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Juneau Know What I Mean?

Juneau, Alaska

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The capital of Alaska, Juneau, is one of the most inaccessible cities in the world – although it has its own network of roads in and around the city, they don’t connect to any other roads in Alaska or Canada. There is no railroad at all. If you want to get to Juneau, it’s by boat or plane: trains and automobiles are definitely out.

Cruiseship in JuneauSo it’s hardly surprising that the city has a very busy harbor – nearly everything is brought in by sea. And one of the most valuable commodities that arrives that was is tourists – Juneau is one of the most popular cruise destinations in the world. In some ways it still feels like the gold rush town it once was – there is a pioneering feel to Juneau, and its people are tough and resourceful types. They’re also very friendly towards cruise passengers, as you represent one of the major income streams of their town.

There’s plenty to see and do in and around Juneau. The Alaska State Museum, on Whittier Street, is well worth a look around. The Museum is just a short ten minute walk from the cruise ship docks – if you need directions to the Museum or any other place in the city, drop into the Marine Park Visitors’ Information Center, which you will pass as you leave the docks.

Juneau, AlaskaThe Museum’s permanent exhibitions offer a fascinating insight into Alaska’s past. Although much of the interior of the state is all but inaccessible during the winter months, the thousands and thousands of square miles of wilderness and seemingly endless, inhospitable coastlines have long been valued for their natural resources. Alaska has only officially been a state since 1967, when statehood was awarded to mark a century of US ownership of the territory. The land had been the home of native American peoples for millennia, but in the eighteenth century the Russian Empire moved into the exploit the trapping and mining potential of the country. When the Tsar’s government decided that a territory so far from Moscow was more trouble than it was worth the whole thing was sold to the US at the bargain price of $7.2 million dollars. A couple of hours in the Museum will teach you all about the history of the Russians in Alaska, as well as something about the cultures of the hardy native people.

Glacial Stream in AlaskaIf your idea of fun is a bracing walk in the fresh air rather than a stroll around a centrally-heated museum, you should head in the opposite direction when you disembark from your ship and make for the Mount Roberts Tramway. The Tramway will lift you high above Juneau city and into the beautiful alpine wilderness of Mt. Roberts, from where you can enjoy what must be some of the best views in the world open to casual cruisers and tourists. If you are of an active disposition and you have a little longer than the usual one day cruise stop-off, there are some great hiking trails up here. If, on the other hand, you simply want to enjoy the great views to Admiralty Island, Glacier Bay and the Chilkat Mountains this is a great place to do it.

If you want to learn more about the culture of the indigenous peoples, the Mt. Roberts Tramway runs a small movie theater where you can watch a short film about the way of life of the Tlingit, the regional Native American people – the Tlingit are very much still part of Alaska, as much of the local population is directly descended from the native tribes that dominated the area before Europeans started to arrive in the eighteenth century.

If all the scenery and information has caused you to work up and appetite, the Tramway company also runs an excellent high-level restaurant, the Timberline Bar and Grill, which serves hearty, warming food and a selection of fine wines and locally brewed beers. You can also browse the Mt. Roberts Tramway gift shop for souvenirs to take home for friends and family.

Juneau is located on the Alaska panhandle, a long strip of land that reaches below western Canada in the direction of the continental USA. As such, it’s often the first – or last – stop-off point on many cruise tours of the region, which tend to start and end at major ports like Vancouver and Seattle. As your cruise ship slips its moorings and glides out, away from Juneau, and into the calm, sheltered waters of the Gastineau Channel, you can reflect that you visited somewhere that has all the wildness, and all of the civilization, of Alaska in miniature.

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