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


Bean said...

Leavenworth is very seasonal. It is PACKED in the summer, avoid it on summer weekends unless you like mobs and long lines everywhere. It is a bit sleepy sometimes in Spring, but that can be a good time to explore the numerous trails around the area. Late summer, early fall it is thriving with much to see and do, especially if you like wineries. Besides the tasting rooms in the town, there are wineries within a few miles that are gorgeous and offer some special wines. That is my favorite time to go. For me, Leavenworth is wine, fruit, cheese, beer and views. We go there several times a year to review the wines.

Karyn said...

Oh, I do enjoy wineries. And I see they have a lot of tasting rooms there. So if I do go back, that is why I would go back.

Thanks for commenting. :)

jab214 said...

Leavenworth has a fun, easy, good wine tasting the first week end of June (I think that's when) worth the drive over and the night there....cuz you'll have had too much wine to drive! Reserve now.

FYI, Leavenworth in July is NOT sleepy!!

Ich liebe Leaveworth...for the Italian and Mexican food no less!! And Kris Kringl!!

It's a great side trip from Seattle!

Anca Popa said...

Leavenworth sounds like a really nice place. I just love Bavarian villages, with their small, cute houses and those perfect decorations at the windows!

By the way, if you have a memorable food experience from your travels, we're running a monthly travel blogging competition and this month's theme is 'Food and Travel'.

Check it out!