Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would be visiting Alaska in the near future. (Don’t get me wrong though, my dreams of gallivanting around the world includes exploring Alaska, I just didn’t think it would happen so soon!) Although I was only able to visit one city and two towns, I am still so grateful for this travel opportunity. I’ve decided to separate my Alaskan experience into two blog posts since compressing it into one would only hold me back from expressing everything (or like blabbing away), on the account of worrying about having a long post. So stay tuned!
“Is it true you can see Russia from your window?” Seeing Russia from the Alaskan windowsills is apparently a common misconception, considering Alaska is in fact only 55 miles away from Russia at its the narrowest point. The whole relationship between Russia and Alaska started when the Russian government sold Alaska to the US, after the war between Russia and UK broke out.
Juneau, taking after the once famous gold prospector Joe Juneau, is Alaska’s capital city. As mentioned by almost EVERY tour guide/Alaskan native, Juneau is apparently the only state capital in the US that can only be reached by plane and/or boat. The whole feel of Juneau being a settlement for gold-miners back in the day is still present today through the preserved buildings and streets around the coastal city. This, I honestly loved so much. I love when the history of a certain place is preserved and can still vividly be felt.
Right after docking, I went to the Tourist Center and asked which way downtown Juneau was and the guy said, that’s it–what you’re seeing now, that’s downtown Juneau. I was honestly surprised because according to the map we were given, getting to downtown Juneau would take quite a while (which was a total exaggeration) and there was no other way to get there but walk. I know this isn’t a big deal and I don’t have a problem with walking but I was with my grandparents and my biggest concern was the fact that my grandma couldn’t walk far. ANYWAY.
MOUNT ROBERTS TRAMWAY
We hopped on to the Mount Roberts Tramway, the only aerial tram in the State and only operates from May to September (which in other words is the only time Alaska is flocked by tourists). 1,800 feet above, we were able to get a clear view of Juneau, the Gastineau Channel, and of course, miles and miles of trees. It was breathtaking.
Since we arrived around lunchtime, we decided to look for a place to eat at. Atop Mount Roberts was a restaurant called Timberline Bar & Grill, which you can bet served authentic Alaskan specialties. The restaurant was almost empty when we got there, so I asked the maitre’d if we could be seated by the window to enjoy the view while having lunch. I ordered a deep-fried Halibut Burger (I was in Alaska after all) I remember that particular lunch clearly — it was the first time I got the whole ~Alaskan feel.~
A couple of steps away from the restaurant was a trail and a small cottage — the Nature Center by Gastineau Guiding — which was filled with souvenirs, organic products, plants, and maps, and they offer hot cider to visitors too. It was so cozy and quiet even though it was completely packed. It was so perfect especially since it was gloomy and it even started drizzling. I wish I lived in a little cottage like that, always staying in all bundled up in a thick blanket, sipping a cup of hot chocolate.
A few steps away from the Nature Center, there’s a trail that leads to a meadow hidden within the multitude of trees surrounding it. Unfortunately though, I wasn’t able to go due to the crazy cold weather, the rain, and my outfit that was just not suitable for the rain and mud. But I can just imagine how beautiful the wildflowers must have been and the crisp air… You have no idea how much I regret not taking that hike.
The Raven Eagle Gifts & Gallery boasts quality gifts and souvenirs that perfectly depict everything Alaska. I so badly wanted to buy a couple of those stationaries (the one with “Yoggatta do this,” the one with “Nature Lover”, and the one that says “Putt it on the list”) but they were a little pricey (because like I said, this store is all about quality) so I decided to just wait until we got to go around the souvenir shops downtown.
Back in the day, totem poles served as a way of letting travelers on canoes know important information about the tribe settled in a particular area. Some totem poles contain the history of a particular tribe, people and their experiences, historic events, stories, all depicted through colorful carvings. I’ll save all the other stuff I learned about totem poles in my next post ;-P
About 20 minutes away from downtown Juneau, Mendenhall Glacier lies peacefully. We hopped on a bus and paid $30 each for a trip to and from the park. We didn’t have to pay a fee to walk up close to the glacier, but even if we did, it would’ve been worth it, I mean it’s not everyday you get to see one of Mother Nature’s beautiful works up close!
The glacier was so beautiful, I was honestly mesmerized. (Then again almost everything in Alaska completely mesmerized me…) Apparently though, much like all the other glaciers, Mendenhall Glacier has been receding over the years and there will come a time the massive glacier will just melt into a lake. So. I realized how extremely grateful I am to have been given the opportunity to travel and see one of the many wonders in the world.
Like I’ve mentioned earlier, downtown Juneau can be reached within 5 minutes and really, it just depends on how fast you walk and which berth your ship is docked on. Following the boardwalk, South Franklin Street along downtown emerges and marks the beginning of the long stretch of souvenir shops, restaurants, bookstores, and city landmarks.
Both sides of the road are lined with shops specifically designed to attract tourists (mainly cruisers). It was a breeze walking around, what with the cold yet bearable weather and the vibe that the place gives. I loved how everything was preserved, the architecture, the presence of the place once being a settlement for miners, the undeniable presence of local tribes, how the city sleeps through the cold, winter months and wakes in spring, right when the tourists arrive. Juneau made it feel like I went back in time and it was amazing.
So. When I was walking around with my grandma, the farthest we reached along South Franklin Street was the Red Dog Saloon and it was one of those establishments that you just had to take a photo of. So I took a quick photo, didn’t bother going inside, but still tried to peek a little.
We started walking back and I decided to have ice cream despite the crazy cold weather and it was AMAZING. I was a little iffy about ordering Spruce Tip (since I’ve never had anything spruce before) and my oh my it was the best ice cream I’ve ever had.
Right next to the ice cream stall was a popcorn stand and I don’t really need to discuss how enticing the smell of fresh popcorn is, right? I feel like my grandma saw my face change so she insisted I buy some popcorn to bring back to the ship with me. I ended up getting a bag of plain and caramel flavored popcorn.
We decided to get coffee and biscuits, sit in one of those benches along the street, relax and take everything in.
After a while, I decided to head back and explore the farther side of downtown Juneau, since my grandma and I weren’t able to cover it. I followed the boardwalk and with my tiny map up my nose, and navigated downtown Juneau on foot. I made it a point to check out the landmarks written on the maps.
I didn’t really purchase anything while I was walking around, I mean it was our first stop for the cruise so I thought I would just buy souvenirs later. Really, I just wanted to take everything in, and capture the beauty of the place.
Alaska is one of the US states that still has a large number of Native American tribes and I love how instead of making their existence taboo, the local government and tribes make a collective effort to preserve their culture and traditions, like how you would see totem poles right by government buildings!
I’d just like to note how nice it is to see that traces of Russian culture and the Native American culture are still embedded in the culture today in Juneau.