Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dungeness Recreation Area and Port Gamble

Ever since we ate at the Oak Table Café in Sequim this past July, my husband has talked about how much he wants to go back there. They served the best breakfast he ever ate in his life, and he wanted to get one last taste before we leave.

So we headed to Sequim this morning. I figured we might as well make a day of it. We have less than two months to go, and this may very well be our last trip to the Olympic Peninsula.

First stop: Dungeness Recreation Area and National Wildlife Refuge

Dungeness National Recreation Area

This was a nice little detour, and I’m glad we did it. The GPS actually took us to a different area than the one I was trying to get to. But that’s fine, because I was actually able to get a picture of the lighthouse from there. It was really far away, so the picture turned out fuzzy, but the lighthouse was much, much further away from the viewpoint we had a little later on.

Dungeness Lighthouse

Using the GPS for the car and the one on my phone, we found the main entrance to the Dungeness Recreation Area off of Kitchen-Dick Road (I guarantee you won’t forget this name, but it is, apparently, difficult to find on a GPS).

After driving through the entrance and stopping for a bit to walk on the scenic bluff trail, we drove back to the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. From the parking lot, it’s about a 3/8 mile walk through a wooded area to get to an overlook where you can see Dungeness Spit (you can walk down from there to the spit, if you want, but we opted not to).

After admiring the view for a few minutes, we turned around and walked back. It was pretty chilly (and I left my gloves in the car…oops!) and we were both getting hungry.

Next stop: Oak Table Café!

Breakfast for lunch was perfect on a gray, chilly Saturday. I got Eggs Benedict with potato pancakes (applesauce and sour cream on the side) and some fresh-squeezed orange juice. Absolutely delicious. I believe these were the best Eggs Benny I ever had. Lance got the same thing he ordered last time – a puffy bacon and swiss omelet (oven-baked) with three buttermilk pancakes.

Seriously, if you’re in Sequim around breakfast or lunchtime, eat at Oak Table Café. I promise you can’t go wrong. The food is exceptional and the service is great. Lance mentioned that he wants to sneak one more trip back here before we go. I have my doubts, but we’ll see.

After our meal, we didn’t really have any plans. However, I missed a chance to go to Port Gamble back in August and it was only a slight detour, so I suggested that we stop on the way back. Good plan.

Last stop: Port Gamble

Port Gamble General Store

A bit about Port Gamble: it’s a mill town – founded in 1853 - that’s now a National Historic Landmark. Browse the shops, which are located in historic buildings. The General Store was my favorite. Even though I think it’s too early for Christmas, it was so festively decorated and they were playing a cheerful mix of holiday tunes. Plus, they offered us free cookies when we came in. What’s not to like? They have a café in the back, as well as a museum. If you go up the stairs, they have some sea life displays that are interesting to look at. Even though we weren’t in Port Gamble for very long, we spent most of our time here.

They were doing a wine tasting too, but I didn’t partake, sadly. It was a bit crowded there. Looking at their website now, I guess they had a holiday open house. That would explain the crowds.

We spent maybe a half hour there, but the weather was looking threatening, so we decided to head home. The skies opened shortly after we left.

All in all, a great day. I didn't take as many photos as I would've liked, but here's my Flickr set.


- Dungeness Recreation Area
- Oak Table Cafe
- Port Gamble

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Boehm's Candies

We have less than 3 months to go until we move to Washington, D.C.

Of course, that means there is too much to do, and not enough time. And so I won't be posting here too much for the time being. We have very little time left for traveling, although Lance mentioned wanting to take a day trip somewhere soon to get the dogs used to traveling in our new Subaru. We'll see if we end up having time for that or not.

We did get out for a few hours today. Lance and I celebrate 8 years of marriage on Tuesday, and since that's a normal workday, we decided to celebrate a couple days early. But we only had a few hours.

So we started with brunch at one of my favorite restaurants - Red House Beer and Wine Shoppe & Tapas Bar. They started serving brunch this weekend, which means they added a few breakfast items (and mimosas!) to their regular lunch menu. As tempting as the brunch menu sounded, the allure of the salmon BLT on grilled focaccia was too great. So that's what I ordered, and it was just as good as I expected. Lance got macaroni and cheese (which I tried, and it was super delicious - creamy with just the right touch of sharpness). The ambience was great, as always. They were playing Dean Martin, which just seemed right on a damp, gray morning.

After our meal, we headed to Issaquah to visit Boehm's Candies.

A little bit of the Swiss Alps, right in the Issaquah Alps. Of course we bought some chocolate (chocolate-covered coffee beans, fudge, and some salted caramels), but we took a little time to walk around the cute little park. At the end of the park is a replica of a 12th century Swiss chapel - the original is in St. Moritz.

The chapel seemed to be closed, so we only got to see the outside.

During the week, you can take self-guided tours at Boehm's and actually watch the chocolates being made. They also offer chocolate-making classes. And there are guided tours as well. None of these things were going on today, but I still enjoyed our visit.

And naturally, I ate the salted caramels almost immediately after we returned to the car.

For our last stop, we went to Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area. We had no intention of hiking up to the ledge, like I did back in August. It seemed kind of pointless, since it was foggy and I'm not sure we'd get much of a view from there today. But we walked out to the lake. It wasn't nearly as beautiful today as it was back in August.

We didn't stay long. It was drizzling and chilly.

I had hoped to see some fall color today, but we're having kind of a disappointing autumn. Bummer. There are a few stunning trees here and there, but most of them have changed very little. The most color we saw today was actually around Boehm's Candies.

If you want to visit Boehm's Candies, click here first.

Also, if you're near Renton and want a great place to eat and drink, I can't recommend Red House more highly.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

I Love Germany. I do not, however, love Oktoberfest

As promised, a link to the Matador article that I mentioned in my last post.

5 things that suck about Munich's Oktoberfest

Please note: I didn't put the word "resort" in quotation marks in my original draft (which would imply that I actually don't think of it as a resort). Those were edited in. I do actually consider Edelweiss to be a resort!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

If you write it, they will come

By it, I mean this:

This is a guest post that I wrote for Pam over at Nerd's Eye View. She posted it in April 2010. This is actually my first time linking it here, but the story may already be familiar to long-time readers, because I posted a lengthier version of this narrative back in 2007. And those who know me have heard me give a rather hilarious (so I've been told) narration of this story.

Yeah, I'm getting a bit of mileage out of my horrible Oktoberfest experience.

Anyway, the "they" that I refer to in my title is Matador Nights, which is part of the vast Matador Network - one of the largest travel sites on the Web.

I received an email from an editor there yesterday who had read my guest blog post and decided that I was the perfect person to write a piece on why Oktoberfest sucks/is overrated or something similar. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to do it.

So there we are, folks. Sometimes, great writing assignments do actually fall in your lap. (The Seattle Times did too, by the way, but I haven't mentioned that here before since it's not related to travel. But I'm currently working on my second piece for their NWjobs section.)

I'll post the link here when the article goes up. But seeing as how it's about a month until Oktoberfest time, it won't take long.

But first I have to write it, so...

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Langley - Whidbey Island

An island getaway seemed like an obvious choice when we were planning Aunt Sue's visit, seeing as how this area has several to choose from. I hadn't been to Whidbey Island yet (other than a brief visit to Deception Pass last year), and Sue wanted to visit wineries. So I chose Langley. Last Sunday, we headed out there with the dogs.

To get to Langley, you catch the Mukilteo-Clinton ferry. The ferry terminal is next to Mukilteo Lighthouse.

Mukilteo Lighthouse

It's a short ride - about 15 minutes. From Clinton, it's a short drive to Langley - about 6 miles.

Honestly, it was so easy to get there, I don't know why I never got around to doing it before now.

We arrived in Langley's beautiful city center. We got there a bit before the visitor center opened, so we went into the Langley Village Bakery (one at a time, so one of us could be outside with the pooches) for hot beverages and biscotti.

What can I say about Langley? It's charming and beautifully landscaped. A place to wander. To poke into shops and talk to the locals.

Langley garden

Langley is also dog friendly. Reece and Blitz were even invited into one of the shops! The owner of that shop talked very enthusiastically about the outdoor performance of "Romeo & Juliet" that was taking place that afternoon. I would've loved to have gone, but dogs weren't allowed there.

We had no particular agenda in mind. We just walked around the town center before heading out a few miles to Taste for Wines - a tasting room featuring wines from Blooms Winery and Spoiled Dog Winery. Reece and Blitz were allowed here, too, and they were treated every bit as well as the humans. Treats for them. Wine tastings for us. They got lots of attention from everyone there.

It was lunchtime when we finished up there, and we had heard rumors that The Star Store (the town grocery) was a good place to get sandwiches. They had outdoor tables, so I grabbed one while Sue ran in to get our lunch. As I waited, people stopped to say hi to Reece and Blitz and make conversation. Sue finally came out with 2 delicious turkey sandwiches from the deli, some pesto & parmesan kettle chips, and sparkling lemonade.

We wanted to take the dogs somewhere special where they could run around a bit, but before we did that, we stopped at Whidbey Island Winery, which we passed on the way into Langley.

Whidbey Island Winery

After a tasting there, we headed out to Double Bluff Beach. They have an off-leash area there. It's one of the few sandy beaches I've seen in Washington. Needless to say, the dogs loved it.

We spent maybe an hour there before heading back. The line to the ferry was long, so we had to wait awhile, but the weather was nice, and we were in no hurry.

It was a great visit! I hope to get back and explore more of Whidbey Island soon. Maybe Coupeville, if I can make it back.

As always, I have some pictures up on Flickr.


- Taste For Wines

- Whidbey Island Winery

Friday, August 12, 2011

Tacoma and Seattle with BONUS! BLUE! ANGELS!

A week ago today, I took my aunt to Tacoma to see the Museum of Glass (MOG). We had other destinations planned too (Port Orchard, Poulsbo, and Port Gamble), so Tacoma was pretty much a brief stop on a rather ambitious itinerary. We got there a little early (by the way, Sue was amazed that the parking garage and Link Light Rail are both free, so score one for Tacoma!), so we stopped at the old Union Station, which is now a federal courthouse. We wanted to get some pictures of the Chihuly works inside.

Chihuly - Union Station

After spending several minutes there, we made our way across the Bridge of Glass to the museum, stopping for pictures along the way. I think Sue enjoyed the hot shop the most. As a photographer, she enjoyed getting action shots of the glass artists at work.

We spent a couple of hours at the MOG, but around noon-ish, it was time to move on. I had a $40 gift certificate that I won from Amy’s on the Bay in Port Orchard – via their Facebook page – so this seemed like as good a time as any to spend it. So across the Tacoma Narrows Bridge we went, and further on to Kitsap County.

Mmmmm. Total decadence! This is my smoked salmon linguine alfredo. Sue had crab cakes (most delicious I have ever tasted, by the way) and salmon with roasted potatoes. We were stuffed, but it was totally worth it. I noticed at one point that there was a small plaque screwed to the table stating that it was the mayor’s table. HAHA. I love Amy’s on the Bay!

That was about all the time we had in Port Orchard – on to Poulsbo! We spent a little time browsing in shops (primarily antiques), did a wine tasting at Eleven Winery, and stopped at Sluy’s Bakery (ALWAYS! ALWAYS!) for some cookies.

We ran out of steam at that point. Didn’t make it to Port Gamble. Instead, we headed home for a light dinner and to do some chores around the house that needed doing. (Sue is an awesome houseguest…she offered to mow my lawn while I vacuumed the carpet.)


On Sue’s 4th full day, we finally made it to downtown Seattle. There was a method to my madness for waiting this long:

1> It’s easier to find parking at the light rail station on the weekend (as long as the Mariners or Sounders aren’t playing – which they weren’t).

2> Seafair weekend – which means we’d see the Blue Angels.

We started out at Pike Place Market, where Sue got some pictures of the fish-throwing guys (though they weren't throwing any at the time). Then we grabbed some breakfast at The Crumpet Shop. Being the Anglophile that I am, I’m ashamed to say that this was my first visit. After our crumpets, we walked a short distance to the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). That was also a first for me. I got in free with my military ID, and because the guy at the ticket counter was nice, he let Sue in for free as well.

So we spent a couple hours exploring the SAM. Europe kind of spoiled me for art museums, but I still enjoyed this. I especially liked their temporary exhibition, “Beauty & Bounty: American Art in an Age of Exploration,” which runs through September 11. Go check it out.

Sue also wanted to see Seattle Central Library. Again, I am ashamed to say that I hadn’t been there yet, despite being a bibliophile. I LOVED this place. The architecture. The light. Just the massiveness of it.

Seattle Central Library
(Are you kidding me? Can I live here?)

We visited the 1st and 3rd floors, snapped a lot of pictures, and made our way out and back to Pike Place Market.

We needed sustenance. Nothing too heavy, though, because it was finally starting to warm up and it was past our usual lunchtime (we didn’t want to have dinner super late, so we didn’t want to be too full). We found ourselves at Copacabana Bolivian Restaurant, enticed by the rainbow-colored umbrellas on their balcony overlooking the market. Simple lunch: black bean soup with pork, warm crusty bread with butter. It suited us fine. From there, we had an unbelievable view of Pike Place Market and of the Blue Angels, when they occasionally swooped past us on their way back to the Seafair crowd.

Blue Angels!

I could’ve sat there all day. That was truly my favorite part of it. But we had other places to see. We walked through the market, then made our way down to the waterfront and the Olympic Sculpture Park. From there, we headed to the Space Needle. But Sue was far more interested in the Experience Music Project (EMP), since she’s a fan of Frank Gehry’s architecture. Coming from Cleveland (home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), she wanted to see how the EMP compared. We went in briefly, and she was sufficiently impressed with both the inside and outside.

(That reminds me. I visited the EMP in June and took pictures, but never posted them. Perhaps I should do that.)

After that, we called it a day. Tired of walking, we hopped the monorail back to Westlake Center and took the light rail back.

Check out my Flickr page for more photos.


- Seriously, go to Amy's on the Bay if you find yourself in Kitsap County. Soooooo good, especially if you like seafood. Try the crab cakes. Thank me later.

- Eleven Winery, whether you're in Poulsbo or on Bainbridge Island. Great tasting! I even liked the reds, which is saying a lot!

- You've got a month left to see the Beauty & Bounty exhibit at SAM. (If you're military or a military dependent, you get in free until Labor Day with your military ID.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Mount St. Helens and Mount Rainier

As I mentioned in my previous post, my aunt came to visit last week. On Wednesday, I took her to Mount St. Helens. On Thursday, we followed that up with a trip out to Rainier. It was important for me to do these day trips on consecutive days, because I think the contrast between the two areas is very striking. Mount St. Helens and the surrounding area still wear very deep scars caused by the 1980 eruption.

Look at this landscape:

This was taken from the Johnston Ridge Observatory. (You can't tell from this picture, but there is steam rising from the lava dome.)

Now this (somewhat cloudy) picture of Rainier, taken from the visitor center at Paradise:


Huge difference. St. Helens seems desolate. Rainier looks lush (if a bit snowy) and full of life.

Signs of life exist at St. Helens, of course. Wildflowers bloom, even amidst all the tree stumps left from the blast. A coyote passed in front of us on the road. As I was getting ready to leave, I spotted a butterfly, which is a known symbol of resurrection.

St. Helens butterfly

But Rainier, too, shows its signs of renewal. It was a harsh winter, and the deep snow is finally giving away to avalanche lilies.


The snow drifts are melting into rivulets in some places, waterfalls in others, creating a different landscape from what I've seen in previous visits.

After we left Mount Rainier National Park - since this is likely my last visit, at least to the Paradise side - we did something I've been wanting to do for awhile. We stopped at Copper Creek (a former client of mine) for a slice of their blackberry pie a la mode. It was so delicious. The perfect ending to our visit. We also stopped to browse at a couple of galleries in Ashford that sit along the road going in and out of the Nisqually entrance to the park. I recommend doing this. There are so many interesting things to see along that road.

As always, my entire photo album is on Flickr. Of all the things I'll miss about living in this area, these majestic mountains are what I'll miss the most.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

POST #200!! A Hike to Rattlesnake Ledge

A week ago, my Aunt Sue came to visit. She arrived early enough in the day that we still had time to do something, but she wanted to be active so she wouldn't succumb to jet lag too early (3 hour time difference, as she came from Ohio).

In the interest of doing something I've never done before, getting some exercise, and bringing the dogs, I proposed a leisurely hike to Rattlesnake Ledge near North Bend.

If you're snickering at that statement, you're likely a local who knows better. There is nothing leisurely about this hike. Unless, of course, you hike or climb mountains on a regular basis, then it might be an easy hike. Rattlesnake Ledge has an elevation of 1,175 feet and it's about a 2 mile hike to get there. For novice hikers, it's pretty reasonable. I tend to prefer flatter land due to bad knees, but I felt no pain here.

(My eyes are almost closed, so this isn't the best picture of me, but the dogs are sure cute and happy!)

No problem for Blitz, he charged up the mountain as if he owned it. Since I had hold of his leash, he propelled me up that trail right with him. Sue and Reece weren't too far behind.

After an hour or so, we made it to the top. Aside from the exercise and all that fresh air, you get an additional reward.

Good grief. That view!

But you know what they say...what goes up, must come down.

Our reward at the end was a delicious picnic dinner at peaceful Rattlesnake Lake. We followed this with a quick visit to Snoqualmie so she could view the Falls and look at the old rail cars.

I was really sore the next day. Totally worth it.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Sequim and Hurricane Ridge

We’ve lived in the Seattle area for 3.5 years now, and are 5 months from moving. And only today, we visited Hurricane Ridge for the very first time. It’s one of those places that I’m kicking myself for not having discovered sooner.

First off, we started in Sequim. We got there around 10:30 or so – a bit early for lunch. So on a whim, we went to the Olympic Game Farm.


It was a cool and slightly terrifying experience, I must admit. We weren’t feeding the animals like the cars in front of us were, but they came right up to our windows anyway, begging for bread. It made me nervous, especially the smaller animals like the rabbits and peacocks. I was really hoping we wouldn’t injure any of them. But then a bison came up to the window and looked in the rear passenger-side window, directly at me. It was exhilarating but scary.

By the time we finished our driving tour, it was lunch time. So off to The Oak Table Café we went. Full disclosure: Oak Table Café is a former client of mine from when I worked as a payroll specialist. The owner sent me a certificate for 3 complimentary meals, which I had been unable to use until today. So yes, the free food was a definite draw, but Oak Table Café was also one of my very favorite clients. The Naglers ,who own and operate the restaurant, are just the nicest people and they truly love what they do.

This restaurant did not disappoint. I had a slice of ham and cheese quiche that was pretty much perfect (the crust seemed just slightly underdone, but there was so much eggy/cheesy goodness that it was barely even an issue). It came with a small side salad, a dinner roll, and a couple slices of melon for garnish (which I ate, of course). A fantastic meal. Everything was really fresh and made from scratch. Lance and his sister ordered omelets (they serve breakfast all day), which were baked in the oven, so they were light and fluffy. And they came with pancakes that were declared to be amazing. The service was top notch too. Lance and I will be going back.

Afterwards, we drove up to Hurricane Ridge. It was a nail-biter, especially on the drive down, but the views almost make you forget how easy it is to plummet to your death.

I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves. You’ll notice a lot of Black-Tailed Deer photos. We saw probably a dozen of them, and they have no fear of people. This, I might add, is not a good thing.

We hit up Poulsbo on the way back. I was there back in December. It was quite a bit different tonight. More lively. But then again, it’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon in the summer, as opposed to a quiet Sunday morning in December. We stopped for a treat at Sluy’s Bakery (mandatory) before heading home.

Took a few pictures today. You can check them out on Flickr.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Mount St. Helens and Oregon

Lance's sister is here visiting, and we packed a lot into the past two days.

First we started with Mount St. Helens. I already posted about my trip there before, and it wasn't significantly different this time. We made most of the same stops on the drive. Only this time, we drove all the way up to Johnston Ridge Observatory, instead of turning around earlier. You have to pay to go inside (unless you have an annual national park pass, like we do), but it's well worth it. They offer a lot of information about the eruption and the views from there are stunning.

Shortly before 4 PM, we reached Portland.

downtown Portland (taken from a viaduct near Washington Park)

We didn't spent a lot of time there. We stayed long enough to see Pittock Mansion and the International Rose Test Garden. We walked the downtown streets and along the riverfront for a bit.

I loved Pittock Mansion, by the way. Yes, I have seen some of Europe's greatest castles. But I'm a sucker for architecture and beautiful landscaping. And Pittock Mansion has all this, plus the amazing views of the city. This was well worth visiting, both inside and out.

The International Rose Test Garden was lovely too, as was all of Washington Park that we saw. It was fairly close to our hotel.

We stayed at Park Lane Suites, which is in the Nob Hill/King's Hill area of Portland. The surrounding houses were historic and beautiful, and even just walking around the neighborhood was a joy. But the hotel was fantastic too. It offered free parking, and we had an apartment with 2 queen rooms. I had a wonderful surprise when I walked into the kitchen. They left a complimentary bag of Bob's Red Mill oatmeal for our breakfast, complete with packets of dried fruit, nuts, and brown sugar. Plus, there was milk and orange juice in the fridge. There was a nice letter on the kitchen table inviting us to take the food in the kitchen if we didn't use it during our stay. You don't need to tell me twice. :)

It was a nice room. Clean and comfortable. And the price was right too. I would definitely stay there again. Thanks, Park Lane Suites, for being awesome!

Anyway, after Pittock Mansion and the rose garden, we went downtown to look around and get some dinner and walk along the riverfront. We ended up at Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub. In my mind, you can never go wrong with pub food. And that was indeed the case. I got a delicious chicken and mushroom pasty (in a flaky pastry with tarragon cream sauce) over mashed potatoes. And naturally, some cider and black...because I have to take advantage of being at a pub. Lance and his sister were happy with their ham and cheese sandwiches with fries.

After dinner, it was back to our room for the night.

This morning, we went to the famous Voodoo Doughnuts. Only I had Lance drive to the satellite location since we didn't want to pay for parking or try to find parking in the middle of downtown on a weekday. As we were getting out of town, taking public transportation wasn't really an option.

So...Voodoo Doughnuts Too:

It was crazy. It was pink. And it has an obsession with Kenny Rogers. Yeah, pretty much what I expected, from what I've heard of this place.

And then there's the doughnuts...

That, my friends, is one of their famous bacon maple bars. And just a regular chocolate cake doughnut with chocolate frosting.

Lance got a doughnut with chocolate frosting, crushed oreos, and peanut butter drizzled on top. I got a sugar coma just by looking at it.

In short, awesome. And doughnuts are never my first choice for breakfast food. But this is a Portland institution. I'm fairly certain if you come to Portland, at least one person will tell you to go to Voodoo Doughnut. Just do it already.

That was our sweet send-off from Portland...time to move on. Lance's sister wanted to see the Pacific coast, so naturally, we had to go back to Cannon Beach. I was just there last week - see my last post. I won't go into any further details, other than to say that it was sunny this time, and the tide was in. So it was much different from last week.

Then we headed up to Astoria, where we stopped for a bit at the Columbia River Maritime Museum before heading back toward Seattle.

Fun trip, but exhausting. I get a break tomorrow while they go whale watching. I already did that last month with my cousins. I hope they see orcas like we did.

Anyway, if you want to see pictures from the past 2 days, you can go to my Flickr set.

Here are some other links:

- Park Lane Suites & Inn

- Kells Irish Restaurant & Pub

- Voodoo Doughnut

Monday, July 25, 2011

California-Oregon Road Trip: The Conclusion

You might want to read the last couple of entries before this one if you haven't yet. Otherwise, this won't make as much sense.

Wednesday, July 20
Destination: Crescent City, CA

Crescent City Harbor at sunset

We left shortly before 9 AM, with the expectation that it was supposed to be a very hot day. No worries, as we were headed toward the coast (where it was significantly cooler). Shortly after we left Travis AFB, we were cruising through Napa. I couldn't let the opportunity pass to do at least one wine tasting, even though we had a rather ambitious agenda for the day.

Lance indulged me, and we stopped at Beringer, where I spent a perfectly pleasant half hour sipping wine and talking to the nice woman who poured my tastings. I walked out with 2 bottles of yummy sparkling White Zinfandel and a souvenir glass.

Beringer Winery, Napa

A short time later, we were back on the road. Lance turned off on some side road that led to what is (allegedly) the world's largest petrified redwood forest, but we decided to skip it once we got there. We just didn't want to risk paying the price of admission for possible disappointment, but we looked around the tiny museum for a few minutes before moving on.

I have to admit, as much as we hate tourist traps, we somehow felt like we were obligated to pay $5 to drive through a tree. However, we didn't even get to do that, since there was a very large group standing in front of it, who refused to move when they saw our car (RUDE! I was inclined to ask them to reimburse us since they wouldn't let us get what we paid for). After a few minutes, we got sick of waiting for them and just parked in the parking lot to explore that area for a bit.

It wasn't until we got to The Avenue of the Giants that things got really impressive.
Avenue of the Giants

What can I say about these ancient, majestic trees? They make you feel small and insignificant, and that's not a bad thing. I had this feeling quite often throughout the trip at different locations.

After we finished our detour through The Avenue of the Giants, we met back up with the 101 and continued our journey toward the coast. Of course, we continued to drive through the redwoods and even caught sight of a herd of Roosevelt Elk.

Around dinnertime, we made it to Crescent City. We checked into the Lighthouse Inn right at the entrance to town on the 101. Our room had an ocean view. It was spacious, clean, and comfortable. And our room was discounted to the lowest possible rate, so we stayed overnight for less than $100. I liked this hotel. The decor is nautical meets Grandma, but we enjoyed our stay there.

After checking in, we went next door to the Northwoods Restaurant. It was crowded, and the service was slow, but our server apologized over and over again. She did the best she could under the circumstances. The food was delicious. Lance had a burger. I got Chicken Jerusalem, which was chicken, mushrooms and artichokes in a white wine cream sauce. It was accompanied by dinner rolls, garlic pasta, steamed veggies and a trip to their salad bar. We were definitely stuffed. I don't think I even got through half my meal before I had to give up.

A huge meal should always be followed by a leisurely walk. So we strolled along Crescent City Harbor just as the sun was setting. It was a beautiful end to our busy but fun day.

Thursday, July 21
Destination: Tillamook, OR

Tillamook Cheese Factory

We left Crescent City shortly before 9 AM. It was a bit foggy and chilly. By the time we got to Oregon (a relatively short drive from there), the sun was out and it promised to be a beautiful day.

We had no particular agenda, except to get to Tillamook. And yes, it was all for the cheese. On the way, Lance and I just pulled over at whatever scenic viewpoints interested us, and there were A LOT. The Oregon coast boasts some of the most stunning scenery I have ever been privileged to see in all my travels.

If you have never taken a trip on the Pacific Coast Highway, do so. You won't regret it, I promise.

I loved all the coastal towns we drove through. I could've stopped at every one and poked into the cute little shops or eaten at the local spots. But we drove through most of them (with a short detour in Newport). Alas, we didn't have the time to explore further, since we needed to get to Tillamook by 6 PM if we wanted time to go to the cheese factory. And as for eats on the road, we had a picnic at some random lake we just happened to be driving by around lunchtime. We were a bit inland at that point. But it was near the Oregon Dunes.

I think it was around 5 PM or so that we arrived in Tillamook. We easily found our hotel - The Ashley Inn - which was just a stone's throw from the Tillamook Cheese Factory. I didn't even plan it that way. We checked in, got settled into our room, and headed off to cheese heaven.

We both wanted to order the macaroni and cheese at their cafe. We were disappointed to learn that they were out of mac and cheese. So we both ended up ordering grilled cheese sandwiches, which were good, but not what we were craving. I must say that their french fries were some of the best I ever had.

The actual self-guided tour part of our visit didn't take too long. I took more pleasure in shopping at their impressive food shop (they not only sell dairy products, but they also sell a lot of things that pair well with their cheeses). We bought 3 packages of their "squeeky cheese" (cheese curds), 1 package of smoked medium cheddar, 1 package of smoked vintage white extra sharp cheddar, and some fudge. And we stopped at their ice cream shop before we left. How can you resist?

We didn't do anything else after that. Lance was tired after a day of driving, so we just watched TV back at our hotel room.

Friday, July 22
Destination: HOME!

Within an hour of leaving Tillamook, we were at the most superlative beach I have ever seen in my life. I didn't even care that it was about 58 degrees and overcast. I was squishing sand between my toes and dipping my feet in the tidepools. It was heaven.

Cannon Beach, OR

This was Cannon Beach, and I could stay there for the rest of my life. The tide was out, so we were able to walk right up to Haystack Rock, which at 235 feet tall, is the third tallest intertidal structure in the world (so sayeth Wikipedia). Signs marked the prohibited areas, because Haystack Rock is a sanctuary for birds. It's most famous for its puffins, but we didn't see any.

I saw a lot of sea anemones, starfish, and other ocean critters in the tidepools.

My only regret is that we didn't stay longer in town, but Lance wanted to make a stop in Astoria too and we had to pick up the dogs from boarding before the vet closed.


We stopped there, but we didn't really do anything. I took a few pictures of the Columbia River and the Washington side. We got glimpses of some of the major tourist attractions. I just think we both kind of ran out of steam and just wanted to get home. I thought Astoria was very cute though, from what I saw of it. I can see why this has been the setting for movies such as "The Goonies" and "Short Circuit."

We crossed the Astoria-Megler Bridge into Washington State. For awhile, there were no signs of civilization and it was time to think about lunch. The first town we hit wasn't very promising. Shortly after, we entered a town called Raymond. That didn't look too promising either, until I saw a Golden Arches. I'm not really a big fan of McDonald's. As fast food goes, it's probably my least favorite. But when you're out in the middle of nowhere and there are few other options...

It wasn't bad, all things considered. But once we hit the road again, we had discovered that a Dairy Queen was less than a mile away from McD's. Rats.

That was our last stop until home.

This vacation was one of the best we've had together since our marriage, in my opinion. I thought nothing could top Europe. I still love Europe, don't get me wrong. But there is something about discovering the beauty within your own country. And I felt a real sense of peace and relaxation, not having to worry about currency exchanges or language/cultural differences.

I look forward to our move to Washington D.C., but I will miss the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.

Want more pictures? Click here.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

San Francisco

Fisherman's Wharf

As I mentioned in my last post, most of our vacation was a family visit. But my brother and sister-in-law graciously agreed to my request to go to San Francisco, since Lance and I have never been there and we are moving to the East Coast early next year.

We were only there for about 2.5 hours. That was long enough to see Fisherman's Wharf (with lunch at Boudin Bakery - clam chowder in a sourdough bowl). It was always our intention to stay with the family and not venture out on our own. And when there are toddlers with you, you don't really expect to be out long, especially when one is late for her nap.

Lance and I plan to go back someday, but we were quite happy to take the Baylink ferry back to Vallejo when they did. Honestly, San Fran felt very crowded and claustrophic to me, but I would expect nothing less on a summer Sunday.

Here are my photos. I'm not happy with these, but I had to shoot some of the sights (Golden Gate Bridge) from far away, and Fisherman's Wharf was just too tourist clogged to get decent photos. And sometimes, I was also holding my 3-year-old niece's hand, so I was trying to take pictures one-handed. :)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oregon/California Road Trip – Part 1

Day 1: July 14th
Destination: Crater Lake National Park/Crater Lake Lodge

Crater Lake Lodge

We left Kent around 8 AM with the intention of getting to Crater Lake before dinner. We didn’t have any stops planned in-between, although we knew we would have to make stops for lunch, gas, restroom breaks, etc. And sometimes it’s also more about the journey than the destination, so Lance encouraged me to let him know if I wanted to pull over at scenic overlooks and such.

The drive was fairly uneventful. Portland was cloudy, so we didn’t get to see the magnificent Mt. Hood. After Portland, we stopped at the first rest stop we could find to have a picnic lunch. (Hint: plug-in coolers are super handy. We have one that plugs into both my car and a regular power outlet. And no worries about replacing ice.) I packed a ton of food, because it was also my intention that we would eat in our room at Crater Lake Lodge instead of eating at their expensive restaurant.

We drove for a bit after lunch until we hit a national forest. And then another one. And then another one. It seemed most of Oregon was a national forest. It was a gorgeous drive and the weather was fine, although we had a few too many stops (due to road construction) for my liking. But we stopped to get gas in a really cute town in the middle of nowhere – Oakridge, I believe.

And then, finally, Crater Lake.

There was snow, and lots of it. As we drove further into the park, Lance noticed a scenic overlook. So we pulled into the parking lot.

There it was.

It was one of those rare moments when you feel like the air is literally sucked out of you. Crater Lake did that for me. The water so limpid, so blue. I think I stood there with my jaw on the ground for a good minute or so, just taking it in. It was incredible.

We spent several minutes at that scenic overlook, then moved to another one. We did this until we arrived at Crater Lake Lodge.

I fell in love with the lodge. It fits into its surroundings beautifully. Our room was quaint and comfortable. We had no TV, but we were prepared for that. I packed books and a deck of UNO cards. But we mostly wanted to spend our time walking around and admiring the view.

We tried to watch the sun set that evening on the lodge’s massive verandah, which looks out over the lake. But the mosquitoes proved to be too much. And the chill in the air got to me (even though I was bundled up). So we called it a night.

Day 2: July 15
Destination: Fairfield, CA/Travis AFB


I was up really early that morning – before 6 AM – and I went down into the lobby to watch the sun rise. I brought a book with me, and when they started serving coffee in the lobby at 6:30, I sat in front of the fireplace with my coffee and book. It was so relaxing. When Lance got up and ready, we packed up the car. We decided to have breakfast at the nearby Annie Creek Restaurant, which is in another part of the park. This is only because we didn’t know how long it would be before we found the next town.

It was a rip-off. I kind of figured that going in, because it had horrible reviews online. We paid way too much for a very small continental breakfast (it was all you can eat, but we were saving room for In-N-Out Burger for lunch). That was our first meal out on this trip (if you want to call it that), so we sucked it up.

Back on the road, and we hit the California border in relatively short order. We stopped in Weed for gas (should’ve waited a bit longer – it was about 20 cents cheaper per gallon later on). I was admiring the landscape as we drove, except for Mt. Shasta being covered by several clouds.

I had my first taste of In-N-Out Burger in Redding. It was worth it. I was skeptical about waiting in the long line at the drive-through, but I figured the food had to be good if it was that busy. And it was.

And that’s really all until we hit Travis AFB, which is where we stayed for several days. That’s where my brother (a sailor) is stationed with his family, and we needed some time to visit him, his wife, and our two darling nieces.

That’s all until Sunday, when we spent a few hours in San Francisco exploring Fisherman’s Wharf. Stay tuned.

Here are the pictures from the first 2 days.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Clipper Vacations Friday Harbor/Whale Watching Tour

Friday Harbor

It's always nice to have visitors. When you're living somewhere and you start to take it for granted, it's nice to have a look at where you live through their eyes. My husband and I are relocating to the East Coast next year (D.C. area, to be more specific), so we're expecting a lot of visitors this summer. Or that could just be a coincidence. But since we got a larger number of visitors our last year in Germany, I'm thinking it's not.

First up - my cousins Lori and Lindsey, who flew in from Minnesota last Sunday. They left this morning (and are, in fact, winging their way back to MSP as I type this).

I may post about other bits of their visit later, but right now, I want to focus on the whale watching tour. Because that was new to me, and it was something I always wanted to do since I moved here.

We did, in fact, see orcas. And that made it all worthwhile (and fulfilled, at least for me, an item on my bucket list). But there were unpleasant parts. We had to get up super early to get to Seattle from Kent (weekday morning = rush hour = crush of humanity on public transportation). But Seattle was brilliant and beautiful that morning, and we enjoyed our walk from the rail station to Pier 69, where Clipper Vacations docks their Victoria Clipper boats.

Check-in and boarding were easy enough. We were advised to reserve seats on the lower decks if we wanted to sit on the top deck, because it gets cold and windy up there. Most people don't sit up there for the duration. But to "reserve" your seats, you have to leave your personal items on them to claim them. We didn't feel comfortable doing that. So in a girl power moment, we decided to suck it up and deal with whatever uncomfortable conditions we'd encounter on the top deck. The view was best from there, after all.

And yeah, it was cold. Very cold. And windy. Very windy (we all got windburn, actually). But we had heavy jackets with hoods and bundled up as best we could. It wasn't too bad. We could laugh about our misery while we were up there, but the views were spectacular. And getting some scalding hot chocolate from the concession stand helped warm us up some.

We also saw a Bald Eagle. And several Harbor Seals.

Harbor Seals

After about 3 hours and 45 minutes, we docked at Friday Harbor. Us whale watchers had to stay on the boat. We had a 15 minute stop there before the whale watching tour began.

And there were whales. Probably at least 6 of them. We came upon several tour and research boats circling a pod (which, I'm sure, was not by accident). We watched them for half an hour or so. They breached the water several times, which was spectacular. We had to stay at least a couple hundred meters away though, so it's not a close encounter. Binoculars are handy. And a camera with a mega zoom lens (and super fast shutter speed) is also handy. Needless to say, I didn't get pictures of the whales. The pictures were mostly of ripples on water, and I ended up missing a few breaches because I was fiddling with my camera. So I stopped. Not everything has to be viewed through a lens.

The whale watching was over with too soon, and we went back to Friday Harbor for a couple of hours. Which, in my opinion, was not nearly long enough. After we had lunch (at a place called Downriggers Restaurant, right next to the Clipper pier), we only had about half an hour before we had to board for our return trip. No time to look in the shops, but at least we had time for a quick wine tasting (there is always time for free tastings) at Island Wine, where I bought a couple bottles of blush on sale.

That is probably my major complaint about the tour - not enough time at Friday Harbor. And I did mention that on the survey I filled out during the return trip.

On the way back to Seattle, we opted to sit in the lower deck. We couldn't stand to be exposed to the elements anymore. We were all exhausted and I caught a few winks on the return trip. Other than some people being obnoxious (not unlike being crammed on a full flight), it was an excellent trip. It makes for a very long day, though. In total, we were on the tour for nearly 12 hours, and I'm not including the commute time between Kent and Seattle.

As always, you can see more photos on Flickr.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Gig Harbor & Destiny Harbor Tour

Today is my birthday, and my husband and I planned to go to Portland, until I discovered that they were having the Grand Floral Parade as part of their annual Rose Festival. I figured this might limit parking and impede our ability to get around, especially since the parade route was right in the area where I planned to do most of my exploring. I checked into Amtrak, but the fares were too high just for a day trip.

So I came up with an alternate plan. Gig Harbor.

Gig Harbor lighthouse

Lance and I were there briefly last year. We met a friend for dinner and ate at Anthony’s. We said we wanted to go back and see more of the town because we liked what little of it we saw.

Today seemed as good a day as any.

We got there around noon. Mostly we just meandered around the historic downtown area. We stopped for some ice cream at Kelly’s. There was nothing particular we had in mind to do other than a Destiny Harbor Tour. And that was scheduled to leave at 3:30. Gig Harbor isn’t a bad place to kill time, believe me. It was overcast today, so we didn’t get the amazing view of the mountains that we had last time we were there, but it’s still a picturesque town and a great place to wander. We even saw a bride and groom getting their pictures taken at Skansie Brothers Park. It’s a nice place for people watching, if you like that sort of thing.

At 3:00, we went to the dock where the Destiny Harbor Tour departs (right at Anthony’s Restaurant). We got there a tad too early, but better too early than too late, right? Captain Tom showed up a short while later, and once he got the boat ready, we boarded along with some of the other passengers. The Destiny is an old Coast Guard utility boat.

This 2-hour tour was definitely the highlight of my day. It took us out underneath the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. We got close up looks at Salmon Beach, Point Defiance, and the beautiful homes at Point Fosdick and Gig Harbor’s waterfront. I was especially fascinated by Salmon Beach, where people live in fishing shacks at the water’s edge. Perhaps a bit isolated, but stunning. Access to this Tacoma neighborhood is either by boat or by foot down a very steep cliff, if this tells you anything about why I found it fascinating.

We learned a little about history, geology, architecture and wildlife. We saw two Bald Eagles (unfortunately, I wasn’t able to zoom in close enough for good photos), a couple seals, and several Pigeon Guillemots. We also heard a fascinating story about the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (and how it got the nickname "Galloping Gertie"), but I'll leave that to Captain Tom to tell you.

It was a fantastic time! I highly recommend this tour if you’re in Gig Harbor, but the company also runs tours out of Tacoma.


And as always, a link to my Flickr album with today's photos.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Windmill Gardens and Bistro in Sumner


Almost exactly 2 years ago, I wrote about my first visit to Windmill Gardens in Sumner. I went again today, and it wasn't quite so warm and sunny. In fact, quite the opposite. But unlike last time, I ate at Windmill Bistro.


I liked the ambience of this place. It was warm and cozy. It was rather crowded today too, so clearly, it's a local favorite. I ordered a cup of clam chowder with half a bistro salad (greens, dried cranberries, blue cheese and candied walnuts with raspberry vinaigrette), along with some of their strawberry lemonade. Very good, and the perfect amount of food. Everyone else's orders looked delicious too (and it seems they're generous with their sandwich platters).

This looks like a good place for a girlie lunch, which was basically what I was out doing. There were kids with us too, and Windmill Bistro was great with accommodating them.

If you're in the area and looking for something fun to do with a friend, I recommend it. You can stop at Tea Madame for some tea, pop into the spa and salon, or shop for beautiful flowers and landscape art. If you have the time (and I didn't today), you should also check out Sumner's charming downtown.

Want to see the entire Flickr set? Click here.


- Windmill Gardens
- Windmill Bistro

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tomorrow is National Public Gardens Day

If you happen to have some free time tomorrow, Better Homes & Gardens is offering free admission to many public gardens nationwide for National Public Gardens Day.

Click the link below for a list of participating gardens and a voucher for free admission.

I'll be going to PowellsWood in Federal Way, as long as it's not pouring rain.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Olympic Peninsula Weekend

Lake Quinault sunset

How have we lived in Washington for over 3 years and not yet been to the Olympic Peninsula? Well, we rectified that this weekend. I got a Groupon deal for Lake Quinault Lodge, so we set out yesterday morning. This is one of those weekends where few of our plans came together, but we still had a great time.

Let me just say that the Olympic Peninsula is a great destination if you're looking to find peace in your soul. I mentioned in a recent post that my grandmother recently died, and I'm still reeling from that. My husband's been traveling a lot. We needed a quiet, restful place to regroup and reconnect. Lake Quinault was great for that.

Lake Quinault (our room is obscured by the tree)

Our drive took about 2.5 hours from Tukwila (we had to drop the dogs off at Petsmart for boarding first). Parts of the drive were quite nice. I especially liked going through Grays Harbor County, and Hoquiam in particular.

After driving through a seemingly endless stretch of evergreen forest, we saw signs for Lake Quinault. I think we arrived there sometime between 10-10:30. As it turns out, it was too early. Our room wasn't ready. So we walked down to the lake, just in time to see this:

Lake Quinault rainbow

We were the only two outside, so it was almost like the rainbow was there just for us. I felt it was a omen that we would have a good weekend.

But with a rainbow comes the rain, of course. Despite that, we hiked the Quinault Loop Trail through the rainforest. We came out of the trailhead soaked, but happy. The sun came out as we finished our hike, and we saw another rainbow form over Lake Quinault.

At that point, it was time to think about lunch. The Roosevelt Room at the lodge was a bit too rich for our blood, so we wanted to go somewhere a little more within our price range. I had read that the Quinault Mercantile right across the street had a cafe, but it was closed when we walked over there. And there was a sign pointing to the general store at Rain Forest Resort Village about a mile away. So we drove there, thinking we could get food. But that was just a convenience store. They sold food there, of course, but it was your standard pre-made sandwiches and bags of chips.

We ended up driving into nearby Amanda Park, where we had lunch at the Internet Cafe (otherwise known as I.C.). There was really no ambience to speak of, but the staff was nice and the food was simple and good. I had fish and chips and it exceeded my expectations. We noted that they served breakfast and headed back to the lodge to check in.

I had anticipated that we would take the rainforest tour that is available via the lodge. Part of the Groupon was for buy one, get one free admission. And their website says they offer the tour from 9:30 AM-1 PM daily and from 2-5 on Saturdays. So I wanted to take the Saturday afternoon tour. But I was told that they only offered the tour at 9:30 AM. So it seems the Saturday afternoon tour is no longer available.

We got our room key and headed up to the second floor to check it out. We had a lake view room, which I knew ahead of time. I loved the view. And the room was charming, with vintage details. There was no TV, but I didn't feel that was a problem. The only caveats: the walls were paper thin. We could hear EVERYTHING. We had a shower stall (I was hoping for a tub), and the water pressure was weak. But otherwise, it was very nice.

We rested for a bit, and then decided to go down the road a bit to see the world's largest Sitka Spruce. That was one of those situations where you end up being less than impressed once you get there. It was a huge tree, don't get me wrong. But it just didn't have the awe factor that I assumed it would have. That short hike to the tree and back resulted in sodden socks and shoes (lots of flooding on that trail), so back to the room to dry our shoes by the radiator. I am a former Girl Scout, so I should've been more prepared and had 2 pairs of shoes. I did bring extra socks, at least.

We had nothing else to do while waiting for our shoes to dry, so I ended up dozing off and Lance was playing around with his cellphone. Soon, dinnertime was upon us, so we put on our newly dry shoes and trudged back out into the rain. We walked a mile down the road to The Salmon House at Rain Forest Resort Village. We loved, loved, LOVED this restaurant. To say that they specialize in salmon is obvious, but neither of us ordered that. Lance ordered the chicken cordon bleu, which he thought was fantastic. I got the garden vegetable fettuccine, which was pretty much the best fettuccine alfredo I ever tasted. And we were seated at a big picture window overlooking the lake. What could be better? Especially since it stopped raining while we were eating and the sun came out.

It was dry as we walked back. And the rest of the evening was gorgeous, as is evident from the first picture I posted. That was our sunset last night. Glorious.

But between the end of dinner and the sunset, we spent some time in the game room at the lodge, where we laughed a lot over a couple games of pool and some very crazy games of ping pong. We were both exhausted - not just from the day's events - but from the past 2 months in general. Shortly after 9 PM, we were both asleep.

I was up before the sun this morning - not that I wanted to be. I had hoped to sleep in. But my insomnia didn't take the weekend off. Lance woke up shortly after I did, and we decided that instead of hanging around the lodge (where we had considered doing the rainforest tour this morning), we would instead drive up to Ruby Beach on the Pacific coast. Once we showered and dressed, we checked out and were off! Back to Amanda Park for breakfast at the I.C.

Afterwards, it was about a 40 mile drive to Ruby Beach. It was worth it. This was, for me, one of the highlights of our trip. The waves were tempestuous, crashing against the sea stacks, and the skies were foggy and gray. The beach was exactly how I like it. Simply stunning.

Sea stacks at Ruby Beach

From there, we headed south to Ocean Shores. No special reason, except we had time to kill, and we hadn't been there before. We had homemade ice cream at Murphy's and visited the interpretive center. We were probably in Ocean Shores for a little over an hour, and then we decided to head back toward home.

By the time we got to Hoquiam, we were ready for lunch. So we shared a pizza at Sasquatch Pizza, and then we were on the road again.

Two days wasn't long enough. I long to go back. But we're planning on seeing the northern part of the Olympic Peninsula before we move on to our next assignment (which is coming up soon).

My full set of photos is up at Flickr.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

How I Inherited My Wanderlust

I just returned to Seattle on Monday night after some time with my family in Ohio, where my beloved grandmother passed away after a courageous battle with cancer.

I think she was partially responsible for my wanderlust. I always thought it was kind of funny that my brothers and I have traveled to many countries (granted, my younger brother is in the Navy, which is why he has traveled so much), while our parents are homebodies and content to stay where they are. Then I realized, our maternal grandparents traveled extensively throughout their lives. A favorite destination of theirs was Gatlinburg. In fact, there's a picture of them on the Gatlinburg skylift - taken in 1989 - that I particularly like. I think they went to the Smoky Mountains just about every year and they stayed at the same place every time. I remember them getting Christmas cards from that particular lodge every year.

We have lots of pictures of Grandma during her travels. There's one that I remember from Devil's Tower National Monument. One I saw just recently - a picture of Grandma and Grandpa picnicking somewhere in Vermont. Their honeymoon photos - especially the ones of them visiting Lincoln's tomb and his home in Springfield, Illinois (places I would later visit during my senior year of high school). In other photos, it's a bit harder to tell where Grandma is, but there are mountains behind her, so she's definitely not in Ohio!

I also cherish the trips I've taken with her. There were a couple of trips to Illinois to visit family who once lived out there. We went to Norfolk, Virginia in 2003 to welcome home my brother's ship as it returned from its deployment.

There was a road trip to Pensacola, Florida in 2006 for that same brother's wedding. I vividly remember sharing a room with Grandma at a crappy Motel 6 somewhere in Alabama as we made our way toward Florida. We watched the movie Circle of Friends that night, and I remember turning back the covers to snuggle into bed, only to find that there were no sheets! At least Grandma had sheets on her bed. What a rotten hotel stay! But I cherish even that memory now. I think that was the last long road trip she ever took. She turned 80 that year, and it was getting more difficult for her to travel comfortably.

Still...she did a lot of traveling in her life. I think she only left the country once - during a cross-country road trip when my mom was a teenager. Grandpa drove past the Mexican border. I'm pretty sure he did it just so they could say they've been to Mexico - at least, that was the impression I got from the stories I've heard about that trip. If she ever left the U.S. again, I never heard about it. But she explored much of the United States in her lifetime - much more than I have. She always said that there was no place on Earth more beautiful than the United States.

Grandma ended her journey on February 5, 2011. I was with her, along with my mother, aunt, and older brother. As I'm reflecting back on her life, I'm realizing now just how much she has influenced me. I'm finding that she left a mark on my life in ways I hadn't considered before. My insatiable desire to get out and see the world comes from her, I think. And Grandpa too.

And I say thank you. Thank you, Grandma, for this inheritance. My longing for travel has enriched my life in ways I can't even describe, and has been incredibly valuable to me.

Monday, January 10, 2011

California Dreamin'

Santa Monica Beach

I'm currently sitting at the Burbank Airport, making use of their free Wi-Fi while I wait for a flight back to Seattle and impending snowmageddon. I'll keep the above image (Santa Monica Beach) burned into my memory as I spend the next couple of days hoping that our power holds and we don't freeze to death.

Needless to say, the weather in Southern California is quite a departure from the damp chill of Seattle. I arrived to sunshine and left with sunshine and had lots of sunshine everywhere in between.

Day 1: Los Angeles Zoo

I arrived in L.A. around lunchtime, and my brother took me to his house to drop off my luggage and have a sandwich. Shortly afterwards, we drove to the Los Angeles Zoo. I loved the landscaping there, since the flora is quite different from Washington's, but otherwise, I didn't see any animal exhibits that impressed me. It's a nice zoo, but there was nothing really unique about it. It was a nice way to spend the afternoon, though. After traveling all morning, I didn't feel like doing any hardcore sightseeing.

Dinner that night was at a nice American restaurant called Dish in La Cañada. The evening was very relaxed.

Day 2: Santa Monica Pier/Hollywood

I woke up, ready for some hardcore sightseeing. Weather-wise, this was the warmest day, which was great, because we were headed to the beach. My brother drove me out to Santa Monica Pier, which was almost empty that time of morning. Perfect. We walked along the pier, walked barefoot on the beach (so amazing to do that in early January), and stopped at Perry's Beachside Cafe for a late breakfast/early lunch. I can't even tell you how relaxing it is to sit outside in the sun on a warm January morning, eating fresh-made veggie burritos and hash browns, listening to the waves crash on the shore, and smelling the salty air.

Afterwards, we drove through Malibu, and then turned onto a mountain road and drove up through Toluca and back toward my brother's place, where we parked at the rail station and took the train to Union Station. From there, we took the subway to Hollywood & Vine.

Here's the disappointing part. I didn't see what the big deal was about Hollywood, honestly. I walked up one side of Hollywood Boulevard, along the Walk of Fame, and got harassed at every turn by tour operators trying to get me to take some overpriced tour. It was crowded. It was claustrophobic. You couldn't even stop to look at anything for fear of getting trampled. I took pictures of a few of the theaters, and we turned around at Grauman's Chinese Theater and headed back to the nearest subway station at Hollywood & Highland. Been there. Done that. No need to do it again.

The rest of day 2 was spent hanging out with the family. So now we move on to...

Day 3: The Getty

I've seen some pretty impressive museums in Europe. My top 3 are the Victoria & Albert, the Hermitage, and the Louvre. The Getty is on par with those. It's a huge, modern glass and concrete structure at the top of a mountain. You need to take a tram to get up there. Plan to spend an entire day, because it takes at least that long to see everything. Their galleries are extensive (European art, photography and illuminated manuscripts, among other things), and they also have a very nice garden. I think we covered most of it, but there were still come exhibits we missed. As for famous artwork that's displayed there, does this do anything for you? That's the most famous painting I saw. Regardless, their collection is impressive and fascinating.

Later on that day, right at dusk, my brother drove me into Pasadena (where we passed the Rose Bowl) for a quick hike at Eaton Canyon.

Day 4: The Huntington Library

As if The Getty isn't impressive enough, the Huntington Library completely knocked my socks off. This, for me, was the very best place I visited on the trip. My friend - being a fellow literature geek - suggested it, and I immediately agreed. We were not disappointed.

A 15th century manuscript of The Canterbury Tales!
Canterbury Tales manuscript, 15th century

Also, a first folio of Shakespeare!

This is an English major's playground. They also have a nice collection of art, including the famous painting of Thomas Gainsborough - "The Blue Boy."

And the gardens...oh, THE GARDENS!

So many gardens: Japanese, Chinese, rose, sculpture, desert (my favorite), Australian, sub-tropical...I could go on. All are different. All are jaw-dropping in their beauty.

Yes, The Huntington also takes an entire day to cover. Do go. It's worth it, I promise. We left at lunchtime to eat at an old-school soda fountain - Fair Oaks Pharmacy & Soda Fountain - on Route 66 in South Pasadena (go for the nostalgia and the ice cream - the food is ok), but you get stickers that allow you to come back. And come back, we did.

I was back at my brother's by dinnertime, where we had a last dinner out at Ernie Jr.'s Taco House.

And that takes us to today. But today was mostly just a day to chill out at my brother's house. We only ventured out to Barnes & Noble to get a book for me to read for the flight back.

We'll be boarding soon, so I leave you with my Flickr photo set (132 photos...YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED) and some links:

- Dish Restaurant

- The Getty

- Fair Oaks Pharmacy & Soda Fountain

- The Huntington Library