Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Last week I was fortunate to have the opportunity to travel to one of the most remote parts of the United States, the great frontier of Alaska.  I spent a couple of days in the near-Arctic coastal town of Nome and then another two days in the bustling city of Anchorage for work, getting a small taste of this far-away mega state in the process (see map below).

Welcome to Nome

One of the reasons for my trip up to Alaska was to attend an event that the National Park Service was hosting - a cultural celebration of Beringia, which is the region around the Bering Strait that includes both the United States and Russia. While you cannot, in fact, see Russia from the shores of Alaska, I did learn about the close historical and cultural ties between the people on both sides of the icy, rough waters that separate us from our Russian neighbors. I also got to experience a town most people have only heard about in reference to the early 20th century gold rush or the Iditarod dog sled races. Things I also learned about Nome while I was there include:

  • Nome was once the most populous town in Alaska, with estimates ranging up to 20,000 at the height of the gold rush.
  • Wyatt Earp once owned the most successful saloon/casino in Nome, earning a good living during his post-Tombstone retirement years.
  • Total gold production for the Nome district has been at least 3.6 million ounces

Besides the standard meeting, greeting, and discussing of the issues that I was sent to Alaska to discuss, I also was able to learn about the Inupiat communities in Alaska and Russia, and to see first hand the similarities between them, through their dances, language, and food cultures. 

Unfortunately my busy days of meetings and some misty, rainy weather didn't allow for much time outside of the "mini-conference center" (that is honestly what it was called).  On our last afternoon we did go out looking for musk ox, which had been reported to be close to Nome.  Apparently Nome is one of the few places in Alaska where you can find musk oxen close to a village. But, as would be the pattern for all of our attempts at seeing the wild, we were not successful in our hunt for musk ox. However, seeing the fall colors on the tundra is amazing, and the last blueberries and crowberries were ripe and plenty.

Tundra berries!

Fall on the tundra
After our three days in Nome, I moved on to Anchorage for two days of solid meetings. I stayed at the historic Captain Cook Hotel, which seemed like the kind of establishment from which many an adventure had begun.  Once again, we were told to look out for local wildlife, this time moose, but once again a thorough search came up empty.  All failed animal sightings aside, the trip was amazingly productive, busy, and enjoyable.  Alaska is truly a unique, vast, diverse, and wild place that is a special part of the United States.  But next time I'm going to have to hire someone to find me a bear, moose, or musk ox.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

New York

Prior to this past weekend I had only been to New York city one time, nearly two years ago for Thanksgiving. Being that it was my first trip to NYC, the trip leaned heavily on the main attractions. Our first goal was to catch part of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, so my traveling companion and I left DC very early in the morning and found ourselves dropped off in the middle of Manhatten craziness, blocks from the parade route. We spent the three days immersing ourselves in the most authentic of NYC tourist experiences: Santa at Macy's, the Staten Island Ferry, Wall Street, Times Square, Central Park, the Brooklyn Bridge, pizza and deli sandwiches. It was a great weekend and a wonderful way to first experience New York.

This past weekend was a much different, but no less amazing, NYC experience. I didn't do any of the things that I did on my first trip to New York, yet my experience was no more or no less authentic. The city is like that, all of the big tourist spots are important to the fabric of the city, but there is so much more, so no matter what you end up doing, you are experiencing the place. This time I had the benefit of a Brooklyn native friend as a tour guide and a brownstone in Park Slope as a resting place (complete with home-cooked meals and shopping tips). One thing that is new to both tourists and locals alike is The Highline, an amazing urban park and example of excellent urban planning. Suspended above the city streets on an old rail line, you can stroll for miles along the lower West side, eating popsicles and people watching.

At the end of the Highline we landed at Chelsea market, where we sampled a lovely WA state oyster to fuel our afternoon stroll through lower Manhattan. From there we wandered through the Union Square farmers market, sampling various homemade ice-teas and other local products. Our ultimate destination was Pomme Frites, a Belgian fry mecca with dozens of delicious dipping sauces, but on the way we took a detour through a fair-midway-like street event where I was introduced to the glory that is a "mozzarepa." Combine a sweet Mexican-corn arepa with Italian mozzarella and you have a mozzarepa - amazing. So after splitting the cheesy corn-cake snack and an order of Belgian fries over the course of about 5-6 miles, we were pretty well done with Manhattan. An evening spent drinking beer in Brooklyn and a Sunday adventure in thrift store shopping capped off a perfect NY weekend.

Everything goes in New York