Cuyahoga River

Cuyahoga River
Cuyahoga River in the Valley

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Veendam - Days Two and Three

We boarded The Veendam on June 13. It was our first cruise and the easiest way to get to the ports in the Tongass rainforest in southeast Alaska. Our ports of call were Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, and Haines, with a stop at Hubbard Glacier in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park before disembarkation at Seward. But first, we were at sea for a day and a half.

Vancouver Island is much larger than I imagined it. We coasted along between Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia for an entire day until we passed its northernmost rocks and were on open waters. On our second day we entered the Inside Passage and cruised with snow-capped mountains on either side of the ship. The navigator reported that we passed Lions Gate Bridge leaving Vancouver, then sailed through the Straits of Georgia to Seymour Narrows, which can only be transied during "slack tide." We then sailed through Discovery Passage and Johnstone Strait. We liked to watch the scenery pass by the windows in one of the beautiful lounges while sipping wine. Once in a while, we saw a whale and birds flew past. We felt mesmerized. Outside temperatures were cool with the wet air and ocassional rain, so it was not comfortable to be on deck.

We became acquainted with our ship while we were shipbound. Our room was in the middle of Deck 4, and at night it was wonderfully dark and quiet as we listened to the engine humming against a gentle rocking of the ship. Above us were four more decks of sleeping quarters--1100 passengers were on board. On Decks 7 and 8, glitzy Ruben's Lounge took over space at the bow and the many-windowed Rotterdam Dining Room rested at the stern. In between were shops, a casino, the library, piano bars, and comfortable lounges with live music.

The captain was amusing with his Dutch accent and the crew was Indonesian and extremely pleasant. Our first night we enjoyed complimentary champagne at the casine after Janine Gardner's comedy show. We avoided gambling and shopping on the ship and were astounded when our second-day program about ports of call was about shopping the jewelry stores at the ports in Ketchikan and Juneau.

We started having room service for breakfast after the second day, but ate lunch at the buffet on the Lido Deck (if we were on the ship), and enjoyed dinner in the dining room. Since we chose "as you wish" dining, we could choose when to eat and generally we were seated with other guests. At the Rotterdam Dining Room, the menus were varied, choices were exceptional, and the food was delicious. One evening I had shrimp cocktail followed by an Alaskan Fishermen's Pot, filet mignon paired with a lobster tail, and Baked Alaska.

We liked being pampered, but by the end of our second day at sea we were looking forward to seeing Ketchikan.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Vancouver - The First Part of Our Adventure

Many people believe Vancouver to be one of the most beautiful North American cities. With the way the mountains rise above the water that surrounds the city, the city is not just beautiful, it's soothing to the soul. Even in mid-June, the humid, misty air keeps it cool in temperate Vancouver.

En route to Alaska, we found Vancouver to be a vibrant city with great natural assets. We stayed at the Ramada Express, which was formerly the Niagara Hotel and built in 1918. The hotel resides in the renovated Gastown district with its lovely shops, galleries, and restaurants; it's a great place for strolling. We were especially intrigued by one shop's carved-wood facade and fascinating menagerie of museum-quality Native Tlingit (pronounced "klin kit") art. The historic clock proudly reminds visitors that the Gastown district near the docks was a bustling part of the city in the Victorian era.

From Gastown, we wandered over to Chinatown. Vancouver's Chinatown is supposed to be the second largest Chinese settlement in North America, so I believe we only saw a slice of it. It wasn't as pleasant as San Francisco's welcoming community and we had no sense of elegant white-linen restaurants. But Dr. Sun Yat-Sen's Chinese gardens with its exotic bamboo forests, picturesque waterlily pond, pagoda-roofed hut, and bridges was a tranquil jewel. The Gardens are modeled after a 15th century scholar's garden. The shopkeepers in the adjacent shop graciously introduced us to the Chinese characters for Peace, Love, Happiness, and Wealth, and we sensed the deep commitment in the Chinese culture to living well.

As we do, we walked for a couple of hours before we decided to ride the elevator up into the observation deck above the city. It was worth the money. We could see the whole city and surrounding area from the circle of windows. Captions at our fingertips introduced us to what we saw--the West End, Stanley Park, Georgian Bay, the University of British Columbia, the harbor, and English Bay.

Many recommended restaurants are in Yorktown, a gentrified warehouse neighborhood of bricked and terraced streets. Because raised eight-foot-high docking ports lined one side of each street, one was required to climb steps to reach the patioed elegant restaurants above. A smorgasbord of cuisines and proprietors urged us to join them, but when we spotted the Yorktown Brewing Company on a street-corner directoroy, we chose that less expensive option. The Yorktown Brewing Company satisfied our thirst for some good local brew and hunger for simple pub food before we embarked a cruise ship where we would be served elegant evening meals--my teriyaki-wasabe salmon sandwich served with a caesar salad tasted good after an adventurous day.

The next morning we walked the Sea Wall (a planned urban walkway) through Coal Harbor and Burrey's Inlet along the waterfront until we arrived at Stanley Park. The inlet was lovely with the docked boats and seaplanes landing agaisnt the backdrop of the wooded peninsula, and when we turned around, we saw the magnificent Vancouver skyline to the right and the mountains on the other side of the water to our left. We had a good walk in the park past the lagoon and enjoyed azaleas, rhododendrum, and dogwood, yellow iris and cattails. We ended up on the beach in English Bay before traversing the forest again to walk through the city and back to our hotel.

We're glad we took an extra day before the cruise-tour to see Vancouver.