Over the Pond and far away….Day 10

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Bootiful, booming, Boston……..

Sport is not my most knowledgeable of favourite subject, and American sport even less, but I think most folk at some time have heard of the RED SOX baseball team, hence the header photo…..but more of this later…

We slept well and whilst we had considered going out to find somewhere for breakfast, the smell of coffee, croissants, cookies and waffles was slightly stronger, so we conceded and headed for the restaurant. For me, a simple omelette would suffice, whilst Lady felt a croissant would satisfy her dietary requirements.

On both counts we were caught-out. My omelette came not just as a couple of fluffed-up eggs but with a large amount of fried potato chunks and salad….FOR BREAKFAST!!!  And Lady admits she was almost defeated by her ‘croissant’ which was cooked like French Toast, and served with fried potato and a relish of some kind! I suppose it takes all sorts!

However we were heading out to fulfil the reason for our visit to Boston…..a trip into the country-side to see some spectacular Autumn foliage. I had booked one with Grayline Coaches, with a handy pick-up point; outside the Fairmont Hotel in Copley Square. We were there in plenty of time, in the rain, at a layby where coaches, buses, and trolley buses were all coming and going. But no sign of a Grayline! I didn’t know phone codes to call them so we were helpless! Meanwhile we had the chance to look round at the marvellous buildings in the Square..

—–even on a miserable day it was certainly splendid.

Pick-up time had passed and enquiries to all the coach drivers had drawn a blank. I went over to speak with staff outside the Fairmont Hotel to be told that it had gone some time ago….from the ‘other’ frontage, around the corner! Oh, Dear!! So back to the Lenox, where the front of house staff contacted the company on our behalf. They did agree to give us back half of the total cost.

So what to do? Decided a Trolley City Tour would let us see a lot in a short time. Off to the Marriott (we travel in exalted circles, you know) to get the tickets, and back to Copley Square, to get our Trolley, and you certainly could not miss it! So off we set……

This was where the RED SOX photo comes into play, because it was evident that our driver was a keen RED SOX supporter, and he rattled-off the current team and stars from the past. So for my friends who are interested in these things, this photo might be of interest.

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No, I was more interested after we crossed the Charles River to the hallowed courts of Harvard University and MIT, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With my physics background, MIT was hallowed ground, and any mention of it, in the CV of a writer of a research paper or article meant it had to be taken seriously. Unfortunately I only got one photo as he sped through.

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Back over the river again, passing a large group of pink-clad ladies walking for charity…a world-wide phenomenon. Then it was time to hop-off at Boston Common, at the State House, a wonderfully-impressive building.

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This was a real breathing-space in a busy city, and looked to be well-used, but again it was clean and neat, with no litter, chewing gum, cigarette ends or over-flowing bins. Squirrels were around in numbers and the trees were starting to show us some of the colours we came to see…

I was also intrigued by the delicacies available at the café in the centre of the park, if you like that kind of thing….

I think I was always ‘against’ skyscrapers and how they might dominate the people-scape, and I still that that is so where they were added to a city design which was based on narrow streets and two-or-three storey buildings. But when I saw the wide avenues of Boston and the apartments and office blocks, they seemed ‘just right’….

So that was a pleasant time, but a hop-back-on to the trolley took us to a place well-mentioned in the literature on Boston…Quincy’s Market. It is, as you imagine, a gathering of small boutique places which women love to frequent to find that ‘special present’ or accessory. It is a wonderful place for a rainy day as you can pop-in or out of shops below ground, or on ground level, as well as being entertained by street shows, or join in the chess.

So much choice in eating places….so where to go for lunch? Where else but the Japanese Restaurant Wagamama? Chilli chicken ramen was a super, rather spicy stew full of noodles, and obviously chicken, and was quite enough to satiate the inner man or lady along with the beer!

Lady then insisted that we look-for, and acquire samples of the usual fridge-magnets, and coasters etc, without which no holiday is complete! Well-worth  a re-visit to see what valuable trinkets we missed  first time. And so back to the trolley and  eventually returned to Copley Square. By this time, feet were tired and body required a snooze. So I must have succumbed, but I don’t remember as I was obviously asleep!

Having dined so well at Wagamama, it did not seem necessary to eat much more, so we simply went out locally to have a typical Canadian meal for our last evening…and Pret a Manger took Lady’s fancy so there we went and dined adequately. Walking back to the hotel let me get a few shots of night-time Boston and the steam coming from the sewers, and often seen in films.

We also met a couple of Red Sox supporters on the streets, and had a chat. They had lost their match but there was no annoyance in their voice, they were perfectly sanguine about the score and saluted their opponents. Good for them, and an example to supporters throughout  the UK….and so to bed, as Samuel Pepys would have said…..

 

 

 

 

 

Over the pond and far away..Day 9

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Landfall at Boston…

There was a bit of a sad feeling overnight that this seemed like the end of the holiday with leaving the ship, (although it wasn’t really) and when I woke about 4am, I could not return fully to the land of slumber. Lady continued to sleep soundly, so I got up at 6am and was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed by the time she came-to. Up for our last maritime breakfast on the Lido deck, (although I kept writing in my diary, about ‘going downstairs‘ to eat!). We said our goodbyes to those who were available and exchanged e-mails. There were others whom we had hoped to meet again, but of whom there was no sign….a great pity.

An orderly disembarkation,  luggage collection, taxi acquisition, and arrival at the Lenox Hotel, Exeter Street, (in the rain) were all achieved by noon, without mishap. Even better, we were expected….such a relief! No room was immediately available, but Lady  was pleased enough to sit at the fire-side in the Reception area…..in fact I don’t think anything would have moved her after our experience in Montreal!P1080179.JPG

The Lenox is one of Boston’s Historic Hotels and is full of that beautifully-descriptive word….splendour. There is a lot of information on the following website http://www.historichotels.org/hotels-resorts/the-lenox/history.php . Just have a look at the reception area…….

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The room was also luxurious, and I have some of the shampoos and lotions etc to prove it… They still had a turn-down service, and everything was impeccable. Even the phone was an old-fashioned circular-dial model!

We had a marvellous corner room on the 8th floor looking up Boylston Street towards Copley Square, and when I looked to street-level I saw a wide yellow line across the road, which said FINISH. It was then that I twigged. Boston-Finish Line-Marathon-Bombing-Deaths. It occurred on April 15th 2013, when two pressure cookers were detonated near two Finish lines either side of the Lenox Hotel. There were 3 deaths and 260 injured. Life seems to move on and there were now no obvious signs of the outrage.

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Despite the gentle drizzle, perambulation was self-prescribed and we went off to look at Copley Square about which I had read, and then an eatery for lunch. We knew of the portion-sizes to be expected, but hadn’t witnessed it first-hand, with self-service on the ship. We found a noisy Restaurant called the Globe, close-by and ordered a ciabatta each with some salad…WOW…we could have easily shared one! I even noted in my diary that I did not know how we finished it!

It was then time for Lady to see some shops, and there was certainly no shortage! It was almost a pleasure wandering around in the rain, along clean streets, it must be said, with amphibious vehicles in action…..are they practising for more global-warming? Then to the Prudential Mall which is massive, at the base of a large office block. At least it was indoors!

 

A flatbread (pizza) and a somewhat large salad, both shared, in a little local Irish pub, completed our first day in Boston…a city which we both felt we could really like…..

 

Over the pond and far away..Day 8

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Bar Harbour…. landfall into the U.S of A

During the night, we left Canadian waters and were now heaved-to close to American territory. Instead of going through all the customs rigmarole in a reception centre, the US Customs officials had come on board. We had been given the famous Green Card to fill out the night before and were advised to have it, and passport, with us, as we would be called to the ship’s Library in order.

Unfortunately we were only told an approximate time, so went to have breakfast, and had just time for cereal before the appropriate announcement came, and along we went. Everyone was courteous (well you don’t argue with a US Customs Officer, do you?) and we were able to return to our brekkies, secure in the knowledge that the U.S of A felt that we were honourable people and worthy of being let loose on their shores!

We waited until it was ‘open-tendering’ which meant that we could go just when we were ready. Getting from the ship to the tender was no problem when we were in dock, or securely anchored near to land, but it might have been somewhat hairy were we at sea with the ship and tender walloping about in heavy seas! But no such problems occurred. It is actually quite comfortable, and because the tender was almost empty, I was able to get some nice shots of the ship.

The first thing we noticed about Bar Harbour was the announcement about what it does pretty well…..catch lobsters, before we set-off for our internet-seeking.

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We were advised to take our internet-requirements to the local Jesup Memorial Library where we were met by smiling librarians who made us welcome, even offered their computers if necessary, and there was coffee available free if wanted. Classic dark wood panelling and a bust of (presumably) Mr Jesup, was well in keeping with the 1911 when it was founded. You have only to read its Facebook page and website to see the important contribution it makes to the locale.

Coming out again into the charming Village Green we saw what we had been hoping to see by coming to this area…..the changing of the leaves as autumn made its presence evident, even if only on a single tree!. So the journey had been worthwhile…to an extent.

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We are very fortunate in living near Argyll and Perthshire, Scotland where the amount of managed forestry acreage is vast and the chance of seeing beautiful colour change is very good. However our unpredictable and rather damp climate prevent us having the purples and strong reds that we hoped to see.

Close-by the Village Green and ‘the’ tree, was another St George’s Anglican Church. Unlike the previous one in Sydney, this had music playing, and extremely-well I must say! I was happy to listen to a master at the keyboard, and we had a very-pleasant chat about choirs and choral music. Hopefully we can keep in touch.

….But there were still some lovely sights to look-at and record….

And so back to the ship, packing to do (BOO HOO!), get dressed (PRETTY) and get to the Pinnacle Grill (HOORAY) for our final dinner of the cruise. I must say that it is nice to get dressed-up and have a meal alone with the lovely lady  who has been around with me for over 50 years…..and who still looks great….

Nouvelle cuisine was the order of the day, and I normally don’t find it very satisfying, but having dined sufficiently for a week, it was probably right and proper that we should stifle our demand for another over-indulgence in food. We needn’t have worried! What there was, proved very tasty and flavoursome, but I was never going to have to let my belt out a notch after this. However, the company was GREAT!

We spent the rest of the evening at the theatre with a wonderful comedian, but we came down with a crash to the realities of life when we had to put our cases outside, because tomorrow we would be leaving the ship for the next stage of our holiday…..

Over the pond, and far away…..Day 1

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Glasgow to Montreal ……….

Some five years ago, Lady and I, on retirement, traversed the north Atlantic, and the North American Continent to see Calgary, Banff, Jasper, the Rocky Mountaineer, Kamloops, yet more Rocky Mountaineer, and finally the fair city of Vancouver, before embarking on  a cruise into Alaska.

It was a momentous journey for me, as I am not a great lover of sitting in a metal tube for many hours at a stretch, either in the air, or on a rail line. Much as I loved it in retrospect, I was pleased that we had returned unscathed, and vowed that ‘That is That!’.

Lady is not so easily put-off, and expressed a gentle (but insistent) wish that ‘Boston in the Fall’ might be worth a view. As any man knows, this indicates that cerebral plans are already well-established, if not completed, in the Lady’s mind and that further discussion is meaningless……IT WILL HAPPEN….

This was all in August 2015, and when our Travel Agent was approached, I knew that all struggling was futile. Dates, times, hotels, cruise itinerary, were all established, as I saw a dwindling bank balance being replaced by increasing paperwork in a folder. Weather forecasts all along the way were viewed anxiously, so that it could be established what clothes I would require, to have washed, ironed, unworn, and sitting beside an open suitcase some weeks before departure. I had no inverse opinion requested about Lady’s clothes!

And thus it was that just a couple of weeks ago, accompanied by the massive amount of paperwork demanded by the so-called ‘paperless society’, we set-off for our flight from Glasgow to London. Weather and flight were pleasant and great views of London convinced us that we were lucky to live to the north of Glasgow with a view of the lovely Campsie Fells……all was looking good…..

Our Heathrow transfer was painless and our 7 hour BA flight to Montreal uneventful…… even some sleep was possible after a pleasant meal. As a bonus, the Canadian Customs Officers at Montreal were courteous, and the airport coach took us to a couple of hundred yards from our hotel. So we set off happily walking and chatting in the late evening …….but everything had been going too swimmingly….!

There is something about a foreign city at night…….it doesn’t look at all like it does in Google Street! We had just missed a turning, but, hey, there were a few police standing together, and we could ask them. It turned out that they were there because of the presence of the Chinese president! We chatted briefly and then asked for confirmation of where our hotel was ….well you know what they say…..policemen know everything. We set off again on our way happy that we would be soon tucked up in bed…..

The receptionist was mystified, and justifiably so, as she had no record of us. Showing her the booking confirmed that the police were wrong. It was NOT our hotel, although is sounded similar (probably my Irish/Scottish French!).

OK, so we now had the correct directions to our correct hotel and we DID arrive, checked the name over the door, and met ANOTHER mystified Receptionist…..’Sorry, Mr Monroe, no record of you’…..’Can you give us a bed and we can sort it in the morning?’……..’Of course, De Luxe OK?’…..’Anything!!’…..’Sleep well’……..

Three am saw me on my phone to our Travel Agent (the 5 hour time change permitted that) who reassured me that they would be working on this for me, and slumber eventually overcame tiredness from a very long day, annoyance, anxiety, and the question….. what can happen next?

For that you will just have to wait……

 

 

 

 

 

The Alaska Adventure……Chapter 8

Now with one night and day completed on the Inner Passage to Alaska……………………

With sheer exhaustion, I slept quite well….but, with my body-clock even more confused, with yet another time-change, it is probably not surprising to note that 4am on 3rd June saw me wide awake! The allure of the Sudoku puzzlebook was short-lived, and so I quietly dressed so as not to disturb the Better Half, and headed up on deck with video and map.

There were a number of other idiots wandering about and we briefly passed the time of day, before keeping on the move because of the cold. I took the opportunity of  doing four laps of the pedestrian deck, so felt quite pleased with myself so treated myself to coffee in the breakfast bar when it opened.

Several visits to the cabin later and the Good Lady came on deck, just as we entered the narrow fjord called Tracy Arm which was to lead us to our first view of what we had come to see…..a glacier…..in this case the Sawyer Glacier. We had all been psyched-up to see this, but unfortunately the pilot we had taken on-board had decided that the environment had to be protected, and further movement up the fjord would cause damage to the small icebergs floating around

…..and so, we dropped-off some folk who had booked to go off to the Glacier by bum-boat, whilst the rest of us had to be content with heading for the restaurant for lunch.

Today was the birthday of the Good Lady. Discretion (and the threat of a thick ear) forbids me mentioning an actual number! However it was going to be memorable in that, firstly, it was to be our first land-fall in Alaska, and secondly I would not have to get her any gold for a present…..explanation in a minute!

Juneau is the capital of Alaska, and depends heavily on the sea and air, in that there is no land approach available. Everything coming to or from Juneau must come by boat or seaplane. You can see why as soon as you come off the ship when the surrounding hills become even more evident.

We didn’t really know what to expect even although I had looked at it on Google Street, so knew the general layout. But we found the inhabitants quite friendly. When walking through the main street we came upon a policeman, and had a chat. We did mention that our daughter was a policewoman, and he presented us with a sew-on badge as issued to the Alaskan Police!

Even the animals were friendly……..

However, this was just a lead-up to the main event of the day…getting  the present for the Better Half. We were picked-up at the quayside and met by a rather aged-looking gentleman with a large hat, extensive tobacco-stained beard, and an unbelievable drawl.

 

We were then taken by an old minibus to a creek (you notice my use of the Alaskan vernacular!), where we were given a lesson on panning for gold. We each received a ‘pan’ with mud and grit already in it, and shown how to swirl it about in the water. Lo and behold, each of us found a few flakes of a bright metallic substance in the bottom of our ‘pan’! So with our combined ‘flakes’ we could have just about covered a large match-head!…so fortunes were not to be made. Anyway I think each of the pans had been ‘seeded’!

Never mind, it was all just a bit of fun! A return to the relative civility of the ship and a lovely meal in the Italian Restaurant, ended an interesting day! It was worth recording her good looks for posterity, so we hunted about for a suitable location. The following is that photo….So her birthday was recorded by a photo showing Neptune with his hand on her shoulder!

The Adventure…Chapter 7

 

Leaving Vancouver, cruising on the Holland American ‘Hollandam’ heading North on the Inner Passage for the first time to Alaska………………………..

I’m not a good sleeper at the best of times, tossing and turning, wakening with the slightest noise, and with a body which  finds it difficult to go back to sleep once wakened. But, boy, was I tired when my head hit the pillow on our first night out of Vancouver on the 1st of June…….the start of our journey to this mysterious place called Alaska!

Don’t misunderstand me; it had been a week which had been wonderful, busy, awe-inspiring, exciting, revelationery (is that a real word?), with the long flight, snow, glaciers, Rocky Mountaineer train, different food, and latterly the calming effect of Vancouver.

The senses had been over-whelmed, and we were somewhat glad to be spending seven nights in the same bed without the constant repacking and moving-on. Our knowledge of what was to come had been taken from travel books, Google, what  others had told us, and a few television programmes. So all these thoughts were drifting through my mind as I tried to get to sleep. Meanwhile Lady was happily breathing with the sleep of the innocent!

I woke on the morning of 2nd June at 5.30 am (not an unusual scenario for men of a certain age!), and went up on deck (after dressing of course!) for a wander round. Although it was bright, there was nothing really to see as we were obviously some distance from land on either side. This land, and Inner Passage, was bigger than I had imagined!

Now, I have often been told-off, by you-know-who, for having my still camera or DVD camera by my side ready for use at the most inappropriate times……but no such stricture applied on this holiday as we wanted as complete a record as possible.  

We had been told that this area should be a good area for spotting whales, and over a leisurely breakfast, they materialised quite a few times.  However, the whales felt no need to give any advance warning of leaving or entering the water!  It is only when the event has started, been spotted by someone, who then hollers about it, and I grab one of  my cameras and point it in approximately the right direction, that I have a hope of getting a shot. By that time, of course, the blighter has disappeared, and I get lovely shots of empty water, only to find it re-appearing some distance away, after the camera has been set-down!  Try doing this as you are munching your cereal, or swilling coffee and you can see that discontent returned to the marriage relationship occasionally!

I tried leaving them switched-on, but then either achieved dead batteries, or shots of feet or floor, and the recording of chatter…so that didn’t work. However I did get one or two classic video shots of the tails but none of the great snout coming out of the water…..but never mind…there are some lovely shots on You tube!

The ship boasted a large theatre which hosted many events. After breakfast we attended an interview on stage with the ‘Hotel Manager’ who is responsible for some 7000 meals per day, in 7 restaurants…. the mind boggles! We then decided on the shore trips we wanted (some at an eye-watering cost!)….however ‘we may not pass this way again’….

There were good areas for walking and the promenade deck was exactly 1/3 of a mile right round….so we felt highly virtuous that we did several circuits every day. The above shows us enjoying a well-earned rest after a brisk walk. The sports ‘nutters’ were well-catered-for, with a a basketball and a tennis court, and those who simply wanted to sit at slot machines could do so…with the only exercise being for their elbow!

There was also a very good library, and now that I was in the area, I was reminded of a poem my father occasionally recited when I was a child. All I could remember was the name of the hero…Dangerous Dan McGrew, and the author, Robert W Service. In seconds I had been directed to a book of his poems and had great joy in reading  ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’ (who had a lady known as Lou), and ‘The Cremation of Sam McGhee’, who when he was alive, had hated the infernal cold of Alaska!….hence the name of the poem) and who could blame him!

As is probably the norm with most people, you find couples who come from your next of the woods and this also applied to us. Two couples attached themselves to us, but without suffocating the friendship. It was good to have someone else to join with or pass the time of day. We all went separately to the presentation devoted to booking shore trips, as we do not like to be pressurised by what others want to see! in the event we all did different things.

Dinner on the main Lido deck , a great Broadway show, and karaoke in the Crows’ Nest bar ended the first day out…..unfortunately, before bed we had to change watches back one hour! Would our brain and body clock ever be the same again??

The Adventure Chapter 6

………so far……….flight Glasgow to Calgary; transfer to Banff and the snow;  making waffles; Lake Louise and the marvellous Hotel;  Athabasca Glacier;  Athabasca Falls; two days on the Rocky Mountaineer; walking in Stanley Park……and the noisy air-conditioning!

…….Sadly we were soon to leave a lovely city, Vancouver. We had scarcely scratched the surface and we could only imagine from guide books what the rest was like. We had not got(gotten?) to Victoria or anywhere on Vancouver Island and I promised Lady that this is one area to which I would happily return. This photo was taken down at the harbour just before sunset…marvellous isn’t it?

It was now time to get our last sleep on terra firma for a week, in the Blue Horizon Hotel, but the infernal air-conditioning system whirred away, just above the threshhold of hearing, and hence, of sleep !  However, we had another good breakfast and a short taxi ride took us back down to the Harbour, where the cruise-ships lay. We were really getting excited!

We were physically still on Canadian soil, but politically it was American, as we would be. heading into American waters, so we were questioned, finger-printed, and photographed by American security border staff. I had inadvertently made a slight error in my on-line visa application,  and was slightly apprehensive that I might be considered suspicious, especially with my Irish accent. They were perfectly pleasant and luckily they didn’t seem to have noticed the mistake, so we got through with a hugh sigh of relief…..but what if?

Our ship was the American Holland  ‘Volendam’ and could take 1400 passengers. We had never been on such a large  cruise ship before…our Mediterranean cruise had 400, and our Rhine/Mosel ship only took about 100 folk. However, there was no feeling of claustrophobia or crowds as we were taken to our ‘Stateroom’ F1822 on Dolphin Deck. each evening we were faced with a strange animal on our bed made with a folded hand-towel!

‘Stateroom’ sounds very posh, and often expectations are unrealised, but we were very pleased with our king-size bed, panoramic window overlooking the harbour, loads of hanging and drawer storage space (mainly commandeered by Lady of course), good-sized shower-room and loo, dressing-table (eventually featuring a number of pills and potions, as well as a few drink bottles), cumfy sofa, and television….the following link ahould work.

http://www.hollandamerica.com/virtual-tours-videos/Main.action?cat=accommodations&subcat=am&type=vt&id=4&title=Holland

I, like most men, would probably have preferred to go out immediately, for a walk round to get my bearings…..but Lady had other ideas! Cases had to be instantly unpacked, hangers had to be acquired and drawers utilised, so that clothes which had been left unpacked for a week could now be allowed to un-crease, so that she could go out to meet her public, looking pristine.  My argument that some 1398 other people might have some creases in their attire cut no ice, I’m afraid!

Life-boat drill whilst we were still in port, was a bit of a farce. People wandered to their Station late, chatted, moved about, so they were difficult for the Crew to find, wandered off when they thought it was all over, and no-one donned a life-jacket. It was in sharp contrast to some 16 years previously, when men and women were separated, life-jacket-donning was compulsory and no photos or video was allowed! That completed (if not remembered!) we were able to set sail.

There’s something about that time just before any journey starts (be it plane, sea, train or car), when you want to get away, you know that certain things have to be checked (gas off, front door locked; ear plugs in, hand luggage under the seat, lap-belts fastened, etc) but you just want to get going. With planes there then follows the adrenalin-rush of take-off; with cars there is the last wave to the neighbours; with trains there is the noisy clanking over the points and the unsightly backs of houses, as we get on our way.

There is no such effect with large liners. After the ropes have been unhooked, they seem to gently slink away from the quayside. Some make a great noise about it whilst others, like ours, waited until an appropriate time before sounding their hooter.  In Vancouver Harbour it seems to be just as we went under the wonderful suspension bridge and we headed for the Inside Passage…we were leaving the black clouds and were on our way!

Duty done, we went to the Lido deck (one of seven restaurants) for a barbecue with salmon. This was a large deck with undercover tables and also a large area where the roof could open, just like Wimbleton. It had a fair-sized pool, but the sight of some semi-clad bodies entering and leaving the water did not do anything for the digestion!

However, the food was fine, and was, surprisingly, served by the staff. This was as a temporary measure for the first few days to prevent the possibility of e-coli or other bugs being brought-in by passengers…always a worry.

The goodly number of shops on board pleased the Lady so we had to have a look. I managed to get a good book called the ‘Alaskan Cruise Handbook’ (not surprisingly) which gave the maps, mileage references and the history of exploration in the area….I can certainly recommend it as I am reading it some time after returning home.

A brief walk round the promenade deck, and we were in bed at 11.45….but it was still bright enough outside to read by. Tomorrow would be exciting!

Nite nite!!