Sunday, August 07, 2011

Alaska Here We Come

"How did you enjoy your latest trip?"
" Gee, don't know, I guess I'll ask a."  

With that cornball opening we begin  our  "Road Scholar" trip of a lifetime to the great state of cold storage pleasure--Alaska.  In order to get a bit of an edge on jet lag we flew a day early  from Chicago to Anchorage and then hopped a commuter flight to Fairbanks where our program began.

Off we go!

Alaskan glacial field from air outside of Anchorage

Fairbanks Airport
Fairbanks, on first impression. has a kind of gritty frontier ambiance.  From the small airport the ride down to the central part of the city was along a stream of dingy strip malls,  punctuated wth a  fair number of abandoned buildings and fast food eateries.  A walk through the downtown shortly after our arrival revealed a similar feeling.  The buildings were mostly old and there was an almost total lack of auto traffic or pedestrians.  Nothing slummy but nothing that electric or brimming with life either.  Our hotel, the Westmark, was quite nice though. Their bar had some kickin Alaskan beers on draft and the restaurant put out gargantuan size meals at quite reasonable prices.   

We hit the hay early.   I woke up at midnight and it was still light out.  Woke up again at 2:00 AM and it was still kind of like twilight.  Around 4:00 AM it looked like the sun was ready to rise again. Welcome to summer in the near Arctic.  We learned that Fairbanks has about 22 hours of daylight and 2 hours of twilight during June and July.  This is cool until you think about the real cool that comes when you have the reverse of that in the dead of winter.
After a lumberjack buffet breakfast, we decided on a trip out to the University of Alaska campus to see the Museum of the North.  A cab from the hotel priced out at over twenty bucks so we puddled off to the local bus station where we discovered that all seniors ride the public transport system free of charge and that a bus goes right out to the university.  Buoyed by that discovery we jumped on.

Our local bus driver
Our bus driver, who grew up in Indiana, was the epitomy of Alaskan friendliness.  She greeted everyone who got on and said good bye and have a great day to everyone who got off.  Although there are  formal bus stops on he route, you can flag one down anywhere and it will stop for you. That is public transport with a heart. For us, as we were literally going to the end of the line, our driver kept up a constant patter about the town, its weather, the people, and the cost of gas, food, and electricity.  We felt that we had received a good education by the time we got to the university.

A three block energetic uphill walk on the hilly Univesity of Alaska campus brought us to The Museum of the North.

 It is striking architecturally (as is the rest of the campus)  and inside we found a treasure chest of delights that covered Alaskan geology, history,  and the native populations both human and animal.  There was also a gorgeous collection of historic and contemporary Alaskan art.   You could pace your viewing efficiently as every hour they had a thirty minute film playing in the auditorium.  If your feet got a bit tired you could take a short rest and watch the film. We watched one on the Northern Lights and another on Winter in Alaska. 

We literally spent the rest of the day in the museum even  opting for a tasty sandwich in the snack bar for our lunch. 

Museum Foyer with striking stairway

This horse was made from bent wood pieces

Jim and Jan pose with local fauna

Another more modern take on local animal life

Jan enjoys a sound and light creation
A whale skull gives you some size scale

Out to hunt in a small boat

A native mask

The free bus got us back right in front of the hotel in plenty of time to meet the other members of our Road Scholar group for dinner.   We are off and running.

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