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"Travel Blog: Cruising Alaska's Inside Passage"
Author:  planetpurl
Glaciers, the Tongass National Rainforest, gold rush towns and yarn, my friend, yarn!
10/11/2009 - Cruising Alaska's Inside Passge
If you've ever been to Florida in August or September, you can guess why I decided to take Mr. Purlqueen to Alaska for annual anniversary trip.  In the 20 years we've been together, he never wanted to take a cruise because he thought he'd get seasick.  So I chose an Alaskan cruise through the Canadian and Alaskan inside passage.  I figured that we'd have the best chance of a smooth sailing by spending as little time possible on the open sea.  Best laid plans...but more about that later. 

The scenery along the inside passage is spectacular, with thousands of islands of granite and greenery on both sides.  As you get closer to Glacier Bay, the water is dotted with huge chunks of glacial ice floating past, giving you an up-close view of the fantastic colors created by the oxygen being compressed out of the water during the formation of the glaciers.  The cruise stops in 4 towns, 3 of which just happen to have yarn shops.  So in addition to hiking, kayaking, whale watching and backcountry adventures, we managed just a bit of yarn shopping as well.  So come join us on our Alaskan cruise and some armchair yarn shopping.
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10/11/2009 - Ketchikan, Alaska

Ketchikan is the the oldest city in Alaska, and it's the wettest as well, with an average rainfall of a whopping 165 inches.  With less than 8,000 year-round residents in the city, Ketchikan is still the state's fourth largest city.  It's also completely inaccessible by car from the rest of Alaska, except by seaplane or boat.  Rush hour takes on a whole different dimension here.  Commuting by seaplane or boat sounds like fun, but I'm pretty sure that it's a whole lot more fun during the summer than it is during the dead of winter. 

Ketchikan's population swells during the summer months as cruise ships ply the inside passgae and vacationing anglers swarm to Ketchikan for the salmon fishing.  A popular stop for cruise ships, we counted half a dozen ships in port the day we were there.  The ships disgorged more passengers than there are residents in Ketchikan.  Lucky for cruising knitters, there's a yarn shop just a few blocks from the docks. 

Mission Street Arts & Fibers is just a short walk from the port, in the main shopping area of "downtown" Ketchikan.  The shop carries a variety of local arts, but for knitters and crocheters, the real attraction is the section of the store devoted to fiber. Although the shop carries some standard brands, such as Noro, as well as some cool imports, like Danish brand Kauni, the real draw for me was the Raven Frog Fiber Arts hand-dyed yarns in about a dozen different textures.  The colorways are all inspired by Alaskan themes and they are just gorgeous.  Raven Frog is hand-dyed in Sitka, Alaska and is making its way into the lower 48, but for now, Alaska is the best place to find it.  I couldn't resist and ended up picking up the Alder colorway in 4 different textures -- worsted wool, silk chenille, bumpy-lumpy-bubbly wool, and a thick-an-thin roving type.  Mission Street also carries Alaskan hand-dyes from Rabbit Ridge.  When I visited, the shop had a beautiful selection of Rabbit Ridge in sock weight. 

The shop was friendly and warm and if your traveling companions roll there eyes at the thought of hitting a yarn store with you, there's plenty of local art in the shop to keep them occupied while you get down to some serious yarn shopping.

Mission Street has another location in Ketchikan that recently opened, called The Point.  According to the nice lady at Mission Street, it's 2800 square feet of fiber heaven.  It's a bit further from the docks and we didn't have time to get there before our zodiac ride through the backwaters of the Tongass Rainforest archipelago, but if you're spending more of your "in port" time wandering the town, get yourself over there and let me know what you think?

Mission Street Arts and Fibers
500 Mission Street
Ketchikan, Alaska 99901
Phone: (907) 225-2854

The Point
25 Jefferson Way, Suite 102B
Ketchikan, Alaska  99901
Phone: 907-225-2858

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10/11/2009 - Juneau, Alaska


As close as we came
to the yarn

At Alaska's capital city, we watched from our cabin's balcony as the rush hour traffic (seaplanes lined up one after the other) took off.  Crazy.  Juneau is the largest city on the cruise ship circuit, with a population of about 30,000.  With all those people and the long, dark winters, you'd think Juneau could have a yarn shop on every corner.  Ooh, that must be what heaven is like..... 

Anyway, Juneau is home to one yarn shop, but it's a very short walk from the cruise ship docks.  Skeins Fine Yarns is located on the second floor of a little shopping arcade.  I wish I could tell you what the shopping experience was like, but apparently the posted hours are a bit, hmmm, flexible?  I double checked with one of the other shopkeepers in the arcade and was told that this wasn't an unusual event.  The shop was supposed to open at 9, which is late for a cruise ship town as the ships start letting off passengers between 7 and 8 in the morning and most pull up anchor and head out by 3 or 4.  The shops tend to keep the cruise ship hours as that's obviously when the most customers are around.  We stopped by the shop at 9 and waited a few minutes while we watched several other customers walk up the stairs, check the door and walk away.  We checked back at 9:15 and still closed.  We checked back at 9:30 and still dark and other people leaving after waiting around.  We waited another 10 minutes and gave up. 

Through the window, though I spotted a lot of the major brands like Noro and Rowan.  I can't tell you if they had anything uniue or local, but if you go, and I definitely suggest calling ahead to avoid wasting any precious shore time, let us know what you think!

Skeins Fine Yarn
175 S Franklin St
Juneau, AK 99801-1304
(907) 463-5678
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10/11/2009 - Skagway, Alaska

Skagway from the helicopter

"Downtown" Skagway

Changing Threads

Raven Frog Yarns

Jacques Cartier Shop

Qiviut -- Yum!

My Wooly Bear Stash

My Qiviut and Vicuna

Skagway has worked hard to maintain it's history and it retains the look of a real 19th century gold-rush town.  On the day we were there, the city's 800 residents were joined by about 12,000 cruise ship passengers.  800 residents and 2 yarn shops, including a branch of the exclusive, check-your-platinum-card-at-the-door Jacques Cartier all-qiviuk shop.  Oh my, I am hyperventilating just thinking about it! This is definitely my kind of town. 

For most ship itineraries, this is the longest stop in port as there is so much to do in and around Skagway.  Mr. PurlQueen and I took a helicopter up s  over the glaciers, landed half-way up a mountain, hiked for about 3 hours and then caught the historic Yukon & White Pass Railroad back to Skagway. 

Where I made  bee-line for the fabulous shop, Changing Threads.  I did some serious damage here, drawn immediately to the whole case of lovely Windy Valley qiviuk.  I was hypnotized by the beautiful halo of the marine blue and had the helpful shop lady set it aside for me as I was quickly distracted by the Raven Frog Wooly Bear yarn -- one strand merino and one in mohair, hand-dyed in spectacular color-ways.  I couldn't resist the "Cabin in the Woods" colorway and scooped up the 5 hanks they had on hand.  Reds, greens, browns, and creamy vanilla.  Yum, yum, yummy! 

Not wanting to see just how much yarn I could buy before Mr. PurlQueen gave me "the look,"  we headed out of the shop with the intention of heading back to the ship to dry out and warm up after our long hike in the drizzling rain.  It was absolutely not my fault that we accidentally found the mother-lode that is Jacques Cartier.  I didn't even know they had opened a shop in Skagway.  I'm telling the God's honest truth, here.  I knew about the shop in Banff, the one in Lake Louise, and that they had opened a shop in the Plaza Hotel in New York City recently. But Skagway?  Oh thank my lucky stars. 

The shop is a recent addition and stays open only for the cruise ship season from May to September.  I spoke with Cartier's home office and they told me they did plan to re-open for the cruise season in 2010, but the location may change.  So check out theri web site and/or call the main location in Banff before you head out to get the exact location of the Skagway shop. 

OK, so back to shopping....One step inside and I knew I was in fiber heaven.  You're greeted by a life size stuffed Musk Ox and shelf after shelf and rack after rack of gorgeous knitted qiviuk sweater, scarves, hats, gloves, wraps, throws and on and on and on.  All out there in the open for you to touch.  I'm feeling faint just typing this.  Then the piece de resistance -- a display of little balls of qiviuk yarn in every color available.  Lots of them. 

I was talking to the manager of the shop about our serendipitous discovery of the store and the fact we did not have the shop in our online directory when Mr. PurlQueen asked a question about why qiviut was so expensive.  After the manager told him about qiviuk, I chimed in to to tell him that it wasn't the most expensive fiber, vicuna was and that it was exceptionally rare and expensive.  The manager told me she had vicuna yarn in stock, just not on display and would I like to see it?  What do you think?  She brought a bag with 2 precious balls of Vicuna.  She placed one gingerly on the palm of my hand and something just took over my brain and I was possessed.  I mean it really wasn't my fault.  I told Mr. PurlQueen that this would be the Christmas present ever and as he hates, and I mean hates, to shop for me, buying that ball of vicuna was a complete win-win situation.  And I threw in some promises of a rather personal nature to tip the odds in my favor.  I left the shop smiling and with 214 yards of the world's softest fiber in a tiny bag and with the firm belief that this was the best cruise ever.  

Even the 100 mph winds and 40+ waves the last day on the open sea didn't dim my enthusiasm for yarn shopping in Alaska.  Total take: 9 skeins of Raven Frog, 1 ball of qiviuk and one ball of vicuna.  I love, love, love Alaska!

Changing Threads
326 Third Avenue
Skagway, Alaska  99840
Toll Free: (800) 981-5432
Local: (907) 983-3700

Jacques Cartier  Qiviut Boutique at Alaska
(2009) address)  299 Broadway & Third Ave
Skagway, Alaska 99840
(907) 983 3484

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