I smiled. Lighthouses are one of my favorites. Seeing a small one sit on the edge of a tiny island as the ms Westerdam glided into Sitka Wednesday morning brought my attention to the number of little land masses rising just above the water. It seemed like they were everywhere you looked. Cabins and houses were also built along the edges of the many islands and for a little while I wondered what life would be like to be out on one of those islands, only accessible by boat.
After a quick breakfast on the top deck, I found out.
Sitka, Alaska was the only port we had to ride a “tender boat” in to. Sometimes, the waters near the shore are too shallow for the ships to dock in so they anchor out in the harbor and transport passengers back and forth in tender boats. Now, Holland America had their very own tenders to use and they were even enclosed! Instead of a door in the side of the ship and a gangway (or sometimes stairs) to walk down, Holland America had a whole platform that folded out on the side of the ship, making it very easy to load on the tenders. Now, I’ve only been on two other cruises aside from this one, but that was the smoothest and least frightening “tender load in” I’ve ever done! Five stars to Holland for having the platforms that ensured a stable walkway to the boat and tenders that were covered so we didn’t get wet.
In Sitka, we walked around the town, visited Castle Hill, toured the Russian Bishop’s House and walked through Totem Pole Park (rainforest).
Castle Hill is a lookout point just across the street from the Sitka Harbor. It offers a great view of the city and harbor and is also a National Historical Landmark. In the past, the area was used as a Tlingit Indian fort and a Russian fort. This is the very place where Russia formally gave Alaska to the U. S. in 1867. Sitka was the capital when Russia owned Alaska; when the U.S. bought the land, Sitka remained the capital until 1906, when it was moved to Juneau. We walked up a set of stairs to the top and enjoyed the view. The Hill was enclosed by a waist high stone wall with historical markers every so many feet, a few canons and flags. Looking over the town, there sat two eagles on the cross of St. Michael’s Cathedral. With the green mountains as a backdrop – they were so beautiful!
Sitka has a lot of Russian history; one of the places we toured was The Russian Bishop’s House. You could tour the bottom of the house for free and the upstairs for $4 per adult. Downstairs, each room held artifacts and interesting information behind glass cases. One of them was a miniature replica of Sitka in the time when the bishop lived there. The other cases held old guns, photos and some of the garments the bishop wore. In the last room, there was a ten minute video documentary that explained the history of the house. The bishop was sent from Russia to Alaska to evangelize the Tlingit Indians; the bottom of the house was used as a school and the house’s first bishop, Bishop Innocent, (what a name!) translated the Bible into the Tlingit language.
The upstairs had been renovated to look like the period that Bishop Innocent lived and was a guided tour. Our guide informed us that many of the floor boards and furniture were the original pieces too! The first picture you see is one of the Russian Bibles we saw on the tour. Beside it was a bookshelf stacked full of books and study materials he used in the school downstairs. Continuing on was the dining room. The china you see in the photo are replicas of the original they used in the house. The tour guide shared how they found a broken plate buried in the backyard when they were doing the renovation and that’s how they knew what kind of pattern was on the dinnerware! Adjacent to that room was a small pantry where goods were stored. This ended up being one of my favorite parts of the tour – for in the pantry was a “tea box.” Back then, tea was not ground up and sold in tea bags like it is today. Instead, they were “tea blocks”! These blocks were at least one foot square, maybe larger and were shipped from China in large trunks. When we asked how they used a “tea block” the guide said they would use a knife and chip off how much they needed to steep when they made the tea. Who knew?! The reception area (living room) held some original chairs and couches, a portrait of the Tsar behind the couch and icons in the corners. The bishop’s personal room was very small and it is said that he made his desk himself, being excellent at working with wood. The final room we saw was the bishop’s personal chapel. This was probably the largest room in the upstairs and the most decorated. Paintings of saints, Mary and “infant Jesus” were everywhere along with crucifixes and incense sensors. Some of these things were in the room we stood in and others were in a second room which looked like a closet to my 21st Century eyes. The guide explained that the second room represented the Holy of Holies and only the bishops were allowed to enter. Also, there were no pews or chairs, people stood for the entire service back then.
After the tour, we walked down to Totem Pole Park and through the rainforest. Though the visitor’s center offered papers that explained each totem pole, we were running short on time and passed on that offer. They also had a QR code you could scan with your phone and listen to a narration of each one as you walked. As we began walking down the trail, the harbor was on our right and you could see our ship through the trees! The trail was very nice – flat, covered with gravel and benches every so often if you wanted to sit or rest. Down a little ways there was a bridge over a stream you could walk out on and see salmon below in the water.
Back on the ship, I slipped into the Vista Lounge to catch the last part of Dr. Billy Caldwell’s lecture on Geology and Genesis. I love hearing some of the facts that can help us better understand the Creation week, even if I’m not a scientist. Here are a few that really caught my attention…
Genesis one talks about “evening and morning” being a 24 hour day and some would like us to think that each day was actually millions of years. However, the earth spins 1000 mph and it takes 24,000 miles to rotate once – Dr. Caldwell believes that each day of the creation week was one rotation of the earth.
Some teach that it took millions of years for the Grand Canyon to form – but a 1,000 foot tsunami could erode Grand Canyon in one day. (This backs up the idea that Noah’s Flood is responsible for forming Grand Canyon.)
Many believe that before Noah’s Flood there was a canopy of water above the earth that created a greenhouse effect that made everything grow larger than what we see today. Dr. Caldwell believes that the canopy was actually solid ice because water could not remain liquid in the cold atmosphere up there.
If you’re wondering what the canopy theory affected, well, he also mentioned that they’ve discovered dragonfly fossils with a five foot wing span!
That day I also attended High Tea in the Vista Dining Room after Dr. Caldwell’s lecture. There, with a bunch of other ladies I enjoyed tea and an assortment of snacks. One waiter brought scones (with and without raisins) and another came by with jam and whip cream. Two more trays would come around and complete the food portion of the tea; one with small sandwiches and the other with desserts.
Dinner was once again an excellent selection of gourmet foods. For a “starter,” I and a few others ordered a simple Tropical Fruit Medley. When placed in front of me, I recognized every fruit in the glass but one – it looked like a white blackberry. We asked the waiter what it was; he grinned and replied, “Lychees!” (Pronounced “Lay-kay.”) Whatever a “lychees” is, it tastes delicious! My main entrée was lamb and dessert was an Upside-down Pear Crunch Coffee Cake. It basically looked like Banana Nut Bread but was pear flavored, but my, was it good!
We spent the evening in the Vista Lounge (Blue Badge concert) where the Collingsworth Family, Mark Trammell Quartet and Booth Brothers were scheduled to sing. After enjoying the music we headed back to our stateroom, the next day would start bright and early for we would arrive in Ketchikan at 7:00 am!
Have you read all my posts about the Alaska Cruise? You can by clicking the links below…
Where we departed from – A Day in Seattle
Saturday – Alaska Bound
Sunday – The Tale of the Whale
Monday – Bears, Glaciers and Waterfalls
Tuesday – Mountains of God