I can see Russia from my Verandah

It was an odd feeling waking up. Odd because the boat wasn’t rocking.

We looked out the window to fog. I looked down. The water was smooth as glass. We were anchored at Sitka. It was nice to be in calm water. I checked and our. Tour wasn’t until 12:30, so we were in no rush.

We had a leisurely breakfast, packed up my backpack with rain gear and the camera, and went down to the launch to get on the tender to the marina. The ride was easy, and since these tenders were also our lifeboats, I was impressed to see how well built they were. They looked more like military landing craft, very solid and well built. If something went wrong it was good to know that emergencies were planned for.

Once at the marina, we walked towards the closest street. We had two hours to kill so we thought we might see what was around. There were a couple of shops on the street, nothing too special, just small tourist shops and a few local business. But we were just really happy at that point that it wasn’t raining. This was really our first dry day for the trip, and we were glad to have it.

We stopped in a tourist shop so I could pick up a pair of cheap sunglasses, and Yulia asked the girl behind the counter where the main street was. She told us “you’re on it”


I leaned out the door of the shop and could see both ends of the street. The girl unfolded a map across the counter and pointed out the street. I swear the map was 1:1 scale. We thanked her and walked a bit further. Ahead of us was the St Michael’s Orthodox church. This was on our tour later in the day, but we wanted to take a look inside before the crowds showed up. The tourist signs pointing out the church were already in front, letting us know that it was $2 each donation to tour the church. We went inside and found an elderly woman next to the donation box smiling and directing folks in. She looked a lot like my grandmother (on the Russian side of the family). We paid and asked her if they sold candles.

For those who aren’t Russian Orthodox; when you go to an Orthodox church, you burn candles at the various icons for prayer. We are Orthodox, so whenever we visit an Orthodox church we make sure to purchase and burn a few candles.

The Church was fairly large for an orthodox church (which is still small) but the icons were beautiful and very old. Some of the oldest and most historical Russian Orthodox icons are located in America, because so many in Russia were destroyed by the Bolsheviks in 1917. We looked about and found the box to buy candles in the corner of the church. We bought a few and went about lighting and placing them in the small spaces in front of the respective icons. I had put mine in place under the main central icon, then turned around and was surprised to see the elderly woman from the front standing right next to me.

I was startled for a bit. She was looking at me with wide eyes, and asked, “Are you Orthodox?”

It took me a second to process her question. “Uh, yes.” I replied. “My whole family is.” I pointed over to Yulia and Sasha.

She smiled and said, “I’m so glad you are here.” She reached up and kissed me on both cheeks, Russian style. She then walked over to Yulia and sash and did the same. Apparently we were the only tourists in a long time who were actually Russian Orthodox. “Which church do you go to?” she asked.

I told her that we go to St. Nicholas’ in Seattle, and she was excited since she knew our church and had been there. We talked with her for a bit and told her that Yulia was from Russia and that my family was Russian on one side. As we left, she gave each of us a souvenir pin of the church, and told us to visit when we came back to Sitka.

It was honestly a moving experience to connect with someone at random like that.

We felt good as we walked up the street, we stopped when we hit the other marina on the opposite end of the main street. Sitka was not short on marinas. We were just below the hill where Russia sold Alaska to the US. Russians usually comment that they sold Alaska, “for a knife,” meaning that they got a raw deal. It turns out that it was a 7.2 million dollar knife, and the czar was tired of shipping everything so far back to Russia, so it wasn’t such a bad deal. Hell, considering we ended up with Sarah Palin, the Russians made out like bandits.

We grabbed a quick snack at a book shop with an Espresso stand in back, and made our way back to the dock to meet our tour. We were set for a tour of the Church, some sightseeing around town, and a visit to the Raptor Center, which is basically rehab for eagles. (ah, how nature imitates the music industry….)

We learned that the original downtown burned down, and that the town had about 20 minutes warning before the fire reached the church. So everyone ran into the church and started bringing out all the icons and religious items. They saved about 95% of everything there, and once it was all over, they got the original church plans from the Smithsonian Institution and rebuilt everything.

The loop of the town was beautiful, and you could really get a feel for how isolated Sitka is from the mainland. Even the airport for the city was on a separate island originally, with no connecting bridge. You had to take a boat from the terminal in town over to the runway. Your luggage took a separate boat.

The raptor center was a volunteer organization and had been in operation for something like 30 years. It was critical when Bald Eagles were endangered, but now the Eagles have fully recovered and are not endangered, and the center works with all kinds of raptors. We got some close photos and saw how they took care of the huge birds, some of whom never recover and stay there permanently.

We also got to see a local dance group that performs traditional Russian Dances. Yulia was impressed, for a group of amateurs, they knew the dances well. These folk dances were common years ago in Russia, but are pretty unheard of know, so seeing them here is more common than seeing them in Russia.

After the tour, we caught the last tender back to the boat. The sun was out now, and you could see all the small islands in the Sitka Sound, dotted with homes and private docks. As we made out way out of the harbor, we met another fog bank on open water. The seas were not bad, but after an hour os so we turned back to the inside passage toward Ketchikan, and lost the fog and waves.

The sun went down over the islands giving us a beautiful sunset for the first time this trip. We took a few photos and headed down to the piano bar to close out the night.