Alaska

me aboard a Holland America cruise ship

me aboard a Holland America cruise ship

My mom and I took a Holland America cruise in August 2001 along Alaska’s southeastern coast. It was the most pleasant time of year to visit America’s coldest state. The views were breathtaking in the daytime. One night, we ventured out onto the dock… big mistake. It was freezing cold, terrifyingly windy (howling), and as dark as dark could be out in the middle of the pitch-black waters. We scurried back inside immediately.

 

 

 

MUST-SEE

view of Juneau from helicopter

view of Juneau from helicopter

1. Ketchikan. The salmon hatchery at Deer Mountain offers a good learning experience, since Alaska is famous for its salmon industry. The best fried fish I’ve ever had was at Halibut Hole along the dock. It was heavenly — smooth, fresh, white fish from cold waters.

 

dog sledding with a lady from our cruise

dog sledding with a lady from our cruise

2. Juneau. Go on a salmon bake, if you want to watch a cook make your Alaskan meal in the wilderness and eat it in the same rustic surroundings. Take a helicopter ride over the beautiful, snow-capped mountains, land on a glacier, and go mushing (dog sledding) — we got to experience the speed of retired Iditarod dogs, an exhilarating ride. Seeing Alaska from the air, barely above the mountain peaks, is like watching one of those nature videos that shows sweeping shots from an aircraft, but you’re actually doing it and seeing it firsthand. Breathtaking.

Sitka Pier

Sitka Pier

3. Sitka. Kayak in Wilderness Sea — what a peaceful adventure in crisp, refreshing air. The Sitka pier is picturesque, like a postcard. From there, cruise on through Disenchantment Bay, Glacier Bay, and see Hubbard Glacier. Our ship was so close to the glaciers, I had a Titanic moment; I felt like we could almost touch the glaciers.
4. Valdez. Famous for the big Exxon oil spill but also a nice place for whitewater rafting. The waters are frigid and choppy, which made for a bad combination for me, when the water splashed into my whitewater rafting “warm” suit and ran down my back. Brrr…

Disenchantment Bay

Disenchantment Bay

5. Anchorage. Visit the Alaska Zoo, where you can see animals that roam the Alaskan wilderness, like bears. Of course, you can pay a lot more money for shore excursions that take you on bear-watching expeditions but don’t guarantee you’ll see any bears. From our cruise ship, we did see whales in the waters around us.

Boston

Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor

Boston

Boston

Boston was the site of the 2009 Asian American Journalists Association Convention, so I was there in August with my husband and mom in tow for some sightseeing as well. We stayed at the waterfront Seaport Hotel at the World Trade Center, where the convention was held.

History all around you
The neat thing that sets Boston apart from most other American cities is the sheer amount of history you can see and touch all around you. So many significant events happened there that shaped this country. So that’s the positive side of an old city. The negative side is that many building facades are worn and ugly, and the subways are creepy and depressing. But overall, the greater Boston area was quite charming and scenic.

Boston Harbor near downtown

Boston Harbor near downtown

Seafood
I was unimpressed by the seafood I ate, even though it was at popular joints recommended by locals. It’s no better than fresh seafood I’ve had elsewhere, including my hometown of Houston, which sits near the Gulf Coast. Alaska’s fish is still the best I’ve ever had.

Chinatown
Boston’s Chinatown is similar to Chicago’s in that it’s old and it’s a walking Chinatown. Several blocks shoot off the main street, and you can walk the sidewalks to get to restaurants, bakeries, and other stores. Residential units sit above the ground-floor storefronts. It’s unlike Houston’s or Los Angeles’ more modern, sprawling Chinatowns that are best traveled by car to each shopping center. Like other Chinatowns, Boston’s boasts good food at dirt-cheap prices. An 80-cent slice of cake, anyone? You’ll find it at Great Taste Bakery & Restaurant. We also ate at Gourmet Dumpling House — a popular, crowded eatery open late at night.

Boston Common

Boston Common

MUST-SEES

Freedom Trail

Freedom Trail

1. Freedom Trail. The Freedom Trail encompasses most of Boston’s famous historic sites. Boston Common is believed to be America’s first public park, and it’s a scenic one. From there, you can cross the street to see the Massachusetts State House with a gold dome (made of real gold). Then you pass historic churches and meeting houses along the trail, which is delineated by a continuous thin strip of red brick on the ground. It’s especially chilling to go past the site of the Boston Massacre. On a more positive note, Faneuil Hall Marketplace is a fun shopping and dining complex, which includes Quincy Market. But again, like almost everything else in Boston, it’s got that old-world charm. Freedom Trail wraps up with the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”), Charlestown Navy Yard, and Bunker Hill Monument.
2. Harvard University & Harvard Square in Cambridge. People definitely look intelligent on the campus of America’s top-ranked Ivy League school, Harvard. The campus itself looks as old as it is. Minus the passed-out drunks on outdoor benches, Harvard Square is a delightful nearby shopping district of cafes and boutiques. I had the best salmon sandwich at Crema Cafe.

Harvard Square

Harvard Square

3. MIT. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It looked like one: very institutional and geeky. (I can say that because I went to a brainy university myself, but Rice has beautiful Mediterranean architecture. MIT looks like the rest of Boston: old and a little depressing. Sorry, I like contemporary style!)
4. Boston Harbor. Waterfront dining and shopping opportunities are abundant, as well as just places to sit and enjoy the view of sailboats on the famed Boston Harbor.
5. Beacon Hill. A charming, wealthy neighborhood where gaslights line the street and stay lit all day and night, Beacon Hill has been home to famous figures both historical and current. Even the 7-Eleven is classy.
6. Newbury Street, Back Bay, Copley Place, The Shops at Prudential Center. All are a shopper’s heaven. Newbury Street is like the Rodeo Drive of Boston. Filene’s Basement, which is famous for its annual Running of the Brides, during which brides-to-be rush into the store to grab deeply discounted bridal gowns, is a bargain-hunter’s paradise for everyday items you’d find in a department store. Back Bay and Copley Place are also nice shopping destinations not far from Newbury Street. And Prudential Center is an office building with a floor of department stores, restaurants, shops, and a food court — just like a mall.

Boston Harbor

Boston Harbor

We took the Boston Duck Tours to see most of the main attractions. The tour guide took us around the Boston area in a World War II amphibious landing vehicle that starts on land, then drives into the Charles River and functions much like a boat for us to see the city from the water.

Boston Duck Tour in Charles River

Boston Duck Tour in Charles River