Posted by: Heather | May 16, 2017

Two Years Closer to Becoming a Mossback

As we were getting ready for bed last night, I happened to swipe through my ‘On This Day’ feed in Facebook. I couldn’t believe it when I read the first item that displayed.

Two Years Ago Today: Moved to Everett, Washington

Two. Years. Ago. How is that possible?

When we made the decision to move to Washington for Brian’s job, there were so many things we took under consideration. Leaving all of our friends and family. Giving up my job and suspending my master’s degree studies. Selling our first home. Relocating our cat. Exploring a new state and region of the U.S. Taking a chance that our careers would follow new trajectories.

Two years later, I’m confident we made the right decision. Despite our initial uphill battle with the outrageous housing market, the mind-numbing amount of traffic and lengthy commute, and an ever-increasing disbelief that people choose to spend so much of their time marching, we’ve leaned into new jobs that have turned into interesting journeys in and of themselves, we’ve spent nearly every weekend discovering new places and things to do, and we’ve made a handful of great friends.

Two years later, and I’m also confident we can make this type of decision and move again. As I like to tell my friends (and anyone else who will listen to me), everything is temporary. Each morning we wake up and make choices that impact our journey, and each morning we can wake up and make different choices that send our journey in a new direction.

If the right opportunity presents itself to us again, I know we’re ready for it. Rather than giving into fear or the countless excuses we make for where we sit in life, we will weigh our options, calculate our risk, and then leap.

Two year ago we were lucky to land in one of the most beautiful parts of the U.S. (if you’re into mountains, the ocean, and national parks full of old-growth forests), and we are still uncovering all that Seattle, Washington, and the Pacific Northwest have to offer.

These two years have flown by, and I wouldn’t trade them for the world. They encompass a great deal of learning—about myself, about Brian, about people and communities with differing ideals, and about the history and geography of this region. They prove that home is where the heart is and that we’re never far from home. They represent our ability to embrace change and thrive outside our comfort zone.

And yet they are only two years in this lifelong journey. I can’t wait to look back ‘On This Day’ years from now. I wonder where life will take us next.

Posted by: Heather | April 24, 2017

Alaska by Sea

Glacier Bay in Mountains, Alaska, United States

When we moved to the Pacific Northwest, we decided we would make the best of our time here, however long it might be, and explore as much of the area as possible. We also committed to using Seattle as a launching pad to nearby states and countries to minimize the amount of time we were spending getting to a destination and instead maximizing our vacation days.

That approach has led us all over the state, from the Olympic Peninsula to the Yakima Valley to the San Juan Islands to the Northern Cascades with many more adventures to come. It’s also led us throughout the region, from Portland to Vancouver, and Coeur d’Alene to Victoria.

While we have been able to squeeze a number of these adventures into day and weekend trips, we also identified a few week-long adventures to states and countries that are relatively nearby. Earlier this year we took an incredible trip to Hawaii’s Big Island and Oahu, and this fall we were planning for another week-long vacation to Japan.

A week or so ago I was close to wrapping up my research for our 10-day trip to Japan. We were planning to go over Labor Day to take advantage of the extra day off work. We’d whittled down flight options to take advantage of our frequent flyer mile programs while trying to travel direct. I was all ready to book our flights, knowing that once we were locked in I could really dig into where we would stay and how we would get around and reach out to friends, family and co-workers who had been there for their advice.

For some reason I delayed our booking, saying I wanted to sleep on it and do it in the morning. As we were preparing for bed and I was playing on my phone, I continued doing a little research. I realized I hadn’t actually looked into whether September was a good time for us to travel there—I had simply based the timing on our availability.

As I started on this new query, I came across site after site reminding travelers of Japan’s summer heat, which extends well into late October! We’re talking upper 80s during the day and lower 70s at night. September is also peak typhoon season. I had no idea!

I quickly began to envision how this would impact our time there, especially in giant, bustling cities like Tokyo. Brian and I do not do heat. There is a reason some of our favorite trips have been in the cold and snow, and it’s not because of off-season pricing and fewer tourists, although those are amazing benefits. We simply don’t enjoy being out in the heat. We’ll take negative temps over blazing sun any day.

I was completely thrown for a loop and immediately rethought the entire trip. While Japan is on top of our list of places to go, it was clear I needed to look into a different time of year for our travels.

But if we weren’t going to Japan this fall, we had a whole week of vacation now open! I didn’t even know where to begin! There are literally hundreds of places I want to go! What if we added more time and went somewhere farther away? What if we didn’t go that week at all and instead went later in the month to celebrate our anniversary? I was quickly spiraling down a rabbit hole of adventure planning possibilities.

Thankfully my husband is rational and soon brought me back to my original guiding principles of travel. Focus on places nearby where we benefit from our Seattle positioning. Focus on places where we can maximize our week and cover the most ground in our limited amount of time.

After consulting my extensive ‘places I want to travel next’ excel document, the obvious choice from a locally accessible standpoint was Alaska. We’ve been wanting to go, it will conclude Brian’s travels to all 50 states, and there are limitless things to see and do via plane, train, automobile and ship. The downside is that we will never be able to accomplish everything in a week—it’s too vast and there’s too much.

The more I investigated, the more it became clear we would have to accept that we wouldn’t be seeing everything and instead focus on how we could make the most of this adventure. For instance, maybe we could go by train and explore further north into Denali National Park and Fairbanks. Or maybe we could go by motorcycle via British Columbia and experience nature up close and personal. Or maybe we could go via cruise ship and experience Alaska’s glaciers from the water. None of them would be the full package, but each type of trip might have something different to offer.

It was absolute kismet that around the same time I stumbled upon this LA Times article about why your first trip to Alaska should be by sea. I didn’t need much convincing—I immediately set off researching week-long cruises to Alaska from Seattle, finding dozens upon dozens of options across multiple cruise lines. I was able to quickly prioritize based on itinerary and the amount of time needed and a clear winner arose on Holland America Line. Once I had landed on the cruise, Brian spent several days calling dozens of booking agencies in order to find us the best deal. Teamwork!

At long last my autumn holiday is booked—Alaska via sea in September! Our itinerary includes stops in Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan as well as days exploring Glacier Bay National Park and the Inside Passage. I’m a little nervous about getting seasick during our day at sea (we’ve only cruised once before, and I ended up having one rough night), but I think I have plenty of time to research options for keeping that at bay.

In the meantime, I’m printing out our excursion options and starting to work through which places are worth exploring via guide and which we can explore on our own.

Have you cruised to Alaska? Any tips to help us make the most of our time on and off the ship?

Posted by: Heather | April 18, 2017

Parks and Beaches on Camano Island

IMG_9295_LUCiDDo you ever wake up on a beautiful spring morning, have some coffee and decide you need to hit the road and spend your Saturday on a nearby island?

I do!

Last Saturday, while Brian caught some much needed sleep, I put together a quick list of things to see and do on nearby Camano Island (which I outlined for him as soon as he was vertical). He was a total sport and before I knew it, we were in the car and heading north.

Both Whidbey and Camano Islands are quick trips from our house. While we’ve been to Whidbey Island numerous times on our own as well as with family and friends, somehow we had never made it to Camano Island. The weather was beautiful, and I finally had Brian home for an entire week so it seemed like the time was right for us to finally check it out!

The drive was easy and before I knew it we were pulling over at what appeared to be a small welcome center, equipped with park and art gallery, which served as our introduction to the island.

We parked the car and walked around Freedom Park, visiting the small art center where Brian spoke with the proprietor about things to do on the island. He gave us a map and marked some of his favorite parks and places to eat, which I was pleased to see reflected much of what I had looked up that morning!

Tulips were blooming all over. We stopped to take pictures of the flowers and sculptures as well as some interesting signs. We also relocated the car to a nearby complex complete with coffee roastery, library, shops and places to eat and walked around that space as well.

We took pictures of the unique outdoor signs, purchased some locally made gifts, and tasted and eventually bought some amazing jalapeno pepperoni sticks from Del Fox Custom Meats.

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Because our trip was so last minute we’d had a late start. One of our first priorities, arriving mid-day, was to grab lunch.

I read several recommendations for the Rockaway Bar and Grill, which is an unassuming spot along the Camaloch Golf Course on the northern part of the island.

Despite it being lunch hour on a weekend, we were able to get seats in a corner by a neat fireplace covered in plates of metal with exposed grommets.

We shared a tasty bowl of steamed clams and a delicious plate of roasted Brussels sprouts before driving north to our first park of the day, the English Boom Country Park.

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There were only a few spots available for cars at the end of the tiny road leading to the English Boom. We parked right next to the trail head and walked across the boardwalk and out toward the beach, stopping to read over the information bulletin board outlining the area’s history.

A couple was standing nearby and pointing up toward the trees. I stopped to look as well and the woman mentioned they had just seen two bald eagles heading in to a nest filled with babies! We stood and stared for quite a while but assumed they were feeding or resting and eventually went on with our exploration of the area.

The sun was out, the sky was blue, and we had a great view over the water toward the Cascade Mountains. There were low clouds on the horizon, but the beach and surrounding area were clear and beautiful.

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After our time on the water we hiked the trail through the grass and just inland from the coast. It was warm out and we saw a few birds along the way. There was no one else on the trail so we enjoyed a peaceful walk.

The trail terminated after a while so we turned around and admired the nearby hills as we began to make our way back. About halfway through our return these two gigantic birds came soaring out from the tree line—our eagles! The one circled back to the nest while the other headed out over the water, likely in search of additional food.

We weren’t close enough to photograph them, which reminded us we need to get a new lens for our upcoming trips where we’ll want to get close-up nature shots. Even so, we were able to admire them from afar until it was time to move on to our next stop, Cama Beach State Park.

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We drove toward the northwestern part of the island and along the west coast to Cama Beach State Park, which is about halfway down the island.

State parks in Washington require a Discovery Pass, which we usually keep in our vehicles. We actually have multiple passes to cover both our motorcycles and cars– we accumulated several following our move to the area because we kept changing vehicles and the passes have to feature your license plate number.

Despite having mentioned the passes in the morning, I completely forgot to grab them before we left the house. Thankfully we were there on a free day so we didn’t end up needing them!

We parked and walked down a path through the woods and to the water. As we arrived among the old cabins and bunkhouses along the water, it was obvious this place had been there a while.

The website said the camp was a popular family vacation spot from the 1930s-1950s, but when this form of family vacationing grew less popular, so did the park and campsites. There’s since been a revival, and we saw quite a few younger families as we walked around.

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After passing through the rows of cabins we came upon the Center for Wooden Boats.

Believe it or not, we saw a wooden boat or two inside, as well as several other types of boats that were under construction. It looked like there were a number of educational activities for kids and adults, and there were also opportunities to rent the boats and equipment if you wanted to head out on the water.

In addition to having tons of boats hanging and lying around inside, the center had a small museum full of pictures and items from the camp’s heyday.

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We walked through the center and out onto the beach. Along the way we met a guy who worked there and mentioned the tracks leading to the water.

Back in the day, you could get your boat, have it loaded onto the track, and then have it wheeled down the beach hill and into the water. When you returned, you could have it pulled back up the track and into the building. I had never seen anything like it!

While we were talking to the guy his adorable dog, Enzo, was busy trying to get his dad’s attention. When the guy walked away for a bit, Enzo went crazy, crying and straining to see where his dad had gone!

He was such a big baby–I managed to distract him long enough for a picture, but he wasn’t happy until his dad was back in his sight!

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It was hard saying goodbye to Enzo but we were getting a little tired and still had a couple of other stops to make on our island tour. We hiked back up to our car and then drove just a little ways south to Camano Island State Park.

This park was much calmer and had fewer people than Cama Beach State Park. I read there’s a trail between them so you can hike from one to the other, and the park itself has a fair trail system throughout its 224 acres as well.

There weren’t too many people around but there were several empty cars so I imagine people were out in the woods, having gotten an earlier start to their days than us.

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Our last stop of the day was the Iverson Spit Preserve. After leaving Camano Island State Park, we crossed to the east side of the island and drove up along the coast to the preserve.

The parking was at the end of a residential strip of houses along the water. Most appeared to be summer houses, and we couldn’t imagine what it would be like to live there during the summer with tons of people coming and going down that narrow, dead-end road to see the spit!

As it was, we were among a handful checking out the spit that afternoon and had to get a little creative with our own parking situation. The sun was still high but starting to sink toward the west. The light illuminated the water, surrounding vegetation, and the Cascade Mountains, which were peeking through the clouds across the bay.

While smaller than Whidbey Island, with fewer towns and attractions, Camano Island offers plenty to see and do, especially if you want to spend a day outside walking or hiking along the beach or in the wooded parks.

I’m sure we’ll be back again so we can check out the drive around the southern tip, the other places to eat, the Canopy Tours Northwest ziplining adventure, and the other beaches and parks we missed.

If you wake up one beautiful morning looking for something to do, consider a day trip to Camano Island!

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Posted by: Heather | April 15, 2017

Worldly Fare: The Scotsman Bistro

IMG_20170408_193039376_LUCiDI hear so many friends refer to planning and executing ‘date nights’ with their significant other. It seems ironic that we have to plan and carve out moments in our life to spent with our life partner—the person we’ve chosen to spend our life with! How did we become so busy?

I’m as guilty as anyone. My husband and I both have a tendency to become consumed by our work—me because of my unhealthy aspiration for perfection, and Brian because his travel schedule physically drags him away from our home two to three weeks a month.

During the last few months, we’ve been in different time zones more often than not so the moments we’ve have together become all the more precious.

Likely you can insert ‘children’ or ‘caregiving’ or any number of other things for ‘work’ in the above scenario and arrive at a similar conclusion. Hence having to plan ‘date nights’ with our beloveds!

While I love planning local adventures and faraway travels so Brian and I can occasionally escape together, I can’t say I’ve ever thought of our escapades as going on dates. I think my definition still looks and feels something like it did back when I was 16 and nervous about him taking me to Burger King and the Dollar Theater!

So it was fun when we decided to actually have (and call it!) a ‘date night’ last week following Brian’s week away in Germany. Just like the old days, we went to see a movie and then went out to eat—I can’t remember the last time we did that!

The movie, The Zookeeper’s Wife, was incredible and every bit as moving as the book. We reflected on it as we sat through the credits and on the drive to dinner but agreed we were heading into a pretty dark place if we continued to ponder it all evening.

Thankfully our dinner venue, the Scotsman Bistro, was the perfect environment for settling our thoughts and enjoying our time together. We grabbed a small corner table for two and were quickly greeted by one of the owners, George, whose Scottish accent and warm handshake put us right at home.

Through the side windows we could see the outdoor patio, which would be perfect in the summer. Inside the space was cozy and relatively intimate, probably only seating 30 or so people.

Our servers were friendly and hospitable, and we enjoyed sharing a wine flight and carafe of the Petite Syrah while we perused the menu. Everything looked delicious, and we ended up with the garlic butter shrimp and black and white pudding as appetizers while we decided how hungry we were.

We had arrived around 7:15 p.m. which was perfect because the live music was set to begin at 8 p.m. The music was actually how I stumbled upon this place—we really missed having some local spots that were locally owned and featured live music where we could meet up with friends or take out-of-town guests. I was thrilled when my recent search turned up the Scotsman, which has live music almost every Friday and Saturday night!

The performer the night we were there was Chuck Gay, and he was wonderful. He performed songs from the 60s and 70s, primarily folk and light rock, and it reminded me of a guy we used to love to see at the Riverside Wine Bar in Kent, Ohio.

We ended up adding a salad and an AMAZING sticky toffee pudding to our meal and simply enjoying our food, the music, and the positive vibes in the room. Some people came and went while others seemed to be settling in for the evening. While some groups were a little more rowdy and caught up in their conversations, other people were flying solo or with one other person, sipping their scotch and singing along to the music. It was a really interesting dynamic, and it absolutely worked.

We were both impressed by the food, drink, atmosphere and hospitality, and we will definitely be back!

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Posted by: Heather | April 11, 2017

A Sunday in Ballard: Farmers Markets and Nordic Heritage

IMG_9232_LUCiDSeveral months ago I came across an ad in one of my magazines about a Marimekko exhibit coming to Seattle!

I’m not into fashion, but I was familiar with Marimekko because their beautiful, colorful patterns often appear on Crate&Barrel items like bedding and shower curtains, several of which I’ve purchased.

I knew they were based out of Finland, and I knew they had been popular since the 60s, but I didn’t know much more than that and was excited to check out the exhibit.

As I looked into it further, I discovered the exhibit was going to be at the Nordic Heritage Museum, which has been on my list of things to do.

It was the perfect excuse to plan an afternoon in Ballard!

We decided to explore on a Sunday so we could also experience the year-round Ballard Farmer’s Market. The market is huge and there were tons of people out enjoying the vendors, the buskers, and the partial sunshine!

We started out near Bergen Place, reading some of the plaques about the city’s Scandinavian, and in particular Norwegian heritage. As we headed down the street and along the stalls, we also popped in Venue because they had the cutest Sasquatch onesie in their display window that I thought would be perfect for one of my Seattle friends who is expecting.

Brian doesn’t love to shop but this store was part shop and part art gallery, and we both enjoyed looking at some of the local artists’ work. If you enjoy letterpress anything, they have adorable cards and stationery as well.

Outside the store was the Ballard Centennial Bell Tower, which commemorates where Ballard’s City Hall used to stand back when Ballard was a separate city. The tower features the original, restored 1,000-pound brass bell from the City Hall, which used to ring out shift changes and curfew for children. Today it rings to mark the opening and closing of the Farmer’s Market!

As we wandered the various stalls, we tried a few free samples and ended up buying some asparagus and something I’ve never even heard of before—purple broccoli! I was hard pressed not to fill my bag with other veggies, especially some of the incredible mushroom varieties featured at some of the booths.

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Given the somewhat Scandinavian theme of our afternoon, I had originally looked into grabbing brunch or lunch at Scandinavian Specialties or Old Ballard Liquor Company. They were both a little out of our way and we wanted to have enough time at the museum, so we ended up popping in Bastille right along the market and having a wonderful brunch.

We will definitely be back to try the multitude of Ballard restaurants on my list, including my Scandinavian finds!

From the market we drove over to the Nordic Heritage Museum. Outside there was a special exhibit/activity recognizing Finland’s Centennial—a traveling sauna that you could schedule time to experience!

Unfortunately the schedule was already full when I planned our outing. I’m not sure Brian would have been into steaming with other people anyway!

Inside there were displays and information about the museum’s new location down by the Ballard Locks, which will be opening in 2018. I’m glad we were able to experience the current location, although the art exhibit was unavailable as they’ve already started preparing it for the move.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect and ended up really enjoying the museum. I learned much more than I had anticipated about the five Scandinavian countries and the stories of how and when people from those countries immigrated to the U.S., and the Ballard area in particular.

Several of the exhibits were interactive, and I loved the incredible old trunks, with shipping stickers still intact, that local individuals and families had donated for display. I’ve lived in 10+ places in my life, and two of those have been fairly major moves—when I studied abroad in Northern Ireland for six months, and when Brian and I moved from Northeast Ohio to the Puget Sound region of Washington.

When I prepared to study abroad, I packed two suitcases full of everything I thought I would need to live in Northern Ireland for six months. It was difficult—I didn’t know exactly what I would need or what my living arrangements would be like. I did know that my family could send me things I really needed after I was there, and that eventually I would return home to the rest of my ‘stuff.’

When Brian and I moved to Washington, we also had the predicament of not knowing what our living arrangements would be like or where we would ultimately live. We made our best guess at what we would need and spent a lot of time going through our things prior to packing. We gave a lot of things away, we returned a lot of things to our families, and we still filled a semi with all of our “stuff” and moved it across the country.

Both of those scenarios were in the back of my mind as I read these incredible stories. While my choices to move were driven by my desire to learn more about the world and myself, to challenge and broaden my abilities, and to pursue knowledge and career opportunities, many of these individuals were making the choice based on substandard living conditions at home. Others didn’t have the resources to move and remained behind.

I love reading these stories and reflecting on the causes and effects of people’s transience over time.

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While the first floor was dedicated to those immigration stories, the second floor was dedicated to Arctic explorers, the fishing and logging industry in the Northwest, and the Marimekko exhibit.

I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the Marimekko exhibit– only of a few display items outside the exhibit. Despite not having photographic evidence, I assure you it was really interesting!

There were tons of examples of fabric selections, clothing and more, and I liked reading about Armi Ratia and her husband Viljo who founded this company and the history behind what really became a movement in the fashion industry.

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Our experience at the museum ended on the third floor, where there were individual rooms filled with exhibits representing each of the five Scandinavian countries. They were really a deep dive into the culture of each country and what traditions carried forward as people immigrated to the area.

While we tried to make it through the whole museum that afternoon, we only got to read about half of what was on display. There is so much history and storytelling captured—it would be easy to return again and again and find something new.

From the Chittendon Locks to the live music scene, to countless restaurants and shops, and now our foray into the Scandinavian influence of those who settled in this area, we’ve only seen a sampling of all Ballard has to offer!

Posted by: Heather | April 10, 2017

Worldy Fare: Bastille Cafe and Bar

IMG_9217_LUCiDWhile Brian and I love to try new food and drink when we travel, we don’t typically eat out when we’re at home unless we’re with friends and family, or meeting with work colleagues or customers. While this practice allows us to save money and better control the nutritional value of what we eat, it also makes us a poor resource for dining options when people come to town.

As we’ve started to fulfill our commitment to exploring Seattle neighborhoods this year, we’ve also had the opportunity (and excuse!) to try some new restaurants. Of course, for every one restaurant we try, a handful of others are added to my list, but we have to start somewhere!

This past weekend we traveled to Ballard for a day to check out the Sunday Farmer’s Market, Bergen Place, and the Nordic Heritage Museum.

Given the Scandinavian influence in this Seattle neighborhood, as well as the theme of some of the places we were exploring, I was inclined to try Scandinavian Specialties or the Old Ballard Liquor Co. Café.

However, we were looking for a quick lunch near the places we were visiting, so we instead opted for the French-cuisine at Bastille Cafe and Bar.

I don’t remember how I came across Bastille or who recommended it to me, but it’s been on my list for quite a while. The Farmer’s Market is set up just outside its doors so it was perfectly convenient for our trip. We were able to get seats without a reservation at 11 a.m. on a Sunday, just in time for brunch.

The interior reminded me of a French metro station, complete with white tile walls, black riveted arches, interesting lamps and mirrors, and small glowing numbered signs. Our open booth allowed us to float in the middle of the room with the fully stocked bar to one side, the remaining restaurant and patio entrance on the other, and the bustling kitchen at our backs.

I was also enamored by the open fire, high-top tables in the window seats facing the street at the front of the building—they would be perfect to gather around, snack in hand, on a cold, rainy day.

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As luck would have it, we had a bright and partially cloudy day, and after walking around the market and holding out for our brunch, I was ready to eat!

We seriously eyed the duck confit with champagne-braised cabbage and the farmer’s lunch of meats and cheeses, but we decided to split the marinated beets with smoked yogurt, nuts and seeds, and the eggs en cocotte—a dish of kale, ham, bechemel and aged comte with a crust of baked eggs in a small steaming crock.

Both were delicious!

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The place had the perfect level of noise/energy, our service was good, the food was excellent, and the menu was intriguing. It was a great brunch spot, especially if you’re in the neighborhood shopping or visiting the market on the weekend.

I also took a peek at the dinner menu online, and I’m now trying to orchestrate an excuse to go back so we can try that menu as well.

Check out the Bastille next time you’re in Ballard– bon appetite!

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Posted by: Heather | April 3, 2017

Top 10 Things to Do in Hamburg, Germany

100T2192_LUCiDThis time last year I joined my husband in Hamburg, Germany for a week while he was at a work conference.

It was my fourth time in Germany but only the second time I’ve ever traveled with him for work, and the first time I was really exploring the Schleswig-Holstein region of the country.

I’ve loved all my trips to Germany. When Scott and I traveled to Munich, Augsburg, Cologne and Berlin, it was late May and starting to feel like summer. Ryan and I stopped in Munich in September and loved riding through Bavaria in the fall. A few years later Brian and I went for New Years and absolutely loved exploring everything in the clockwise loop from Berlin to Frankfurt in the beautiful winter snow.

Throughout all of those previous trips, I missed the Schleswig-Holstein region entirely so I was thrilled to spend the entire week of Brian’s conference in that area. Not only was I rounding out my tour around Germany, I was rounding out visiting the country in my fourth season—springtime.

The conference was in Hamburg so that was our base for the week. We spent several days exploring the city, and I also used it as a jumping off point for some incredible day-trips on the days Brian was at work.

Given how many things I wanted to see and do throughout the region, I only ended up spending a few days exploring Hamburg. Despite the limited amount of time, I really loved the city and was able to see and do quite a bit.

Headed to Hamburg soon? Whether it’s for a weekend or a couple of weeks, here are my recommendations for what you have to see and do while you’re in town.

Top 10 Things to Do in Hamburg

IMG_4396_LUCiDHarbor Tour/Boat Ride

I’ve found that the more I travel, the more I ascribe to the approach of taking time to orient myself to a new place shortly after arrival in order to get my bearings and have a deeper appreciation for what I’m about to experience.

This can be accomplished in a variety of ways—sometimes it’s a guided walking tour, other times it’s climbing to the top of an observatory and looking out over a city, and other times it’s reading a guidebook to understand  the historical and modern-day impact of whatever you’re about to experience.

By far, my husband’s favorite way to orient to a new place is by a narrated boat tour. Obviously this isn’t possible many places, but it’s a great option in Hamburg, which sits on the river and has a fascinating history as a dynamic regional port.

We decided on the boat tour somewhat last-minute and ended up on a boat where the narration was in German. They discounted our fare since we didn’t understand much of what was being explained, but I have since found several harbor tours offered in a variety of languages and highly recommend a narrated tour at the beginning of your stay.

It’s a great way to learn about the city’s history, see some of the site from a different perspective out on the water, and enjoy a unique mode of transportation!

IMG_4207_LUCiDSt. Pauli Elbtunnel

While you’re down by the harbor checking out the various waterside restaurants and shops, be sure to explore the St. Pauli Elbtunnel. You can’t miss the rotunda along the water, and it’s well worth taking time to read about the tunnel’s history. I won’t spoil anything by mentioning that the tunnel was necessary as a commute solution in the early 1900s and is still used daily for commuters, pedestrians, bicyclists, tourists and more.

I would recommend walking down the winding stairs to the tunnel, checking out the interesting statues along your walk, and spending some time admiring the skyline from across the water once you reach the other bank. When you return, you can take one of the amazing freight elevators back up to the rotunda and continue on your way.

IMG_4152_LUCiDSunday Fischmarkt

There’s nothing like a local festival or market to help you catch the flavor of the local culture. Hamburg’s Fischmarkt is no exception! While obviously dependent upon when you’re in town, I highly recommend carving out some time on your Sunday morning to walk down to the harbor and weave through the market stalls along the river bank.

You could buy anything from coffee to fish sandwiches to candies to produce to tchotkes and more. While the crowds can be a little overwhelming, our battles were rewarded when we arrived at an incredible building in the midst of the market and there was a live band rocking and rolling amid a morning beer garden! We enjoyed the music and walked out to some of the floating platforms to enjoy the market from the water as well.

IMG_4243_LUCiDChurch of St. Michael

People joke that if you’ve seen one church in Europe, you’ve seen them all, but I violently disagree! I love exploring churches of various faiths, architectural styles, historical significance, etc.—they are all so different.

It was a quick walk from the river to The Church of St. Michael by way of a lovely tree-lined park that extends out in front of the church. The inside was beautiful and white—very different from other European churches I’ve visited, and I could have sat and stared at the incredible pipe organ for hours.

We also spent some time down in the crypt, reading the handouts we were given upon entry to better understand the history, and up to the belfry, taking in some wonderful views of the surrounding area. You can spend as much or as little time as you like here, but it’s not to be missed.

IMG_4268_LUCiDSpeicherstadt

One of our favorite neighborhoods in downtown Hamburg is the Speicherstadt, which is an incredible old warehouse district intersected by various canals winding around and back to the Alster river. We were able to experience it from the canals during our harbor cruise as well as from the ground as we walked along the cobblestone streets.

From watching people raise carpets into fourth story windows via rope and pulley, to discovering some amazing Gothic figures on the corners of the buildings, to popping in some of the shops to sample coffee or chocolate, take some time to cross over the various bridges and discover what’s around each red brick bend.

IMG_4277_LUCiDMinatur Wunderland

One of the more touristy but incredible museums in Hamburg is the Minatur Wunderland exhibit in the Speicherstandt. I came across this gem years ago and was thrilled to be reunited with its existence as I was preparing for our time in Hamburg. Minatur Wunderland is a multi-story, expansive model train museum, but unlike anything you are presently calling to mind.

For those of you interested in model trains, this exhibit features hundreds of working trains and thousands of feet of track. My grandpa loves trains and I took as many pictures as possible so he could see this incredible display. For me, the even more interesting and impressive aspect of this display was the scenery through which the trains run. Each floor has areas dedicated to different countries, with scaled replicas of well-known landmarks and lifelike buildings, people, a working airport, and much, much more. No matter your age, you must stop and experience this exhibit—it’s unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, and we could have easily spent half a day wandering from floor to floor trying to take it all in.

IMG_4419_LUCiDCoffee Roastery and Museum

If you or your travel companion enjoy coffee, I highly recommend stopping in the coffee roastery and museum tucked away in the Speicherstandt. Brian and I spotted it when we were exploring the district, but it was closed at the time. I decided to revisit it later in the week while Brian was at the conference, and it was fantastic. There were several small groups and couples seated around the café, and an overall pleasing atmosphere that made me feel at home.

I ordered a coffee at the bar and enjoyed looking around while savoring my drink. I walked over to the roastery area to learn more about the different beans and their roasting process, and I also went downstairs to the museum. Near the entry is a gift shop full of coffee-related items where you can buy some of their roasted beans for your own brewing pleasure.

IMG_4449_LUCiDTown Hall and Binnenalster

Churches aren’t the only city staples that tend to have tons of character—I also love seeing a city’s town hall!

It’s an easy walk from the Speicherstandt to the Hamburg Town Hall, and I recommend viewing it from all sides. Many people visit the paved square in front of the hall, which is populated with street performers, commuters, and residents, but we also wandered into the courtyard on the other side for a different perspective.

The nearby Binnenalster is also beautiful and lined with cafes  and restaurants. The perfect spot for people watching.

100T2212_LUCiDPlanten um Blumen

Although Brian and I are not huge horticulture fans, we both appreciated the beauty, diversity, and sheer size of Planten um Blumen. We happened to be there in the late afternoon and early evening, which was a beautiful time to see everything in the changing light. We walked the path through the trees, admiring all the spring flowers and water features.

There were smaller gardens within that we didn’t have a chance to explore, and of course it would be the perfect place to explore in the morning, coffee in hand, or mid-day, where you could simply people-watching from one of the many benches. If we return, I will spend a little more time seeing what else it has to offer.

IMG_4761_LUCiDLocal Cuisine

I don’t know about you, but when I think about German food my mind immediately goes to sausage, spaetzle, pretzels, and beer! I quickly learned that the cuisine in the Schleswig-Holstein region is a bit different from that in Bavaria or other areas of Germany. While I expected some variance, I hadn’t anticipated how much Scandinavian influence we would experience!

My list of regional cuisine included lots of sour fish– you have to eat herring at some point, whether pickled in a sandwich with white sauce, creamed over a baked potato, or fried and paired with frites. I also recommend the currywurst, pickled beets, white asparagus (which is in season in the spring!) and marzipan.

Day Trips from Hamburg

If you have more time and are looking for other ideas, I also recommend these easy day-trips from Hamburg:

 

Posted by: Heather | April 2, 2017

Local Adventure: Ballard

My husband has been traveling a lot for work lately. I don’t know how he keeps ending up in jobs that require him to be away from home at least two weeks a month, but that seems to be our reality.

It certainly makes me appreciate the old adage, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” The cat and I are always thrilled when he’s finally home.

Given how much he’s gone, I know he prefers we have some downtime the weeks and weekends he’s home. This is hard for me because after I’ve been working all week, I’m ready to get out and explore on the weekend! Thankfully we’ve struck a pretty fair balance of spending our days out and about and our evenings generally in.

Although we don’t have a TV, we do love spending our evenings in catching up on a few favorite shows on Hulu, one of which is The Voice. We both love music and enjoy watching the talent, remembering awesome songs to add to our set lists, and trying to decide who will win the season.

A few seasons ago we were both obsessed with Laith Al-Saadi, who not only had a tremendous voice, but was an incredible guitarist and entertainer. We looked forward to his performances each week, and we were THRILLED to find out he was touring with a stop in Seattle!

Happy Hour at Senor Moose in Ballard

We almost never do things on weeknights, but we were both willing to make an exception for this show. Brian flew home mid-day from the East Coast, went home to finish some work and then met me in Ballard for happy hour and dinner at Senor Moose Cafe.

Given it was my first time seeing him in several days, we had lots to catch up on and enjoyed the back room of the restaurant. Our food was really good, I thoroughly enjoyed my margarita, and Brian is now obsessed with some crazy drink they make called a Cervecerita, which is a sort of margarita with a splash of beer and salsa. It was not for me, but he loves sweet and spicy drinks so it was a perfect pairing for him!

Live Music at Tractor Tavern in Ballard

The door at Tractor Tavern opened at 6:30 p.m. so our timing was perfect. We walked a couple blocks over to the venue, admiring the old warehouse district feel of all the red brick buildings around us, and got in a short line to enter.

We have been looking for an intimate concert venue since we moved here, and we loved Tractor Tavern. It holds about 200 people, is primarily standing room only, and is so unassuming. The crowd had a great vibe, and we took it all in while we waited for the music to begin.

As much as we loved watching Laith perform on The Voice, we were infinitely more impressed experiencing his talent in person. His band is incredible as well– we were blown away by the drummer’s solos– but Laith is an absolute phenom on the guitar.

He played quite a bit of his original work, and he masterfully covered some of the greats, from Cream to Jimi Hendrix, to Bob Segar. The whole concert was just amazing–he played straight through and brought down the house with his encore of Whipping Post.

In addition to a few pictures, I did capture some video of one of his originals, Gone. It doesn’t do his guitar playing justice, but it certainly shows off his songwriting and singing ability.

It was an incredible evening of music, and I was so happy Brian was able to be home so we could experience it together.

We have such an appreciate for his talent– if you have a chance to see him in your area, do not miss it!

Posted by: Heather | March 28, 2017

An Afternoon in Langley, Washington

100T4261_LUCiDThe weather can be hit or miss in the Greater Puget Sound region in March. Thankfully we had a couple of nice days these last few weekends, including the weekend we were hosting our friends from Ohio!

We chose the nicer of the days to take them over to Whidbey Island, which is easy to access via the Mukilteo ferry. We had a leisurely morning at home and set out mid-day, arriving in Clinton just as my husband’s favorite Whidbey stop was opening—Cadee Distillery.

Cadee Distillery is now a staple stop when we’re touring Whidbey Island.

We loved meeting the owner, Colin Campbell, when we first visited and learned about his Scottish ancestry and how many generations have been involved in distilling.

Although Colin wasn’t there, we heard a little about his current projects before taste-testing a variety of spirits, from vodka to gin to bourbon.

I handed off several of my tastings as I am not a huge fan of any of these spirits as a general rule, but I did enjoy the Cascadia Rye. It is not only tolerable, but actually really smooth as a standalone drink.

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During our taste testing the woman helping us recommended we grab brunch at the Braeburn so that was our first stop when we arrived in Langley.

The place was fairly busy, but we only had to wait a few minutes to get our table and some incredible breakfast.

Afterward we walked next door to Sweet Mona’s to buy some chocolates (I HAD to get the dark chocolate cats!) and then across the street to Kalakala Co Mercantile for some mimosas. This place was so cute–amazing vibe and some awesome interior design, including hanging tables.

I was SO bummed to learn they are closing April 8– I’m glad we were able to stop in and experience it before it’s gone.

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The sun was out as we headed back toward our car to drop off our purchases and head toward the Seawall Park.

The water was clear and although the cloud cover was heavy enough to disguise the mountains, we still had a lovely view across the sound. There were quite a few people walking around as we made our way from one end to the other along the water.

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After our walk we headed to Double Bluff Brewing Company, which has been on our list but always seems to get left off the itinerary.

The tasting room is tucked down a little alley that’s easy to miss. While small inside, there is also some outdoor seating under a latticed pagoda area with a small fire pit.

It was fairly busy, but we were able to snag a small table for four inside. While Brian, Tony and Emily ordered and enjoyed their drinks, I checked out the record player and stack of albums near the front door and put on a little CSNY.

As we sat talking, the weather started to turn and it even started to rain. They brought out some leftover chocolate raspberry cake from a recent party and cut off slices for each table that was interested. It was a great place to relax and hang out over a few drinks.

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It was late afternoon as we headed back toward our car by way of Sprinklz, a small ice cream shop along the main street. Brian was fascinated by Emily’s selection of a hot fudge sundae using mint chocolate chip ice cream in place of vanilla—he ordered the same and I think his idea of what defines a fudge sundae has been forever altered!

The other side of the ice cream shop was a gift shop with some arcade games, which Tony and Brian attempted to beat. Once they were out of quarters and ice cream, we were ready to head back to the mainland.

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We’ve been to Whidbey Island many times, and even when we revisit the same towns, we always find something new to experience.

Langley is lovely and I know we will be back again soon!

Posted by: Heather | March 24, 2017

Perks of Traveling Solo

1012347_10101617520657664_356429006_n1013400_10101617545303274_1364404496_n13086922_10104252903973374_6289721863790981525_oThere is something invigorating, liberating and empowering about traveling solo, especially as a female traveler.

I wouldn’t say I prefer to travel alone, but when the locations, activities, and my goals align, traveling solo can be an incredible experience.

Of course there are downsides to traveling solo as well—in some places it might be unsafe, in others it might be really expensive. There might be activities that require multiple parties to participate, or there might be an unplanned experience that would have been incredible had you been able to share it in the moment with someone else.

All of those realistic downsides aside, I have had some great experiences while traveling alone and encourage others to consider it!

Most of my solo travels have been in the UK and Europe– Northern Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, France and Germany.

I would recommend any of those countries to individuals who want to try the experience without an incredible amount of risk.

For me, transportation was easy, I felt safe, there were plenty of things to do, people spoke English, and I had a wonderful time.

Top Reasons to Travel Solo

As I thought about why those experiences were so positive, I landed on the following key perks to traveling solo:

  • Autonomy. I usually research and plan the trips I take with Brian and others, and I expend a fair amount of energy trying to ensure the itinerary represents the interests of everyone involved. The beauty of traveling solo is that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Pop into a random late afternoon coffee tasting? Retire early to your room and get some rest? Indulge in a glass of wine while quietly people watching? Check, check and check. And not a single concern about whether anyone else wants to participate.
  • Awareness. I find myself much more cognizant of what I’m experiencing when I travel alone because I am solely responsible for getting where I need to be. When I travel with others, I still tend to be the one managing the map and directing us to various places and activities, but I have the luxury of handing it off to someone else when I need a break. When you’re solo, there’s a little more pressure to be aware of your surroundings, not only so you know where you are and where you’re going, but so you don’t place yourself in a precarious or unsafe situation. This augmented level of awareness has led me to better remember small details about my experiences– more so than when I’m traveling with others.
  • Authorship. Traveling solo means I am the only one living my experience. I love taking photos of what I’m seeing and writing about what I’m doing so I can share my experiences with others. While I also like to capture my adventures traveling with friends and family, that writing ends up reflecting our collective experience—what we discussed or how we responded to things that happened along the way. There’s a different responsibility when you’re the sole author and offering an exclusive perspective. Much of my wanderlust was inspired by reading about other places and people that I wanted to eventually see and experience for myself. It’s exciting to think my perspective and experiences might encourage someone else to explore the world.

What other perks have you experienced when you’ve traveled alone?

Resources for Traveling Solo

Still considering traveling solo? Here are a few resources I’ve enjoyed reading to help you get started:

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