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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 July 2018

On the move: Instantly intrigued in the unlikely state capital of Alaska

Behind the tourist-targeting touts are the remnants of a historic core

A historic part of Juneau, the Alaska state capital. Rosemary Behan
A historic part of Juneau, the Alaska state capital. Rosemary Behan

I arrived in Juneau on June 1, as my two-week small ship cruise from Seattle docked in the Alaskan capital. Disembarkation was at 8.30am, as the ship had another group of passengers eager to board. Needless to say Juneau’s remote mountain-backed location on the south-east panhandle and the fact that it’s accessible only by boat or plane makes it an intriguing place to spend a day or two, despite its waterfront being overrun by cruise-ship passengers. Behind the tourist-targeting touts are the remnants of a historic core, a scenic cable car leading to multiple trails and a spectacular icefield.

Early-retired American couple Jim and Julie, who live in West Virginia and invited me to go and visit them after we got to know each other on the trip, have like me booked a room at the Sheraton Juneau, one of the best hotels in town and just over the road from where our boat moored. Yet weirdly, despite it being a modern structure, an outpost of a global brand with rooms costing at least $200 (Dh735) a night, the hotel has no air conditioning and we arrive in a “heatwave”, Apologies are thin on the ground and my room is equipped with a plug-in fan.

Later at the front desk I meet staff member George, who is from Cairo but moved to the United States 25 years ago. George made the trip north from California with his wife for work – and loves Alaska, adding that as far as he knows, he’s the only Egyptian in this “city” of just more than 32,000 people and is happy to keep it that way.

George told me he visited Cairo in January this year for the first time since leaving and found it “shocking”. “The streets seemed much smaller and dirtier and the city centre has really been neglected,” he said. “But still the people are the same.”

After a trip to the gorgeous Mendenhall Glacier, I have lunch back on the waterfront at Deckhand Dave’s Fish Tacos. There I meet Sharul, who is from Singapore where she runs an autism centre. Also a solo traveller, like me Sharul has planned onward travel throughout Alaska, although she’s spending a few days longer in Juneau. In between comparing itineraries and booking methods – she swears by Viator “to calculate the lowest price” – we swap details and, although I’ve already been several times, urges me to “visit Singapore soon” so she can “host me”.

After a late night out with Jim and Julie, I go to check in online for my flight the next day to Anchorage. Having been the recipient of a voucher for a free flight thanks to my flight to Seattle being overbooked, I’m surprised to find that Alaska Airlines offering me $250 (Dh918) to shift to a later flight as a result of overbooking. Given that I paid just $177 (Dh650) for my one-way ticket, this would mean I could have essentially flown all the way from Dubai to Anchorage for free – in fact, I’d have made a small profit.

Yet I declined the airline’s offer, mindful of the fact that my group camping trip was departing at 7.30am the next day. I did enjoy the fact that thanks to Alaska Airlines’ partnership with Emirates, as a Skywards member I was entitled to three free pieces of checked baggage (the equivalent of almost 70kg) in economy. This massive perk was worth the price of the ticket by itself.

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Read more:

On the move: Passage to Alaska, part 2: raw nature

On the move: passage to Alaska, part 1: signals fade

A stay in the 'in-between' zone

Planning a trip to Alaska

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