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.

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