Monday, August 15, 2016

Matt's Birthday

We started the day by visiting the Grammy Museum in downtown L.A.

A way of tracing out the connections among musical genres

Drum lesson with Ringo Starr

The annual Tanabata Festival in Little Tokyo.

Performers at the festival

Lunch at the Suehiro Cafe in Little Tokyo

Cosplayers (costume players) in Little Tokyo

After lunch we went to the Museum of Neon Art in Glendale.

From Fox Theater in LA

A southland fixture 

The angelic flying deceased hot dog dog 

 The other angelic flying deceased hot dog dog 

Background on the angelic flying deceased hot dog dogs

The Vintage Arcade Games warehouse was closed, so we went to the Soap Plant WAKCO in Los Feliz.  They sell (relatively) inexpensive art with "street cred" to twenty and thirtysomething hipsters.

Dinner was at Toi Thai on Sunset.

We killed sometime across the street at Meltdown Comics where I saw this statue created by an artist famous for working in filmed animation.  After getting food poisoning from eating at Big Boy's, he created this "artistic revenge."

Last stop of the evening:  the Groundlings Theater on Melrose in Hollywood.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Our Final Sea Day

Finally, on our last day at sea, we had beautiful weather.  It was actually sunny for almost the entire day.  Even now, as the sun has almost set, there are only a few wispy clouds in the sky.

I used the opportunity to explore the entire ship, including some outside areas that were either closed off or too unpleasant to visit in the bad weather.  So, for those interested, here’s a detailed description of Holland America’s ms. Zaandam.  We’ll work our way from the bottom to the top, and from fore to aft.

Deck 1 is the lowest deck passengers can regularly visit (sometimes Deck A is used for tenders or a gangway).  It’s called the Dolphin Deck since, I assume, you’re basically sleeping with the fishes.  Deck 2, where our stateroom is located is called the Main Deck.  Why?  No idea.  As far as I can tell, both decks only have staterooms.

Deck 3 is where the ship begins to get interesting.  This is the Lower Promenade, and is where I spent a lot of time since it’s the only deck where you can 1) walk around the perimeter of the entire ship; 2) get views of the scenery, port, after, and starboard without glass; and 3) is sheltered from the elements by a roof.  This deck also has the self-service laundry ($3.00 – in quarters – for a wash; $1.50 to dry), and the lifeboat stations.  One lap of the outdoor promenade is a quarter mile, so I did 12 laps or 3 miles of walking this afternoon.  I wouldn’t recommend staying the cabins on the Lower Promenade, since your cabin looks out on the people walking on the deck, and only beyond that the water.  When people leave their curtains open, it’s very easy to see into their cabins when the sky is dark or overcast.

Deck 4 is the Promenade.  In the front of the ship is the bow, which is open when viewing glaciers, etc.  Next is the main level of the Mondriaan Theater, where the comedians, magicians, dancers, and singers perform.  Moving aft we have the photo gallery where all the pictures taken by the various photographers employed by the cruise line display the photos they’ve shot of you in the hope you’ll buy them.  In the Atrium (more on that below), is the Front Office.  This is where you can ask to have your toilet unplugged, get change for the laundry, check out DVDs, or deal with issues regarding your bill.  There’s also an office that offers to sell shore excursions and across from it is the art gallery, selling high-brow kitsch, like Thomas Kinkade. 

A little further down is the theater, where they do the cooking show, and across from it is the Pinnacle Grill, which is the premium dining spot on the ship.  Between the midship and aft elevators, there is no passage.  This is the ship’s kitchen.  To get to the main level of the Rotterdam Restaurant, which is the ship’s main sit-down dining room, you need to go up or down one level to access it through the aft staircase or elevator.

Deck 5 is the Upper Promenade.  I’ve probably spent more time here than on any deck other than my cabin.  In the fore is the upper level of the Mondriaan Theater.  A midships there is the casino on one side and the Mix bar on the other.  Moving aft is the library, where I’ve spent a lot of time reading books or the New York Times, and on the other side is the lounge where they play classical music in the evenings.  Finally, in the aft of the deck is the upper level of the Rotterdam dining room.

Deck 6 is the Verandah Deck, which is only cabins.  Deck 7 is the Navigation Deck, which has large cabins (mostly suites from what little I could see), and also the Neptune Lounge.  There’s a sign on the lounge saying that it’s only for guests of the Pinnacle Grill and the Neptune Lounge.  I’m guessing that if I don’t already know that I can visit it, it’s off limits.  It’s actually located in the interior, with windows on either side facing the main corridors.  It kind of resembles a first class airport lounge.

Deck 8 is the Lido Deck.  At the fore of the ship is the health club, with treadmills facing out over the view of the ocean. Behind them is the spa, which I did not visit.  I thought if I was going to walk on a treadmill, it would be more interesting to be outdoors in the fresh air, so I did my walking on the outer promenade on Deck 3.  A midships are the hot tubs and the main pool.  For most of the trip, the roof remained covered as the weather was so unpleasant, but today, the retracted it, allowing us to enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.  There’s also an outdoor buffet with fast food style items (e.g., hamburgers, hotdogs, tacos, nachos, etc.).  Today they also had a special salmon grill buffet next to the pool, which I rather enjoyed.

Beyond that is the Lido Buffet, which dad prefers for lunch and dinner.  While the two sides are mostly the same, there are some differences (e.g., the port side has the Belgian waffles and the design your own past sauce; the starboard side has the taste of Asia lunch selection).  In the far aft is the Sea View pool, which I saw for the first time today. 

Above all this is Deck 9, the Sports Deck.  In the fore of the ship is the Crow’s Nest bar, with large floor to ceiling windows on three sides.  Behind that there’s an exterior walkway that overlooks the pool (when the roof is retracted). There are small tennis courts, I think, on either side and then in the back is something called “The Loft” (I have no idea what that is), and Club HAL, which is basically the child care center on the ship.

You can climb up stairs both fore and aft.  In the front, you’re basically standing on top of the Crow’s Nest.  Aft, there is a recreation area called “the Oasis” with fake, tropical stone décor, but there was also a sign saying “Crew Only.”  So either this is just for crew, or, more likely, it’s only open in warm weather.

To move between floors, there are three banks of elevators:  fore, midships, and aft.  On the floor of each elevator is a carpet that helpfully announces the day of the week (they must be changed every night).  Next to the elevators are stairs running up and down.  Each stairway is decorated differently. The fore staircase has paintings of historical Dutch-flagged ships of the early twentieth century; the midships staircase has scientific drawings of various flora; and the aft staircase has reproductions of Escher etchings.

Between the fore and midships elevators is the Atrium. This can be found on the Decks 3, 4, and 5.  A half-circular staircase runs down each level on the port side and the middle of the Atrium is a three-story pipe organ, decorated in baroque fashion. They actually played it for a few minutes today, but I was doing my stroll on the outer promenade.

Last night was the first night I went to bed before dad.  He decided to visit the casino after the classical concert; he told me this morning that the other poker players weren’t very good. 

“Why?” I asked.
“They stayed in when they should’ve gotten out, and got out when they should’ve stayed in.”
“Didn’t that mean that you won money?”

We had to change our clocks last night, since we left the Alaska Time Zone and joined the Pacific.  Beyond that we didn’t do all that much today.  The chef class was ok. The hostess keeps saying that sea salt is preferable to other kinds because it has less sodium, which makes no sense whatsoever.  I went to the premium wine tasting this afternoon, which I really enjoyed, and after that went for a long walk on the lower promenade.  Then I met my father for our last dinner in the Rotterdam Dining Room.

Joy, Morris, and Dorothy were already there; Dick is fasting today.  We all enjoyed the meal and the conversation, and we talked for nearly two hours.  Eventually we had to leave so they could set up for the next sitting.  I also wanted to walk on the outer deck with dad at least once today so he could see the beautiful scenery of Vancouver Island, which we’ve been passing all afternoon.  After a short walk we went back in and found seats for the final show of the trip.  This involved bringing back both the comedian and the magician.  I think dad enjoyed the comedian more again. 

After the show, dad went to the casino; I walked around the deck one last time watching the sunset, then went into the cabin to put the luggage tags on our suitcases.  Dad’s already packed; I’m 90% packed. Our suitcases need to be out by midnight.  We have a relatively late departure from the ship after we dock in Vancouver (between 8:15 and 8:30 am), so we will grab a quick breakfast in the morning. 

Friday, July 29, 2016


Today we actually had periods of sun. In fact, for much of today I was able to wear my sunglasses.  After breakfast, dad snoozed in the library while I read.  At 11 am, we joined the long queues of people trying to leave the ship when they opened the gangway.  My plan was to go to Creek Street to see the salmon swimming upstream.  First, though, we needed to find the town’s free shuttle bus.

15 minutes later, we joined the hordes of ship’s passengers unwilling to walk and headed off for the center of town.  I chatted with a family on their way back to the Norwegian Pearl, moored one berth over. Having heard such negative stories about Norwegian Cruise Lines, I asked how they liked their ship.  The father said that the food and the service were very disappointing.   His 8-year old daughter piped up, “but I like the food.”  I asked her if she was eating the pizza and she looked at me as if I could read her mind.  The grandmother added that the she thought the food on Carnival and Disney was much better.  I thought the food on Carnival was at best so-so, which didn’t say much for NCL.

We got off near Creek Street and made our way to it.  This part of Ketchikan basically has been restored/built to resemble the town of a 100 years ago.  The two-story wooden houses are perched over the stream, through which salmon are making their way home to spawn.  When we reached Dolly Arthur’s House (which is also a historic dolly house, now a museum), dad recognized that he had been on Creek St. with mom on an earlier visit.  He also recognized the funicular, though to my disappointment, they seemed to be repairing something and it was temporarily disabled.

Looking into the stream we were able to spot several large salmon making their way upstream (along with a few dead ones).  I have to say the salmon didn’t look like they were trying all that hard.  Mostly they were hanging out in the eddies and coves, hoping that the high tide would carry them all the way upstream.  Every now and then one or two would swim against the current, and then regroup back in a little cove.  I have to say that salmon don't look like imagined them.  These were dark grey or blackish with whitish tails.  No pink or red to be seen.  They were about a yard long, too (or at least they looked that size from our distance).

Because I had a 1:05 pm excursion, that didn’t leave us much time.  We headed back to the ship for lunch.  At first, dad wanted to take the shuttle bus back, but I wasn’t sure where to catch it so we walked.  It only took about 20 minutes to reach the ship, and dad said that the probably needed the exercise and it might do him good, but at the same time, it was more than he had walked in much of the trip.

After lunch on the Lido, I headed back outside and met my excursion.  I was heading to some place called the Misty Fjords National Monument.  We sailed for about 30 minutes south from Ketchikan.  We learned that in 8th grade, high school students are dropped in pairs on deserted islands where they have three days to show they’ve mastered all the survival skills they’ve learned. 

The Fjords were formed during the last ice ages, when large glaciers scooped out incredibly deep valleys.  The main channel through which we were moving is over 1800 feet deep (below the water).  Above the water, the visible mountains were thickly covered in green forest of pine and spruce.  Although the sky was somewhat cloudy by now, I could still see patches of blue sky and I could imagine that here was a green world untouched by global warming and pollution.   I could spot a few dead trees among the green and asked the naturalist if they had problems with parasites.  No, she said; they were doing their best to keep out some pest spreading across Canada.  The reason for the dead trees was that their roots were really shallow.  The glaciers removed all the topsoil, and only a few feet had reformed in the last 10-12,000 years.  The trees’ roots spread widely, but could only go down a few feet, which made them vulnerable to intense weather.

As we reached the entrance to the national monument we passed New Eddystone Rock.  Named after a lighthouse in Britain that Captain Vancouver thought it resembled, it’s actually the plug of a dormant volcano, whose cone above sea level has eroded and mostly disappeared, leaving only a sand spit inhabited by harbor seals and some trees where bald eagles nest.

As we turned into the Misty Fjords monument, the sea level rose to only a 1000 feet deep, but the walls of the valley were themselves 1000-2000 feet high, with glacier-polished stone, marked only by the occasional spruce tree.  The shore (above the high-water mark) was heavily forested.  Overhead there were gulls and terns.  I asked the naturalist which were which.  “The gulls are the boring looking ones; the terns are interesting.” 

By now, the skies had mostly clouded over, and we were having bouts of light drizzle intermixed with some sunlight, so the fjords were living up to their name.  The best way I can describe them is to imagine Yosemite Valley, half flooded by seawater.   While it did have a few waterfalls, these were much smaller than Yosemite’s but one was quite beautiful.

The end of our sea journey was a small wooden dock.  Here we boarded our float planes that were landing, dropping off the passengers who would sail back on our boat.  One guide book this morning said that so many float planes land in Misty Fjords, it can resemble Omaha Beach on D-Day, but that was a bit of an exaggeration.  We had been given different colored cards at the beginning, and this determined which plane we flew back in.  I had a blue card, so I flew back in a 1952 de Havilland propeller plane.  Since I was the first, the pilot asked if I would like to sit up front, so I said sure. 

This was a mixed blessing.  On the one hand, I had the best view on the plane: 180 degrees.  On the other hand, it was hard to photograph most of it, because although the propeller rotated too fast to be seen as more than a blur, it did show up when I took a picture.  We buckled up and put on protective headphones to mask the (literally) deafening roar of the motor.  In now time at all we had taken off and were flying over first the fjords and then the forested interior. While the sea journey had taken nearly three hours, we flew back in less to Ketchikan in only thirty minutes.  I expected to more scared than I turned out to be, even with the water landing (which is a bit rougher than landing on a tarmac).

I met dad for dinner and we headed back to the Pinnacle Grill for the last time this voyage.  We both started with the jumbo shrimp cocktail, but afterwards our choices completely diverged.  Dad had the Caesar salad and the west coast cioppino, while I ordered the lobster bisque and the 12 oz lobster tail (steamed).  For dessert, dad had the fresh berries with sabayon, while I had the lemon brulee tart with blueberry whipped cream.  I asked first what it was and the maître d’ explained it was like a key lime pie, except with lemon and had a brulee crust that you would find on a crème brulee.  It was quite good.

Now we are listening to the classical performance and tomorrow we have a sea day while cruising the Inner Passage to Vancouver.  The forecast is for partially sunny, so I might even swim in the afternoon. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Return of the Sun

As I was leaving the lounge last night I asked the violinist if he knew Gloomy Sunday, an infamous Hungarian song from the 1930s (it was banned by the BBC), famously covered by Billie Holiday just before WWII.  He happily played some bars and volunteered to play it for dad and I tonight.  Currently he’s playing Eidelweiss as I type this but I’m pretty sure I’ll hear it before the end of the concert.

Today’s forecast was for a “chance of rain,” and it certainly lived up to that in the first few hours of the day in Juneau.  After reading the New York Times coverage of the DNC, I headed ashore to explore the capital of Alaska.  I found a café with internet, but while their internet service was excellent, you only got 15 minutes for every item you bought (and I was only willing to buy a coffee).  I used that time to upload most of the photos I took yesterday and even had some time left over to check out some reviews of the convention (everyone seems to have loved President Obama’s speech – including some surprisingly positive reviews at the National Review). 

I strolled through the town thinking how the weather was improving – just a few light sprinkles – when the heavens opened up and really rained.  I found the nineteenth-century Russian Orthodox church and some fun murals around town.  I would have visited the library for its free internet but it doesn’t open until 11.  Instead, I went to the Mt. Roberts Arial Tram.  This was an act of faith on my part, since the top of Mt. Roberts, 2000 feet up, was totally obscured by clouds and mist.

At the top, there was almost nothing to see, but I used their free internet for a while before wandering over to see their bald eagle (it was severely injured when rescued – someone had shot it - and it is unable to see well enough to hunt, so they feed it).  Suddenly, I noticed that I was able to see things beyond the walls of the structure:  the sun was struggling to emerge.  I could see much of Juneau and the channel, Douglas Island, and the Inner Passage.

I chatted with one of the tram workers who told me that they’ve named the glowing ball of fire in the sky “Bob.”  They don’t see Bob all that often, but whenever he shows up, the town disappears as everyone runs to kayak or hike or do something outdoors. 

It cleared up enough that I went for a hike up to the top of the mountain.  Along the way, I had wonderful views of a cloud enshrouded Gold Gulch, with think waterfalls cascading down its steep green slopes.  The trail was a little muddy, but lined with dark bluish purple flowers, as well as some pink fireweed, and even the rare wild raspberry.  At the top, there was a family of Spruce Grouse – three chicks and a mama keeping watch. 

Since my excursion left at 1, around noon I headed back to the ship for a quick, light lunch.  Dad was waivering about going on the Salmon Bake excursion, since we had a big dinner planned for later.  He was going to go, but not eat anything.  My excursion was a whale watching ride.  It turned out to be fantastic.  With so much sunlight, I dropped off my scarf and umbrella in the cabin and grabbed something I hadn’t used since I left California:  my sunglasses.

On the drive out, we passed many, many bald eagles and later the Mendenhall Glacier.  On the boat, I went up to the top deck to enjoy the sunlight.  We had some great views of the upper Mendenhall Glacier and later the Eagle Glacier.  We passed a small island exposed by the low tide with lots of birds, some harbor seals, and one majestic bald eagle surveying the whole scene from the high point.

After that we went in search of humpback whales.  We spotted a blow from a whale, but it was behind us.  I spotted one off to our left and it turned out to be a mother humpback whale, its calf, and a guardian.  After following them for a while, we were amazed and delighted when the calf decided to breach.  This is something that adult males usually do when they are competing for dominance, but here the calf appears to have just been playing.  I did get a great shot of it breaching, though.  Then the mother waved her fluke at us and we moved on.

The next group of humpback whales we saw were all adults.  There were between 8 and 10 and they were doing something that they have learned how to do:  bubble net fishing. The lead whale dives down to a shoal of fish and corrals them, using the bubbles from her blowhole to keep them together.  Finally, when all the fish are at the surface, the whales come up beneath them, open their mouths, and feed above water – a rare sight indeed.  This only happens about six weeks a year in this part of Alaska, and, as far as I know, nowhere else in the world.

We watched them do this three times over the course of thirty minutes.  As we prepared to go, two of the adult whales breached, and then another whale used his tale to slap the surface of the water well over a dozen times.  I joked he had the whale equivalent of OCD. 

We were supposed to be back on the ship by 5 pm, but there was no way our excursion was going to be back in time.  We only disembarked from the whale watching ship at 4:45, and it was a half hour drive back to the Zaandam.  Still with two buses of ship passengers, and the fact we were on an official excursion organized by the cruise line, I was pretty confident they wouldn’t sale away without us.  We had no problems. They didn’t leave until 6.

I got back to the cabin to find dad watching the Democratic Convention.  We had reservations for the Pinnacle Grill tonight, which transformed into “Le Cirque.”  The meal was excellent.  We both started with the lobster salad – chilled, poached lobster tail over bib lettuce with tomatoes, avocado, and red pepper dressing. Then there was the English pea soup, served luke warm with a parmesan crouton.  I ordered a glass of the Italian chardonnay to accompany it, since I was pretty sure it wasn’t oaked (which it wasn’t).

For main courses, dad and I diverged.  He ordered the rack of lamb, I had the chateaubriand.  This was beef tenderloin cooked medium rare, with a very nice accompanying sauce, sweet and sour roast beets, and a horseradish flan.  I asked for a glass of the merlot to accompany,  I loved everything except the flan, which wasn’t too sharp for horseradish, but was just a little too odd for my tastes.

I ordered the chocolate soufflé for dessert.  Dad asked if they could make it without chocolate, but they said that wasn’t possible.  He had the crème brulee instead.  Both were excellent.

Afterwards, we went to the theater to see this evening’s show:  the comedic magician.  We ended up sitting near two of our dinner table mates:  Joy and Morris.  They told us tonight was surf and turf.  I asked how the lobster was, but it apparently wasn’t that big (though you could order more than one).  Dad thought the magician’s comedy was better than his magic (I thought both were just ok, still, he knew his audience).  Afterwards we went to hear the classical musicians.

And yes, they did play Gloomy Sunday while I was writing this up. 

Tomorrow is our last port of call:  Ketchikan.  The forecast is “cloudy.”  I’m interpreting that to mean there’s a chance of rain.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Rainy Day in Haines

With no excursions in the morning or fears about a stopped-up toilet, I slept until after 7 am (over 8 hours).  Dad, however, had a morning excursion on a bus where he would drive through a bald eagle preserve.  After a quick breakfast, I made sure he had his passport, umbrella, and coat, and then I walked him to his bus on shore.

While the forecast was for “a chance of rain,” in reality that chance was 100%.  The weather today varied from light drizzle, to light rain, to heavy rain.  For most of the day, the town of Haines was surrounded by clouds and mist.  After I saw dad safely off, I headed into town to find the free wifi.  The Rusty Compass Café on Main St. had sort of free wifi (you needed to buy $5 of food or drink).  I was hoping for a café au lait, but their espresso machine was in for repairs and they couldn’t steam milk.  They could, however, mix hot milk with coffee and that was good enough for me.  To bring it up to $5, I bought a blueberry scone, but this turned out to be hard as a rock.  The guy who served the people after me suggested having it heated in the microwave, but my server didn’t bother.

It turns out that the population of Haines nearly doubles every Wednesday when the cruise ships dock.  At that point, the streets fill up and the cafes are full of people looking for wifi.  Unfortunately, the town has only one cell tower, which means we’re all fighting over the same bandwidth.  The result was that while I could check email relatively quickly, if I wanted to post photos (and I had a lot of photos to post for the last three days), then I had to wait my turn.  What that meant was that for about two minutes out of every fifteen, I had a clear signal and could upload a batch of photos.  Then I had to wait another fifteen minutes while it tried to find a signal.

After an hour I had enough and decided to try to the public library.  Unfortunately, the situation there was even worse, even though I didn’t think that was possible.  Eventually, after two hours of frustration, I caught up and headed back to the ship for lunch.  I went back to the Lido Buffet and the design your own pasta sauce.  This time I decided to customize the Bolognese, but when the chef asked if I wanted the marinara, I said “no, the Bolognese,” he replied “the marinara?”  Again I said, “no, the Bolognese.”  I had to repeat later too.  Apparently, he didn’t want people having the Bolognese.

I went back to the room to read before my excursion and the toilet jammed again.  Before I could go to the Front Office dad came back, so I warned him not to use it.  Thankfully, they had it fixed in less than a half an hour.  I asked dad about his excursion.  “I saw trees,” he said.

“Did you see eagles?”
“I saw trees.”
“Did anyone else see eagles?”

My afternoon excursion was called “Glacier Point Wilderness Safari.”  It left at 3:15 and was over five hours, which was a little worrying since the ship was going to leave port at 8:30, but we were assured we would be back in time.  There were 24 of us in a small, little enclosed boat that skipped over the waves for about 30 minutes as we sailed to the next fjord where we beached on the sand.  There we had a turkey sandwich and then transferred to a school bus for a short ride to a staging area.

Because it was raining (between light and heavy), we changed into the water proof clothing.  We each got olive-green waterproof overalls, an olive-green waterproof jacket, and heavy black rubber galoshes that came up to below the knee.  The hood of the jacket obscured my vision, but then I put my cap on and the brim kept it out of my eyes.  To complete the outfit, we all put on reddish orange life vests and then started our short walk through the dark, dank woods (it’s a temperate rain forest). 

If you were wondering why we needed life preservers for a woodland hike, it became clear when we reached the canoes.  It was particularly important not to fall into the water, since its temperature was one degree above freezing; the river was fed by glacial melt.  After five minutes in the water, hypothermia would set in. 

We had oars in each canoe, and we did paddle for a bit, but once we were deep water, our guide turned on the four horsepower on board engine.  The closer we approached the Davidson Glacier, the colder the air became.  There was a strong, cold wind coming off the glacier, so I wrapped the hood around my head. 

When we reached the shore, we had a “wet landing,” and then began our walk across the glacial moraine to the ice.  The Davidson Glacier has a pronounced blue tint, made more intense by the overcast weather.  The ice isn’t actually blue; it’s so dense that the only light that isn’t absorbed is blue, making it appear that color. If you melt it, though, the water is clear. 

We didn’t see any of the bears or moose or wolves who live in the area, but we did see several small white arctic terns.  These birds have little orange beaks and commute 30,000 miles a year, flying between the Arctic and the Antarctic.  The average tern flies over 600,000 over the course of its life.

They didn’t let us walk up to the main part of the glacier lest it calve on top of us.  We could go up and touch the side of the glacier where it sloped up.  I walked up on top of a little of it.  If you want to know what a glacier feels like, go to your freezer, open up the ice box and put your hand on a piece of ice.  The only difference in the glacier is that it’s a whole wall of it.

The blue color was really intense, and there were small waterfalls erupting out of the ice as well as the main river emerging out from under it.  Even the rocks on which we were walking were likely concealing glacial ice beneath them. There were a few “kettles” or small ponds of melted ice among the gravel.

Eventually we had to return and make our way back to the ship.  Thankfully, we arrived a little before 8 pm.  I went to the cabin and found dad.  He warned me not to use the toilet as it had clogged yet again.  I went up to dinner on the Lido deck and dad joined me.  Afterwards, he went to listen to classical music while I went back to the cabin to pick up my laptop and check to make sure the toilet was fixed (it was).

As I’ve been typing this, the musicians surprised me by playing an excerpt of Ennio Morricone’s (I’m sure I’ve misspelled that name) score from Once Upon a Time in the West, and they were surprised I knew it.  They just wrapped up their set by playing Katchitourian’s (another name I’m sure I’m misspelling) Sabre Dance.

Tomorrow we’ll be in Juneau, where I’m signed up for whale watching.  It’s supposed to be the best place to whale watch in the state.  The forecast?  “Chance of rain.”

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Glaciers in the Mist

To understand why I woke up at 5:45, you need to first know that last night, as I got ready for bed, I discovered the toilet wouldn’t flush.  Dad was already asleep, so I decided to get it repaired in the morning.  Of course, I had tried repeatedly to flush it so it was little fuller than normal.

The problem was I kept wondering, what if I come down with Norovirus and have a toilet that won’t flush.  When I woke up at 5:45, I hoped that perhaps the toilet had fixed itself (it does happen), but no, it still didn’t flush, and my efforts had only increased the water level in the bowl.  I forced myself back to sleep, but at 6:30 I woke up again and then there was nothing else to do but get up and shower. 

I went to the Front Office to let them know they needed to repair it, but asked that they wait until 8 am, when my dad and I would be at breakfast.  In fact, they snaked it while he was still in bed.  I don’t think it was the first time they had a problem with this commode: I noticed lots of scrape marks at the bottom of the bowl.

The weather forecast provided by the ship for today was “chance of rain.”  This was clearly an equivocation, since the “chance” was 100%.  The sky was grey, with low-hanging clouds, and rain streaking the windows.   We had a window seat at breakfast, but I could barely make out there were mountains next to the sea.  After breakfast, I went out on deck, hoping to make out the sides of Glacier Bay, which we had already entered.  My photos are mostly studies in different shades of grey:  the bluish grey water, the greenish-grey cliffs, and the white grey clouds, and the dark grey sky.

At the park ranger briefing, he told us that the glaciers generate their own microclimates, so that we would likely have good views when we reached them.  After a video presentation of the bay, he spoke.  He clearly had a shtick and a message, which he communicated at each point of his story.  That message was about the importance of what he called “residency.”  This was when you stopped be a visitor to a place and lived in harmony with it.  His talk was followed by Bertha, a native Tlingit Indian who spoke about the history and culture of the people who call this place home.  I skipped it to go outside and see more of the bay, but dad absolutely loved it, as did our dinner tablemates, Joy and Morris.

Outside, I shivered in the cold, so I went back to my cabin for my scarf and camera (I already had my windbreaker).  I did spot several otters playing in the water, but they dove under the surface before they were close enough to photograph.  Dad had recommended the Dutch Pea Soup they served on deck, but I arrived 10 minutes too late.  I went up to the Lido deck and got a bowl there.

As we approached Gloomy Knob (seriously, that’s the name of the mountain), we could make out the tall cliffs, which were dramatically draped with fingers of fog and mist.  We were close enough to make out the white birds near shore, and the occasional thin waterfall.  Then the fog closed in, cutting off our views of nearly everything.  I knew it was time to abandon my watch when we heard the fog horn going off.

I met dad for lunch at noon, and we went back to the Lido Buffet and sat where we could keep on eye out for any improvement in the weather.  By the end of lunch, we had reached a point where we were nearing the top of Glacier Bay.  The fog had begun to lift and we could see another cruise ship turning left to see a glacier while we headed straight ahead to go to the Margerie Glacier.  I convinced dad to venture outside on the Lido’s stern with me, but it was drizzling, so we headed to the Lower Promenade Deck, which has a covered exterior walkway.

Dad had found a blanket and wrapped it around his head making him look like a nineteenth-century immigrant.  We eventually reached the glacier and the ship’s speed slowed to a crawl and we gently moved past it.  Dad said he didn’t think a ship could move that slow.  As the national park ranger had said, the fog around the glacier had lifted and we had a very good view of it.  I took many, many pictures, but after I put all my cameras away, we heard an enormous crack and the glacier calved.  Of course, there was no way to get a picture, but it was quite impressive.  After over a half an hour, the ship slowly turned and made its way back to where we had seen that earlier ship.

Here we went past two glaciers:  the very blue Lamplough Glacier and the large John Hopkins Glacier.  We couldn’t approach close to the latter because the seals are using it as a nursery and its full of pups.  Ships can only come into the inlet in September when they move on.  Still, the view was quite dramatic.  As with the earlier glacier, the fog had lifted, and we could make out the snow and ice fields feeding the glacier.  Small streams and waterfalls descended the cliffs of the inlet and the water was a murky glacial blue.

The Lamplough Glacier was rather dirty on one side due to a landslide a few years ago, which covered part of the glacier with earth.  This is a tidewater glacier, in which its shelf is visible in low tide (such as what we saw). We saw some crazy kayakers up close to the glacier.

As we pulled away, this seemed like a good time for afternoon tea, so at 3 pm, we went up.  I think there were twice as many people there today as yesterday.  Dad got his herbal tea, but only wanted scones to eat.  Unfortunately, scones are the last thing they serve.  First we get the savory items (twice), then the sweet items (thrice), and only after our tea had gone cold did they finally come around with the scones.  Thankfully, we got refreshed with hot water.  Dad wanted two raisin scones, but the server kept wanting to give him plain ones (to be fair, they were on the raisin side).  Dad stood his ground and got what he wanted. 

At dinner tonight, we met the other couple assigned to our table:  Dorothy and Dick from a small town near Kansas City, Missouri (where they run a B & B).  We had a very nice conversation with them and Joy and Morris.   We had a good balance of talking and listening, and everyone seemed to enjoy ourselves.  We only left when we started to make the restaurant staff nervous that they might not have time to clean our table for the next seating.

Dad was very excited that tonight was the comedian.  He is Lee Bayless, who specializes in “clean, family friendly comedy.”  Dad loved him.  One guy about three rows in front of us, looked as if he were going to fall out of his chair.  I found him only amusing, but everyone’s sense of comedy is different.

Afterwards, as we walked back, I noticed the ship’s art gallery is having a sale today on the work of Thomas Kinkade.  Last week at the workshop I ran I made reference to kitsch.  Someone asked what the word means, and I mentioned the (unhelpful) definition “that it is the principle of evil in art.”  In actuality, it is cheap sentimentality, unreflective art that is meant to appeal directly to the emotions while bypassing reason or thought.  “Dogs Playing Poker,” if hung unironically, is low kitsch.  Thomas Kinkade is high kitsch.

Tomorrow is our first port day.  I’m hoping to have better internet access when I’m on shore.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A Day at Sea

Today was our first sea day.  With no scheduled excursions, we were able to sleep in and have a leisurely breakfast at the Lido Buffet.  We found a nice table by the window where we could see the grey skies, the grey seas, and the raindrops covering the glass.  The food selections were good, with plenty of hot and cold options.  I started with a toasted bagel, cream cheese, and lox (though the lox had seen better days).  I followed it with a Belgian waffle and berry sauce, and ended with some cold cereal.

At 9:15, they screened a short documentary film on aquatic life beneath Glacier Bay.  I have to say, they hit every possible cliché in describing the various plants and animals beneath the water, including the overly inspirational ending about what world we leave to our grandchildren (which actually fit well the demographic of the audience).

Afterwards we headed to the library to read today’s New York Times and do the crossword puzzle or nap (I’ll let you guess who did which).  I decided to explore the ship a bit, finding the fitness center, and later I met my father, and we went to see the cooking show.  Luckily we got to the theater room early as it filled up and people stood along the sides.  Instead of a film, the curtain opened to reveal a stage kitchen.  One of the ship’s chef’s and an emcee walked through how to prepare two meals: crème brulee and pappardella with shrimp and artichoke hearts.  Each recipe was tied into one of the ship’s specialty restaurants, serving as a not-so-subtle advertisement.  As it happens, dad and I had signed up for the “Le Cirque” dinner at the Pinnacle Grill on Thursday night.  That means we’ll be going there three times (at least) on the trip.

I have to say that so far, everyone of the passengers who’ve met on board have been friendly and pleasant.  Just sitting in the theater, I had a fun chat with a French-speaking Canadian next to me.  Last night, I met Mary, who we had met in Fairbanks and seen almost every day since then.  She was worried when dad and I weren’t on the train from Denali, but it turned out we were just in a different car.  She and her husband were worried we missed the bus. After the show ended, dad and I checked out the various lunch options.  Dad wanted me to choose between the sit-down lunch in the main restaurant vs the Lido Buffet.  As we toured both, it seemed to me that dad preferred the Lido Buffet, and, to be honest, it looked better so that’s where we went.

Dad had a salad and braised red cabbage, while I had pasta with a fresh-made sauce of shrimps, scallops, onions, tomatoes, and mushrooms.  It was quite good.  I thought I should get some vegetables, so I got some of the same red cabbage, but also sweet potatoes, and Vichy carrots.  At first, I wasn’t going to get the latter based on its name alone, but it turned out to be thinly sliced carrot coins, sautéed with onion.  It was very tasty.  I should have skipped dessert, but how can I pass one up.  I tried the fruit crumble, but it wasn’t too my taste.  It was a very southern dessert:  i.e., overwhelmingly sweet.  I could have used more tart notes.

After dinner, dad went down to nap, while I decided to get a little exercise. I decided to walk the lower promenade deck, which surrounds the ship.   Since I had planned to spend the day indoors, I was only wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and my long-sleeved shirt on top.  The exterior deck was cold, damp, and windswept, though I did see one passenger bundled up in blankets sitting on a lounge and whale watching (neither of us saw any). 

Each circumnavigation of ship was a quarter mile, so I did two laps before it got too cold to be outside.  I went inside and went back to the library to read about the town we’re visiting on Wednesday.  Instead, I got into a conversation with someone I had been seeing on various tours since Fairbanks, but we had never chatted.  He said he heard I was a professor.  I told him that while having a loud voice that projects over distance works well in the classroom, unfortunately, it isn’t so appreciated everywhere else.  He turned out to be a civil engineer specializing in nuclear power, which led to a really interesting conversation.  Unfortunately, after 20 minutes I looked at my watch and realized that I had to race out or I was going to miss the wine tasting program I had signed up for.

Here again, I met five very nice people. I was the last to arrive at this table and they asked if I knew anything about wine. I said that I knew it came from grapes, and that was about it.  We had fun drinking and talking about the wines and afterwards, I went to the cabin to find dad to head to afternoon tea.  We arrived a few minutes late, so we were sat at larger table with a family of four from Tennessee: a grandmother, a daughter, and two granddaughters.  We had a very nice time as well.

Even though I had very little for tea, I felt I needed a lot more exercise, so I went outside again (after first grabbing my windbreaker.  The rain had stopped and the sun was assiduously trying (though unsuccessfully) to break through.  This time I walked 10 times around the ship, bringing my total to twelve, amounting to three miles.

I started walking around clockwise, but I soon realized that I was the only one walking in this direction, as everyone else was going counterclockwise (not that there were that many people out on deck, less than a dozen altogether at any time).  I noticed that I was passing the same woman each time at the same spots on the ship:  the bow and the stern.  She was a small, Asian woman, maybe my age, but she walked with a determined, steady gait and an expression of resoluteness, as if nothing would ever stop her from completing this exercise.  She became my way of keeping pace.  If I fell behind, I would meet her before the midpoint, and I knew I had to hurry to catch back up. 

Around my 7th time around, though, she disappeared.  Now I noticed another couple that had been a few yards behind her, and began to use them as my pace marker.  The next time, though, they had somehow moved twenty yards ahead.  I said “you’re making me feel old.”  The woman asked how many laps I had done, so I said 8.  When I next saw them on the opposite end of the ship, she said that I had a lap up on them.  When I reached the 10th lap, I waved goodbye to all the people I had been seeing twice each lap and went inside.

Back in the cabin, we watched part of the DNC and we changed into our suits and ties for dinner.  This was the first of two “gala” nights (what formerly was known as “formal” night).  We had a complimentary dinner at the Pinnacle Grill, so we headed up.  Dad and I ordered virtually the same meal:  large shrimp cocktail and a Caesar salad with anchovy as starters, the 7 oz petite filet mignon with green peppercorn sauce for the main course, and the vanilla soufflé for dessert.  The only differences:  his steak was medium, mine was medium rare, my soufflé came with a chocolate truffle with Drambuie, and I ordered a cognac with dessert.   The meal was excellent.  When the shrimps came dad exclaimed “these are prawns!”  Earlier dad had pointed out that the 10 oz steak was the same price as the 7 oz steak.  I told him that I didn’t think I could finish a 10 oz steak.

Dad had hoped to see the show at 8 pm, but we didn’t get out of the restaurant until 8:30.  As it was, this was probably a good thing.  We saw the last 15 minutes and it clearly wasn’t something to his taste: a mix of pop songs with a handful of show tunes, with staging and choreography that just screamed “Jazz Hands!!!!”  The dancers all looked as if they were auditioning for a rejected MTV video.  Tomorrow night is the comedian; dad’s looking forward to that.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Cruise Begins

For the first time this trip, the alarm woke me up this morning.  Since we didn’t have to have our suitcases outside our doors until 8 am, I set the alarm for 7:20 am.  Despite having very little exercise yesterday, I slept for nine hours.

Although our luggage was picked up at 8, we don’t need to be checked out of our rooms until noon.  We decided to skip the $18/person breakfast buffet at the hotel (do they use truffle butter in the scrambled eggs?), and I looked for a better place to eat on Yelp.  Apparently, everyone else did as well because when we got to the Snow City Café (rated #1 on Yelp), there was a 40-45 minute wait.  Dad found a seat and I stood.  I noticed a woman speaking with a pronounced New York accent to a Jewish couple I had met at the husky puppy excursion in Denali.  We started talking and they turned out to be from Queens. 

The woman asked where I was from and I said “San Diego.  Can’t you tell by the way I tawk?”  I inherited a small bit of my mother’s Newark accent.  “Oh, New Joisey,” her husband said.  “Now I know you’re from New York,” I told him, “since no one from New Jersey calls it ‘New Joisey.’  That’s what New Yorkers call it.”

They’re going to be in Anchorage for a few days more and they were trying to figure out what to do, because their tour was leaving soon and they couldn’t wait any longer.  They ended up getting take out and she told me I could have their reservations.

“What’s the name?” I asked.
“It’s under ‘Mrs. T’,” she said.
“I’m with my father, so I guess I’m going as transgendered today,” I replied.

Just after her husband came back having made their to-go order, they were called for their table.

“Can I get my to-go order served here?” she asked. the hostess.
“No,” the woman replied, “they’re separate systems.”
“In that case, we want to give our spot to him,” motioning to me.

The hostess agreed and so I profusely thanked the woman and called dad up.  That saved us 30 minutes.

As it happens, the other Jewish couple were seated next to us almost immediately.  They’re also sailing on our ship, but they’re seated in a different rail cabin.  It turns out they are from Connecticut and her parents were both survivors.  We had a nice chat but it’s hard to stay too long when you know there are so many people waiting for tables.  Eventually, we headed back to the hotel, and they went off to see the view of the Cook Inlet, about a block away.

We got back to the hotel at 10 am, which gave us 2 hours to kill before we transfer back to the train for the final leg of our journey to Seward.  Dad took a nap, and I went online to read the New York Times.  I prefer a hard copy, but there’s no wifi on the trains.

Unlike yesterday’s train ride, today’s alternated between mostly rainy and sometimes just overcast.  The train was smaller and we were seated at tables. It was a little cramped, but luckily the couple opposite us chose to sit at an open table so they could sit facing forward (we were assigned tables on our ticket). 

For the first hour and a half of the four hour trip, the Turnagain arm of the Cook Inlet was to our right.  Across it, we could see tall mountains dotted with snow rising out of the water.  Unfortunately, these mountains were mostly obscured by the clouds and rain, though we could occasionally glimpse something greater through gaps.

Dad was very excited about the unusual item he ordered at breakfast:  stuffed French toast.  This was a brioche that was filled with a orange-infused cream cheese and served with a raspberry butter, crushed walnuts, and maple syrup.  He loved it!  (we both ordered it).  It was so filling, though, that he decided to pass up lunch.  I ordered the salmon chowder around 2 pm. 

Eventually, the train began to climb over the Kenai Peninsula.  We had views of several small glaciers near the train, as well as small waterfalls caused by melting snow, ice, and rain.  The sides of the mountain were dark green from the mix of spruce, aspen, and birch.  We did see two moose and, in the far distance, some Dall sheep (they were a group of white dots, but we think they were the famous sheep.  We also spotted an eagle, but couldn’t tell if it was bald or Trump (i.e., Cheeto or gold colored).

After making several “s” turns, we came back down the other side.  One of the two couples across from me were the ones we had eaten with yesterday.  They were discussing politics, so I did my best to eavesdrop.  Since they were from rural Missouri, I had assumed they were Republican, and my assumptions were confirmed.  I was struck by how much I find myself becoming a “team player,” with strong antipathy for those supporting “the other team.” 

I couldn’t hear everything, but he talked about how when he was younger “America was a Christian country.”  Now, it was all changing and the country he knew was disappearing.  He talked about how he didn’t like Trump the man, but sometimes you needed a non-politician to sort things out.  He was sure he wasn’t voting for Hillary, but hadn’t decided if he was voting against Trump.  The other couple was from Northern California, but they were also conservatives.

The conversation turned to the Republican convention, and they talked about Trump’s kids and how well they spoke, and didn’t that say something about how they were raised.  They then transitioned to the recent story of the leaked emails from the DNC and scoffed at the argument from the Clinton camp that this was evidence that the Russians were intervening on behalf of Trump (though I do remember the story from several months ago of how the DNC had discovered that its computers had been hacked by Russia).

When we pulled into Seward it started to rain again, and we made our way through drizzle to the ship.  We had been “checked in” on the train, so we had all our passes and cards.  We found our room in no time at all, then made reservations at the Pinnacle Grill for Monday and Friday nights.

We were a little late for our early dinner seating, owing to the time our train had gotten in, but we had a nice dinner in the main dining room.  Our table mates are Morris, a retired mechanical engineer, and his wife Joy, both from a town near Austin, Texas.  We had some very nice conversations, particularly concerning Morris’ sourdough starter, which is quite famous for how old it is (he’s had it for over 50 years, but it may date from the latter half of the nineteenth century).

Dinner ended before dad could finish his cranberry apple tea as we had the lifeboat drill.  After that, we got details on how the drink package works, the wifi works, and how I could get quarters for the laundry.  We then went to the Deck 5 to listen to classical music, and I ordered a Mexican hot chocolate (with Kahlua).  After waiting a half hour, I got all mine and most of dad’s laundry in the wash.  By 11 pm, I should be in bed.

Tomorrow is a sea day.