Saturday, June 30, 2007

Around Lake Harriet

Starting in the rose garden, wandering through the rock gardens and the Roberts' bird sanctuary to reach the lake on a very hot and sunny morning.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Hawaii at Last

What I neglected to mention amidst the recent chaos is that I have booked tickets for Hawaii next January!

This is a big deal, in part because I’ve been promising my friend Dawn that I would visit her there for about as long as she’s been back home on Oahu. She moved back a few years after grad school and we’ve been out of grad school for, well, quite some time now.

It’s also a big deal because I have actually booked the tickets – although I also purchased an insurance policy that covers me should I choose to cancel for absolutely any reason at all. (Sorry, Dawn, but January is a long time from now.) I’ve actually gotten to the point of booking tickets before, but then had something come up at the last minute: A work project, a chance to go to Ireland with Michele, or maybe a chance to go to South America with Mark and Kathy. I have a bit of a reputation for planning trips to Hawaii and then not actually following through.

But I think it will happen this time – although Larry did call me just tonight to talk about an alumni trip to Greece and Turkey next winter. . .

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Visiting the Pacific Northwest


Sorry it’s been so quiet here, but I’ve been really busy at work, in the yard, and ON VACATION!

Yes, after a about a six year absence, we finally made it out to the Pacific Northwest to visit Michele and Norman in Seattle and the Inuit and Northwest Coast art galleries in Vancouver.

I’ve been working on my pictures and as I get them sorted and edited, I’ll start posting my journal at the following links:

Monday, June 11, 2007

Pacific Northwest Details

The idea behind this trip was to combine a long over-due visit with my college roommate in Seattle and a Vancouver art gallery tour. Since we were visiting in spring, we added Victoria on Vancouver Island because it is noted for its fine gardens. (And because there was a show at the museum there that Lane wanted to see.) To do as much of this as possible in the short time we had, we spent the beginning and end of the trip with Michele and her family and then spent the rest of our time on our own in Canada.

Route

Weather
The Pacific Northwest is usually rainy in early June, but this was the best timing otherwise. We mostly had gray skies, but we also had a couple of absolutely gorgeous days too.

Transportation
Air: Northwest Airlines is our hometown carrier and we were able to get an inexpensive direct flight that got us into Seattle about midnight. In order to assure aisle seats, I paid extra to get premium economy seating when I e-checked us for the flight. These seats seem to fill last (duh, they cost more), so the extra $15 may also buy you a seat without anyone in the middle - but don't count on it.

Rental Car: I booked the rental car through Budget via Travelocity. I used to book through Priceline, but as rental companies have gotten pickier about where you take their cars and whether your spouse can drive without a second driver charge, I've started booking only through companies that publish their fine print online. On this trip, I needed to be sure I could bring the car into Canada. Picking the car up at Sea-Tac adds to the bill because the airport charges are so high, but since transit options to and from the airport are limited, there aren't a lot of options.

Having a car also adds substantially to the cost of ferry travel, but getting around Vancouver Island without one would be difficult. (Amtrak runs regular service between Seattle and Vancouver each day, so travel there does not require a vehicle.)

BC Ferries: BC Ferries provides regular service between Canada's mainland and the coastal islands. The "Vancouver" terminal is located about 30 minutes south of the city in Tsawwassen. (When you think you must have missed it, keep driving.) Ferries depart every few hours, so advanced ticket purchases are not required. Early arrivals will find a large modern terminal fully equipped with a broad array of fast food restaurants and souvenir shops.

Washington State Ferries: Regular ferry service between Anacortes, Vancouver Island, and the islands of Washington state is provided by Washington State Ferries. Advanced reservations should be made when traveling between Victoria and the US, as daily service on this route is limited. Reservations can be made online.


Skagit County

Skagit County is mostly an agricultural area that is famous for its spring tulip festival.

La Conner: At this time of year all of the activity seems to be found here, where there is an abundant supply of tourist-oriented shops and restaurants. There are lots of places to eat in town. We had breakfast at the Calico Cupboard, which has lovely baked goods, huge servings of good food, and a deck over the water. There are also a number of fine-dining spots that look very tempting.

La Conner is also a bit of a shopping mecca, with some of the most interesting spots (to me anyway) being Earthenworks Gallery (be sure to visit the courtyard garden in back), the Wood Merchant, and the Courtyard Gallery. There is also a nice Italian cooking shop, a spot that specializes in olive oil, and a variety of other specialty shops.

Deception Pass: Deception Pass State Park has a small parking lot near the west end of the bridges. A concessionaire there offers boat tours, as do a number other private operations.

Mount Erie: Part of the Anacortes park system, this wonderful look-out is easily accessible and signed from the main highway, although not from all routes.

Burlington: Because we had my friends' children along, it was a little harder to find lodging in the area. Most spots on Whidbey Island, for example, doesn't welcome children. We ended up at the Holiday Inn Express, a budget quality hotel. (The pool area was horrible, with no ventilation, but the breakfast was better than expected.)

Options for dining here appear to be limited to chain restaurants - the staff at our hotel recommended restaurants in La Conner, admitting without being asked that there wasn't anything but chains in Burlington. We ended up at Johnny Carino's, which was pretty good, served ample quantities of food, and was set up to accommodate split plates.


Chuckanut Drive
The Chuckanut Drive is very scenic and, with more organization, I'm sure it would be a great place for hiking.

The drive ends in Bellingham in the Fairhaven area. This quaint downtown is a shopping mecca, which includes a large number of galleries and shops. My favorite was Renaissance Celebration, which has an extensive collection of glass and jewelry - including glass floats, one of which now has a home in my backyard pond. (All of the shops are in the downtown area. The beach and marina are only have industrial and marine businesses.)

Downtown Fairhaven is also filled with restaurants. We ate at Skylarks, which was overwhelmed late on a Sunday morning. We missed breakfast by ten minutes and lunch service was very, very slow, although the food was fine (not incredible, but fine.) I wish we would have eaten at Mambo Italiano, another spot that was recommended to us.


Vancouver, British Columbia
The greater Vancouver area has a diverse, multi-ethnic population of over two million people. It is situated in one of the most scenic spots in North America, making it a dynamic place where nature is always close at hand. There are lots of online resources available to assist with planning a visit to the city, including the Greater Vancouver Visitors and Convention Bureau site, the Associated Cities' Vancouver site, the municipal government's site, the personal (but extensive) site Vancouver dot Travel, and (just for fun) the blog Vancouver Daily Photo.

Lodging: This aspect of Vancouver isn't fun - hotels here seem expensive. Not that I can really complain, as I reserved the Plaza 500 through Priceline and feel I got an excellent value for my money.

I wanted a hotel near Gastown, but couldn't find anything decent at a reasonable price. (a lot of places actually came up as unavailable or were located next to homeless shelters and soup kitchens. Not the atmosphere I wanted in the evening.) Priceline stated that the Plaza 500 was downtown, but - while you can see downtown from there, it isn't within walking distance.

The location worked well for us though, despite the road construction on all sides. (TripAdvisor had lots of complaints about the road construction, but it really wasn't that big of a deal.) I suspect the on-going road work (digging tunnels and laying light rain lines, I think) was the reason we paid so little for such a lovely hotel. Parking was expensive, but convenient and no more expensive than anywhere else in Vancouver. As noted in my entry, the hotel isn't near anything in particular, but the surrounding neighborhood is pleasant.

Priceline is ideal for finding a hotel if you don't mind getting something fungible, don't care exactly where you end up, and don't mind paying in advance. When I couldn't find a decent, reasonably-priced hotel in Gastown, I finally gave up and turned to Priceline a week before we were scheduled to depart. There are lots of stories about customers getting terrible service at hotels they have booked through Priceline, but I've never had that experience. The few times I've used it I have ended up with a far better room than I had any right to expect for what I was paying and the service has always been excellent. Knock on wood.

Dining: Vancouver is a foodie's delight. We appeared to be staying in the Thai end of town, as every block seemed to have a couple Thai restaurants, but while Asian restaurants seem to predominate, just about every ethnic group imaginable is represented. (And by Asian I'm including everything from those ubiquitous Thai restaurants to Malay, Indian, and a host of others.) It would be hard to get tired of the dining options here.

I love sushi and Vancouver is sushi heaven. We had sushi tapas (think a amazingly fresh and sometimes rather exotic sushi - tuna with mango - and a side of zingy salmon tataki or sushi pizza -- scallops, tuna, and salmon on a bed of sushi rice, baked briefly and served hot with salty cold roe) at the amazing Yuji's in Kitsilano. Yum, yum.

'We had a lovely lunch in Gastown at Jules Casual French Bistro, which was recommended to us by the gentlemen at Spirit Wrestler. It was a perfect place to enjoy a tasty meal on a rainy afternoon.

Restaurant reviews and recommendations are available on a variety of independent websites: Adam and Eve's Restaurant Reviews provides a pretty comprehensive overview of the Vancouver dining scene; the Martini Boys review the coolest food, drinks, and nightlife in town; and the blog Nancyland, Vancouver Foodie Fun has a wealth of detailed reviews and photos.

Shopping, Activities, and Things to See and Do: Vancouver is an outdoorsy sort of place, but with the exception of our first afternoon there, every day was raining or on the verge of doing so. So no real long hikes into the mountains or along the beach for us.

One end of the city is dominated by the University of British Columbia (UBC), which has a beautiful campus that sprawls along the coast. It is adjacent to large areas of open space and some of the city's best beaches. Of course, we spent a good deal of time here visiting the Museum of Anthropology, Nitobe Memorial Garden, and the Botanical Garden.

The most interesting and fun areas for shopping appear to be in Kitsilano, Gastown (with visitor information available in both a business-focused format and a less formal site), and Granville Island. With a "must visit list" and limited time, we restricted our shopping escapades to Gastown, where we visited the Inuit and Northwest Coast galleries Inuit and Spirit Wrestler. Both galleries have high quality work at a variety of prices, but these are art galleries, not souvenir shops. We also stopped in at Marion Scott, which is a small gallery specializing in classic Inuit art for serious collectors. (Sorry, but that is what we are interested in.)

There is so much more to see and do in Vancouver, but that was all our time allowed on this trip. (And our interest in shopping was also damped by the strength of the Canadian dollar. How I miss those days when a Canadian dollar was worth 60 or 70 cents American!)


Victoria, British Columbia
Victoria (information is available through the municipal website and on the tourism site) used to be the cutesy oh-so-British seat of government in British Columbia. Despite the elegance of the parliament building, the city used to be a caricature of itself. No longer. Today the city surrounding the government buildings seems vibrant and multi-ethnic.

Lodging: I was disappointed with our hotel in Victoria (another Priceline reservation), not because the Marriott Inner Harbour Hotel was bad (it was very nice), but because it cost as much as the one in Vancouver without being nicer or having as good of a view.

It was convent though, located right in the heart of the city, within walking distance from the inner harbor.

Dinning: The wonderful Blue Crab Bar and Grill is located way down along the harbor in the Coast Victoria Harbourside Hotel and Marina. It is trendy inside, but the food and the view through the windows are both excellent. We ate in the bar, which was wonderful. Had we been in town longer, we would have returned to eat in the regular restaurant as well.

Funky little Café Brio was equally good, with its focus on local ingredients a welcome bonus. When I was feeling most stressed, the owner walked by and told me to let her know if I needed anything. Something in her manner made me believe she really meant that and I felt so much less alone and I was able to relax a little. I would have liked to have returned here too.

Shopping, Activities, and Things to See and Do: This is another outdoorsy place with culture. On this trip, my interest was mostly linked the island's gardens. Butchart Gardens is justifiably world famous. It is an amazing place in any season. Like so many other small beautiful places, elegant little Abkhazi Gardens was almost lost to development. It is now protected as a property of the Land Conservancy.

Lane's goal in coming to Victoria was to see the Dundas collection, which was on display at the Royal BC Museum. Unfortunately, it was an expensive collection to view, as the museum was also featuring a Titanic exhibit and charging a high entrance fee to all visitors - regardless of whether one was actually attending the Titanic show.

We didn't get to do much shopping in Victoria, but the old town area looked like it had enough shops to keep one busy for weeks.


Seattle
The regional art scene is covered in depth in the Seattle Art Blog by the publishers of the Seattle Art Guide.

We only got around to a minuscule portion of what is available around Pike's Place Market, Pioneer Square, and downtown. In addition to the shops listed in my posting, we had hoped to get to the Glass Eye Studios, the newly expanded Seattle Art Museum, and the Burke Museum at the University of Washington. With our tight time frame, we didn't make it to any of them. We did, however, managed to stock up on Market Spice Tea. (Really, Michele, just send me a big bag of the regular loose leaf for Christmas!)


Tacoma
If you remember Tacoma from the past, forget it. That stodgy old place seems to be gone. The city has been undergoing a renaissance, with fancy new museums, first class transit, and blocks of up-scale ocean-view condos. Throw in the city's proximity to Mount Rainier, and this seems to be an up-and-coming place.

We ran out of time before getting to the well-regarded Washington State History Museum and, being Saturday, the lovingly restored Union Station was closed. A few reasons to return.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Tacoma

Previous Post: Seattle

The day is starting off bad, with rainy skies and unhappy children. Michele and I have planned to spend the day roaming about the "new" Tacoma with her family. With its gloriously restored Union Station and shiny museums, it seemed like a good way to spend a day, but now I'm beginning to wonder. . .

At last we are on our way and, at least in our car, the drive down is easy enough, with only light rain and no congestion. I'm not sure how things are going in Michele's van, where most of her family still seems pretty put-out by this adventure. I'm sort of glad we took separate cars.

Once we get to Tacoma, things start to fall apart again.

Michele and I have both read that the best way to visit the downtown museums is to park at the Tacoma Dome Station and then take the light rail in. That seemed like a good idea at the time (one that pleased at least one child), but now the exit is really busy and traffic is backed up all the way to the Dome itself. And where exactly IS the station?

Today is high school graduation at the Tacoma Dome (judging by the signboard outside, every school in the area holds their ceremonies here) and we are thoroughly mired in parking lot traffic. This is turning into a disaster. Lane is a good sport about it, but my heart goes out to Michele who is probably being berated by every member of her family for going along with one of my cockeyed ideas. I'm sure they'll never invite me back L

Eventually we are on a residential street outside the Dome parking zone. A quick conference through the car windows (in the rain) and we decide to make one more try for the station. One of the parking lot attendant told Michele it was sort of "that way," so we head "that way" looking for signs of trains.

And suddenly we are there!

The parking ramp is dry and free. That seems like a good start. Now, where would we find the trains?

It takes a bit of theorizing and a hike to the other end of the facility, but soon we are safely ensconced in a bright blue train car as the rain patters against the window. The mood improves visibly.

The train drops us off outside the restored Union Station.

I seem to be the only one bothered by walking through the rain to the Museum of Glass, but I am actually quite pleased when we reach the Bridge of Glass. It is capped with an astounding array of colorful Chihuly glass. It is astounding , intriguing, and DRY. Sweet.

The next section of the bridge is open on top, with sides that encase exotic glass forms. It is beautiful, but difficult to photograph and wet.

As we land at the museum itself, we have a good view of the huge cone that vents the museum's furnaces and the associated Hot Shop.

It was totally worth walking here in the rain. Besides, I probably got better pictures than I would have gotten on a bright sunny day.

Inside, the museum is half-closed as they switch shows, but they give us a hefty discount. Near the ticket booth a couple of women are demonstrating how to make beads using a torch. I've never actually seen lampworking done before and find it interesting, but Zoe is completely entranced. Yay! One child won't hate me forever. I suggest to her father that I'll buy her a torch so she can start making beads herself. He is not amused, but he's probably not going to forgive me for this little outing anyway, so that's ok :-)

There isn't anything very dramatic to watch in the Hot Shop today, but the auditorium provides a good view of the inside of the huge steel cone that defines the building. It is also a reminder that this really is a working museum - it is an opportunity to watch artists at work and not just a stage show.

We are more than ready for a late lunch once we finish at the museum. Michele and I had selected a place called Johnny's Dock as one of our options and we can actually see it across the water from the museum. But how to get there. . .

This part of Tacoma is completely torn up by road construction (on both sides of the water), so we spend a long time going back and forth and then repeating that before Lane and I figure out a route through the construction (over gravel) that actually takes us there. Michele follows, but I wonder what the rest of her family are thinking . The food at this place had better be good.

And it is. Johnny's is basically a supper club with a fairly straightforward menu and awesome views. My folks would be completely comfortable here. The food is plentiful and good (with gigantic deserts) and the views out the windows by our corner table can't be beat.

It is a pleasant end to our stay here.

Next Post: The Details

Friday, June 8, 2007

Downtown Seattle

This morning Lane awoke feeling pretty good after last night's emergency room treatment and we are both eager to spend the day roaming around Seattle with Michele. This will be great.

That there will be a change in plans is obvious the minute we go upstairs, as, even before one of the children announces it, it is clear that Michele has a migraine. So much for spending the day together.

Lane and I eat a quick breakfast and head into town, where the first order of business is parking. Eeek. It is really expensive and we have missed the "Early Bird" rate by 10 minutes. Dang.

Eventually we do find parking by the market (our options being limited by the fact that all of the surface lots have pay machines that do not give change, nor do they accept credit cards or the redesigned $10 or $20 bills). We cross the street and we are in Pike's Place Market.

I love the market for its abundant displays of fresh fruit, veggies, and flowers. It doesn't seem to matter what time of year, the market always seems to overflow with tempting produce.
We sample tree-ripened peaches and I vow to return for some of these and also for cherries and maybe apricots or raspberries. The vegetables also look beautiful. Maybe I should just buy some and cook dinner tonight!

I love the seafood displays as well, which always make me think about all the wonderful things I could cook for dinner. Past experience here, however, has taught me to be careful, as the displays occasionally look better than my purchase actually turns out to be. (I still find it amazing that I can get as good or better seafood at home from good old Coastal.) Still, the variety and quantity on display here is always enticing.

From the market we head off to do our shopping, stopping first at the Legacy to admire their collection of historic and contemporary native art.

From there, it is off to Pioneer Square to take in the wonderful Puget Sound exhibit at Stonington Gallery.

I'm especially taken with a pair of wooden rattles in the shape of mussels, but they are sold, so all I can do is gaze wistfully at them.

However, there are plenty of other things to admire in this show, including incredible underwater images by Jon Gross,

new work by Thomas Stream (an Aleut artist we have long admired),

and some lovely bronze fish by Ed Archie Noisecat (who used to work in the Twin Cities).

There are also other places to stop, including Ragazzi'sFlying Shuttle, with its lovely mix of textiles, jewelry, and ceramics; Flury and Company/Jackson Street Gallery, with its large collection of Curtis photographs and lovely old ethnographic items (including an irresistable piece of vintage southwestern jewelry).

Beyond Pioneer Square, we reach Azuma Gallery of Japanese art, where I buy a small etching by Ryohei Tanaka. (I've admired Tanaka's elegant work since seeing it on a postcard from the gallery a year or two ago.)

In the process of choosing my little print, I have the opportunity to admire many other fabulous pieces that I could never hope to own, like this incredible woodblock print by Japanese master Joichi Hoshi. (You really have to see it to believe it, as the detail is so incredibly fine.)We are shopped out now and it is well past time for lunch. Lane thinks we are near Salumi (as seen on Anthony Bourdain's quirky travel show) AND he thinks he can locate it. (Without an adress.) Ok. I'm game.

At least wandering about looking for Salumi gives me a chance to enjoy the wide variety of architecture on display in the part of Seattle. I love looking at buildings.
Although, something to eat would be nice. . .

Eventually I insist that we ask for directions and, in time, we locate a visitor information office. Lane wasn't too far off, but we would not have found it on our own.

As it turns out, it's just as well it took us so long to get here. It is now 2:30 and there is still a line snaking outside the door. Wow! This place MUST be good.

And it is. We score a tiny table stashed between the bathroom door, the shelf where the wine is stored, and the large communal table. There we share a platter of delectable cured meats and cheeses, which I round out with the house red.

I can see why area employees take the entire afternoon off in order to eat here.

Next Post: Tacoma
 
Previous Post: Ferry Crossing

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Ferry Crossing

Previous Post: Abkhazi Garden

Last night we had dinner at the amazing Café Brio. It started off as the perfect evening, excellent food and wine in a lovely, romantic place. Unfortunately, on about the second bite of his lamb shank, Lane completely blocked his lower esophagus. He insisted he would be fine shortly and disappeared into the bathroom. I was left to try to finish my meal while nervously watching the bathroom, hoping he wouldn't die while trying to clear his esophagus. It was an unnerving experience. . . and he never did dislodge the chunk of lamb shank.

I offered to take him to the emergency room right then and there (we're in Canada, after all, a country that actually provides health care), but he insisted he'd be fine by morning.

After a fitful night's sleep, it is now morning. Of course, he isn't fine and I'm not sure we have time to visit the emergency room and still catch the ferry. (Of course, if we missed the ferry to Washington, we could still catch on to Vancouver and then drive back down.) Lane says he can wait now until we get to Seattle. We waste enough time deciding that the decision is made for us - he'll have to wait to go to the emergency room tonight when we get to Seattle. I joke that I'll just dump him off at Ballad Swedish along the way to Michele's house. I wish I had just taken him in last night.

Although we will not now be walking any of the beaches along the way, we still opt to try to follow that illusive scenic coastal route up to the ferry terminal at Sidney.

I should have just taken the main highway. The day is gray and overcast and it is hard to enjoy the scenery when Lane is so obviously miserable. But, with a little help from him, I am mostly able to follow the route this time.

I wasn't sure how long to allow for customs (the website suggests 90 minutes before the ferry departs), but it takes 10 minutes to pay the balance of our reservation fee and pass through customs. I wish we whould have taken our chances on the emergency room.

Now we face a long wait in a fenced parking lot - we can't wander away because we are now in the "secure" area. I feel like prisoner. There is no real ferry terminal here either, just some restrooms, a shack selling pre-packaged snacks and souvenirs, and a couple of picnic tables. It is bleak and depressing.

At last the ferry arrives and we roll on. Up a level or two, we search for a window seat. Since the ferry is pretty empty, there are lots of good spots available, so we stake out a big table by the window.

Over time, Sidney recedes into the distance, its string of buildings replaced by more lightly inhabited islands.

Most of the time I write and edit photos while watching the scenery pass by beyond the window. When Lane isn't in the bathroom he keeps an eye on my computer while I run out to take a few pictures from the stern, where the wind is less forceful. There is no sign of whales, so I don't feel like I am missing a much sitting inside where it is warm. Since the deck we are on nearly empty, it is a quite, peaceful place to edit photos and work on my journal. For lunch, I eat the delicious remains of the offending lamb shank.

We arrive at cheerful Friday Harbor (a feisty little spot, if their official government website is any indication) under dark skies. I have fond memories of a long-ago day trip here with friends and wish we had been able to arrange our schedule on this trip to allow some time here. Some day.

The ferry fills with rambunctious children - several classes worth of them - heading back to the mainland after a school trip that included a stop at a candy factory/shop. It seems like a bad sign when one child proclaims she should not have been allowed to eat so much candy because now she needs to run all over the ferry to burn off the sugar. It will be a lo-o-o-o-ng trip back to Anacortes.

But it really isn't that bad. The kids are mostly well-behaved and the ferry staff quickly deal with the ones who get too wild.

Outside, the sky stays dark and gray. No one indicates they have sighted a whale, while a shift in direction brings a strong wind even to the ferry's stern. It is a good day to stay inside and watch the islands drift past my window.


Next Post: Seattle