Alaska Trip

Posted by Brette in Travel

Today is the first in a series about our recent family vacation to Seattle, Alaska and Vancouver.

fish market at Pike Place

We started off with a day and a half in Seattle. We stayed at the Hyatt Place, a new hotel which was comfortable and modern. The best feature was the free shuttle that would take us anywhere within a mile. The first day we headed to Pike Place Market. This started out as a farmer’s market and has evolved into much more. There are the famous fishmongers who are known for throwing their fish. There are lots of stalls and shops selling souvenirs, jewelry, crafts, and candy.  It was fun to walk around, but it was a really big place that was hard to navigate.  We went to Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe, a shop I had read was as much museum as shop but I was disappointed since it was mainly a tacky souvenir shop and not worth the effort.  We rode a water taxi to Alki Beach in West Seattle and it was fun to be out on the water.

Bainbridge Island

The second day we took a ferry to Bainbridge Island, a 30 min trip across the Sound. The island was beautiful with lots of trees and a shoreline that felt much like main. The town was small but had a few interesting shops. We also walked along a trail by the waterfront and saw the wild blackberries growing everywhere.

Later that day we went to the Hiram Chittenden Fish Ladder where we saw salmon swimming upstream to spawn. They have underground windows so you can come eye to eye with the salmon. It was a long taxi ride to get there though. We headed to the Capitol Hill section of town where there are dance

Dance steps on Capitol Hill

steps set in the concrete  – numbered brass foot plates, so you can actually do the dance on the sidewalk.  I loved that. Then we went to the Museum of the Mysteries. It was a bit weird and not what we expected. It was essentially one room. They had 2 casts of Big Foot footsteps, a strange display about Bruce Lee’s life in Seattle, and photos of the World Fair. They did have a game we could play to test our psychic ability which was fun. Mostly it was just strange. We expected more Big Foot and UFO stuff. We also went to the Experience Music Project and Sci Fi Museum where I had a celebrity sighting – Jane Adams who plays Tanya on HBO’s Hung.

MS OosterdamWe boarded our cruise ship, the Holland America Line MS Oosterdam (as the captain called her “our beautiful Oosterdam”) on Sunday. This was our first cruise and we weren’t sure what to expect. The accommodations were better than I expected – having 2 adjoining rooms helped. We enjoyed the shows and activities on the ship. We became familiar with some of the crew and enjoyed spotting them. The first full day was a day at sea. The second full day took us into Glacier Bay Alaska, where we saw 4 glaciars, one of them quite close up. We saw and heard it claving and were awed with the National GlacierPark Ranger on board said this was the wildest place we would eve visit). The glaciaers are magnificent and humbling. Some of the ice truly is a deep blue. The ocean water up there is a strange turquoise – much like what you see in the Caribbean. We saw whales and porpoises along the way and that night as we were leaving, we passed some bears eating a whale carcass that had washed ashore. The captain actually turned the boat around and went past it a second time so everyone could see it.

It got dark around 9:30 at night and the sun was up by 5 so the days were long which was quite strange.

DogsleddingThe next day we went to our first port, Juneau. It was going to be a big day. Mr. MarthaAndMe and Dude Martha were off to a summer dogsled camp. Teen Martha and I were supposed to be heading by helicopter to a dog sled camp on a glacier. Our helicopter was canceled due to fog. Fortunately, I found a guy in a kiosk on the street who was able to squeeze the two of us in on a different summer dogsled camp, so we all got to see the dogs. These are called huskies, but they are actually mutts. We got a chance to pet (and hug and kiss) our team before being pulled in what looked like a golf cart by the team. Then we learned about the history of the Iditarod and dogsledding before we got to hold and pet the puppies. Teen Martha and I were in heaven. Mr. MarthaAndMe and Dude Martha enjoyed their similar experience. I was upset that we did not get the chance to actually stand on and touch a glacier, something I was looking forward to very much.

Later in the day we all went gold panning. What an experience! Our guide took Gold panningus to a creek and showed us how to shovel up some sediment and pan it in a metal pan. It was hard to do and took longer than expected, but we all did find some gold flakes! After that we went to a salmon bake which I’ll discuss in my food post. At the salmon bake they had two real huskies and these were amazing dogs. First of all, they are huge, with giant paws. They are puffy and furry, but the fur is coarse. They are extremely intelligent and gentle and we could not get enough of them.

Juneau was an unattractive town for the most part with a street full of tacky touristy shops. It didn’t help that it was cool, rainy and foggy. I wasn’t fond of the city in general.

The next day was Sitka and what a day it was. The sun was shining! Sitka is a gorgeous island surrounded by beautiful water and many, many more islands, as well as a silent volcano. Dude Martha and Mr. MarthaAndMe went for a half day of salmon fishing. They had a terrific fishing guide and each caught a fish. Dude Martha’s was a 23 lb king salmon! Mr. MarthaAndMe got a smaller coho salmon. The salmon was frozen and will be arriving here next week. We Dude Martha's big catchshould have a lot of salmon to enjoy! Whilst the salmon were practically jumping into the boat, Teen Martha and I shopped and saw the sights. Sitka was the Russian capital when the area was owned by Russia, so there is a Russian Orthodox church there which we visited. We also saw some totem poles at a national park and enjoyed the harbor and quaint village. While at the National Park we visited a stream that had so many salmon it that you could walk across it.

That afternoon we all got aboard a boat together for a nature cruise. We saw humpback and gray whales quite closely, as well as a group of sea otters, bald eagles, a bald eagle nest, seals, jellyfish, and jumping fish. Our captain took us to the mouth of Lake Rideau, which is only 6 feet above sea level and empties into the ocean through a small mouth where fish were jumping like crazy. The sun was shining, the water was a brilliant blue, the air smelled fresh, and green mountains around perfectly framed the day. It was a day we will always remember.

Totem BightThe next port was Ketchikan, and after the stunning scenery of the north, it felt like a letdown.  We were only in port for half the day so we got off the ship early and did some shopping first thing (This town had lots of shops and we had almost no time for them). Then we saw a lumberjack show which was really fun. They had sawing contests, tree climbing contests, and yes, even stood and spun on logs. After that we took a very boring trip out to Totem Bight, a park with totem poles. As I told Mr. MarthaAndMe, we could have done that park in 15 minutes, but our bus driver/guide was slow and the rest of the group could not move. It was interminable, although we learned about totem poles and got to go inside a replica of a Tlingit longhouse. Instead of taking us back to town as she was supposed to, the guide instead drove us all through town, pointing out obscure things. We bailed at the first stop and ran to see the part of town I was most interested in – Dolly’s House. Prostitution used to Dolly's Housebe legal until the 50s in Ketchikan and there is a row of houses up on stilts where the ladies of the evening lived and worked. Dolly’s House was open for a quick tour so we did that and saw the Married Man’s Way – a path behind the houses married men used to be discrete.  Another interesting part of Ketchikan was the stair streets – legal streets that are just huge, tall, wooden staircases. The people who live on those streets have to go up the stairs to get to their houses.

The next day was a long day at sea and then an evening in Victoria, B.C. It’s a pretty little town, but there wasn’t much to do there after 6 pm. We shopped, went to a night market and had dinner. It’s very British there and we had a shuttle driver with a Scottish accent that I enjoyed. Most people visit Butchart Gardens, but we didn’t really care about seeing that.

The next day we landed in Seattle where we got a rental car and drove to Vancouver. Vancouver comes up on you in an unexpected way. You’re in the middle of nowhere then suddenly you see hundreds of skyscrapers.  We stayed at the Cascadia Hotel and Suites, which is a great place if you have young kids since the rooms all have kitchens. We picked it because the price was right. Our first stop was Granville Public Market. Like the market in Seattle this started as a farmer’s market but evolved into an artist’s colony. The shopping there was quite good, but it was a very hot day, so we were feeling the heat.

After that we took a drive and saw Stanley Park, which is a gorgeous, huge, waterfront park with beaches, totem poles, fields, picnic areas, a water park and more. Next we drove over to Kitsilano Beach which had nothing in the way of shopping, but had a nice waterfront park and the biggest in ground pool I’ve ever seen in my life.

That night we went to the Chinatown night market which was not as big as I hoped but was still fun. There were vendors selling all sorts of Asian foods and lots of knock-off merchandise. Driving back from there to our hotel we apparently went through skid row where the street was jam packed with homeless people. There are also a lot of people moving around Vancouver in motorized wheelchairs, something you rarely see at home.

Capilano Suspension Bridge

The next day we went to the Capilano Suspension Bridge. This is a swaying (but completely safe) suspension bridge over a river or creek that is WAAAAY down. It was a little scary to cross, but fun. On the other side is a tree top adventure – you climb stairs to a walkway that is up among the tree tops. There were also some ponds to visit. That was a fun experience.

We drove out to Richmond, a heavily Asian suburb and visited an Asian mall. We also saw the famous Steam Clock in Gastown – a clock powered by steam which whistles the same tune a grandfather clock plays on the hour. That was fun to see and there was some good shopping in that neighborhood.

On our last day, we intended to take the sky tram up to Grouse Mountain where they have wolves and grizzlies in a refuge. However, when we arrived Wolves at Grouse Mountainwe learned the wolves now live at the bottom of the mountain so we watched them. They were beautiful and sad. These wolves were bred in captivity for use in movies and could not be reintroduced to the wild. There are 3 wolves and the gray one is the alpha wolf. We watched them being fed their breakfast – pieces of cow, hide and all. After seeing the wolves, we opted not to pay over $100 to go to the top of the mountain! We would have liked to see the grizzlies, but it just was too much.

Next we intended to make a quick stop at the Capilano salmon hatchery, but we got a little mixed up by their terrible map and ended up hiking through the woods, over a dam and downhill, then climbing back uphill. We saw salmon and “small fry” but it was not worth it.  We stopped at Lonsdale Quay and did a little shopping (there wasn’t much there). Then we went to the Burnaby Village Museum. We’re suckers for “living history” museums like Williamsburg and the best one we’ve ever seen – Upper Canada Village. I had high hopes for this one since it was set in the 1920s, one of my favorite eras. Apparently the roaring 20s were not big in southwest Canada because there wasn’t much happening. We got to see a printing press, bachelor’s home, blacksmith (who lectured Teen Martha about how girls make good blacksmiths), bank, and the kids rode on a carousel. In general we weren’t impressed though.

After that we took a slow ride down to Seattle and stopped in La Conner, Washington where there was some excellent shopping and a lovely water view. We spent that night in the Seattle airport Doubletree Hotel, which was the best place we stayed the entire time. For a $5 upgrade we got two rooms. It had a pool and wifi and was spacious, attractive and comfortable. And you get free warm cookies when you check in. The price there was the lowest we paid all trip.

So that’s the summary of the big trip. Alsaka knocked me off my feet. I just wish we had been able to see more of it and spend more time on the ground there. Cruising is nice because you can unpack for a week, not worry about where you will eat, and wake up each morning in a new place, but you lose the experience of really seeing and living in the place which I always really enjoy. If I went back to Alaska, I would go further north, stay longer, and go by land (although many places are accessible only by ferry, so driving complicates things).

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