Monday, July 30, 2012


A few weeks ago (July 7th – 15th) Tess and I took a vacation to Alaska! Alaska is gigantic by any standard, but we did our best to see as much of Southcentral Alaska as possible.  Southcentral Alaska is a vast, beautiful, wilderness with small towns dotting the landscape; each maintaining its original trade while catering to the tourists who come to see what life in Alaska is all about.

These two maps show whereabouts in Alaska we spent our time.

We stayed with our friends Daniella, Jason, and their dog Abbie. They have a wonderful home in Anchorage that they have put a lot of hard work into, and it shows! Besides being awesome people, Daniella and Jason were fantastic hosts and provided us with all the guidance that we desperately needed to properly budget our time and money and see as much as possible within a week in Alaska.

Jason, Daniella, and Abbie

Girdwood Forest Fair (July 7th)

We grabbed some grub at City Diner and then took a nap (since our flight was at 3AM). This may seem like  a waste of precious vacation time, but keep in mind that at this point of year in Alaska, it doesn’t get dark until about midnight, allowing us to pack about 2 day’s worth of stuff into each day! And let me tell you, each day does feel like 2 days when you look outside and it looks like midday, but you feel tired, and then realize it is midnight.

After a refreshing nap we headed off to the Girdwood Forest Fair, which is something in between a large craft fair and a small music festival. It draws an eclectic crowd from the extended region who come out to hear music, meander throughout the craft tents, and when the sun finally sets, to party (or so I gather).  There were a lot interesting things to see, delicious things to eat, good music to hear, and intriguing people to watch. 

"Please leave your dogs, politics, religious orders at home. Enjoy bier in garden only." Good Advice!
While at the Forest Fair we saw our first bear (a black bear, luckily not a grizzly bear. both are found in Alaska)! Now, while there are many many bears in Alaska (probably more than people in most areas), and a bear sighting is nothing out of the ordinary, seeing a bear on our FIRST DAY was notable enough to have our friends a little riled up; “ I can’t believe you saw a bear on your FIRST DAY!”.  It was cool. This bear was just chillin’ in a tree in the middle of the Bier Garden surrounded by 1000’s of people. I saw on the news that at night he would come down and raid all the camper’s coolers! He was not dangerous, just an opportunist!

"Girdie" the Girdwood Forest Fair, forest bear.  (it's name isn't Girdie. I made that up)

Anchorage (July 8th)

We ventured to downtown Anchorage to check out the Anchorage Market, a quick walk around the main Anchorage downtown area, ate a street vendor reindeer sausage (pretty delicious), and a trip to the Ulu factory. An Ulu is a popular multi-purpose knife used by indigenous people. It has proved to be such a fun and essential kitchen implement for chopping vegetables, I don’t see how it has not become the standard chopping instrument in every household.

Anchorage market.

Random bear statue.
For the second (extended) half of the day we all went for a “moderately-difficult” hike up to Flattop, which has breathtaking mountain views and views of Anchorage.  

Abbie loved the hike!
Abbie got a lift during the climbing portion.
At the top of Flattop.

That is Anchorage in the background.

Flattop from the bottom of the hike.

Homer (July 9th)

We drove down the Kenai peninsula, over the beautifully blue Kenai River, to the quaint town of Homer to our yurt. Homer is a secluded fishing town, nestled in absurdly beautiful surroundings, full of fishing charters, that has become a tourist destination.

The amenities of our yurt. It was very nice. Even our outhouse was brand new!
The view of Grewingk Glacier from the lane to our yurt.
The Homer Spit is a land appendage that juts out into the breathtaking Kachemak Bay, which houses the interesting juxtaposition of grizzled fishermen of the harbor, and the tourists on the strip of shops.  

Tourist Strip of the Homer Spit.
Homer Spit beach.

We managed to get recommendation for a hidden gem of a pizza joint and eat a delicious pear gorgonzola pizza, with amazing views across the bay.  Yuuuummm!
We dropped into the infamous, ‘must-see’Salty Dawg Saloon, catering to the rough-and-tumble locals and tourists. 

We struck up a conversation with an interesting young fisherman, who was glad to show off an article about himself in National Fisherman, and share a anecdote about meeting Sarah Palin, where he convinced her that they made pants out of discarded fish skin!  

Inside the Salty Dawg

Kachemak Bay (July 10th)

We were fortunate enough to have an obscure connection to local residents (Tess’ boss’ aunt Laura and Uncle Tom) who live across Kachemak Bay, in a newly completed cabin nestled up to the Kachemak Bay State Park in Peterson Bay.  They were kind enough to pick us up on the Homer Spit in their boat and let us take their kayaks out to tour around Peterson Bay and China Poot Bay. This random act of kindness not only revolutionized our trip, but completely changed our view on Homer by affording us the opportunity to venture to the other side of the bay. We were very lucky and extremely grateful!


This experience was incredible. We saw so much amazing wildlife like this very chill otter. 

This extremely curious pod of seals, who are patiently awaiting the salmon run, kept popping up all around us to check us out.

We got to get quite close to some bald eagles.

That evening we quickly dropped into the Pratt Museum to see some displays on the local wildlife, the local way of life, and the very somber display on the disastrous Exxon Valdez oil spill which devastated the entire region. It is quite odd to be in a place that seemed, at the time, so incredibly distant, in which we were now completely immersed and able understand how terrible it must have been for the region following the spill: Our otter, eagle, and seal friends -  dead. The fish – toxic. The local fisherman – out of work. The beautiful landscape – a horror. The tourism – done. Kayaking – not a chance. Literally everything good and beautiful about this place, was destroyed. An unbelievable mess. If you dig down on the beaches you can apparently still find oil (due to the dispersants).

We grabbed some dinner at the Cosmic Kitchen and called it a night. We were quite tired from paddling.

Exit Glacier (July 11th)

We woke up and got some coffee and pastries at the Two Sisters Bakery where we met a couple who we overheard a couple talking about our favorite food joint in Portland, Pine State BiscuitsI was very excited to see a glacier on our trip, so we hit the road for Exit Glacier, which is part of the gigantic Harding Ice Field.  

Glaciers are really cool (pun intended)! Especially the beautiful compacted blue ice

We took a brief look at Seward, which is little more than a nothing-town become tourist-trap, and hit the road back to Anchorage.

Talkeetna (July 12th)

We traveled north to the very interesting true Alaskan town (become tourist destination) of Talkeetna, described quite correctly in our guidebook as “what you expect an Alaskan town to look like”. It is small town which is the jump off point for mountaineers who are attempting (only 58% succeed, ~100 have died) to climb Mt. McKinley, aka Denali, (the highest peak in North America, 3rd in the world). The town is also popular for flightseeing of Mt Mckinely and being touristy for being touristy.

We didn’t breach into the local culture any further than visiting the ranger station, where climbers must first arrange to meet with park rangers to plan their ascent.  We got some salmon burgers and brews from the Denali Brewing Company and then went to tiny unkempt town cemetery to see the memorial for all the climbers who had lost lives to the mountain. The youngest: 15 years old.

Scenes from around Talkeetna. The map is the hometowns of those who have attempted to summit Denali this year.

On the way to-and-fro to Talkeetna we passed through the crappy town of Wasilla, which if you picked it up out of the beautiful mountain scenery (which is almost ubiquitous throughout Alaska), you could easily plunk it down anywhere in America and not know the difference. It is just a commuter town of Anchorage, filled with big-box stores, and idiotic potential vice-presidents. Literally nothing even worth photographing.   

Whittier (July 13th)

We took off to the muddy, tucked away town known as Whittier, established during WWII by the US Army, who bored a 2.5 mile tunnel through a mountain to take advantage of the everpresent cloudiness to hide a military base. That tunnel is the longest combined rail and car tunnel in North America. We were brought to Whittier by a Groupon deal for a days worth of kayaking.

On the way back we stopped by Portage Lake to check out the glacial ice water.

We drove by the Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center, but were too much in a hurry to see any wildlife, except this porcupine that the care-takers were taking on a “walk” in a wheelbarrow. Porcupines are really cool, but they smell terrible.

Biking and Chilkoot Charlies (July 14th)

We went out biking on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail which has beautiful views of Cook Inlet and Anchorage. Then we got some delicious salmon burgers at the Arctic Roadrunner.

That is Cook Inlet and Anchorage in the background.

Abbie came along on this adventure too!
Moose on the trail!
Later we went out to Bear Tooth Theatrepub for some more delicious food and then went out to the infamous Chilkoot Charlies, which is even more bizarre than its odd name. Chilkoot Charlies is an essential anchorage experience. It is a bizarre maze of sub-bars all connected, each with its own theme and genre of music, catering to all kinds of people. It is what you would get if you mixed the layout of Club La Vela, the essence of Mardi-Gras, the security of a biker bar, the atmosphere of a barn mixed with a museum and a saloon, a dash of white trash, and the feeling of the fictional Bazooko Circus (which Hunter S. Thompson called, "what the whole world would be doing on Saturday night if the Nazis had won the war.)  It was by far, the most bizarre bar I have ever encountered. We didn't stay too long, but what a way to end a trip!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Greenwood Car Show

Although this was the 20th anniversary of the Greenwood Car Show, it is possible that the show has never had such a pristine setting; Greenwood just got a much needed face-lift when the city repaved the main drag and all the major streets of our quaint little neighborhood.

I cannot express how much having brand-new streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes adds to the look and feel of this neighborhood. Thank you Seattle! In the few months we have lived here, we have seen dramatic changes in our perception of Greenwood: it is certainly an “up-and-coming” area of Seattle.

Anyway.. asides aside…  The car show was impressive!



 There is something about the fuel-rich exhaust of old cars that smells like Americana; reminiscent of times where everything was seemingly infinite:  fossil fuels, the atmosphere as a pollutant sink, and (judging by the size of some of these ‘boats’),  the size of the average garage!



While there were many beautiful machines to drool over, I was particularly fond of this absolutely perfect, stunning Datsun 240z. I may be a bit biased as I have a special place in my heart for Datsuns; my first car was a 1979 Datsun 280z (fix-er-upper). 

Oh! I stopped by the LeMay Family Collection booth, to grab some literature, and struck up a conversation with a representative. I casually mentioned that I know a couple who fly-out from Virginia each year to volunteer and enjoy the Annual LeMay Car Show, and that I am planning to check it out, and lo and behold, she said. “You mean the Monroes? Janet and Pat!”  I was floored.  Stacy is the “jack-of-all-trades” for the Lemay foundation, and is in charge of coordinating the volunteers! What a crazy  lil’ small world we are living in!