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.