Sitka: Eagles, Shopping and Fish Nuggets

Sitka Alaska Welcome Sign and Tender

Sitka Alaska Welcome Sign and ms Veendam Tender in background

Day Six – Sitka, Alaska – No excursions planned as we decided there was enough in the city for us to experience on our own. Sitka was originally the capital of ‘Russian America’, a conglomerate of Russian colonies existing on current American territory. Many of the historic buildings, shops, restaurants still carry their Russian roots aesthetically. Ryan was even able to buy a Russian Tank Helmet for his brother, so fun and well received.

Holland America Line ms Veendam Tender Launching

Holland America Line ms Veendam Tender Launching

So the cruise ship itself wasn’t able to dock at the harbor and we had to take a tender boat from the ship to the shore; it was overcast, drizzling and cold. We were finding though, per usual, the dismal weather didn’t really dampen our excitement at all. Alaska has a way of still being beautiful through the fog and rain.

On cruise ships, lifeboat tenders do double duty, serving as tenders in day-to-day activities, but fully equipped to act as lifeboats in an emergency. They are generally carried on davits just above the promenade deck, and may at first glance appear to be regular lifeboats; but they are usually larger and better-equipped. Current lifeboat tender designs favor catamaran models, since they are less likely to roll in the calm to moderate conditions in which tenders are usually used. They typically carry up to 100 to 150 passengers and two to three crew members. —Wikipedia Ship’s Tender article

St. Michael's Cathedral Sitka, AK

St. Michael's Cathedral Sitka, AK

We started at Baranof Castle Hill, nothing like a brisk morning, uphill trek after a big hot breakfast on the ship. Castle Hill is the site of the transfer of Alaska to the United States in 1867. The original forts have not survived battles or fire throughout their past but the site creates a great viewpoint of the surrounding town being on high ground.

We left Castle Hill for Totem Square, the Sitka Pioneers Home, the Russian Block House and Saint Michael’s Cathedral. We found ourselves on Lincoln Street on the way to the Cathedral and were able to wander in and out of several shops and galleries. Sitka’s retail “district” seemed to be centered along this stretch of road. Even with the chill in the air, it was hard to avoid the ice cream and fudge shops!

Sitka Crab on Beach HAL MS Veendam Anchored

Sitka Crab on Beach, HAL MS Veendam Anchored


Totem Pole in Sitka

Totem Pole in Sitka

Our ultimate goal was to spend as much time as we could at the Sitka National Historical Park . We continued along Lincoln, passing several historic homes and a marina along the way. The museum at the entry to the Park houses several original Tlingit and Russian artifacts, depicting the struggle between the two cultures two hundred years ago. The building is also home to several totem poles, both inside and outside the structure.

We left the center to take ourselves on the self-guided tour through the forest behind the museum, the accessible trails available total two miles of peaceful serenity. Along the trail we found several hand carved totem poles, and ended at the site of the original Tlingit fort. Not being two people who love to stay on marked trails, we wandered off a bit and wound up oceanside, walking towards a small inlet to the Indian River that seemed to be a favorite playplace for a large family of American Bald Eagles.

Looking up in the forest with rain on the lens

Looking up in the forest with rain on the lens

Amy with Starfish at the Sheldon Jackson Fish Hatchery

Amy with Starfish at the Sheldon Jackson Fish Hatchery

Leaving the Park, we walked back up Lincoln Street towards town and stopped at the Sheldon Jackson Fish Hatchery. Originally funded by the Sheldon Jackson college up the street (closed by the state in 2007), this small hatchery and aquarium seemed fully supported by volunteers, a bit run-down, but fully loved and enjoyed.

We watched some sea otters play in the ocean behind the aquarium, were astonished by the quantities of salmon in the tanks out back and were very impressed with the open tanks of sea life we were able to touch and hold inside the aquarium. Although small, it was much more interactive and educational than your typical big-city aquarium. I really hope that it acquires the funding it needs to continue.

At this point we were extremely hungry and wanted to find some local cuisine. Fish nuggets and homemade chowder at the Westmark Raven Dining Room, along with a local draught brew. Perfection! I can’t explain the difference between eating fish fresh out of the ocean, compared to the selection we have here in Chicago, but Ryan and I were both convinced we’d never eat farm-raised or frozen again.

We stopped in at a few more shops and made our way back to harbor for the short trip back to the ship. Still convinced we had done the right thing by leaving our plans open in Sitka, you should too.

A Morning in Haines, Alaska – Fort William H. Seward

Our next port of call was Haines; another small, historic fishing town along the inside passage. Haines is also home to Fort William H. Seward, a military post that was officially deactivated in 1946. Although known as ‘Fort Seward’, this army post should not be confused with the town of Fort Seward located in California or Seward, Alaska.

A building in Fort Seward; Haines, AK

A building in Fort Seward; Haines, AK

Its buildings still stand and have other uses, such as a hotel, a bed & breakfast, the community arts center and several private residences. These white buildings are situated in a rectangle around a grassy lawn and are quite easy to identify from the ship. Haines is also home to the largest concentration of bald eagles in the world and we could see them overhead as we came into dock.

We planned no sponsored excursions for our day in Haines, wanting to explore at our will and on our schedule. We did however wanted to make sure we had time to get to Skagway, a port just a few miles up the coast, accessible to us by ferry. We bought our tickets for an afternoon departure.

Dutch Sailing Canal Barge in Haines marina

Dutch Sailing Canal Barge in Haines marina

Setting out in Haines started with a walk up Front Street, visiting their marina first and find ourselves on Main Street. Our first goal was to find a great cup of coffee and we did so at a little coffee shop just past the curious Hammer Museum we had heard so much about. http://www.hammermuseum.org

We didn’t make it into the museum while we were there but apparently it houses over 1,500 hammers from around the world, dating back to Roman times.

Carving Crow totem pole, Alaska Indian Arts, Winter 2007-2008 Project

Carving Crow totem pole, Alaska Indian Arts, Winter 2007-2008 Project

We stopped at the Rusted Compass Coffee shop for a real latte, baked goods and some local conversation. The coffee on the ship was fine, for all intents and purposes, but freshly ground does add something.

Most of the morning was spent exploring the streets of Haines, working our way back to Fort Seward. There honestly wasn’t much to see in or out of town, but it was quiet and beautiful. Entering Fort Seward felt a little like stepping back in time. We traveled across the green and found ourselves in the fort’s old hospital, now the Alaska Indian Arts gallery and studio. The walls were lined with black and white photographs and vibrant Tlingit prints. In a large room off to the right, we found a local man working on an actual totem pole. He wasn’t a man of many words, any words actually. But it was very meditative to watch him at his work.

Haines, Alaska Map Sign

Haines, Alaska Map Sign

We finished our morning walking through some of the local shops along the edge of the Fort, we found an amazing flower garden and visited Dijon Delights right across the street for some smoked salmon.