Strike it rich

Alaska’s old gold boom towns are teem­ing with his­tory

Life & Style Weekend - - TRAVEL - with Ann Rickard Ann Rickard was a guest on board Nieuw Am­s­ter­dam.

JUNEAU, Sk­ag­way, Ketchikan. Just three ex­hil­a­rat­ing ports of call on our cruise on board Nieuw Am­s­ter­dam through Alaska’s In­side Pas­sage. Our ship docked right in the heart of town, sim­ple to dis­em­bark quickly and ex­plore on foot.

Each town trans­ported us back to an era when men wres­tled bears (in our fren­zied imag­i­na­tion) and crowded into raunchy sa­loons and bawdy broth­els to spend money earned from gold found on the crowded fields.

The raw beauty of th­ese towns with their rain­for­est moun­tain­sides, serene wa­ter­ways and beau­ti­ful lakes played back­drop to an undis­cov­ered world to us, some­thing straight out of a boy’s ad­ven­ture book.

In Juneau we stepped into the past through the swing­ing doors of the Red Dog Sa­loon, where saw­dust on the floor, moose heads on the walls and the raspy voice of the old-timer on the pi­ano brought to vivid life the hey­day of the town’s glo­ri­ous min­ing era.

Then the Mt Roberts Tramway whisked us up 550 me­tres to the name­sake moun­tain where we had a raven’s-eye view of Alaska’s cap­i­tal and in a small theatre watched an in­for­ma­tive movie of the indige­nous Tlin­gits. Out­side we saw our first (and last) bald ea­gle. She had been in­jured and res­cued and now sat in a spa­cious cage/house with a bro­ken wing and a haughty de­meanour. And why not? The bald ea­gle’s wing­span can reach up to 230 cen­time­tres.

In Sk­ag­way, the boom town gate­way to the Klondike gold­fields in its hal­cyon days, it wasn’t dif­fi­cult to imag­ine the town packed with 20,000 fever­ish gold seek­ers. The his­toric build­ings have been pro­tected and now most of them are home to jew­ellery stores of glit­ter­ing temp­ta­tion. And salmon. Salmon is king ev­ery­where in Alaska; stores sell it in mul­ti­ple forms: fresh, dried, in jars and cans, made into dips and spreads.

In Ketchikan, a place that sprung to life in 1887 when a salmon can­nery was built at the mouth of Ketchikan Creek, we strolled the Creek Street His­toric District.

This, Alaska’s once most no­to­ri­ous red-light district (1902 to 1954), is now a me­an­der­ing board­walk on stilts above Ketchikan Creek. The old houses of ill-re­pute are now home to po­lite gift shops, al­though Dolly’s House, where the in­fa­mous Madam

Dolly lived and worked from 1919 to 1970, is now a mu­seum. (A tip is asked for if you stand out­side for a photo. We didn’t.)

Back on board Nieuw Am­s­ter­dam af­ter each port visit, it was straight to the pool where the re­tractable roof meant it was like be­ing in the trop­ics rather than Alaska.

There was so much each day on board and, for­tu­nately, the cou­ple of sea days on this seven-day cruise pro­vided time for art auc­tions, in­for­ma­tive talks, high teas, wine tast­ings and in the evenings ex­trav­a­gant smor­gas­bords at the Lido Mar­ket, or multi-course din­ners in one of three spe­cialty restau­rants.

On one dizzy evening, world-renowned master mixol­o­gist Dale DeGroff (from New York) shared his ex­per­tise and creations dur­ing a mixol­ogy class. Un­der his skilled hand, he gave new mean­ing and flavour to whiskey.

All in all, it was a marvel­lous seven days.

PHO­TOS: CON­TRIB­UTED

A view of the boat har­bour and ma­rina in Ketchikan, Alaska. BE­LOW RIGHT: Ketchikan’s his­toric Creek Street His­toric Dis­trict, for­merly a red-light area and home of the fa­mous Madam Dolly, now a pop­u­lar tourist shop­ping destinatio­n, es­pe­cially for...

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