Highlights of Anchorage! We arrived in Anchorage a few days before our land tour with Princess Cruise lines started. It was awesome to have a few days free to do what we wanted, when we wanted.
What is a downtown parking lot during the week transforms to the best shopping in Anchorage on weekends! Over 300 vendors fill the parking lot with locally made artisan items, including some of the most remarkable photographs I have ever seen. Impressed by the quality and selection of items, I struggled to limit my purchases to only two stunning Alaskan scenes from different photographers. Of course, typical tourist “souveneiry” t-shirts and ball caps were also available in unlimited quantities, but the prices were much lower than the shops downtown.
And what festival would be complete without entertainment and food? A large stage showcased several local musicians while street performers displayed their talents (for tips, of course) throughout the shopping booths. Taste buds were tempted by the usual fair food, but some vendors offered an Alaskan twist to their menus. One of the more unusual items was Alaska quesadillas made with reindeer meat and pink salmon.
The area is also kid-friendly! An entire section was filled with free activities for the young or young at heart.
Could there be a better name for a café in Alaska? I think we would have ended up there based on the name alone, but it came recommended by everyone from friends who have eaten there to taxi drivers to Lonely Planet. Thankfully, we were also told to be standing outside before they opened. I don’t think I’ve ever stood in line waiting for a restaurant to open for breakfast before. (I’m, so, not a morning person!) But it was worth it. The food was amazing! This reasonably priced restaurant should be on every visitor’s eatery list.
Never heard of an ulu before? Neither had I. I knew what the cutting tool was when I saw it, just not what its name is. Dad kept stopping to look at them in every store (many were made in China), which is how we ended up at The Ulu Factory. I have to admit, it was more interesting than I thought it would be. Ulus are over 3,000 years old and the blades were traditionally made out of rocks or slate and attached to a handle made out of bone or ivory. Today, The Ulu Factory uses American stainless steel and Alaskan birch or American walnut for the handles. The whole product is made in America, not any easy thing to find these days! While most people who purchase an ulu use it chop herbs or cut a pizza, Alaskans still use them for traditional foods. I was told that a native woman who knows what she is doing can fillet a salmon in 25 seconds and skin an entire seal in just 5 minutes using an Ulu!
Crow’s Nest in the Captain Cook Hotel
For the best views in the city, head to the Crow’s Nest for dinner or a drink. While it’s not Tokyo’s skyline (I have yet to find a skyline that I like better), it will give you an eagle’s eye view of Anchorage: the Gulf of Alaska to the west, mountain in the east, and buildings out the north and south panoramic windows. The food prices were a little steep, so we opted to sit in the bar area and ordered drinks and a very different, amazing cheese platter. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the unusual cheese selections, but I can tell you that they were distinctive and tempting to my taste buds. Women, take note, you are not allowed to wear open-toed shoes. This includes opened-toed high heels. I understand flip-flops being too casual, but in what world are tennis shoes dressier than high heels? Not to worry; they have closed-toed flats that you can borrow.
A Taste of Alaska
Our first Alaskan specialty was a reindeer hot dog purchased from a food cart on a street corner. Dad was the brave one to order it and after one bite, he declared it delicious! I wanted to taste it, but didn’t trust his critique so I pleaded with Mom to taste it. She agreed with Dad, so I reluctantly took a small bite, which led to a larger bite! This really was good!
Since that was a hit, our next epicurean adventure was a moose brat. Ugh! I couldn’t even get one bite down; it had a very wild, gamey taste that I found repulsive. Fortunately, ice cream was also sold at the same stand, so I ordered a cone to combat the moose taste. Oh, the ice-cream flavors…each sounded unique and the clerk let us sample each as he explained a few of the berry selections for us. They had wild blueberries (smaller and sweeter than the blueberries we can buy in the lower 48 states), wild cranberries (called high bush cranberries), salmonberries (which look like raspberries but are yellow or orange and have a completely different flavor), mossberries (also called crowberries,) and lingonberries.
Of course, we had to try beer from The Alaskan Brewing Company. A favorite was the Alaskan Amber, made from glacier-fed water in the Juneau Ice Field. It had a malty taste, and naturally, was amber colored. Mom loves oatmeal, so she sampled Oatmeal Stout. She’s not a beer drinker, but said this did not have a strong beer taste and she detected a caramel flavor in the brew.
While I was trying to get 5 suitcases, 2 carry-ons, a walker, and 3 people to fit comfortably in a compact car, I forgot to pack one very important item: dad’s cane. We realized this as soon as we reached the airport, not that we had time to return home and get it. Hence, it became a top priority to locate one once we were in Alaska. This landed us at Wal-Mart and, as expected, they sell just about everything. Cane – check; Alaska T-shirts – check; Alaska dog toy – check; Alaska picture frame – check, bug spray – I’m sure it was there. We were just the idiots who didn’t look because we were unaware of what a necessity this would become once we left the city. Part of the problem was the weather; record-breaking temperatures reached 97 degrees (36 Celsius)! Yes, it was hotter in Alaska than it was at home in Illinois! Thus the top few inches of the frozen ground melted, creating marsh-like areas that the mosquitoes LOVE. I would have gladly paid any asking pricing for any bug repellent that wasn’t “all natural”. I probably could have been convinced to trade a kidney for a bottle with more than 10% DEET in it! But alas, that was the best I could find; I was eaten alive, but left with all my organs intact. Seriously, if you end up at Wal-Mart, purchase bug repellant. (Or better yet, do your research in advance! Don’t stupidly assume the weather would be too cold for insects like we did. Be prepared and pack five bottles!)