~ by Maria Benner
I decided to do a guest blog post today, to tell you all about our recent trip to Sitka. I have a tradition to visit places on, or around my birthday, where I’ve never been in Alaska. Since Alaska is such a big place, and some towns are only accessible by plane, or boat, my list is long. I’ve lived in Alaska for 30 years, and had never been to Sitka, the former capital of Alaska when it “belonged” to Russia. I used quotation marks, because Alaska Natives were here first.
The news has been making a big deal about how difficult it is to travel this summer, with flight cancellations being the norm, hotels and restaurants understaffed, and a high demand for all these services from travelers who have been cooped up too long during the pandemic. Well, the news was kind of right, but we didn’t really experience inconveniences to the extent that travel experts have been warning us about. Our Alaska Airlines flights were full, and on the way back, one passenger was asked to leave the plane, because he was non-revenue, so he lost his seat to a revenue passenger. He had already flown on our flight from Sitka to Juneau, but got kicked off in Juneau, and didn’t get to fly to Anchorage as he had planned. However, all our flights were on time! I was surprised at how few passengers wore masks, considering the transmission rate is high right now. All Alaska Airlines and airport employees wore masks, and so did we. I plan to always wear a mask on an airplane.
Sitka is a cruiseship port, so for most of the day the town was busy with cruiseship passengers. Lincoln Street is the main shopping district, and also where the famous St. Michael’s Orthodox Cathedral is. All the ships leave at 5pm, so after that, the town was ours! Getting lunch was our biggest challenge. All the restaurants were full, and understaffed. We had to show up to dinner at 5:30 to get a table, and had lunch at the Asian Palace both days, because it had tables available, probably since it was off the main street. I will never forget the silky, perfectly-cooked King salmon at Beak Restaurant.
We got super lucky on the weather. Last year my birthday trip was to Cordova, and it was raining sideways from every single side. This year karma really rewarded us with beautiful blue skies. I really wanted to see the famous Mt. Edgecumbe volcano, and got to see it! On our last day the cloud ceiling appeared, and blocked the tops of the mountains and the volcano.
The trip was a dream. I definitely recommend doing research about all the must-see places in Sitka, before you go there. I ended up being the guide for our little group of three: me, my mom, and Scott. They didn’t bother learning anything ahead of time, so I was in charge of our itinerary. You don’t need a car in Sitka. There are nice public buses that will take you everywhere, but you can walk to almost every attraction. My only regret was not having time to go on a hike. Two days is plenty of time to explore the most interesting places.
Next year I plan to visit Lake Clark National Park.