Cruising to Alaska – Victoria, BC

After a day of cruising from the Endicott Arm, the final port of call for the cruise was Victoria, BC.

By now, I had managed to come down with a cold that left me a little drained and worn out, but not bad enough that I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the cruise.

After getting some breakfast, I headed off the ship with my sister and niece into Victoria. She wanted to go to Craigdarroch Castle, so we found a map (conveniently provided at the border entry) and walked over. It’s a bit of walk from the cruise terminal, but not hard and the weather was nice.

Our walk took us through some residential neighbourhoods, past the BC Legislature building and along the streets of downtown Victoria.

BC Legislature building
BC Legislature building
Giant sequoia tree
Giant sequoia tree

After about 30-45 minutes of walking (wasn’t really paying attention), we arrived at Craigdarroch Castle, a large Victorian mansion built by Robert Dunsmuir who made a lot of money in coal mining.

Craigdarroch Castle
Craigdarroch Castle
Craigdarroch Castle
Craigdarroch Castle

It’s a large, impressive building with an interesting history. The Dunsmuir family only lived in it a relatively short time (Robert Dunsmuir died before the castle was completed), and the mansion spent the rest of the time used for institutional purposes (military hospital, college, music conservatory, office space). The restoration and use as a museum was only a fairly recent thing. They’ve done a pretty good job of preserving and restoring the interior, including re-acquiring some of the Dunsmuir’s possessions.

One of the dining rooms in Craigdarroch Castle
One of the dining rooms in Craigdarroch Castle

After the castle, we walked back toward the downtown area and stopped for lunch at a place called J & J Wonton Noodle House. I went with the wonton noodle soup bowl, and it was pretty tasty. Would definitely go there again.

Walked over to Victoria’s Chinatown area and saw the big Chinese Gate.

Chinese gate in Victoria's Chinatown
Chinese gate in Victoria’s Chinatown
Lion statue
Lion statue

It was about time to head back to the ship, so we didn’t get to wander around Chinatown too much.

On the way back, we wandered through some open air markets near Chinatown and also at the marina near the Legislature building.

Marina market
Marina market

At the cruise port, we found this neat sundial type thing where you stand at a spot depending on the time of year and use your shadow to see what time it is.

About 3-ish (+1h for DST) according to my neice
About 3-ish (+1h for DST) according to my niece

Had a good time doing this little bit of wandering around Victoria. Will have to visit again and spend some more time here.

Back to the boat!
Back to the boat!

Next stop, back to Seattle.

Cruising to Alaska – To the fjord

The original cruise itinerary called for the ship to head to the Tracy Arm fjord and the Sawyer glacier at the end of the fjord. According to the ship captain though, there was too much ice in the Tracy Arm so he took the ship down the neighbouring Endicott Arm instead.

The ship was offering an all you can eat breakfast buffet in the Izumi Japanese restaurant (one of the specialty restaurants on the ship) for the fjord trip for $25/person, so we took advantage of it. The breakfast buffet (more of a brunch thing really) consisted of a ramen station, several types of sushi (rolls and nigiri) various dumplings, omlettes, skewered meats and sliced fruits. Being up on deck 13, Izumi offered a pretty good vantage point for the journey up and down the fjord.

As we ate a leisurely breakfast, we watched the mountains drift by. Quite remarkable. Soon chunks of ice started appearing in the water, and then the glacier was visible up ahead.

Cruising up Endicott Arm
Cruising up Endicott Arm
At the end of Endicott Arm
At the end of Endicott Arm

At the end of the arm, about 0.5 nautical mile from the glacier, the captain stopped the ship and made it do a 360° spin so that everybody on the ship could get a view of the glacier.

Endicott Arm glacier
Endicott Arm glacier
Endicott Arm glacier
Endicott Arm glacier

(I did some colour level adjustment of my photos with Gimp, so the glacier appears a little bit more blue than it actually is, but not too much).

It’s a pretty remarkable sight. From where we were sitting in Izumi, the end of the fjord looked pretty narrow without a whole lot of extra room for the ship to spin around in. At a later Q&A session with the captain and some senior officers, the captain said there was at least a couple hundred meters of space between the ship and the sides of the fjord. Plenty of room.

The ship stayed there for a while, letting everybody get a good look at the glacier, then sailed back up the arm.

Returning up the Endicott Arm
Returning up the Endicott Arm
Returning up the Endicott Arm
Returning up the Endicott Arm

This was a pretty cool side journey on the cruise.

Next stop – Victoria, BC

Cruising to Alaska – Skagway

Next stop on the cruise was a little further north to Skagway, Alaska. It also happened to be the only cloudy and rainy day of the trip. Fortunately it was just a light drizzly rain and nothing too cold.

We got off the ship to wander around Skagway, which is a pretty tiny place. Doesn’t take long to get from one end to the other. We found the grocery store, a place to buy a couple of umbrellas and explored a bunch of shops as well as the Skagway Public Library.

Skagway is really close to the Alaska/BC border and a lot of the utility poles are decorated with the Alaska state flag, the US flag and the Canadian flag. It’s also not very far to get to the Yukon Territory either.

Flags
Flags

Skagway has a few interesting historic buildings still around from the gold rush days.

The Brass Pic - House of Negotiable Affection
The Brass Pic – House of Negotiable Affection
Log building (Visitor Information Center)
Log building (Visitor Information Center)

Avoid the tourist trap cruise port jewelry stores and spend some time wandering around Skagway checking out the other locally owned businesses. Stop by the Radio Shack for electronics gear, movies and a hot dog.

Wander around Skagway past the cruise port jewelry stores
Wander around Skagway past the cruise port jewelry stores

Had a good time walking around Skagway.

Next stop – the fjords.

Cruising to Alaska – Juneau

Cruising to Alaska seems to be on a lot of people’s bucket list.

Back from a nice long two week vacation (I think the longest one I’ve ever had) where we flew from here to Seattle, rented a car and drove down to Portland, OR to hang out with some friends for a few days, then back to Seattle to begin the cruise with my sister, brother-in-law and one niece.

We set sail on Royal Caribbean‘s Explorer of the Seas. It’s a pretty big boat ship, and the biggest that we’ve been on so far.

Royal Promenade on the Explorer of the Seas
Royal Promenade on the Explorer of the Seas

After a day of cruising, we arrived at Juneau, Alaska. We had about 8 hours in port here. Connie stayed behind to explore Juneau a bit and I went on a Bike and Brew excursion offered by Cycle Alaska that I really enjoyed. The bike ride was about 8.5 miles along fairly flat terrain. Got to ride at a pretty easy pace and rode through some nice areas. Much of the ride was on the road, but with wide shoulders and relatively light traffic, it was pretty easy going.

Heading to the start of the bike ride
Heading to the start of the bike ride
On the road
On the road

We rode out to a beach area on the west side of Mendenhall Lake where we got to see a fantastic view of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Lake
Mendenhall Lake

The lake gets its colour from silt collected/produced by the glacier. The water is pretty cold too.

From there it was back onto the road with a brief detour onto a trail, and then finishing at the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center. We dropped the bikes off at a bus parking area a short distance from the visitor center and had some time to walk over, enjoy the views of the glacier and explore the visitor center.

Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center
Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center
Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center
Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center

There are trails that take you almost right up to the glacier, but I didn’t have time to wander down these. In the visitor center, there are displays and exhibits that tell you all about the glacier and surrounding area. Pretty cool place.

From here, it was back into the vans for the trip back to Juneau and the “Brew” part of the excursion. We ended the excursion at a place called Alaska Fish and Chips Company where we got to sample some beers from the Alaskan Brewing Company and one from Baranof Island Brewing Company in Sitka. We got to sample the Summer Ale (nice refreshing Kolsch style beer), White Ale (Belgian witbier style) and Oatmeal Stout (really liked this one) from Alaskan Brewing and a Spruce Tip beer from Baranof (this one had some interesting flavours and notes).

Here’s a map of the route we took on the bike.

After this, it was off to meet Connie at the Catholic Cathedral in Juneau. Tiny little church. It’s the smallest Catholic Cathedral in the US. Because of time constraints, she stayed for Mass while I went to take the trip up the Mt. Roberts Tramway (she had already gone up there by now). From the bottom, you go up a couple thousand feet to Nature Center where you can wander the trails, enjoy the view and grab some food.

Mt Roberts Tramway
Mt Roberts Tramway
About halfway up the Mt Roberts Tramway
About halfway up the Mt Roberts Tramway
Juneau from the top of the tramway
Juneau from the top of the tramway

I wandered the trails up at the top for a bit, but didn’t have time to go too far.

Carved totem
Carved totem
Hiking the trail
Hiking the trail

There are several miles of trails that you can hike along. After exploring the gift shop a bit, it was time to head back down.

Heading back down the tramway
Heading back down the tramway

Met back up with Connie on her way back from Mass, and we headed back to the boat ship.

It was a pretty good day in the first port of call of the trip. I would have liked to explore Juneau a little bit more, but I’m glad I got to see what I did. I’ll just have to go back another time.

Next stop: Cruising to Skagway, Alaska.

Climbing the Laravel learning curve

After checking out several different PHP frameworks, I settled on using Laravel for redoing the x-ray equipment tracker that I use at work. It’s been a TODO project on my list for quite a while now and for the past couple of months, I’ve been studying the Laravel docs, writing up the redesign of my project and trying to put together some code.

I’ve managed to learn how to use Laravel enough to implement some simple tasks such as displaying lists of the x-ray units stored in the database. It’s actually been surprisingly easy, and I haven’t really had to write a whole lot of code. For the simple tasks that I’ve implemented so far, Laravel has done most of the heavy lifting. I just write the code to say what I want and how to display it, and Laravel does the rest.

So far most of the work I’ve had to do was in redoing the database schema to match the conventions used by Laravel’s Eloquent ORM. That mostly involved renaming tables and indexes, and trying to figure how to define the relationships in the model files.

Still have lots of learning and work to do, but I’m making progress. Baby steps.