Whenever I told someone that I am going to visit a friend in Alaska, everyone’s first response was, “I’m so jealous! I’ve always wanted to go to Alaska.” I had no idea why. I was slightly annoyed because I wanted my friend to meet up with me instead of me flying all the way to Anchorage, Alaska. To be honest, Alaska always seemed a bit… boring. I’ve always been obsessed with traveling to cities and I imagined Anchorage as a few cabins in the woods.
Don’t judge me, it’s never the same as it is on the internet!
How ignorant of me.
Facts about Anchorage and Alaska
- Anchorage is one of the largest cities in the USA and is larger than the capital of Alaska
- Moose and bears are frequent visitors in the city if Anchorage (I only saw a moose).
- You can fish salmon in the local rivers in summer, does anyone immediately think of sushi?
- In Nov 2019 (while I was there) Alaska had a record high temperature since 1967, then the winds changed and there was a record snowfall, quarter-inch flakes and up to over a foot of snow.
- There are around 300 earthquakes a day but don’t worry, I didn’t feel it.
- You can blame being late to work due to the moose and the bears on your path.
- But you are, by law, not allowed to share a beer with a moose.
- The Thing, The Big White (one of my favorites), Rura Penthe in Star Wars VI Into the Wild was shot in Alaska
- Alaska has a lot of Asian cuisines, more than I thought there would be.
- Whittier, the town under one roof. A town where most of the population lives in one 14 story building built after WW2 and there is a tunnel that connects to the school, so there are no snow days for the kids of Whittier.
- Russia sold Alaska to the US for 7.2 million dollars in 1867.
While visiting my friend in Anchorage there were 2 reports of bear sightings, one of them was shot because he was killing the shooter’s livestock.
There was also a report of a wolverine chasing someone’s pet cat, yes, it made the 6 o’clock news. The wolverine seems like a cute animal and in general, isn’t a harmful animal to humans but it is no pet.
When you shoot and kill a bear in Alaska you need to remove the hide, from the carcass, salvage the skull, and hand all of this over to the police with claws attached and with the skull. The bear is the property of the state once killed. You need to inform the authorities and there is some paperwork involved as well. My friend told me that apparently the meat of moose and bears get donated to less fortunate families.
Food and Beer in Alaska
In 2014 Alaska legalized the use of recreational marijuana and in 2019 Alaska legalized smoking lounges.
There weren’t any smoking lounges when I was there, or that I saw, but I had a look at the one dispensary on my way to a brewery. Don’t worry, I didn’t buy anything because bank cards don’t always work at dispensaries, and another thing you should not be worried about is whether legal cannabis changes peoples’ urge for a good beer… it doesn’t! So the breweries in Alaska are safe! Believe me, I was in Massachusetts as well and people still love their beer and their dispensaries.
According to Wikipedia, there are 44 Breweries in Alaska, at least 10 in Anchorage, and I only went to the 49th State Brewery. Good beer, good food, and really comfortable atmosphere, everything a brewery should have. Since I do not like cheese, and many American pizzerias don’t understand how I eat pizza without cheese, we were ‘forced’ to order a vegan pizza. Out of the 3 options we chose the Chorizo Vegan Pizza and let me tell you, that was a great choice. So, there’s the spice of life at 49th State, variety of meals and dietary requirements.
My friend and I have the same love for Asian food, especially Asian soups, like Phó. If you share our love of phó then there is no better place to go eat phó than at Phónatik. We both had the oxtail phó, I need to brag. I could not have asked for something better than that, and the portions were very generous, and even though there are bowls that show the actual size of the soups and this apparently was not a good enough indication for me. In my hunger-rage, I made the mistake of ordering 2 spring rolls, but the only mistake to that was that they were big and I hadn’t anticipated that.
I made sure I would eat everything… and I did. Luckily at this particular restaurant, you are not rushed to finish your food, as most American restaurants seem to make you do, a concept that appalls me. I would like to order a beer, enjoy it while I take eons to decide on my pickings from the menu, then order and enjoy my meal at my pace, and have another beer or two. Otherwise, I could just go to a drive-thru but they don’t sell beers there. The next night we dined at the Japanese restaurant, Naruto Ramen, to go have some ramen. My ultimate joy was the sushi that was available at a reasonable price, I mean Alaska, there’s so much salmon that sushi should be the number 1 cuisine. Here, however, the staff are not as laid back as our previous dining experience, halfway through our soup, and halfway through my first beer, the server brought our bill, or as the Americans say, the cheque.
They do offer a free tofu dessert, a small tasty free dessert.
Other than the soup, we also indulged in doughnuts, and we had plenty of doughnuts and pastries. Even the local garage had the most delicious doughnuts I have tasted, and one morning, around 1 am, the employees brought out a whole fresh tray. I would die here.
Then there is the Filipino bakery & café, Benji’s. It is so popular that by lunchtime you are lucky to still find something left on the shelves. There were 4 pastries left, and I bought all 4 of them. There was a croissant (I can’t resist those), a chocolate croissant (I mean croissant and chocolate=heaven), a chocolate cruffin (if I can’t resist a croissant, and can’t resist a chocolate croissant, how can I resist a chocolate one mixed with a muffin?), and for the first time, I tried a pastry with ube – the purple yam.
Benji’s has a number of ube pastries but when I was there none of them was available. They sold quickly.
The real reason to visit Alaska
Nature! This is the real reason why you should go to Alaska. The people were friendly, even my cab driver was very friendly as we slid over the icy roads of Anchorage. That’s part of the nature you will experience in winter. I was quite disappointed the first few days I was in Alaska and there was no snow. The roads were icy, the trees and nature were pale, the sun only rose at 9 am and it felt like it was late afternoon all day until 3 pm at sunset, and I was in desperate need of making snow angels. One morning I felt depressed that I might not see snow because of the heatwave Alaska had been experiencing.
I went to look outside at the pale parking lot and saw flakes. OMG! It was snowing! It was snowing quarter-inch snowflakes. From 9 am-9 pm Anchorage had transformed from the pale bushland to a magical white snowy wonderland that I have been waiting for. I immediately had to go walk in the snow and my canine friend had the same idea. So, my canine friend and I dragged my human friend to the park across from her house and there it was, my first snow angel since 2016.
On this day my friend had organized with one of her friends that we go to Hatcher’s Pass. By the time we got to the Pass we couldn’t see much due to the snow, it was gorgeous. We were also blinded by the quarter-inch flakes on our way to Hatcher’s Pass, it was quite scary but the locals seem to thrive in these conditions.
I even got some tips on how to walk on the icy roads of Alaska, apparently dragging your feet is the correct style or merely ‘skating’ freely. When we got to Hatcher’s I saw something I’ve never seen before (ignorance alert again), people walking up the trail with ski’s attached to their feet. Up? Aren’t you supposed to go down? There it was, my first sighting of cross-country skiers. Who the hell would want to walk up the trail with ski’s attached to your feet? Apparently, a lot of people?
The glaciers are a must-see in Alaska. Around Anchorage, there are around 60 glaciers in a 50-mile radius. The pale blue water covered with a thick layer of ice, refreshing and beautiful. If you listen carefully you can hear the glaciers do… whatever it is they do.
I do not think I have ever experienced such peace in my life. All 4 of us just stared in awe at the beauty, felt the cold fresh air, and listened to this natural phenomenon.
A few other wintery things include dog-sledging, ice-skating, northern lights (in the north of Alaska), the Alaskan natural hot springs, climb up on the Alaska Railroad to enjoy the scenic route, and enjoy walking/hiking and looking at the mountains you see from every corner of Anchorage. I had the pleasure to walk a lot in Anchorage, with a canine companion and on my own. I walked through a lot of snow and all that snow and trees are very easy to get lost in, but as it goes, it’s not a travelled city if I did not get lost at least 3 times and I did that well. There are also quite a few quirky signs to discover when you journey on the trails of Anchorage, especially the ones that casually inform you how to survive bear sightings and running away from moose…
Those signs only made me paranoid about seeing bears when I walked alone. Apparently, the locals are not as concerned about the bears and moose as I were, everyone seems to be jogging and walking alone.
If you are in Anchorage in February then you must go to the Fur Rendezvous Festival, or known as the Fur ‘Rondy’. This festival started in 1936 and is still a well-known and joined festival. For three days in February, you can enjoy activities like Blanket Toss – an ancient tradition where Native Alaskans showed off their tribal dances -, Running of the Reindeer, Snowshoe Softball, Fur Auctions (keeping in mind that fur exchange and trading is still a large industry in Alaska), and the most popular event Dog Sled Race.
I miss Alaska
Although I only spent 10 days there, I could see why people want to go to Alaska and why people live there.
It seems like a crazy place to live but crazy for the right reasons. People exposed to that much nature and that beauty, and the cold, always seem a little crazy but it’s crazy that I would join in a heartbeat!
Blog post by Anel du Preez.