Friday, August 17, 2018

Homer Sweet Homer

I love Homer.  I can't tell you why, I just do.  It's a small town, set at the edge of Kachemak Bay, on Alaska's Kenai Peninsula.  Population - about 5,000.  It's also known as the halibut fishing capital of the world, and nicknamed "the end of the road."  That's because the Sterling Highway ends right there.  And you can drive there all the way from California!  That's something I might want to do one day...........  Anyway, Homer is a cool little town set in a beautiful area.  What's not to like?

The other really great thing about Homer is that they have 3 bookstores in town.  Amazing!  One of the stores is a secondhand store, with an eccentric owner who knows where every single book in his store is, and whether he has a book you're asking about or not.  It's one of those places where you walk in and it smells like old books, and books are everywhere, on the floor, stacked 50 high, on dusty shelves, you get the picture!  The store across the street on the main road, and conveniently next to a car wash, is the creme de la creme of bookstores, at least for Alaska.  It's chock full of amazing books about Alaska, but it also boasts a great children's section, and all the latest best sellers, both fiction and non-fiction.  It also has the "surprise" book section, where you browse a selected 10 or 12 books that are wrapped in brown paper bags.  They are marketing copies of soon to be or newly released books.  There's a brief description of the story, but really still quite vague.  You know if it's meant for adults, or teens, or if it's a kids book, and just a tiny bit more.  You can pick one or all of them and decide on a donation amount for each. Suggested donation is $3 per book.  With that donation, the shopkeeper gives you an amount of buttons.  You use those buttons to allocate your donation between 3 or 4 different charities that are local to the Homer area.  When I was there in 2016, I got a book called The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper.  It's about a man whose wife dies and he finds something of hers and then goes on this journey to figure out its meaning.  It turned out to be such a lovely book!  Engaging, funny, bittersweet.  Anyway, I loved it and I was very entranced by the whole "mystery book" idea that the shop had.  I've never come across it in any other store.

Another nice thing about Homer is that there are some really great artists that live in the area.  From paintings, to photography, to jewelry and pottery/sculptures, the area is full of talent.  It's nice to be around that, especially when you aren't in the least! Ha!

Then there's the spit.  It's about 6 miles from town, and it's out where the ship docks.  The spit runs along the edge of the bay and there's a nice beach, walkways, campgrounds and the marina full of boats.  And there's restaurants and stores - mostly catering to tourists, but fun to browse nonetheless. 

I enjoyed my time there in 2016 and Adrienne and I really liked it this time, in 2018.  You can take some nice tours from here, as well.  Fishing, hiking, glacier viewing, boat rides to see marine wildlife.  Homer has a little bit of everything.

And, this time, we got to see an eagle's nest, up close.  And with a young eaglet still in residence, not to mention mom and dad.  I got a little obsessed watching them and photographing them.  In addition to the eagles, tons of sea birds congregate where the ship docks and they yak yak yak all day long.  They are too funny.  I got a little obsessed with them as well.

This was my favorite sunrise picture.

The Salty Dog Saloon, a fixture on Homer's spit.

Inside the Salty Dog Saloon, on the spit.  Famous place.  Kind of creepy inside with all the money hanging all over the place.  But locals love it, as do the tourists.

This is where the eagles nest was.  About 30 feet out in the water from the road on the spit.

Kachemak Bay

A ring of volcanoes and glaciers.

Da baby eagle!!

Mom and Dad, hanging out nearby.

Assuming this is mom, moving nearer to baby.

Sea birds, mom and baby.

Someone is having a lively discussion!!

Mom, I'm hungry!!

Birds on a wire - is rain in the forecast???

Anchorage Management

Adrienne and I both have been to Anchorage before.  When I turned the big 5-0 we flew there and spent a few days wandering around.  We stayed up at the Alyeska Resort which is a wonderful place.  We rented a car and drove out along the Seward highway, visiting the animal rescue sanctuary, a couple of small (almost empty) villages along the water - in fact, if memory serves, one such place was called Hope.  We also drove all the way to Whittier and I had the best fish and chips I've ever had at a little restaurant on the dock there.  Sad, but that day was their last day in business too. I think the owners were moving away or something, not sure.  Anyway, Anchorage was a memorable trip for a variety of reasons.

I visited Anchorage again on my own on the 2016 cruise and again rented a car. Somewhere in the archives of this blog is a detailed description of what I did.  I do know I went hiking, drove up to Wasilla, and also again visited the animal sanctuary.  The place had grown since we were there last.

So this time, I was looking for something different to do.  Adrienne and I have always wanted to see the northern lights, but haven't managed to accomplish that yet.  I found out that in downtown Anchorage, there's this theatre just a block or so away from where the ship shuttle drops you off, that shows a very cool 45-minute movie of photographs and videos of the northern lights by this great photographer.  It's set to music and is fantastic!  So is the soundtrack, by the way.  So I booked that and didn't tell Adrienne what we were going to be up to.  I also rented a car for the day and picked that up a few blocks away from the shuttle stop as well.  It was a bit of a rainy day, and pretty much stayed that way most of the day.

We killed some time driving around the downtown area before parking, and walking to the theatre.  She loved the movie, so that was a solid "good job, Sherita!".

We weren't allowed to take any photographs inside the theatre, but I managed to sneak one quick one as the movie started. 

Next we drove out of town, north, to a nearby place called Chugiak.  I had made reservations at a private home owned by a local artist named Gina Murrow.  She hosts Paint A Scarf sessions and so we got to show off our (lack of) artistic skills and we created some neck scarves using paints and water and lots of swirls.  The result was pretty great!

Gina's home is a two-story log cabin that was assembled on site.  It sits on a beautiful piece of property with a large yard, both front and back.  In the back yard there is a swiftly running stream.  We painted on the back balcony of her home.  Fortunately, for the time we were there, the sun made an appearance and we enjoyed some great light and a bit of warmth.

This is Gina's greenhouse.

The creek, with fireweed growing all around.

Flowers were everywhere on the property.

We got some basic instruction on how to prepare and paint our scarves, then we had to decide what pattern/design we wanted to paint.  We could, of course, do our own free form type of design, but Gina had about 6 different samples, ranging from easy to difficult.  One of the difficult ones was a beautiful setting of fireweed, but my skills were definitely not up for that.  Adrienne chose a northern lights type of design, and I decided to paint hearts.  I can draw a heart okay on a piece of paper, but put a paintbrush in my hands, make me stand and draw it vertically on a piece of wet silk, and my lack of talent shines through!  Once we decided on a design, we went into the supply room and grabbed an easel, a fresh piece of the silk, our paints and brushes and then we set up out on the back patio.  We got some help attaching the silk to our easel, and then we were off and running. 

We watched a video before deciding what we wanted to do.  It helped us figure out what might work best for each of us.

My finished product.

Adrienne getting her swirl on.

Gina told us that you cannot be truly considered an Alaskan unless you've stood in a stream, river, lake or ocean barefoot for at least one minute.  So, we took that challenge!  Dang that water is cold!!!
But ----- you may now consider us true Alaskans, whoo hoo!

More flowers on Gina's property.

Showcasing our work.

Most of us in our little group chose to paint 2 scarves.  Adrienne kept to a similar pattern, but I changed mine up a bit.  One scarf of kooky hearts was enough.  My second scarf was a bit more sedate.


After our scarf painting session, we headed back to Anchorage.  We still had plenty of time before having to return the car, but we decided we'd had enough and so we turned it in early and caught the shuttle back to the ship.  We enjoyed a leisurely dinner on board and called it a day.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Zip a Dee Doo Dah - Icy Strait Point

One of the nicer ports on the 2-week itinerary for this cruise is Icy Strait Point.  The town of Hoonah boasts about 800 people, most of whom are Tlingit.  Hoonah and Icy Strait Point are on Chichagof Island and is about 30 miles west of Juneau, on the other side of the Inside Passage.  There is one hotel.  The post office was opened there in 1901, even though Alaska didn't become a state until 1959.  For the first half of the 20th century, Hoonah's main industry was salmon fishing and a cannery was opened and operated.  Hoonah/Icy Strait Point also boasts the world's largest zipline, which opened in 2007.

This was my second visit to Icy Strait, and Adrienne's first time.  My goal this year was to ride that zipline!  Adrienne would have none of it.  Coward.  Coward!!!!  So I went alone.  I've got to say, it was a blast!!  We took about a 40 minute ride in a school bus around the back of the island, through the town of Hoonah, and then climbed up to the top of the mountain behind the port, about 1,300 feet high.  The zipline is an easy ride, compared to most zipline operations.  You get strapped into a seated type of harness, you put your feet up and they open the door (kind of like a trap door) and all of a sudden you're flying 60 miles an hour down this mountain.  The ride lasts about 90 seconds and it's all thrills.  At the bottom, the mechanisms automatically brake you so you don't have to do a thing other than hold on tight, scream out loud with delight, and maybe take some pictures, if you're not spinning around too much from the wind.  I did my best.  I LOVED IT!!!  It was worth the steep price of $149.

The Tlingkit community owns and operates the port facilities at Icy Strait Point, which, from what I understand, is different from other ports in Alaska, where the cruise lines have great financial influence on what is at the port.  The zipline, for example, gets about 15,000 riders a year, and at $149 per rider, that's a tidy sum of income.

There are some great nature trails to walk along the water, and a great paved pathway from the dock all the way to the town of Hoonah, which I believe is about a mile or so.  There are some nice shops at the dock, a few restaurants, and the old cannery has been turned into a museum.  There are also whale watching and fishing tours out of the town of Hoonah.  Last time I was there, in 2016, I took a private whale watching trip. 

Icy Strait Point gets over 100 ships per season calling.  We were there this date from about 7:00 AM until 3 PM.  It used to be a tender port, but the community build the dock up a few years ago and now we no longer have to tender.

It's a great place to visit!

Part of the new dock.

The walkway from the ship to land.

This is the pathway that will lead you to the town of Hoonah.

Looking back on the shops and cannery museum. 

Our drive up the mountain, we passed some pretty places.

Time to zip!!!  I was in the first group of 6 for the day!

You can see the ship off in the distance.  The line was 1,300 feet high, 5,300 feet long.  90 seconds.


Almost down!!

From the brochure.

 Me and my pink phone.  Oh, by the way, special thanks to my fellow blogger friend Mary for telling me about the phone strap.  It was such a blessing to have it this trip!!

 This is part of the old cannery area

Tlingklit totem


On some longer cruises, the Pinnacle Grill offers an evening with a special dinner called Cellar Master's Dinner.  It's a 6 or 7 course meal, paired with special wines for each course.  The soup below, was a yummy cream of wild mushroom.  

This was a filet mignon slice and bone marrow. 

Dessert was a mixture of goodness.

Adrienne and I went to this tongue and pulse analysis seminar one afternoon and learned all about how to determine what your pulse in various parts of your body tell you, and what the shape and color of your tongue means.  I loved the picture so much I asked the acupuncturist if I could take a picture and she obliged.