Published: September 14th 2011September 13th 2011
We had a morning arrival in Sitka, with rainy overcast skies, docking as we were having our breakfast. We turned in our RSVP for the Master Chef dinner this evening. John had the American breakfast, and HAL has proven that they know how to make eggs over medium, as they’ve been perfect every time they’ve been ordered. Sharon had her scrambled eggs and bacon, our short tour not being until after lunch. There are hints of blue in the far off skies, but they are also becoming increasingly gray. Though in point of fact, I don’t think we can complain about the weather on this cruise, it’s been pretty much perfect. We sat with a couple from Seattle, and a single lady and a single man.
We had a relaxing morning, taking time to get a Coke and do the daily Sudoku challenge in the library. John finished ahead of Sharon, again. The trivia questionnaire dealt with all things Alaska and I’m ashamed to say we must not have learned much because the only question we knew the answer to was the bonus question dealing with Jack London’s work “Call of the Wild”. We might guess that John Michener was
a guest professor at University of Fairbanks while working on his book “Alaska”, but that would just be a guess. Sharon is passing some time with her Nintendo DS Lite.
We needed to catch an opening bite at the Lido, in order to catch our tender to the Sitka pier. John had the coconut crusted chicken with Thai red curry sauce with seasoned French fries and corn. The Indonesian server asked how much corn to serve and when I asked for one (spoonful) he tried to give me one kernel. Seconds consisted of a very tasty cauliflower soup, and that was followed by several pieces of sushi with lots of wasabi and some ginger root too. Sharon enjoyed a slice of pork roast with seasoned roasted potatoes, and when she asked for a just a little corn got about 5 kernels. John got a waffle cone with cinnamon ice cream, and Sharon a white chocolate mousse for dessert.
We waited on the pier about fifteen extra minutes waiting for a space to open up for the St. Anastasia jet cat. The weather had looked very rainy and overcast and our first name for this blog entry appeared likely
to be “Soaking in Sitka”; however, the rain had stopped, or at worst was a bit misty, and the cloud ceiling was rising, and it began to look like a nice afternoon for our tour. We boarded, and there were just eight of us on the boat, plus the three crew members and 2 HAL Shore excursion employees. Our naturalist then announced in a voice that resonated with a familiar TV show that we were going “on a three hour tour… a three hour tour.” As we cleared the harbor we sped to the open waters where the Amsterdam lay at anchor, and then beyond. This was a definite E-Ticket ride with plenty of bouncing and spray. The deck-hand (too bad his name wasn’t Gilligan) and wildlife spotter spied a deer on the shore. That would be a Sitka deer. There are lots of wildlife and trees and plants and such that are identified by Sitka this, or Sitka that (e.g. Sitka Alder, Sitka Spruce…) because Sitka was the first settlement by Europeans in Alaska and was the center of much of the early exploration. Sharon and John both saw a couple of bald eagles on the shore, one it
the top of a Sitka Alder, and one by the water on an old buckskin trunk lying flat into the water. As we came into Redoubt Bay, some harbor seals were spotted swimming in the water. The tide was near its zenith, so the mild rapids flowing from Redoubt Lake down to the bay seemed tame. The lake is about eleven feet above sea level and is the return destination of many sockeye salmon. We were on the lookout for bears, but didn’t spot any. As we left the bay, we spotted a puffin in the water. As we approached it tried to escape, flapping its wings vigorously, its belly skimming across the gentle rolling sea; but, it was unable to escape the hold of the see and it would collapse back into the water. The puffin tried three times, and three times it was unable to achieve flight free from the water… it was simply too fat to fly after gorging itself on the many small fish below. The puffin was beginning to lose its tufts and take on its winter colors. And then we spotted the whale spout, in extremely shallow waters and near the shore. We approached,
and spotted him again along the rock jetty extending seaward. And in 28 feet of water, according to the captain, the whale submerged and showed us his fluke. The captains said he must be scraping his chin on the bottom.
We continued on to the high water beach that is part of the tour. The craft came onto the gravel beach and we disembarked from a gangplank lowered from the front. Walking was difficult on the water laden gravel. The deckhand/nature spotter took the lead as we ventured into the woods, after the safety talk, and whistles handed out to everyone (in case of bears or broken bones). The naturalist brought up the rear of the group. It wasn’t likely we’d come across bears, as there was no salmon in the area, but you never know. The fallen bare tree trunks we had to step on were slippery with moss. Once we left the beach and got into the woods, the ground was this spongy moss covered surface that made walking awkward. The type of tree most abundant in these woods was the Sitka Hemlock (not the kind of hemlock you associate with Plato) as this tree is not too particular about the soil it grows in. Other trees we saw also included the yellow cedar. Winding our way through the woods was difficult. Sharon and John were in the middle of the group, which is not a bad place to be in bear country; however, we became separated from those ahead of us as we negotiated some logs and steep and slippery terrain, finding ourselves as the leader of those behind us. We took a bit more circuitous route, finally catching up to the others, whom we could hear, in a small clearing.
From there we made our way of the spongy turf down to the stone spit, a narrow isthmus separating two bays that become one at the highest of tides. Across the stony narrows more woods lay on the other side, but we decided to rest on some logs on the near side. John spotted a pelagic cormorant in behind a distant rock outcropping, its snake-like neck squirming skyward as it attempted to dry itself after a recent swim for food. These birds don’t have oil in their feathers like other water birds, so they need to work at keeping dry. Okay, the naturalist sort of helped John identify the bird, but he found it with the binoculars.
After a brief stay at the spit, we made our way back, retracing our steps to the beach. We boarded the jet-cat, and headed back across the 45 minutes of open water to Sitka. We were treated to a chocolate abalone on the return trip, our choice dark or milk chocolate, and it was pretty darn good. We also saw a raft of otters (females since they were around a bed of kelp). As we approached the Amsterdam at about 4:10PM we realized the jet-cat was going to tender us right to the ship, which saved us the twenty minute trip to the pier in hopes of catching the final 4:30PM tender back again.
We dressed for dinner and went up for the Master Chef’s Show in the La Fontaine dining room. We sat at a table for eight in the raised center seating section. There was an older California couple with their son and daughter-in-law, and another couple from Oklahoma. Our dinner started with the Napkin Ballet, where the dining room stewards dance around, twirling the napkins and placing them in each diner’s lap. The Act One was a puff pastry topped with a mousse pate (why does the word “PTUI” come to mind?). Well Sharon wouldn’t try hers, but John managed to eat all of his, and it wasn’t anything like the heavy awful tasting stuff he’d had when visiting Paris with Ron (our best man) and his sister Linda (who coined the word “PTUI”) when she mistook this type of mousse with the chocolate kind. Act Two was preceded by the dance of the salads, in which the stewards line danced through the dining area banging on salad bowls and juggling red, green, yellow and orange bell peppers. Several of the bell peppers were dropped and I was only hoping they weren’t going to end up in my salad. Our salads were brought out after the performance and were simply prepared, with minimal dressing. Act Three was the choice of soup, either Lobster Bisque or Oxtail Soup. John had the bisque which had a bit more of the Old Bay seasoning than it needed, and quite a bit less lobster (with no discernable chunks). Sharon’s Oxtail Soup came in a bowl with a pie crust covering, and she thought it was okay (the take it or leave it “okay” that Sharon uses, and not the this is pretty bad “okay” that my mom uses). John’s entrée was the Duck a la Orange, which was tasty, with rice, vegetables (snow peas, carrots and corn) and a small tower potato cake. Sharon ordered the lamb chops which she enjoyed. The final act was the Baked Alaska, and the stewards came out in an elaborate presentation dance, which featured the large Baked Alaska (and the merengue on these is baked, unlike the daily baked Alaska Sharon has ordered a couple times so far). Then they sliced up the dessert, serving the women at our table first. Sharon of course got a slice with only strawberry ice cream. John got the final piece which was solely chocolate. John swapped his piece with Sharon’s slice (which may me enough bonus points to graduate my husband 101 training course).
We finished dinner about 7PM, and had time to stop in the casino. Sharon tried her luck at her machine, and John’s first base spot at the table was available. There were four other’s playing at the table, and the game was quite slow. Sharon stopped by the blackjack pit after 30 minutes, and went into the showroom to save a spot. John played a few more hands, before leaving with a $30 gain. The humorous story about this table came from one gentleman, when the cocktail waitress came by taking orders. He was hemming and hawing and then decided he would get a drink, and tried to give the waitress his drink card to pay for the drink. When she said the drink was on the house, he didn’t believe her. When she did bring the drink, he asked her if she was sure she didn’t need the card to charge his account. My guess is he hasn’t spent much time in the casino, although he seemed to know how to play.
John found Sharon on the balcony in the second row. The show featured Jeff Trachta, who had played Thorne on “The Bold and the Beautiful”. His comedy performance, doing impressions of everyone from George Burns (as God… and as George Burns) to such contemporary performers as Lady Gaga was awe inspiring. The range of his voice was impressive, and his impersonations even more so. The impersonations often included singing (Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Vanilla Ice, Justin Timberlake…). He also did a “So you think you’re smarter than the average fifth grader?” knock-off featuring the three most recent presidents, each of whom he impersonated flawlessly with a humorous twist (no matter which side of the political spectrum you may fall on). The faux audience vote decided the winner chose none of these, and instead picked Ronald Reagan as the winner. His act finished with a patriotic number, after acknowledging his father that instilled in him his love of country, and meaning no disrespect to any in the audience from other countries. His finale was “I’m proud to be an American” in tribute to his father.