Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Voyage of the Glaciers (2015)

Trains, ghosts and 'good-time girls'!

The new day found us berthed in Skagway; we were still in Southeast Alaska but getting ever closer to the main body of the state. Following arrival at 0510, a 6am start was needed in order to be ready for our train departure at 0800. After completing the usual morning routine, including breakfast, we quickly got ourselves organised for our morning excursion on the White Pass & Yukon Route railway. We would only be seeing the White Pass section, stopping just across the Canadian border in British Columbia. Nobody would be allowed to leave the train, so no formalities were necessary. The line continues from that point across BC and into the Yukon Territory, and some Grand Princess passengers were going all the way to White Horse, Yukon, one way by train and one way by bus.

LEFT: Waking up to a new view
RIGHT: Getting ready to board the train

The railway was constructed during the Klondike gold rush as a narrow-gauge, standalone route, with no connection to any other line. It ceased normal operations in 1982 and then was revived six years later as a heritage railway.

We managed to secure an end-of-car seat on the left, the most scenic side for the outbound journey. Announcements made it clear that there would be a mandatory seat exchange at the turning point to ensure that everybody spent half the journey on the scenic side of the train. The journey was pleasant but not spectacular at first, but it became truly dramatic once we reached the point where the line had to take a 'horseshoe detour' around an inlet. It was an amazingly steep climb for a line without cog assistance and the route gave occasional fleeting glimpses back to Skagway in the far distance.

A little farther on, we had to make a second detour in order to cross a valley at a reasonably narrow point. On this occasion, people were captivated by the sight of the original wooden bridge, now abandoned and decaying. Many were probably wondering whether we might be heading straight for it, unaware of its more prosaic (but sound) concrete-and-steel replacement, hidden behind.

RIGHT: Thank heavens that structure is no longer in use!

After further scenic twists and turns, we briefly crossed the AK/BC border - which of course is an international frontier - and reached the turning point for our train. As the engines moved to the other end of the train, passengers flipped their seat backs over and swapped with the people directly across the aisle, so that Bruce and I moved from front-left (in the original direction of travel) to back-left (in the new direction of travel).

Predictably, the return, downhill journey was considerably faster and sitting on the opposite side, I didn't attempt many photos during the train's descent. I also must confess to nodding off a few times, as the early start caught up with me!

On our return to Skagway, we went for a short walk around the very cool and attractive downtown area.

Post-lunch relaxation, as a local ferry is dwarfed by cruise liners

Returning to the ship for lunch, we opted for a relatively healthy choice of salad and cold meats from the buffet. Later in the afternoon, we assembled for our second shore excursion of the day, a walking tour with the unusual title of 'Ghosts and Good-time Girls'. Our guide was dressed as a 'madam' and her first action was to distribute frilly red-and-black garters to group members, asking that we wear these as armbands for identification purposes. The tour concentrated on Skagway's former (and unofficial) 'red-light' activities during the years of the Yukon gold rush, with a few ghost stories also thrown in for good measure. Our guide certainly looked the part, and when moving between points of interest, she paraded ostentatiously in front of the group in a way that was guaranteed to get herself noticed around town.

Although much of the content was humorous and tongue-in-cheek, the commentary also covered the serious side of the topic, touching on issues such as underage girls, the rampant spread of diseases and people-trafficking, especially from Asia. We ended up in the Red Onion Saloon, a former bordello with the first of the upper floors now given over to a small museum telling the story of those days. The tour concluded with the offer of a glass of sparkling wine for everyone who wanted it. When the time came for me to give a well deserved tip to our guide, she nodded down to the point on her upper body where several banknotes were already protruding from her dress, to indicate that my contribution should be added directly to the collection. After 30 years of visiting the USA I thought I was reasonably familiar with the esoteric rules and procedures for tipping, but I can safely say that this was a first!

LEFT: Time to head back to the ship

With daylight rapidly fading, we returned to the ship for cocktails. Thinking that a change of scene might be in order for dinner, we opted for a pizza in Alfredo's. Shortly before 9pm, Grand Princess was once more on the move.

What a wonderfully varied and enjoyable day!

Wed 02 Sep

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