Thoughts, ramblings, experiences and joys of an Alaska girl. Home is where the heart is, and my heart is firmly rooted in the Great Land of Alaska.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Trains, Planes, Tour Buses and Hanging Baskets, Oh My!

I thought that Virginia Beach was inundated with tourists. The tourism there is nothing compared to Anchorage. Tourist season has officially begun here. Every year, over a million tourists come through Anchorage. Some come through here because they have a day or two to blow between excursions elsewhere in Alaska. Some come for conventions. Some come to begin tours of Denali or the Kenai Peninsula, or train tours to Seward or Fairbanks.

I was told that I'd know when tourism season had "officially" begun when the city hung the hanging flower baskets. Day before yesterday, I was asking when they'd be hung. Yesterday morning, I came in to work and low and behold, the hanging basket fairies had done the city's bidding in the wee hours of the morning. They'd magically covered the city with over 450 baskets of yellow and blue/purple flowers. Just as I'd been told, the tour buses magically appeared, full of neck-craning tourists. Walking to my car from work yesterday, I saw four tour buses parked in front of the Captain Cook hotel. This morning on my way into work at 7:30 am, I saw two tour buses parked in front of the Egan Convention Center. Over the weekend, on the drive down to my hike of Gull Rock Trail, I saw the train to Seward running below the level of the road. Welcome tourist season!

I only moved back here in August of last year. I was born here, but left when I was very young. So, I'm still a Cheechako (newcomer, greenhorn, tenderfoot). From what I've heard, the downtown area is going to get packed with people and remain that way until the end of August. The restaurants will be full. The sidewalks will be full. I'll have to be more aware of people jaywalking across streets downtown where I work. The Seward Highway will be congested because of all the people pulling over to get the "perfect shot" of the Dahl Sheep on the mountain sides. I heard so much Russian being spoken on the streets on my walk to my car last night I almost thought I was in Moscow for a moment!

I do have to admit that I'm excited though. Even with all the irritation and congestion that tourism brings, seeing people so happy and excited to visit here makes my heart swell with pride. I live in a place that people dream their whole lives of just visiting for a week. I have the awesome opportunity to live here every day, every week, every season. I know about the hiking trails and side street coffee shops that only "locals" know about. I get to experience planting my own hanging flower baskets at 11:30 at night, feeling the breeze as it makes its way through the trees. I get to smell the fresh mountain air, see moose trot through the neighborhood in the midnight sun when the rest of the lower 48 is sleeping. I get to spend nights after work biking, hiking, walking the trails, kayaking and enjoying Alaska. I don't have to take pictures to remember the beauty when I go back home because I get to enjoy the beauty on a daily basis.

Seeing the expressions of awe and amazement on the faces of the tourists, watching them snap pictures of things that I walk by daily and take for granted, seeing them smiling and relaxed, answering thier questions on the street like "where do the locals get a good cup of coffee?", "where is the best place to get lunch?", "where is the Coastal trail?" all leave me seeing this wonderful city of mine through new eyes. It's like seeing things through the eyes of my child when she was small and everything was still so new to her.

So, yes, I'll wave at the tour buses. I'll tilt my head back and watch the small planes fly overhead, knowing they are possibly filled with enthusiastic tourists who are about to enjoy the experience of a lifetime in MY state. I'll take pictures of and enjoy all the hanging flower baskets I see. After all, I'm still a tourist in my own back yard, as long as I continue to see things that excite me and thrill me about the place I live. Welcome tourists! Welcome to Alaska. Welcome to the land where God goes on vacation from Heaven.

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