Thursday, August 30, 2012


I was born in Alaska; my parents lived there for nearly ten years.  I remember very little if anything at all but had heard stories and names and seen pictures while growing up.  This summer, more than 23 years after we left, I went back with my parents as tourists.  We visited longtime friends of theirs and their old houses and two phenomenally beautiful national parks.  Here's a summary of our trip with a few pictures and travel recommendations.

Anchorage is the big city with more than 40 percent of the state's residents in the metro area. The Chugach Mountains rise directly behind and continue for more than 200 miles down the coast to the east. We stayed with my parents' longtime friends who treated us phenomenally well and took us hiking in Chugach State Park and around Independence Mine.
View along the Alaska Railroad

Next, we headed to Seward via the Alaska Railroad, which also connects Anchorage with Whittier and goes north Fairbanks via Talkeetna and Denali National Park.  Current passenger railroad service is for tourists, slow, scenic, and pretty expensive.

Seward is surrounded by snowy peaks and Resurrection Bay and offers quick access to Exit Glacier and the Harding Icefield trail.  We missed the Exit Glacier part of Kenai Fjords National Park, but got to explore another part by staying at Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge.  The lodge is on native corporation land and is beautifully built into a wooded area off Aialik Bay, approximately 50 nautical miles from Seward.  Guest cabins and the main lodge building have a view across Pedersen Lagoon to Pedersen Glacier.  From the lodge we canoed and walked to an upper Pedersen Lagoon, filled with melting icebergs from the glacier, and saw black bears and otters along the way.  Another day we kayaked to Aialik Glacier and watched it calve into the bay for hours.  The lodge was comfortable and had great good and we were extremely lucky to have three sunny days in a very weather-prone area.  On the boat rides in and out we saw puffins, sea lions, humpback whales, porpoises and seals.

Rounding Aialik Cape headed back to Seward

Lodge with reflected view of Pedersen Glacier

Sea lions diving along our ride to the lodge
We picked up a rental car on our way back through Anchorage and headed to Fairbanks, Alaska's second largest city and my (parents') former home.  We spent most of our time catching up with my parents' friends who still live there, but also got a chance to visit the University of Alaska, Fairbanks' Museum of the North and Large Animal Research Station (LARS), home to Muskoxen, Caribou, and Reindeer.  Both stops were informative and seemed like some of the more interesting things to do available in Fairbanks.
Bumper sticker at LARS, I got one to take home

Muskox at LARS
Finally, we had three-and-a-half days in and around Denali National Park.  We thought our weather luck had finally run out, but were lucky enough to get some in-and-out views of Denali's North Peak.  We rode into the park on the shuttle buses two days, which was lovely when we could see out the bus windows.  The rides were like school bus safaris, with 40 people looking for wildlife.  The prime wildlife areas seemed to be from Toklat to Eielson, which requires a 6 to 8 hour roundtrip bus ride.  One day we rode all the way to Wonder Lake, but the most spectacular stretch was up to Eielson and nearly 11 hours on a school bus (even with breaks) is a long time.  We walked from Savage River one day and to the Mt. Healy Overlook another day, both of which offered lovely scenery and were accessible by car.  I couldn't believe the scale of the landscapes in the Alaska Range or how the Chugach seemed to go on forever.

Mama grizzly and cubs in Denali NP
Denali (McKinley) North Peak
I'm hoping to visit parts of the Brooks Range and/or Wrangell-St. Elias National Park on a more adventurous future trip. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Paris, deliciously or scandalously

In the last several months I've read three books by Americans who have lived, eaten, and adventured in Paris.  They seem to have had a lot more fun than I did while I was there and tell marvelous stories.  

A bakery in my old neighborhood

The protagonist (heroine) of Elaine Dundy's The Dud Avocado, Sally Jay Gorce, is strong, somewhat self-destructive, and hilarious.  Her adventures are far from realistic, though apparently she is based on the author's own larger-than-life time in Paris.  You hope for her to make it though and you feel her lurching from one precarious situation to the next, always off balance and always on the move.  The heroine's thoughts and actions seem all the more remarkable when you consider the book was first published in 1958.  This is a fun read and you don't need to remember too many characters or plot items to enjoy the language and tempo.

Sally Jay Gorce lives very differently in Paris than did Julia Child, whose memoir, My Life in France, (with Alex Prud'homme) also tells her fascinating story of Paris in the 1950s.  I enjoyed meeting Julia, as she introduces herself, but also reading about the drafty windows, good meals with friends, and attitudes in Paris that reminded me of living there.  Her story is one of hard work to accomplish something impressive. (I was grateful of her acknowledgement of the setbacks and discouraging moments.)  I find her inspirational for her choice of a project, for the determination to stick to it for years and for the attitude of enjoyment and appreciation she brought to observing, eating, and writing. 

In The Sweet Life in Paris, David Leibovitz recounts cultural encounters and plenty of eating in Paris.  His stories are interspersed with recipes, few of which I've tried.  His vignettes are entertaining but they aren't so unique if you've read Peter Mayle or David Sedaris' cross-cultural accounts.  I liked Leibovitz for who he is, the rather neurotic chef who makes fun of himself well and eats even better.  I prefer drooling over his blog entries, which introduce readers to restaurants and dessert shops in different cities worldwide.

Skyline from my dear friend's apartment

If you're missing Paris or looking for a cheaper alternative to a plane ticket (or time machine), you might enjoy any of the above.  All of them will make you laugh and may even help you see Parisians or their food a little differently.