Alaska Cruising

As far as I can tell, there are two kinds of people in Juneau. Those who love the cruise ships and those who hate them. Every day during the cruising season (May to September), anywhere from 2 to 5 giant cruise ships dock in downtown Juneau disgorging thousands of waddling tourists, all wearing sweatshirts and fanny packs. I say waddling because I’ve been on one of those ships and know how much food is consumed.

My niece told me of riding the bus to work on the final day of cruising season last year and when the bus driver announced “there goes the last cruise ship of the season, half the people on the bus cheered and the other half sat in stony silence. Those cheering were thrilled that they could now have their city back without the hoards, while the glum ones felt like their last link to the outside world was being severed.

As for me, I enjoyed watching the ships come and go from my niece’s place across the channel from the docks and on our various excursions.


Cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord



Cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord


At the dock in Juneau


A busy evening in Juneau harbor

If you have the time and resources to take an Alaska cruise, I highly recommend it. And if you’re not the cruising type, then consider a trip on the Alaska Marine Highway. The price is of course lower, but the views are the same! We took 4 ferry trips, and I’m ready to spend the rest of the summer on board one of those ferries.

Quick update: We are on our way back to Minnesota. Gracie (mom) flew back on Wednesday, so it’s just my sister and me. Hoping to be back by The Fourth!

A Tale of Two Shrines

Earlier this week, we took a drive north out of Juneau, on the only road in the area (which only goes 40+ miles). Along the way stopped at the Shrine of St. Therese, a Catholic retreat center about 15 miles out of town.




As we were admiring the gorgeous chapel set in a grove of trees on the tip of a penninsula, I had a vague sense of familiarity. A shrine to St. Therese of Lisieux…where had I seen that before?

Then I remembered that last fall, on one of my church-bell-hunting excursions in Beijing, I had stumbled across a small Catholic church in the southeast section of old Beijing that is also a shrine to St. Therese of Lisieux.




Today the church is simply referred to as the NanGangzi Catholic Church, NanGangzi being the name of the old Beijing neighborhood it is in. We were able to get into the steeple to see the bells, but the priest we met told us that they were not original.

So, who was St. Therese? Here’s what the Catholic Encylopedia “New Advent” says about her:

Carmelite of Lisieux, better known as the Little Flower of Jesus, born at Alençon, France, 2 January, 1873; died at Lisieux 30 September, 1897.


She was the ninth child of saintly parents, Louis and Zélie Martin, both of whom had wished to consecrate their lives to God in the cloister. The vocation denied them was given to their children, five of whom became religious, one to the Visitation Order and four in the Carmelite Convent of Lisieux. Brought up in an atmosphere of faith where every virtue and aspiration were carefully nurtured and developed, her vocation manifested itself when she was still only a child. Educated by the Benedictines, when she was fifteen she applied for permission to enter the Carmelite Convent, and being refused by the superior, went to Rome with her father, as eager to give her to God as she was to give herself, to seek the consent of the Holy Father, Leo XIII, then celebrating his jubilee. He preferred to leave the decision in the hands of the superior, who finally consented and on 9 April, 1888, at the unusual age of fifteen, Thérèse Martin entered the convent of Lisieux where two of her sisters had preceded her.


The account of the eleven years of her religious life, marked by signal graces and constant growth in holiness, is given by Soeur Thérèse in her autobiography, written in obedience to her superior and published two years after her death. In 1901 it was translated into English, and in 1912 another translation, the first complete edition of the life of the Servant of God, containing the autobiography, “Letters and Spiritual Counsels”, was published. Its success was immediate and it has passed into many editions, spreading far and wide the devotion to this “little” saint of simplicity, and abandonment in God’s service, of the perfect accomplishment of small duties.


The fame of her sanctity and the many miracles performed through her intercession caused the introduction of her cause of canonization only seventeen years after her death, 10 Jun, 1914.

Who knew that Juneau and Beijing have something in common and that it is shrine to St. Therese of Lisieux?

If you’re interested in reading more about St. Therese, her autobiography is titled “Story of A Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux.”


We Made It!

On Friday afternoon, after driving 2800 miles in 7 days, we arrived in Skagway, in Southeast Alaska.

As we drove through the town teeming with tourists from the two cruise ships docked in the harbor, we wanted to shout at everyone, “WE DID IT! WE DROVE HERE!!!” But, surmising that no one would be interested in that fact, we kept the giddiness to ourselves.



But Skagway wasn’t really our destination; Juneau was. So, after diving 60-70 miles an hour for a week, we parked the car on the lower deck of the ferry settled in for a leisurely 6 hour ride to Juneau, where my niece and her husband were waiting for us at the dock. We followed them the last 25 minute drive to their home on Douglas Island, pulling into their driveway at 10:30PM, just in time to catch a sunset pic from their deck.






Saturday morning, we were back on another ferry bound for Sitka. And today we rode the ferry back to Juneau, where we will be for the rest of the week.


Road Trip: St. Paul to Skagway, AK

On Friday, my mom, sister and I will set off on a long road trip: St. Paul to Skagway, Alaska (then to Juneau by ferry). According to our friends at Google, it is 2760 miles. Why, you may be asking are we doing this? Well, we all love road trips and my niece and her husband live in Juneau so we’re going to visit them.

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As I was getting ready this afternoon, I got to thinking about some of the many road trips I’ve taken over the years. Here are ten of the best:

1. Karachi – Islamabad – Karachi (Pakistan). We used to do this one very summer (in the 1969’s), following the Grand Trunk Road. In the early years, we drove a Land Rover; later on it was our trusty green and white VW Microbus (the favorite of hippies).

Exactly like ours -- now in a museum!

Exactly like ours — now in a museum!

2. Karachi, Pakistan – Kandahar and Kabul, Afghanistan – Islamabad, Pakistan – Karachi. My family did this in the summer of 1968, when Afghanistan was relatively peaceful and still ruled by a king. The highlight was going through the famous Khyber Pass.

3. One month road trip around Western Europe in the summer of 1970. We flew from Pakistan to Munich, and went straight to the VW factory to pick up the station wagon my dad had ordered. We drove it through Europe for a month, then dropped it off in Hamburg where it was put on a ship and sent to Los Angeles. A month later, we picked it up there. We then drove it all over the US for a year, before returning to Pakistan. (Us, not the car)

4. Numerous road trips between Minnesota and California over the years. It seems that during the times we were in the US, we were either living in California and driving to Minnesota to visit relatives, or the other way around.

5. My last year of college I was in a musical ensemble that toured the US. We gave 60+ concerts in 32 states in 6 weeks — from Minnesota to Colorado to Maine to Florida, then back to Minnesota.

6. In 1990, I took my then ten-year old niece on a road trip to Washington, DC. Suffice to say, I did all the driving.

7. In 2003, I took my mom on a road trip around Lake Superior. Duluth to Duluth. I highly recommend it. In fact, I’d love to drive around all of the Great Lakes.

8. St. Paul to Santa Barbara by back roads. I did this with my mom and sister in 2007. Since we had done the drive so many times, we just wanted to do something different. It’s a gorgeous drive across Nebraska if  you get off  I-80 and take Scenic Highway 2 across the northern part of the state, through the Sand Hills.

The last two are road trips I took in China.

9. Beijing – Pingyao (Shanxi) – Pingyao. An American friend had a red jeep, and off we went.

10. Beijing – Xanadu – Beijing. “Xanadu” is the western name for the ancient summer capital of Kublai Khan. The remains of the city are 8 hours north of Beijing, in the grasslands. We hired a car and driver to take us (again, a red jeep).

What fun or epic road trips have you taken? Leave a comment and tell us about it.

Map source: Google

Image source: Wikimedia