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Cunard Queen Elizabeth 2019 - part 2
Japan and Alaska
  Map Yokohama, Japan Aomori, Japan Sapporo, Japan Kodiak, Alaska Anchorage Juneau Vancouver Skagway Icy Strait Point Sitka Ketchikan Victoria

Wednesday 15 May

Maiden call to Kodiak, Alaska

The voyage from Sapporo to Kodiak was seven days at sea, including crossing the Date Line so we had the delights of Sunday 12 May repeated, which potentially confused our four cameras. In addition each day at sea was only 23 hours so that we would arrive at Kodiak with ship time identical to shore time. Unusually the time changes took place at 0900 in the morning so an hour went missing out of breakfast for those tht rose late but much better for us as Pete still goes to th Gym at 0600 and an hour of sleep going missing would be a pain. The voyage was therefore very similar to a transatlantic from New York to Southampton, and equally tedious.

Arrival at Kodiak Pier 2 Fishermen's Terminal was just before 06.00 and dawn was breaking so Pete got some pictures as we docked before rushing off. Kodiak is the main city on Kodiak Island and two-thirds of the island is national park. In 2014 the population was estimated to be 6,304. Originally inhabited by Alutiiq natives for over 7,000 years. the city was settled in the 18th century by the Russians and became the capital of Russian Alaska. Harvesting of the area's sea otter pelts led to the near extinction of the animal and wars with and enslavement of the natives. After the Alaska Purchase by the United States in 1867, Kodiak became a fishing centre and now has a large commercial fishing fleet for halibut, cod, scallops as well as salmon and king crab in season. It is said to be one of the top 4 in the USA. We were just too early for the King Crab festival which will start on 23 May. It was first held in 1958 to celebrate the end of crabbing season at the waterfront. The features parades, a blessing of the fleet, foot and kayak races, fishing-skills contests, and a lot of cooked king crab. The wild salmon return later in the summer. There is also hunting of the Kodiak giant brown bear, elk, Sitka deer, and mountain goats.

From the berth we could watch bald eagles soaring the hills, and stacks of crab pots and piles of nets on what was obviously a working pier. Bright yellow school buses arrived to take independent travellers to Downtown or to the Walmart store. We preferred to walk along Shelikof Street so we could look at the useful chandlery and boat repair yards, and visit the Harbourshide Coffee and Goods Store. There was urgent need for coffee beans and our selection was Midnight Sun Blend which was an extra dark roast. All their coffee beans were relatively expensive, between $15 and $16 for a 1 lb packet but they did grind it for us. Turning right towards the Harbourmaster's Building and the Fisherman's Memorial, there were views across St Paul Harbour and then towards the QE. To our delight we saw a sea otter, and then two sea lions. On 27 March 1964 at 5.36 pm there was the Good Friday Earthquake, the largest earthquake recorded in the USA at 9.2, which lasted over four minutes. It was then followed by a terrible tsunami which threw boats into the streets and knocked houses off their foundations and destroyed all the canneries. The Star of Kodiak, an old WWII liberty ship was beached later in 1964 to become a temporary cannery and is still working, although hidden by various containers.

Across the Park was the Alutiiq Museum with the Holy Resurrection Russian Orthodox Cathedral opposite. The Alutiiq Museum is dedicated to preserving and sharing the cultural traditions of the Koniag Alutiiq branch of the Sugpiaq ~ Alutiiq Native people. The Russian Orthodox presence in Kodiak dates from 1796, and this historic church was built in 1943 to replace an earlier version that was destroyed by fire. The exterior has blue onion domes and a detached bell tower from the 19th century. The remains of broken bells, originally cast in Kodiak between 1794 and 1796, are on display. The interior was open and the guide explained the history of the Russian church in Alaska and its beautiful icons. Created according to strict religious standards, Russian Orthodox icons are sanctified and blessed inside a church by a priest, and then venerated by the Orthodox faithful in Alaska as reminder of the sacrifices made by the saints, martyrs, and prophets of the church. In the corner are the remains of St. Herman, considered by many Orthodox Christians as the patron saint of North America. Five saints from Alaska are recognised by the Russian Orthodox Church. The guide mentioned a replica of the original church had been built further along the road, St Herman's chapel. This is just beneath the Fred Zharoff Bridge which leads from Kodiak to Near Island. The bridge gave excellent views over the city, and towards the QE in the distance.

The Downtown area has several other interesting buildings to visit: the Baranov Museum and the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Centre are both within sight of the Tourist Information Centre. The Baranov museum was included on the ship tours and is housed in the oldest building in Alaska known as the Russian American Magazin or Erskine House. Kodiak was established in 1793 as Pavlovsk, the first permanent Russian settlement in North America and was territorial capital until 1808. Exhibits cover Kodiak’s Russian era (1741-1867), early American era (1867-1912) and modern era (1912-present). It is a large two-storey house but only the ground floor can be visited, and this includes a large shop. We had hoped to look around the building to compare the rooms with similar buildings in NZ and expected to pay $5 but admisson charges were marked as a $10 (compusory) donation on the blackboard outside, perhaps because it was cruise ship day. In contrast, the National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Centre welcomed us for free, had a good display of local wildlife, a skeleton of a grey whale found locally, and a useful video about their work at the refuge. The 2,812 square-mile refuge encompasses two-thirds of Kodiak Island and includes a diverse habitat that range from rugged mountains and alpine meadows to wetlands, spruce forest and grassland. The refuge is home to 3,500 bears with males that have been known to exceed 1,500 pounds and stand more than 10 feet tall.The refuge has no roads, so bear viewing is done as a day tour with an air charter operator or as an excursion from one of many remote wilderness lodges on the island.

The area is famous for its local fish and we were recommended to go to "Henry's Great Alaskan Restaurant" which we had passed in a small Mall opposite the Harbourmaster's Building. It offered 20 beers on tap and Delicious Food, Generous Portions. We had been hoping to find the local food, particularly the giant local crabs, and the menu offered Alaskan smoked salmon, and Kodiak Cod and Scallops. The portions were indeed generous and we were tempted but we had already booked an early dinner at Bamboo and so were only looking for a light lunch. We had also been recommended Monk's Rock Coffee House and Bookshop which was associated with the Russian Orthodox seminary. It was a smaller establishment, near to the petrol station, and mainly a coffee shop but with sandwiches and light meals. It included a good Russian souvenir shop selling books and icons. We saw the Kodiak Brewing Company opposite, with its moto "Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy" (Ben Franklin). McDonalds was nearby and further out of town along the same road there was the US Post Office.

Kodiak publishes an Official Visitor's Guide and later we found it would have been possible to fly in a classic Grumman Widgeon with pilot Steve Harvey (www.harveyflyingservice.com) who is based at the airport. It has been 20 years since we flew in one at Paihia in New Zealand and we would have been glad to have the experience of landing on water again, and perhaps seeing a Kodiak brown bear.

 

Thursday 16 May

Maiden call to Anchorage, Alaska

The route from Kodiak to Anchorage was north along the Cook Inlet. Approaching in the dawn the ocean was calm and the snow-capped mountains stretched alongside and ahead. The peace was only broken by the arrival of flights at the international airport and later by USAF jets and transports flying into their base just over the trees from the docks. Nestled between the waters of the Cook Inlet and the peaks of the Chugach Mountains, the city sits right on the edge of a huge wilderness region and embraces its “wilderness at the end of the street” identity. Anchorage is home to around 40% of Alaska’s population and residents share the region with over 2000 Dall’s sheep, 1500 moose and 300 bears. The container docks are outside the city, at Ship Creek, where King, Coho and Pink salmon spawn in summer. There was a delay in disembarking and queues for the compulsary shuttle buses Downtown. It is not possible to exit the docks on foot and the roads do not have footpaths. The centre of the city is made in a grid with Streets labelled A, B C from east to west and Avenues 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc from north to south. It reminded Pauline of Milton Keynes, especially when we found almost no people on foot, but lots of parking. The shuttle buses went to the Egan Centre at the corner of 5th Avenue and F Street. Officially the William A. Egan Civic and Convention Center named after Alaska’s first governor, the building features a glass front that runs its entire length. A skywalk connects it with the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts. Built alongside the Egan Centre in 1984 as part of a widespread development project, the Alaska PAC is a downtown landmark that serves as a social and cultural meeting place. The complex’s theatres and concert halls regularly host the Anchorage Symphony Orchestra, Anchorage Opera, Alaska Dance Theatre and Anchorage Concert Chorus.

The Anchorage Museum opened early, at 0900, and had reduced entrance of $12 for seniors. It was close to the Egan Centre, just beyond the Town Square and J C Penney's Store, with entrance through a small park on the corner of 6th Avenue and C Street. Dedicated to studying and exploring the land, peoples art and history of Alaska, this impressive museum began with a largely borrowed small collection of objects and paintings in 1968 and now covers 170,000 square feet. There are two linked buildings : the West Wing and the East Wing. Entrance is to the West Wing which contains the Chugach Gallery and the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center. The recommendation was to take the lift to Level 4 and visit the Chugach Gallery, then to descend to Level 2 visiting the Smithsonian Centre before exploring the East Wing. The Chugach Gallery displayed pictures and stories of the indigenous Athabascan people. It is estimated that 45,000 Northern Athabascans live in 76 villages across Alaska and Canada, and Anchorage is on their ancestral homelands. The Chugach Gallery also showed how poorly indigenous people were represented in the white American led media.

West Wing Level 2 had an interesting display of more than 600 rare Alaskan native heritage objects from the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History and National Museum of the American Indian. The large glass display cabinets included equipment for fishing, clothes made of fur and decorated with beading, lightweight waterproof parkas made from sea mammal intestines, and wooden ceremonial masks and shields. There were large screens and native people talked about their history and culture and how their way of life had changed when their homelands were settled by immigrant Americans. This area was joined to the refurbished and explanded East Wing which has the new Rasmuson Wing, opened 15 September 2017, the Art of the North galleries, and the new Alaska exhibition. Having just been to Kodiak, the first room of the Art of the North galleries displayed three large mixed media paintings by Alvin Amason who was born in 1948 and grew up on Kodiak Island. He is Sugpiaq-American and his grandfather was one of the first Alaskan Native master bear guides. The right hand painting is "Papa said Seals are One Bump, Otters are Two, There goes Steve Harvey!" and references Kodiak pilot Steve Harvey and his Grunman Widgeon. The other paintings are "Grandma said the eyes are good medicine" on the left, and "Everything I love is here" in the centre. The paintings in the other rooms are a mixture of classical romantic styles and contemporary works. Two artists with many paintings on display were the landscape paintings by Sydney Lawrence, and the depiction of people, animals and the land by Fred Machetanz.The new Alaska exhibition on the level below has more than 400 objects which included boats, clothing, walrus ivory carving, gold mining tools, and a fish butchering machine invented in 1903 for processing salmon. There are old photographs and films. The 1500 moose who are said to live around Anchorage are represented by a lifesize model, next to a display about the time when Alaska became the 49th state of the USA. The museum has successfully represented the diversity of immigrant heritages in Alaska and the Far North.

As we continued towards the exit there were several rooms depicting kitchens, food storage and preservation. This included a stand of boxes of Spam, and there were associated souvenirs for sale in the Museum shop. The staff explained that Spam was a staple because it stored well, and they had obtained their stocks from the Spam Museum in Austin, Minnesota. After 3 hours at the Anchorage Museum we completed our day by an exploration of the city. First stop was the 5th Avenue Mall which was opposite the Museum and where we had been told there was a Starbucks Coffee Shop for buying Decaff Espresso Beans. Along 4th Avenue there were lots of small shops, including the Alaskan Veterans Museum and the Alaska Mint. We knew we were into touristland when we passed shops with large plastic bears at their entrance, and the Anchorage Trolley Tours drove past. Its pickup is by the City Hall where we finally found local food at the outdoor stands cooking Reindeer HotDogs which provided a nice local lunch snack at $6.50. The Visitor Information Office attached to the City Hall is in a Log Cabin which was constructed in 1954. Jade is Alaska's state gem and a huge jade boulder weighting 5114 pounds is outside the door. It came from Ivan Stewart's Dahl Creek in the 1960s. Ivan and Oro started one of Anchorage's oldest businesses, Stewart's Photo Shop, which is just across 4th Avenue. Their shop sells jade souvenirs including many pieces from British Columbia which are similar to the cheaper jade sold in New Zealand. The Polar Bear Gifts Store on the corner was very popular and sold lots of really cheap alaskan souvenirs. They had different Ulu curved bladed chopping knives, made locally, but we doubted they would be allowed on board. On the other side of 4th Avenue is the Alaskan Public Lands Information Centre which has information, videos and exhibits. This area, just a short distance from the shuttle bus and the Egan Centre, was obviously the heart of Downtown.

We were back onboard for a late lunch and as the last tours returned at 1630 it started to rain. There was then the long voyage south down Cook Inlet with the pilot, who was then dropped at Homer before the QE continued towards Juneau.

 

 

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Content revised: 2nd July, 2019