Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Happy Holidays!


(Ivar's Clam Lights at Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton)

Dear Readers,

Have a wonderful holiday season! See you in 2011 (I'll be in Los Angeles from January 6-10, so I'll have a post for you then)!

Thanks to all of you who have visited this blog, read my ramblings, and left comments. I do this because I love to chronicle my travels, and I'm so glad others enjoy reading about them too. Here's hoping for more adventures in the coming year!

Cheers,
Karyn

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Brief Visit to Kitsap County

Poulsbo

It's been one of those rare late autumn weekends with mild and dry weather and the occasional appearance of the sun. We planned to go to Kitsap County yesterday, particularly to explore "Little Norway" - Poulsbo - of all places, because my Minnesota-born husband grew up on lefse and figured that would be a good place to get some. So that was as good an excuse as any!

But it wasn't meant to be. He was asked to work yesterday, so we postponed our trip for today.

Originally, we were going to take the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, but at the last minute, we decided to just drive there instead. It's only about an hour and 15 minute drive. By the time we drove to downtown Seattle, waited in line at the ferry terminal, and took the 35 minute ferry to Bainbridge Island and then drove to Poulsbo from there, it wouldn't really be any faster anyway. I liked the drive, especially as it took us past Bremerton and the sight of all the Navy ships lined up in the bay.

We arrived in Poulsbo around 9:45 this morning. Evidently, we came on the wrong day. Poulsbo was sleepy, and even after 10 AM, it didn't wake up too much. We were able to check out a few shops that were open, but the majority of shops were closed.

The highlight for us was Sluys' Bakery. I've never seen a bakery with such a huge selection. They are known for their Poulsbo bread, which I didn't try. But I did try one of their cinnamon rolls with cream cheese frosting, which was probably the most delicious cinnamon roll I've ever consumed in my life. More importantly, they had homemade lefse - as big as dinner plates - and Lance purchased 2 packages to bring home.

Another highlight for us was the Marina Market - a small market in historic downtown that has a startling selection of European groceries. We saw a lot of German stuff. They had stroopwafels. They had lutefisk TV dinners (I wish I could've taken photographic evidence of this, but sadly, I didn't). I was remarking to Lance that if I saw some Norwegian milk chocolate (yes, Switzerland and Belgium are known for their chocolate, but Norwegian milk chocolate...I can't tell you how creamy and wonderfully decadent it is), I would get it. As soon as this utterance escaped my mouth, I saw the familiar bright yellow wrapper that said "Freia Melkesjokolade" - YES! YES! YES! Despite the price ($9 for a large bar), we had to get some. When would we stumble on such a treasure again? It was rare enough when we lived in Germany - Lance would bring me this chocolate whenever he had to go to Norway, but those trips were few and far between.

Around 11:30 or so, we said goodbye to Poulsbo. I would like to go back when there's a festival going on or something, so we have an excuse to stay longer.

I wasn't ready to just go home, so I told Lance to set Port Orchard as the destination on our GPS. We were going to have lunch there. The nice thing about Port Orchard is that it's across the bay from the Naval base, so we had a nice view of the ships. I was interested in seeing the Kitty Hawk especially, because my brother served on the Kitty Hawk early in his Navy career, and the ship was decommissioned in Bremerton. But there were a few aircraft carriers and we were unable to identify which one was the Kitty Hawk, at least from that far away.

After admiring the view, Lance picked Amy's On The Bay as our lunch spot, which was a nice choice. I ordered clam chowder in a toasted sourdough bowl with a side salad. It was exactly what I needed, even if I didn't know it at the time. It hit the spot. Lance enjoyed his burger. And they offer a 10% military discount, so bonus! I liked the ambience - it was casually elegant and the staff was attentive to our every need.

We encountered the same issue with Port Orchard that we did with Poulsbo - very little was open. So after strolling down the main downtown street, we said goodbye to Port Orchard and headed home. As it turns out, our timing was good. It started raining shortly after we left, and I was getting a bad headache anyway and ended up napping all the way home once we crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

Even though it was only for a few hours, it was nice to get out and enjoy the weather and see something new.

I took a few pictures today. Also, here's the link to Amy's On The Bay - highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Visiting Columbus

015

I've been visiting my family in Columbus, Ohio since Thursday evening. I'm supposed to fly back to Seattle today, but we're about to get the brutal storm that's been battering other parts of the Midwest, Great Lakes and plains regions all morning. So whether I will be able to leave today or not is kind of a question mark at this point.

Since most of the family left yesterday, I had time to get out this morning and early afternoon and see some parts of my hometown that I haven't seen in years. My mom and I went to German Village - my favorite neighborhood in Columbus - and we visited the topiary park downtown, which my mom has never even visited in all the years she's lived here.

If you ever find yourself in Columbus, you really must come to German Village. You can take home and garden tours of this historic neighborhood, which are offered by the German Village Society. You'll see beautiful Victorian-style homes with charming gardens and courtyards along tree-lined brick streets. German Village has many quirky shops and great restaurants.

Today, Mom and I went to The Book Loft, which, bar none, is my favorite bookstore of all time. No place in Seattle even compares to this (and that may just be my sentimental side talking, but this place is truly one of a kind). You might not like it so much if you're a bit claustrophobic - and I am to some extent - but my love of books overpowers my fear of cramped spaces.

The Book Loft is a multi-story Victorian home with 32 rooms filled floor to ceiling with books. Each room stocks a different genre of books, and different music plays in each room - everything from jazz to New Age to Celtic to classical.

We spent about 30-40 minutes browsing. I would've spent longer, but we wanted to get back home before the storm, so we didn't allow ourselves as much time. I found a book for the plane (Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth, which, at roughly 1000 pages, will certainly get me through the long trip ahead). Mom found some magnets for herself and books for the grandkids. We made our purchases and walked down the street for lunch at Max & Erma's.

Now, Max & Erma's is a chain, and you'll find plenty of locally-owned, excellent restaurants in German Village. But we like Max & Erma's - as chain restaurants go - and I especially like the atmosphere at the German Village location. We both ordered the half sandwich and soup combo (chicken salad croissant with potato, cheese and bacon soup), and it was delicious and fast. Great service too.

Afterwards, we went to Old Deaf School Park a short distance away. The park is known for its topiary garden - a leafy replica of George Seurat's famous Impressionist painting, "A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grande Jatte." Every character from the painting is there (plus a cat - a special Columbus touch - which you have to walk around and look for).



It's a wonderfully quiet and peaceful oasis in the middle of downtown Columbus. The topiaries weren't as full today as they probably are in the spring and summer, but you still get the general idea of what the scene is supposed to look like. And it's easy to find on-street parking around the area (pretty cheap too - 2 quarters bought us 40 minutes of parking, and we really only needed 20 minutes to view the topiary and stop in the visitor's center).

I'm glad I got the chance to get out and see things I haven't seen for awhile. I appreciate Columbus much more now that I no longer live here. And honestly, I wouldn't mind living here again, and if that were to ever happen, I'm pretty sure I'd want to live in German Village.

Pictures of today's wanderings are here.

Links:

- German Village Society
- The Book Loft
- Old Deaf School Park - Topiary Garden

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Kubota Garden

019

More photos than text today. My husband and I took an excursion to Kubota Garden - a place I've been curious about ever since I wrote an article about Washington gardens for USAToday.com a few months back.

It's simply stunning. That's really all I have to say.

You can see for yourself.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Things to See in Kaiserslautern, Germany

Thought K-Town was just about military bases?

Think again.

My latest USAToday.com article:
Things to See in Kaiserslautern, Germany

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Freebie Saturday!

Two major national freebies happening this Saturday:

Smithsonian Magazine's 6th annual Free Museum Day allows you free access to a number of museums across the country. You can find more information at their website here, plus print out your ticket (good for 2 people) to present to the museum for admission.

Also, Public Lands Day is this Saturday, which means free admission to all national parks!

And now for a local freebie:

The Seattle Parks Foundation is hosting a grand opening celebration of Lake Union Park from 7 AM to 7 PM. Lots of fun, FREE events happening, as well as the opportunity to snag Metro Free Ride tickets (good for bus and streetcar) to get you there and back. You can find more details here.

The weather is supposed to be great in the Seattle area on Saturday, so get out and take advantage!

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Ballard

Ballard Locks

A few days ago, Lisa asked me if I was free to do anything this weekend. I had Sunday morning/early afternoon free, plus LocalTwist was offering a special for food at Ballard Loft ($10 for $20 worth of food). So we planned a day around that. I had never been to Ballard and I've been wanting to get out and explore as many of Seattle's neighborhoods as possible.

It was a fun day, and the weather ended up being really nice.

We started out at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, better known as the Ballard Locks. It's quite a tourist attraction, as it connects the saltwaters of Puget Sound with the freshwaters of Salmon Bay, Lake Washington, Lake Union and Portage Bay. It's interesting to watch the boats pass through from one side to the other. You can also go down to the viewing windows of the fish ladder to watch the fish (particularly salmon) pass through from one side to another, but this isn't a good time of the year for that. The fish ladder was mostly empty.

There are botanical gardens there too - the entire area is beautifully landscaped and well worth seeing. Plus, admission is free. And parking is free on Sundays and holidays.

After spending about an hour there, we headed into the heart of Ballard to browse the farmers market. This is a popular and very lively market, but parking is hard to find. We found it an excellent place to people watch and there were some great street musicians playing up and down the market. The mingling of various street food smells were almost irresistable, but we had plans for lunch already (note to self: next time, on market day, don't go to a restaurant).

We made our way to Ballard Loft for lunch. It's a sports bar with ample outdoor seating. I liked the ambience of the place, but the basketball game they were showing was really loud, making conversation difficult, even outside. I ordered a "Washington Apple," which was an apple pork sausage on a toasted French roll with cream cheese and a relish made of apples, onions, and garlic. Beer-battered fries were served on the side. Delicious.

Stuffed, we made our way back throught the market, stopping for a free wine tasting at Portalis Wine Shop & Wine Bar. We had noted a gelato shop (D'Ambrosio) on the way to eat, and we decided we had just enough room. I ordered 2 flavors: meringue (with chocolate) and Nutella - creamy, sweet, and perfect. If you like gelato, this is the real deal. You couldn't get more authentic if you were in Italy.

For our last stop, we decided to go to Golden Gardens, which is the first sandy beach I've seen since I've lived here (most beaches here are pebbly/rocky with very little sand). Golden Gardens is known as a prime spot for sunsets, but it's also a great place to just sit, feel the breeze in your hair, and enjoy the sun's warmth. It was a peaceful end to a fun day. I could've stayed for hours (stretched out on a blanket with a book), but I had to get home.

I really like Ballard. It has a laidback vibe that made me feel right at home.

Here are my pictures from today.

Also, some links:

- Ballard Loft
- Portalis Wine Shop + Wine Bar
- D'Ambrosio Gelateria Artigianale

Friday, September 3, 2010

Deception Pass




Today did not go as planned.

This isn't the first or the last time things haven't gone as planned. This is a normal part of traveling, and I'm flexible enough to roll with the punches.

I had anticipated this day for weeks. My husband ended up with a 4-day weekend, and we were kind of unsure what his schedule was going to be like until the last moment (he thought he was going to go out of town, but that was cancelled), so a weekend trip was out of the question. But since we knew for sure he would have today off, I told him that we needed to drive up to Deception Pass.

Well, we started out a bit later than I had hoped. No big deal, though. It's not like we had a particular agenda.

Then one of the dogs got sick in the backseat of the car while we were stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic in downtown Seattle. Again, not a big deal. I keep a towel in the car for just such a reason (if you're a dog owner, you pretty much have to), and I have leather seats. I managed to scoop up most of it. When we got north of Seattle, we stopped at a gas station, where I completed the clean up.

We hit the road again, and got stuck in traffic again because of a bad accident. So all in all, it took about 2 hours and 45 minutes to get to Deception Pass - probably about 45 minutes longer than it should have.

But it wasn't all bad. We drove through downtown Mount Vernon, which I found very cute. We were in Mount Vernon last year but saw a completely different part of it, which we didn't find so impressive.

Anyway, we arrived at Deception Pass around 1:30. We crossed the bridge over to the Whidbey Island side of the park. We scouted out a picnic spot, which were difficult to find since the park was so crowded. I think we got lucky.

picnic with a view

Nice view, eh?

Anyway, we ended up not staying too long. Between the crowds and trying to keep the dogs calm (easy with our older one, not so much with our younger one), we realized that perhaps hanging out and hiking wasn't really going to work. We didn't know our way around the park and only saw one trail while we were there, and it was one that led to the bridge. We decided not to take the dogs on that trail because that seemed to be the one that everyone was hiking.

We ended up crossing the bridge back over to the Fidalgo Bay side and walking a trail at Pass Lake. Nobody was there. Once we felt like the dogs had sufficiently stretched their legs, we headed home. I think we just ran out of steam.

It happens. But Lance thought it was beautiful up there and suggested that perhaps we go camping next time so we can stay longer.

Not many pictures, but you can see some here, if you feel so inclined.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Girls' Day Out in Tacoma



As a military spouse, I have the advantage this summer of getting into a number of museums for free with my military ID, including the Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Art Museum. So my friend Erin tagged along with me today and we had a great time.

To make things easy, I parked at the Tacoma Dome Station, which is free. From there, you can take the Tacoma Link Light Rail (also free) to Union Station - a ride of approximately 5 minutes (which puts you just a stone's throw from the Museum of Glass).

But we didn't hop on the rail immediately. Historic Freighthouse Square is right across the street from the Tacoma Dome Station. It's filled with shops and restaurants. So we poked around in there, got coffee (made for us by a very chatty and hilarious barista), visited an art gallery, and then hopped on the rail.

Five minutes later, we were at Union Station, and making our way toward the Museum of Glass (MOG). We headed to the hot shop first, where artist Ed Archie Noisecat was working with his crew. We hung out in there for awhile and watched before exploring the galleries. The highlight for me was the "Kids Design Glass" exhibit, where the MOG hot shop team created glass sculptures based on drawings that were submitted by kids from ages 5-12. They were adorable, weird, remarkable, and hilarious (I'm jealous of the imagination of children).

After browsing the museum shop, we decided it was time for lunch. Sitting out on the patio at Woody's on the Water sounded like a good option (it's right next door to the MOG and you have a stunning view of the reflecting pool, MOG, and the Thea Foss Waterway). We had a nice lunch. I ordered a crab melt with coleslaw. Tasty.

Once we finished lunch, we leisurely made our way to the Tacoma Art Museum, stopping to check out anything that was of interest on the way. Overall, I liked the Tacoma Art Museum quite a bit. They have a pretty small collection and it only took us about half an hour to get through the exhibitions that were open (they are currently preparing for another one), but they have a nice Impressionism collection. I liked their Dale Chihuly collection and the current landscape exhibit. The highlight for me was Leroy. I love Leroy.




And judging by the fact that Leroy's image appeared on half the stuff in the gift shop, I would say that I'm not the only one who loves Leroy.

After the art museum, we just walked around and explored shops. We went into Hello, Cupcake because well...HELLO! CUPCAKES! I had a raspberry lemonade cupcake - lemon cupcake with raspberry buttercream frosting. Delicious. I'm honestly not much of a cake person, but the frosting was fluffy, light and not too sweet.

After a stop at the UW-Tacoma bookstore (where I got Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential for the bargain price of $4 + tax), we headed back toward the Tacoma Dome Station.

I had one stop to make before leaving...the Tacoma Book Center, right across the street from the Tacoma Dome. This unassuming building hides the fact that an enormous book mecca lies within. You are spoiled for choice here. You could easily spend an entire day in this store and probably wouldn't cover all of it. I sold some books and stayed near the door because I was trying to resist temptation. After all, I have enough books here at home already that I haven't even had the chance to read yet.

Today was a fun day. Erin and I had a great time and the more I see of Tacoma, the more I like it. It's sad how many tourists overlook this city because it didn't always have the best reputation. But if you get the chance, visit. You won't be sorry.

And I have the photos to prove it.

Links:
- Tacoma Dome Station (better than on-street parking, I promise)
- Tacoma Link Light Rail map and schedule
- Freighthouse Square
- Museum of Glass
- Woody's on the Water
- Tacoma Art Museum
- Hello, Cupcake
- Tacoma Book Center

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Columbus, Ohio Tourism

Click here for my latest article on USAToday.com and read about my hometown!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Do stuff. Eat stuff. Travel. Cheaper.

I've become a huge fan of websites like Groupon and Local Twist. They're especially great for people who live in a large metropolitan area or those who are traveling to a large city and want to find good deals while they're there.

(Please note - these links are my personal referral links. I get $10 credit every time someone signs up from these links. But if you sign up, then you can refer your friends and get $10 credit from each referral too. Everybody's happy!)

These sites are FREE to join. Let me reiterate - THEY ARE FREE. And when you join, you are offered at least one deal a day (for Groupon, since I live between Seattle and Tacoma, I can take advantage of the daily deal for both cities). You can have deals sent to you via email, or you can follow them on Facebook or Twitter and get your deals that way.

So...if you're not already a member, you're probably wondering how this works.

A deal is offered - say, $10 for $20 worth of food at a local restaurant. (They do plenty of entertainment, travel, adventure/sports and spa deals too.) If enough people take the deal, then the deal is on. You sign up to take the deal. You pay your $10. If the deal is on, you get a coupon to print out for $20 worth of food. If not enough people sign up for the deal (I have never seen this happen), you don't get charged and you don't get the deal. Simple as that. Typically, you have about a year or so to use your coupon, although this can vary depending upon the deal being offered.

So...if you're planning to travel around any major American or Canadian cities in the near future, I would highly recommend that you check out these sites and sign up. You can save yourself a lot of money. My friends and I love these sites and have taken advantage of a lot of the local deals already.

Also note: Groupon is available for several different countries. Definitely worth checking out if you do a lot of traveling!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Island Escape



Vashon Island is so near, and yet so far. A 20-minute ferry ride from West Seattle, it seems like a world away. The pace of life is slower. "Civilization" is the town of Vashon with its quaint, old-timey downtown. Outside of Vashon, you see farmland, wildflowers, and a lot of nature areas.

Lisa and I took the ferry today so that we could visit some of the lavender farms. The town of Sequim in the Olympic Peninsula usually gets all the glory - with its lavender festival being a large summer attraction. But Vashon offers lavender too, and it's just right for a day trip from Seattle or Tacoma or anywhere in-between.

Our first stop on the island was at Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie. Housed in a century-old building, this is a popular local spot. Not only do they have excellent coffee (I also rather enjoyed one of their huge, chewy molasses cookies), but they have a coffee museum and coffee-related antiques throughout the interior. This isn't one of your stale, identical-looking coffee shops that sit on every corner in Seattle. This place is special.

Fortified with caffeine and sugar, we started driving around Vashon Island with a horrible map and the GPS from our cellphones to guide us along. We kind of got lost. But that's actually ok. Vashon Island is good-sized, but it's not huge. You can only go so far, and eventually, you'll find your way back to where you were before.

We stopped at two of the island's three lavender farms - Fox Farm Lavender and Lavender Sisters - before heading back into the main drag in Vashon, where we ate lunch at The Hardware Store (which, as you can probably guess, isn't actually a hardware store). Fish and chips for me and a cheeseburger for Lisa, and we browsed some of the shops before heading back toward the ferry terminal.

Just a mile or two from the ferry terminal is Palouse Winery, where we stopped for some tastings before heading back. We were greeted by the owners' dogs, and as we were kicking back with some wine, Lisa happened to mention that her turn signals were no longer working on her VW Bug. So the owner actually came out to look at her car and check the fuse to see if that was the problem. So darned nice! And excellent wine too! I definitely want to stop back there if I'm on Vashon Island again.

A short while later, we were back on the ferry heading toward West Seattle, where we stopped to walk around Lincoln Park before heading back to our respective homes.

Want pictures? I have them.

How about some links?

- Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie
- Fox Farm Lavender
- The Hardware Store
- Palouse Winery

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Shakespeare in the Park

Just came back from Seattle Shakespeare Company's Wooden O production of "Much Ado About Nothing" at Des Moines Beach Park. Magnificent performance! Another magnificent performance - the sun over Puget Sound. This was the scene as we were leaving:



If you want to catch a free Shakespeare performance in Seattle this summer, you still have time. Wooden O productions end tomorrow, but GreenStage is doing performances in parks around the Seattle area for a couple more weeks. I'm hoping to catch both Romeo & Juliet and As You Like It at Volunteer Park on August 14th.

A word about Des Moines Beach Park - I visited there yesterday morning to scope it out so that I would know what to expect for tonight's performance. Gorgeous setting. But what a difference a day makes. Here's my entire set of beach photos from yesterday morning and tonight.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Beach Reflections



I've never been a big fan of beach vacations. Sure, we had the trips to Myrtle Beach when I was a kid. There was one year we went camping near Virginia Beach, and I remember it being so hot that none of us were able to sleep. So my dad rounded us up and drove us to the beach in the middle of the night, where we wandered along the shore near all the brightly lit resorts, basking in the cool breezes. We were the only people there. That was pretty cool.

Since adulthood, I have never really placed beaches high on my vacation wishlist. I'm not one of those people who could spend hours lounging in the sun. I like active vacations. I like to DO things. I love to explore. If a few hours at a beach is part of that, fine, but I don't like vacations in which beaches are the focal point.

That being said, the beaches here are starting to change my mind.

These aren't the beaches you normally think about, with miles of sand stretching along the coast. Puget Sound beaches are rocky and covered in driftwood. You see people beachcombing for geoducks or shells more than you see sunbathers. Most of the beaches have breathtaking views, either of the Seattle skyline (Alki Beach) or the distant Olympic Peninsula with its snow-capped peaks. Some beaches seem quieter and more secluded than others, but all of them are wildly alive with an abundance of unique animal and plant life. If you're lucky, you'll even see a whale. I haven't been that fortunate yet.




I feel at peace when I'm visiting a beach here. For me, they are places for contemplation and quiet reflection. They remind me that the world is so much bigger than myself. Now, when I feel the need to escape, but I can't really leave town, I head to a beach. I'm feeling a longing to go to one right now. But I'll wait until Friday morning, when I drop off the dogs at day camp and I can be alone with my thoughts.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

BEWARE!

I got an email this morning from my "cousin" - it came from her actual email account, but I knew immediately that it wasn't from her:

I'm writing this with tears in my eyes, Am sorry i never inform you about my trip.actually went on a short vacation to visit a resort in London England. unfortunately i got mugged at gun point on my way back to the hotel i lodge,all cash,credit card and cell were stolen off me but luckily for me still have my passports with me.

I've been to the embassy and the Police here but they're not helping issues at all and my flight leaves in some hrs from now but am are having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let me leave until i settle the bills,
I'm freaked out at the moment.


This is a variation of a scam that's been going around for a few years. These horrible people are assuming that you're naive, but kind-hearted, and that you'll gladly and without question wire them money.

Of course, I interact with my cousin on Facebook fairly frequently, and I'm reasonably sure she is not currently in London. Regardless, the bad grammar would've tipped me off that this is a total crock.

Anyway, I hit "reply" on that email and sent back this link:

http://www.snopes.com/fraud/distress/family.asp

and of course, I called my cousin to inform her that someone is using her email account to try and scam people. I hope she gets this resolved quickly. I'm enraged on her behalf.

So, if you weren't aware of this scam, now you know. This was ridiculously transparent, but it never hurts to get the word out about this sort of thing, because people do fall for it.

Friday, July 16, 2010

TBEX

I just joined Travel Blog Exchange, if anyone else is on there and wants to connect.

my TBEX page

Hoping to go to TBEX '11 in Vancouver (and my birthday just happens to be that weekend too, which would make it even more awesome).

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Summer Garden Tours in Washington State

Hot off the press (errr...Internet) - my latest travel tips on USAToday.com!

Summer Garden Tours of Washington State

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ancient Aachen: A Magical Modern Metropolis

Note: I found this article from summer 2006, which has never been published. So I decided to publish it here.

Each time I visit Aachen, it's in the process of a facelift. The main train station has been under construction for awhile now, and it looks different every time I see it. The scaffolding that I first saw on the cathedral is now on the town hall. And every time I visit, a new store or restaurant is about to open. This time, Aachen has been overtaken by brightly painted horse sculptures promoting the World Equestrian Festival. Yet despite all the newness, Aachen is a city deeply rooted in its past.

Originally established as a spa for Roman legionnaires, Aachen was made the center of the Holy Roman Empire by Charlemagne in 800 AD, and all the Germanic kings were crowned here from that point until 1531. The cathedral is the star attraction with its unusual mix of Baroque, Carolingian, and Gothic architecture. The impressive medieval town hall is built on the site of Charlemagne's palace, which fell into ruin. While there are signs of antiquity all around, Aachen is also lively. It's small enough to see all the main attractions in one day, but it has the culture of a larger city. It's right on the Dutch border (being the westernmost point of Germany) and close to Belgium, making it an ideal location to explore the Benelux. The main train station is a hub for international travel.

Aachen may have waters that run deep, but it is also hip. Home to five universities, Aachen has forty thousand students, most of who congregate on the Pontstrasse. This is where trendy bars mingle with cheap, run-down restaurants. On warm days, students and tourists spill out into the street where there are plenty of outdoor tables to enjoy al fresco dining. The smells of curry mix with doner kebap and pizza. People converse in various languages. There is a casual, laidback atmosphere here, one where the beer flows as freely as the conversation.

Pontstrasse is purely a pedestrian zone, comprised mostly of eating establishments, with the occasional shop. I see a store selling streetwear, a small Mayersche bookstore, and a store selling CDs and old LPs. The only thing that seems out of place is an old church. The string of restaurants, serving every cuisine imaginable, lasts for several blocks, ending at the Ponttor, a 14th century city gate. Underneath are several pedestrian passageways that are decorated with graffiti.

I walk a short distance from Pontstrasse to the heart of Aachen, which is its medieval town square. The cobblestone streets are dotted with modern establishments and signs of American invasion; Starbucks, Subway, McDonald's, and Pizza Hut all have a prominent place in the shadows of the town hall. Twice a week, there's a busy market which sells such wares as produce, flowers, fish, cheese, and clothing. Today, a radio station is doing a live show featuring various kinds of music, from pop to yodeling to some odd chicken song accompanied by bizarre clucking noises. It's strange, yet entertaining. Above the festivities in the markt, a statue of Charlemagne stands atop a fountain (locally known as the "E├Ązekomp" - Pea Soup Bowl), presiding over everything.

Lest you think that the entertainment in Aachen is provincial, there is also Kultursommer, a big event in Aachen that draws major names in music, art, dance, and literature. This event lasts from June through September and features over 150 open-air events. The Katschof, once the site of medieval executions, now hosts major concerts during Kultursommer.

There is a thriving theatre scene, with performances in Aachen's Romanesque municipal theatre, as well as smaller independent theatre companies doing shows throughout the year. In the summer, Burg Frankenburg hosts outdoor Shakespeare performances by the small but popular independent company, DAS DA. Large international shows also come through Aachen.

Aachen's shopping district is a hodgepodge of department stores and specialty shops, ranging from high-end to very cheap. All the stores are modern looking - a sea of neon and glass built into older buildings. Beggars hang out on this street, hoping for spare change. A street vendor sells bratwurst while flirting with one of the local girls, the smell of grilled sausage permeating the air around them. The man I see on every visit to Aachen - a juggler with his German Shepherd - is taking a break from busking, his dog sprawled out on a blanket. Every store has its doors flung open, music playing, trying to attract patrons.

One of my favorite shops is Mayersche, a multi-story bookstore near the cathedral which, despite its modern looks, hides the original Roman baths from two thousand years ago. The current bath in Aachen is Carolus Thermen, a spa that opened in 2001 with a thermal bath, sauna, solarium, massage parlors, and restaurants. Unlike ancient times, when the spas were only accessible to nobility (both Charlemagne and Casanova took the waters), Carolus Thermen is open to everyone, allowing people from all walks of life to enjoy the waters that have made Aachen such an attraction for two millennia.

After spending the day among civilization, it's nearly time for me to go. I grab an iced chai latte and sit in a shady part of the markt, listening to the live show. My next stop is Lambertz, one of the many bakeries that specialize in the local gingerbread, called printen. After one more stop, to gourmet shop Oil & Vinegar, I make my way to the train station.

As I walk, I ponder what makes Aachen so special. I once met an American expatriate who was selling incense and candles in a booth during the annual Christmas market (Aachen has one of the better ones I've seen). When asked what drew her to Aachen, she replied, "It's a magical place." I believe her. After all, there is something about this city that made Charlemagne choose it as the centerpiece of his empire. It's hard to put your finger on what it is exactly, but when you come to Aachen, you just feel it. And that's what keeps me coming back.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Hess Bakery & Deli - Lakewold Gardens

Once upon a time, two women lived in Germany and then moved to the Seattle area, where they met. They often discuss what they miss most about Germany, including the food. So they decided to drive down to Lakewood - just south of Tacoma - to eat at Hess Bakery & Deli. And lo, it was good...err...wunderbar!

Yes, so Lisa and I decided to make a day of it and go to Lakewold Gardens as well, since it was near Hess Bakery & Deli. But I'll get to that later. First...food!

This is the real deal, folks. If you have lived in Germany, visited Germany, or even dreamt of Germany, go here and have a sandwich. I went in there kind of not caring what exactly I had, as long as it involved brötchen. I miss brötchen. It truly is one of the most wonderful breads in the world.

Ultimately, I ordered German salami, butterkäse (butter cheese) and German mustard on brötchen. Every single bite sent me back to Deutschland. It was delicious. And I had hungered for good German bread, meat, and cheese for so long. I had a side of German potato salad with it. True happiness. Lisa was happy too.

We went to the bakery side across the hall and got dessert, but it wasn't nearly as satisfying. I may have mentioned before that European desserts aren't generally sweet enough for the American palate. There are some exceptions. But this was true of the desserts at Hess. The desserts were completely authentic, but just not for us. We're all about the deli. But if you love German cakes in general, by all means, knock yourself out. You'll love it.

After lunch, we drove a couple of miles to Lakewold Gardens. I love gardens, which may seem rather obvious if you've been reading my blog for awhile. Lakewold Gardens is stunning. We saw everything in about an hour or so, but the drive down Gravelly Lake Drive was nice (beautiful homes with well-manicured lawns) and Gravelly Lake itself looked so inviting. It was a nice, restful place to enjoy some scenery.

The centerpiece of Lakewold Gardens is The Wagner House. I won't get into its history here. You can visit the Lakewold Gardens website (linked below) if you want more information. You can go inside to see the house, but you don't get access to more than about 3 rooms or so, and the upstairs is completely off-limits. I particularly loved the library.

But the gardens were far more interesting to me anyway. And the garden shop there has some nice merchandise. Definitely worth a stop.

So, enough babbling...you want to see pictures, don't you? Of course you do! (link opens slideshow)

Links:
Hess Bakery & Deli
Lakewold Gardens

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Camping and Fishing Sites Near Kent, Washington

I suppose if you ever feel so inclined to camp and/or fish here in Kent, Washington, this article might help you:

http://traveltips.usatoday.com/camping-fishing-sites-near-kent-washington-12703.html

This is the 2nd of my USAToday.com articles. I don't have any pending at the moment because I just haven't had much time for anything. We added a 2nd dog to our family on Tuesday and my hands have been full. And I'm working on my main freelance project and schoolwork right now too.

Two weeks from today, I have plans to go down to Lakewood and visit Lakewold Gardens and enjoy some German food at Hess Bakery. I'm not sure I'll have anything to update before then.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Vacations for Families in Seattle | Travel Tips - USATODAY.com

As I mentioned previously, I am writing content for publication on USAToday.com. Here is the first article. I'm currently revising the second one.

YAY!

Vacations for Families in Seattle | Travel Tips - USATODAY.com

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Free Museum Admission!

If you're in a military family, you can get free admission to over 600 museums across the U.S. between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

More information is available here:
http://www.nea.gov/national/bluestarmuseums/index.php

Locally, this includes the Seattle Art Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum, so I have every intention of visiting both and reporting back here!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Announcement

Very soon, you'll be seeing Travel Tips from yours truly published on USAToday.com. Since the majority of my income-generating endeavors lately have not been related to travel writing (oh, who am I kidding? None of them are related to travel writing), I'm very excited to get back into it. It'll be nice to tap back into a more creative side of my writing.

Once I finish this massive project that I'm currently working on, I'm going to work on my first article - travel tips for family vacations in Seattle. I'm anxious to get started!

Stay tuned!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden in Federal Way

Today is one of those days where the weather is fine and I am able to put off work for a day to take a bit of a mental health break. So I decided to drive a short way to Federal Way to visit the Rhododendron Species Botanical Garden. I've heard good things about it, and I love visiting gardens. So I took a couple hours out of my afternoon to go.

It's definitely worth a visit. It's a very peaceful and calming place, especially if you can tune out the sounds from the nearby freeway. And speaking of the nearby freeway - the gardens are also very accessible. They're right off SR 18 on the campus of the Weyerhaeuser headquarters. Follow the signs to the gardens. It's a short walk on a foot path from the parking lot to the main entrance.

Not all the rhodies were in bloom, but many were. And the garden isn't just rhodies either. You can find all sorts of flowers, plants, shrubs and trees here. And there are different gardens: rock garden, stump garden, woodland garden, meadow garden, fern garden, pond garden. There are benches available at every garden, so find the one you like, sit, and find your moment of zen. Or several moments. I didn't do that, but I walked around and snapped a lot of photos.

I personally enjoyed the contrasts of shadows and light in various parts of the gardens. And it was quite easy to walk around for awhile without seeing another person. Of course, it is a weekday. The weekend might be a little busier. When you're done meandering, stop in to the gift shop. They have some beautiful things at good prices.

For more information, visit their official website.

For pictures, click here.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Taste of Bavaria in Washington

...but only a little taste.

Since we moved here from Germany, practically everyone has told us that we MUST visit Leavenworth. If you've never heard of Leavenworth, it's a small town in the Cascade mountains that is made to look like a Bavarian village. Their website and visitor brochures show pictures of smiling, dancing locals in lederhosen and dirndls, which seems to only be really accurate during festival times (we saw only one person in lederhosen today who was not working in the touristy part of town - and considering he was an elderly man with a walker, I'm guessing he just dressed like that normally).

Since it's now warm enough not to worry too much about the weather on the mountain passes, we decided to go today. I was told by friends who have also lived in Germany to not get my hopes up too much - since Leavenworth is an obvious tourist trap - so I went there only with the expectation that I could get a satisfactory German meal.

That mission was accomplished.

We had a beautiful drive. The GPS had us traveling on I-90 through Snoqualmie Pass. And it snowed some, but none of it was sticking. The views were jaw-droppingly beautiful. We were in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and the Wenatchee National Forest for part of the way. I took a few pictures from the car. There really weren't many places to stop for photo ops.

As we neared Leavenworth - in the neighboring town of Peshastin - we saw a huge expanse of apple orchards. And indeed, there were fruit stands everywhere. Of course, the trees are all bare this time of year, so there was little open.

After a 2.5 hour drive, we arrived in sleepy Leavenworth. And when I say sleepy, I mean it. Few people were there. The town looked practically dead. I think most of the locals were probably in church. We parked just down the street from the town center, so when we walked the short distance to get to the main part of town, I had to stop and look. That's it? Really? It was comprised mainly of a few blocks of Bavarian-style buildings - mostly restaurants, wineries and shops. There were a few things on some side streets, hotels and a few shops or restaurants here and there, but the majority of it was concentrated on one street.

Between the main street through town and the main tourist street was a small park with a gazebo that blasted cheesy Bavarian music from loudspeakers. There were a couple of horses with carriages, waiting to take people on rides.

Lance and I just started poking through the shops. Not much else to do, really. We first stopped at Kris Kringl (yes, that's how it's spelled), which is a Christmas shop. It reminded us a lot of the Käthe Wohlfahrt stores we loved in Germany. So far, so good. As we continued through the various shops, we could see that they sold either souvenirs or goods that were pretty easy to get elsewhere. There was; however, a fun hat shop where we tried on goofy hats and sunglasses. So that was fun for awhile.

And we had to eat while we were there. The drive made us tired and hungry. I planned ahead in this, at least. I knew I wanted to eat at Bären House, because they had a good selection of stuff: German food, pasta, sandwiches, pizza. Something for everyone. We weren't disappointed. The menu on their website is slightly different from the one we were given, and sadly, what I wanted to order wasn't on their menu (they had a similar platter, but it was way too much food, so I didn't order it). I ordered a schnitzel sandwich (with sauerkraut and melted swiss cheese on their homemade sandwich roll) that came with a side of German potato salad (which wasn't really German potato salad, but still good) and a dill pickle spear. The schnitzel knocked my socks off. I can honestly say that it was better than any schnitzel I had in Germany. It was a huge sandwich though, and I could only manage half of it. (Our server offered to box up my leftovers, but considering the long drive, I didn't want to chance it...I sure would like the rest of that sandwich right now, though. So good!) Lance ordered spaghetti (he's done with schnitzel for life, probably). We were both happy.

We explored a bit of Leavenworth's river promenade, which was nice, but we didn't actually do any promenading, since we weren't sure how long the trails were or where they went. We briefly stopped in the local bookstore (since I pretty much have to check out the bookstores in every town I visit). Neither of us bought anything at any of the shops we explored, but it was fun to look. We took note of the huge number of chocolate/candy stores, but in the end, we went to Cold Stone Creamery.

We were there maybe 2.5 hours at the most. I think our drive there took slightly longer than the amount of time we spent there.

Lance decided we should take a different route back (route 2 through Steven's Pass), so we enjoyed different scenery on the way back. That drive took about the same amount of time and we didn't encounter any snowfall. In fact, it turned out to be a really warm and beautiful day. A bit colder at the higher altitudes, but sunny and nice.

I wish I could've gotten pictures from Steven's Pass. We were often driving alongside river rapids, and the views there were also breathtaking. We were laughing about the random latte stands that dotted the sides of the highway, even in the middle of nowhere. But this is Washington after all. And we must have our coffee.

Of course, there was snow at the higher altitudes and we saw lots of people at the ski areas that we passed. This was the first time driving in these areas for both of us, and I wouldn't mind driving through the passes again. The scenery is truly unbelievable.

I'll sum up Leavenworth by saying this - we likely would've stayed a little longer if we hadn't both been really tired. And I had a headache. There were several wine shops offering tastings, and I always enjoy wine tastings. Once it warmed up a bit, the beer gardens were beckoning. I suppose if you want to spend all day, you could happily do so just kicking back with a few beers or going from wine tasting to wine tasting. I would go back if given the opportunity (that is, if a friend was going and invited me along). But now that we've seen Leavenworth, we don't feel the need to go back again on our own.

Anyway, I didn't take many pictures, but what I did take can be seen here in slideshow form.

A few links of places worth visiting:

Kris Kringl
Bären Haus
A Book for All Seasons
Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Wenatchee National Forest

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Skagit Valley Revisited

Last year in mid-April, my husband and I made our first trip up to Skagit Valley for their annual tulip festival. Alas, our late winter meant that there were few tulips to be seen.

Things are different this year. We didn't really have a winter at all. And though the tulip festival doesn't start for another few days yet, the tulips are already blooming. My friend Lisa and I decided to go up today to try and beat the bulk of the crowds. We could not have had a better day.

On the road towards La Conner, we stopped at Snow Goose Produce. I had seen this place last year, but we didn't stop. Today, we did. And I'm so glad. This place is a paradise for foodies and flower lovers. You can get wine, produce, seafood, jams, pickled veggies, condiments, cheeses...all sorts of gourmet treats from around the area. But perhaps Snow Goose is more famous for their self-proclaimed "immodest" ice cream cones, which are every bit as immodest they claim. Served in a freshly made waffle cone, the ice cream is a delicious treat even at 10:30 in the morning.

After spending a bit of time there, we moved on to La Conner. Lisa had only passed through there before and never took the time to explore. So I insisted that we had to. We got there early enough to find a prime parking spot and started our exploration. I love this town just as much now as I did a year ago, if not more. When Lance and I were there last year, there were a lot of empty businesses. Well, things are starting to pick up, and there were new businesses to explore.

So we poked around in shops, galleries and enchanting courtyards. We bought homemade toffee from a new toffee shop and fresh scratch-made lefse from The Norse Pantry. We watched a glass-blowing demonstration. We soaked up the charm.

Shortly before 1, even though we were still a bit full from the ice cream, we decided to have a bite. So we went to Hellams Vineyard - a wine shop on the riverfront. There, we ordered a plate of salami, olives, bread, cheese and crackers. Lisa got a glass of red wine. I got a glass of a delicious Riesling/Viognier blend. We sat out on a deck overlooking the Skagit River and enjoyed a wonderful lunch. It hit the spot.

After that, it was time for tulips! Instead of heading to Tulip Town or Roozen Gaarde, we went to the other fields. I cannot properly do the colors justice with words. You just have to see my pictures.

Once we spent an hour or so exploring the tulip fields (and what was left of the fading daffodils), we headed back toward Seattle, stopping at Snow Goose Produce once again for a few souvenirs before hitting the highway (the line for the ice cream at this point was ridiculously long).

The weather was really nice, and it was pretty much a perfect day.

See my pictures from today.

Links:
Snow Goose Produce
Hellams Vineyard

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Northern California

Two weeks ago, I went to Northern California. It wasn't so much a touristy trip as it was a family visit. My brother and his family just moved from Guam to Northern California in December. My two nieces were both born in Guam, so I hadn't had the opportunity to meet them until this trip.

So I'm not going to go into any details about my family visit. I doubt anybody cares about that. We did a couple of touristy things, which I will talk about. As much as I had hoped for a day trip to San Francisco or a Napa winery tour (both were nearby), it wasn't to be (maybe next time). But we went to two places in Sacramento: the zoo and Fairytale Town. I'm going to talk about both as family destinations, even though I generally don't focus on that.



When we got to William Land Park, where Sacramento Zoo is located, we noticed that there is a lot going on. This is a mecca for families. It has a golf course, Funderland (a small amusement part for very young kids), Fairytale Town and the zoo. There were also picnic tables scattered about. You could easily spend an entire day here.

Fairytale Town in particular caught my eye. If you want to do both that and the zoo, you can pay one fee for admission to both parks (at least you can at the zoo...I didn't see this when we got to Fairytale Town).

The verdict on the zoo: I've been to a lot of zoos in my life. This wasn't the best one I've ever visited, but it's nicely landscaped and has a train and a carousel.



Highlights for us were the red panda exhibit, the giraffe exhibit, the orangutans and the chimpanzees, who screeched and screamed a lot and got the gibbons excited.



I think the adults enjoyed it a bit more than the kids (mostly because my 2-year old niece couldn't ride the carousel - it only operates once every hour).



When my niece was obviously getting antsy and bored, we left. I think we saw pretty much everything, anyway. I don't think we were there more than 2 hours, and that included time in the souvenir shop and at concessions.

Then we went to Fairytale Town.



Fairytale Town is essentially a giant playground themed around fairy tales, fables and nursery rhymes.



My niece LOVED it (and yes, I mentioned 2 nieces earlier, but one is still a baby and can't walk yet, let alone play on a playground). Admission was really inexpensive and I think we all had a little fun here, even if it was just watching the kids play.

(Yeah...Mother Goose looks like she's been hitting the sauce. She has kids climbing all over her all day...can you blame her?)

Just a word of caution for adults: almost everything here is pint-sized. There are low doorways, so make sure to duck. There are even kid-sized toilets...but thankfully, there are adult-sized ones too.

Fairytale Town also has a petting zoo. There were sheep and goats. There was also a donkey and a bull, although I don't think you're allowed to pet them.

So...that was the extent of tourist activities on my trip. Maybe I'll have more to offer next time, but I still had fun, and it was really lovely to spend time with my family. Also, Northern California is beautiful. I came in via the Oakland Airport (saw some of San Francisco from the plane, at least) and the drive from Oakland to Fairfield (where my brother lives) and back was mostly scenic.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Anthony's in Gig Harbor

We went to dinner with friends last night at Anthony's in Gig Harbor, just one of several Anthony's locations. The weather was perfection, and we asked to be seated outside on their patio that overlooks the harbor. We were the only people who wanted to sit outside. This was our view.



I mean, who WOULDN'T want to sit outside and enjoy this view, especially with the weather being so fine? (And if you look closely, you can see Mt. Rainier peeking above the trees.)

Anyway, I'm hesitant to say anything else about our dining experience, because it wasn't great. I'm happy to say that Anthony's righted the wrong, however. Our entrees were ridiculously late. Over an hour, by my estimation (although I was enjoying the company and conversation, so I wasn't keeping close track of the time, but we saw one of the tables inside seat 2 separate parties between the time we were seated and the time our main courses finally arrived). My husband's food was cold when he got it (and his food was even later than the rest of ours) and his order wasn't even correct.

But to Anthony's credit, they comped our entire bill. They couldn't possibly have done more to make things right. And I have to give them props for that. There's a reason why they're so well-known in the area and they lived up to their reputation when they realized that we weren't happy. Thank you, Anthony's.

Our food was good. I got the 4-course dinner special (available between 4 & 6 pm). I had baked Dungeness crab, shrimp and artichoke dip as my starter. A bleu cheese salad with shrimp. The main course was smoked salmon fettuccine. And I had Bailey's Irish Cream chocolate mousse for dessert. The portions were smaller (which is good, because I couldn't have eaten a full-size appetizer or dessert with the salad and main course).

My friend Christy also enjoyed her food quite a bit. She said their burned cream dessert (creme brulee) was the best she ever had.

So despite the flaws, I would give Anthony's in Gig Harbor another chance. Our dinner took so long that we didn't have time to do or see anything else before we had to leave (and I want to go back, because Gig Harbor is so beautiful). But, as I said before, they couldn't possibly have done any more than they did to try and retain our business.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day in Tacoma

There was a lot of confusion about what we were doing today.

The original plan was Gig Harbor. Then it changed to Whidbey Island. Then it changed back to Gig Harbor again.

And then we woke up this morning after a night of almost constant pouring rain. We were both tired. And a combination of those two things pretty much made our decision for us. We were going to have a mostly restful day at home and perhaps venture out to the Museum of Glass later.

So I went back to bed around 10 and woke up at noon to...bright sunlight?

That settled it. Something outdoors then.

I decided on Wright Park, which is part of Tacoma's Metro Parks system. They had a conservatory there, art scattered throughout the park, plus it is located in the middle of the historic and architecturally interesting Stadium District, which we'd never been to before.

Just to give a pop culture point of reference - the main landmark in the district is Stadium High School, which was featured prominently in the movie 10 Things I Hate About You. We saw that today as well, but we couldn't find parking close enough for me to get out and photograph it. It's a very impressive building.

Anyway, the park is lovely and seems quite popular. It was busy today. The W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory, which changes its displays every month, had a beautiful predominantly red and pink themed display with tulips, hyacinths and other early spring flowers. They had musicians performing romantic music inside the conservatory as we walked around (I recognized "Romeo & Juliet" but everything we heard them play was lovely).

We were only in the area for about an hour, but I could've stayed longer. It's a charming district and I think I would like to go back and meander about a bit more and explore more of what it has to offer.

Now for some pictures and links about the area:


My Wright Park photos (slideshow)

Wright Park Information - Tacoma Metro Parks website

Stadium High School

Karpeles Manuscript Library (across the street from Wright Park - closed today)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Edmonds

My friend and fellow travel writer Lisa went with me up to Edmonds today, a charming town about 30 minutes north of Seattle on the Puget Sound. We signed up for a free digital travel photography class at the Rick Steves' Travel Center, so we figured we might as well putter around for a bit while we were at it.

It was a chilly and rainy day, and we were both fighting fatigue, but I think we managed to have a pretty good day. I enjoyed Edmonds quite a bit.

We arrived with about an hour to spare before we had to check in for our class, so we decided to have an early lunch (or brunch...however you want to look at it). We parked next to a restaurant called Chanterelle, which I made note of when I was doing my research. So we decided to eat there because it looked really cute from the outside. It's a popular local spot, and we could see why. It has a quaint vintage feel, complete with vintage French posters, wooden beams and exposed ductwork along the ceiling. They were still serving breakfast when we got there (around 11 am). I ordered smoked salmon scrambled eggs (complete with cream cheese and green onions), grilled potatoes and toasted sourdough bread with jam. Delicious. Lisa also enjoyed her eggs, sausage, potatoes and English muffin.

We left the restaurant around 11:30 or so and walked around the corner to Europe Through the Back Door, Rick Steves' headquarters. After perusing the travel shop for a bit, we found the classroom where our class was being held and waited, chatting to some other folks who were also joining in.

The class was taught by John Greengo, a travel photographer for Travels to the Edge with Art Wolfe. It was more of a lecture than a class, really. Wonderful Powerpoint presentation and very informative. I definitely took away some information that will help me improve my photography.

As much as I liked the class and found it useful, I do have one small complaint. They crammed as many people as they possibly could into a tiny classroom, so it was claustrophobic and stuffy. Keep that in mind if you ever decide to attend a class at the Rick Steves' Travel Center (they do sometimes have classes in other locations around town). I was really uncomfortable for much of the time.

Anyway, after the class was over, we wandered around. Here's the part where I make my list of recommendations in Edmonds:

As I mentioned before, Chanterelle is the place to eat:
http://chanterellewa.com/

Arista Wine Cellars have free wine tastings every Saturday. Today was Valentine's Day themed, with some sparkling wines and red wines from Washington, California, Italy, South Africa and I'm not sure where else. A wonderful shop with a nice variety of wines and wine-related gifts.
http://www.aristawines.com/

The Resident Cheesemonger is where you want to go for all your cheese needs. Yes, you have to be able to withstand the smells of pungent cheeses, because those are sold in abundance. But you'll find a great variety, along with chutneys, spreads, olives, crackers, sausage, dried fruit, and any other possible food that complements cheeses. You'll also find cheese boards, cheese knives and other accessories.
http://www.residentcheesemonger.com

Want to stop for coffee and something sweet? Well do it, but for the love of all that is holy, do not go to Starbucks. Yes, Edmonds has one (there's also a Tully's), but we really liked Red Twig Bakery & Cafe. We shared a Nanaimo bar and we each ordered a latte and it was the perfect afternoon pick-me-up. The prices for coffee and pastries, I might add, are comparable to Starbucks. So support a great local place - they also serve breakfast and lunch.
http://www.redtwig.com

And of course, the reason why we were there - The Rick Steves' Travel Center:
http://www.ricksteves.com

I want to plug John Greengo a bit too. He's an amazing travel photographer and he does a webcast that's growing in popularity. You can get more information on that here:
http://creativetechs.com/training/john-greengo/

I didn't take many pictures. It was raining pretty hard and I had an umbrella, which makes it a bit difficult to take photos one-handed. I just wish I could've gotten some more interesting photos. But here are some randoms.



The coffee bean roaster at Red Twig


An old-time strip mall called Old Milltown. There was a Quizno's, a pizza place and a salon, among other things. Yes, notice the trees are blossoming. Early spring comes to the Pacific Northwest.


This photo and the following 2 photos all depict public art/memorials near the Kingston Ferry terminal.