Monthly Archive for September, 2006

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An Island Mentality: Day 3

Once again, early to bed and early to rise. We were out of the hotel Monday morning by 7:30 to pick up the rental car and head to Anacortes. We made good time up I-5 and got to the ferry terminal about an hour and half before the 11:05 sailing. I banged up my knee trying to cut through the traffic unloading from the ship, but Mat nursed me back to health as he always does and we munched on our faux McMuffins until it was time to board.

An hour later, we drove off the boat and on to the streets of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. This place is incredible. You can stand in one spot and at once see tiers of pastures peppered with red-roofed farmhouses, dropping off as the sea begins, and hazy snowy mountains as the backdrop. I can’t imagine a better scene. How amazing would it be to wake up every day to the clear blue water crashing at the cliffs below you and acres of rolling hillside behind you?

San Juan Island has a population of around 6800 and seems to have one of everything. One hardware store. One movie theatre. One guy who cleans the gutters. I haven’t seen a single McDonald’s. It rarely snows and they average about 25″ of rain annually, though I understand the winters can be fairly blustery and gray.

We originally booked a room at Juniper Lane B&B back in May, which looked like a funky place for a good price, but the propietor mysteriously decided a few weeks ago to close on the 11th and we held the only reservation so too bad for us. We ended up booking a cabin at Mar Vista Resort instead.

The term “resort” is used very loosely and should not be misconstrued to imply the existence of any of the usual luxuries such as shampoo, housekeeping or the absence of odd pervasive smells. The flimsiness of our cabin reminds me of a trailer home. I can’t believe it’s lasted on these windswept cliffs all these years, though it obviously has since it can easily be dated by the decor. It takes effort and selective purchasing to get “shabby chic”. Not so much required for just shabby.

Every window is framed in a hunter green valance that hides beneath it either a partially functioning venetian blind or a half-unraveled roller shade. The kitchen cabinets (two) are of plywood painted beige with faded stick-on decals in a strawberry motif. The sitting area consists of an office chair, a blue velour loveseat and a recliner with hunter green velour upholstery worn through at the edges and pocked with cigarette burns. The bed includes a bare box-spring and a mattress so soft and springy I woke up every time Mat rolled over.

Tucked around the bed are a thin poly-blend peach floral comforter and one of those synthetic fiber blankets that looks like it should squeak when you touch it. A green plaid curtain covers the bedroom closet/hot water heater area. And while the kitchen comes stocked with a pot, a pan, utensils and a measuring cup, the only amenity in the bathroom is soap and a towel (we are advised fresh ones can be exchanged for at the office).

And finally… the smell. It overwhelms you as soon as you walk in the door. It’s as if my grandmother has been frying onions in lard on the two-burner stove every night for the last forty years and then moved out yesterday.

Ladies and gentlemen… Mar Vista Resort. Where vacation homes come to wither up and die.

That said, the view is amazing and the silence is overwhelming. We are literally the last cabin before the cliff drops off in to the ocean. Across the strait is the Olympic Peninsula to the south and Vancouver Island to the north. (I see Canadian people!) Beyond that is the Pacific and then Russia. A fog rolled in Tuesday morning that completely veiled the mountains in the distance, though the sun was shining and the sky was clear above us. We walked down to the beach on a path bordered with blackberry brambles and ended up picking our way across the most incredible driftwood graveyard I’ve ever seen. Draped across the bleached water-worn castaways were the snakey limbs of bull kelp. It was an eery scene in the morning light.

[I have to backtrack here. I have nothing against trailer homes. I have no idea why people occupy them in tornado zones, especially when they’re mobile, but to each their own. My great aunt and uncle lived in a double-wide on bricks in Pennsylvania. I have fond memories of visiting them for reunions when I would be treated to tractor rides and my cousin and I could be occupied for hours hammering a jarful of nails into an old bench. I mean, really, who needs a Froggie Learning Center or whatever they’re called when you have a hundred rusty nails, a splintered old bench with peeling paint and two hammers? My kids are totally getting their own jar of nails.]

Anyhow, back to Monday. After checking in to our plywood home, we set out to explore the island. We went to the Pelindaba Lavender Farm where they grow some 60 varieties of lavender on 20 acres and sell everything from lavender sachets to lavender tea and lavender vinegar. Good place to pick up tschotschkes for the moms (and Barry). Then we knocked back a few (ounces) in the tasting room of San Juan Vineyards. We dropped in on the Oyster Farm as they were closing. Then drove past an alpaca farm and stopped to say hi. We had dinner at a pub on the harbor that brews it’s own Hefeweizen, IPA and a chile pepper stout. I had fried oysters and chips. Totally the best oysters ever. They had some kind of smokey flavor. So good. It’s amazing how much you can get done when the furthest you can possibly travel is 20 miles.

Good Morning, Sunshine. Welcome to Day 2.

Sunday morning we woke up at the crack of dawn. The time change seems to work in our favor when we travel west. We never quite got the hang of it on the honeymoon. We’d wake up at 10, get out of the hotel by 11, miss breakfast and end up with brunch at noon… just in time for everything to close for the afternoon siesta. We eventually merged into the European lifestyle of waking early, napping and dining late, but it took a while.

On the West Coast, we’re morning people. We’ve been waking up at 6:30 every morning, which gives us plenty of time for laying on the bed and watching downloads of “The Office” before getting dressed and starting our day. What a life! (And Pam and Jim finally hooked up! How awesome is that? Anyone know when the new season starts?)

So Sunday morning, we had breakfast in the hotel. Reminded me of the little Dutch hotels with the cold serve-yourself breakfasts and the sterile super mod dining areas. But it served the purpose. Then we walked to the Experience Music Project and spent a few hours there.

The “Northwest Passage” exhibit chronicling the history of music in the NW USA, from Ray Charles and Quincy Jones to Queensryche and Pearl Jam was the best part. There was also an interesting though comparatively small section on the origins of hip-hop. (You can pick up the companion book, Yes, yes, y’all. Good book art.) And who knew Sir Mix-A-Lot was from Seattle? The fur-lined leather trench coat was even on display. That said, even old school pictures of him give me a chuckle. His anaconda don’t want none unless they got buns, hon.

Other than that, EMP was a bit of a letdown after visiting the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. That place is amazing. Most of EMP’s three levels are filled with DIY labs and studios to inspire the kids that even they can be Jimi, conference space, and an art gallery that charges an extra fee. Damn, for $20 a piece, I should have access to the whole place. Oh well.

Next, we walked back back towards Pike Place to the Ferry Terminal, picked up fish-n-chips at Ivar’s, and caught the ferry to Bainbridge Island, per Dennis’s suggestion. Totally not something we would have thought of ourselves, but very much worth it. The roundtrip ferry ride gave us the chance to see Seattle from a distance and get out on the water. It’s a great town and I hope to make it back again soon. Everyone’s friendly. The pace is easygoing. There are tons of good shops and restaurants. And there’s nothing better than a city on the water. Even if the temperature changes every ten feet.

Sunday evening, we had a laid-back dinner with the most smiley waiter in the world at Wasabi on 2nd Ave. I swear every time the guy came to our table, he had a smile on his face like he knew exactly what I was about to say and why, but he was going to let me put my foot in my mouth anyway. In any case, the sushi kicked ass.

Mat & Emily’s Unintentional West Coast Tour: Day 1

What began as a quick visit to Portland for Jamie and Kim’s wedding has become a protracted drive from the top to the bottom of the left coast. We just might never come home.

We flew in to Seattle this morning, non-stop from DC on Alaska Airlines. Catherine and David kindly gave us the use of their air mattress last night (did we mention we’re homeless) and drove us to National this morning. I booked the flight back in May when the impending future revealed only our boring govie jobs and the sweetness of living three blocks from the Metro. So at the time, booking the only non-stop flight to Seattle from the only Metro-accessible airport in DC was a major excitement. How shortsighted was I…

Anyhow, we got in about 10:30 this morning and took a taxi to the Ace Hotel. Our room was already clean and ready so we checked in to Room 107 (the corner room highly recommended on tripadvisor.com). And the room is phat. We have huge windows on two walls overlooking a busy corner of Belltown. The room feels twice as spacious because of it. One whole wall is a collage of red and orange OBEY posters. It’s a great example of clean modern design on a budget. You can see where they cut corners (unspecial neutral wall-to-wall carpeting, industrial stainless shelving in lieu of bulky dressers and armoires, 13″ JVC TV, and a simple platform bed), but they’ve managed to create a friendly funky little hotel in a great location for $89 a night. (I think our room is on the cheap end since we opted for the Euro-style shared bathroom.)

After checking in, we walked down to Jai Thai and had lunch. I’ve been on a Thai kick that won’t quit. I don’t know what it is. I think I could swim in chicken panang. Mmmm…

Resisting the urge to return to the hotel and soothe our expanding rice-filled tummies with a nap, we headed down to Pike Place and walked through the market. Visions of Real World Seattle and flying fish danced in my head. (I’ll forever associate flying fish with Lyme Disease because of that show. And also dirty hippies, but that’s another Lyme-ridden chick-with-issues story.)

The place is huge! There were at least three or four levels of stalls selling all kinds of food and tschotschkes. There were homemade donuts, yeasty baked goods, vibrant fragrant flowers, wreaths of hot peppers, luscious peaches and nectarines, and the deep pink Pacific salmon. Eventually, the crowds and strange mix of edible and non-edible smells forced us to move on. But not before indulging in a bag of roasted toffee peanuts.

We continued down First Avenue and stopped in a handful of design stores. I’m surprised by how many there are here. We went to Ann Sacks, whose website I’ve often drooled over for their incredible (and pricey) tile, then Design Within Reach, Maison Luxe, and a couple other little shops whose names I’ve forgotten. For some reason, my heart does a little leap when I see a fancy coffee table in person at which I’ve only previously gazed admiringly on my monitor. It’s like a celebrity sighting. Oh, look, I can touch it! I can sit next to it and spend time with it as if it were actually in my living room. It looks as pretty in person as it does in pixels! Ooh. Aah.

We walked all the way down to Pioneer Square and found the Underground Tour that Mike had recommended to us. It was a little cheesy in that we-tell-thousands-of-tourists-the-same-poo-related-jokes-fifty-times-a-day way, but nonetheless historically interesting.

And then we caught the free bus back up the street. We stopped for yummy Seattle coffee and ganache then back to relax before dinner. We’re thinking tonight we’ll grab some dinner and then maybe take a nighttime tour of the Space Needle. Tomorrow, we’ll spend most of the day at the Experience Music Project and then maybe grab some fish and chips at the pier and take the ferry to Bainbridge to watch the sunset, as recommended by Dennis. Then Monday, we’re on the San Juans!