Updated: Jul 10, 2022
This trip to Alaska was a special one. Well traveling is always special. However, this one is special because we originally planned to go to Alaska in March 2020, and then ended up canceling days before the departure date. I also got to reunite with Sze Yen, whom I haven't seen in almost four years. Time flies when you're getting old. This time, we ended up planning a longer trip filled with more activities than our original itinerary. Also, I was able to procure the new Google Pixel 6, which took amazing photos of aurora borealis. I think the universe wanted me wait to get better camera hardware and software before seeing aurora, for better documentation. More on aurora later.
We started off the trip with fun times at the Delta Sky Lounge. I had just signed up for the Amex Platinum Card, so I was ready to take advantage of the lounges. (Here is my referral link, if anyone is interested.) Unfortunately, the Centurion lounge was further from our gate, so we ended up paying $39/person at the Delta Sky Club for my two awesome guests. We made it worth our time and money by eating the lounge food options and drinking our way through the complimentary drinks for a couple of hours. The food was better than I expected. The carnitas was pretty tasty. In true frugal fashion, I also packed my bag with some fruit and snacks before we left the lounge. You never know when you might get hungry!
We had a short stop in Seattle, where we rested in the Centurion lounge for a quick bit. I gotta hit up as many lounges as possible to make that annual fee worth it.
We got to our Anchorage Airbnb and were welcomed by this cute sign. This is only the second trip that I have ever booked an Airbnb. I definitely appreciated the personalized touch.
Dinner at 49th State Brewing Company. We sat in front of this cozy fire and ordered seafood.
Alaska Wild King Salmon
King Crabby Grilled Cheese
Halibut & Chips
We wanted to see glaciers. Even more than that, Sze Yen especially wanted to hike some glaciers. I didn't even know such an activity was possible. With spring approaching, and there is frequent news of ice shelves breaking off in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, it made me wonder 'uh... is that safe?'
After a 2 hour journey from Anchorage, we arrived at our tour company's lodge. They advised us to only drive a 4WD or AWD vehicle and to go no faster than 10mph at the last stretch of the road. Thank goodness Yen was no stranger to these kinds of conditions after living in Michigan for years.
We bundled ourselves up and the tour company provided micro spikes for us. They towed us out a bit further with a snowmobile. Then we hiked around the white landscape for a couple of hours. I was initially concerned that hiking in freezing temperatures would make it difficult to enjoy the experience. But constantly moving around and being heavily layered up kept me warm. Luckily, there was a good amount of sun that day and there was hardly any wind.
In fact, the lack of wind, silence and stillness added to the experience. It was like the volume turned all the way down, so we could really take in the sights. I was very aware that we were the only ones around. The only sounds I heard were the crunching of the snow beneath our boots, and every so often we could hear the gentle cracking of glaciers off in the distance.
I was in awe of the bright, pure, white snow covering nearly everything in sight. The hardened glaciers are basically just ice, but it felt smooth and dry to the touch. Our guide taught us a lot, including how the soot-like material that you find dusted across the glaciers is actually glacial silt, and can be used for facials. They sell 'glacial facials' in their gift shop.
The crystal-like formations were beautiful. It's crazy to think in a few weeks, most of it will be gone as the land quickly shifts with the seasons.
With temperatures rising, there were already a few small streams. Our guide taught us that it was potable water. It tasted like the purest water that I had ever had. Very refreshing after a fun hike.
We enjoyed a man made ice slide.
We even squeezed ourselves through a tiny crevasse. I didn't think I would be able to fit. It took some maneuvering to get myself out of there. Our guide said her 6+ foot tall, 200 pound friend made it through after some human tetris, so I was sure we'd be able to fit too. Here's Tim making his way.
I sure am glad that we ended up booking this glacier hike tour. It was an experience I will not soon forget. Now I know, it is possible to hike a glacier safely.
Afterwards, we were eager to reward ourselves with some food at one of the only restaurants around for miles.
Lunch at Long Rifle Lodge. The food was alright, but the view through these enormous windows.. wow talk about ambiance.
Fried Cod Sandwich
After returning to Anchorage and resting for a bit, we of course did more eating.
Dinner at Glacier Brewhouse
IPA Sampler - IPA, Split IPA, Cask IPA, Tangerine IPA, Blood Orange IPA
The Last Word - Aurora gin from Anchorage, Luxardo Maraschino, green Chartreuse, lime juice
Brewhouse Appetizer Tower - garlic prawns, calamari, Alaska smoked salmon dip
calamari - buttermilk battered, jalapeño lime aioli, jalapeño chips
garlic prawns - Pacific jumbo white prawns, garlic, artichoke hearts, tomato, fresh herbs, red pepper flakes, potato rosemary bread croutons
smoked salmon dip - alder smoked Alaska sockeye salmon, Greek yogurt, lemon zest, capers, dill, w/ alder-grilled artisan bread, sweet gherkins
That smoked salmon dip is delicious. I made a mental note to myself to make it.
Alaska Snow Crab Stuffed Roasted Cod - Alaska cod and snow crab, braised spinach, parmesan, artichokes, garlic mashed potatoes, chive beurre blanc
When I saw this on the menu, I wanted to see how this would be stuffed, and what would be stuffed with what? Turns out it is a crab mixture in the center of a cod filet.
On our last full day in Anchorage, we explored the town and walked the slippery, icy sidewalks. I stumbled my way around like a penguin. We went to the Anchorage Museum ($20 Adult, $15 student) and learned about the indigenous people of Alaska, their history and struggles, and saw some youth art exhibits.
The Alaskans sure are a resilient bunch. One quote in the heritage section really resonated with me
"What you do not see, do not hear, do not experience, you will never really know." (Anders Apassingok, Lore of St. Lawrence Island: Echoes of Our Eskimo Elders)
Art of the North with beautiful landscapes
After the museum, we rewarded ourselves with some malasadas from Wiki-licious. The Hawaiian treats didn't warm us up, but they did fill us up.
10 minis, 2x of Lemon & Creme, Strawberry & Creme, Guava & Creme Cheese, Pineapple, Mango
We mostly walked around Anchorage, since the town isn't that big. Most people drive in these conditions. Some walk. I wobbled around in all my layers and almost fell a bunch of times. Surprisingly I did not fall.
For dinner, we took an Uber since Moose's Tooth was recommended to us and it was a little further away. Even our Uber driver spoke highly of Moose's Tooth. Our Uber driver's plate read 'Joyota.' He even commented what a funny coincidence it is to pick up Joy in the Joyota. He then regaled us with his interesting hunting tales, and ended by telling us about the reindeer in his freezer. Alaskans sure like hunting.
Dinner at Moose's Tooth
Surprise, it's another brewery. Anchorage sure likes their breweries too.
Arctic Apple Ale, Moose's Tooth Hefeweizen, Pipeline Stout, Northern Lights Amber
Apricot, Call of the Wild, Napoleon
These pizzas are pretty good. The crust tastes like deep fried dough, sort of like Native American frybread. I didn't think I would like an apricot pizza. It sounded very sweet and actually looks like shredded carrots, but the sweetness helped cut through the creamy sauce. Also, I found out I like reindeer sausage.
Moose Ranch Salad
After eating a lot of fried things, a crunchy salad was very refreshing, even though it's not like Romaine lettuce has a ton of nutrients.
The next morning, we left Anchorage via train and headed off for Fairbanks. The Alaska Railroad's Aurora Winter northbound, yes an 11.5 hour long train ride. We thought it was too cold to explore Denali National Park, but we still wanted to get a glimpse of Denali, or Mt. McKinley, the tallest peak in North America. Apparently you can get a good look on this this train ride sometimes.
If it weren't for the cloud cover that day, we would have seen Denali. However, we still saw plenty of other amazing sights; spruce trees, rivers - both flowing and frozen, mountains unknown to me, and fleeting glimpses of wildlife, including moose!
There were many gorgeous peaks off in the distance.
Looks like ice cream.
Here is one of the melting rivers.
I got a look at the head of the train during a sharp turn.
The food in the dining cart exceeded my expectations. I just assumed they would only offer cold sandwiches or salads. These items are available for purchase, but they actually also served hot food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. They'll come to your seat and ask if you'd like to be seated in the dining cart for a meal, and call your party when a table is available. We opted for breakfast and dinner and skipped lunch.
We enjoyed the view while waiting for our food.
Country Starter - 2 flakey biscuits in sausage gravy, reindeer sausage
It's confirmed. I do like reindeer.
Breakfast Burrito - scrambled eggs, breakfast potatoes, shredded cheese with reindeer sausage
Bowl & Cup of Chowder
I can't tell the difference in size. I might as well have ordered the cup size and saved $3.
Slow Braised Pot Roast w/ garlic mashed potatoes, green beans, red wine demi, dinner roll
This was on the pricey side. While the pot roast was tasty, everything else was so so and the green beans were sad, but what can you do?
Anchorage was fun. Glacier View was great. Even this 11.5 hour train ride was awesome. I was expecting to get sick of sitting for so long, but the seats are far enough apart that you can stand up anytime you like. I took a ton of videos of the scenery. With such amazing views, I barely even got bored. In fact, I was too fascinated by the changing landscapes to even take a nap. It's not just boring, white snow!