When most people think about Alaska, their first thoughts are usually snow, darkness, salmon and gold miners. However, it’s not as cold and dark as you think and Alaska has so much more to offer.
When I told my expat friends in Houston that we were moving to Alaska, their jaws dropped and their eyes just stared blankly at me. “You’re voluntarily moving from Texas to Alaska?”, they asked while shaking their heads. I must admit I didn’t know a whole lot about Alaska either, but I thought it sounded exotic and it proved to be right.
I have lived here for more than 1,5 years now, and even experienced the most snowy winter ever in Anchorage. Our neighborhood and houses look just like Houston, the only difference is that it’s not as flat, since we live in a hillside called Goldenview Park. And the name speaks for itself; we overlook the sea and far out a range of volcanoes. The scenery around Anchorage and especially the high, majestic mountains is balm on your soul.
Most Alaskans live in Anchorage, even if the capital is Juneau further south. It’s a walking city, vibrant with restaurants and bars, live jazz and blues. And it actually feels like we have the same amount of yellow taxis as they have in New York. No excuse to drive. The first Friday of every month the galleries down town serve free wine and show their art to all the people going gallery hopping. The delicious sea food is another bonus, fresh big scallops, halibut, salmon and snow crab. You really get spoiled up here!
The toughest guys in the US
People are nice and open. However, when men meet in the elevator at work, there is one unwritten rule of conversation; you do not complain about the weather! Instead, you talk about wild life, which is in the midst of us, even in a city with 300.000 inhabitants:
“Jeez. I had a moose in the garage again this morning, I had the wife take care of it ‘cause I had to go to work.”
The other guy didn’t even lift his eye brows, as this is such a common happening and doesn’t create a lot of attention.
The Texans think they are the toughest guys in the US, but it’s really the Alaskans. Grizzlies and black bears are roaming around our houses in the summer time, lynx and wolverines take over in the winter, and our children have to deal with this wild life all the time. A couple of weeks ago my daughter’s friend returned to our house after leaving for home. She said: “Heidi, can you please drive me, because there’s a huge moose lying on my front porch eating my Halloween pumpkin.” I sure did, drove her directly up to the garage door so she could slip inside.
We live a very active outdoors life up here; hiking and biking in the summer time; spending weekends at lodges fishing salmon in the spring, doing Nordic and downhill skiing and even snow machining in the winter time.
The Last Frontier, as Alaska is called, really has hot Zumba (should I mention that I do Zumba almost every day…?). One of the instructors has plans to make a movie, showing tough Alaska chicks dancing so hot that the snow melts! Unfortunately we have to put it on ice so to speak, since we’re still waiting for the snow, but do keep an eye out on YouTube!
Get on the (right) plane to Alaska!
If you’re at an airport looking for the departure gate for Anchorage in the summer time, you cannot miss it. The flights are always overbooked and filled up with guys in camouflage caps and jackets, with twinkling eyes like stars on our black arctic sky. They’re talking, waving and laughing excitedly like little boys, and I guess their childhood dreams are about to come true!
However, if you’re boarding at Seattle airport in the winter time, you’ll think you’re at the wrong plane, because most of the people there will be dressed in Hawaii shirts, flip-flops and with a string of orchids around their necks, even if the temperature in Anchorage will be minus 25° C! I met some Norwegian visitors at a party last February and they told me they panicked and tried to leave the plane! They didn’t know that Hawaii is only a 5 ½ hours flight from Anchorage, and if the direct planes are filled up, you go via Seattle and confuse the other passengers!
Oil exploration and production is the major income source to the state and this has brought numerous expats from all over the world to live in Anchorage. Alaska, as the first home to human inhabitants in all of the Americas, has a 40,000-year long history of welcoming people to its shores, and is a meeting point between West and East. Asians, Russians, Europeans and Inupiaqs (Eskimos), all with their peculiarities, surround you, so who can say Alaska is not an exotic place to live!
Alaska is really a beautiful place, with the bluest glaciers, the longest rivers and the highest mountains. A place I’ve come to love both in spite of and because of its challenges, whether climate, distance or pace related. I’m awe-struck with its power, vast spaces and nice people, still with the pioneer spirit from the gold rush years, and with its majestic nature with the brightest colors you can imagine! Never a dull moment or a bad view!
Text and photos by Heidi Nesttun Sunde, January 2013