Day one of our adventure! We woke up this morning at 4am to get showered and ready to catch the Metro to DCA. After barely sleeping for the past few days – between unpacking the new house, packing up our packs and trying to finish things up at work – we were both completely exhausted but ready to get the hell out of town. We got to DCA around 7:05 four our 8:00 flight – cutting it a little close there (!!) – checked in and grabbed a quick breakfast before boarding. We both slept the entire flight to Seattle. We grabbed a quick lunch and a few beers in Seattle before boarding the flight to Juneau and sleeping the entire flight there.
As we descended into Juneau, we got an awesome view of the city and Auke Bay. I was expecting to see something similar to the Rockies, but it’s actually more similar to VT or NH mountain ranges – very lush and green. The airport sits in the bay, and as we came in it seemed like we were going to land in the water. Then, at the last second, the runway appeared. The airport was SO small – rivaling Bozeman, MT for the smallest airport I’ve ever flown into. And instead of commercial planes, the airport was full of Cessnas, float planes and helicopters.
We grabbed our bags (both of them made it, yay!) and headed out to catch a cab. Um…not like D.C. at all – no cabs to be found. We waited and waited…and waited some more. Finally, after about 15 minutes, a single cab pulled in and we hopped inside.
We chose to stay at the Juneau Hotel, a bit out from the downtown city area, but still just a short, scenic walk to everything. The place was quaint but really nice; more like apartment living than hotel living. We had a fully stocked, full-size kitchen and a stackable washer and dryer in the suite. We also had a really big, clean bathroom, a large living room area, a bedroom with a queen bed, a TV and very “Alaskan” decor. In some ways this place is nicer than home!
The staff were very friendly and helpful at check-in. They gave us directions to everything in town, suggestions for where to eat, and scheduled us a cab back to the airport for tomorrow.
We did a quick walk through of the apartment, dropped our packs and headed into town. After a full day’s worth of traveling for us, it was still only early afternoon in Juneau. So we set out walking toward downtown – a nice six-or-so block walk with a gorgeous view. It wasn’t raining, but it was overcast, clouded in and threatening rain at any second. The temperature wasn’t too bad – 580F – so in my lightweight fleece, jeans and flip flops I was comfortable. Surprising, since it was nearly 900F when we left D.C. at 8:00 this morning.
Downtown Juneau is really small and quaint and completely centered around cruise ship tourists – there were three of them in port today (a slow day). But the city is set beautifully along the edge of the water, with large green mountains looming behind. The mountains have narrow waterfalls cutting steeply along, carrying glacier melt out to the bay. It really is beautiful, despite the cruise ships’ ugly exteriors ruining the otherwise unspoiled natural look.
Red Dog Saloon:
We started at The Red Dog Saloon – a very touristy but cool bar. They have big red, old school saloon-type swinging doors, opening into a large room with exposed wood walls, saw dust floors and wagon wheel chandeliers dropping from the ceiling. On the walls were many, many taxidermied animals – bears, moose, caribou, deer, fish, rabbits and more. And behind the bar were two large glass-front cases full of old guns and beer bottles, framed with many artfully decorated dollar bills tacked to the wood.
We took a seat at the bar, in the only empty seats, at the far end of the bar in a corner where the walls were covered in people’s business cards and random pieces of paper with names, dates and notes all over them. We were waited on by a friendly guy with black pants, a loose white button down shirt and a pair of silly red suspenders – just like you see the bartenders wearing in a lot of the old gold rush era movies. We sat and enjoyed a couple of Alaskan pale ales (not just a generic term for beer from Alaska; the brewery is called Alaskan Brewing Company) and entertained ourselves reading some of the notes tacked to the walls behind us.
Just down the bar from us was an older local man with his little wiener dog sitting up on the bar stool next to him. The bartender brought the man a beer and a small shot glass of beer for the dog. He put his front paws up on the bar and lapped down the whole beer in about 7 seconds flat with his tail wagging. It was quite funny and something we’d never see back home in D.C.
After a couple of beers in the Red Dog, we decided to move along and see what else there was to keep us busy in the downtown area. We were rather disappointed to find that there really isn’t much. We walked the rest of the length of the town and didn’t find much more than a McDonald’s, souvenir shops, tee shirt shops and a bajillion diamond retailers. (Nothing like sailing all the way to AK to get off the boat and buy a diamond, eh?) There were a few other restaurants and bars and a couple of hotels. We decided there wasn’t much to keep us busy here, so we ducked inside another pub.
This place was fairly similar to the Red Dog Saloon, but far less touristy or busy. There were only two others at the bar when we walked into the dark, dimly lit room. The bare exposed wood in this place was a much darker shade than the light, welcoming planks in the Red Dog, seeming to suggest a seedier existence within the walls. But I really liked this place better than the Red Dog. It had more of a feel of a locals hangout spot than it did a cheesy, touristy bar. It was cozy and low-key and made me wish we had more places like this close to home. There was a small stage in the back corner, where live bands play every night. They hadn’t arrived yet when we were there, so we missed out on that part.
We sat at the bar and had a couple more Alaskan beers and chatted with a local guy who had jut come in from his job on a fishing charter boat. He goes out daily and said that the fishing this time of year is the best. They’d had an exceptionally good day and caught nearly the limit for everyone today. If only we had another day or two to spend in Juneau… He also told us that the best place in Juneau for dinner is the Twisted Fish. So after our beers were gone, we decided to wander in that direction.
Twisted Fish Company:
The inside of the restaurant was beautiful with (surprise!) exposed wooden beams, hardwood floors and large floor-to-ceiling windows with great views of the water and Douglas Island. The colors were bright and inviting. We walked in around 6:00, there was no wait, and we got a table fairly close to the windows.
We both ordered wild salmon – freshly caught this morning – which came out perfectly prepared and served on a thick wooden slab with a spicy BBQ-based sauce, whole roasted potatoes, an amazing, fluffy knot of cheese bread and a slice of watermelon to top it all off. The meal was delicious. Actually, delicious is an understatement. We both demolished everything on our plates within a few minutes and wished we had more.
The service was good, the prices were decent ($22 each) and the views and atmosphere were wonderful. I’m positive that I will look back and wish for this meal at some point in the future. Probably tomorrow.
After dinner, we lazily walked back toward the hotel. All of the cruise ships had finally left for the night, and the pier and bay looked much different. Much more natural and perfect than when the small area was littered with those giant cities-on-water earlier. Much quieter and more serene without the hoards of people.
I got the feeling standing there, looking out across the water, that the mountains and fog sustain the serenity – that if I were to scream the fog would muffle the sound and the mountains keep the sound waves from traveling so that no one else would even hear. What a beautiful, powerful calm.
I also stopped along the way to give Patsy Ann a big hug. Her statue sits at the edge of the water where the cruise ships dock, where she used to faithfully sit and welcome ships and visitors to beautiful Juneau.
As we walked back to the hotel, we noticed the tide had gone out and the water had receded significantly since we had passed through earlier. The view had changed from a solid body of water to a narrow channel bubbling between two moss-covered banks teeming with feasting, squawking seagulls.
Now it’s 8:00 – midnight at home – and we’re both totally exhausted, in bed watching TV. And it’s still very much daylight outside. I know it’s a bit lame, but time to catch up on some sleep so that we’re ready for Gustavus tomorrow.