I get to go see whales because my husband loves me lots!
How do I know my husband loves me so much? When the opportunity to finally take a real live, honest to Cernnunos, vacation for the first time in ten years came up, did he suggest Italy or France for a week of museum hopping for his Art History loving soul? Nope. He offered to take me to Alaska to see whales! Yup, true love J
After much planning, fretting, packing, repacking, more fretting and a plotting the sweetie and I set out for Juneau on Thursday June 2nd.
Day One, All the Traveling
Neither of us slept well the night before, but a little breakfast and coffee and we were good to go. Of course getting to Juneau from Oakland is a little on the complicated side. First of all, you can’t drive into the city, it’s walled in by water, tree-covered mountains, and a glacier. And yet, it’s the state capital, because why not? Secondly, it seems you can’t get to Juneau (from Oakland at least) without stopping in Seattle. The short description of our Day of Travel can be summed up thusly: “Two planes, three airports, a train, and a cab ride, we go thud now”. The longer version includes the fact that airplanes these days are sardine cans packed to the brim and not meant for people with shoulders or hips and that with two of us flying together one was always stuck in the middle. On the first leg it was Scott, while I got the window seat. On leg two, the slightly longer run, I took the middle and we lucked out with a nice lady who lived in Juneau and worked as a tour guide. So we got lots of tips and facts about the city and things to do.
A fleet of Alaska Airline planes lined up and ready to go at Seattle Tacoma International Airport.
Amazing view coming into Juneau Airport.
On the plus side, the Juneau airport is tiny and has really cool art work flying over head as you cross into the baggage claim area. With a little digging I discovered that the piece was commissioned as part of the city’s 1% for Art program and was created by Janice Criswell and Steve Henrikson.
“Their hanging sculpture, “Wetland Wings,” is located in the two story vestibule of the east wing, near baggage claim. Flocks of migrating birds constructed of metal and glass in the Tlingit “form line” art style greet arriving visitors en route to the baggage area. The sculpture celebrates the birds of the Mendenhall wetlands, the 4,000-acre refuge that surrounds the Airport. The birds represented in the sculpture are Arctic Terns, Bonaparte’s Gulls, Mallard Ducks, and Snow Geese.” – http://www.juneau.org/airport/1_percent_for_art.php
This was only the second time I’ve been on a plane in the ten years since I was diagnosed with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity . For a very long time I thought air travel was permanently out of reach, actually I thought most travel was out of the question. Thankfully many things in my life have shifted. While I am not “cured”, I am healthier and much better able to handle the chemical exposures that are part and parcel of industrial life. Being on an airplane, wedged in with 100+ other people is a little on the scary side for me, but now I also know that it is something I can do without taking much in the way of a health “hit”. It’s exhausting and requires a lot of pre-planning, but it IS doable.
Since we had planned a week-long stay in Juneau sans car or side trips to other towns, we opted to stay at the Hotel Baranof. The Baranof is a Grand Old Lady of a hotel (http://www.westmarkhotels.com/blog/about-alaska/westmark-baranof-hotel-celebrates-75-years-in-alaskas-capital/ ). Built in 1939, she was an elegant retreat for executives and the hotel’s original owner, Walter Wooten Council and his family. These days she’s a little long in the tooth and showing her age, or perhaps a lack of attention by her current owners the Westmark Corporation, but her heart and bone structure shine through. We have a nice size room with a microwave and mini fridge and a very comfy king size bed. Even better, her location at the top end of Downtown puts us within walking distance of a ton of places to eat and things to do and makes for a great base of operations. We even found the local organic grocery story a few blocks away to stock up on supplies.
Our room looks out onto the hotel parking lot, which okay, is not the prettiest of sights, but looking just beyond that there is a row of homes and right behind those there is a wall of mountain. And I do mean wall. If you aren’t looking out over downtown toward the Gastineau Channel, then you are looking at the near vertical slopes of trees and rock with the occasional thin stream of water making its way down the side, all of which was carved out over the ages by the Mendenhall Glacier. It’s an impressive site.
Gastineau Channel is a huge part of why Juneau has their tourist trade, it divides Juneau into Douglas Island on one side and Juneau proper on the other. The first 9+ miles of the channel are deep enough for today’s massive, multi-story, 2000+ person, cruise ships. The ships come in starting late May and run into September, stay for a day of sight seeing and shopping, and then are off again. When we arrived there was only one ship left at the docks, a mid-sized beast that backed its way out of its slot, turned around, and slowly cruised back out to sea. Apparently that was the last of four ships that had been in for the day. We learned later that the summer season “started” on May 22nd with the arrival of six of the massive things. Sadly, the cruise lines have also taken over many of the shops and several of the eateries along the docks. The visitors think they are getting Real Native trinkets, but most of it is made elsewhere and shipped in, with the money going to the corporations instead of the town. There are lots of signs saying “locally owned” and where applicable “locally made”, so we’re keeping our eyes out for those places.
We ended our first day, which felt more like three days of marathons, with dinner at Hanger on the Wharf, a local hangout that also gets the tourists coming off the cruise ships. Mmmm fresh grilled halibut. Very tasty.
Tomorrow: Resting and a little bit of sight seeing!