My husband had two back-to-back conferences in Anchorage last week into this week so the kids and I drove up to Anchorage to spend the weekend with him. Here are a few notes about the drive and the city. I forgot my camera, which is a bummer because the mountains were gorgeous! Snow-capped peaks rose up above the clouds and took on new dimensions I didn't notice in the summer. Wish I had a picture to share.
I was impressed that I made the drive from the kids' school on East End Road to downtown Anchorage in 4 hours. I was really pushing to get there before dark, but since I wasn't sure what time "dark" was, I just pushed to get there ASAP! It was the first time I drove the entire way myself and I noticed things I don't normally notice. First of all, it is really quite an easy drive. There are no big mountains to climb, no switchbacks, etc. The worst of the drive is where the road winds along the Kenai River, the road is rough and narrow, and the speed limit is 35 mph. Besides that the speed limit is generally 55 or 65 mph, there are a decent number of passing lanes and the roads are in good shape. The most frustrating part of the drive is slow drivers. I was really impressed with how many drivers pulled off and let me and others pass if they were holding up traffic. While there is a law that makes holding up more than 5 vehicles illegal, in the summer the RV's wouldn't get anywhere because they'd always have 5 vehicles behind them so they just plug along. It was so courteous of the drivers to pull off and I resolved to do the same if/when I am in that situation. The scenery is incredible, particularly once you get into the mountains north of Soldotna and they are with you all the way up to Anchorage.
Part of the purpose of my trip was to get studded tires for our Subaru. I didn't even price them in Homer because everything in Homer is much more expensive than in Anchorage, so I don't even know if I saved any money after spending $60 in gas to get up there! Studded tires appear to be the norm here. If you've read the post about my drive to work, you'll know why I'm getting them. Six or seven days a week I'm driving the tight turns and mountains road to work. From what I hear, black ice is common because of the elevation change. I was hydroplaning in places on the drive up to Anchorage, and though it was much rainier on the way back today the car handled better. Those studs will come in handy!
We were looking forward to going shopping at the Dimond Center Mall. It is a nice, big, multi-story, modern mall, and even has an indoor ice skating rink and attached hotel. We got there when they opened at 10 on Saturday and went to get Aurora's ears pierced. Well, Aurora passed out in the earring store after getting pierced so we just weren't in the mood to shop after that. The bagel shop across the street from the mall had really yummy breakfast burritos and breakfast bagels that got us all calmed down and back to normal.
We are not big-city people, but Anchorage does not feel like a big city. It has some tall buildings (the Sheraton Doug stayed in has 15 floors), but it does not have the typical road infrastructure of a big city, nor the really bad traffic. It feels safe and comfortable (at least the places we were). I believe the population is about 250,000, which makes it smaller than some of the small cities in Michigan like Grand Rapids, and it is nothing like Detroit or Chicago, which I think of when I picture a "big city". We saw quite a few people with "homeless" signs, but they looked pretty clean-cut; again, not the type of homeless people you see in Chicago.
I saw more police this weekend on the roads than I have seen in our entire 4 months here, and they actually had stopped people which I don't think I've seen once since I've been here. There is generally an amazing lack of police on the roads. Like Doug said, there are certain corridors they patrol at certain times, and I suspect I was driving during those peak travel times this weekend.