water – Denali, also known as Mount McKinley, on the right in this picture

and Mount Foraker on the left.  Denali, at over 20,000 feet, is the highest mountain peak in North America, as well as the third most prominent and third most isolated peak on Earth, after Everest and Aconcagua (in Argentina).

The route back to town took us past Lake Spenard (named for Joe Spenard, a significant player in the development of Alaska in the early 20th century) and the site of a vast number of “float planes”.

Aeroplanes are hugely important in Alaska, as they are often the only way to reach places because building roads is made difficult by the permafrost which is often only feet below the surface in the state. Trying to develop on such land is challenging as the permafrost melts, meaning you’re now trying to build on water.

The lake is near to Anchorage’s international airport, and one can see huge warehouses in the area, which belong to logistics giants such as Fedex and UPS. This comes about because Anchorage has a critical role to play in the air freight business.  Since it’s a maximum of 9 air hours away from the majority of the planet’s major cities, going via Anchorage is often the most efficient way to move cargo.  It’s notable that the airport was at its busiest during the pandemic as delivery operations became more and more important to people who were in lockdown.

And that was our trolleybus tour – fascinating and entertaining.

We’d learned so much – and it was only lunchtime! We headed to the Glacier Brewhouse, a recommendation from the hotel receptionist, which served us a very agreeable lunch, and then, in order to take advantage of the superb weather, went out and about again.

Going along with the recommendations from our Friendly Native, we headed back down to  Delaney Park and struck out west towards the water’s edge.  We’d already seen one Interesting Church (the Presbyterian one) and we soon passed another, the First Baptist Church.

I wonder if there’s a link between being in the far north and building interesting churches – we’d seen a plethora in Iceland also.

We worked our way along the length of the park (which is 14 blocks from end to end) and came to the water.  We’d planned to take a path back along beside the water but there was the inconvenient matter of a railway between us and it.  So we zig-zagged our way back up towards the city in search of the place where the path crosses the track so we could join it. There was a steady stream of interesting and attractive buildings.

Outside the one shown just above, we noticed that the trees are encircled by metal. This is to protect them from moose, which would otherwise simply eat them.

Moose play a more important role in Alaskan life than simply being a road hazard in the winter. They wander quite freely and whilst they’ll eat practically any vegetation, they have a special relationship with willow; not the weeping willow that’s familiar in the UK, but feltleaf or diamond willow.  And there’s a link with the original firebreak role for Delaney Park.  It’s an interesting, but complicated story.

Willow trees shed their leaves every year, and the leaf mould is gradually compacted over the years by the snow, eventually forming a thick layer of a substance called duff, which prevents further growth. When the duff dries out in summer, lightning strikes can cause it to burn, giving rise to the wildfires which are common all over the state.  These clear the duff, allowing for new willow growth which is food for moose, which, in turn are food for the apex predators – wolves and bears. Moose are unusual in that they can eat the bark as well as the leaves of willow, which is why it plays such  a key role as a foodstuff.  But protection round trees is a common sight, as mooses’ appetites aren’t limited just to willow.

Another botanical nugget concerns “fireweed” – what we’d call rosebay willowherb. This can be found growing all over

and according to local lore, each year the height it grows to predicts the depth of the snows in the coming winter.  (Our guide Donna’s family did a project over 15 years of monitoring this, and she asserted that this was true each year they measured it to within an inch or two.)

The final chapter of this extraordinarily content-filled day concerned salmon, a high-profile industry in Alaska. The salmon harvest in Alaska is the largest in North America and represents about 80% of the total wild-caught catch, with harvests from Canada and the Pacific Northwest representing the remainder.  You can see salmon all over the place as artwork

but, more to the point, this is the time of year where they run upriver to spawn and Donna had told us about a place where we could maybe see them in action – the Ship Creek Overlook Park. This was the final stop on our walkabout.  We made our way to the bridge which offered the best viewing possibilities and, sure enough, there they were, in profusion.

But, accompanying this was the (very laid-back) cabaret of people fishing for salmon in the river. There were lots of them

and indeed watching them appears to be a spectator sport, too.

There’s a restaurant built on a bridge over the river

and, just to the side, a place which is famous for its superb fish processing knives

(Ulu is derived from an indigenous people’s word for knife, apparently).

And this completed the walkabout for the day.  We’d covered around nine miles as well as going on the bus tour and our brains were full of all the things we’d learned and the sights we’d seen. For such a small town, Anchorage had given us a marvellous and varied day out, enhanced by some lovely weather.

I’ve just taken a look at the forecast for Seward, which is where we will board our cruise, some 120 miles south of Anchorage.  It looks like it will be raining there, not only when we arrive, but for the whole week, which emphasises how fortunate we have been today.

Tomorrow, then, will be taken up by the transit to Silver Muse and the concomitant fuss about boarding, and getting to know the layout of the ship (particularly where we can find gin). So it will be a couple of days before I report anything, and, given the length of this entry, I should think you’re quite relieved about that.  Anyway, do come back in a couple of days to see how we’ve got on, won’t you?

An aerial photo bonanza – from Vancouver to Anchorage

Tuesday 9 August 2022 – On just the second day of a major holiday that my wife and I took to Canada (separately documented), we flew from Vancouver to Anchorage in order to take a cruise back down to Vancouver.  We were really lucky with the weather conditions for that flight – for most of the journey there were practically no clouds and so we had fabulous views.  If your bag is aerial views of lakes, mountains, islands and glaciers, then this page will be three bags full for you.

These photos are subject to the limitations of being taken (a) on mobile phones, albeit decent ones, and (b) through an aeroplane window.  They’re not exhibition quality, but I hope they give you an idea of the treat we had as we looked out at the view.

As we started, the city of Vancouver was still under a bit of mist.

but the view from the other side of the plane, over Keats Island towards Grantham Landing was clear.

I could see the glacial water flowing down the Squamish Estuary

and Jane had a view the other side, towards Half Moon Bay.

The Squamish River winds its way between the mountains.

This was my view over some lakes near Icecap Peak

and Jane got a different perspective towards Half Moon Bay.

The procession of spectacular views, from each side of the plane, carried on as we headed roughly northwards,

including some of the distinctive turquoise of glacial water.

Varying rock types could be seen

and glacier formations, like this, just south of Silverthrone Mountain.

The variety of lakes, rivers and mountains continued as we headed north west above the Inside Passage,

until we reached Ketchikan, a place we’ll be visiting next week as we cruise back down to Vancouver.

There it is

just there, where the cruise chips can be seen!

Soon after that, as we drew level with Juneau, the clouds started to gather.

and, as a friend of mine once put it, we had a “map-reality disconnect”. This is what the real-time map, as displayed on my screen, showed

and this is what I could see looking out of the window.

We had cloud then for the rest of the journey to Anchorage, and we could only see the land once we got below the clouds coming into our final destination.

It had been a memorable flight, with some stunning views; it was a real pleasure to have been in the right place at the right time.