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Friday, October 23, 2009


Alaskan humor is as rough and tumble as the state itself. We hit those gift shops in Anchorage, and we did a lot of chuckling. I guess you've got to find a way to keep jolly during those long, dark, cold, snowy Alaskan winters, and it appears that Alaskans like to play with words. Rob and I spent time laughing at the silliness, the raunchiness, and the way Alaskans have no problem with self-deprecating humor. Start with this riddle: What is the Alaskan State bird? Answer: The mosquito.

Whether we're looking at the name of a store or the merchandise for sale, nothing is sacred. Here's a partial sampling of some of the fun things we found in Anchorage. The joking didn’t end in Anchorage, and I’ll share some of the other funny stuff we saw as we traveled. Meanwhile, just enjoy these, and don’t be afraid to laugh!

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Thursday, October 15, 2009


After leaving the Market, Rob and I meander down to Ship Creek, an important older part of the city. Ship Creek is sometimes called a place for “urban combat fishing.” The term may even include other anxious anglers when the salmon is running. That means there can be a sizable crowd two hours before or after slack tide when fishing is good. Ten minutes from the office, a fisherman can battle a feisty ten pound salmon! I bet you can check a lot of office “attendance” by reading the tide tables! I don’t think there are too many places around the country where this kind of outdoor recreation is possible.

Where we cross the river are the fish ladders that help the salmon get from the lower river level to the higher level. In Seattle, WA you can stand fascinated and watch through windows as the salmon use the ladders, but here we are only able to watch them emerge at the end of their climb. The silver salmon are running this time of the year, and we watch them struggle against the strong current, sometimes pooling together to rest and “catch their breath” before continuing their quest to reach their spawning sites. We watch them, mesmerized. We slowly move across the bridge stopping every few feet, and then we descend some stairs on the other side to be closer to the water. The fish are exhausted as they emerge from the ladders, and they stop again to rest before battling the current once more. Some are already battered and torn, and some just die in the river. Birds are waiting at river's edge to peck at the dead and dying fish. In nature, these losses are part of the cycle of life, and nothing goes to waste. Other stronger salmon continue their journey eluding the fisherman casting into the stream. The strong do survive. Rob and I move from place to place changing our view but remain fascinated.

We also continue to meet friendly, garrulous people. EVERYONE we meet is outgoing and friendly. I think this is part of the Alaskan make up. The weather is lovely, the company is lovely, and the sun is lovely. In a short time a long, tough, cold, and dark winter will arrive. Now it is time to enjoy! While we watch the salmon, a man, formerly Air Force, stops to chat with Rob about the fish. We end up talking for 45 minutes! Each year he comes to Alaska from Houston and spends June, July, and August here. He loves it! But his wife stays home! When we ask about places we must include in our visit to Anchorage, he says without missing a beat, “Have you been to Humpy's?” Cool.

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Friday, October 09, 2009


On our first full day in Anchorage, we walk almost seven miles. This is a city designed for visitors, and the downtown area, arranged in an easily maneuverable grid and only a ten minute walk from our hotel offers a wealth of opportunities to see and experience this city, the fourth largest in America by area but with a population of only 320,000. Alaskans take every advantage of their short season of sunny, good weather. They travel by bike; there are gigantic hanging flowers everywhere; benches are available for sitting and enjoying the sun; outdoor dining is available whenever possible. It's a lovely place to explore on foot.

The seven acre Market is our first stop.

Here over 300 vendors gather each summer weekend, and the offerings are diverse and unique. More like San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf with its tents than Seattle's Pike Street, Anchorage's Market offers an abundance of Alaska-made goods, uniquely Alaskan foods, and one-a-kind gifts and crafts. I couldn’t resist this croaking frog. It sounds just like the guys I hear as I sit on my patio in the evening! According to the directions, if I change the way you hold it, I replicate a male or female sound. Honestly, I’m not sure that isn’t a bit hyperbolic.
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Most fun for us, however, are the tastings. Vendors' samples introduce foods we've never tried, and I would have sworn I'd never try. Each one is delicious. We have caribou sausage, moose sausage, and moose teriyaki. Then for lunch we split an elk burger that tastes like a delicious steak but is not fatty like beef. Then we split an elk hot dog, but I remain loyal to Nathans. Interestingly, in Alaska only the native peoples are allowed to raise caribou (reindeer) for market.

We also get a lesson in self-reliance intertwined with community. We don't realize at the time how much this kiddie ride reflects necessary Alaskan traits. In a climate where from one's earliest years a child must be taught how to take care of himself, one also learns a sense of community and interdependence. Watch this video. Even these little children work hard, but when the going gets too tough, someone stronger lends a hand.

Anchorage is a city where 16 year olds don't rush for their driver's license as quickly as they begin working for their pilot's license. By the time young people are about 24 years old, many own all or part of a plane—float or otherwise. Many make sure they have a plane before they buy their first house, and along the roads are not carparks but plane parks. The air is filled with planes coming and going, a sight repeated throughout the state.

We don't realize at the time how much of the state character is reflected in the market. I'm sure we miss a lot because we aren't looking for it, but if you go, don't miss the Market. Frankly, my credit card was lucky the Market is so early in our trip. Otherwise I would have been loaded down with purchases!

Saturday, October 03, 2009


High above in an ocean of stark white clouds, I watch as the ocean parts. Far below me are steel gray mountains topped with snow. Great swaths of glacial white serpentine through the clefts in the rock and spread out to fill openings like a white lava flow. Below us, stretching as far as the eye can see are black mountains, glacial lakes, and flowing ice. If you look carefully at my photo, you will see the glaciers forming that lake. It is so magnificent, I have to catch my breath.

Soon we reach Anchorage, but the plane veers out over the peninsula and mud flats to turn to land. Anchorage is the home of approximately 40% of the state's population and stretches far out toward the Chugash Mountains. We are treated to a singularly spectacular view of this unlikely-placed outpost of civilization. This beautiful approach is our introduction to Alaska. It seems a promise that this trip will rival the other wonderful trips we've taken.

For our first four nights in Anchorage we are staying at the Hawthorn Inn and Suites. I'm spoiled. When we stay for any length of time, I like to spread out, have a sitting area, tables, etc. Our suite allows that, and after we unpack, Rob and I, quite beat from the long trip that had us leaving Warwick at 5 AM, decide on an early dinner we hope will be very Alaskan.

Great advice from our hotel's desk clerk sends us to Humpy's. A humpy (wipe that smile off your face) is a pink salmon. That is one type of salmon that fights its way back upstream, the male spine bending as it chases the female to the mating grounds to spawn. Humpy salmon, considered sacred by the folks at Humpy's, is never swerved there where the motto is “Keep on spawning.” lol

Humpy's is exactly the kind of place we are looking for; it is a wonderful, friendly, mural-walled, indoor-outdoor, low-key pub favored by the locals. People greet each other as they enter, and as we sit outdoors and enjoy the long hours of daylight, we are treated as one of the crowd. The hours in this land of the midnight sun is from 10:00 AM until 2 or 2:30 AM.

Our waiter and Rob talk about the many locally brewed beers by The Alaskan Brewing Company until Rob chooses Midnight Sun Meltdown Double IPA (India Pale Ale) and loves it.

For dinner we order two salmon dishes we intend to share: grilled salmon “perfected with a dill caper cream sauce” and plank salmon “broiled to perfection on a brick plank and finished with a creamy bĂ©arnise sauce.” Listed on the menu as “starch of the day” is terrific garlic mashed potatoes. Grilled garlicky vegetables are delicious too. It is quite a chore to decide salmon is better. We are split, but our first delicious and relaxing meal in Alaska makes us think this is going to be a fishy vacation—and the best!

By the way, Alaska's nickname should be "The Jean State." EVERYONE wears jeans. Businessmen in Humpy's wore jeans with their jackets; almost everyone wore jeans or jean shirts or jean shorts. Guess what we're wearing tomorrow?!

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