Saints and salmon in Sitka

Sitka AlaskaThe first thing you need to know about Alaska is that the only way in and out of the major cities is by air or boat. Which has to be the reason it’s so gobsmackingly beautiful. The hordes in their cars simply can’t drive in and dump litter. Alaska 1, trash 0.

And as far as gobsmackingly beautiful goes, Sitka just has to be the prettiest town in the country. Its name is an abbreviation of the native Tlingit words Shee At’ika, a brief way of saying “People on the outside of Baranoff Island’. Glad you asked?

Vitus Bering was the man who started the whole thing when he left Russia to go adventuring across the eponymous Bering straits and discover the riches the Aleutian natives could deliver in quantity; otter skins. The Russians took the otter pelts and the Aleutians adopted the habit of tea drinking from brass samovars. I guess you could call it a cultural exchange.

We dock in Sitka on a sunny, sunny morning and, after an excellent coffee in the Highliner Café, we start our ‘sightdoing’ with a visit to the Bishop’s house in Lincoln Street.

Built in 1843 from local Western hemlock timber, it is to this day a cosy ‘smart’ house because of the way it was constructed. Luckily for the locals, the Russian

Czar had stipulated that the Russian American Fur Company include the Russian Orthodox Church in the new settlement. Even more luckily, the Bishop was a man of peace and respect for the Tlingit and he helped transcribe their spoken language into written form. Little wonder he was later to be canonised as Saint Innocent.

We also visit St Michael’s Cathedral, the first seat of the Orthodox Church in the New World. The church was reconstructed after a fire in the 1960s, but it still contains many original ikons used by the bishops to tell the stories of the gospel to the local people.

Next we wander down to Old Harbor Books and spend a fun hour photographing Local titles such as “The man who ate his boots”, “The woman who married a bear” and “My lead dog was a lesbian”. No, I don’t get it either, and so chose not to purchase any of the above.

Salmon in AlaskaTime for a nature walk, we decided, so we headed to the Sitka National Historical Park where sockeye salmon spawning was in full swing. Described as the sexiest river dance in the world, it was all happening down in the clear waters of the Indian River. As long as I live, I don’t expect to see such an amazing sight again.

And yet, after reboarding the ms Oosterdam, we sit at dinner and suddenly, against the setting sun is a humpback whale flashing its mighty tail.

What a day, what a country.

Read more about the ms Oosterdam and its seven-day Alaskan voyages.

Written by Kaye Fallick