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.

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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.

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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.

Day -1 Thursday 6 September 2018 – En Route

Now I am have returned from the Internet Black Hole, I can continue to regale you with my holiday adventures.

After a bad night, even by my standards, we get up at 6am and leave for the airport early. Yes, true to form, that would be ridiculously early. I had tried, unsuccessfully, to check in online and I am just slightly panicking that our seats will be re-allocated elsewhere. All seems well however and we settle down for the three hour wait before boarding. By coincidence, our American distant relative, who we showed round her ancestral home on Monday, is on the same flight. Not only that but she is across the aisle from us. I spend the flight with a combination of Suduko and Bejewelled, reaching a never to be matched level 12 at my first attempt.

There is a two hour gap between the arrival of our flight in Washington and the scheduled time of our take off for Seattle. An hour of this is taken up in the queue for our passports to be checked. We rush along, concerned to make our ongoing connection, hindered by the random need to reclaim our baggage and check it on again. I so need not have worried. Our flight is delayed due to the lack of a pilot, a bit of a necessity I guess. It is delayed again. An additional problem is that the flight is full, which apparently means that there is insufficient room for everyone’s hand luggage in the lockers. Exhortations go out for selfless persons who might be willing to check in their carry-on luggage. I am unable to oblige. Not only is my bag insufficiently robust for baggage handling but it contains contraband such as batteries that are not allowed in the hold. The chap in the seat next to me is asleep. His body is gradually falling in my direction. Before long, he is leaning heavily on my shoulder. I begin to similarly lean under the pressure. We are in danger of becoming some kind of domino rally. I begin to gently push back. I look to my travelling companion for inspiration; none is forthcoming. Just as my neighbour’s head is about to descend to the level of my lap, he wakes and walks off as if nothing has happened.

Two hours late and eighteen hours after we got up this morning, we get on the plane. Twenty minutes later we are told we can get off again if we wish as there is more delay. We choose not to, as the plane seats are marginally more comfortable than those in the terminal. Inevitably, when the call goes out to reboard, some of our passengers have gone awol. We finally take off over four hours late. This is budget airlines at their depths. There is no entertainment, no pillows, the seats do not recline and there is no food. To pass the time, we are supposed to have downloaded an app to our personal device. As an alternative, we can join the queue for one of only two toilets. Even Chris, who can sleep on the proverbial washing line, is having difficulty dozing off, despite our lack of sleep. As recompense for the delay, we are given a can of Sprite and the tiniest bag of pretzels you’ve ever seen. I am not a fan of pretzels but they are at least food. Chris is even less of a fan, so I get half his pack (about three pretzels) as well. I know I need to go on a diet but I was planning to wait until after the holiday. Our resolution that this will be our last flight outside Europe is strengthened.

DSCF0717I am not sure if I should be writing this as today or tomorrow, as it was definitely tomorrow before we arrived at America’s Best Airport Inn. All I can say is, I don’t want to see the worst. I later discover that its full title is America’s Best Value Airport Inn – well it was cheap. There is however a bed, which is our prime concern. Food and drink are clearly a luxury that we will have to forgo. The walls and ceiling of our room make good quality paper seem thick. The person in the room above creakingly paces the floor at regular intervals all through what is left of the night. The tap in the bathroom won’t turn off, so water torture is added to the measures designed to sleep deprive us still further. It will have to be an exceptional cruise to make all this worthwhile.

Day -2 Wednesday 5 September

To say the last few days/weeks/months have been hectic would be an understatement of mammoth proportions. No sooner did the job we must not mention draw to a close, than the descendants descended. This was swiftly followed by a visit to the Secret Lives conference in Leicester, where I did manage to very briefly catch up with some family history friends across the globe.

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Photo thanks to Dr Penny Walters

What little I was able to sample, suggested that it was an excellent weekend and I was pleased to be able to deliver my Occupational Hazards presentation to a full and appreciative audience. Next, it was home to two days of showing distant relatives round their ancestral areas, a day of meetings and then it was now.

I arrived back from my evening meeting with still plenty that needed to be done before my 10am departure and decided to sleep first and get up early. I awoke, convinced it was morning and began my daily routine, only to find that it was 2.30am. Needless to say, sleep then eluded me. I finally got back to sleep at 4.30am for an hour, accompanied by the most peculiar dreams. I hopefully completed all that needed to be done in time and prepared to enter what might be a ten day internet black hole. Will I survive? Unless I am already home, this post is coming to you via random free wifi somewhere or other. Those of you who rely on Facebook to tell you when I have posted something may find notifications magically appearing there. These will have been uploaded by my data self aka Martha who I have (rashly?) given access to my page in my absence.

Inevitably, I left the house thinking I had forgotten something. I locked the door and got half way down the path before I realised that I was still wearing my slippers! Then followed my usual lengthy wait, surrounded by luggage, at the coach stop, whilst my travelling companion disposed of the car and walked back down the hill to join me. Owing to a past-its-best printer, my coach ticket was decidedly blurry, making the QR code unscannable. ‘Never mind,’ says the driver, I can’t see it anyway. Should I be worried about this? Hopefully it is just his near vision that is faulty. Then, at Tiverton coach station, there are helpful instructions to drivers along the lines of ‘put the brake on’ and ‘don’t drive if there is something in the way’. Am I being driven by someone who needs to be reminded of this? The coach seat belts are officially the tightest in the world but we survive. At a services somewhere on the M4 we have to rescue some passengers whose coach has broken down, making it quite cosy in ours.

Once at Heathrow, I ask for directions to a bus to take us to the Travel Lodge. ‘Do you have a scannnable credit card?’ I am asked. This is not the first time that someone has expressed doubt that I might have such an indicator of the modern age. Do I look that provincial? I am in some doubt as to whether we are alighting at the correct stop but it seems that we are. The cheerful receptionist tries to persuade us that the unique selling point of our room is its distant glimpse of the runway, maybe this makes up for it being as far as possible from reception. Never mind, it will be good practice for the cruise ship.

Days 21-23 New Zealand Society of Genealogists Conference

Still not firing on all cylinders and equipped with a very unflattering over the ear and round the head mike, I deliver my keynote presentation about the story of Isabella Fry. It is the tale of an unfortunate woman, chocolate and a very bad man, which appears to go down well. Afterwards, we choose to stay in the main hall to listen to our friends talk about DNA. Firstly Michelle Patient and then our housemate for the duration, Maurice Gleeson. After lunch, Maurice is up again, this time talking about using DNA to identify unknown world war 1 casualties. By co-incidence, he was focussing on the Battle of Fromelles, which is featured in Barefoot on the Cobbles, although I don’t name it. Maurice used the session to launch the ‘Commemorating the Missing’ project. This encourages people to look at the list of the world war one soldiers whose bodies have never been recovered and ‘plant’ a virtual family tree on their behalf. Thus, if bodies are recovered in a location that links to those personnel, it might be possible to contact relatives so DNA can be obtained. I have already committed to ‘planting’ trees for the six Braunds on the list and we do already have relatives who have taken DNA tests, although obviously, it would be their decision whether or not their results should be used in this way.

There is a session on New Zealand School records and then I have to summon the adrenaline to talk about One-Place Studies at the end of the day. People are taking pity on my lurgy ridden state and keep pressing medication into my hands!

Det7qRgVMAAF8WVWe are taken to the Chateau on the Park for the conference dinner where we have an unusual but very tasty, hot/cold buffet mixture and delectable but clearly not very good for us desserts. Chris ‘entertains’ all-comers with the delights of seventeenth century barber surgery. We do present to adults on a regular basis but the addition of alcohol has an effect on the levels of audience participation! At the request of the maitre d’, one of Chris’ patients is a young waiter, who enters into the spirit of the thing. Fiona, our self- appointed chauffeur and also the overworked conference convenor, explains about the psychological impact of the earthquake on Christchurch residents.

The Sunday begins with our seventeenth century presentation. Yesterday’s sessions were very well received but now I am feeling as if I am giving of my best. There is an overwhelmingly positive response afterwards, which gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. I listen to a double-handed talk on ‘Research Tips and Tricks’, which includes a very effective use of Power Point as a way of recording family history from the ’other Fiona’. I then listen to a story-telling session from Margaret Copeland, an historical interpreter who represents the wife of the goaler of nineteenth century Lyttelton Goal. I have to leave before the end to prepare for my own Facebook Generation talk. It was very well attended (there are three streams of lectures) and there was a real buzz afterwards, with plenty of questions and comments.

In the evening, we have invited a few fellow members of The Guild of One-Name Studies round to our adopted home. We are feeling more and more like riotous students by the minute. We have an hilarious evening, with the humour partly fuelled by the fact that the local pizza house names its offerings after the seven deadly sins. One of our party ordered a ‘Twelve inch lust’, no comment! There was also this hysterical attempt to take a picture with all of us in, using the time on someone’s precariously balanced phone. We had a lovely time but we are obviously showing our age, as our guests had left by 9.15pm and we managed to keep the house in very good order. Our hostess has been incredibly generous with her home and my early blog comment about Hokey-Pokey ice cream led to the freezer being stocked with the same – yum.

The final day already. I can’t believe it has gone so fast. I listen to Fiona talking about The Time Travelling Genealogist, encouraging us to record our own lives as part of our family history. Her ‘Memories in Time’ business has some great products and it is a very good presentation. Next, I learn about the ‘Decimation by the Invisible Enemy’, which is about the appalling effect of the Spanish flu on those on board the ship the Tahiti. I finish the conference with my ‘Remember Then’ session. I wondered how it would adapt to an international audience but judging by the reaction, nothing was lost in translation. It is sad to say goodbye to people who have become friends. We have had a wonderful time and have been looked after exceptionally well by all concerned.

Four of us take a trip to the Antarctic Centre in the afternoon. Included is a ‘Hagglund’ ride, deemed to be unsuitable for those with heart conditions, of a nervous disposition or who are pregnant. I briefly debate the wisdom of this and decide I should enter into the spirit of the thing. The Hagglund are the all terrain vehicles that are used on Antarctic expeditions and we career across a track hanging on tightly. It was a bit on the bumpy side but pales into insignificance in comparison to sand-dune buggy riding, so I survived unscathed. We pat some huskies and watch the blue penguins being fed. These are all rescue penguins, who would not survive in the wild. Then a chance to sit and relax whilst watching a 4D film. We don the approved glasses. It turns out that this is not as relaxing as all that, as the seats tilt alarmingly, to simulated power boating across a lake and at intervals, water is hurled in our faces.

We are then collected for a meal with some of the conference organisers. This is followed by Te Reo Maori lessons, which are being put on, free of charge, by the owner of the Fush restaurant. He is concentrating on teaching us ‘pidgen’ Maori, where we substitute English words for those we don’t know (which is most of them). We had already picked up that Maori is not actually pronounce Mawree but more like Mardi. Te Reo Maori was not originally a written language and there is no equivalent of the letter s for plurals. Instead, what comes before the noun indicates several, rather than one. So ‘the‘, followed by something singular is ‘Te’ but if it is plural, ‘the’ would be ‘nga’ (pronounced nar). This is great fun but my inability with languages has not undergone a great transformation and the fact that it is in the evening after a very hectic five days does nothing for my concentration. Somehow, this ends up with us appearing on Maori TV news, fortunately not at the point when it all caught up with me and my eyes closed momentarily.

Then, after reluctantly bringing our last evening chat to an end, comes the applied mathematics that is our packing. We have a baggage allowance of 30kg each; easy, 60kg you’d think. But we only have three bags, one small one having gone to meet its maker on the outward journey. We cannot be deemed to have one and a half bags each, so two of these bags cannot contain a total of more than 30kg. In addition, no one bag must weigh more than 23kg. Effectively, this reduces our total allowance to 53kg between us providing we can, without the aid of scales, distribute our belongings appropriately between the bags. If you think 53kg is a ridiculous amount of luggage for two people, you’d be right but remember that we have three sets of seventeenth century clothes, including hefty shoes and numerous heavy surgical instruments. I also have the clothes that I abandoned in Peru that have been, very kindly, brought to me from Australia. In addition, we have also picked up a few things from the conference and our preceding trip, which have to be accommodated.