We spent a wonderful day in Vancouver, a city we hadn’t seen before, a city that impressed us tremendously. A vibrant cosmopolitan city (developed only about 100 years ago), with a diverse population (1/3 Chinese, with many residents from other parts of Asia), beautiful parks and gardens, a busy port, and lovely suburbs -this is definitely a place we’d love to see again, in greater detail.
The morning we arrived we hiked through an old growth forest in Lighthouse Park, and saw some very tall and old trees. As you might imagine, this climate (we’re still in the temperate rain forest in Vancouver) allows for some incredible plants and flowers, not only in the forest but also in the many gardens and parks in town.
And to make the day very special, we enjoyed a wonderful visit with Bob and Barbara, who trekked up 3 hours from Seattle to say hello – we appreciated the chance to spend time with them, as always.
So now that the USA Presidential race seems to have come down to a smaller field of contenders, our visit to Vancouver was timely; it could possibly be just the place to go if things don’t improve on the homefront!
We will be in San Francisco tomorrow, and back to NJ on Saturday. We’re looking forward to seeing you and catching up!
We have spent this past week visiting several places in Alaska and enjoying the beautiful scenery and the nice local folks. This is a giant state, and our visit only covered a bit of the Aleutian Islands and some of the towns/cities in the southeast part of the state. Alaska’s big business is fishing, but tourism is high on the list, followed by government.
One of the speakers on this ship gave a presentation on Alaska’s vital importance in terms of global relations, given its proximity to Russia and the West Coast of the continental USA. Since we had tried to visit Petroplavask, Russia before we got to Alaska, and learned that this is the hub for Russia’s buildup of marine power, the role of Alaska may be something to keep an eye on.
We learned how life in Alaska is so different from what we expect in other parts of the USA – the terrain is rugged, the areas we visited are rainy (part of a rain forest, actually), and there are relatively few roads; a lot of the travel and transport is done by water (seaplanes, ships, etc.) and air (one out of six residents in Alaska has a pilot’s license). Transport of goods is often scheduled during the cold months, so that the frozen rivers can carry heavy loads with relative ease. The communities we visited are relatively small (Dutch Harbor has about 4300 residents, while Anchorage – a large town – has about 300,000), but there is a great sense of community here and people love being outdoors even if the weather is tough.
During the May-September period, tourists pour into Alaska for all sorts of recreation – fishing, hiking, biking, camping, etc. Despite the large number of tourists, it seems that it doesn’t get crowded because there’s so much land, so many bodies of water, etc. A very large part of Alaskan property is protected from development in various ways, including federally owned property and national parks (both land and water/glacier).
We learned a bit about the history of Alaska; its native people (who have a status similar to Native Americans in the lower 48 states, but who don’t live on reservations); how Russian traditions live on even though the US bought Alaska from Russia in 1867; the 1897 Klondike gold rush; and Alaska’s role in World War II (Fort Abercrobmie Park in Kodiak had bunkers, cannon and other military installations to defend the US).
The gold rush stories are fascinating – people from all walks of life and professions headed north when word hit Seattle that gold had been discovered. Entrepreneurs located harbors and built town centers with access to the main roads up to the Klondike. One of these towns, built on a deep harbor (Skagway) is still a thriving area, despite the fact that its road to the Klondike was horrible (a picture of the start of the trail is attached). Another town, built on a shallow harbor but having a better trail road to Klondike (Dyea) is now just a ghost town.
People who wanted to mine gold needed to make a commitment that they’d bring enough with them to survive one year – this meant about 600 lbs of flour, hundreds of pounds of cured meat such as bacon, mining tools, tools to build houses, etc. The National Parks Service information says that the miners needed to lug 1 ton of goods from their starting point in Alaska (which they would reach after travelling from San Francisco or Seattle, for example), up the narrow, steep trail into the Yukon, and then cross the Yukon River before reaching the gold fields. And, if a miner wanted to use a horse, mule, dogsled, etc. he’d need provisions for that animal, and might schedule travel during the winter in the case of dogsleds (which are easier to move over ice and snow than over mud and dirt). Skagway grew into a large town as the miners came, with all the vices that are present with desperate, hungry, lonely men; we heard many stories about the con men and others who took advantage of the situation, and how local heroes rid the town of its bad actors.
We also spent several days checking out glaciers (frozen packs of ice that can be miles long and wide, and come in all types, depending on the land masses near them). Joe has some great pictures of this, as well as the various parks where we hiked on beautifully maintained trails and enjoyed the scenery, whether we had rain or sun. On Glacier Bay, we saw 2 tidewater glaciers, rare because glaciers don’t often reach the sea; tidewater glaciers are found only in Scandanavia, Chile and Alaska. Hubbard Glacier, which we visited on a nice sunny day, is 75 miles long, 300 feet high on its face, and covers 1350 square miles in area.
National Park Service rangers boarded the boat for a day and gave us a nice education about the forests, glaciers, tides (high and low tides in this area vary about 25 feet most days) and wildlife. We had the chance to use all this knowledge in the past week, and we saw some whales, harbor seals, sea lions, eagles and even bear (from a nice distance).
And last but not least, we learned how vital the dogs and dogsleds have been to life in Alaska over the years. It’s not just the Iditarod 1150 mile race (which, by the way, women seem to win a lot), but it’s also the story of Balto. In 1925 a diphtheria epidemic threated Nome, Alaska. Medicine was sent from Seattle to Anchorage, and then had to get north to Nome. Sled dogs were harnassed to make that trip of 674 miles and they completed the trek in an epic 127 hours. Balto, who was 6 years old at the time, led the team during its final leg of the trip, withstanding weather of -23F degrees and near whiteout conditions.
So Alaska is everything we hoped it would be, and more. Just beautiful, with room for many more visits, I hope!
Hope you are all well, and looking forward to seeing you soon – we’ll be back in a week!
We arrived in Dutch Harbor, Alaska on Saturday, and the mood on the boat was noticeably cheerful – not sure if folks were glad to be back in the USA (using familiar currency and language), or glad to be on land after 3 days at sea (we had two Thursdays, because we crossed the international date line), or glad to be on the last leg of this long cruise, with only 2 weeks left to go.
In any event, hundreds of us poured off the boat to see the town, which is where the “Deadliest Catch” TV show is filmed. We expected a kind of “Northern Exposure” town (remember that old TV show?) but it was a little different. About 4000 people live in Dutch Harbor. This is a major fishing port, and has been the #1 commercial fishing port in the USA for 19 years. There is also an international airport here, which gets a lot of action because so much travel in this part of the world is by large or small plane. Apart from the port and the airport, there are 2 nice museums, some businesses, and some eating/drinking places, spread out over a few miles on a few roads (no town center, per se).
We visited the Museum of the Aleutians, and learned a bit about the history of the Aleutian Islands and the Aleuts, including its Russian history, its role in WWII (the only place in the USA bombed besides Pearl Harbor, and location for 9000 troops during the war), the fishing/whaling/sealing that has sustained people in this area for thousands of years, and how people have survived in this harsh environment over time. Although it was a little strange not to find any temples or Buddhas, this is still a very exotic part of the US with a history unlike so many other states.
This area hosts a lot of outdoor activity in the warmer months, and is home to many parks where you can enjoy birdwatching, hiking, biking, golf and other fun.
There’s a lovely Russian Orthodox church in Dutch Harbor as well as the Cathedral of the Holy Ascension; for one week each month a priest comes by plane to the Cathedral to attend to the spiritual needs of the parish. Similar visits by plane are made by medical professionals and others who care for people in remote areas. The local middle-high school has under 100 students in total (that’s about 12 per class).
Our day started out sunny, and passengers from the ship got out in the early morning and walked to some of the local attractions (1-2 miles). Within about 3 hours from our arrival in Dutch Harbor, clouds formed and a brisk wind swept in. Passengers started coming back to the ship, well in advance of the 4:30 pm deadline for reboarding. By noon a nice sleety rain had started, and it was COLD out. The ship was able to leave port ahead of schedule because nobody was outdoors by mid-afternoon. And I think you probably heard a low buzzing noise in the lower 48 states by 5pm, since it appeared that almost all passengers were snoozing before dinner (not me, however!).
So while we sometimes lament the density of where we live, we can also be thankful that it’s not too remote and hard to reach.
Best to all,
PS – Internet coverage for the next few days is supposed to be sketchy, so you may not hear from Joe or me during this time.
Just a few hours heading north in the Pacific Ocean and you go from relatively mild early Spring weather in Japan to sub-zero snow in Russia! We visited Korsakov on Monday, on the island of Sakhalin, about halfway between Japan and Russia in this area of the world. This island was settled by the Japanese during the Edo period (approx. 1600-1870), but has been the subject of contests between Japan and Russia since that time, through the end of WWII, when the island was awarded to Russia. Not many people live on the island, and much of it is forested. The island industries include farming, fishing and tourism – this island is a haven for birds, seals and other wildlife, so lots of people come to take in the natural wonders.
The island also holds many Daccha – the summer houses of the Russians. We passed many on our drive – small houses on small plots of land, with vegetable and flower gardens ready for planting when the weather thaws.
We travelled to the capital city of the island (Sakhalin), and visited a Russian Orthodox Church constructed in the “old” way – no nails, just wooden pegs holding the logs together. On our trip we passed many churches, some with the colorful and picturesque onion shaped domes.
We visited the Anton Chekhov Museum, and learned more about this writer (who was also a physician). Chekhov visited Sakhalin in 1890, to interview convicts in Russian work camps; he wound up staying for three months, taking a regional census in addition to compiling the prisoner interviews which ultimately became “Sakhalin Island.”
While in Sakhalin we also visited the Regional Museum, which was established by the Russian population during a period when the Japanese ruled the island, to preserve and commemorate Russian history and its people. The Museum is in one of the only buildings on the island that retains its Japanese style architecture.
After another rough night on the sea (lots of ice and lots of speed to make up for the very lengthy immigration processing we experienced at Korsakhov), we have arrived at Petropavlovsk, one of the most isolated large cities in the world (no roads connect it to the outside world). The captain wasn’t entirely sure we’d be able to anchor and visit this island, as the weather is sometimes too inclement to permit tender service. He told us today that last night “we drove the boat like we stole it” in order to make time.
Petropavlovsk was isolated from the world until 1991, especially during earlier years when it housed Russia’s largest nuclear submarine base and military radar installations.
Petropavlovsk is surrounded with natural beauty in the Kamchatsky Peninsula, a mountainous region on the Bering Sea that is part of the Ring of Fire (the circle of volcanoes that encircle the Pacific). This peninsula has 68 active volcanoes (that’s 10% of the world’s active volcanoes), 5 nature reserves, the world’s densest population of brown bears, and a thriving fishing industry.
While on this part of our journey, we’d learned a bit about Vitus Bering, who founded Petropavlovsk (which he named after his two sailing ships in 1740, the St. Peter and the St. Paul). Bering was a Dane who explored Russia and the Aleutian Islands, trying to ascertain where Alaska ends and Russia begins, or whether they were connected by a land mass. The 53 mile gap that we call the Bering Straits is now the water that separates Asia and North America.
Looks like we’re in for very cold weather for the next couple of weeks, but we hope you are all enjoying the start of Spring, and we will be too, very soon!
PS – the sad end to our story – the wind at Petroplavask was so strong that the tender boats could not safely get passengers to the dock, so we spent the afternoon on the ship, and most of the passengers were somewhat thankful that we didn’t have to brave the cold wind (you can tell some of us are getting old).
Our last stop in Korea was Busan (aka Pusan), on the southeast coast, and we enjoyed a long day seeing various sights, including some beautiful beaches. We visited a Buddhist temple perched high on a cliff (lots of steps to get to the top, but well worth the climb) overlooking the sea; the temple dates back to 1376, and at its base is a thriving market with all kinds of food, fish, souvenirs and other items. Joe got some great pictures which he will post when the internet connections allow it.
Busan is another one of those cities where entrepreneurship has allowed for incredible success; in the past 2 decades or so Busan was identified as a great location for movies to be shot; now it hosts an international film festival that rivals South by Southwest, Cannes and other leaders. Busan is currently the second largest city in South Korea, and its largest port city.
In Busan one of the tour guides gave us her take on the political situation, which was the first time we heard it openly discussed during our few days in Korea. She indicated that while South Koreans would like reunification with the North under a democratic regime (or even a nominally Communist rule), that seems less like than ever, given the North’s current leadership.
And one last Korean note: Just as I noted that Tiger Woods was born in Thailand, I now know that Lydia Ko is from Jeju Island, South Korea!
And now we are in Japan – 1 day each in 2 relatively small cities (Fukuoka and Shimizu), and a day and a half in Tokyo – very different experiences. Japan is basically 4 large islands (and 4000 smaller ones), of which 70% is mountain and forest. 130 million people crowd into the small percentage left for commercial and residential use (only 20% of Japan is suitable for building), and the cities and towns are dense. Dense, but orderly and beautiful at the same time.
The Japanese practice 2 main religions, Shintoism and Buddhism. Shinto is an ancient Japanese religion founded on the concept that all natural objects (trees, stones, etc.) have spirits and souls. At joyful human events (birth, marriage, new year’s celebrations, etc.) Shinto rites are observed. Buddhism (which came to Japan from India, through China) is concerned with death and the afterworld; accordingly, Buddhist rites are observed at funerals. Thus the 2 religions co-exist.
During our visits in Japan we saw lots of white medical-style face masks (attributed variously to pollution or to pollen conditions), lots of baseball games, lots of cherry blossoms, lots of shrines and temples and Buddhas, and just lots of people in general. We were impressed with the size of Tokyo, and its many colorful neon signs, but didn’t get to anyplace we would really call charming (maybe on another visit we can see some of the gardens and museums that the city has to offer).
Our visit included time at the Shizuoka Prefecture Museum of Art in Shimizu, and we saw many beautiful Rodin schulptures (the Burghers of Calais, the Thinker, the Gates of Hell, etc.) and some lovely gardens.
Outside of Tokyo lies Kamakura, the seat of government when the Shogun (the Samurai class leaders) ruled Japan. We visited a Great Buddha and saw a few monks and some ladies dressed in traditional clothing, as well as the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, founded in 1180 and still in active use by worshippers.
We have also enjoyed some great local entertainment provided by drummers – they are fast as lightning, and perform modern songs as well as traditional ones, in many cases using only drums and no other instruments.
Tomorrow we’ll be in another Japanese town, in the north of the country. We travelled for the past day or 2 into the North Atlantic, and the sun has been out but the weather is choppy – lots of hanging onto handrails while people travel around the ship.
Many of the folks on the ship have traveled out in the past few days to Kyoto and other ancient towns, or have taken the bullet train for the experience, or gone to see Sumo wrestlers practice, or have visited with geishas (hostesses) and enjoyed tea ceremonies. The reports back have been very positive – welcoming local people who are very proud to describe their long history and share their many art forms.
Seoul and Jeju Island, South Korea Friday April 8, 2016 8pm
We spent yesterday in Seoul and today in Jeju Island, South Korea. In each place, guides emphasized that Korea is different from China and from Japan. Koreans are descendants of Mongolians, not Chinese clans. Koreans appreciate things on a smaller scale than the way things are done in China (the population is much smaller, of course, as is the land mass). The Japanese took over Korea for a number of years, and the Koreans are glad to have that period over, and to enjoy relative freedom and prosperity today. We heard a lot of discussion about North Korea, much along the lines we hear in US news reports.
We saw a secondary palace yesterday, the Changdeokgung Palace. This was not the king’s major residence, but rather a place for his concubines and a getaway spot for him. It’s tucked among the busy streets of Seoul, near to residences and high rise office buildings. You’ll see from Joe’s pix that it is modest when compared to the Summer Palace or the Forbidden City in Beijing – smaller, less ornate, quieter.
We spent the afternoon out in the sunshine on a nice warm day exploring the Hwaseong Fortress – we only walked a part of the wall, but it runs for 4 miles, and has numerous guard towers, observation towers, and platforms for archers to rain arrows down on those who might try to attack the town within the fortress. One unusual thing about this Fortress is that it was completed in 3 years (by 1796), and the laborers were compensated (not usually the case). Visitors were encouraged to try archery, and to learn from their efforts at the sport – look within yourself to identify ways to improve your performance, and don’t place the blame for error elsewhere.
Seoul as a city reminded us of New York and other major cities (it’s home to millions and has been the Korean capital for a very long time). There are many high rise office buildings with logos you’d recognize (not just Sansung or Hyundai, but also Citi and other western firms). Lots of construction going on, and very vibrant.
Today we are on Jeju Island, the southern tip of Korea – it’s a beautiful island with rich soil from the volcanic ash, and many crops are grown here (tea, carrots, garlic, potatoes, barley, and 40 species of Mandarin oranges). We visited a lovely bonsai garden with waterfalls, pools and stone sculptures (the Spirited Garden) and read about the philosophy of its creator, how tending these miniature plants teaches us how to live: be patient, work hard, trim away what we do not need and what makes us bad (greed, envy, etc.), learn to appreciate nature and people who are different from us, etc. The various areas of the Garden have great names: the Welcoming Garden, the Soul Garden, the Inspiration Garden, the Philosopher’s Garden, the Peace Garden, etc. It was a very serene spot, and there were no crowds – quite a difference from China.
We also visited Jeju Island’s largest tea plantation, and viewed beautiful rows of tea plants, lined up almost like vines in a vineyard. It was mid-afternoon when we left, and lots of parents with schoolchildren (in their uniforms, just like ours were when we were 10 years old) were arriving to enjoy the area.
We have more of Korea to see tomorrow, but are really enjoying the philosophy that is embraced here – hard work but a search for understanding and calm. We were interested to learn that in the 1400s during the Joseon Dynasty, the leader created a new alphabet so that more could become literate. Instead of the complex Chinese system of characters, new letters were grouped into syllables that were easy to learn.
Hope that you are all doing well. We’ll be back in NJ in just about 4 weeks – hard to believe!