Catching Ketchikan’s Spirit

Thursday, July 7, 2016: Ketchikan, Alaska:

            It was our last destination in Alaska—Ketchikan. A place that became familiar to me a few years ago when a priest-friend of ours, Fr. James Valladaras, had served as Ship’s Chaplain on a cruise liner and had sent us a postcard form this destination in Alaska. Little did I dream that one day I would actually set foot on this spot.

I expected Ketchikan to be little more than a touristic spot with kitschy souvenir stores and the chain jewelry stores that we have been seeing from Juneau onwards. We arrived there about 9.30 am (rather late in the day by cruise ship standards). By this hour, we’d found the time to have breakfast in the Lido. Eggs with meats for Llew, waffles with strawberry compote and whipped cream for me washed down with hot chocolate. These breakfasts are quite magnificent. We also made ourselves bagel sandwiches (smoked salmon for me, ham and cheese for Llew) to take aboard as we were not sure how much there would be to see in Ketchikan and we did not want to have to waste time in a restaurant. We thought that a sandwich on the run would be perfect—so we packed one each.

Jewelry Charm Collecting:

And so it was that we raced from one jewelry store to the next to collect the free charms that are distributed and, in the process, we ended up collecting quite a few. I also bought a few bracelets on which we could hang the charms. I will probably give a couple of them away as gifts.

Exploring Creek Street and Souvenir Shopping:

That task done, we headed towards Creek Street—the best-known tourist spot in Ketchikan. This area was once the town’s red-light district and it has been maintained as a quaint and very pretty part of the state of Alaska. It is also known as Alaska’s First City because most cruise liners stop at this port first—in our case, the order was reversed and we arrived at Ketchikan at the end of our travels. Houses on Creek Street are built on stilts over a tumbling river to which we had, alas, arrived just two weeks too early. Had we come at the end of July, we’d have found thousands of salmon leaping all over the Salmon Ladder as they swim upstream to spawn. My friend Bonnie had highly recommended this sight and I was sorely disappointed that we missed it. Instead, we began to walk towards a Salmon Hatchery, in the hope of finding some spawning salmon there. Sadly, the hatchery was closed for renovation and we could see nothing.

As fate had it, however, we found ourselves just steps away from the Totem Heritage Museum where a number of genuine, original totem poles gathered from all over the native settlements in Alaska have been brought here for safe-keeping. There were several totem poles all over town and several scattered about the entrance at this museum. We did not feel the need to enter it, so elected to walk back to town as we had trekked on a walking tour far out of the central tourist area. And then, as luck would have it, we found a free shuttle bus that the town operates—waiting for us to board it and take it back to the center.

So hop it we did—and that was when we went souvenir and gift shopping in the stores so that we’d have a few trinkets to take back to family members. Of course, we got our mandatory postcard and magnet and other little odds and ends—and armed with those, we went out in search of Alaska’s famous smoked salmon to take back as gifts. There were a few shops selling and shipping smoked salmon anywhere in the States. They offered samples—served on crackers with a dab of cream cheese—and I really did enjoy those nibbles (Llew does not eat fish). With some smoked salmon packs in our bags, we left and began to look for a spot where we could eat our lunch.

Lunch on the Dock and More Exploration:

It was time for lunch for both of us were feeling peckish—despite our big breakfasts, all the walking we are doing does work up an appetite. We found a vibrant place on the Dock to sit and eat our bagel sandwiches and do a bit of people-watching—which was a lot of fun as another cruise ship was docked right by and was filling with passengers. Others posed by the sculpture of prospectors in the Klondike. When we were done, we decided to go out and find Edmund Street (aka Street of Stairs). And when we found it, we realized why it was so named. It is quite simply a street of stairs. You climb higher and higher (about 7 floors) to get some interesting views of the city—a Lonely Planet recommendation—as Ketchikan is built in tiers—the more expensive housing is found the higher you go.

Visiting the Southeast Alaskan Discovery Center:

Lonely Planet had also stated that the museum that would probably most appeal to short-time visitors was the Southeast Alaskan Discovery Center. Since it was right in town and was run by the National Parks Services, Llew and I had free entry into it as we are National Parks members (entry is normally just $5 per person). The most interesting aspect of the museum is the Rain Forest that has been re-created indoors with birds and animal life presented in taxidermied form—this allowed us to finally see a brown bear! The museum also presented very good exhibits on the Tlingit, Huna and Tshaimshin people who first inhabited this region—much of which was very informative. We did manage to browse around for about an hour. And then when our legs began to give way, it was time to think of returning to the ship.

Relaxing the Evening Away:

Ketchikan turned out to be a delightful place. We did have some disappointments—not enough wild life, no salmon to be seen at all, some charms not available as I did not have a particular coupon book that would have entitled me to them. But, overall, it was a truly sweet place—not just a touristic spot. Alaska’s few towns revealed themselves to us in different ways and we were glad we experienced their variations.

Back in board, we went directly to the Manhattan Dining Room for some tea and nibbled at a few of the open sandwiches, scones and assorted pastries that were offered: the raspberry mousse cake and the pecan tarts were simply divine and much against my better judgement, I indulged as no one has a sweeter tooth that I do so. In fact, I have an entire set of sweet teeth!!!

In our staterooms, we caught up on email through our on-board internet connection and switched on the TV to catch up with international news when we received the awful reports about the shooting of a black man in Dallas that ended with the sniper shootout that killed 5 policemen and seriously injured several others. Like the rest of the country, we watched in horror as the events unfolded and for the rest of the evening we felt the sobering sense of being jolted out of our bubble of luxury and unreality to come to grips with the fact that for the rest of the world life goes on in its usual painful way.

Dinner at Tamarind:

Still, because life had to go on, we had our showers and got dressed for the next item on our agenda: Dinner at Tamarind, the pan-Asian restaurant on board where there is a nominal surcharge ($20 per person) for a really special meal. We had reservations for 8. 30 pm, which left us ample time to get a cocktail in the adjoining bar called Silk Den. I had a Mango Mojito which was excellent while Llew got a glass of red wine. As for our dinner at Tamarind, it was quite superlative to say the least with service that was beyond outstanding. We started with the Satay Sampler and Peking Duck in Chinese crepes for our appetizers—both were awesome. We got lamb, pork, chicken, veal and shrimp satays served with a spicy peanut sauce and Peking Duck served with two pancakes served with hoisin sauce, green onions, cucumbers—all to be rolled and eaten. Llew and I shared them so that we had a chance to taste both (and they were both good). One can get really good sushi and sashimi in Tamarind, but since Llew does not eat fish, we stayed far away from those offerings. For our main course, we both chose the Asian-style Lobster Tail which was served in a spicy sauce and outside its shell. As an accompaniment, I chose the stir-fried veg which included cucumbers, snow peas, mushrooms and scallions while Llew got the oyster and shitake mushrooms. The food was simply grand and we couldn’t have been more delighted. For our dessert, we picked the Tamarind Chocolate Basket which I had eaten on our cruise the last time and remembered to be superb. I was not disappointed. It is a chocolate mousse tinged with the flavor of ginger and served in a dark chocolate tart shell with berries on the side. As was to be expected, our entire meal was outstanding.

A Show in the Theater by ‘On Tour’:

We were running a trifle late for the late-evening (10.00 pm) show called ‘On Tour’ that featured the singers and dancers of Nieuw Amsterdam, but we decided to go and catch as much of it as we could. And boy, were we glad we did! The show was simply terrific with the most thrilling singing you could have wished for and well-choreographed numbers by obviously well-trained ballet dancers. Truly, just when we thought we couldn’t possibly have a better time, along comes a show like this that simply sweeps you off your feet. It was grand. Sadly, we got just about 20 minutes of it but those minutes were amazing.

Another Evening at the Piano Bar with Jimmy:

Just when we thought we ought to call it a night, we passed right by the Piano Bar and since our man Jimmy Maddox was doing an ‘Elton John Night’, it was hard to resist. We settled ourselves on bar stools right by his piano and, for the next hour, gave ourselves entirely to the pleasure of listening to him and joining in wherever we could. He has truly been one of the treasures of our cruise and we were simply delighted to stay right up to midnight when he finally called it a night.

We returned to our stateroom just astonished by just how much we are packing into our days as we settled down for the second last night in our stateroom. Because we were instructed to put our clocks one hour forward as we left Alaska behind during the night, it was already my birthday by the time we fell asleep. What a great start it was to my birthday!

Until tomorrow…