Alaska – Midnight Sun

Each week, the Sip Advisor will alphabetically travel the United States, discovering the best each state has to offer in a variety of subjects. The Last Frontier… the Land of the Midnight Sun… whatever you want to call it, Alaska is where we venture to today, so let’s enjoy the setting before it gets dark:

Slogan: North to the Future – Is that better or worse than going Back to the Future?

Food: Alaskan King Crab is a delicacy found through fishing in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. These crabs are the most expensive and highly sought of all crab species, but are also difficult to catch. The industry has been highlighted by hit reality series Deadliest Catch, which has been airing since 2005.

Drink: The Alaskan Brewing Company was founded in 1986, in Juneau. Beers from Alaskan are available across half the country’s states. Visitors can tour the brewery, where 20 beers are on tap each day and a selection of merchandise is also available.

alaska

Site to See: Alaska is all about natural beauty, from its National Parks (Denali, Glacier Bay, Kenai Fjords) to Glaciers (Mendenhall, Matanuska, Portage). You can also view the Northern Lights/Aurora Borealis during most of the year.

Street: Ketchikan’s Creek Street is the former red light district of the city. Built on wooden stilts, a number of brothels set up shop here between 1903 and 1954, when they were forced out of the city center and until they were outlawed for good. The nearby Married Man’s Trail was used by customers escaping the brothels when raids occurred. Apparently, it presents a nice hike these days.

TV Show: Northern Exposure was a comedy-drama series, which sees New Yorker Joel Fleischman sent to the fictional town of Cicely to work as a doctor and pay back the student loan for med school that Alaska funded for him. While in Cicely, Joel interacts with the eclectic townsfolk, while adjusting to his new setting. The show lasted six seasons and 110 episodes, winning the 1992 Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series. A number of reality shows are also filmed in Alaska, including the previously mentioned Deadliest Catch, along with other popular series, such as Gold Rush and Ice Road Truckers.

Movie: While I remember enjoying the 2002 mystery thriller Insomnia (starring Al Pacino, Robin Williams and Hilary Swank), I have to choose Sandra Bullock-Ryan Reynolds led The Proposal for this category, almost entirely based on the scene where Bullock is running around naked, looking for a towel. Cinema at its finest, my little sippers!

Northern Exposure.jpg

Book/Author: Gentle Ben by Walt Morey, tells the tale of a lonely boy who befriends a brown bear. Morey based the story on his own experiences in Alaska and based characters from the book on real-life Alaskans. Gentle Ben has since been featured in movies and TV series.

Fictional Character: Chilly Willy, the cute little penguin from The Woody Woodpecker Show, hails from Fairbanks. Upon debuting, Chilly Willy became the second most popular Lantz/Universal cartoon character after Woody Woodpecker.

Fictional City: Since we’ve already highlighted Cicely from Northern Exposure, we’ll devote some space to the town of Mystery, from the movie Mystery, Alaska, which sees an amateur hockey team battle the NHL’s New York Rangers in an exhibition match. The film has quite the cast, including starring roles for Russell Crowe, Burt Reynolds and Hank Azaria, as well as a cameo by Mike Myers, playing a commentator similar to the controversial Don Cherry of Hockey Night in Canada fame.

Actor/Actress: While not recognizable by name, Irene Bedard has a very familiar look and sound. She voiced Pocahontas for the Disney film of the same name and its sequel and was also used as a model for the character’s design. The actress was born in Anchorage and was named one of People Magazine’s ’50 Most Beautiful People’ in 1995.

Gentle Ben

Song: North to Alaska by Johnny Horton was featured in the opening credits of the 1960 John Wayne film of the same name, setting up the story to the point where the movie takes over. The song topped the Billboard Country Singles chart, but sadly, Horton never got to reap the success of the track, dying in a car accident one week before the film was released.

Band/Musician: Jewel, famous for her songs “Who Will Save Your Soul”, “You Were Meant for Me” and “Foolish Games”, moved to Alaska shortly after her birth, being raised in Homer. The talented singer-songwriter has also dabbled in acting, with cameos as herself in a number of projects.

People: Sarah Palin was the first female governor of Alaska and later became John McCain’s vice-president candidate for the 2008 U.S. election. Palin’s run brought on a Saturday Night Live impersonation, as well as an adult industry doppelganger (or would that be a doppel-banger). The Palins are practically Alaska’s first family, with husband Todd being a champion snow mobile racer and daughter Bristol gaining attention as a reality TV figure.

Animal: Siberian Huskies, Balto and Togo, led a serum run in 1925, to deliver the supplies from Anchorage to Nome, amidst a diphtheria epidemic. Known as the Great Race of Mercy, both dogs have had their stories turned into movies, with Balto getting the honour in 1995 and Togo at the end of 2019.

Balto

Invention: The Sip Advisor is a big-time consumer of ranch dressing, so thanks should be heaped upon Steve Henson, who created the sauce while living in the Alaskan bush as a plumbing contractor. He and wife, Gayle, later moved to California and owned and operated the Hidden Valley Ranch, selling the dressing to customers in products they could take home.

Crime: As the Last Frontier moved from lawlessness to a place of rules and enforcement, a famous shootout occurred on the Juneau Wharf in 1898, between conman and gang leader Jefferson “Soapy” Smith and vigilante Frank Reid. The gunfight resulted from growing tensions between Smith and his associates and the Citizens Committee, a group looking to restore order in Juneau. Both men died in the altercation, with Soapy Smith being the one who is celebrated each year on July 8.

Law: It is legal to shoot a bear, but illegal to shoot them in a way that doesn’t harm them, as waking a sleeping bear to take a photograph of it is against the law.

Sports Team: There are no professional sports teams in Alaska, but the state is famous for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, known as “the last great race on Earth”. The Iditarod was first run in 1973, with the 938-mile trek typically taking place during blizzards and sub-zero temperatures. The quickest completion of the route was eight days, three hours and 40 minutes (set in 2017), while it took original competitors more than 20 days to finish. One of many reasons why dog mushing is Alaska’s State Sport.

flat tire

Athlete: Major League Baseball pitcher Curt Schilling was born in Anchorage. The four-time World Series champion (with three different teams) is perhaps best remembered for his gutsy performance during the Boston Red Sox run to the title in 2004, where he had to have tendons in his right ankle stabilized for each performance, resulting in a visibly bloody sock. One of those socks now sits in the Baseball Hall of Fame, despite Schilling not being elected into Cooperstown as of yet.

Famous Home: Dolly’s House, located on the infamous Creek Street, allows visitors to see how Alaska’s best known prostitute lived and operated her business. Dolly Arthur came to Ketchikan in 1919 and remained at her home long after the brothels were banned, passing away in 1975, at the age of 87.

Urban Legend: Since 1988, it’s estimated that more than 16,000 people have disappeared in an area known as the Alaska Triangle. The region, which consists of a sizeable chunk of the state, is comprised of mostly unexplored land, from forests to mountain ranges to frozen tundras. Usual suspects, such as Bigfoot and UFOs have received their fair share of blame for the disappearances, along with a creature known as Otterman (half man, half otter, all cute). The Triangle first gained notoriety in 1972, when two politicians (one the House Majority Leader at the time) an aide and their pilot vanished into thin air over the zone.

Museum: The Saloons that dot the Alaskan map, such as the Red Onion in Skagway and Red Dog in Juneau, are home to interactive and educational experiences, while patrons are also able to enjoy a drink and bite to eat. The Red Onion offers brothel and walking city tours, while the Red Dog displays Wyatt Earp’s gun, among other memorabilia.

Dolly's House

Firsts: Completed in 1942, the Alaska-Canada Military Highway was the first stable link between Alaska and the rest of the U.S. The highway stretched all the way to Great Falls, Montana.

Company: Ironically, Alaska Air is not based in the state, but Santa Claus House is. The retail store, located in North Pole, was first a trading post and post office, before becoming a gift shop. The store, whose slogan is “Where it’s Christmas Every Day!”, is also home to the world’s largest Santa statue and receives thousands of letters each year, addressed to the jolly gift giver.

Events: In 1867, the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million in gold (approximately two cents per acre). Americans called the deal, negotiated by Secretary of State William Seward, “Seward’s folly”. Five years later, gold was discovered in Sitka, with other locations to follow. In 1959, Alaska became the 49th state of the union and nearly 10 years later, oil was discovered. That’s quite the return on your investment!

Miscellaneous: Alaska’s State Flag was designed by 13-year-old Benny Benson, in 1927. His submission for a contest open to kids in grades seven to 12, featuring the Big Dipper and North Star in gold on a blue background, was selected from 142 contenders.

Midnight Sun

Midnight Sun.jpg

  • Muddle Strawberries and Basil
  • 2 oz Vodka
  • Splash of Lemon Juice
  • Dash of Egg Whites
  • Garnish with a Strawberry

There are many variations of the Midnight Sun cocktail. I went with a recipe I found from the Alaskan Spirits distillery in Anchorage, making one change by muddling the basil, rather than making a basil-infused simple syrup. To be honest, I didn’t love this drink, but probably didn’t make it as well as Alaskan Spirits would.

Iceland – Northern Lights

Around the Loop

Iceland is a fascinating place, full of so many interesting facts, sites, and experiences. If you visit the country, the best way to get around may be to travel the famous Ring Road. Here are some items of note about highway and a listing of some of the things you can see and do along the trek to get the full Icelandic experience:

Known as Route 1, this road circles the entire island of Iceland. Stretching 828 miles long, it was only completed in 1974, coincidentally while celebrations for the 1100th anniversary of the country’s settlement were ongoing. Most of the road is paved, but much like other parts of the country, there are stretches that are not. A number of bridges and tunnels link the route and the max speeds are 90 km/h on the paved sections and 80 km/h on the gravel portions.

icelanders_driving

If you’re expecting tons of ice (to live your fantasy of being an Ice Road Trucker), you will likely be disappointed. As the old joke goes, Iceland is green, while Greenland is ice. When Erik the Red set up shop in Greenland and colonized the island, he chose to call it something more appealing, hoping it would cause others to be more likely to settle there, as well.

With a couple drivers, you could take advantage of the near 24-hours a day of sunlight available during the summer months. That said, if travelling during the winter, you might get to enjoy the Northern Lights (not just the name of today’s cocktail and a wrestling suplex), more scientifically known as the Aurora Borealis. In winter, there is only four to five hours of sunlight and one portion of the Ring Road is closed, forcing drivers to take a detour along the coast.

Some parts of the road may wind in odd ways due to construction being done so as to not upset the elves of Icelandic folklore. Huldufólk, as they’re called, have been blamed for bulldozers malfunctioning when working in rock-filled areas, said to be inhabited by elves. The whole concept has created jobs for those claiming to have special powers in negotiating with elves. Sticking with the Huldufólk, you may often see doors painted on rocks or tiny churches, all meant for elves to live comfortably.

Elf in Iceland

Parts of the popular HBO series Game of Thrones have been filmed in Iceland, namely the scenes set at or past the ice wall, guarded by the Night’s Watch, that keeps the wildlings and white walkers from entering the Seven Kingdoms. There is a five day tour that specializes in bringing fans of the show to these areas and allows them to live out their fantasies of snuggling up with Jon Snow.

On your journey, you may not come across many people. Two-thirds of the approximately 320,000 population living in Iceland, call the capital city Reykjavik home. If you travel to Iceland, you will enter in and out of Reykjavik, the world’s northernmost capital. You will more likely see vehicles, as the country has one of the highest per capita rates of car ownership across the globe. There is one car for every 1.5 people, necessary because there are no rail lines for transport.

When in search of eats along the Ring Road, you may not find traditional comforts. There are no, I repeat NO McDonalds in Iceland, with the last of three restaurants getting out of Dodge in 2009. Hopefully you’re not a picky eater, as your options may include whale, puffin, harkarl (fermented shark), and skyr (yogurt-like substance). Also, be reminded that things are incredibly expensive in Iceland: Mrs. Sip and I spent $50 on two beers and a small pizza.

mcdonalds-one job

Iceland is home to the youngest place on earth. Surtsey Island only appeared from the ocean in 1963, following volcanic eruptions. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Speaking of volcanos, Iceland is one of the most geologically active spots in the world, thanks to 130 volcanoes (although only 40 have erupted in the last 1,000 years), continental plate action, and almost daily mini-earthquakes.

As you travel along, you may want to blast some Björk tunes and if you happen to get pulled over by the fuzz, just remember that they are not allowed to carry guns and will only have a club and pepper spray with them. When stopping for a meal, make sure to enjoy an expensive beer and toast the fact the ban on brews was only lifted in 1989 (March 1 is Beer Day, celebrated across Iceland). You should note that strip clubs have been banned since 2010, so don’t expect to see any Icelandic skin!

Other attractions you may come across in your travels: glaciers, three of Iceland’s five are the largest in Europe; Icelandic horses, 80,000 of which roam the land and are so unique that other horses are banned from Iceland and once a horse leaves, it is not allowed to return; and geysers; Iceland invented the word when their Great Geysir was discovered in 1294.

Iceland: Northern Lights

Northern Lights Cocktail

  • 1 oz Brennivin
  • 0.5 oz Amaretto
  • Top with Grapefruit Soda
  • Garnish with an Orange Slice

In closing, I must point out that D2: The Mighty Ducks featured everyone’s favourite hockey squad, as Team USA, battling an evil and favoured Iceland unit. All this, despite not one single hockey star having ever come from the nation and the country playing their first international game ever five years after the movie’s release. What do you expect from a film that also included Trinidad and Tobago as a top hockey power!

Sip Advisor Bar Notes (3.5 Sips out of 5):
Brennivin is described as an unsweetened schnapps and is quite similar to Akvavit. This drink was pretty good, with the strong tastes of the Brennivin and Grapefruit Soda subdued by the always pleasant Amaretto.