Days 8 & 9 – On the Way Home

We are up early and all is bustle in the Windjammer. ‘Washy washy’ has been promoted and is today on duty as ‘Dishy washy’, clearing tables. She will work on-board for eight months without a whole day off. More goodbyes before a very long wait in the queue for our pre-booked airport shuttle. Annoyingly, we could have booked an excursion that showed us round Seattle and deposited us at the airport but unfortunately, I didn’t realise this until I had booked flights that were too early for this, another opportunity missed.

There are no problems boarding the plane for Washington Dullas; not to be confused with Dallas. Once again the plane is full and cabin luggage is being prized from people’s hands to be stashed in the hold. I inadvertently push in front of a formidable American lady who was standing in the group 4 queue. Apparently I was supposed to intuit that she was actually part of group 3 and thus entitled to board before me. We are again issued with pretzels and Sprite, so it seems they are standard fare and not just a bonus because of our delay outward bound. There is an airport shop at Dullas that is clearly not afraid to display its political leanings. There are various anti-Trump items, ranging from rubber ducks to uncomplimentary colouring books.

094 14 September 2018 From the Plane.JPGOur changeover goes without a hitch this time and our luck is in as we have an empty seat beside us. Once again I am struck that aeroplane food involves a ridiculous amount of plastic packaging. Airlines seem to be missing a green credentials USP here. I fail to achieve more than level 6 on Bejewelled; so my level 12 on the journey out must have been exceptional. I am slightly concerned to find water dripping on my head. Is this something I should be panicking about? Is something leaking from the luggage compartment overhead, or is it more sinister? Whatever it is does not seem to have dire consequences and we disembark from our fifteenth flight in the last six months, thankful that there are no more planned.

Once at Heathrow, it takes an hour, travelling up and then down again on various lifts to get to the Central Bus Station for our coach. Here our luck ends, as it is full, so we are unable to sit together. I am not sure who has the shortest straw. My seat mate has some unpleasant lurgy but I do at least have my fair share of the seat. Chris is perched on the edge of what little his generously proportioned seat mate has left him. It is quite difficult to doze off delicately sat next to a stranger. Bar a short doze on the second plane we been awake for twenty four hours. Home then to try to catch up on all the emails that have arrived whilst I have been in this internet black hole. Until next time.

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Day 7 – Victoria

Today we are in Canada and we disembark in Victoria. The security point exhorts us to ‘declare all weapons including firearms’. By what stretch of the imagination are firearms not weapons, even if they are used for sport? Most of the tours on offer include Butchart Gardens, which are lovely but we’ve been before, so we choose one that goes somewhere else, in this case Craigdarroch Castle. It is of course not really a castle at all, not even in the sense of a folly. It is however a stately home of impressive appearance. Our coach driver, Bob, keeps telling us how unusually cold it is; thanks for that one Bob, it makes us feel so much better.

Part of our excursion is a ride round ‘scenic Victoria’, before arriving at the Castle and we drive through Beacon Hill Park. A regulation prevents people from beating their rugs in the park; so that’s another activity I’d planned that won’t happen then. We also see the tallest free-standing totem pole, erected to commemorate the first nations’ contribution in World War 2. In summer, 70% of Victoria’s population are employed in tourism. Many have more than one job as the cost of living is high here. There is a memorial to Terry Fox who was the inspiration for the worldwide fundraising Marathons of Hope. There are also some interesting, painted telegraph poles.

091 13 September 2018 Craigdarroch CastleRobert Dunsmuir made a fortune from the coal industry. Initially he came out from Scotland to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company, travelling via South America and up the west coast. He soon set up on his own, having found a rich coal seam. He set out to build Craigdarroch Castle but died before it was finished in 1890. His widow did not like it so moved out in 1908, since which time the ‘Castle’ has had many uses. These include a military hospital for ‘incurables’; it is patently unsuitable for this as it is built over four floors. It has also been a College, a Music School and offices. It is now run as a tourist attraction, with 100,000 visitors each year. One of the most impressive aspects of Craigdarroch is its stained glass. Typically of cruise excursions, we don’t have anything like long enough there, so rush round before re-boarding our coach. Once back on board, we had planned to sit on deck but the unseasonal weather makes this less than pleasant, so we force ourselves to make the most of the Windjammer’s offerings. We are invited to clap the staff as they parade round the dining area.

Somehow I seem to have missed out on most of the things that this trip is renowned for. Maybe it is because I don’t feel very well, or because I was seriously jet lagged until the cruise was almost over. Barely a glimpse of whales, no northern lights, no brown bear spotting, not making the most of the icebergs. Nonetheless, it has been a wonderful opportunity to meet up with many worldwide genealogical friends and to make some new ones.

In the evening, Maurice gives a hilarious talk entitled ‘How I Nearly Cloned Myself over a Couple of Martinis’. This involved mention of a crowd-funding project to clone Joseph Smith, which has attracted a fair bit of support. I think I’ll just leave that one with you. There are photos, prize givings and fond farewells. The week has gone far too quickly and many of us are looking forward to next year’s cruise to the Mediterranean.

Day 5 – Tracy Arm

066 11 September 2018 Tracy Arm.JPGIcebergs prevent us from getting right up Tracy Arm but we still have beautiful views to admire. It is too chilly to sit outside for long so we spend the morning in the Windjammer again, as breakfast blends in to coffee and then into lunch. Great to relax and chat as the scenery and icebergs flash by. I later realise that I spectacularly failed to get any close up iceberg photos. I seem to keep missing out on this trip.

An afternoon of lectures. A double dose of Michelle, firstly on getting the most out of our DNA matches and then a really brilliant talk, ‘The Facts, Fun and Fiction of Family History’. Maurice follows on Y DNA projects. We have certainly been well informed about various aspects of DNA. Having scoffed pizza and chips for lunch, I restrain myself with a small vegetable curry for tea. Allegedly, the average weight gain whilst cruising is a pound a day. The amount of food that is consumed and wasted on board is obscene, one of the aspects of cruising that makes me uncomfortable. Another is the servility of the lovely staff. I am not better than them but they clearly feel I am. I can’t quite define what gives me this impression but it definitely goes far deeper than a customer/employee relationship.

The evening is spent with Michelle, Maurice, Helen and Cyndi contributing to a DNA ethics panel, leading to some very interesting discussions. It seems that the northern lights were on display last night. No one warned us to look, so that is something else we have failed to experience. The problem with watching for the northern lights is that it involves the unappealing combination of being somewhere cold and staying up until way past my bedtime; we missed them when we were in Finland too. Bravely, we wrap up in multiple layers and join several other hardy souls to see if they will reappear tonight. It soon becomes obvious that it is far too cloudy so we give up.

We work out a cunning way of accessing the balance on our sea pass cards using our TV. Our refunds from the bear watching trip have arrived in our accounts. We have benefited from currency exchange rates, which have fluctuated heavily in our favour since booking the trip, so the dollars we have received back are worth significantly more than they were when we paid for the trip. This will be a good start for our Mediterranean excursions next year.

Day 4 – Skagway

Finally, we seem to have adjusted to the time difference. I attempt to download my photographs from my camera and after a fruitless search, remember that there is no slot for an SD card in this tiny lap top. Do I have the required cable? Of course I do, I just don’t have it here. Fortunately I am able to borrow a slot enabled laptop and back up copies. We sit chatting while we wait for our White Pass Railway and Scenic Skagway tour. There are rumours of Hurricane Florence approaching, forecast to hit the east coast on Friday. That would be the Friday when we are flying home from the east coast. Deep joy, now we are likely to be stranded in Washington airport.

We leave the ship in plenty of time to get our bus and have a quick look at the pier end of Skagway first. The cliff sides are painted with ships’ flags and captains’ names. We later learn that this is a rolling registry of ships that was begun in 1898 and allegedly, the higher the sign, the greater the regard in which the captain was held.

Our driver on bus 109 is Caleb. He warns us that it is a no smoking bus and if anyone smokes, it will be assumed that they are on fire and they will be duly extinguished. After a couple of minutes on the bus we all disembark in order to watch a short video about the area. The Klondike gold rush of 1898 led to the development of Skagway. The trail to the gold fields took an enormous toll on both horses and men. It takes a ridiculously long time for everyone to get back on the bus and two minutes later we are reversing the process yet again as we are at the station.

036 10 September 2018 White Pass and Yukon RailwayOur railway carriage, one of 83 in the fleet, is named Lake Klukshu. Skagway means ‘land of the north wind’ but we are fortunate that the weather is glorious, so we have great views of the White Pass and Yukon route. Following the discovery of what was actually very little gold, Captain William Moore, founder of Skagway, together with Skookum Jim, one of the two first nations people who found the initial gold, sought to establish a route to the Klondike that was easier than the existing Chilkoot Pass. Their route, past Lake Bennett, was named White Pass. A sensationalist newspaper headline about the discovery of gold, led tens of thousands of prospectors to take steamers up the inside passage and begin a hazardous 600 mile trek across country to the Klondike. No prospector was allowed to begin the journey without a ton of supplies. The slightly easier White Pass was favoured over the shorter Chilkoot Pass as it was, in theory, possible to take pack animals. Over 3000 horses or donkeys perished on the Pass before the railway on which we are travelling was constructed. They began building this narrow gauge railway in 1898 and reached the summit, 110 miles away in 1899. The route involves steep gradients and tight turns and construction was hampered by temperatures as low as minus 60. By the time the track heading north joined the track coming up from the south, in 1900, over 35,000 men had been employed in building the railroad at some point. The tracks ceased to carry ore after the price slumped in 1982 and the railroad became a tourist destination.

The steam engine that works this route is undergoing maintenance, so we are being pulled by a diesel engine. We travel forty miles through impressive scenery and across scarily rickety looking bridges beyond the White Pass summit, which is 2885 feet above sea level, as far as Fraser, where we disembark. We have now crossed into British Columbia, Canada but not for long. The lakes here freeze in winter and there is sometimes still ice in June, so they are lifeless. After our train ride, Caleb collects us in the coach for our drive back down the Tormented Valley to Skagway. The valley gets forty feet of snow a year. Caleb tells us that no-one has been born in Skagway in twenty seven years. There is no doctor here just two nurse practitioners. As soon as someone is thirty weeks pregnant, they are sent to Juneau. As an aside, the women in front of us are each wearing two baseball caps. This is just plain weird.

We are dropped off in the interesting town of Skagway, in which almost every shop is a tourist trap. There probably aren’t many other employment opportunities for the resident population of 850. Many of the shop owners are standing outside, trying to entice us in and deprive them of their end of season stock.

It is very hot and we spend an enjoyable hour on the deck in the sun once back on board. After a meal of chilli jacket potatoes, the waiter entertains us by balancing three forks on top of cocktail sticks that are in turn balanced in the pepper pot holes – you kind of have to see it. In the evening Dick Eastman talks to us about getting the best out of Google.

Day 3 – Juneau or not Juneau

We still haven’t cracked the sleeping thing, so are up at 4.00am. There are allegedly a large number of hump-backed whales round the ship but all I glimpse is a few spurts of foam. We are heading north toward Juneau and the scenery is impressive. Unfortunately, so is the wind, which gusts at 55 knots. We make the mistake of ascending to the top deck and can barely stand up. Today was supposed to be the day of our extra special, incredibly expensive, float plane experience to see brown bears but the plane cannot take off so, disappointingly, the trip is cancelled. In addition, the wind meant that the ship couldn’t dock in Juneau until two hours later than scheduled. Whilst we were waiting, we spent a very pleasant time in the Windjammer restaurant on deck 11, sunning ourselves and chatting with friends.

018 9 September 2018 Mildenhall GlacierFinally, we are able to dock and the sun is shining on the righteous and on us too. Juneau was a gold rush town, founded in 1880 and is now the state capital. We are invited to join a mad genealogists’ excursion to the Mendenhall Glacier in a hired mini-bus. The first challenge is to cram all twelve of us inside. This involves trying to avoid being garrotted by the seat belt that is strung across the doorway. It is a short drive to the glacier near Nugget Falls. Despite the name, virtually no gold was taken from here and in the early part of the twentieth century, money was made from hydro-electric power, before the area turned to tourism. We learn a little of the local Tlingit people. It is very peaceful here, despite it being a tourist honey pot. Sadly, climate change is taking its toll and the glacier is retreating at an alarming rate. We see some bald-headed eagles on our journey but not in a spot suitable for photographing.

We have been encouraged to visit the Red Dog Saloon and this is something else. The atmosphere is dark and crowded and there is live country music being played. The floor is covered in four inches of sawdust and the ceiling in the flags of various ships. In between, the walls are decked in hunting trophies and graffiti. Chris has trouble finding any kind of beverage that the basque-clad waitress recognises. We settle for Sprite. Then it is back to the ship.

I succumb to the international dishes of the day and consume sweet and sour chicken. Afterwards, Michelle and Maurice entertain us with more on DNA.

Day 2 – At Sea

004 8 September 2018 Towel Art

Towel Art

It is 3.50am. My body thinks it is time to get up, so I bow to the inevitable. Today is a conference day so we settle down to some excellent lectures. Firstly it is Maurice Gleeson on ‘Commemorating the Missing’. I have heard this before but this was a slightly different version and my particular interest is because it centres on a battle that has Barefoot on the Cobbles connections. Next, is Caroline Gurney with a very informative presentation, ‘Lost in London’, followed by Susan Brook speaking on the English Poor Law. Cyndi Ingle is as entertaining as usual, this time on ‘Being your own Digital Archivist’.

I am feeling the ship’s motion rather more than I was expecting and have a throat that resembles rough grade sandpaper, add to that the lack of sleep and I am wondering how my session on the impact of non-conformity will go. Go it did, although I didn’t really feel as if I was on fire with it. After a short break to chat, it was time for Helen Smith’s DNA talk and then back to deck 11 to encounter ‘washy washy’. Today she has added ‘happy happy’ to her exhortations. It is Mongolian day in the restaurant. I opt for that well known Mongolian dish – pizza. There has been heavy rain all day so we haven’t missed an opportunity to sun ourselves on deck.

In the evening, Mike Murray gave a hilarious DNA presentation. With a great ‘punch line’ when he revealed that the relatives that he had been talking about were in the audience.

Day 1 – On Board

After four hours of broken sleep it seems it is morning. There is nowhere that we can get breakfast so we take the most expensive taxi ride of my life ($60) and head for the ferry terminal. The one meal of the day I find difficult to miss is breakfast, especially since, bar the one and a half packets of pretzels, it is already twenty four hours since we last ate. The only advantage to the lack of breakfast provision is that we can put the notional cost towards the taxi fare. According to the taxi driver, Seattle’s highlights seem to be that it is home to the international headquarters of Amazon, Microsoft and Starbucks.

003 7 September 2018 Seattle from the ship.JPG

Seattle

The Royal Caribbean check in process is remarkably smooth and we have already encountered some of our party. I am feeling decidedly light-headed due to the combination of lack of food and intermittent sleep, so we make straight for the 11th floor buffet. Giving that it is 10.45am, it is by no stretch of the imagination any sort of meal time, yet folk are tucking in to three courses as if their lives depended on it. For us this is both evening meal and breakfast but I doubt our fellow diners are so food deprived. We then spend a very pleasant couple of hours on the sunny deck and begin to feel slightly more human. Some cruisers are already on a mission to get the most possible value from their drinks package. Then it is time for conference check in and the chance to greet many old friends and make new ones. The joys of the mandatory emergency drill follow. A keen wind and a raucous poolside party, complete with very loud muzack, drive us to seek refuge somewhere where we can hear ourselves speak. There is a distinct lack of such places.

We are first in the queue when the informal dining room opens for evening business. There is a crew member sporting a stars and stripes covered cowboy hat. She is manically screaming ‘washy washy’ as she squirts all on sundry with hand sanitizer. It may be sleep deprivation but I am somewhat irritated by this. It is reminiscent of meals I have taken in school canteens. Point one, hand sanitizer brings me out in a nasty rash and point two, I am an adult and as such am perfectly capable of being responsible for my own personal hygiene, should I deem it necessary. The staff clap us into the restaurant, amidst fist bumps and high-fives. I have my grumpy old woman hat firmly in place; this is just weird. There is however a great selection of food from which to choose. Today’s culinary theme is ‘Tex-Mex’. I pass on the steak that still looks capable of meaningful life and opt for chilli.

In another example of weird nanny stateness, the carpet in the lift contains an insert that informs us of the day of the week. We are already finding our way round the ship and we join our fellow conference goers for Dick Eastman’s lecture on going paperless. By this time I am struggling to stay awake, so we call it a night.