Summer Solstice

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Summer Solstice in the UK, in my limited experience, is all about recognising pagan traditions. People gather around stone remains to celebrate the longest day of the year. They may even dance naked around those stones. The Solstice Festival in Anchorage could not be different to the way we celebrate back home.

Runners travelled to Anchorage from all over to take part in the half-marathon, most of which I believe took place in Delaney Park. This long strip of land was originally cleared as a fire break, then used as an airstrip (if you leave a long enough piece of land empty in Alaska, eventually someone will land a plane on it), and is now a park. As I walked into town to enjoy another great meal at Snow City Café, runners wearing medals started to filter into the crowd.

A huge street party, about 8 blocks long, took over the city centre. Kids bounced on trampolines and scampered up climbing walls. A group of skateboarders gave an impressive demonstration of their talents.

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There were food stalls, beer gardens and arts and crafts on offer. And, of course, no Summer Solstice is complete without an Elvis tribute act.

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My favourite was the Hero Games. Members of various armed forces, fire departments and rescue teams competed in bizarre heats such as scooter racing and fussball. I can assure you, should you need these guys, they will come to your rescue with gusto. It might just take them a while to reach you on their scooters.

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Anchorage

Please note, this post is part of a series. Click here to read it from the beginning.

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Most towns and cities have at least one feature that they label a ‘tourist attraction’ and milk it for all it’s worth. If they don’t already have one, they create one. Even though it is by far the biggest city in Alaska, and with a population of almost 300,000 home to half the state’s inhabitants, Anchorage apparently never bothered. Tourists come here (mainly from the cruise ships that had been following me up the west coast) and wander around the city centre, but there isn’t that one tower/church/underground city that everyone pays $20 to queue up in a line for 2 hours and experience for 10 minutes.

Downtown Anchorage is a pretty regular, mundane city centre, albeit with the quirks that don’t let you forget you’re in Alaska. It’s home to the biggest shopping mall in Alaska, for example, but the post office inside the mall still closes for lunch every day.

Anchorage spreads over a huge area, I heard it is the same size as Delaware (Alaska itself is 20% the size of the rest of the United States). Locals complain about over-crowding, which they blame on the permafrost they are unable to build on. I think, though, if they looked at other cities they could see it’s probably possible to fit a lot more people onto the solid land they do have if they really wanted to.

There is one trolley tour that will take you around some of the outlying points of interest in Anchorage, and I’d say it’s the best way to see them if you don’t have a car. Our guide on the Anchorage City Trolley Tours was Brendan, a 3rd generation Alaskan pre-med student with an infectious enthusiasm for his home state. He was brilliant, and kept us well informed and entertained on our one hour journey (you don’t need any longer).

Earthquake Park was previously known as Turnagain Heights. When the earthquake hit in 1964, most of the houses were pushed into the water. 7 of the 9 people who died that day were killed here. A peek into what is now woodland shows what an impact the earthquake had on the landscape. Once flat ground now rolls in huge waves out to the coast. Brendan told us that his father, a 16 year old boy scout at the time, was sent to Anchorage to hep with the rescue. He repelled into crevices trying to find survivors. They raise ’em tough in Alaska.

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Although 9  people sadly died that day, the death toll could have been much worse. There was a basketball game scheduled at the high school at 5pm. However, it being Good Friday, parents complained that their children should be in church instead. The principle rescheduled the match for the following day. Around 5.30pm, the earthquake hit and the entire (thankfully empty) high school building was swallowed  up into the ground. The class of ’71 arranged for the eagle to be painted on the side of the rebuilt school. When the principle refused to allow them to paint ‘class of 71’ on the bottom, they arranged with the artist to secretly incorporate the number 71 into the mural instead. Can you see it?

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Lake Hood is famous as the biggest boat plane dock in the world. The international airport sits right next to the lake, and the control tower has to co-ordinate both airports simultaneously. If you really want to travel in Alaska, you need a boat plane. Due to the high costs ($90,000 – $150,000), most boat planes are passed down through generations of the same family. There’s a 10-15 year waiting list for parking spaces on the lake, so you pretty much have to wait for someone to die if you want to park your plane there.

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If you make it to Anchorage, be sure to make a reservation at Snow City Café (I had to wait two hours without one). They do the best all-day breakfasts and cater to vegan and gluten-free diets. Their tofu and spinach scramble with hash brown and gluten-free toast is one of the best brunches I have ever had.

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Useful Info:

Flight Juneau to Anchorage with Alaska Air: $120

People Mover bus airport to downtown Anchorage: $2

2 nights dorm bed at Alaska Backpackers: $50

Anchorage trolley tour: $20

The Midnight Sun

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I took this photo at midnight last night (summer solstice), although the previous two nights were actually a lot brighter. The sun hasn’t completely gone down since I’ve been here in Anchorage.

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I spent the day in Anchorage AK today. There’s not a whole lot to see here.

The trolley tour of the city takes an hour, the highlights of which are Earthquake Park and the boatplanes. If you’re thinking of moving up here and buying a boatplane, though, don’t rush. There’s a 10 to 15 year waiting list!

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Before the earthquake, this land continued at the same level. There used to be a whole neighbourhood built here, most of which ended up in the water…

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