August 4, 2012

For those of you who regularly check my blog, You notice that I’ve been absent for a few weeks. We took an Alaskan cruise and then spent the second week touring around the inner reaches of Alaska (Denali and the Kenai Peninsula).  While we were gone, my sister-in-law Shauna had her surgery for breast cancer and she is recovering from the surgery well, but the prognosis is still in question with some genuine worries.  

Our son Daniel took the GRE and was pleased to do very well.  He’s going to be applying for PhD programs in Psychology starting in December and this will help him land a good one.

We missed the first part of the terrible heatwave, but it was 110 on our back patio last night.

The (Mormon) missionaries, who have lived in the upstairs of our house for the last year moved out while we were away, too.  In anticipation of our move, we had told them that they needed to move but didn’t expect them to leave for a couple more weeks.  I guess their lease started in August. We enjoyed having them overall, but it does feel wonderful to have the additional privacy. I certainly gained insight into what it’s like to be a missionary as well as the diverse challenges involved in serving the Lord full time. We had 8 different Elders over the year and learned to love each of them in their own way.  They were certainly diverse!

I have decided to try a travelogue since our vacation was so over-the-top this year.  The above pictures are the first installment from Seattle to Vancouver where we boarded the ship at Canada Place and set sail on the Diamond Princess. More pictures to follow in subsequent installments. The ship itself was unbelievably lavish, but after a quiet start, we ended up with the most diverse variety of experiences I can imagine.  We went from posh royalty to sweating mountain climbers in a matter of minutes! We got the organic and the lavishly contrived.

The cruise and tour of Alaska was everything I could have hoped for, (almost). My husband Jeff has a hobby of planning fabulous vacations that are tailored minutely to our favorite things. There are always elements of luxury mixed with frugality and loads of adventure.  We all enjoy road trips, so we often mix methods of transportation. 

This was our first ever cruise. There were many parts that really surprised us, but as every person who has ever cruised will testify, the food was unbelievable.  I went into it determined not to backslide, having recently lost some weight. Hah!  But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m going to journal the last two weeks here, for anyone who’s interested, but I’ll do it in a few segments.

Jeff chose Princess Cruises because they depart Vancouver on a Saturday and are at sea all of Sunday.  We didn’t want to be in some port on the Sabbath where we would feel guilty shopping/sightseeing/recreating. Our flight left OKC at 6:00 and after a long delay in San Francisco, we took to the air again. We realized that though Jeff and I both grew up in Northern California, Thomas had no memory of being in San Francisco.  He had the window seat with a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz Island and the San Francisco skyline.

We made it to Seattle, WA an two hours late.  We easily rebooked our shuttle ride to Vancouver, and since the shuttle had two other stops, we got a nice little tour of Seattle, where none of us had ever visited before. (See Space needle in above picture)  The Space Needle is indeed an odd looking structure.  Everytime I run across my photos of it, I think I was holding my camera upside down.  Seattle is an especially scenic place, with its quaint harbors, (I tend to think all harbors are quaint), interesting buildings and lavish natural beauty. 

(The thermometer here in OK is now up to 106  at about 11:00 a.m. and the cicadas are screaming with other-worldly force. Our neighbor is riding around on his mower in a tank top…Dave, can you say melanoma?)

Lush forests and profuse kaleidoscope flowers adorned the shoulders of the highway to Vancouver. The wipers stayed on ‘intermittent’ most of the way. Wildflower strewn waterways and wooded hills made me sorry that we were bound to a schedule and constricting bus.

                Jeff had cleverly arranged to have the shuttle drop us at the airport and we rode an airport shuttle to our hotel. Vancouver is a European-feeling city, with lush flower baskets hanging everywhere with gardens in the medians. There were four Chinese restaurants in a four block area, with two takeout pizza places.  The restaurants were all crowded and we weren’t officially splurging yet, so we opted for a large pizza in a dusty little corner up the street. Since I was not yet undeceived of my plan to control my appetite, I held myself to one slice.  It was well I did. I was wise to conserve every last calorie for the gluttonous week that was to follow. (But if you’re going to be obese, you might as well do it on trifle and filet mignon than on cheap pizza!)  We declined the Hilton’s $7.00 breakfast and bought chocolate milk and muffins at a convenience store run by a middle eastern gent who spoke little English.

   The shuttle ride took us through a circuitous route through down town Vancouver, reinforcing our impression of it being very “European”.  Now I admit that the closest I’ve ever been to Europe is Scotland, but there were strange-seeming apartment buildings right downtown.  Dozens of uniform, rectangular, high-rise buildings, all appearing to be at least 60 years old and un-beautiful.  Tricia, who has seen far more of the world than I, testified that they looked very much like the old communist apartment buildings seen in the Ukrainian cities. The incongruity with the old gaslight district surprised me.

We had to show our passports and go through another ‘customs’ like security checkpoint before going to the Diamond Princess.  But OH WHAT A SHIP! Inlaid floors and polished brass with three stories of swanky shops greeted us as we entered.(See photo above)
 Travel worn and anxious, I was pretty sure that my red neck and thrift store attire trumpeted “MISFIT”.

We went straight to our stateroom, which is about the size of one of our master-bedroom closets. (We have magnificent closets in this home.) We were horror struck at the sight of it!  There were four of us to share the cramped room and there were two twin beds a desk, fridge and shelf. The TV was necessarily mounted from the ceiling!  Now, Jeff and I are not as skinny as we used to be, but the idea of sharing a twin bed with him was nothing (I’m sure) to the horror Tricia and Thomas felt at the prospect of sharing one.  We were about to hit the panic button and call the steward, “There’s been a TERRIBLE mistake!” when someone noticed that there were twin-sized apparatus tucked into the ceiling.  We couldn’t bring them down, but as soon as the steward appeared, (within a few minutes) we made him demonstrate how the bunks came down.  He got a good chuckle out of that. (Rednecks AGAIN) he thought.  (Although like all other waiters and workers on board, English was his second language).(Us labor laws don’t permit our citizens to work 7 days a week 13 hour days, even if we are on a cruise ship.) They have a three-month on, three month off policy.

There was a pretty little balcony with chairs and a table. We were on deck 12 on the starboard side, so watched as the tugboat pulled us free of the dock when the time came.  Oh the balcony was a delight! 

We went to lunch right away, (Having saved our pennies on the muffins and feeling the hollow spots) (the last we were to experience for a good while). The buffet was almost directly above us, with glass walls so that if you got a seat by the window, you could eat and gaze at the passing scenery. 

But gazing was far from our minds. There was prime rib and several kinds of fish, pasta, chicken a half dozen ways, rice creations new to me, but delicious. Potatoes formed and cheesed and herbed into exotic forms and savory pleasures. A dozen types of vegetables, and as many breads, crusty and fresh. Butter formed into cute little flowers. The salad bar was mostly finely shredded so that it was easy to eat and to get exactly the portion you wanted.  There were half a dozen types of salads from various ethnicities.  Watermelons carved as roses and caribou and bald eagles adorned the fruit buffet. I never knew there could be so many luscious, perfectly ripe pineapples in one place as I found aboard every day!  There were eight or nine different pastry chef delights. (more later on that subject) No meal was ever served without at least half a dozen varieties of cheeses.

The plates on the buffet are about 16 inch ovals.  There are other plates and bowls for fruit, dessert and the salad bar.

As soon as we were seated politely at a table, a waiter brought us lemonade with bits of lemon and the exactly perfect amount of sugar. Heavy, linen napkins gently touched our lips. . .if we thought to wipe away any minute bit of the glories that passed there.

Lunch was barely eaten, (It takes awhile on that scale) when yeoman on The Diamond Princess furled the dockside flags (see picture) and ran up the Canadian and other nautically significant flags. The only initial sense of movement was a distinct vibration. Most of the passengers went to their balconies or the deckrails to wave at the poor unfortuates left on the dock or even on the puny Holland America or other ships. The harbor is snug for a mammoth craft of that sort. Pedestrians waved from the bridge we passed under and after a final swish past a snug lighthouse, the bow nosed north and we were on our way. 

As we explored the Diamond Princess, we found she had 5 swimming pools, about a dozen hot tubs (many more “tubs” by the end of the cruise!) a fun 9 hole putting course, shuffleboard, ping pong, a 600 seat(?) theater and oh so many “dining rooms.”

We retired that evening, unable to feel any movement other than the consistent vibration. The stateroom was cool enough for us to appreciate pajamas.  The steward brought extra pillows on request.  The “cots” win no awards for luxury, but they were comfortable enough and it’s easy to sleep when your tummy is so busy with a two day backlog of work.

Since I had only had my HRT prescription for a few days before we left, I was up several times in the night with hot flashes, but I can’t blame that on the ship. Jeff’s snoring kept Tricia and Thomas awake some but that’s not the Princess’s fault either. 

Ah well, there is a limit to enjoyment you’re likely to receive from the vicarious experience, so I will cease. The next entry will be Monday when we stopped in Ketchikan, AK where we began our penance for our over-indulgence and had the first of adventures in the Alaskan wild.        

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