Brewing a nation

Along the Oregon Coast, nestled around the Yaquina Bay, sits the picturesque town of Newport. Any time of year, you’ll find plenty of activities to do here, indoors and out. And plenty of fantastically fresh—very delicious—seafood to enjoy as well.

But with every great plate of Dungeness crab or mouthwatering wild caught halibut you’ll savor, you owe it to yourself to pair your dining experience with another favorite local item: an ale from Rogue.

Doing things a little differently than most, Rogue Ales & Spirits has built quite a name for itself, winning countless awards since 1988. I mean that literally. I couldn’t count them. Their giant ceiling mounted scroll of awards no longer keeps track of Rogue’s most recently acquired honors—their success and popularity are that strong. And growing. Just how did I come by this bit of knowledge? By taking a recent tour of this would-be rebel nation…

Micro

Microbrew is a word that first entered our language in the mid 1980s. Simply put, it’s a beer produced in limited amounts, focusing more on quality rather than quantity. But what really makes a particular microbrew special is a combination of unique ingredients that result in a one-of-a-kind flavor —something truly delicious when paired with food, or enjoyed by itself.

Walking the production floor with Aaron (our tour guide), we quickly picked up on Rogue’s wildly inventive approach to crafting its prize-winning microbrew recipes. And an even wilder approach to naming themfor example, Rogue Yellow Snow Pilsner. No joke. (And it took silver in last year’s World Beer Championship.)

Food… all their menus feature absolutely fantastic pub grub. Prior to our tour, we enjoyed a beer flight and a basket of Pub Pretzels & Dips. Yummy stuff! The mustard dip—spiked with Rogue IPA—was my favorite.

Macro

Looking at the bigger picture, Rogue has expanded to include three locations in Newport, three in Portland, one in Astoria (where it all began for them) and one “up north” in Issaquah, Washington. They distribute their craft brews to all 50 states and to 54 different countries. Their bottling machine fills 300 bottles per minute, which helps keep up with the demand for more…

In the mood for a shot of whiskey? Or maybe a shot of gin? Rogue expanded their production in 2003 to include their own varieties of whiskey and gin—award winning, of course. Most impressive.

But what really impressed me is this company’s commitment to the local community. Take, for example, Newport’s skate park. When the staff at Rogue learned that local skateboard aficionados were making due with an abandoned swimming pool, this local brewery sponsored a construction project to build a real skate park. City park officials joined the party, and now skateboarders have a pretty cool place to roll.

Since 1989, Rogue’s community involvement has become extensive and far reaching. Back in the day, encouraged by local prominent business woman “Mo” Niemi, Rogue feeds the local fishing employees year round, especially between fishing seasons.

Mo was also Rogue’s first landlord, agreeing to rent out a small inn and bar to the up-and-coming brewer, provided they 1) continue to care for the local fishing community, and 2) hang a photo of her choice in every one of their bars. Only after agreeing to her terms did they discover that her photo of choice featured Mo herself sitting naked in a bathtub…

Looking to their future, Rogue—in conjunction with Oregon State University—takes on summer interns, many of who become full time employees after graduation. Sales from their Hot Tub Scholarship Lager help fund the Jack Joyce Scholarship (named after Rogue’s founder), which in turn helps OSU Fermentation Science students manage the costs of their education.

Solo

Their own farms. Growing and harvesting everything from hops to honey, Rogue’s Oregon farms produce flavorful local ingredients for their beverage—and pub grub—items. Honey is a key ingredient in Rogue sodas. I enjoyed sampling their root beer during the tour so much, I ended up purchasing two bottles. And I don’t drink soda!

Their own cooper. Yes, Rogue makes their aging barrels onsite, using—you guessed it—their own Oregon wood. Rogue’s own Rolling Thunder, established 2015, produces all of the barrels used for their brews and spirits. Just another commitment to quality that truly sets them apart from other similar brewers.

It’s own nation… almost. No, really! They tried! But that story is best heard during the tour…

If ever you find yourself in this beautiful region known as the Oregon Coast, I recommend making the drive to Rogue. Unique in every way, their brews, spirits and food are worth experiencing. I’m very glad we did. Cheers! J 🍻🥨

 

Advertisements

Surreal snow daze

Snowmageddon. Snowpocalypse. Snowzilla. What comes to mind when you hear these words? For us snow storm novices living in the Puget Sound area, this snowy vocabulary list exists only in headlines covering winter events east of the Cascades, somewhere in the Midwest or waaaaay over in the New England states. Up ‘til now.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we never wake up to a blanket of white fluff every now and then. We usually experience a snow shower or two every winter—something that might wreak havoc for commuters, businesses and schools for maybe one or two days. But then things warm up enough to make the snowy evidence all go away on its own. Up ‘til now.

Punxsutawney Phil owes us an explanation. Predicting an early spring for 2019, this season forecasting varmint could not have been more wrong. For us, it all began the very next day after his prediction…

Snow

“It’s snowing!” The afternoon of February 3 saw the first wave of flurries. By the next morning, we had a few inches of powder on the ground; too dry to make a decent snowball, but perfect for skiing. Or in my case, making snow angels. It was also just enough for the local schools to close. The neighbor kids and I had fun creating heavenly representations on my driveway.

As the week progressed, the temperature stayed below freezing, so the snow remained. Then came the updated weather forecast: more cold and snowy weather was on the way for week’s end—and well into the following week. Whaaaaat? Seriously? Should we stock up on stuff? I suppose… but first, let’s go sledding!

With the second storm’s accumulation adding a few more inches of snow to the ground, the entire block of neighbors—kids and adults alike—took to the local ad hoc sledding hill. The sunshine made an appearance too, adding to the beauty of the surrounding winter wonderland.

Ice

Do you know winter storms have names? I had no idea! But I soon became familiar with the effects of Winter Storm Lucian, February 3-4, Winter Storm Maya, February 7-8 and Winter Storm Nadia, February 11-12. All three of these snowy siblings took turns paying our lowlands a visit (and leaving something behind) before moving onto other regions.

While the sun dared to make an occasional appearance and the temperatures remained low, icicles and other frozen water features began to dot the rooflines and landscapes. Beautiful but dangerous, icy dagger-like formations and slippery street—and sidewalk—surfaces created challenges for anyone needing to be out-and-about.

Because heavy snow and ice are rare events for us, there’s not a lot of plowing equipment and deicer available to help keep people moving. So most of us hunkered down. Then things got crazy…

Trees—really-really-really tall cedar, fir and pine trees, along with several old, large deciduous trees, couldn’t take the excessive weight of the snow and began dropping branches—or simply falling down altogether. Power lines came down too, adding to the dangerous conditions. Local landscapes became unrecognizable. Events were cancelled. Many schools and businesses remained closed, or operated with whatever staff was available.

Slush

After the third snow storm finished gracing us with its presence, the temps stayed low. Realizing we were in it for the long haul, people began making more of an effort to return to normal routines.

The National Guard helped free people in East King County—the area hardest hit with snow. Plows finished up clearing the main roads and moved onto the side streets. Cars abandoned during one of the storms were being collected, power crews were reconnecting lines, and landscapers were removing downed trees and branches. And eventually the snow began to melt. Slowly…

Rain

Wacky weather has a funny way of uniting people. Everyone I encountered during my attempts to walk or drive through the icy-snowy-slushy piles of leftover weather shared a smile with me; many businesses were extra friendly and helpful. Like the city maintenance crew member who gave pedestrian me a ride passed a downed power line, or the mail carrier who had to deliver on foot (because the snow and ice was plowed 3’ high and wide in front of our mailbox).

Seattle is well known for its rainfall, but we haven’t seen much of it lately. And more would definitely help melt the lingering lovely towers of icy slush camping out on my neighborhood sidewalks. Oh well. All in good time, I suppose.

Neighbors helped neighbors and strangers helped strangers. The local newspapers have featured many heartwarming snowmageddon stories. It is nice to see crazy weather bringing out the best in people. I might even forgive Punxsutawney Phil. After all, he had a 50/50 chance… J ❄️

 

COFFEE-wine-CHOCOLATE-bread

Where do vintage typewriters and old metal classroom chairs meet up with handcrafted lattes? It all blends smoothly at VoxxCoffee.

When does a risotto vendor stand next to a hot sauce vendor who’s next to a winemaker sharing a table with a chocolatier? Why, at Enumclaw’s Wine & Chocolate Festival of course!

What do a mountain and a loaf of bread have in common? When you add the name Crystal at the Black Diamond Bakery, everything.

And how did all these items manage to come together? Let’s just say we had a very busy Groundhog Day…

Seattle grounds

Meeting up with friends at a coffee shop is a time honored tradition. Lucky for us latte fanatics living in the Emerald City, such establishments are just about everywhere. Near Lake Union, in Seattle’s Eastlake neighborhood, one of my favorites has to be Voxx. It was the perfect place for us to start our day.

Entering Voxx and discovering the fun retro décor in sync with the vintage pop music, I can’t help but imagine stepping back in time to the 1970s, and finding myself at a coffee shop geared toward office professionals.

After placing our food and beverage orders, we pushed two tables together near a cushy bench, then grabbed a couple of classroom chairs. Soon, we proceeded to enjoy a vicious game of Exploding Kittens while visiting and noshing on our delectable Voxx treats.

Fueled up on great food and java, we hit the road and headed south, eventually trading in the cityscape for a very rural countryside.

Enumclaw shows

Near the base of Mount Rainier rests a small town that knows a thing or two about how to gather crowds—and entertain them. With wine. And chocolate! And as we soon discovered, a whole lot more. The Enumclaw Events Center played host to the town’s 11th annual Wine & Chocolate Festival.

A friend working the event tipped us off to this yearly celebration that takes place the first weekend in February. Since both wine and chocolate are easy sells for us, we eagerly purchased tickets online.

Knowing just a little about Enumclaw’s country charm and small town size, I was curious about what we’d find. As it turns out, plenty: two ginormous tents, over a hundred booths, a wine store, and a whole bunch of vendors. And live music! Two different stages—one in each tent—and food, and crafts, and people! Hundreds of patrons milling about, wine glasses in hand, taking it all in.

The wine vendors (23 in all) were salt-and-peppered throughout the event, in some cases sharing their booths—pairing up—with food vendors. For instance, Patterson Cellars teamed up with Seattle Chocolates and JCOCO, making for a very popular stop. Thoroughly loving both products, we purchased two bottles of Patterson’s Due Anni, and two bars of JCOCO’s dark chocolate flavors: Boharat Middle Eastern Spice, and Arabica Espresso. Amazing!

Before leaving the tents, our little group also managed to purchase risotto, hot sauce, ceramics and (of course) more wine and chocolate. And we’re already looking forward to next year…

Black Diamond treasures

A few dozen years ago when I was a youngster, my friend’s mom would take us to a favorite bakery of ours as a special treat. The trick though, was to arrive before they sold out of their signature item: Crystal Mountain Bread.

Since 1902, the Black Diamond Bakery has faithfully served its patrons this famous loaf, along with countless other delicious treats. They’ve even added a restaurant! Ready for a sit down meal, we left Enumclaw for the short drive to Black Diamond to give my bakery’s dinner menu a try.

Lots of stick-to-your-ribs menu options. Cool! Finding Yankee Pot Roast on the menu, I was set. From start to finish, out table of companions enjoyed each delicious bite. Just for fun, we rounded out our meal sharing two slices of pie for dessert. Great service and wonderful food. Our server even added our bakery purchases to our dinner tab so we only had one transaction! Truly a yummy experience.

Next door to the bakery, there’s a store that offers some very savory take-home treats: Smokehouse and More. Before piling into our car, we stopped by for a few things. The smell alone will draw you in! We left with a small supply of smoked chicken sausage.

A few months ago, I was passing through Black Diamond, of course making time for a quick bakery stop, when I noticed another neighbor on Railroad Avenue: the Black Diamond Museum. Deciding to hang out a bit longer, I paid the museum a visit.

Showcasing its mining history in an old train station, I was impressed with the care and cleverness with which these early 1900s artifacts and personal belongings were displayed. One discovery I made should be no surprise: that it was immigrants who took to the world of coal. Over the course of several decades, it was their efforts in the mines below that ultimately forged the lives and livelihoods of the town and their families above.

Those of you who enjoy the cult movie “Groundhog Day” know that Phil Connors was not terribly happy about reliving this holiday day over and over again. But for me and my carload of companions, we’d be just fine with a repeat of today’s collection of wonderful events. J 🚙

 

Willamette Valley winter

Going out for a drive—in January? Winter road trips through the Pacific Northwest can display a variety of climate changes and weather conditions, all in the span of just a few miles. But in general, staying west of the Cascades, things like mild temperatures and on again-off again precipitation are fairly predictable. So, gambling on a mixed bag of sun and rain, we packed up the car for our off-season adventure.

Heading south along I-5 from Seattle, the passing evergreen trees (seemingly oblivious to seasonal temperaments) stand alongside the many deciduous rows of arbor.

Nearing our destination, the now dormant branches and vines hold the promise of fruit, hazelnuts and wine grapes. Welcome to the Willamette Valley! Oregon’s modern day land of milk and honey. Excitedly, we pull into our first stop: Erath Winery.

Pinots & popcorn

I always enjoy celebrating fun (albeit slightly obscure) holidays, and discovering new food and wine pairings, but didn’t really expect to do both on our first day. Erath, however, enjoys hosting events for its patrons that combine holiday themed nosh with its world famous pinots. As luck would have it, we timed our visit on National Popcorn Day.

Munching a caramel coated cup of the famed American snack alongside each wine flight, we added a meat, cheese and hazelnut plate to our table of treats. Surprisingly, I found myself asking our server for more popcorn goodness (made by How Sweet It Is of Portland), eventually purchasing two containers worth to go along with our take-home wine bottles of choice.

As we sipped our pinots, our server, Brandon, answered our many curious questions. By the way, do you know that Riedel makes a wine glass just for New World Pinot Noirs? It’s true! Inspired by this coastal state’s amazing production of said varietal, we enjoyed each item from our tasting menu in one of these “OPN” (Oregon Pinot Noir) Riedel wine glasses…

Ducks & doughnuts

Saying goodbye to Erath, we made our way a little farther south in the valley to Eugene. Time for a little trivia! This college town is home to the University of Oregon—the only school with a famous Disney cartoon character for a mascot. Once partnered with Walt Disney himself, the U of O now adorns its athletes and fans with a logo featuring a version of the one and only Donald Duck.

We pull up to the Valley River Inn, our home for the next two nights. We love this place! Our room faces the beautiful Willamette River, with a wonderfully walkable path to Jacobs Park located on the riverbank across the water from our hotel. And when we’re ready to do a little shopping, Valley River Center sits just across the parking lot.

Time for something sweet! Generally speaking, doughnuts are not a regular item on my shopping list. But when in Eugene, there’s one thing we don’t leave town without: a box of Voodoo Doughnut. Let’s see, how shall I describe VD? Different? Yes. Unusual? Yup, that too. But I think my word of choice has to be this one: DELICIOUS—they make the tastiest doughnuts! Absolutely—every time.

Corks & Kings

Up for a short drive, we made our way through the quiet, green countryside on the outskirts of Eugene to the rolling hills of King Estate Winery.

Founded by Edward J. King Jr. and his son Ed King III, this family owned and farmed vineyard commands a breathtaking view of its Willamette Valley grounds. Inside the establishment, elegance and quality are visible in every direction.

During previous visits here, we’ve enjoyed combining a wine flight in the restaurant with a late lunch, but on this visit we chose to taste—then tour.

First, the tasting. Alyssa served our wine menu selections, commenting on the style and nuances of each pour. We learned a little vocabulary and history too. For example, Oregon wine grapes were first planted in the 1960s. King Estate’s vines—first planted in 1991—provide a sizable amount of the Willamette Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area) pinots. Just how sizable? Tour guide Emily filled us in…

Time for a pop quiz! How many acres make up Oregon’s AVAs?

  • 500,000
  • 1,000,000
  • 3,000,000+

Answer? The current total is about 3,400,000 acres. That’s a LOT of wine grapes…

We began our tour in the room where the grapes begin theirs: the crush pad. The impressive industrial equipment crushes the fruit into juice, then sends it through Willy Wonka-like sky tubes to various (and ginormous) steel tanks along the walls of the pad.

Making our way around the facility, Emily shared with us a few details about King Estate’s big-picture approach to farming, referring to biodynamic farming as their method of choice. Everything from bees to compost do their thing on these 500+ acres.

Once the juice is mixed with yeast in either steel containers or oak barrels, the soon-to-be-wine concoctions are managed very carefully by the King Estate team.

Corks or caps? Like many wineries, King Estate uses both. On our tour, we learned that when it comes to bottling wine, both sealing methods continue to prove successful.

Steel tanks or oak barrels? Again, King Estate uses both, but choosing the proper container for fermentation depends on the desired outcome. In general, white wines are stored in steel tanks that can hold from 300 to 4000 gallons.

Red wines almost always go through fermentation in oak barrels. A regular sized barrel will produce about 300 bottles; large barrels fill about 4000. Because oak can breathe, it provides an oxidative aging process, as well as flavor from the wood. However steel tanks provide a reductive means of aging; nothing passes through the walls to the fermenting wine.

Leaving King Estate—a few bottles added to our inventory—we felt good about their commitment to the quality of their products, as well as to the land.

We truly enjoy visiting this beautiful corner of the world known as the Willamette Valley. Quiet now, the activity level will pick up as winter gives way to spring, then summer, then harvest. The tourist headcount will pick up as well, which isn’t a bad thing. There’s always room here for those who like to celebrate all this valley has to offer. J 🍇

Notes on Nashville

Until my recent autumn visit to Nashville, I’d never heard of hot chicken, seen the Parthenon, or experienced music—great music—coming from every bar and restaurant simultaneously on a downtown street.

And now? Hot chicken is my new favorite, my knowledge of geography and history are in sync, and my impression of the music scene will never be the same.

Let’s start with the music, a legend and a funny song…

Native son

Back in my youngster days, watching evening television meant watching whatever program my parents chose. Thankfully, there were a few shows we all could agree on. From 1969-71, The Johnny Cash Show entertained families like ours all across the country.

His records were a big part of my mom and dad’s vinyl collection. And while the deeper meanings of his lyrics escaped my youthful ears, one of his songs always made me smile at any age:“ A Boy Named Sue.” So, learning we’d be in Nashville for a spell, I knew I just had to visit the Johnny Cash Museum.

A quick walk from our hotel (the Hampton Inn & Suites), this museum was a convenient and entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. Following a timeline of sorts, the direction of our self guided tour took us through his youth, his discovery and fame, and his golden years.

The exhibit items triggered many memories for me, but also provided me with several new-found facts about the life of the “Man in Black.” For instance, not only is he in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but also the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame too.

Walking the streets of Nashville, we quickly learned this town honors not only several equally famous country music stars, but all walks of art, melodic and otherwise. Most obviously though, day or night, from any sidewalk or street corner, we were within earshot of seriously great live music.

National exposition

A centennial mile marker is no small feat. One hundred years of statehood is celebration worthy! But what would be the best, most memorable way to honor Tennessee? Well, in 1897, with a little assistance from the NC&StL Railway and a big desire to establish a true hub of art and culture in Nashville, Centennial Park was born.

And now, it’s time to sync up my knowledge of geography with a little less-than-ancient history. The Parthenon—as in Athens, Greece—was built from 447-438 BC to honor the city’s patron saint, Athena. Hundreds of years later, in 1897 Nashville, a replica of this very famous Greek landmark came into being as part of the centennial celebration.

Serving as a gallery of fine arts during the exposition, the purpose of this new Parthenon was to inspire love, beauty and a true appreciation for the arts. And today? Looking around this city, I’d say the Centennial Park version is a solid monument to that very ideal.

And what a beautiful place it is. We loved walking through the park’s many gardens, stopping every now and then to admire the pond, read the signs, enjoy the statues, and of course, visit the Parthenon. Still featuring fine art—and a ginormously tall Athena statue!—this museum (maintained by the Nashville Parks & Recreation) is fantastic. As in, WOW!

Noshing local

All our appreciation for beautiful music, “modern” replicas and unique museums helped us work up an appetite for yet another art: culinary. Time to showcase a few of Nashville’s foodie hits.

While fried chicken is a well known southern treat, “hot chicken” was a new term for me. But Hattie B’s Hot Chicken brought me up to speed instantly. Talk about delicious! Soooooo moist and flavorful, from the perfectly breaded crust to the very last juicy cayenne peppered bite. Every piece of chicken was this way!

The side dishes too were amazing. Excellent quality and flavor. We visited two different Hattie B’s, both wonderful, and each featuring a unique set of local microbrews—a little something special to help wash down the heat…

Local and sustainable. That’s what our daughter was looking for in a sit down restaurant. Her find? Farm House. Just a five-minute walk from our hotel, this eatery was packed with patrons (on a Monday night…?…thank goodness for reservations). Together we shared an unpretentious atmosphere that featured excellent food and service. What more could we ask for? Well, maybe some candy…

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen was the perfect place to find souvenirs, as well as something sweet to enjoy on the spot. Not much beats the amazing aroma of confections in progress; Savannah’s creative staff was hard at work assembling lots of sweet praline, decorative caramel apples and chocolatey nut clusters.

Back to the music; just so you know we didn’t enjoy tunes only from the sidewalks. We stepped into a bar called Crazy Town for a shot of bourbon and to hear—and see—the live band performing just near the entrance. The musicians put their hearts into each and every song, here and in every other bar we passed by on our way back to the hotel. It really was a nice way to end our stay.

If ever you find yourself looking for a melodic artsy foodie town that knows how to celebrate each moment of the day, I suggest paying Nashville a visit. Chances are you’ll leave with a whole new appreciation for all things art and soul. J 🎶

 

Daylight in Oslo

Happy New Year everyone—welcome to 2019! So… how’s your bucket list coming along? My first blog post of last year, Wave meets rock, featured my “official” such list of five destinations I’d never experienced before. As of today, I’m happy to report two of the five are checked off—yippee!

The first—Alcatraz—made my blog post Bridges, bites & bars. The second—the fjords of Norway—well…starts with a sunrise.

Cruising in

Daylight in Oslo this time of year is limited to about six hours a day—tough to imagine during our recent autumn visit that began with a gorgeous sunrise! The Akershus Fortress & Castle served as the perfect backdrop to the sun’s early morning arrival. And our cruise ship cabin balcony provided one awesome vantage point.

The Pacific Princess docked in front of the castle about 7:00 am; just in time for me to greet the sun! In 2017, as luck would have it, I caught the sunrise in Salem, Oregon the morning of the solar eclipse. (A quick shoutout to my very first blog post: My Eclipse Manners.) And now, here in Oslo (14 months later), I realized the perfect addition to my bucket list: watch at least one sunrise every year from this moment on…

Walking around

Via the ship’s excursion desk, we booked a three-hour walking tour of the city. Conveniently, the tour began just a few steps from the dock. (Also convenient, the sunshine and blue sky would be sticking around for the day…)

As a group, we followed the guide toward the heart of downtown Oslo, which—from our starting point—put the harbor to our left and the fortress to our right. And just where the path along the marina met up with the walkways into town, our guide stopped in front of a park statue depicting a rather famous American: FDR.

Wait—a sculpture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt here—in Norway? Facing the beautiful harbor, FDR’s likeness was erected to honor him for his WWll speech “Look to Norway” and for his support of this Scandinavian country during the wartime occupation. The Norwegian citizens were very grateful for the aid provided by the Allied forces, which ultimately helped liberate their nation.

Continuing into town, our guide introduced us to a famous Norwegian—the city’s patron saint: Hallvard. Featured as the official seal of Oslo on building facades and other surfaces throughout the town, St. Hallvard holds a millstone in one hand and three arrows in the other.

Over the last few centuries, the reasons for these symbolic items have varied, along with the saint’s legend, but our guide shared with us the version that includes Hallvard rescuing a young woman (represented at the feet of St. Hallvard) and the saint surviving the three arrows.

Time for a little True/False! Oslo was once called Christiania.

True!

When you’re king, renaming a city after yourself is pretty doable. King Christian IV, after the fire of 1624 destroyed Oslo, ordered not only the relocation of the city to across the bay but the new name as well.

Continuing our journey on foot, we saw city hall, the royal palace, many beautiful parks and one tiger. Okay, so it’s a statue of a tiger, but a rather famous one with the locals, as it represents the town’s nickname “The Tiger City.”

Before our tour’s end, we enjoyed seeing the contemporary and beautiful opera house—even walked its pitched roof for a better look of the harbor. And—to my delight—walked the grounds of my sunrise castle, having yet one more harbor view.

Noshing on

And now, time to double back to a few merchants we spotted during our stroll through town! My family unanimously chose The Café Cathedral as our lunch place, so we made our way there first. Still wanting to enjoy this beautiful day, we opted for outdoor seating and made our menu selections.

While I ordered something sweet—Verdens Beste—Norwegian national cake, my family went for something savory: Reindeer Pizza. I passed on the option of having a bite, but apparently this Scandinavian spin on an Italian favorite was quite the delicious hit.

Sailing away

With the late afternoon sun closing in on the horizon, our ship began making its way toward open water, treating us to the perfect view of my previously mentioned bucket list item: seeing the fjords! The combination of clear sunny weather and an unobstructed view made the entire event picture perfect.

Whichever bucket list items you’ll visit this new year, I wish you all the best discoveries on your adventures—the planned and the unexpected… J 🌄

 

Leavenworth: welcoming Christmas

For those of us residing in the Northern Hemisphere, December 21 marks the beginning of winter—a new season—time to celebrate! But. This crisp solstice day leads with the latest sunrise and ends with earliest sunset of any other day on the calendar. So…. how best to be festive at the darkest time of year? Why, with millions of holiday lights, of course!

Nestled in a place of only 2000 residents, the small Bavarian themed town of Leavenworth, Washington plays host to thousands of visitors at its annual Christmas Lighting Festival. For over 50 years, people in search of an invitingly quaint village celebration—set against a snow covered mountain backdrop—come here in droves. Why? This year, we decided to find out for ourselves…

To and from

Parking at such an event can be a bit of a challenge. Wintery weather conditions can make the drive equally challenging. Clipper Vacations to the rescue! Booking our day trip online a few weeks earlier, I selected a charter bus pick-up point just a few miles from our house.

Boarding the bus, each of us received a breakfast goodie bag, a bottle of water and even some cookies for the ride home (assuming the afternoon treats aren’t consumed a little earlier…). Free Wi-Fi allowed our merry group of travelers to “stay connected,” while the TV monitors played a Christmas movie for those willing to look up from their conversations or electronic devices—or away from the increasingly snowy mountain pass scenery outside.

Food and drink

One thing about Leavenworth you’ll discover quickly: the Bavarian style facades, signage and decorations begin to welcome you to the town waaaaaay before you arrive at its center. You won’t wonder if you’re there yet; you’ll know. And as soon as we knew we’d arrived, our taste buds woke up.

So… what to enjoy first? Having snacked during our morning drive, we weren’t starving, but we were up for a little warmth. Vendors set up near the gazebo caught our eyes (and noses), so we made our way there. The winner? Mulled wine!

Glühwein—German mulled wine to be more specific—produced by Washington State’s own WooHoo Winery—was the featured holiday beverage of the day. We entered the alcohol tent and made our purchase. Good stuff! Hot and delicious, it needed no additional spices.

All toasty and ready for the afternoon, we meandered through the streets while doing a little window shopping. Admiring the décor and noting our desired must-visit list of businesses for the day, we found our lunch place: Visconti’s Italian Restaurant. Not that there wasn’t enough Bavarian food stands around, but we’ve been to Visconti’s a few years prior and we’re eager to come back.

Enjoying the great food, service and atmosphere, we were happy to have our return visit exceed our expectations. Also, seated at a table with a view of the street helped us feel connected to the outside festivities.

Downstairs, the restaurant’s walk-in gelato shop, Viadolce, happily handed out samples of their traditional and dairy-free icy goodness. My husband opted for lemon. And yes, I snuck a bite. Yum!

Holding out for a dessert in cookie form, and very ready for my latte, we queued up for entry into our next shop stop: The Gingerbread Factory. The fragrance and appearance in this store is holiday heaven! Plenty of festive décor and souvenirs strategically placed along the path to the bakery counter made shopping all too easy…

Lucky for me, I was in line behind a former Gingerbread Factory employee who gave me an excellent recommendation: the Gingerbread Soft Ice cookie. Thank you, kind stranger! It was the perfect accompaniment to my latte, made by their skillful baristas.

Shop and marvel

Food and beverage stands and stores weren’t the only places enjoying long lines of excited patrons. Many clothing, trinket and specialty shops featured lines curving along the sidewalks for several yards. Everyone maintained good spirits, but this factor did help us determine a few “maybe next time” merchants.

We did, however, manage the queue for one fun store: A Matter of Taste. Lots of funky flavorful stocking stuffers for us to buy. We also made it back to the Glühwein tent to purchase a few bottles of WooHoo’s Red Spiced Wine to take home. And then, it was time to find a perch somewhere around the festival’s main event: the tree lighting ceremony!

Just after dusk, the many visitors began to position themselves all around the gazebo and park that make up the town square. We found an excellent locale kitty-corner to the soon-to-be-very-festive trees.

First the surrounding buildings—the instant illumination of their facades brought a collective cheer from the crowd. And a few minutes later… lights, camera, action! The true height of the town square’s ginormous evergreens was revealed in beautiful, bright strands of white and colorful miniature bulbs. Thousands of them! An impressive sight to behold.

Making our way back to the motor coach, purchases in tow and new memories gelling in our noggins, we were already planning a return visit.

Welcoming this chilly, dark season with Leavenworth’s fantastic festival certainly left us with warm and happy smiles on our faces. And the lights gave us a strong reminder that lighting even one candle can break the darkness in a very cheerful way. J 🎄