Tuesday, June 26, 2012

No Love for Sitka??

This month, there was a buzz in my hometown of Sitka over an article in an Australian newspaper over a botched trip to Alaska.  The article, What's the Value of a Wasted Day in Alaska? tells the story of a group of Australian tourists who come to Southeast Alaska on a seven-day cruise, hoping to see the town of Skagway.  Instead, they are stuck in Sitka, on what they call "a wasted day."  After returning to Australia, they sued the travel agency that had stuck them on the cruise (although it was really their own fault for not reading the tour itinerary beforehand).  Each of the six tourists who sued were awarded $250 in damages.

I have quite a few problems with these Aussies and their argument that a day in Sitka, my beloved hometown, was "wasted."  They argued that Skagway was superior.  As the visitor guides tout, "a place where romance and excitement of yesteryear linger around every street corner...the sounds of bar-room pianos and boomtown crowds ring out into the night."  While that may have been true back in Gold Rush days, Skagway is now a town that exists to cater to summer tourists.  During the winter, it's population is miniscule. Most people who work at the saloons, gift shops, and plentiful jewelery and fur stores are from outside of Alaska, or even out of the country.  I'm sure it's a fun place to be; several of my college friends have worked for may summers in Skagway.  Pretty much every cruise ship that visits Southeast stops in Skagway since it has a deepwater port that can accomodate many ships and is the gateway to the mainland and the rest of Alaska (Denali National Park, Fairbanks, Anchorage...)  Sitka is quite different, and in my biased opinion, a better option if one wants the real Alaskan experience.

Sitka was the Capital of Russian America when they occupied Alaska, and was the site of the transfer ceremony when Russia sold Alaska to the US in 1867.  Sitka is like the Granada, Spain of Alaska; a place where different cultures melded and clashed.  While we don't have the Christians, Moors and Jewish history Granada does, historic battles over culture, religion and ownership of the land and resources between the Tlingit Natives and Russians occured throughout the town.  This has left behind a rich history to the area.  We are located on an island on the edge of the Pacific, a wonderful place for both salmon and halibut fishing.  Mt. Edgecumbe volcano looms just miles from town; hiking and kayaking is accesible and breathtaking; Russian and Tlingit dance groups perform daily; and our downtown shops are less focused on selling furs and jewelry to tourists than they are on supporting local families.  Sitka is the most pictureque town in Alaska, and there are abundant outdoor recreation opportunities.  Okay, okay, perhaps these disgruntled Australian tourists visited Sitka on a rainy day.  Yes, the weather here is not for the faint of heart or the easily depressed.  We get more rain than sun (around 90 inches and 232 precipitation days annually) and this can make the town dreary and sleepy.  I'll give those Australians the benefit of the doubt and muse that it must have been raining, since any person in their right mind who saw Sitka on a sunny day would definitely not be dissapointed.

I'll let some photos of Sitka speak for themselves. 

And now, here is a photo of Skagway.  Think any more cruise ships could fit in there??

I'll just let the photos speak for themselves.  I'm sure Skagway has its charms, but I would bet that you'd be more likely to have an authentic Alaskan experience in Sitka.  Australian tourists, feel free to come visit again.  I'll personally show you a great time in Sitka!


Toby said...

So very true! While Skagway may have its charms, it was clear when I drove through that the town and many of its employees are primarily geared towards tourism. My experience is that Sitka is a beautiful town in a picturesque setting filled with friendly Alaskans. Those Australian tourists don't know what they missed!

Robin said...

Unfortunately I think those Aussies' state of mind was such that they would not enjoy their day no matter where they were. They had built up Skagway to be such an experience that nothing could match it.

Ashley Stewart said...

Very nice photos. Sitka is best for wild life tours. You can take small ship cruise that visits Sitka.

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