Sunday, August 24, 2014

Alaska in August...An Amazing Journey

Alaska In August

This blog post is a labor of love.  Please BEAR with me while I relive with you our magnificent summer vacation.  I really want you to get the feel of everything I experienced.  I have included photos of some shops and restaurants along the way with the unimaginable beauty of the landscape because every place we stayed was completely different.  You will see how much fun it was to visit these places and all of the amazing adventures we had.  Pick up a cup of tea or a beer and come along for the ride.  Promise it will be a trip worth taking!

We start thinking about summer vacation in December and usually book it in February.  Every year my husband says we need to see different places so I decided to give him a run for his money and suggested Alaska.  He pounced on the idea and we were off.  But we don't do cruises so the only way we were going to do a land trip was to get in touch with a travel agency in Alaska.  I spent a lot of time researching companies and narrowed it down to three.  Then I called all of them and spoke at length to each travel agent.  I picked the one I felt got what we were attempting to do.  She emailed me a customized sample itinerary and I shared it with my husband.  After we decided on a good plan I asked my friend Mary to look it over and forward it on to her relatives who live in Alaska.  We got some great feedback and felt confident that we could do the trip.

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Very early on Saturday morning we flew 5 1/2 hours on Delta Airlines to Seattle.  After a two hour layover in Seattle we flew 3 1/2 more hours to Anchorage.  Our plane landed around 5 p.m.  The time difference is 4 hours.  It was bright, sunny and close to 70 degrees.  

We picked up our SUV and headed to our hotel.  Once we freshened up a little we went right back out.  We didn't let the time difference or lack of sleep interfere with our evening because we were so excited to be there.  Did you know it's a state law in Alaska to drive with your headlights on at all times?  I wonder if it's because 8-9 months out of the year they are in darkness.

Beautiful flowers like these are all over city of Anchorage.  In many ways these tropical-like flowers reminded me of Hawaii.  

Their color was so lush and brilliant I asked someone how they grow like this.  They said despite Alaska's very short summer, the plants get twice the amount of sunshine and always a healthy watering from the frequent passing showers.   July and August is Alaska's rainy season.  We lucked out because it rained the whole week before we arrived.  Other than a few morning showers, we had great weather.  

Alaska's state flower is the Forget Me Not.  They are everywhere but the most beautiful displays are configured in balls on the lamp posts.

 This is downtown Anchorage.  It reminded me of the western towns I've seen in movies.  

Reindeer sausage is big here.  There is no such thing as a hot dog around these parts!

These signs are everywhere.  The whole state of Alaska is immaculate.  We never saw a drop of liter on our entire trip.

I had no idea what to expect in Alaska.  I was so surprised to see how fun and whimsical the whole state is.  I never imagined all the stores would look like this!

If you think this kind of souvenir shopping is a little over the top once you're there IT'S NOT.  You are so swept up in nature and beauty it seems right to shop with them because the Alaskans live with the real things.

Wildlife is right there in the middle of everything.  The shop keepers were all down home friendly people and make you feel so welcome you couldn't help but be swept up in the spirit of it all.  Remember we are coming from CT where Walmart and Stop & Shop are anchors so it's definitely a culture shock.

If you get the message that there isn't a lot to buy here except this kind of thing you aren't wrong.  I managed to do my share but tried to keep it to things I would be able to use this winter.

We had lunch here at Humpy's.  It was reallly fun.

This is the Alaskan Native Heritage Museum.  It's an outdoor museum which takes you through the history of the Alaskan people.  This was a great thing to do at the beginning of our trip. 

This is a replica of what the inside of an Alaskan house looked like.

This is where they cooked their meals and stayed warm.

Whale bones.

Skeleton of a whale.

The Alaskans used these little canoes for travel and to fish for food.

Totem poles are everywhere in Alaska.  So are beautifully carved wood bears and wildlife.  Most carvings start at $1,000. People display them in their yard and businesses put them out front.

We watched a show of native dances

inside at the 

During my research I came across the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producer's Co-op.  It sounded like a big factory and I wanted to go there.  When came to the address it was a little house on H Street.  It's the neatest place.  This Co-op has a registry of knitters from remote villages in Alaska where there is no work. Knitters are given Musk Ox yarn and they knit beautiful scarves, hats and shawls for payment.  There are a lot of men on this registry too. You can chose from a few different patterns.  I fell in love with this scarf called the Nelson Island Diamond Pattern. This pattern was adapted from the decorative trim of a parka used in the Nelson Island areas.  It is thought to represent the clashing of the packed ice as it breaks apart in the waters around the islands in the spring, leaving ice flows and ice in the shape of diamonds.  I have a signed card by the knitter. This scarf is twice as warm as anything we have here AND it's twice as thin.  When it starts to pelt it's telling you it needs to be washed.  A little swish in cold water with a drop of detergent does the trick. 

It's not easy getting fur from a Musk Ox.  They are not harmed in in the process but it's a process!  So of course that makes the price of this yarn extremely expensive.  I won't tell you how much my scarf cost but I will tell you that a skein of Musk Ox goes for $195.00. 

We had dinner at this restaurant called Orso in Anchorage.  It is beautiful.  Every restaurant and store here is constructed from beautiful rich hues of all different types of wood.

We ate the most delicious fresh fish for lunch and dinner every night.  This is Alaskan King Salmon.  

Leaving the restaurant you can see by the clock it's still daylight out.  The lodge's all have heavy drapes so when you go to bed just close the drapes and it's not a problem. 

Could this be midnight?  

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Anchorage to Homer...

Alaskan Highway Route 1 - takes you everywhere. This was some drive.  One minute you saw huge green mountains and 

the next moody snowy mountains.

Then rivers with fisherman.

Wouldn't you know- right in the middle of nowhere

It's a quilt shop!!  I was so happy to see this little chalet.  My husband wasn't getting away with driving past this place so we pulled in and I jumped out!  And what did I find?  You guessed it!  All the fabrics in this adorable shop were of bears, moose, reindeer and fish!!  I loved every second of it!  Did I buy too much?  I had to try to remember where I live and what I would do with all that wildlife fabric!  I thought there would be more quilt shops in Alaska but some of the ones I found on the internet and wanted to stop at where closed.  When we were in Anchorage one weekend morning we went to a craft fair.  I stopped at a stall that sold quilts.  They were not beautiful and nothing I would buy but I asked the woman who was selling them where she buys her fabric and she said JoAnn's!!!  Yes, I guess somewhere in Anchorage there is a JoAnn's.  She said there's no use spending a lot of money on fabric when you're going to wash the quilts all the time anyway.  I also don't think there's a lot of money in Alaska so expensive quilt fabric may not be in demand.  By the way, the prices of the fabric in this shop were comparable to home so maybe a lot of quilters feel the same way.

Back in the car and on to Homer.  Thank you Mary for insisting we stop and spend the night in Homer.  It was so worth it!

Fishing is huge in Alaska.  All along our drive we saw loads of fishing camps.  Fisherman were everywhere in boats and wading in the river.  Every yard of the highway had signs saying "Silvers are in".  I couldn't figure out what silvers are.  It wasn't until I got back to work and asked my co-worker who has a fishing blog that I found out they're little salmon!

Lat morning when we arrived in Homer it was chilly and rainy.  Their climate is completely controlled by the mountains. No accurate weather forecasters here.  The mountains rule the weather.

We stopped at a little cafe for lunch and lo and behold they had the best ice cold Alaskan beer I've ever tasted!  If I haven't told you about the Alaskan beer I don't need to.  The photos along the way will more than explain all there is to say about it!

This is what we saw when we left the little main street which makes up the little town of Homer.

Homer Spit is a little peninsula off the town of Homer.  It looks like a painting you would look long and hard at in a museum.  This is a row of little shops.

This is the back of them.  They reminded me in a way of Malibu, CA.  When you drive through Malibu you see the front of dwellings that look like buildings without windows.   

But when you walk in back of them on the beach you see where all the action is.  Walls and walls of windows and decks of all shapes and sizes.

The beach was beautiful even on an overcast day.

Yes, that's a cruise ship.  We were told the passengers descend on this little town once a month in the afternoon.  Thankfully it left at 6 p.m.

The shops were fun and sold typical touristy things but they were so fun to walk in and out of.

This shop was interesting.  A group of people had just gotten off a boat they chartered and this was their catch!  Fresh halibut.  Homer is the halibut capital of the world.  They were going to divvy up these babies and send them home on an airplane in a perishable box.  We saw lots of perishable boxes at the Anchorage Airport.

By the time we left town before 6 p.m. the sun was out and it was warm and humid.  You would never have known that it was chilly and rainy a few hours before.  That's why they say when you go to Alaska dress in layers and that's exactly what we did.

Homer is such an artsy, nautical little town.  Every artist in the world should visit to be truly inspired.

That evening we drove about ten minutes back to Homer Spit for dinner at the Little Mermaid.  It was the best dinner we had throughout our trip.  And that is saying a lot because the food was more than terrific the entire way.   

Our server was one of three owners.  Her husband is the chef and they have a partner who is another chef.  She gave suggestions and we ate them.  First off was a strawberry honey beer made by a local brewer.  This beer was more like a hard cider.  Refreshingly cold and crisp it was the perfect aperitif before dinner. 

I can always count on my family for plenty of photos of food and thankfully they didn't let me down on this dinner because it was so amazing.

Broiled scallops and oysters with a fruit puree on top.

Mussels and prawns in a lemony broth with homemade warm, grilled bread to soak up the juice. 

 Halibut for Chris and I.

Prawn skewers for Kristen.

Asian soup for Susan.  I read about this soup in Trip Advisor.  Had I known how phenomenal this soup tasted I would have ordered another one for the table.  Susan asked if we wanted to taste it and we almost ate the whole thing.  It's made with different ingredients every day.  I can't begin to describe all the different flavors.  The best part was the bottom of the bowl.  The ingredients kind of stuck to it and formed a crispy crust which was to die for!

 Last but never least homemade desserts.  Alaska has the most delicious wild blueberries.  After a few cobblers we knew when that was featured on the menu we had to get it.  It was heavenly with a dome of homemade vanilla ice cream on top.  There is a display case full of wonderful baked items when you walk in.  I wasn't leaving without one of these huge macaroons!  

I can't tell you what time is was by the time we left Little Mermaid.  All I know is it was starting to get dusk so I'm figuring it had to be about midnight or later.  This is the sign at the very end of Homer Spit.

Dusk in the little town of Homer.

Right out of a book...

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on the way to Seward...

This is what we saw ahead of us on the drive to Seward.

We stopped at Cooper Landing.  It's another very popular little fishing village. 

The water is bluish green.

Once in a while you'll see a house in the distance.  All the houses in Alaska look like Chalet's.  The roof's are pitched that way so that the snow can't pile up on them.  

This is the Kenai River.

Alaskans take very good care of their environment.  

The mountains are never far.  They are always there.  

I love these dark green trees.  They grow throughout the state and reminded me of Charlie Brown's ugly Christmas tree. They are called Sitka Spruce.

Raven's are all over Alaska.  The last time I saw a Raven was on the top of the Tower of London.  I remember thinking they really looked like they belonged there.  I never thought I would see Ravens in Alaska.

Many people were drawn to this little store in Cooper Landing.  I have no idea why because it bearly had anything in it.  Maybe because it's because it was the only store for miles and miles.

This is the beginning of a log home.  Along the way, here and there, there were areas where log homes were being constructed.  I guess they assemble them and then deliver them to some remote place in the wilderness.

You can't nap on a car trip like this! 

Again, one minute sunny and the next brooding.

Wait a minute and it's getting light out again.  Remember, the mountains rule!

Here are my trees again.  I'm not sure I'll ever feel the same way about CT Christmas trees.  I would much rather have one of these in my house at Christmas.  They have a powerful spruce fragrance.  The entire time we were in Alaska we were ready for Christmas.

Can't get much better than this view from the car window.  The flowers in the foreground are Fireweeds.  They are beautiful and spread all over the state.  

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Seward is a beautiful town on the Kenai River.

Along our journey we met a lot of people who live in Alaska.  Many are from somewhere in the west like CA, Seattle, Montana.  They either came for a vacation or to visit someone and never left.  And the men who live here are manly men.  They drive trucks and look rugged.  The women are to an extent too.  You aren't going to see stilettos or high fashion here.  Some towns reminded me of cowboys because they had a very western feel.

Downtown Seward is comprised of about two streets.

Lunch was at the Seward Brewing Company.  Grilled Halibut burgers and beer tastings.  Sorry, I drank the other three beers before I remembered to take this photo!  The last beer was a chocolate stout which we were told paired with a dessert of salty balls!  What a combination!!

On to the Seward Sealife Center.

This is a true fact.

This is the state bird.  It's called a Willow Ptarmagin.  It's brown in the summer but as soon as it turns cold it turns completely white.  It fits perfectly into it's surroundings for protection.

But of course the Puffins stole the show.  I love Puffins.  We watched them prance around socializing.  They are so funny and so beautiful.  They are not just at the Sealife Center.  We saw them when we cruised to the Glaciers.  I'll tell you more about that when we get to it.

They make a big deal out of jumping.  They make a big deal out of everything that's why they are so hilarious!

Look at the eyelashes on this beautiful creature.

 Native fish and salmon.

This sea lion was a character.  Here he's calling for his dinner.

This was his thank you!  I'll tell you more about the sea lions when we visit the Glacier in the Kenai Fjords in the Kenai National Park.

This is the view from the Sealife Center.

Dinner that evening was at Chinooks.

This was the view from our table.  The sun was reflecting off the mountains.  It was surreal.

Every once in a while the clouds would roll through and that was scene was equally beautiful.

 On the way home - pushing midnight?

We stayed at the Seward Windsong Lodge.  This was the view from the lodge.

The name of the restaurant in the lodge is called Resurrection Roadhouse.  Yep, the name sure fits.  Who wouldn't want to come back here.

The fireweeds, the Sitka Spruce and the mountains.

This is the end of Alaska Part I.  Please watch for Alaska Part II because that's the best part.  Next will be a small plane right over Denali/Mt. McKinley, a tour of the Kenai Fjords National Park - home of the Glaciers.  Then to Denali National Park where you will see Grizzly bears, reindeer, moose, fox, Willow Ptarmigans, etc.  and so much more.  The most beautiful scene of all will be Denali or Mt. McKinley which is it's other name. If there is a Heaven on Earth I truly believe it might be here.  Every time I saw it I thought maybe this is what people see when they die. If there is a Heaven, God would be standing at the top of those stairs.

Stay tuned.  I've selected the photos I'm going to use in the next post.  Creating a regular blog post takes between 4 and 5 hours.  This post took me more than twelve hours over the course of a few days to put together.  I will try to get the next post out as soon as possible because I don't want you to forget about what you saw just yet!!!

See you soon.  Thank you for going along on this adventure with me.  Much more to come and much more phenomenal than you will ever believe...

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