Cruising into Juneau

Day 5. Tuesday 23 August.

‘Are we there yet?’ D had slept through the early morning arrival to Juneau, apparently undisturbed by his own snoring. In fact, docking in Juneau is actually “in town”, right underneath the cable tram running straight up Mt Roberts. Yes, Juneau is not accessible by road, only by air and sea.

We’re not due to sail (we have yet to actually see any sails on this ship) until 9.00 PM, so have opted for a leisurely breakfast. The day outside is not promising: low mist and occasional patches of light rain, but at least it’s not cold.

We walked along the dock into town, along with the tourist “gold” of 5 cruise ships. The pedestrian route is lined with souvenir shops.

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First stop at St Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church. The church itself is closed until 3.00 PM due to renovations, but we were invited inside the history room where we met the on- duty caretaker Patrick, who was keen to talk, and gave us some interesting information. Pastor arrived after a few minutes to announce that the workers are on their lunch break so the church is open for a while. So Pastor Nicholas took us through and talked to us, and others as they arrive, about the history of the orthodox church in Alaska (and, incidentally, its connections in California). We talked of congregations, services and what happens when congregations are without a minister. Nicholas’ congregation is around 50 on any Sunday, across ages and a variety of ethnic backgrounds.

He was keen to show us some symbolic accoutrements (wedding headwear and a chalice), given to the church by a Tsar. He talked of the number of orthodox churches in Alaska (150+], primarily of indigenous congregations. He then talked of the social issues that the First Nations communities face, the problems of alcohol and the internet and youth suicide. He then referred to Nietschke : when we understand “the why”, we will come to know “the how”.

Next stop is the Juneau City Museum, a small, focused collection. We watch a video about the foundation of the city (gold) and the area: some of the details about the local Russian Orthodox church differ slightly from Nicholas’ version.

Despite the mist hanging over the mountains, we take the tramway up Mt Roberts. It is worth it, not least because as we are returning from the loop walk, the mist clears sufficiently for a view down to the city and along the fjord on which it sits – but not enough to see anything much up higher. A hiker’s paradise!

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Back at sea level, we head to the Alaskan State Museum (did you know Juneau is the capital of Alaska?) to discover that it was 10 minutes to closing time at 5.00 PM. The attendants were kind enough to let us wander around for that time to get at least a glimpse of the history. The museum has only just reopened after a two year closure and is housed in an entirely new building. From the little we saw, it is very impressive.

Beer o’clock, so onto the Red Dog Saloon which boasts a gun of Wyatt Earp, but arrived there to find a queue – it’s not really a drinking spot, but rather a tourist attraction. The pinot in the stateroom is the preferred option.

So to dinner, to again be waited upon by terrific staff, from mostly (but not all) third world countries on contracts of 6 to 9 months, during which they are apart from their families. It does give pause to ponder.

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