Thursday, July 17, 2008

Call of the Wild - July 3 - Fairbanks

Note: the story begins here:

The flight from Fairbanks to Seattle went smoothly. We arrived early to leave some time to check in the shotgun, which turned out to be a wise thing to do. The lines were thinner than were expected on the day before the long weekend.

We were told that the rules had changed, and we’d have to pay $50 for every piece of luggage beyond one per person. We had nine bags for 5 people, which would have made it an extra $600 for our trip. After arguing that we’d bought the tickets before the change was introduced, they agreed to drop the charges.

The flight was unadventurous, except that the plane sat on the tarmac for an extra 30 minutes before take-off. 3 hours later we were in Fairbanks, and rented the car - a full-size Ford 500 which, surprisingly, was able to accommodate all 5 of us with our 9 pieces of luggage and various backpacks.

The lady at the counter asked if we had made the reservation a long time ago, and on getting a confirmation said “Smart. The prices are much higher now…” – which surprised me because the airport was not very busy – it did look like many people were staying at home for their vacation.

The hotel in Fairbanks was Captain Bartlett Inn, a couple of miles away from the airport. Fairbanks is a very small town, and most of it lies between 1 and 4 miles from the airport, which makes our hotel “downtown”.

The hotel’s interior is somewhat old and dark inside – my daughter remarked that this was the first hotel where she had seen mechanical door locks in a long, long time. Which was true – the last one I think was the hotel in Florence, on our tour of Italy in 1998 – a full 10 years ago. But for a nights stay between flying in and renting an RV, it was more than adequate. The check-in counter had a large stationary calculator which looked like it was made in 1980s.

When I was signing the paperwork, I caught a glimpse of the charge sheet. We reserved the hotel through Expedia, paying the “Expedia special price” of $149/night, plus taxes. It looks like hotel has gotten $118 of that.

By the way, I do not recommend using any of the travel sites (or the internet, for that matter) – to reserve hotels in Alaska – this was the mistake I’ve made for our first night. There were very few options available through Expedia, and even fewer through Orbitz. While we were driving around Fairbanks, we ran into a bunch of hotels and motels that looked inexpensive and were not listed in any of the online booking service.

When making plans for a hotel in Alaska consult the Milepost ( – the best travel guide for Alaska I’ve ever seen. Milepost includes a bunch of ads from local businesses that are too small to advertise nationally, as well as mile-by-mile logs of Alaskan highways, including Dalton.

But back to business. After dumping the luggage, we ran around town trying to get something to eat. Being 10pm on 3rd of July, most of the restaurants were closed, so we went into local Safeway and bought some ready-made food.

Food is expensive in Fairbanks – everything is $1-$2 more than in Seattle – which works out to be 20%-30% premium. Even salmon products – quintessential Alaskan food since the miners fed dried salmon to dogs during the Gold Rush – are way more expensive than in Seattle. We were glad that we carried a lot of food – dried fruit and freeze-dried meals – with us!

In the evening Fairbanks looked like a small, quiet town that is not doing terribly well economically. Many properties are boarded up – a testament to hard times and the collapse of the real estate market. Right across the road from Captain Bartlett’s Inn there was a huge boarded-up apartment complex.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Those shady buildings across from the hotel used to be military barracks and are now make up one of the crummiest apartment complexes in town. I used to catch the city bus from the stop right near there. You should see what it is like there in the winter. It is an extremely depressing place to live.

By the way, the BBeB proxy server is pure genius.