Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Last Day

We only had one day left on our trip. But we do have a long day, since our flight out isn't until late at night. So we linger over the fantastic breakfast served at the Hidden Creek B&B...let me tell you, this place is worth it for the breakfast alone! (although the rooms are really nice too).

After we pack up, we set off towards Anchorage. We will linger along the way. Its a very scenic drive along Turnagain Arm, with lots of scenic overlooks. This one is Beluga Point:
From North to Alaska

We also stop for a while at Potter Marsh, which is a bird refuge. There are boardwalks that lead out into the wetlands, where you can see a lot of different coastal birds and songbirds and such. Songbirds are so small, they are hard to photograph, but I tried:

From North to Alaska

Once we got into Anchorage, we parked the car and decided to wander and shop a little bit. We found we had wandered right into the middle of their Solstice festival. It struck me as such a small town kind of festival. There were lots of kids games, some artists, a bit of local musical talent, and all the other things you might find at a small town fair. I did like the guy doing chainsaw sculpture:
From North to Alaska

When we got tired, we wandered into the Glacier Brewhouse for a beer and a snack. We sat at a table in the bar, shared with some other folks, and ended up having a very fun conversation with them all. One was a recent transplant who was loving his new life in the last frontier, the others were runners who had completed a marathon the previous day. One if the runners was also a photographer so we got to comparing pictures and cameras. It was a very pleasant afternoon. And Glacier Brewhouse makes good beer too!

Afterwards, we sat down for our last great dinner of the trip, at Orso, the Italian restaurant right next door. Highly recommended!

Then it was off to the airport...take may advice, do NOT use google maps to find the Anchorage airport. It took us around the wrong side, and expected us to use restricted access roads to cut across the airport. Good thing we had plenty of time!

Our flight was very long, but fortunately uneventful.

And now we're back home. My cats have forgiven us, the fish we shipped from Homer has arrived, I'm back at work and life is back to normal. Except now I have a bit of Alaska in my soul, and I hope I can go back and add to it sometime soon :)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


When we arrived in Girdwood, it was lunchtime, and too early to check into our b&b. So we headed to Jack Sprat for lunch. This place has a very good reputation, and the menu looked good. But the meal was kind of mediocre. We both ordered hamburgers, which came with brie and bacon and cilantro aioli. We were actually tired of fish at this point. But the hamburger patties were frozen and undercooked. And the meal was just kind of bland.

After lunch, we headed to the Alyeska ski resort, where we rode the tram to the top of the mountain.
From North to Alaska

It was a spectacular day, so the views were clear out to the horizon.

Doesn't this look like fun?

Dinner was at the famous "Double Muskie Inn" which has tons of hype, and is reputed to serve the best steak in Alaska. Ugh...they must not eat much steak in Alaska. They serve huge steaks, overcooked, dry, and probably previously frozen, slathered in nondescript brown sauce. Capitol Grill needs to open an Anchorage outpost I think. Maybe the Muskie had great food once, but not now, in our opinion. We did like the kitschy ambiance, and had very good service. Also the wine list is remarkable. So the dinner had some saving graces.

Seward to Girdwood

Well, we're almost done here, just a few more posts. I'm home already and have to get this finished up.
Thursday night we ate dinner at Rays Waterfront again. Todd's king crab legs the previous night were so good, I just had to have some!

From North to Alaska

Friday we left Seward midmorning, saying goodbye to our accomodations at the Falls House Inn. We really enjoyed our stay at the Falls House. Our room was huge, and quiet. The location is just a few blocks from the small boat harbor, so its a place one could stay without a car.

Leaving town, we stopped at Exit Glacier, and took the short walk around the overlook loop. It was nice to take a walk in the woods, and we got a great view of the glacier. Although we are getting jaded by now...ho-hum, another glacier!

From North to Alaska

After Exit Glacier, we continued on the Seward highway, and took the turnoff for Bear Creek. We heard that it was possible to see salmon jumping in a stream, and so we did!
This is hard to capture in a still photo, but here you go:
From North to Alaska

Sunday, June 19, 2011

A little more from Kenai Fjords

One more glacier I am holding a piece of the Northwestern glacier

We have a few more wildlife sightings on our way out.
These are harbor seals, hauled out on glacier ice.

And some stellar sea lions enjoying the sunshine almost as much as we were

The were lots of seabirds too, like this oystercatcher

And another puffin

And we saw many waterfalls

It was a great day. A long 9 hours on the boat, but a great area to see.

Location:Seward, Ak

More Kenai Fjords

At the furthest point on our cruise, we reach the head of Northwestern Fjord, and the Northwestern Glacier. The captain navigates the boat through the ice to get close to the face of the glacier.

The glacier cooperates by calving a bit

This glacier has receded so much in recent years it's barely considered a tidewater glacier. It barely touches the water in front...a real tidewater glacier like Margerie which I posted about earlier, extends 100s of feet under the water. In a couple of years, this one won't touch the water at all.

Location:Kenai Fjords National Park

Friday, June 17, 2011

Kenai Fjords National Park

Thursday dawned bright and sunny. And that was good news as we would be spending another day out on the water. Today we would take the 9 hour tour into Northwestern Fjord, a remote part of the Kenai fjords national park.

Here is our transportation for the day

We were just out into Resurrection bay when these two friendly sea otters swam up alongside

And here is the first of several glaciers we would spot.

We saw both orca and humpbacks. One orca came right up to the boat and dived under. I didn't get a great picture of him, but this gives you an idea how close he was

And here's the humpbacks

We even got a decent bear sighting on a nearby beach

The landscape around these coves and bays is really beautiful. Steep rocks and trees soar up out of the water which is smooth as glass today.

Location:Seward AK

Leaving Homer

Well, our time in Homer has come to an end. I'm glad we decided to come here and stay put for a few days. We've enjoyed our stay, and managed to relax a bit too.

The Beach House B&B was great. The room was large, and comfortable and the view was unbeatable.

So we load up the car, check out of the inn, and I'm thinking "drat, I'm leaving Homer without seeing a moose". As we back out of our parking spot, I look across the street, and yes this is our actual conversation...
Beth: hey, look at that.
Todd: what?
Beth: That funny looking horse over there.
Todd: that's not a horse, dear

We would see 4 more moose along the highway during the drive to Seward.

We did make a couple stops along the way. In particular, we stopped at a bakery in Soldotna called "the moose is loose", which seems highly appropriate and they make great apple fritters.

It rained the whole day, though, so no good photo ops. I wanted to get some shots of the fishermen lined up on the river to catch salmon, but it was impossible to pull over anywhere to get them. The rivers are a funny green color too. I think it is silt from glacier runoff that makes them so cloudy looking, it's very pretty.

We got to Seward in the late afternoon. We checked into our inn, the Falls House inn, and relax a bit before dinner. Just in time to watch the third period of game 7 of the Stanley cup finals!

Dinner is at Ray's waterfront restaurant, which is awesome. Then its off to sleep, so we can be ready for the Kenai fjord tour the next morning.

Dinner ...fresh fish!

Dinner that evening was at Captain Pattie's on the spit:

Why there? Because they would cook our own catch for us. Yes, we saved some fish aside, not to be shipped home. And here it is:

On the left is a nicely grilled piece of white king salmon. On the right, fried halibut cheeks! The cheeks are the best part, so we decided to set them aside to eat fresh. They are wonderful...the texture is a bit like lobster, and sweet.

This has to be the best meal of the trip!

Location:The Homer Spit


We had to give up looking for salmon after a while, so that we would have time to fish for halibut. Mark took us to an area where he said the halibut were less common, but it was his favorite spot to find the big ones. It was a really pretty spot, calm and near shore, where we could see a couple of waterfalls.

It's lovely, but there are no fish here. We fished for a while, and pulled up a half dozen cod, and even a nice rockfish, but no halibut. The rockfish is pretty, and its good eating (it's a snapper), so Al, who caught it, decided to keep it. This is Captain Ron with the rockfish

So we moved to another spot, near a boat that was catching ( and was friends with our captains). In fact, the other guys pulled up a 90 pound halibut! The kid who landed it is smaller than the fish!

We started getting bites right away, and we pulled up and released a number of small fish, hoping for a bigger one. Unfortunately we didn't catch any big ones, so after a while we started keeping the small ones so we would make our limit and have fish to send home. We caught 4 (just for me and Todd, the boat caught about 10 total), the sizes ranged from 15 to 30 lbs. I caught the biggest at 30lbs here :

I'm almost glad I didn't catch a bigger one. This was a lot of work! Halibut can really feel like you are pulling up the entire bottom of the sea, even the little ones. We will both be sore tomorrow!

And here is Todd posing with his salmon:

The captain fillets our fish right in board, and tosses it in a plastic bin. It turns out Todd's salmon is a rare white king, which is supposed to taste even better than the regular pink kind. When we get back to the dock in homer, it is almost 6PM. The folks from the fish processing center meet us at the boat, and take our cleaned fish off to be vacuum packed, frozen, and packed for shipping. They will hold it for us and ship after we get home. We have almost 50lbs of fish!

Location:On Kachemak Bay

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Gone fishing!

Tuesday was overcast, but we had hopes it wouldn't be as rainy. Because today we headed out on an all day fishing trip. We chartered a halibut/salmon combo through Bob's Trophy Charters. Our captains were Ron and Mark. There was one other couple on the trip with us, Al and Lori from Alberta.

We headed out at around 7AM and headed for the spot to troll for salmon. The seas were calm as glass, and the clouds hung low over the mountains. It's really gorgeous out here on the water, and the camera can't do it justice.

Our first task was trolling for salmon. Our captains rig the poles with lures or bait, and these flashers which hang in the water looking like fish. Then they go very slowly through the area where we think there are salmon. When one of the poles gets a hit, the captain yells "number 3!!!" and one of us will go start reeling in pole 3, hoping there is a salmon.

Lori takes the first one, and pulls in a nice 15 lb salmon. The second bite, I reel in, but it's just a cod, so we throw it back. 3rd hit, and it's still my turn, but this time it's a halibut, and a small one, so back it goes. Another hit, another cod for me. Then I pull up another halibut. I'm tired of reeling now, so the next hit, I yell for Todd to take it. And he starts reeling it in...

Yeah! He's bagged a 20 pound king salmon!

Al tries the next one, and it's a silver salmon,but it gets away before he can land it. The next one is mine, and I reel hard, but the fish breaks the leader and gets away. Since we are using 60lb test line, I'm certain I lost a 61 lb salmon!!

Location:E Bayview Ave,Homer,United States

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rainy day in Homer

Monday was a grey drizzly day, and we didn'thave anything planned. So we had a lazy morning. I went down to the beach, below our b&b for a walk. At low tide, there are long stretches of shady, rocky beach. The tides here rival Maine for length. A few shots of the beach:

We spent a bit of time wandering around Homer. We went to the Pratt museum which has a general history of the area...displays cover native people's, homesteaders, area wildlife and one exhibit talks about the Exxon Valdez spill.

At the end of the day, we had pizza for dinner at Fat Olive's. Then came back where Todd enjoyed is favorite part of this b&b...the hot tub with a view.

Location:E Bayview Ave,Homer,United States

Monday, June 13, 2011

About the cruise

I realize I have written very little about the ship, and the cruising part of our journey. Since it's a quiet rainy day, here in Homer, and I have some time, I did want to cover that a bit.

Coral Princess is a pretty big ship, though not as big as some of the megacruise liners out there. It holds around 2000 people, and was built specifically to fit in the Panama Canal, which keeps the size down a little bit.

Our cabin was a minisuite with balcony on Caribe deck (deck 10). It's relatively spacious for a stateroom, with a nice sitting area, 2 tvs, and the balcony has room for 4 seats.

Here's the room:

And this is the balcony

It is too cold in Alaska to use the balcony a lot. However on the glacier cruising days, it was a great place to be. The decks could get pretty crowded near the rails.

Contrary to popular opinion, having a port side cabin on a northbound cruise is perfect. The inside passage has scenery on both sides most of the time, and when you enter glacier bay and college fjord, the port side has a better view. I would not hesitate to recommend a port side cabin, no matter which direction you are cruising.

The food on board as generally pretty good. Some things were just okay, some were great, but nothing was really terrible. We ate most of our dinners in the dining room, with traditional late seating (fixed time, same table every night). Our waiter, Sebastian, was pretty entertaining. He did get to know us, and as the cruise went in was quick to bring us extras. I particular, he got to where he knew my nephews would want more of things. On the last night he brought my 19 year old nephew TWO orders of the mussels, and just filled up a big bowl of them for him. It was very funny.

We did eat one night in the alternative restaurant, Sabbatini's. This was a huge meal with lots of different courses. It was good, but really not worth the extra charge, I don't think. It's an additional $20/person and not any better than what you get In the regular dining room.

Our favorite food item on the ship was the Princess pizza, served near the pool. We all had a hard time passing it up whenever we were out on deck. Really, the availability of food ALL the time can really catch up with you.

We often had lunch or breakfast in the Horizon court which is the buffet. Results here were mixed, some of the buffet offerings were pretty awful. But there was plenty of selection, so there was always something edible. However, this dining area is always busy, tables were hard to come by, and it was a zoo. We got a bit tired of dealing with it after a while. I often had breakfast via "Todd's Delivery Service". Really, everybody needs a companion willing to brave the buffet line to bring coffee, fruit and bacon back to the room while i slept late!

This is a picture of the pool area on the Lido deck. Its pretty deserted even in the day time because it's cold and windy.

We went to a couple of the evening shows in the Princess Theater. One of them was a juggler/comedian named Dan Bennett. He was surprisingly hilarious. We really enjoyed his act. The other show was a production deal called "Motor City", which was a salute to Motown. Now I kind of liked it, I liked the music. But the blond girl who sang the lead parts had a nice enough voice, however she didn't have anywhere near enough would for the songs she was singing. And she couldn't dance a lick. The rest of the cast was okay, but the overall effect was a bit schmaltzy and pointless. Perhaps that was the intent? If so, they did a great job!

Several family members enjoyed the casino. Nobody lost too much money. Nobody played slots, they were mostly playing blackjack and having a good time.

All in all, we really enjoyed the cruising experience, and might do it again some time, maybe even on a Princess ship. The parts we didn't enjoy...the occasional crowds and waiting in line for stuff, were fairly minimal. And I do wish they'd give up the policy of formal nights. While I thought it would be fun to get dressed up, I never want to have to convince 9 people to travel with dress clothes ever again!

Looking for wildlife

On Sunday I had booked us a guide for the day, to take us out on the water and looking for wildlife. Eagles, otters, puffins, and whatever else we could find was on the agenda. I was also hoping to shoot some of the beautiful scenery.

We explored Kachemak bay for a bit, with our skipper aboard the Skookum. We pulled into Little Tutka Bay, with hopes of seeing some tide pools, but it was a little too late, and the channels were filling up. It was a charming bay, however.

And we did meet Harry, the sea otter.

We went into Tutka Bay, and caught a couple of cod to use as eagle bait. When we found a couple of likely fellows, we threw the fish out, and wait to see if they would fly in and have lunch. And sure enough, one did

Here he is, taking off with his booty

We also went to Gull Island, in the middle of Kachemak Bay. Guess where it's name comes from?

Amongst the gulls on this large rock, were common murres, and these red faced cormorants

And just what I was looking for...some tufted puffins

Here's more of Gull Island

All in all, it was a great day out on the water!

Location:Seabreeze Ct,Homer,United States

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dinner in Homer

So our first evening in Homer, we went to a restaurant called Cafe Cups. It's a very small dining room, maybe a dozen tables, and they are all full...well, all but one. We're lucky as we have no reservations, but we get the last table. Very lucky, as this dinner would be unexpectedly delicious. I really wasn't expecting much, just hoping for some nice fresh seafood.

We both started with shellfish. I had local clams and mussels in a basil and walnut cream sauce. Thud clams are tiny cherrystones, and they are wonderful. Todd orders the local oysters, which have been roasted with sage, mushroom and feta. Here they are:

I found out since then, that oysters are not native to these waters. But there is a growing aquaculture industry, and these Kachemak Bay Oysters are the result. In fact, this is the farm where Todd's oysters were grown:

For dinner, I had the grilled halibut, and Alaskan red salmon with a blueberry pico de gallo

And this is Todd's rockfish and local scallops with black sesame teriyaki and green tea noodles.

A note about the beverage (this is for Steve M. If he's reading:) )
All the restaurants around here serve the local beer from Homer Brewing Company. The Homer brews are not bottled, only served on draft, they are unfiltered, and they are cask conditioned. They are also really, really good. Particularly the Scottish red ale, and the porter. Yum! We drank so much wine aboard the ship. That this beer has been a welcome change.

PS it's 9:30 PM as I write this, and it looks like mid afternoon out there. I mean, i think the sun goes down sometime, but I don't really know because sunset is way past my bedtime, and it's back up by the time I get up.

Location:Homer Spit Rd,Homer,United States