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Juneau's brightly lit dark side

2005-08-26 16:35:03.357295+00 by Dan Lyke 4 comments

Let's get the other negative from the Alaska trip out of the way so I can go back to the good stuff: Juneau. We got into town on Friday evening and wandered down to the wharf to find something to eat. Total culture shock. We ended up in a place called "The Hangar", although it appears not to be a chain it totally had that "mall restaurant bar food" feel, and I couldn't tell if it was the band or the sound system, but from where we were sitting the folks behind the mic... well... it was food, late enough that we were grateful their kitchen was open, the food was actually good (once the waitress got my order right), and we carried on.

After the helicopter trip, we wandered down again, this time when more stuff was open. I had no idea. Our friend Jeanne had said "oh, every town in Alaska has a jewelry store", and we... well... in Petersburg there were two galleries, and I think both of them had a jewelry counter, so we'd thought we'd seen the jewelry store.

We knew that the cruise lines own many (if not most) of the tourist shops in the towns with deep water ports for the cruise ships, but the feeling that I was stuck in some gross parody of Pier 39 was overwhelming. As we wandered from T-shirt and trinket shop to overpriced mall-style jewelry store I eventually said that my life was too short and too precious to spend too much more time there.

Since petronius took my "bunch of midwesterners" bait [grin], I figured I had to include this telling bit of linguistics; you can figure out a lot about a place's intended customers by how they advertise.

The funny thing was that none of the people we talked to in Juneau who were on cruises seemed to be enjoying them. They all said "it's not a great way to see Alaska, but I'm with family, so..." or something similar.

Sunday we woke up late, kinda bummed out, but we'd heard about Glacier Gardens, so we hopped on a bus and had a great day. Glacier Gardens started out as the growing gardens of a guy with a landscaping business, and is now a showcase for his work, along with 600 or so vertical feet of more native vegetation. For $20 each you get a guided tour, and the tour guides are fairly knowledgeable, so we learned a bunch about local flora. The photo on the left there is the stemp of Devil's Club, a plant we heard a lot about but didn't see until here. Note how nasty that stem looks, and there are spines on the leaves, too. The first image below is Devil's Club with berries, a little further back for identification.

The rest of the place is a showcase for the landscaping business, and a venue for evening events; everyone we talked to for directions and bus tips said "I haven't been there, but I hear weddings there are beautiful". And normally we're not much on treacly wedding stuff, but the flowers and gardens were beautiful, and the ability to pick some knowledgeable brains about native plants was very fun.

One final note: We stayed at the Driftwood Lodge, with a view looking out over the Governor's mansion. The place was decent, inexpensive, as advertised had a kitchenette, and the neighboring restauralt, "The Fiddlehead", was decent enough that we ate there several times. It also surprised us because one of thir morning options was sautéed brown rice and veggies.

Still managed to get our orders wrong, a common issue we had in restaurants in Juneau, but the staff was friendly and the food tasty.

[ related topics: Photography Food Travel Dan & Charlene's 2005 Alaska Trip Alaska ]

comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2005-08-29 13:46:11.293819+00 by: petronius

Ah, cruise port jewelry stores. Its odd, but you can find in certain high-end magazines full-page ads for some very swanky bling boutiques that list stores in Paris, Madrid, the Ginza, Monte Carlo and Ketchican. Of course, many of these Alaskan ports return to a population of 103 after the cruise season ends, and the rolexes (rolexii?) and diamonds are head south for the winter.

Enjoying cruises on the big boats is a strange topic. The entertainment and on-ship attractions (bridge lessons, singalongs etc.) are aimed at a Branson Missouri level (think Las Vegas without gambling or nekkid ladies)The fancier meals were pretty good, and I didn't mind dressing up a bit for my anniversery, tho I didn't spring for a tuxedo. The people I met who were in our age range (low to mid 50s)seemed to like it alright, with some rueful comments about the bad comedian. Those older than us liked it quite well. And that is the point; anybody who can afford such a cruise, which costs few grand, is already in a more sedate and old-fashion demographic. More independent-minded people probably won't like it. If I ever go again, I would take one of the smaller boats, go to the smaller bays and ports, and perhaps even do the state ferry and rental car route. Although, the big boats handling all your luggage from airport to room back to airport is mightly nice...

#Comment Re: made: 2005-08-29 14:59:37.106989+00 by: Nancy

Devil's club was our favorite weapon of choice on hiking trips! We, however, used the old, dead stalks that no longer had spines. They made fun (and fairly ineffectual) swords/spears. They can be nasty, but I'll take them ANY DAY over poison ivy/oak.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-08-29 17:45:04.979078+00 by: Dan Lyke

So, Nancy, what's the other plant that gives the nasty rashes. Goat's something? Only heard of it from one person, but she said it was nastier than poison ivy/oak.

#Comment Re: made: 2005-08-29 22:17:42.493622+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

Shoot, must have lost that other comment. Anyway...

I think that the people we tended to run into probably skewed the sample of the responses we got. We would have talked to the folks who weren't in the tourist traps, or who weren't hanging out in the ship's lounge while the boat was docked, or other such places.

I don't think it's a money thing, because the smaller the boat the higher the price and from our perspective big boat cruises are fairly cheap, but yeah: If you'd vacation in Las Vegas or Branson you'd be far more likely to like the cruise.