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Trip Report Not so cold Alaska - Anchorage, Turnagain Arm

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First, thanks to all of the Fodorites who contributed tips for this, my first trip to Alaska. This was a business trip so there was very little in the way of sightseeing. The trip was out of DC via Seattle on Air Alaska. The 737 seemed to be configured with a bit more leg room than I expected and the flight, though long, was not uncomfortable. Coming into Anchorage, we hit some very severe turbulence, something I was told is not unusual. There was an infant nearby, perhaps 5 months old who thought the tossing game was being done just for her and reacted with peals of laughter with every dip and bump - that took the edge off for everybody.

My first impression upon arriving in Anchorage was "what a dreary place." Our conference hotel was the Hilton downtown, and it was fine. I did notice however while waiting on the taxi line at the airport that it seemed that every other hotel in town, including the budget hotels had a free shuttle. I guess the Hilton was doing its part to contribute to the local economy by not having one.

After a walk around, a bite to eat at a fast food place in the mall (too tired to appreciate a decent meal, so did not look for one) and a good night's sleep, Anchorage looked somewhat better to me the next morning.

I tried the following restaurants, usually with a group from the conference.

Rumrunners - the consensus of our group was that the main good point of this restaurant was that it was near the hotel. The food was OK, not more. Those who ordered the halibut found it somewhat dry. I went for the halibut fish and chips and it was good, but I've had better.

Glacier Brewery - this seems to be The Place to meet and greet judging by the crowd and long wait for a table. The brews were excellent and the food quite good, but not as good as--

Simon and Seafort's This place is world class! Everyone remarked about the excellence of their dinner and those who ordered the Halibut signature dish were especially enthusiastic. I had a spicy cod and reindeer sausage dish baked in parchment. It really was tasty and hit all of the right spots. A Campari and soda was a perfect accompaniment.

The mornings began in the upper 20s and went up to a sizzling 34 degrees for most of my time there. I was surprised that it never felt nearly as cold as the temperature would lead me to expect. At 34 degrees I walked around in just a sweater and was comfortable. I saw people walking in the street in nothing more that business suits and even tee shirts.

I spent my one hour of free time during the conference searching for a unique gift for DW and DD. I found it at the Oomingmak Musk Ox Producers Cooperative - a place many cuts above the myriad of souvenir shops found in Anchorage. The shop sells hand made items made of Qiviut, an amazingly soft and warm material made from the undercoat of the musk ox. The items are knit by women in the villages using traditional designs and can be expensive, but considering the uniqueness and hand work that goes into each piece, they are IMO quite worth while. I bought something called a "Smoke Ring" in a Nelson Island design made in an Island village. A Smoke Ring is basically a tube, open at both ends that is pulled over the head and becomes a warm hat and scarf combined. DW loves it. Since DD loves to crochet, I bought her a ball of Qiviut yarn so she can make her own design. I believe the Oomingmak Cooperative has a web site so you can see these crafts for yourself.

With my only free time before leaving the next morning, I signed up for a tour of Turnagain Arm, a place recommended by several Fodorites. I had planned to take the train to Seward, but found that the train does not run during the winter, even on weekends, except for the "Christmas Train" on December 5th a train that was booked solid.

The tour, run by Salmon Berry, had only 3 of us and went along Turnagain Arm, stopping at Alyeska Resort for lunch and great views and continuing on to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation park. Along the way, we spotted a couple of Bald Eagles perched in trees and some Dall Sheep cavorting on the hills. The guide was informative and personable. I would recommend this tour company.

Photos will be more descriptive of the sights than I could possibly be, and mine can be found at: www.flickr.com/photos/basingstoke2/sets.

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