Monday 3 June 2013

Gone north

And now we're in Anchorage, Alaska, with the sun still high in the sky at 9.30pm, not due to set till 11pm, which is something we haven't experienced since Oslo in 1980. It's a disorientating business, on top of jet lag, so thank goodness for melatonin tablets, which seem to do the trick.

We didn't arrive till 2pm, so we've only had the afternoon so far, but first impressions are that this is a plain, hunkered-down sort of place with a frontier feel to it, where everybody drives big trucks and there's not much of a dress code. It reminds me of Darwin (whereas Vancouver's a bit like Perth). There are a few rough-looking types around, but the people we've encountered have been really friendly and welcoming, like the man at the Captain Cook statue who pointed out Mt McKinley to us and was quietly thrilled that we'd come so far. Less appealing was the rigmarole we had to go through to get into the Alaska Public Lands Information Centre which we went to thinking it was the visitor centre and had to do the whole photo ID, scanner and Xray thing to enter.

It was good inside, though, with some excellent short films (we saw the Klondike one - amazing - and another about the 1964 9.2 earthquake, which was a bit chilling) and big stuffed animals. Even better for that though was the Antique Gallery store we wandered into that was crammed with all sorts of CITES-unfriendly items, such as scrimshawed whale jawbones, carved walrus tusks, all sorts of mounted heads including polar bear, bison and moose, mink coats, plus real moccasins, Winchester rifles and Purdey shotguns, fossils, jewellery... it was fascinating. As was the fur shop with its thick, soft beaver pelts, fox furs, lynx and mink. "Trapped!" the lady said cheerfully. "But the foxes are farmed." Fox farms, eh? Now there's a concept.

Then we found a theatre showing a movie of wonderful footage and photos of the Northern Lights, which was a colourful and restful way to spend half an hour before crossing the road to the lively chatter of Humpy's Alaskan Alehouse with its dozens of beers on tap (Alaskan White recommended if you like wheat beer), cheerful waitress and very filling smoked salmon chowder.

Now we're back at the Copper Whale Inn, which is a sweet little clapboard place on the corner, cosy and comfortable and very welcoming (and gay friendly, according to Lonely Planet, if that's important to you!) to try to sleep despite the broad daylight and the haunting train whistles from down by the sea.

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