fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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cruising Alaska, part five: Victoria, then home

At the Empress Hotel in Victoria, B.C.

Cruising, for most people, invokes images of passengers in deck chairs with umbrellas drinks in hand.

That’s not the case with me. At least not yet.

For me, when in port there’s sightseeing to be done and the bustle that arises from acting every bit the busy tourist.

But one unique aspect about a cruise vacation is that — though already having “wound down” away from everyday life — one can take time to wind down between ports.

That’s what we did the day after leaving Skagway. We were at sea, steaming toward Victoria, B.C. Without conscious thought, we made it somewhat of a quiet day. Almost winning a passenger trivia game in the morning, a leisurely lunch, and time spent in a hot tub with a view astern to the ocean; a quiet pause in the closing days of a superb vacation.

Sunshine greeted us the next morning in Victoria, where what is regularly referred to as “High Tea”* awaited at The Empress Hotel. More accurately, The Empress refers to it as “Afternoon Tea.” To be polite, I’d practiced the proper pinkie curl.

Gwendolyn’s little finger would be curled under and away from the heat of the cup which might otherwise inflict a burn on her delicate skin. The little finger would never be arched upward. Arching would be deemed a sign of extreme arrogance. Should you know of moments extreme enough to demand an arched pinkie, contact us immediately.
— from The Importance of Being Earnest, by Oscar Wilde

There was a remarkable consistency to the extraordinary knowledge imparted by tour guides and bus drivers we met during this trip, and our driver in Victoria was no exception. He filled our nearly hour-long drive to, in and around the city with history, trivia and pop culture references. Soon enough we disembarked in front of the impressive Empress Hotel.

Above the commoners' side entrance to the Empress Hotel.

The 103-year-old hotel near Victoria’s waterfront can’t be missed, and there’s a story that for many years it did not have sign out front because of local sentiment that anyone who didn’t know it was The Empress shouldn’t be staying there. It is an imposing structure that’s hosted kings and queens and a fair share of celebrities.

Wondering if we weren’t worthy of a public arrival, we entered through a side door to find the Tea Lobby. With everyone seated on sofas upholstered with richly patterned chintz or in wing back chairs, our hostess set about placing tiered stands stacked with traditional tea sandwiches, pastries and cakes. Our starter was a bowl of big, tasty blueberries, certainly not an everyday occurrence for me, but something I could get accustomed to. Our cups were filled with The Empress’ tea (a blend of teas from Kenya, Tanzania, South India, Assam, Sri Lanka and China), and though I’m not a big tea drinker, it was tasty (and fun—how often does one get to say “I’ll take two lumps” without ending up with a headache?).

I don’t pretend to be a gourmand but found great pleasure in the tea sandwiches and cakes served at The Empress. Even the cucumber and watercress sandwiches were good. My personal favorite was the smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwich. Our gastronomic climb up the stand found a second tier filled with some of the best-ever fresh scones and preserves, and ended with the top tier’s assortment of light pastries. It was all good, but I was left wondering how such dainty sandwiches and pastries could be so filling.

We’d have another day at sea before arriving home, and there’d be whales, porpoises, and a special dessert courtesy our maître’d. But Victoria was the last big “hurrah” for me on this fantastic trip.

A last sunset at sea…


*It’s interesting to note that what’s often referred to as “High Tea” (in the U.S. at least) may in fact be “Low Tea” or “Afternoon Tea”, and I’ll bet that most of my six readers didn’t know that there were two types of “Tea.” Gleaning the Internet will tell one that High Tea ttraditionally was a working-class meal served on a high table at the end of the workday and comprised of heavy dishes (such as steak and kidney pie, pickled salmon, crumpets, onion cakes, etc.). Afternoon Tea or High Tea was more of an elite social gathering with assorted snacks and tea. But in the end, who’d really want to go to “Low Tea?”

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cruising Alaska, part two: Ketchikan and surprise

I was reminded of my childhood when the ship began to dock the third morning of our Alaskan cruise. Years ago my sister and brother and I, still sleeping, would be packed into the car, and we’d wake us up numerous miles down the road. This time it was our captain announcing the successful mooring of the ship and clearance to disembark passengers.

Early morning over Ketchikan, Alaska.

Ketchikan greeted us with sunshine and colorful waterfront shops. The rest of the town huddled between mountains and the sea. Our half-day shore excursion would take us to visit the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center, the nearby Totem Heritage Center, the Saxman Village and the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center.

Though it’s no secret that Ketchikan, as well as Juneau and Skagway, owes much of its financial survival to tourism, our guide/driver that morning exemplified the tourist-friendly attitude that would greet us during all of our on-shore travels.

The collection area for salmon returning to the Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery.

The Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery and Eagle Center is within a relatively easy walk east of the dock. Our guide walked us through a town park to the entrance of center, next to a creek in which numerous pink salmon milled about. We were greeted by a docent and resident owl, and entered the eagle habitat. To be honest, I was hoping for something, well, a bit more. However, it did offer an up close look at two of these amazing birds, which haven’t been released into the wild due to injuries. A creek running through the small habitat allows them to hunt spawning salmon.

The Deer Mountain Tribal Hatchery is just as small in keeping with its mission to ensure the survival of various salmon species rather than supply fish for a fishery. Its operation was well described by the docent, though the distraction of big salmon in a holding pen interfered with my hearing everything she had to say.

Perhaps more remarkable was the Tlingit and Haida totems, moved from islands throughout the Inside Passage and now housed a short walk away in the Totem Heritage Center. The unrestored appearance of the totems housed in the center — each 100-plus years old — lend a sense of history. Small, surrounding exhibits cover Tlingit and Haida history and traditions.

Totem in Saxman Village on a nice sunny Alaskan day.

We next visited Saxman Village, a tour highlighted by a carving demonstration and nearby totems. Of note is the Seward Shame totem built to shame the former U.S. Secretary of State for not repaying a Potlatch (a gift-giving festival) to the Tlingit people. While the color red is used to indicate shame, indicating stinginess, red also figures prominently on the nearby pole built out of respect for Abraham Lincoln* and commemorating the U.S. Revenue Cutter Lincoln in its role in helping two rival Tlingit clans establish peace.

Back in downtown Ketchikan, we were dropped off at the U.S. Forest Service’s Southeast Alaska Discovery Center. Worth a visit, the Discovery Center offers displays and information covering a wide swath of the area’s natural and human history, and might have offered a better starting point.

Lunch in Alaska is simple for me: various versions of halibut fish and chips, this time in view of Ketchikan’s Thomas Basin Harbor, at the south end of town.

We’d been warned that all three of our ports of call had been invaded by jewelers who typically started their businesses in other, more tropical cruise ship destinations. My wife, in fact, already wanted to look at a particular ring.

We oohed and ahhed along while strolling diamond row, picking up a few of the compulsory t-shirts along the way. Our last stop was to see “The Ring.”

I hadn’t been warned about the sales folks. They are smooth and slick. It all starts with an innocent question: “What do you think the price is?” Let’s just say it was too much, even with the initial offer of a discount, but it must have been apparent — in our eyes or maybe our body language — that we had no plans to buy. Another substantial discount raised my eyebrow.

Carver at work in Saxman Village. (A totem carved by a master carver can cost up to $4000 per linear foot.)

I’m terrible at picking out jewelry and recently began an early search for a suitable ring for our 10th anniversary, which is not too far off. I was having a heck of a time. But again, I went into a defensive huddle with my wife, shaking my head with such exaggeration that another offer was made. Earrings were thrown into the deal. The sales manager stepped up with calculator in hand. I’d even go so far as to say we had the original salesman sweating, just a bit. Another huddle, another offer, the incorporation of sales tax into the offered price, and a deal was struck.

I was hoping to see ice in Alaska, and I thought it would be in a glacier, but regardless of the profit earned on the sale, we walked back to the ship feeling we’d done okay.


* This one is different from the Lincoln Totem in the Alaska State Museum.

A photo slideshow, already playing. (I’ve added photos since last posting the album):

https://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

(You can directly access the Picasa album, with captions, by clicking here.)


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few words, some pictures, more to come

We’re back after travelling from San Francisco to Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, Alaska, and back again in 10 days…leaving at the end of August and returning to the start of September.

I’d say our trip when by fast, but the ship rarely exceeded 21 knots and the days were packed with the history, wilderness and the people of Southeast Alaska.

There was amazement that two of our ports o’ call can only be accessed via plane or boat. Pink salmon crowded the rivers and brought out the bears. We tasted beer that can’t be found anywhere else.

Pictures for now; words later.

https://picasaweb.google.com/s/c/bin/slideshow.swf

(You can directly access the Picasa album, with captions, by clicking here.)


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north to Alaska…

It’s not that we’re abandoning the six regular readers out there, but three-hundred and fifty-nine days have passed since plans were laid and, finally, we’ll be cruising to Alaska just about 14 hours from now. There’s no fishing in the plans, but that’s not to say it won’t come to pass. (The Wife’s never put the kibosh on fishing and is even encouraging I do so this trip.) Regardless, there will be thoughts of fishing…in the suitcase is what’s needed to tie the flies I lose in trees use most.

It’s been a crushing week lining up the ducks. Everything’s been done that could be done at work, and whatever’s undone at home will be left that way.

Relativity being a real thing, the next 10 days will likely fly by. And human nature being what it is, I’m selfishly looking upon this as an extension of the birthday that crept up on me today. (Feel free to send any fly fishing gear, a Ferrari or cash.)

It’s not that I’m truly selfish and don’t appreciate those who spend a few seconds minutes stopping by, but don’t expect much in the coming week and a half. It’s just that there’s no guarantee that there’ll be a connection to the Interwebs or willingness to step away from the buffet or bar long enough to write.

I do promise to wave from under the Golden Gate.