A Week In Alaska

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I spent a week in Alaska! Here is what I got up to.

Wanting to continue our tradition of seeing each other every month, my best friend Jessie and I booked a trip to Alaska! Jessie and I each separately went to Alaska last year and loved it. I cruised through Juneau, Skagway, and Ketchikan, and Jessie flew into Anchorage and road tripped. Once we decided to go back, we wanted to explore a city neither of us had been to, and since Sitka has an airport, we decided to go there.

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Well, let me start with saying this: Sitka was not the place to be. Located on Baranof Island, this city house just over 8,000 people (that number dwindles down to ~6,000 in the Winter, when there is only 4-hours of daylight) and is known for its fishing. As neither Jessie nor I fish, we weren’t left with much.

Instead of writing this post in my usual day-by-day breakdown fashion, I am just going to break it down into categories.

The Hostel:

Since we landed at 9:30PM instead of 7PM (thanks, Delta for being the worst airline ever), we went straight to the Sitka International Hostel, where we would be staying for the week.

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Our Hostel had strict hours: doors locked and everyone out 10AM-6PM, and doors locked and everyone in by 11PM daily. Jessie and I entered our single gender dormitory to find our roommate for the week drunk, naked, and blasting Netflix (probably why she didn’t hear our knocks). Once she got dressed, we settled in for the night, Jessie on the top bunk and me down below. The night ended with our new bunkie making a joke about killing me in my sleep… #notchill. Things where off to a rough start.

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Jessie and I slept pretty poorly at the Hostel. For only $29 a night, you can expect a thin mattress, a hot shower (just don’t mind the mold above you), a bathroom to share with up to seven (we only had to share between four!), and access to a kitchen. The Hostel was pretty clean and everyone kept to themselves.

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What really put a damper on this experience was our roommate, who typically would come back so inebriated that she could neither stand nor speak. It was a sobering (pun intended) situation to be in, as I have never spent so much time with a raging alcoholic. The only good thing about her drunkenness is that I knew she would be too inebriated to follow through on my death threat.

Overall, the Hostel was a good option for traveling on a budget, just be ready to be around some weirdos.

The Sights:

When we picked Sitka, Jessie and I were banking on two things: that the sights would be beautiful and the locals would be nice. The sights did not disappoint.

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Like all of Alaska, Sitka is gorgeous. With the snow-capped mountains to the East and the ocean to the West, there is beauty everywhere.

Jessie and I really enjoyed Swan Lake, where you could walk out onto a dock and watch for Bald Eagles…or take a nap like I did.

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There are lots of beautiful trails to wander through as well, just be ready for bears as the locals kept telling us (we did not see any).

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Many of the trails turn off onto small beach fronts, which were completely beautiful.

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As it was about 55 degrees Fahrenheit each day, I could only imagine how cold the water was! Needless to say, Jessie did not break out the bathing suit she packed.

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The beautiful scenery provided plenty of places to take some amazing pictures.

The Locals:

As I mentioned, Jessie and I were banking on the locals being really friendly. Unfortunately we were very wrong. As a whole, we were not welcomed by the small community. If we weren’t being given dirty looks by the people passing by, we were being offensively hit on. This small town is mostly made up of fisherman and there are very few women who are not married. When Jessie and I arrived, we became…fresh meat. The looks that we were given were enough to send chills down our spines. Boredom runs rampant throughout this town, and with it so does alcohol and drugs. Most men that crossed our paths where obviously under the influence of something, making them extremely unpredictable.

Between men inviting us out onto their boats, to party back at their lake houses, or hiding behind flag poles to watch us, Jessie and I were utterly creeped out. It became an absolute necessity to be back at our Hostel before sundown (which was at 10PM luckily), where we felt safer being enclosed in a small room with a drunk stranger than outside in the dark. By the end of our trip, Jessie and I quipped that we would both have neck aches from constantly looking over our shoulders.

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We did meet one local who welcomed us. Isaac, who is from Seattle and has been in Sitka for less than a year (does that make him a local?) is a server at a cafe in town. We asked him about hiking trails and, like everyone, he warned us about brown bears. Very kindly, he offered us his Great Dane Walter as a hiking companion.

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We took Isaac up on his offer and ended up spending a good portion of our trip in his company. Extremely inclusive and very quick-witted, Isaac took the time to explain his transition to Alaskan life and prepared us for our week ahead. Spot on, he told us that the women would shun us (competition for the men’s attention) and then men would lurk close by. Although I have traveled throughout Europe, Central American, and the States, I have never felt as unsafe as I did in Sitka.

The Food:

Luckily, the food was good. Dining options were very slim, but the cafes that were open were tasty! Even Jessie, a vegetarian for over a decade, was able to find plenty.

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Breakfast consisted of oatmeal typically for me. At the Backdoor Cafe, Jessie and I both ordered the baked oatmeal, a cinnamon roll, and a chai latte.

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The oatmeal and the chai were delicious, but I would pass on the cinnamon roll next time. This place was really cute and had a really charming feel.

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At The Fly In Fish Inn, I also had oatmeal. Made with a fresh apple compote, this oatmeal was extremely hearty and kept me full for hours. The Fly In Fish Inn also provided some great views out of the large bay windows.

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We also dined at Nugget Restaurant, which is in the airport. Much like your typical IHOP or Denny’s, you could get a traditional American breakfast. I opted for eggs and pancakes.

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The Homeport Eatery was easily the cutest place we brunched at.

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With three different vendors in one location, you could grab a fresh juice, a scone, and a breakfast sandwich all at once.

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We opted for more chai teas from the Front Door (owned and operated by the Backdoor Cafe) and breakfast sandwiches from the panini stand.

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Our favorite place to lunch was the Larkspur Cafe.

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This was the only place that we went to twice during our trip (by day three we had tried just about every restaurant). I had the Salmon Sandwich (delicious) and a brie and prosciutto panini (really good as well).

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Jessie and I also toasted the last full day of our trip with a crisp mimosa!

IMG_2655 We tried the local Bayview Pub, where I got a really delicious burger and a side salad. Jessie and I also split the tiramisu, which we definitely should have passed up on. Although the food as a whole was good, this place lacked ambiance.

At Mean Queen’s pizza, we were disappoint to find semi burnt edges, but the place had a relaxed vibe and is one of the most popular local spots.

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The better pizza option was from Pizza Express, which we had delivered to the Baranof Brewery as it does not serve food. Jessie and I split a veggie pizza and a flight of beer.

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The brewery was pretty cool and I really enjoyed the Vanilla Stout on Nitro. Nothing like a cold beer in Alaska!

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That about rounded out the food options. We soon resorted to the local grocery store for meals.

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Options became even more limited when we learned that places like Ernie’s or Pioneer Bar (known to the locals as P Bar) allowed people to smoke indoors. Never in my life have I seen people smoking inside in the United States. It left a bad taste in my mouth…literally.

IMG_2329Overall, the food was really tasty, there just weren’t many places to choose from. What was worse, the places had funky hours. Some breakfast places didn’t open until past 10AM and many places were closed for lunch and ended dinner service at early hours. A sign like this was pretty common:

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The Town:

Sitka is a small town. IMG_2457

It was very clean and well manicured downtown and provided an interesting array of shops (our favorite was the Russian Christmas Store…how do places like this stay in business?!).

 

Since Jessie and I were on foot, it was nice to be in such a beautiful location. I loved that there were statues and totems throughout the town.

As Sitka was so small, we were able to get a great feel for the entirety of the town. We were also happy to see a strong police presence. We just wished there was more to do!

The Activities:

Aside from walking around and eating, Jessie and I checked out the Raptor Center, the largest of its kind in Alaska.

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We learned all about how the ARC is rehabilitating birds to be released back out to the wild. We got to get up close and personal with a few birds, including Sitka the Bald Eagle.

Jessie and I loved that for $12 you could get admission to the ARC, a guided tour, and time to roam free throughout a quarter-mile of their rehabilitation sanctuary. This was probably the highlight of our trip and felt like a calm and safe escape from the city. We also met Jeff Corwin, who was filming a segment for his show!

Jessie and I also walked through Totem Park, led by Isaac and Walter.

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This was a beautiful 5-mile walk through the forest. Everywhere you looked there was totem pole larger than the last.

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We would pull off to explore the seaside, where I gathered a collection of dead crabs. Jessie also found a slug…no wonder we get along so well.

We also watched a canoe being made!

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To round out our activities, we explored a few cemeteries. Unlike most people, I love cemeteries. I find them extremely calming and peaceful. The forest cemetery was especially cool as we just stubbled upon it. Jessie and I loved how the wildflowers and moss were growing out of the burial grounds.

Unfortuantely, that about sums up the options. Although we were offered a fishing trip, we thought it safer to decline. We also looked into purchasing an aerial tour ($120 for 20 minutes per person), renting bikes (they were out of stock), and going kayaking (too windy). In many ways, this was one of the longest weeks of my life.

Packing Follow Up:

I posted What I Packed for Alaska recently and thought it might be nice to follow up. I never used my raincoat or gloves. I also never bothered with dry shampoo (I just showered daily).

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My Vasque hiking boots were great and fit like a dream, especially when paired with my EcoSoxs. My Rainbow sandals did not fare so well as shower shoes and I ended up tossing them on my way out. Like I had mentioned, I have had them for well over 10 years and I have worn them to death. As I said to Jessie, “They just aren’t the same after Sitka, and neither am I.”

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I wish I had brought along my passport, being that we were so close to Canada. If I had it, Jessie and I probably would have hopped on a plane real quickly.

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Overall, Sitka taught Jessie and I a lot. She and I are both street smart and have good instincts when meeting new people. We also know to now research the men-to-women ratio of any place we plan to visit. And maybe to carry a taser. We made the most of our situation by relishing in the knowledge that it was cheap (under $250 round trip and only $150 for housing!) and it was breathtaking. It provided us with lots of quality time together and fortunately for us, we travel extremely well together. Knowing when to be honest and when to compromise, we both worked to stay happy and safe together. By the end of it though, we were both thankful to be heading back to civilization.

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-TM

Have you ever been to Sitka? Let us know what you thought below.

 

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4 thoughts on “A Week In Alaska

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