Bienvenue to Seattle!
If you're planning an Alaskan cruise departing from Seattle, be sure to spend a few days in the city before or afterward. Three days of marvelous sightseeing in Seattle were spent before boarding the ship for our Alaska cruise. The lovely waterfront setting reminds me of Vancouver and the steep hills are similar to San Francisco.
Pike's Place market in downtown Seattle is 105 years old and the longest operating market in the US. There is a complete sustainable partnership between the hotels, restaurants and markets to serve the freshest, organic fruits and vegetables possible.
Frederica Dunn stands outside the entrance to Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery in Woodinville, Wash., a suburb of Seattle. If you’re planning an Alaskan cruise departing from Seattle, be sure to spend a few days in the city before or afterward.
Seattle is awash in caffeine and has the greatest concentration of coffeehouses in the country with lots of atmosphere and interesting decor reminiscent of the best ones in Vienna and Lisbon. After all, Starbucks started here in Pike Place Market in 1971.
I was so impressed with the city's bounty of fresh fruits, vegetables, local meats and top-notch wines. Washington is the nation's second largest wine producer after California and is among the world's top wine regions.
If you're looking to experience Washington wines, a day trip to Seattle's eastern suburbs is all it takes with nearly two dozen wineries strung through Woodinville.
The two giants of Woodinville are Columbia Winery and Chateau Ste. Michelle. We had a great wine and food paring at the chateau's beautiful 87-acre property that was the private estate of a lumber baron in the early 1900s. If wine's not your thing, Woodinville rolls out the barrel with some of Washington's finest beers from Redhook Ale Brewery. The wineries and brewery are all on the same street, making this a favorite day trip for everyone.
Surprisingly, while there are many wineries in the western side of the state, the grapes are grown in the eastern Columbia Valley and brought by truck. The eastern half of the state is semi-arid, receiving 6 to 8 inches of rainfall annually, most of it falling during vine dormancy. Rain is rare during the growing season, especially at the critical moments of flowering, fruit set and harvest. Water is supplied by drip irrigation, drawn from the vast reserves of the Columbia, Yakima and Snake Rivers. Irrigation timing and amounts are controlled rather than being left to the whims of nature producing a consistent high quality grape.
Another popular alternative when limited on time or wishing to avoid driving from winery to winery is the vastly popular urban enoteca - a unique wine venue in Seattle where many wineries' own tasting booths in the upscale warehouse setting. It's a wonderful concept and we thoroughly enjoyed our tasting and comparisons in one venue.
Take a scenic minute ferry ride to Bainbridge Island from downtown Seattle for $5 roundtrip. It's a perfect place to spend an afternoon and enjoy a delicious lunch at one of the many cafes. Mt. Rainier and the Olympic Mountains provide a stunning backdrop to this charming island community. The island blends its Pacific Northwest heritage with a casual, artistic town with many art galleries and shops. Bainbridge town center is only a five-minute walk from the ferry terminal.
Our Holland America cruise was delightful with Alaskan shore excursions in Juneau, Hubbard, Sitka, Ketchikan with a final stop in Victoria, British Columbia.
Welcome to the capital of Juneau and it may surprise you to learn that this is the second largest city in the United States - in terms of geographic area. Alaska is so big and so sparsely populated it is divided into boroughs. Juneau covers more than 3,000 square miles-three times the size of Rhode Island.
A few steps from the pier, the Alaska State Museum offers an interesting glimpse into the state's history and culture. Exhibits focus on original totems, mining, and diverse Pacific Northwest society. For Tlingit natives, the 1880 Juneau gold rush meant peace was irrevocably shattered. Ore was not of the best quality, but miners were serious to get it.
Visit the Red Dog Saloon for local color and a bite to eat. Ride the tram to the top of Mt. Roberts for superb views. Don't miss the Alaska String Band in Juneau. The Zahasky family (parents and three children) are very talented with harmonies totally off the charts. They mix Celtic, Russian, gospel, folk and pop.
Welcome to Hubbard Glacier and Yakutat Bay. Hubbard Glacier is the longest glacier in North America, stretching 76 miles. Known as the ''galloping glacier,'' Hubbard has continued to advance for more than a century. In 1986, the glacier surged forward, temporarily blocking the connection of Russell Fjord and Disenchantment Bay. Hubbard remains a very active glacier. The cliff face is more than 6 miles wide and routinely calves off icebergs the size of a 10-story building.
My favorite town was Sitka, known as Alaska's ''Little Russia.'' The city's natural setting is stunning. Local beauty begins with many tree-covered islands that line Sitka Sound. A few blocks north of town, Swan Lake is named for the beloved Russian ballet. The island is covered with lush spruce forest that stretches right down to the water's edge.
This is home to the Alaska Raptor Center, a unique game preserve where rescued bald eagles, hawks and owls are nursed to health. Whales and otters play in the sound. If you have time, join a small boat excursion to nearby St. Lazaria National Wildlife Refuge where there is a large puffin (sea bird) colony.
The charming skyline includes several pretty islands and the unusual St. Michael's Cathedral. The cathedral is built in the shape of a cross with three altars. There are no pews. In Alaska, the faithful stand in reverence to God.
The beautiful paintings (icons) inside the cathedral were brought to Sitka in 1813 aboard the Russian warship the ''Neva.'' The Neva grounded and sank about 20 miles from Sitka. However, the icons were salvaged from the ship except for one. Exactly 30 days after the sinking of the ''Neva,'' a crate washed ashore containing the Icon of St. Michael the Archangel. It was undamaged by seawater.
Brightly costumed Russian performers typically perform traditional folk dances for visitors. This group called the New Archangel Dancers got their start in 1969 when a group of local women decided to learn authentic Russian, Byelorussian, Moldovian and Ukrainian folk routines.
The original dancers struggled to find men for the group but there were no takers so women dance in men's roles. This started a tradition that lives on today even though the men would like to participate now. A typical 30-minute performance features six dances and costs $10.
A path next to the post office leads right up Castle Hill where historical markers explain its significance. The short climb to the top rewards you with a spectacular view of Sitka Sounds.
Sitka is a vibrant cultural center. There are two colleges, two major museums, bookstores and art galleries, and the totem collection at the national park is one of the world's largest. The Baranov Arts and Crafts center offers a chance to meet local artists and purchase their find work.
Our next stop is Ketchikan and the origin of the name is related to several interesting tales. Most people believe it is derived from a Tlingit (klin kit) phrase that means ''thundering wings of the eagle.'' Nathan Jackson's impressive woodcarving entitled ''Thundering Wings'' in the town center features the graceful mascot perched proudly on a rock.
Indigenous coastal artists are known for delicate design and form in woodcarving, basketry and Chilkat weaving. At Saxman Native Village, a small community with a totem park, local artists are busily engaged in the ancestral craft.
The first inhabitants were Tlingit tribes who set up a fishing camp at the mouth of the Ketchikan Creek. Tribal history is based on oral tradition. When the town was incorporated in 1900, news of bountiful fishing was well-known, and the community became known as ''The Salmon Capital of the World.'' Fishing, timber and mining formed a strong economic base.
In front of the Tongass Historical Museum, one of Ketchikan's notable totems is entitled ''Raven Stealing the Sun.'' Inside, browse among a collection of antique Amerindian ceremonial items. The Salmon, Cedar, and Gold exhibit presents a good historical overview.
The only Western analogy for a ''potlatch'' is a ceremonial feast. Totems are typically raised during a potlatch because the event is generally an occasion for the entire community.
Detailed poles are carved for a number of reasons: to depict legends (story poles); to honor a deceased family (mortuary poles); or to pay homage to some other momentous event. The poles at Totem Heritage Center include authentic works that have been rescued from abandoned Indian villages. A lot of work is required to keep wood intact in Alaska's wet conditions.
Our last stop was the lovely city of Victoria, Canada. Victoria is certainly modern but an air of British tradition pervades. The cobbled lanes lined with shops selling shortbread, scones, Scottish tartan and English woolens transport you to 19th-century London. Stroll along Wharf Street, where some of the city's oldest buildings are located, including the original Customs House. The British Columbia capital has remained essentially British with its tearooms, double-deck buses, horse-drawn carriages, and shops stocking china and woolens from home.
If you have time, the lovely Butchart Gardens are definitely worth a visit. We arrived on Canada's Independence Day and watched spectacular fireworks at the Inner Harbour with hundreds of young Canadians.
SEATTLE HOTELS AND RESTAURANTS
Hotel 1000 in downtown Seattle is one block from the excellent Art Museum and a 10-minute walk to the fascinating Pike Place Market. Don't miss the hotel's excellent wine bar and delicious food at the Boka restaurant.
The rustic Willows Lodge is on the outskirts of Seattle. Approaching the Willows, you feel an aura of comfort and welcome. Ruthie, the pet dog, sleeps in the lobby and manages to personally greet all guests. Soak in the outdoor Jacuzzi and savor an incredible glass of local wine by the cozy lobby fireplace with Ruthie at your feet. This seems to be a welcome tradition in the Pacific northwest.
The scenic Woodmark on the Lake. Look for Woody, the friendly dog that greets all visitors and wanders the lobby at all hours. Breathtaking views of Lake Washington and the hotel sightseeing boat will take guests for free tours on the lake. You will get a peek at the lakeside home of Bill Gates.
Enjoy a marvelous dinner and view at their bin on the lake restaurant. Look out for multi-million dollar homes, yachts, seals, sea lions, otters and bald eagles along the waterfront.
Herbfarm Restaurant affiliated with Willows Lodge serves an excellent nine-course meal with six matched wines. Each day's menu is finalized only hours before the meal to best represent the freshest ingredients. Every dish features local foods at the peak of their season, richly enhanced with herbs and paired with wine. The lodge is a lovely blend of the rustic contemporary with five-acre gardens.