8/9 September 2006 – Leaving Home
I packed ever so carefully. According to plan. We were going to Alaska, and late in the season, and I checked weather reports and forecasts and everything – and the Internet (which of course never lies) told me that it would be SNOWING, or as near as, in the Denali National Park by the time we got there. So in it all went into the big suitcase – the sweaters, the layers, even gloves and a woolly hat. And the stuff that wouldn’t normally fit into a self-respecting suitcase (i.e. the parka I usually keep for the winter months here, the one with the fur-edged hood) went on top, to be lugged around by hand.
How much of this stuff did I use…? Let us just say that I’ve never come home from a trip with so much clean laundry in my bag. But I am getting ahead of myself.
We left home in the morning of September 8, and took the train to Vancouver, from where our ship was supposed to sail the next day. By the time we got to Vancouver the day was blindingly sunny, and I was quite happy in my short-sleeved T-shirt as I set out to do a bit of exploring on foot – I wandered down Robson Street, bought myself some Godiva chocolate on the way (chocolatiers should be legally required to use air scrubbers to stop the smell of chocolate from escaping into the streets to lure in customers, it should be the law, dammit!) and then went right down to the cruise terminal in Canada Place to find out what the story was with the ship the next day. A ship was berthed there, not ours but just as large and white and shining, and, well, I haven’t really been near that many cruise ships before. It was damned imposing.
I started with the photography, already. There were some wonderful reflections happening in Vancouver’s glass skyscrapers, with one building reflecting another and another, like a mirror-city, it was sometimes downright disconcerting – and on the way home I found this incredible souped-up old VW Beetle, covered with tchotchkes from headlights (which were painted with pupils and eyelashes to resemble eyes) to exhaust pipe, and had no less than THREE working fountains on it, one on the hood of the car, one on the roof, one on the BACK SEAT, if you please. I came back to the hotel where I’d left my husband while I went exploring, and described the car – and then we went out to have a couple of crepes in a little Breton creperie on Jervis Street which was the place where we had our first face-to-face “date” when we met in the flesh, so to speak, after a long Internet friendship… back in 1996. (Ten years ago. TEN YEARS. How did that happen…?) And lo and behold, there the blessed car was again, in Robson Street, with people taking photographs of it with everything from camera phones to full-on SLRs. rdeck, grinning, said something about the owner becoming VERY rich if he ever started charging a buck a picture.
It was raining the next morning as we set out to board our ship, the “Sapphire Princess”, a quite different day from the one before. We got a taxi to the cruise terminal, got there WAY too early, and then sat and waited for someone to come around with the wheelchair they had promised to have for rdeck for easier access to the ship. The wheelchair got there rather late in the day, but as we were being shepherded through the check-in process we discovered that our stateroom number was different than that on our reservations.
“No worries,” said the young fellow pushing the chair for us, “when they change your stateroom it’s always an upgrade. They never go downwards.”
And man, did they upgrade us.
We had booked a balcony stateroom, but even given the balcony I had been expecting some sort of room just barely big enough to accommodate a bed and a closet. What we got, instead, was a cavernous chamber with a queen-sized bed, room to dance a tango around it, a double-wide balcony, and a bathroom which was about twice the size than the one we had had in the Hilton hotel back at Worldcon only a few weeks ago. Our collective jaws hit the floor in tandem, our wheelchair attendant waved goodbye and wished us a good trip and left, and then we basically waited to leave.
Which took a while.
We were called in for a lifejacket muster drill, where we had to sit through a safety talk and demonstration, and while waiting for that to happen we got talking to a couple whose accents pronounced them as definitely being from Across The Pond – the husband turned out not only to be Welsh, but knew the place where I had gone to school at in Wales so many years before. Deck gave them one of my bookmarks, and it turns out that their daughter’s name is actually Angharad, with a D on the end, and they were mightily enchanted to see that my fantasy books featured a heroine called Anghara. They took the bookmark, took out their respective glasses and read the whole thing through carefully, and promised to go look for the books. After that we went down to look for some supper, and got our first inkling about what this trip was going to be like. I had ham, with some sort of luscious cranberry sauce, and a killer chocolate dessert – in fact, they were wickedly good with desserts all the way down the line…
The ship has five dining rooms, one of them had “Traditional” meals where you signed up to go for every given meal at a given time every day, and four what they called “Anytime” dining rooms where you could present yourself at any time from 5:30 to 10:00 and have dinner. The menu was to drool over just by itself, and when the food arrived it was even better than that – and served by waiters who hovered constantly (there is pretty much a 2:1 ratio of passengers to staff on this ship) and insisted on calling me “my lady” which was a little disconcerting. The ship itself was brand new as ships go – it had been built in May 2004. It was huge, complex, had fifteen decks, an indoor and outdoor swimming pool, a tennis court, a putting green, a full-size theatre, more than a dozen different bars and sitting rooms, a spa, an entire little mini shopping center full of shinies and memorabilia, a library, a casino (through which one had to walk every time one wanted to gain the main atrium from the forward elevators, so strategically placed was it) and more shining brass and crystal than I’ve ever seen in any one place before. Keeping all that shinery polished must have been a full-time job all by itself.
It was not until 7:30 that night that we finally waved goodbye to Vancouver – after, as our Captain announced, “…having all our provisions safely stowed on shore… er, on board…” and turned North.
We sailed for a while, as twilight darkened into full night, by shores twinkling with the fairy lights of settlements strung out along the water’s edge – but long before we had given up staring out from our balcony railings at the night, the sky and the dark waters we had ceased to see any lights at all. We were going deeper into the Wilderness. There was a place called the Seymour Narrows, through which shipping can only pass at what’s called “slack water” – during the tides, when a third of the tide in the Strait of Georgia tries to push through this narrow channel, nothing can live there. The locals call this spot The Graveyard because the rip tides have been known to completely overwhelm smaller vessels. We were told that this was worth staying up to see – but since our ship passed through the Narrows at pretty nearly 1:30 in the morning (which would have been pitch black even if I HAD stayed awake to see) we managed to miss this first milestone by virtue of being fast asleep when we crossed it.
10 September 2006 - At Sea: The Inside Passage
We emerged for breakfast the next morning, and it was shortly after this that I became increasingly aware (much to my disgust) that I was getting increasingly sea-sick. So I spent a bit of time lying down on our spacious bed in our huge stateroom trying to get my head to stop swimming – but it wouldn’t, the seas were a tad choppy even though the weather was perfectly calm, and I finally succumbed and went down to the main atrium and bought myself a pair of those sea-sickness wristbands with the buttons that go on the inside of your wrists to settle down your inner ear. And I can tell you this – they work. They do. I was fine after I put them on, felt well enough to spend some serious money on an hour of one-to-one class about how to get the best out of my new digital SLR from the ship’s resident pro – he told me how to photograph whales, for which fact I would be very grateful further down the line. We didn’t see any that day, but I did observe a porpoise playing in the water beside the ship later.
But before that, I went to what was billed as a “shopping seminar”, run by a “professional shopper”, if you don’t mind – helluva career, actually. She travels on cruise ships, apparently, and tells people where to go buy stuff. All these bargains that were in store for us! Who knew! But one thing that did come out of it was that we were all handed a little card as we were leaving, and with that card we could get a free charm bracelet in a certain store with branches in Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway – and get a charm from each port. I latched onto this one. I am hardly going to wear a charm bracelet, not at my age… but we collect Christmas ornaments with history, we do, Deck and I. And I clutched my little card and toddled happily off with it, with the rest of the seminar mostly sluicing off me. Still, it was a glimpse into at least a somewhat alien world – the Beautiful People and their lives. (You could go into this one place and upgrade your diamonds. I kid you not. New diamonds for old – go take in your splinter and get a rock. Amazing.)
And that was the day - staring at one after another fabulous view, hanging out on our balcony staring at the scenery, realising moment by moment how very special this trip was going to become...
I've tried not to be too overwhelming with pictures, but I will be updating this gallery as I go...