Billing itself as Alaska’s First City (since it’s the first port of call once you cross the border from Canada), tourism is the lifeblood of this region. We found the locals friendly and welcoming even on a cold damp August day.
We hadn’t realised that this part of Alaska has a coastal maritime climate and actually doesn’t get as cold as one would expect at this latitude though it does rain a lot! Apparently it has a similar feel to Scottish towns such as Aberdeen and Inverness or Stavanger in Norway (you can read up here for more information).
The abundant greenery is part of a temperate rainforest zone and although it does snow in winter we were told that temperatures don’t generally drop too far below freezing and the snow usually melts quite quickly. The area is also connected to Canada by roads though I should imagine it is a tough route to follow and most tourists come in by boat. I did find some information on the road system in the south eastern part of Alaska here.
We hadn’t pre-booked any of the tours available via our cruise liner Holland America and preferred to explore at our leisure. Our cruise was the second last of the 2018 season, which starts up in May, so all the shops were offering bargains aplenty. The salmon industry is a vital part of Ketchikan’s raison d’être and the market and shops greeted us with advertising signs.
We had a good look round the myriad of salmon options on offer and tried a few samples of the various varieties, which were delicious. Most shops will ship goods all round the world. You do have to be firm to avoid bulk buying huge amounts of salmon especially as we can get a good variety here in Australia including frozen Canadian sockeye.
We decided to head round town on one of the local buses, which we discovered took exactly the same route as the flashier and more expensive tourist ones. Our driver was helpful and pointed out sights such as Dolly’s House on Creek Street once a bordello back in the day!
We loved the brightly painted timber houses that stood out in the gloom!
The Native Tlingit peoples used the area as a summer fishing camp and the town is well known for its collection of totem poles that are of great cultural significance. You can see some of them at the Totem Heritage Centre, which has a large display of 19th century totem poles rescued from abandoned villages in the area. We didn’t go round the museum but saw many other colourful and interesting examples round the town.
Not surprisingly we soon felt the need to warm up and get out of the drizzle. The harbour front is dotted with small restaurants, cafes and bars and the “Crab Cracker Seafood Bar” caught our eye. Toasty and warm inside the cosy cafe, we enjoyed hearty bowls of their delicious clam chowder and crab bisque – a welcome antidote to the damp outside!
Fortified and insulated against the chill, we explored the deep water harbour and then headed to the local mall. Not unexpectedly it was packed with souvenir shops selling clothes suitable for an Alaskan climate, artwork, Christmas ornaments and other artefacts. I also made friends with a few of the furry locals and we admired the giant sculpture of a whale suspended over the centre from the upper floor ceiling.
Heading back to our ship later that afternoon, we enjoyed a hearty evening dinner. Something to do with walking around in the cold seemed to make us ravenously hungry!
Later just before sunset the Noordam glided out of the harbour towards our next stop, Alaska’s capital, Juneau.
The rest of our Alaska trip will have to wait awhile as we’re heading off overseas again to see family in the Uk. We also have a few days booked based in Mainz, Germany, situated at the confluence of the rivers Rhein and Main. We’re looking forward to relaxing and exploring this beautiful region.
In the meantime wishing everyone a very happy Easter and special thoughts with the people of France following the tragic fire at Notre Dame – somewhere we’ve enjoyed visiting on several occasions.
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