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July 30, 2005

Wifey's Birthday

A lovely day to celebrate Janene's birthday. Much driving today, owning to our inn being near absolutely nothing. Seabeck is only 40 or 50 miles from Seattle, but we feel like we're hundreds of miles from civilization here. The view of the stars tonight was magnificent, probably the clearest we've ever seen--hard to believe considering the proximity to a major city.

Our first stop was the Olympic National Forest, where we took a beautiful hike through some much rougher terrain than we'd ever see in Chicago (although quite easy by local standards). It felt great, once we got used to being in nature. Janene and I are not exactly outdoorsy, but armed with bug repellent, the insects stayed to themselves, and we enjoyed our hourlong hike.

We then headed to Mount Walker and took a harrowing four-mile gravel road to the 2,804-foot summit. The view from the top was stunning, with Mount Rainier and the Seattle Skyline clearly visible. Truly unforgettable, and enough to make us ignore the even more nerve-wracking ride down, much worse than the drive up.

On to Port Townsend, a nice getaway community it seems, for vacationing Seattlers. Lots of classic Victorian buildings on an attractive “Main Street,” with plenty of quaint-looking shops and cafes targeting urban dwellers in search of the same premium coffee available at home. Unable to move our 8pm dinner reservations any earlier, we spent several hours wandering around town and enjoying the waterfront view.

Dinner at The Wild Coho, an excellent bistro in town where we continued to eat too much. A lovely place for a birthday meal. After dinner, we would have loved to hang around longer in Port Townsend to enjoy the jazz festival that was going on there. Lots of big names were performing, but they weren't starting until 10 and we still had an hour and fifteen minute drive back to the inn. Next time.

July 29, 2005

Peace and Quiet

Left Seattle after lunch. We enjoyed the city quite a bit but aren't entirely sure what we think of it. Surely it's in a magnificent setting with amazing Mt. Ranier in the background. But the waterfront is used less to its potential than any major city I've ever seen. It's full of factories and loading docks, and access to the water is limited by I-5 and a railroad track. Given the natural advantages, you'd expect it to be much more in attractive than it is.

My guess is that there are plenty of stunning spaces in town (maybe by Bill Gates's house?), and we just need to get out of the central city to really see Seattle at its best.

We took the ferry to Bainbridge Island and drove the hours or so to the Kitsap Peninsula and to Seabeck, where our inn, the Willcox House is located. The view from here is magnificent, with the Olympic Mountains in view across Hood Canal. And the inn, which has only five rooms, is a beautiful 1930s era seaside getaway. Our room is the Clark Gable Room, named for its most famous guest. It has a private balcony that I want to sit on all day long to look at the mountains and water.

On the negative side, the innkeepers are not what we are used to. Typically, people who run inns are helpful, warm people-persons. The woman who runs the inn may be a magnificent cook, and I'm sure she's kind to her cat, but she's not exactly tempermentally suited to work in the hospitality industry.

For example, when we arrived, she wanted to know whether we were planning to drink coffee or tea at breakfast tomorrow morning. Like, fourteen hours in the future. I generally like to sleep on that decision and make my breakfast beverage choice on the spot, and up until now it really hasn't been a big problem.

We were also told at check-in that dinner was at 6:30. Message received. Apparently, though, we couldn't be trusted to retain that information, because a dinner bell rang at 6:28 to call us and the one other couple staying at the inn downstairs. We're half-expecting a wake-up call in the morning for calisthenics. I will say, however, that the dinner was wonderful, and it almost makes up for the rigidity of the place.

July 28, 2005

All Walked Out

Back to the hotel after dinner and a Mariners game with cousin Cecilli. We must have walked eight miles today. We're pretty tired.

Safeco Field is a nice place to see a game, with a great terrace around the perimeter of the upper level, offering views of Puget Sound and the skyline. Also the garlic fries are not to be missed.

We spent most of the morning at Pike Place Market. It's a farmers market, but calling it that is a huge understatement. It's full of stall after stall of fresh produce, restaurant after restaurant of great-looking, great-smelling meals, and assorted other vendors. It really is hard to believe how big and how good this market is. It is no exaggeration to say we could eat every meal for the rest of our lives there and never get bored.

For lunch we had a truly remarkable meal at Matt's in the Market which we read about in the guidebook and on the Internet but would otherwise have been hard to find. Janene had incredibly fresh halibut, while my salmon in a pancetta vinaigrette was so good. It's extremely casual with a small bar and only about a half-dozen tables. The menu changes almost every day. This place is well worth a visit.

Went up the Space Needle this afternoon. Touristy and too expensive, but the view of the area makes it worth it. The park in the vicinity is one of the nicest parts of Seattle we saw during our brief stay.

July 27, 2005

Sleepy in Seattle

Arrived in Seattle this evening for the first of eight days in the Pacific Northwest. The flight was reasonably pleasant. Flying first-class--which we were able to do by using United miles--certainly makes the four-hour flight much more pleasant.

Arrived at the Sheraton Seattle around 7:30, strolled around the Belltown neighborhood and had a light and very good dinner at The Flying Fish.

We walked back via the waterfront (verdict: a little disappointing; a lot touristy), up Madison Street (verdict: steep), past the architecturally significant Seattle Library (verdict: interesting, but closed), and back to the hotel to get some much needed rest. We'll have more to say about the city tomorrow.

July 04, 2005

Happy Fourth!

It's nice to wake up on the Fourth of July in New England. We're headed back to the 'rents house in Albany today, via one small town after another.

Took a stroll around the “town” of Lower Waterford. It consists of a post office, a church, and an “honor” library (pick up a book, promise to bring it back soon). Below the town is a pleasant path to a lovely vantage point of the Connecticut River, with New Hampshire on its opposite banks.

July 03, 2005

U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Back home in the mother country.

We really enjoyed our time in Quebec, but it's nice to be in a place where others speak the same language and purchases are made without mental currency conversions.

We got an early start this morning to try to enjoy Quebec City before the crowds emerged from their slumber. The city is so different when it's quiet. It's enough to make one forget the insane crowds of the previous night.

When strolling around the city, both last night and this morning, we found some areas of Quebec that seem to be popular with locals and not quite so much with tourists (although we don't think we'd have any problem being understood if speaking en anglais). This is the sort of knowledge one gains on a first trip someplace and uses on a second trip.

Our drive south on I-91 was beautiful. Quebec is lovely, but the best scenery seems to be saved for Vermont. We've been to Vermont numerous times but did not expect it to be quite so remote in the state's Northeast Kingdom. You quite literally can drive for 10 minutes at a time and see nothing but trees and mountains. And that's pretty much all we did see, all the way to Lower Waterford, Vermont, and the Rabbit Hill Inn.

The inn is lovely and completely relaxing. It's easy to forget what quiet sounds like, but here, birds sound like they're miked. Individual cars can be heard coming from a mile away. And then...nothing.

July 02, 2005

Crowded Quebec

Perhaps a holiday weekend for both Canada and the U.S. was not the best time for us to be visiting Quebec City. It's packed here, and for good reason. Quebec is a beautiful place, a slice of Europe on our own continent, but without pay toilets.

I was fortunate to be up relatively early and take a walk around town while it was still mostly empty. Quebec feels remarkably like France--the stone houses, cobblestone streets, and sidewalk cafe are all there even if the food's not as good. But then the crowds come, and everything takes on a Disneylandesque feel, no longer so authentic-seeming, more like an amusement park. Of course, the crowds and we are here for a reason, because Quebec is authentic, and because there's no place like this in our hemisphere.

July 01, 2005

More driving than expected

We slept in this morning, finally getting out of bed at 9:30. I guess we were tired. Our morning was uneventful. Breakfast at the hotel, packing, a quick walk down by the river. We saw the crowds out for Canada Day, Canada's day to commemorate its independence.

Before heading to lunch at a Chinatown restaurant, we paused to watch a street performer with a sign offering “free hugs.” I would have thought a national holiday would increase the demand for hugs, especially free ones, but we saw only one person take up the guy on his offer.

We left the hotel around 2, headed northeast to Quebec City. The very nice bellman at the hotel had told us it would be an hour-and-a-half drive, possibly two hours. We're not sure what he was talking about. Montreal and Quebec are about 150 miles apart, so with traffic, the drive was closer to three hours.

Made it to Quebec around 5:15 and checked into another very nice hotel, Auberge Saint-Antoine. Our room is lovely and we really like the hotel's design. Very colorful, very whimsical. We've seen very little of the city so far, but what we've seen so far reminds us more of Europe than any place else we've seen on this continent. We'll have more to say about Quebec tomorrow.

Yummy dinner at a casual French bistro, Cafe Bistro du Cap. We enjoyed a lovely meal on the sidewalk, and finished most of it before a thunderstorm sent us inside to enjoy our dessert.