img_8943_lucidOne of my 2017 resolutions is to do a better job exploring Seattle’s various neighborhoods. We committed to local adventures in and around Cleveland before we moved and loved learning about places and things that were right under our noses but that we just never seemed to get around to exploring.

I wanted to apply the same philosophy to Seattle– we don’t know where life might take us, so why not make the most of the time we have here to learn and experience as much as possible.

While we’ve seen many sites throughout the Greater Seattle Area over the past year and a half, it’s not been terribly intentional. Typically we find a festival or event, or our friends invite us to do something, and the next thing we know we’re in Capitol Hall or Fremont taking part in that activity but missing out on everything else there is to see and do in that area.

This year, we’re picking a neighborhood each month and committing at least one day to exploring that neighborhood. Great idea until Friday night when I was facing our last weekend in January without anything planned!

While I was scrambling in my mind to come up with somewhere we could go without too much pre-planning, I was telling Brian that my work colleague had brought in fortune cookies from Tsue Chong Company, a family owned and operated business that has been manufacturing various Chinese food products in Seattle for nearly a century, so that we could all have good luck in the new year.

My mind caught up with my story, and I realized I had the perfect solution! We would go to the International District-Chinatown the next day, January 28, which happened to be Lunar New Year— the absolute best time to go and learn more about Asian history!

Saturday morning we slept in, got some things done around the house and then late morning we hit the road. We parked right in the middle of Chinatown and decided our first stop should be lunch. We walked by Tsue Chong and bought some almond-flavored fortune cookies on our way to a Vietnamese restaurant that’s been long on my list, Tamarind Tree. It was busy but we managed to grab seats and shortly thereafter were sharing an incredible array of stuffed squid, lemongrass chicken satay, tamarind quail, and pork steamed rolls. Everything was delicious, but my favorite was the squid!

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After washing down our meal with some hot tea, we set off walking back toward a couple of places on our list.

We passed multiple stores with all kinds of discounted produce, and I loved taking in all of the artwork and signage.

There were also some neat old buildings that are now home to family associations and organizations that help immigrants acclimate– from finding housing and jobs to securing bank accounts to learning how to get around to local shops, grocery stores and more. Having lived outside the U.S., I can appreciate how difficult it can be to move somewhere entirely new and try to land on your feet. I can’t imagine what that’s like when you are also trying to learn the language and care for your family. It’s wonderful how this community comes together in support.

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One of the main things I wanted to do was visit the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, which had some activities underway in celebration of Lunar New Year as well as a special exhibit on Bruce Lee, who lived in Seattle during his high school and college years.

We bought our tickets and the girl mentioned that a tour of the historic hotel next door was about to begin. The museum offers a variety of tours, some of which are included in the purchase of your museum ticket, and this was one of them!

We got our bearings inside and then headed out to the sidewalk to wait on our tour guide and a few other people who joined our tour group. Our first stop was a 1910 shop that sold import goods and tickets to the Blue Funnel Line steamship. The shop was relocated to be by the museum but carried forward all of the original cabinets, windows, items and more.

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After walking around the general store and taking a few moments to watch a video about the original shop owners and how the store played a role in the community through the years, we headed back outside and entered a doorway immediately to our left which led us up to the historic hotel.

The hotel was one of the first places in the community built entirely by the Chinese with Chinese money. Despite being privately owned, we learned that persecution of Asian immigrants at the time (late 1880s) meant that local police could and would enter homes and businesses at any time. Nothing was entirely private, and everyone was constantly under some level of surveillance or the victim of anti-Chinese laws.

In response, immigrants formed family associations so people could feel like they had support and community. This hotel was home to a Chinese American family association and the museum and community have helped support its restoration. While many items have been placed on display throughout the rooms we were able to tour, it does have its original tin ceilings and mahjong games.

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Our tour lasted about 45 minutes and ended back at the museum. On the first floor there were history and art exhibits, and while the modern art displays were a little lost on us, we loved the history component.

It became clear to us very quickly that we know basically nothing about Asian immigration to the United States. The exhibits covered which countries had people immigrating at what times and for what reasons, and it was absolutely fascinating.

Aside from learning about the ancient dynasties, I don’t remember learning anything about any part of Asia during school. It was embarrassing that the only exhibit featuring information I knew something about was on the Japanese internment camps during WWII. In addition to appreciating the general history lesson, it was eye opening to read the stories about individual people and where and how they settled in Seattle and along the West Coast. We spent hours reading the placards and watching some of the films.

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After we had absorbed as much information as possible, we walked outside to Hing Hay Park, which was designed and constructed in Taiwan and is currently undergoing renovation. There was a Lunar New Year celebration planned in the park the next day, but given the construction we weren’t sure exactly how it would be set up. I think we were right to visit on the actual New Year– it was busy, but we could still comfortably make our way around.

As you continue north along the park you come toward the central transit station, and there are some really neat gates, dragon statues and murals that make it clear you’re entering Chinatown.

Along the sidewalk were remnants of the celebrations that had happened earlier in the day– confetti on the streets, oranges (which symbolize good luck) and flowers.

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A final stop on my list was Uwajimaya, an Asian grocery and gifts store that’s been operating at several locations in Seattle since the 1920s.

It was packed and while I didn’t initially think we needed to buy anything, our mindset changed when we walked by the seafood counters. There were pounds upon pounds of delicious seafood on display of every variety. We especially enjoyed the steamed tako (octopus), which were perfectly packaged with sucker cups on display!

We simply couldn’t pass up the fresh oysters and bought a half-dozen Willapa Bay (which were pretty good) and a half-dozen Myogis (which were delicious!). We also grabbed a couple of packs of different kinds of smoked fish to try– a black cod (which I preferred) and a halibut (which Brian preferred).

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We had everything we needed and were ready to wrap up our time in the International District. As we were waiting in line to check out, we noticed a Japanese bakery called Beard Papa’s. The bakery gets its name from a Japanese tale about a small bakery in Osaka, Japan where people would come from all around to enjoy the pastries of the head baker who was known for his fluffy, white beard. The notoriety of his beard inspired him to concoct a similarly light and fluffy pastry called a double layered puff. The puff featured choux on the inside and pie crust on the outside, and was filled with a perfect mixture of whipped cream and vanilla custard cream.

We simply had to try a Japanese cream puff so we ordered one with the traditional vanilla custard/whipped cream filling, and watched as they stuffed the puff onto the nozzle, pumped it full of cream, and then packaged it to go. It was AMAZING!!

I’m so glad we were able to accomplish our first neighborhood adventure, and I’m so happy we happened to explore the International District on Lunar New Year. We had an incredible time, learned so much, and ate delicious food. We were certainly be back!

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Posted by: Heather | December 31, 2016

2016 Travel Recap

A few years ago I decided to start posting an annual travel recap around New Year’s Eve so I could look back on our adventures from the year and get some ideas for trips in the new year. This year, like last year, has quite a variety of adventures as we continue to travel abroad but also get to know Washington and the surrounding states.

I’ve already got some ideas for 2017, but as always we will see where life, and our travel plans, end up taking us. Happy holidays, happy New Year and happy travels!

January: Orcas Island, Washington

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February: Vancouver, British Columbia

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March: Sodo – Seattle, Washington

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April: Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

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May: Portland, Oregon

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June: Capitol Hill – Seattle, Washington

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July: Olympic Peninsula, Washington

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August: Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

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September: Winthrop, Washington

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October: Lake Wenatchee, Washington

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November: Leavenworth, Washington

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December: San Juan Island, Washington

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Posted by: Heather | November 29, 2016

Worldly Fare: Try the World Morocco

As much as I love getting aimg_7554_lucid Try the World box from somewhere new so I learn all about the cuisine, it’s equally exciting to get a box from a country I’ve visited because it gives me an opportunity to reminisce and try making the cuisine I experienced for myself.

I just received my latest delivery, this one falling into the latter category and featuring items from Morocco!

We traveled to Morocco as part of my 30th birthday trip, and it was an adventure from start to finish. It had long been on my bucket list, and I spent months researching, booking and planning our itinerary for our time in Morocco as well as our day trip to southern Spain and our last few days in Portugal.

In addition to serving as an early birthday celebration, the trip marked my visiting 30 countries across four continents, which was a fun milestone.

If I could change anything about that trip, I would have been a little better organized with our reservations. This is saying something because I am INCREDIBLY organized. As such, I had worked out arrangements with our riad to have a driver pick us up at the airport in Marrakesh and drive us through the winding inner roads of the city for our first night’s stay rather than having to cobble together my basic French, since we don’t know Arabic, to try to secure a driver at the airport.

Despite my best planning efforts we had quite the snafu upon arrival because our driver didn’t show up. None of the other drivers knew English, French or the location of our riad (so they claimed), and the one driver who did speak a little English quickly recognized our predicament and attempted extortion. Beyond suggesting we pay an astronomical fee for him to get us where we needed to go, he went out of his way to start following us around and interrupting us as we approached other people for help, telling them not to help us. We stayed calm but it was a little alarming.

I had the name of the riad and a semblance of an address, but the riads are just built within the maze of the interior city walls so there’s no official address–just a general idea of what intersection they are near–you follow the signs along the walls from there.

The WiFi wasn’t working at the airport for us to look up the riad’s information ourselves on our phones (we never pay for international data since we can usually just hook up our phones to WiFi wherever we are) and I didn’t have the riad’s phone number in my paperwork so we could call and either find out where the driver was or how we could get there. I have no idea why I didn’t have a better address, phone number and directions in my paperwork. I’m usually really buttoned up about those details but was apparently a bit lax this time since I thought we had the driver to take care of us– lesson definitely learned!

It was a mini nightmare, but after exhausting all of our options we finally just headed outside and down the row of taxis until we lost the extortionist and found someone who looked nice. This guy didn’t know our riad either but he managed to look it up on his phone and offered us an overpriced but much appreciated ride.

We made it to the riad where the woman who greeted us was horrified to hear our story, and we ended up having a free meal and bottle of wine our last night with her to make up for our difficulty. It wasn’t entirely her fault the driver was flaky, but her apologies were much appreciated, and it was our first opportunity to have a homemade Moroccan meal.

 

Which brings me to my Try the World box!

This box was filled with eight items to make a variety of Moroccan dishes, including traditional Moroccan couscous, which we experienced in Morocco as chicken tagine. The tagine is actually the baking dish, which has a very unique shape, but there are several dishes made in it that they always described to us as chicken tagine, lamb tagine, etc.

Our hostess had prepared us a chicken tagine with olives and lemons over couscous. I now have the ingredients to make my own chicken tagine with raisins and onions over couscous–yum!

In addition my box has a few items to make orange blossom rice pudding, which sounds delicious, and mint tea. We drank quite a bit of hot mint tea while we were in Morocco and loved it. I’m usually more of a coffee person, but we always try to stick to local cuisine when we visit places because it’s an important part of the culture and always adds to our experience.

The box also has paprika crackers and anise cookies to accompany some of the dishes we can make with the other items. I like that these boxes always have a mix of meal ingredients as well as a few snack items. We can enjoy the snacks right away while we buy the other grocery items needed to make the more substantial meals.

Another great box and another great opportunity to drum up memories of our time in Morocco!

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Posted by: Heather | November 7, 2016

Travel Tips from Rick Steves

img_2556Back in February I stumbled upon these awesome travel classes hosted by Rick Steves and his tour guides.

Rick Steves focuses on European travel and the talks follow suit. Each talk is different and covers an array of travel tips, from the best places to visit in each country, to tips for traveling with a mobile device, to basic language skills for getting around certain countries and more.

I’ve had my eye on the topics for 9+ months, checking back every once in a while to see what was coming up.

Although free, they require an RSVP and fill up quickly. I’ve seen several I wanted to attend, but I can’t make weeknights work because of my commute, and our weekends are typically pretty busy.

A few weeks ago they posted a Fall Travel Festival event– an entire day of concurrent sessions on all kinds of travel topics taking place at a couple of locations in Edmonds, which is about 14 minutes from where we live.

I finally decided to sign us up! I registered for a European Travel Tips talk by Rick himself and a Packing Light and Right session with one of his tour guides.

We arrived a little early and couldn’t believe how many people were there. The Edmonds Center for the Arts was packed, and they even opened up the balcony seating. Brian managed to sneak upstairs between sessions to snap the picture above.

We sat in the front row and I took a few pictures and notes while Rick gave his hour and a half talk. He’s got great stage presence and was very funny — the time flew by and it was educational as well as entertaining.

While he didn’t cover anything was really new to us, I did write down a few things that resonated and that we adhere to in our travels:

  • Balance the main attractions with authentic experiences. I tend to approach a trip like it might be the only time I get to do it. Do I over plan our agendas as a result? Yes, I do. Thankfully my husband is reasonable, cuts my itinerary in half, and we end up having a nice balance of seeing the main attractions I don’t want to miss plus some downtime to just experience a place–pop in a random restaurant for dinner, reroute our day and visit a nearby city, etc. I recognize the importance of leaving time for the authentic and unexpected experiences that often become the highlights of our trip. “Grapple with your sightseeing in a thoughtful way,” as Rick put it.
  • Consider context and perspective. Often times we visit a historic city or site and look back through time to its origins. Instead of looking back, sometimes it’s more intriguing to consider what it was like before a place existed and try to imagine what it was like when it came about. How did that change impact people? What was it like the first time they experienced it? My husband and I really enjoy reading and learning about places, and it’s fascinating to think about the impact then as well as how it impacted things moving forward.
  • Eat and drink like a local. Brian and I are among the least picky eaters I know. We’ll literally try anything once and pride ourselves on experiencing culture through local cuisine. In addition to eating local fare, Rick emphasized the importance of eating locally–finding an authentic hole in the wall place full of locals, picking a random dish off the menu in a language you can’t read, and being open to experiencing the best meal you’ve ever had. Likewise with drinks. As Rick put it, “drink red wine in Italy, drink Monk-made ales in Belgium– it will go better.”

He also shared some great reminders that I know I need to try to incorporate more into our travels:

  • Explore the city during the day and at night. I fail at this one. I’m an early to bed, early to rise kind of girl, and while we’re usually up and experiencing a new place early and throughout the day, I’m ready to crawl into bed when the sun sets. Rick’s solution? Take a nap so you can experience a city at night when the “magic of the past is blowing through the fortifications.” My husband loves to take night pictures and hates fighting crowds– he would likely enjoy places most at night. I need to be better about taking a nap and committing some time to exploring the pulse of a place after hours.
  • Know what’s in front of you. I’m a big fan of researching things ahead of time, re-reading my travel guides on the plane ride to a destination. While that’s a great approach for learning about the main attractions that are right in front of you, a lot of times you might be walking right by things of significant importance or interest because you don’t know they’re there. That’s the advantage of having a tour guide who can point these things out to you. We’ve had incredible experiences with guides who offered additional information as well as different perspectives. Like when we took a tour of Derry, Northern Ireland, with a guide whose father was killed during the Troubles. Or when we rode in a bus through the Romanian countryside with a driver who was the first person in his family allowed to travel outside the country following the fall of Communism. As my husband likes to say, you don’t know what you don’t know, and I need to remember it’s a worthwhile investment to secure a guide for at least a few hours our first day in a new place.
  • Use travel tools but don’t let them define your trip. TripAdvisor may be great for gathering what most people think are the top 10 things to do in a city, but don’t use those 10 things as your itinerary–use them as a guide. I’m usually pretty good about using travel tools to supplement versus define my planning, but I sometimes get caught up in reading blogs or forums for ideas about how much time to spend at different destinations when I’m building my itinerary. Nearly every time I end up sifting through responses about how [insert how many days I’m going on the trip] isn’t nearly long enough to experience a place and that if that’s all the time I can spend I might as well not even bother going. If that were the case, I would never travel at all–there’s never enough time. I need to remind myself to take these recommendations with a grain of salt and map out an itinerary that’s reasonable for us in the amount of time we have–not one that meets the approval of every travel forum participant.

He covered many other topics during his talk, but these were a few that stood out to me. If you want to learn more, he has a tons of videos and resources on his website and blogs. I also just downloaded his Audio Europe app so I can listen to his podcasts and radio programs while I’m commuting and need a little escape.

I would love to go to additional sessions with his tour guides as I think about and plan future trips to Europe to see what other ideas they have, especially for destinations off the beaten path or as he puts it, through the backdoor. There are tons of resources for those who enjoy planning their own trips (myself included!), and I’ll be adding some of Rick Steves’ resources to my list!

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Posted by: Heather | November 6, 2016

Travel Tip: Global Entry and TSA Pre-Check

img_20161030_102331278Ever begin your vacation stuck standing in airport security behind an exceptionally long line of people who still don’t realize they need to take off their shoes and belts prior to walking through the scanner?

Or return from an incredible vacation only to spend several hours waiting to formally return to the U.S. at Customs and Border Patrol when all you want to do is get home to recover from/reminisce about your adventure and pet your cat?

After 10+ years of annual international travel to 30+ countries, I’ve picked up a few travel hacks. However the scenarios above continue to plague my travels, and, right or wrong, I find I’m less and less inclined to view them as “part of the journey.”

I don’t know why it took us so long for us to look into it, but we finally remedied the situation by applying for Global Entry status.

Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection program that allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States. Members enter the United States through automatic kiosks at select airports.

My research had actually started with TSA Pre-Check (to resolve scenario one above), but it was quickly apparent the extra $15/person to get Global Entry, which INCLUDES TSA Pre-Check, was the better option for us given the amount of both international and domestic travel we take part in each year. It was $100/person for a five year membership. Money I already know was well spent.

It took very little time to complete the online application, and after our conditional approval we simply needed to set up our interview to complete the process. This part got a little tricky because the next available interviews at SeaTac airport, which was the closest interview facility, were booked out until spring 2017!

We didn’t want to wait that long so we decided to drive to Blaine, WA, which is about an hour and a half away (honestly, not that much farther than SeaTac from us!). We were able to schedule our interviews within a couple weeks. We drove up one Saturday morning, completed the interview process, and this weekend our passes arrived.

I don’t know if we can apply our new status to the trips we already have in the books for the rest of this year and early next year, but I’m looking into it. At the very least all of our big trips next year, and in future years, will be covered, and I can’t wait!

If you’re a frequent flyer, you might look into whether Global Entry, or even just TSA Pre-Check, make sense for you. Personally I can’t wait to speed through security the next time we travel, and the added bonus of being able to use the Nexus lane when we drive home from Canada will also be a huge perk.

Happy travels!

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Posted by: Heather | October 24, 2016

Traveling Solo: Leavenworth and Plain, Washington

img_20161112_111247404_lucidEach fall and winter I tend to fly solo while my husband is off hunting deer, migratory birds or– as of late– bear and cougar. He grew up hunting with his dad, brother, uncles and friends and has continue to travel to meet them to hunt as long as we’ve been together (all 12+ years!).

While I’m not a hunter, I do benefit from his labors and enjoy eating just about everything he brings home. Our freezer is always stocked full of fresh venison, duck or whatever other fowl is in season.

When we moved to Washington, he had to learn about all new animals, seasons, regulations, and more. I was concerned that he wouldn’t get to go as much as he did when we lived in Ohio and that he would be unhappy.

Thankfully I learned that one of my coworkers and her husband are avid hunters and own a cabin and property in Leavenworth! We’ve become good friends, and they were kind enough to invite Brian to join them during hunting season.

Everyone kept inviting me to come along for their weekend and week-long hunting trips, but I couldn’t see taking time off of work to go sit in the cabin and wait for them to return each day. I miss Brian when he’s away, but I lived on my own during college and then for three years in my post-graduate days so I’m pretty good at entertaining myself. Plus, the cat would be lonely if we were both away! :)

We finally worked out a compromise and I agreed to come over for part of one of the weekends. That way we could all go our separate ways during the day and then return in the late afternoon to have dinner together and hang out in the evening.

We drove over Friday after work and spent the night in our friend’s bungalow. In the morning, my friend, her husband and Brian headed for the hills, and I headed for Leavenworth.

We’ve been to Leavenworth a couple of times– once in the spring when we were driving out to Washington and once in the winter to see the German Christmas market.

I was excited to experience it in the fall and arrived early in the morning before anyone was awake so I seemingly had the town to myself. The fog was still lifting up over the buildings and Cascade Mountains– it was beautiful. I did a little bit of shopping and when a light rain started, I popped into one of the beer gardens to hide beneath an umbrella and savor a soft hot pretzel.

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As I finished my snack, the clouds parted, the sun came out and blue sky started peeking through. I continued walking the streets, checking out the occasional shop. Some of the streets south of the main drive had really interesting buildings so I took my time and took some pictures.

It was lunch time and the weather had improved so of course people were crawling out of the woodwork. I was suddenly very tired and overwhelmed by all of the people so I went back to my car and took a quick cat nap in the back seat.

I was completely refreshed after about an hour and set out for the local park.

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The park was busy with every type of individual imaginable– families, couples, people walking their dogs, and more. I was one of the few solo explorers but felt completely safe. It was beautiful outside, and I absolutely loved all of the fall colors.

I walked over a bridge to a wooded area, taking one trail along the river and then another back through the trees. It was peaceful and relaxing, but the sun was starting to head toward the hills so I thought I should head back to my car so I could make my way back to the cabin.

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On my way I had to make a quick stop in the nearby town of Plain. We were there once before with my friend, and I wanted to go back to the Plain Hardware to pick up a house-warming gift for her.

I still hadn’t heard from Brian so I decided I had a little more time to kill. I drove over to Plain Cellars to check out their tasting room, and ended up loving it. It was very unassuming, it seemed like everyone there knew one another, and the girl helped me with a simple tasting since I was by myself and wanted to be able to safely hit the road as soon as I heard from my spouse.

I tried a couple of their reds and absolutely loved the Just Plain Red and the Eclipse. Shortly after I arrived a small party of people celebrating a local gentleman’s birthday started arriving, and Brian called to let me know they were heading back to the cabin. Perfect timing!

Each visit to Leavenworth has been a little different, but I can assure you it’s nice year round, and it’s fun whether you’re traveling with friends and family or if you’re traveling solo. And if Leavenworth doesn’t have enough to entertain you, nearby Plain offers a few more fun activities to keep you occupied. Add them both to your list!

Posted by: Heather | October 14, 2016

Aloha, Hawaii!

img_20161014_144028283_hdrWhen we moved to Washington, we committed to exploring the Pacific Northwest and making the most of our access to places, things and experiences unique to this part of the country and world. We wanted to really get to know this area while remaining open to seeing where life and our careers take us.

As part of that mindset, we wanted to focus our travel a bit, prioritizing places that are more easily accessible from the West Coast as opposed to the Midwest, and places we’ve never been, or places only one of us has been that we’d like to experience together.

Unsurprisingly, that list includes Japan, Alaska, Hawaii, British Columbia… well I won’t go through the whole list, but you get the idea!

While it’s always a struggle for me to in any way limit or prioritize travel, focus hasn’t been the only challenge. We also don’t have that much time off from work so we have to be creative about trying to make the most of holiday weekends and work trips where we can add on a few days. Brian’s time off resets with the calendar year while mine accrues continuously so we try to look ahead to see what we can do.

We just started talking about bigger trips for 2017, but there are still a number of unknowns related to our jobs and work travel, so we haven’t set anything in stone. We’ve been bouncing back and forth between week-long trips versus bigger two-week trips versus adding a few days to some of Brian’s work trips.

As luck would have it, the travel industry pushed us into one decision early. After receiving email after email with special flight and hotel pricing, I couldn’t delay any longer– we’re finally booked for the Hawaiian islands!

We only have eight days so we’re sticking to Big Island and Oahu, prioritizing Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, Pearl Harbor and scuba diving/snorkeling. I know that’s not enough time, but it’s never enough time. We’re good at working with what we have.

We’re not really into laying on the beach all day, although we’ll certainly spend some time on the beach, but based on what I’ve researched so far there are a million things to do besides getting a tan.

Now that things are getting booked, I’m actually starting to map out ideas– lots of hiking, maybe touring a coffee plantation, best places to eat, etc. My parents honeymooned in Hawaii in the early 1980s and my mom still has their itinerary–where they stayed, activities/sight-seeing they did, etc., which gave me some additional ideas. (I might get my travel planning and organizational skills from her…!)

Have you been to either island? What were some of your favorite places/things to do? Any and all advice welcome!

Aloha, Hawaii!

Posted by: Heather | October 9, 2016

Worldy Fare: Try the World Brazil

img_6938_lucidOne continent I have yet to explore is South America.

Brian and I have talked about it numerous times. We’d both love to:

  • climb Machu Picchu
  • experience the Amazon rainforest
  • see Christ the Redeemer
  • explore Moray and the other Inca ruins
  • and much more!

It’s also the jumping off point for guided journeys to Antarctica; another adventure that’s relatively high on both of our bucket lists.

My latest Try the World box brought a little taste of South America to us. It features treats from Brazil and came with a beautifully designed card by an artist from that country.

There were eight items inside and instructions for using them to make meals and treats like Chicken and Beef Churrasco, Pao de Queijo (a cheesy bread), Romeu and Julieta (a sweet and savory appetizer), Brigadeiro (a tea cookie), as well as some cocktail and coffee staples.

I love getting these boxes full of goodies, learning a little more about the featured country, and trying some new recipes for meals I’ve never experienced.

I can’t wait to try out some of these Brazilian dishes and eventually make my way to Brazil!

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Posted by: Heather | September 21, 2016

Yakima Valley Wine Country: Rattlesnake Hills

img_7092_lucidFor an early wedding anniversary getaway we spent a weekend in Yakima Valley, exploring the various wine regions.

After a great day of tasting wines in Prosser’s Vintner’s Village, we were ready to tackle the many wineries throughout Rattlesnake Hills.

I had researched quite a few tasting rooms for us to visit so we started out early to catch the first couple as they opened at 10 a.m. While we could have waited until early afternoon, given most were open until 5 or 6 p.m., we knew we couldn’t stay out that long because we needed to return to our B&B, freshen up, and head over to the main house for our dinner reservations.

In addition to the tasting rooms, my research included several non-wine tasting activities for us to check out throughout the day, knowing we would need to take several breaks and pace ourselves to responsibly enjoy our tastings.

As part of my research I had mapped out which wineries to do in what order based on their tasting room hours and our desire to start making our way back toward Yakima by mid afternoon so we would end close to our B&B in time for dinner.

This led us to begin our day at Bonair Winery and Vineyards, where they were celebrating the birthday of the winery’s resident dog, Bung. As part of the celebration, visitors were encouraged to bring their own dogs to the winery, and all tasting fees were donated to a local animal shelter. A representative from the shelter was on site with additional puppies they were trying to place in good homes.

Needless to say the first 15 minutes of our visit had nothing to do with wine– we were outside playing with the puppies!

We did eventually make our way inside where we shared a tasting and ended up enjoying the Chardonnay enough to make a purchase. The tasting room was basically empty so we had a nice chat with the woman helping us, walked around to look at some of the items for sale, and then headed to our next stop, Tanjuli Winery.

Tanjuli was off the beaten path and the tasting room was inside a big warehouse type building. There were already several people there, including some people who had just concluded their tasting and were heading on to their next winery. We pulled up some bar stools and I tasted a couple of their reds, including one I had never heard of before called an Orange Muscat.

We both enjoyed the Pinot Noir the best so we purchased a bottle and then decided to take our first break and head south to Toppenish and check out the railway museum.

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After our awesome stop in Toppenish we headed north to explore a few wineries that were bunched close together. The first was Portteus, which ended up being one of our favorite wineries of the whole weekend! We loved many things about this place– the fact that it was up in the hills so you were able to drive through their vineyards to reach the tasting room, how unassuming and relaxing it was in the tasting room, the hilarious guy serving our tastings, and of course the wine!

We were sharing tastings throughout the day, which usually meant we were trying to accommodate both of our tastes and divide and conquer based on which wines the winery was tasting that day. Most wineries only have a selection of their wines available for tasting, which I understand, but it is disappointing when you get there hoping to try something and they aren’t tasting it that day. At Portteus, they weren’t only tasting a selection of their wines– the guy helping us let us try anything we wanted. If someone wanted something, he would open a new bottle– it didn’t matter if they were the only people who tried it the entire day.

I don’t know if that’s a good approach for the winery in terms of how many bottles they have open and have to dispose of at the end of the day, but it is CERTAINLY a good idea for selling your wine! Getting to try all of the ones that interested us allowed us each to find several we liked, and then we purchased several bottles of each of those wines. Our favorites included the Bistro Red, Purple Haze, Petit Verdot, and Sangiovese. If we had spent more time there, I’m certain we would have tried and purchased more, and if we do go back to the region again, we’ll likely go out of our way to return to Portteus again.

Before we left, we asked the guy helping us which wineries he recommended, and one we didn’t have on our list was Cultura. It was right down the road so we pulled in to check it out. They were only tasting reds so Brian decided to skip this tasting, but there were several things about the place we really liked. First, the tasting room was intimate and in a refurbished barn with some awesome old gas pumps outside. Second, they don’t charge a tasting fee, they offer you the option of donating to a local animal shelter (which of course we did!). And third, their wines were incredible.

They are a little boutique so their wines were among the most expensive of the day, but I couldn’t help buying a bottle of their 2012 Merlot. I’m not usually a huge Merlot fan, but this one was incredible, and I’ll be saving it for a special occasion!

We drove a little ways down the road to Paridisos del Sol, which I had written down did a food pairing along with the tasting. Yet again, this winery had a completely different feel than the others– in fact, it was in the winemaker’s house! We weren’t sure we were in the right place when we arrived because we were literally parking at someone’s home, but he had converted their California room into a tasting room and sure enough, there were people their tasting! He was really nice– a little bit eccentric, but clearly passionate about his wine. We shared this tasting, which included quite a few wines, and agreed it was helpful knowing what food to pair with which wine. It was an entertaining stop to say the least, and we did end up purchasing the Baby Barn Owl red, which Brian liked the best.

We were ready for another break so we headed to Zillah to see the Teapot Dome Service Station. There were a couple older women sitting on a picnic table outside with brochures and other information so we spent some time walking around and talking to them. While the service station long since closed down, it was neat that they had restored and relocated the entire site so you could still visit and learn about its history. Brian mentioned to the ladies that he had once visited the world’s largest teapot in Chester, West Virginia, and they had never heard of it! He pulled it up on his phone and they couldn’t believe it. He explained that it wasn’t a service station and was more of a tourist ploy versus a functioning site, but they still couldn’t believe theirs wasn’t the only human-sized teapot out there.

Hopefully we didn’t disappoint them– this one was very cool and, in my opinion, had a more interesting history!

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After our stop in Zillah we agreed we should start making our way back to our B&B.

The final stop I wanted to make based on my initial research was  Two Mountain Winery because they had a Lemberger. Things seemed to be winding down there when we arrived– people were leaving, and the ladies handling the tastings seemed a little distracted. Thankfully they were tasting the Lemberger so I got to try it, and although it was good, I didn’t like it as well as Whidbey Island Winery’s Lemberger. I was more impressed with their 2013 Cab Franc, which we ended up buying.

Brian wasn’t interested in the wines they were tasting so I tasted while he played with their resident dog, who had clearly had a long day–he could barely muster the energy to wag his tail as new people were coming in!

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After Two Mountain we drove up to Dineen Vineyards, which ended up being by far the poorest experience of our trip. We later thought it should have been a sign that people only recommended it to us for the view and pizza oven rather than the wine.

When we arrived the place was packed with people having an early dinner. We headed into the crowded tasting room where the staff didn’t make any effort to keep up with people’s tastings. The one girl was incredibly rude to an older gentleman who was trying to purchase a glass of wine, and I simply didn’t want to stay. We rushed through our tasting and left as quickly as possible. I wouldn’t recommend it.

Thankfully that wasn’t our final tasting of the day– our last stop was Owen Roe Winery which was a great way to wrap up our tour. Up on a hill in a bright red building, this winery was also busy and had two resident Irish  wolfhounds outside and ready to great us. We later learned their names were Pinot and Grigio– ADORABLE.

The girl helping us with our tasting was lovely, and we tried several really good wines, ultimately buying the Chapel Block Syrah. One other wine that we really enjoyed was called the Sinister Hand, and we had to ask about the name– it was so intriguing! As it turns out, the name is inspired by the Irish legend about the Red Hand of Ulster. According to the tale, the king of Ulster at one time had no heir and so ordered a boat race, with the first person to touch the shore winning rule of the kingdom. As the race progressed, one of the contestants noticed he was losing, and, unwilling to lose his opportunity to rule, cut off his hand and threw it on shore, thereby winning the race and kingdom!

The afternoon was waning and the weather was taking a turn for the worse so we headed outside to say goodbye to Grigio before heading back to our B&B. Along the way we made one final stop at Fruit City, a fruit stand that’s been operating in Union Gap since the 1960s to pick up some local produce for the next morning’s drive home.

It was a wonderful day touring Rattlesnake Hills and learning more about some of the local towns and their history. Great weather, great people, and great wine. If you’re looking for an alternative to the standard Napa Valley wine tour, add Washington’s Yakima Valley wine region to your list!

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Posted by: Heather | September 20, 2016

Learning Railroad History in Toppenish, Washington

img_7129_lucidWe spent a lovely long weekend in Yakima Valley for our anniversary, tasting incredible wine, eating amazing food, and exploring a new part of Washington.

On Saturday we had an entire day of wine tasting planned in the Rattlesnake Hills wine region and knew we would need some other activities to break up all our winery visits.

I found a few things to do in the nearby towns of Zillah, Union Gap and Toppenish. These explorations allowed us to have a great (and responsible!) time tasting wine with breaks in between to explore something else before returning to our tastings. It was a perfect balance that let us see more of the area while thoroughly enjoying our tastings without overdoing anything.

While there were only a couple of things on my list for Zillah and Union Gap, we spent a good amount of time exploring Toppenish.

The city was founded in 1907 and still looks and feels like a western pioneer town. We walked around downtown for a while, admiring the 70+ murals around every corner that tell the history of the area.

There weren’t too many people along the streets or in the shops so we were free to stop and comment on the old buildings, wondering what they used to house and what purpose they serve today.

Around one corner we came upon a small green space with what looked to be a grave marker. In fact, it was a marker directing you to the actual grave– giving you some directional information so you could find the site! I had never seen anything like it!

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We wandered around town for a little while before heading toward the railroad tracks to check out the Northern Pacific Railway Museum. The website appeared a bit grassroots so I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was interested in the history.

The depot was created in 1911 and for 50 years was the central hub of the community. After passenger and freight rail declined the station stopped functioning until the community eventually stepped in to preserve the depot and turn it into a museum.

As we walked over the tracks toward the depot, we noticed balloons and some kids and what appeared to be a kid’s birthday party. We didn’t want to interrupt and couldn’t see where you were even supposed to enter the museum so we decided to simply wander around and take some pictures.

As we passed by what appeared to be a rundown building, a younger man stepped outside and called to us, asking if we’d like to see an old train they were restoring. We both answered, “Yes!” and followed him into the dimly lit building and through a hallway to an open room.

Later we remarked that this probably wasn’t a sound decision and could have been the beginning to a Hollywood feature on our disappearance, but at the time we were excited and he appeared harmless.

Luckily none of this was a concern–he led us straight to an old steam engine they were restoring! He was excited to learn that Brian was an engineer and while I took pictures from the platform overlooking the train, he and Brian walked around it, pointing out different things and talking about the work underway.

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I walked down alongside it and out the back garage doorway and onto the tracks and couldn’t get over its size and solidity. It’s incredible thinking about how they were engineered before much of the technology we have available today, and it’s even more fascinating to me how much they revolutionized human life–around the globe.

It makes me really happy to see them restoring this engine and preserving an important aspect of our history.

We bid farewell to our friend and walked out along the tracks to see some of the other engines and cars stored near the museum.

Many of the engines had placards so we could read more about them, and I also appreciated the old signals, mailbag holders, etc. they had on display, many of which were used in Toppenish.

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There were several other guys working on a smaller car along a side track, and it’s obvious they make as much progress as they can with their team of volunteers.

There is a great deal of restoration work underway and it would be neat to come back once they have some of the other engines running and available for visitors to experience.

We headed from the tracks toward the station to take a look at some of the other items on display outside. There was mail truck in really good condition, a few other vehicles and some restored benches and waiting areas.

I especially loved the old luggage!

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After our outdoor tour we headed indoors and realized where we were supposed to have entered the museum. We paid for our admission and then wrapped up with the inside portion of the tour.

I didn’t mind doing it backward– we would have never gotten the sneak peek of the engine from our friend– but I didn’t want them to think we were trying to get out of our admit fee!

The indoors is still very much the way it was. There’s a restored waiting area, restrooms and ticket office, and some of the originally items are on display.

I loved looking at all of the signage, tickets, and other items they’ve collected from all over the U.S., and was especially excited about the signage from the station in Bucyrus, Ohio!

We spent way more time in Toppenish and the railway museum than I had anticipated, but it ended up being a really great experience and opportunity to learn more about how important rail was to this community, the state of Washington and our nation

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