Juneau: a low key capital

The first stop on my Alaskan cruise was Juneau, the capital city. While Anchorage tends to be the Alaskan city you remember the most, Juneau was a unique capital. All throughout the day, we were reminded that there are no roads leading to Juneau (due to the glaciers preventing available land to build on), so the only way in was via boat or plane. While this seemed a bit odd, it honestly grew on me-the city had a personality of its own. Downtown was where the harbor was, so all of the cruise passengers were able to observe the Last Frontier’s capital city. Unfortunately, we were part of the reason why it was touristy, as tacky gift shops lined the main streets; I did feel bad for making Juneau lose some of its tradition thanks to our tourist dollars. With that being said, once you got away from the docks, things returned to normal. On our way out to see the sights, our driver Nico pointed out the unassuming Alaskan government building as well as the governor’s mansion. Honestly, it was one of those buildings where if you blinked, you missed it. The only real tip off was that both of them were a few stories taller than the surrounding buildings, otherwise they appeared bland from the outside.

Mendenhall Glacier National Park was the main attraction of the day, and it didn’t fail to disappoint. Despite it raining when we arrived, our view of the glaciers was unimpeded, and what a sight it was! The backdrop to the visitor center were the glaciers, and it honestly looked too pretty to be real. Sandwiched between the mountains, the glaciers shone like a pearl. The only thing that could have made it better was the ability to hike them, like the ones in Iceland, but alas, that wasn’t to be. Some neat little features in the tourist center was a 200 (!) year old block of ice we were allowed to touch and pictures chronicling the changes in the glaciers. After walking around for a few minutes, the rain stopped, enabling us to hike the paths adjacent to it. Since there was no guarantee my mom and I would have enough time to make it back to the bus, we elected for the shorter, 3/4 mile-long path. One of the themes of this trip was being immersed in nature, and the hike was no exception. If we had more time to spare, I would have loved to meditate in the path.

As part of our on-shore excursion, our tour stopped by the Juneau Rainforest Garden, run by Jeff and Jane Svinicki. Despite it being pretty small (you could walk through it in its entirety in roughly 20 minutes), it was fantastic seeing all the plants and communing with nature. The fact that the couple lovingly plant and care for the garden made it even more impressive. As a bonus, we got to witness salmon spawning in the little creek! Capping off the great little trip were the muffins and tea Jeff and Jane provided us.

Capping the day off was a trip up to Mount Roberts. Thankfully, the tram station was right smack dab in the harbor, and our tour guide provided us with free tickets. As I mentioned earlier, it was a rainy/overcast day, so when we were going up in the rickety tram, halfway up the visibility was obscured by clouds; nothing says adventure like a few minutes where you can’t see out of a tram, right? Fortunately that was the only drama we encountered, both on the way up and down. However, I will note that when we were stepping off, the ground wasn’t all that stable, and the tram itself was dangling a wee bit precariously over the edge. Greeting us once we were in the shops at the top was a work in progress totem pole! While it was covered, one lady, presumably in charge, happily showed us the work, and it was fantastic. Seeing finished totem poles is one thing, but seeing all the cuts to form it is something else! After perusing the gift shops, we moved on to hiking the trail up Mt. Roberts. Before we even set foot in Juneau, I was not expecting to be able to hike the mountain, so the physical exertion was slightly spontaneous. Despite that, being able to see Juneau and beyond was an absolutely gorgeous sight to behold. While I wimped out and didn’t go all the way, it was an experience I will never forget!

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