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