Hutchinson Island Zen

Ah, summer—today’s the first day! The very name of the season evokes a Zen feeling. What comes to your mind when you hear the word “Zen?” Meditation, relaxation, calmness? Vacation—a break from the everyday life? Associated with Zen Buddhism, this powerful three-letter word enjoys a positive place in our modern vocabulary.

It has come to describe people, places and things that equate to feelings of clarity and control, brought about by experiencing wonder, beauty and life’s simple pleasures.

These Zen moments can last just long enough for us to catch our breath, recharge our batteries and return to our daily challenges with a bit more energy—a fresher pair of eyes.

For me, Zen equals Hutchinson Island, on Florida’s Atlantic Coast. No matter what I have going on in my life, time spent here in this quite beautiful place always gives me the clarity and calmness I didn’t know I needed until I arrive.

While this locale is very vacation worthy (think long weekend or longer), sometimes I only have a day… but I’ll take it! Time to share my recent island Zen day with you.

Sea life

Cute and cuddly critters like puppies and kitties can give us that warm-and-fuzzy Zen feeling in our hearts almost instantly. But what about H2O critters? One visit to the Florida Oceanographic and Coastal Center’s stingray feeding program with melt your heart and calm your nerves quickly, as you learn how to pet and feed these entertaining rays.

Time for a pop quiz! Rays are a type of:

A) Fish
B) Dolphin
C) Shark

Answer: A) Fish! They’re just a lot flatter then your average finned swimmer. And these Coastal Center residents have their barbs filed down regularly, so there’s no chance for human visitors to be hurt.

My family and I have paid them many visits over the years, and we never tire of interacting with these amazing sea critters.

Along with the rays, rescued sea turtles and game fish enjoy ocean-fed pavilions and lagoons throughout the 57-acre property. The nature trail and visitors center—even a butterfly garden—and several hands-on displays help educate (as they entertain) patrons of all ages.

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Watching this facility grow over the years gives me a good feeling inside too. The employees are friendly, knowledgeable and dedicated to sharing what life is all about for their marine residents.

Past life

Directly across the street from the Coastal Center sits a modern museum with a flare for transportation: the Elliott Museum. Since their invention, classic cars from almost every decade are on display in a garage-type setting.

But before you happen upon these vehicles, you’ll find variations of bicycles as they evolved from styles of yesteryear, leading up to the most significant style of all: the precursor to the automobile. Sterling Elliot was the inventor and manufacturer of this pre-auto contraption. He managed to own quite a few patents, several having to do with modes of transportation. Many of his inventions greet you near the front entrance.

I enjoyed discovering those early bicycles and tricycles—many of their parts made from wood—as I made my way to the temporary exhibit: kites from around the world. I’d never thought of using these quiet, aerodynamic works of art to tell stories or share history, but show-and-tell they did.

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My price of admission to the Elliott Museum included entry to another museum a few miles down the road: the House of Refuge. So down the road I drove.

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, walking into this structure was truly a step back in time. Located on one of the island’s backroads, the serenity of this area made it difficult to imagine the building’s once historical purpose: to serve as a haven for shipwrecked sailors.

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But the rocky beach was a reminder to me that the ease and success of navigation was largely dependent on the weather—and at what angle the shore and the ships met.

Beach life

Looking forward to dipping my toes in the sand, I headed north to Jensen Beach. Plenty of sand and shore awaited me, along with a very welcome ocean breeze. Time to stretch my legs!

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I start to relax just seeing this place from the parking lot. As I pass the Sand Dune Café (a nice walk-up by the way!) and head toward the water, I notice the most artful sandcastle I’ve ever seen: a sea monster of sorts 🦑, facing the ocean. Very impressive—kudos to the sculptor!

The monster facing the ocean. As I continued walking along the beach, I remembered some sage advice I hear often whenever I’m visiting the shore: never turn your back on the ocean. At least not when standing at its edge.

Ready for some refreshment and a little late lunch, I head a bit farther along the road to one of my favorite watering holes: Kyle G’s. Lucky for me, there was an available seat at the bar outside that included a perfect ocean view. James the bartender created a wonderful white sangria at my request. I enjoyed it very much, along with a delicious plate of fried oysters. My final Zen moment of the day.

Whatever your plans for summer, I hope you fit in a few activities designed to help you relax and recharge. Safe travels, and enjoy your Zen moments! J 🏖

 

 

 

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MOHAI ala Seattle

Always ready and waiting for new patrons, museums share their eclectic collections of recorded history on a variety of objects, events and people in very unique ways. But believe it or not, museums have their own history too.

Quite by accident, I recently discovered one such institution—a favorite from my youth—had pulled up stakes and moved to a new local. And all I did was ask someone for the nearest coffee place…

A few years back, Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry—MOHAI—traded its view of Lake Washington and the recently expanded Evergreen Point Floating Bridge for a view of the Space Needle from the edge of Lake Union. They just needed to dust a few cobwebs off an old but very museum-sized facility.

Kudos to the city for repurposing the historic Naval Reserve Armory building! MOHAI’s new home. This made me wonder about the history of the museum itself. When did it first open its doors? Will its contents spark a memory or two for me? Aside from the new digs (and a coffee shop—with its own entrance ☕️), what else will be new news for me?

Waiting for a friend’s meeting to end, I had a few hours to wander around the area. Desiring to satisfy my curiosity, I pushed off my caffeine fix and walked through the museum’s doors.

A life-altering letter

Handing me my ticket and map, the museum employee suggested I begin my self-guided tour just behind the ginormous photo of Mount Rainier on the second floor. An excellent suggestion, because it provided a chronological starting point with the first people who called this area “home.”

Coveted for its abundance of natural resources, this place attracted explorers, trappers, miners and loggers, ultimately attracting farmers, government—and barons of industry. Many natives and newcomers developed friendly relationships, but it did not take long for the steady arrival of outside people seeking land for themselves to challenge any good will between tribes and settlers.

Studying the photos, artifacts and reenactment videos, I found myself taking a refresher course in my own town’s local history.

Chief Seattle, a prominent leader of his tribe, encouraged his people and other local tribes to sign a treaty penned by those would become the city’s civic leaders. Speaking up for environmental and tribal rights, he nevertheless endorsed the documents that authorized relocation of native tribes to reservations—land set aside for them by the American government.

The US purchased the more desirable land from the tribes. The chief lived out his days on a reservation, some distance from his original home. Part of me wondered why Chief Seattle focused on persuading tribes to accept the treaty rather than fight to keep what was already theirs.

But I think he foresaw that the new US government—friendly now, but with plenty of military and financial resources—would continue to push for the land they wanted, eventually at any cost. He led by example and signed the treaty, peaceably taking the high road. A somber situation for the tribes. A very humbling and life-altering event for all.

A musical fire

A re-enactment of a famous event is one way to make the pages of history come alive. Like with a musical. In this case, one starring inanimate objects: a typewriter, a doll, a glue pot…

The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 occurred Thursday, June 6 of that year, taking down the entire business district, burning all the way to the waterfront.

I remember seeing the glue pot—the catalyst of the great fire—during my very first visit to MOHAI, circa my first grade year. But this lovely little fire starter came to life in front of me today in a whole new way when I entered The Great Seattle Fire Theater.

Singing its heart out, the glue pot shared its side of the story. Other objects joined in, performing for seven minutes, until their individual memories of this hot news event were made known. Talk about seeing things from another point of view! I actually clapped.

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A hometown photographer

Making my way through the very lively, colorful and interactive museum displays, I was entertained by memory triggers—anything that took me back to a classroom, a famous headline or an I-remember! moment. But when I happened upon the temporary exhibit featuring a local photographer, I encountered something very new to me: Seattle on the Spot—the photographs of Al Smith.

Entering the exhibit’s rooms, I was transported in time to around the 1950s, and the African-American community living and working in the Puget Sound region back then.

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I’d not heard of Al Smith before, but I quickly came to appreciate his skills—his eye for a great photo—capturing special occasions and everyday life in a way that made me feel drawn in, like I was there. An amazing photographic journal of his travels and daily encounters. On display until June 17, I’m very glad I caught his work.

An infectious future

Leaving the Al Smith exhibit, history picked up speed for me. From tokens and headlines showcasing the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, to the civil rights and human rights movements taking place around the region, to beginnings of today’s PC tech—even nods to local companies that became world famous. I was in awe of it all.

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How will today’s headlines find their way into MOHAI’s future displays? What current issues, disasters, laws and discoveries will make such marks on our society as to receive a place inside these walls?

Everyday people going about their lives, careers and plans, stumbling upon—or running purposely toward—such moments in time. Who will take the high road for peace, or protest for justice? Who will be tenacious enough to create new cures, or efficiencies? Who will showcase art in a whole new way?

Only our future voters, researchers, leaders and dreamers can say. I wonder—what will MOHAI have to say about them? J 🎟

 

Crew-sing the cut

Welcome to boating season! In my corner of the world, this is a year-around activity (albeit not tremendously popular in the winter months), but as of the first Saturday in May, it’s official!

Watercraft of every size, shape, color and purpose take to the H2O in droves. Temporary structures sprout up along our lakes, rivers, sounds and oceans, offering you the chance to rent your vision of freedom on the waterways.

Time to celebrate! And what better way to honor the commencement of maritime activities then with a regatta? That’s exactly how Seattle floats—with The Windermere Cup.

Since 1987, Windermere Real Estate brings together racing crew teams from all over the world for a chance to take home The Windermere Cup trophy. While the visiting teams vary from year to year, the University of Washington Huskies represent the home team for this auspicious event.

Fans crowd the narrow land edges of the Arboretum and the Montlake Cut for a chance to witness the festivities. On the water, yacht club members and other boat owners line up along the race course for a first-hand unobstructed view of the athletes in action. And just where did we fit in?

The log booms

Two very long rows of logs floating end to end (anchored in place) served as the boundaries for the race course. These logs also served as the top of our parking spot, as we backed up to one such tree trunk and proceeded to tie up.

In general, the boating community is a friendly and helpful group. Appropriate since each ties up not only to the log boom, but to each other as well. Get-acquainted conversations spring with every tie-up. Those with dinghies assist in the tie-up process, along with shuttling their own guests to and from the shore.

Each boat load of fans throws their own bash, music drifting from almost every vessel. Think one long, thin tailgate party—or “sailgate” as referred to by one of our neighbors.

The races—back in the day

What do spoons, tulips, hatchets and collars have in common? Oars, of course! Specifically racing oars. From spoons to tulips—common boat oar styles of yesteryear, today’s crew teams use the hatchet style oar.

Adjustable collars on the hatchet oars (positioned near the handles) allow coaches to assess the current skill of the rower, then increase the degree of difficulty as the athlete improves. Moving the collar higher up the oar pushes the boat even farther with each stroke.

Training equipment and techniques today are sophisticated and high tech. Years ago, manual labor jobs often took the place of formal offseason conditioning for our crew teams. And then there’s the shells. No longer wooden, modern day racing craft are made of durable synthetic materials featuring built-in seams so the boats can be disassembled for easy transportation.

Since originating in England on the Thames circa 1600s, the evolution of crew racing to the elite and popular sport we know today is highlighted throughout our history by several distinct mile markers—more than the ever-changing boats, oars and exercise programs. One such mile marker occurred during the Great Depression on these very shores.

A few days after our log boom adventure, we enjoyed a walking tour (on land!) honoring The Boys in the Boat and their famous legacy that came to pass pre-WWII. Led by former Husky women’s crew member Melanie Barstow (the “Boys of 1936” tour creator), we traveled through time from the UW’s currentand very modernConibear Shellhouse to the original ASUW Shellhouse on the water’s edge of the Montlake Cut.

A former Naval facility built in 1918—now on the National Register of Historic Places—this humble structure had a dual purpose. It served as a launch and storage for the UW crew teams, and as a shop for the assembly of the world-famous Pocock Racing shells.

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George Pocock himself created his wooden boats under that roof. If these old floor boards could talk, they would be smiling as they told the very true story of how the Husky men’s varsity crew team came together (in a Pocock shell) to win the gold at the ‘36 Berlin Olympics.

The races—present day

Fast forward to modern times, and this year’s opening day contest. Pardon the reference, but this year’s races—22 total—were akin to singing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat”—one race right after the other.

Each lasted between 5 and 9 minutes—each a smooth yet sharp and speedy challenge on the water’s surface, and each marked with evidence of today’s tech and style: wireless headsets for the coxswain and rowers, sleek shells and the latest in lightweight uniforms. The winning teams crossed the finish line with no more than a second or two to spare, or considerably less.

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The parades

When you hear the word “parade,” what comes to mind? Marching bands, cheerleaders, dignitaries, athletes, police and firefighters—and decorated floats? This post crew racing event contained all of the above mentioned elements, moving between the log booms with all the pomp and circumstance of any parade you’ve witnessed on paved city streets.

One noteworthy variation: all watercraft came back through the same course. In other words, any floating parade craft passed by all onlookers twice. No worries if you missed waving at a particular participant; the start and finish line were one in the same.

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The course events ending, all boats proceeded to make their way home in whichever direction necessary. This created a common experience among all commuters: rush hour. Nothing like a little traffic jam to remind us we’re not alone when making our way down the many highways (and waterways) of life.

As we tootled along the no wake zone on our way back home, I wondered what thoughts crew racing fans had that year the UW crew team represented the USA in the ‘36 Summer Olympics. Hope, pride, excitement—my best guesses. Ears glued to their radios, voices harsh from yelling their enthusiasm as “the boys” crossed the finish line first—against all odds.

If only the boys knew their mile marker in the making—their very own and very famous moment in time—how much they continue to be celebrated. Their humble personas might be a bit overwhelmed.

But I think their pride in the continued success of crew racing at their old alma mater, and the celebration of this sport every first Saturday in May, would give them that “swing” feeling in and out of the racing shell, and the knowledge that it all was worth it—and still is. J 🚣‍♀️

 

Where gardens grow

Regarding favorites—favorite garden nursery, favorite bistro, favorite spa, or favorite tea shop—you might picture locations you’ve happened upon during your travels that check off one or two of the above-mentioned categories. Quite recently, I was treated to a day in a place that features all four and more: Windmill Gardens.

You’ll find this five-acre village of classy, unpretentious mercantile in the town of Sumner, Washington. And once we entered the grounds, I couldn’t believe the discoveries we made at every turn.

Garden epic

Plants, flowers, trees, soils and seeds—high and low, plentiful and beautiful—occupying much of the acreage, spilling purposely from the long greenhouse-style buildings into the outside patios. Employees were busy keeping this popular shop tidy, assisting customers and ringing up purchases—and fielding questions.

As I wondered how far their living inventory needed to travel to reach this place, a cashier answered that very question to one of my friends. Only a few miles down the road, their production facilities—25 acres worth—grow all kinds of flowers and greenery.

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Just outside our parking spot, The Village connected the nursery with the smaller but very quaint tea shop, spa and other stores all the way to the courtyard, restaurant and windmill. Brightly colored flowers, plants and water features lead the way to each door.

Gadget unique

Not to be outdone by the greenery and floral displays, garden accessories of every size, shape and color were available for purchase. An impressive selection, to say the least. In need of garden boots, gloves, hats, mats, tools,clothing—fairy furniture? Running low on terrarium supplies? Metal figurines? Bird feeders—and bird baths? Signage? It’s all there.

Because the one thing missing from my backyard was a metal pink flamingo, I made my purchase while my other friend picked out some greenery for her backyard. (I did eye a water feature—maybe next time.)

Gourmet fare

Walking into Tea Madame was a delight to the senses, even before enjoying a free sample. Loose leaf blends sold here—many exclusive to this shop—are also the delicious subjects of this store’s tea tastings (classes). Sounds like flavorful fun to me! Jewelry and even chocolate joined the many different tea accessories on the shelves. It was tough to leave! Ah, but it was time for lunch at the Windmill Bistro.

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It’s difficult for me to pass up crab Mac-n-cheese, so I didn’t. But all of our entrees were flavorful and reasonably priced. This restaurant alone is definitely worthy of a return visit.

Upon learning that the Bistro is also available in the evenings for private events—and that it provides catering for celebrations taking place in the courtyard or adjacent building just outside—I began to make the connection…

Gala flare

Weddings, milestone anniversaries and birthdays, and other special events; I can see how all venues on site come into play to make this place nearly an all-inclusive locale.

Need a gazebo for your nuptials? Check! How about an on-site florist? Done! While the Bella Ragazza Spa & Salon pampers the bridal party, the beautiful grounds and whimsical windmill building accommodate your guests for an enchanting evening of festivities.

I always admire those who possess a green thumb. They have the ability to turn a patch of dirt into a garden, a vase of flowers into a bouquet—even an old appliance into a colorful planter. And now, after my visit to the Windmill Gardens, I’m willing to try just a bit harder to make my living spaces a little more alive. J 🌳

 

FAIR-ly unique fun

There’s a lot of newness this time of year—many discoveries (or rediscoveries) of things tucked away; things—and people—anticipating longer, warmer, sunnier days. And while all seasons have events worth celebrating, spring claims the colorful rebirth of our landscapes. And perhaps a bit more…

For me, tradition dictates my attendance at the state fair each and every fall. Not begrudgingly, I can assure you; I love our giant end-of-summer-beginning-of-autumn-harvest-food-music-fun-filled festive bash just as much as the well over one million annual attendees who visit this grand occasion. Since 1900, the city of Puyallup has played host to The Fair, and since 1990, the Spring Fair.

Hold up—a fair… in the spring? Okay, so it’s been around for almost 30 years now, but it took a bit for me to warm up to the idea. Realizing the parade is daring to pass me by, I purchased tickets online (at a discount for buying early), talked my daughter into spending one of her weekdays off with me, and hit the road, ready to compare spring to fall.

Machines

Upon arrival, my car and wallet were treated to free parking at the fairgrounds’ Blue parking lot; a nice perk for attending the Spring Fair on a weekday.

After clearing the gates and making our way through a familiar maze of structures—one of which sold us our ride tickets—we arrived at our family’s official first fair stop: the roller coaster. Making its debut in 1935 (rebuilt a few times since), The Coaster is our favorite way to kick off our day at the fair.

Meandering through the grounds, we witnessed a mix of things familiar with a dash or two of something new. Something different. Like a parade of monster trucks making their way to the grandstand bullpen. Larger-than-life, loud and knobby tires, these modes of transportation demanded the attention of all those in a hundred-yard radius. Not a planned event, mind you, as far as your traditional parade goes. But totally worth the price of admission!

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Critters

Picture your favorite local fair. What animals come to mind? Cows, horses, hogs, rabbits, chickens…reptiles, marsupials, tropical birds…wait—what? That’s what we uttered as we stumbled into an exhibit under the grandstand: Brad’s World Reptiles. Snapping turtles, albino cobras and alligators—oh my! Not your average petting zoo.

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Camped out between the carnival rides and the food stands, we discovered adorable and colorful critters from down under: kangaroos and wallabies, and multicolored birds that make decorated Easter eggs look plain—all part of the Aussie Kingdom.

To date, I’ve witnessed mostly conventional races: cars, horses, gunnysacks, three-legged… but now, I can chalk one up for unconventional: potbelly pigs. If you’re looking for cuteness overload, this is the event for you! Swifty Swine Productions packs its arena to standing-room-only capacity each and every showtime. Three races per show, these super cute potbellies tear up the sawdust track to reach the coveted prize: an Oreo cookie.

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Flavors

If there’s one rule for attending a fair, it’s this: bring your appetite. Everything from cotton candy to gyros is available, along with beverages galore. We narrowed down our selection to options at the baked potato/panini stand. I chose a traditional baked spud, with plenty of cheese, butter, sour cream and chives (leaving off the bacon bits—after the potbelly races, I just couldn’t…). 🐽

Before calling it a day, we picked up two bakers dozen bags of one fair tradition I will never go without: Fisher Scones. And because every scone deserves a worthy something-to-drink partner, we visited the Original House of Donuts stand for lattes. Oh, and because they jumped into our purchase, a few donuts too.

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Making our way to the new seating area just behind the grandstand, we enjoyed our treats in full view of the monster trucks, resting up for their big show. Also in the vicinity of the grandstand’s backyard, we found the Fred Oldfield Western Heritage & Art Center. Something I’d never really noticed before, even in all the years I’ve been a state fair regular.

There was a class in progress, but not just because of the Spring Fair; this art center is open year around. It is the perfect combination of art reflecting the past, while looking to the future.

What local springtime events, fairs or festivals do you enjoy? Or are you warming up to the thought of attending? Take it from me, don’t let these opportunities—these parades—pass you by. The monster trucks, potbellies and scone makers will thank you. And you just might discover (for yourself) a new tradition. J 🎢

 

Heralds of spring

Three weeks into the season, spring continues to announce its arrival. Blossoms, flowers, birds and bees—and baby critters—continue to pop up on a daily basis. The number of sunlit hours is ever increasing, and the air has a newfound freshness.

It’s always fun to visit places that showcase Mother Nature’s spring seasonal masterpieces. And Skagit Valley sets the stage beautifully: fields of sunny daffodils and colorful tulips amidst April showers, all against a stunning backdrop of snow capped mountains.

Sharing the spotlight with this jeweled valley is the charming town of La Conner. About 60 miles north of Seattle, you’ll find this small city between Skagit Bay—part of Puget Sound—and fields upon fields of flowers, along with farms and acres of produce. And although the floral festivities span just two months (two very beautiful months), La Conner entertains tourists year-around.

Hotel to intel

Cutting a path between Skagit Bay and Padilla Bay flows the Swinomish Channel. And along this waterway you’ll find the La Conner Channel Lodge. Between the water and 1st Street, this hotel has a great location—just steps away from shopping, dining, wine tasting and lots more.

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The hotel itself has a comfortable rustic lobby, complete with fireplace, and live piano music in the evenings. It really is quite lovely! We also enjoyed their continental breakfast—available to all their guests—each morning of our stay. And when we finished our morning meal, it was time to venture out. But where to first?

Strolling along La Conner’s sidewalks is a great first step to finding an activity or two (or ten). And from the Channel Passage walkway, we could see the picturesque symbol of this city: Rainbow Bridge.

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The town’s beautiful wooden signage appearing above several shops, galleries and eateries—along with several sandwich boards—are all eye catching and inviting. Planning ahead, I did my share of online research, but sometimes I just want to ask a real life person a question.

The La Conner Visitors Center is staffed with La Conner residents who can answer LOTS of touristy questions. Like knowing if the daffodils and tulips are really in bloom before making the six-mile trek to the fields. (Hint #1: the online map of the fields updates daily, letting you know exactly which fields are showtime ready.)

By the way, do you know the history behind the town’s name? Time for a pop quiz!

La Conner is named after:

A) Connersville, Indiana—the hometown of the first non-native American settlers

B) an Irish family crest belonging to the first farming family of Skagit Valley

C) Louisa Anne Conner, the first non-native woman to settle in Skagit Valley

The answer? C! Louisa and her husband John came to Skagit Valley in 1870, settling along the banks of the Swinomish Channel. Mrs. Conner’s legacy also includes raising funds—via canoe—for construction of Sacred Heart Church, which resides on Douglas Street.

International to local

Up for shopping? You’ve come to the right place. La Conner’s stores feature soooooooo many quality one-of-a-kind finds, along with beautiful imported treasures. Time to call out a handful.

Walking into Sempre Italiano reminded me of a Tuscan shop we enjoyed on a somewhat recent trip to Orvieto, Italy. Beautiful and functional pottery featuring colors as bright as the tulip fields! We’ve made a few purchases from this store in the last year, and continue to enjoy each item.

Across the street from this nod to Italy, you’ll find Africa Mama. Everything about this shop is playful and fun. I mean, how many stores display signs on their art that read “Play me!” or “Take a picture with me!”? My guess is not many.

If you’re running low on Polish pottery, step into the Olive Shoppe Ginger Grater. Each mug, plate or bowl is its own work of art. Lots of other kitchen gadgets to be found too. Such a fun store!

Not to be outdone by these aforementioned imports, several neighboring shops feature truly local art and other regional goodies. For example, The Wood Merchant offers creations by US artists—everything from tables to earrings. (And yes, I purchased some earrings…)

Also noteworthy, galleries salt-and-peppered throughout this hamlet show off the amazing works of all those who call this corner of the world home. And if you’re looking for something a little different in the art-display category, then I suggest a stop at MoNA: Museum of Northwest Art. For the price of a modest donation (that’s right—no admission fee), I enjoyed the paintings of Robert McCauley whose works are currently on display at MoNA.

Floral to flavorful

But—I think it’s safe to say that the main attraction this time of year is…? The flowers. Rows upon rows of gorgeous daffodils and tulips blanketing several acres of this fertile valley. Roughly 100,000 people visit these colorfully vibrant fields every spring, and the headcount is growing.

Not sure exactly where to begin tiptoeing through the floral acreage? RoozenGaarde Display Gardens is my recommendation. Not only is parking included in the nominal price of admission, the gardens themselves are something out of fairytales.

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The gift shops and food stands are in step with any self respecting festival (the main gift shop is open year around), and two vast fields—a daffodil and a tulip each—are accessible just beyond the display gardens. (Hint #2: wear footwear appropriate for muddy puddles and soggy walkways.)

With all our out-and-about activities, working up an appetite was no problem. La Conner is quite the foodie town. So many dining and beverage options! I’ll happily highlight just a few we enjoyed.

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The Calico Cupboard serves up absolutely deliciously hearty breakfast and lunch dishes in addition to very tasty pastries, with several coffee, tea, cocoa and other beverages to wash it all down. Lots of regional influence goes into their menu options, not to mention a heavy dose of yum. My favorite? Brussels Sprout Hash. They have table service (sign-in sheet at the door) and a to-go counter. The tougher choice will be what to eat…

If you’re looking for a coffee place, head to Stompin Grounds Coffee Co. Excellent coffee and treats, including ice cream—and ice cream drinks! Also there are cozy places to sit for a bit and enjoy your beverage, inside the shop or out.

Ready for a little wine tasting? There are a handful of wine establishments in town, but my favorite—hands down—is Skagit Cellars. Featuring regionally grown grapes (Columbia Valley, Washington State) bottled in the nearby town of Burlington, this wine is worth the trip all by itself.

We’ve enjoyed a few wine tastings here in the last year, and always leave with a few bottles. In fact, I have yet to sample a Skagit Cellars varietal I don’t like. (Heads up; their tasting room is open Saturday-Sunday only.)

Time for lunch or dinner? Nell Thorn is an excellent choice. The menu focuses on seafood, but has lots of delicious options for everyone. Excellent service too.

When nothing but Italian cuisine will hit the spot, make your way to La Terrazza. Pasta, pizza, meat dishes and more, all made and served just right.

Both Nell Thorn and La Terrazza had no problem accommodating our large party of eight. Whew!

Hungry for a good barbecue place? Okay, how ‘bout a great barbecue place? Then it’s time for Whitey’s BBQ. Across the street from our hotel, it was an easy stop for a cup of chili, sliders, cornbread—and a jar or two (or three) of their deee-licious barbecue sauces: Original, Orange Blossom and Spicy Apple—all so good I could drink them!

La Conner definitely has the shopaholic foodie in you covered.

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My uncle always says, “Flowers are for the moment.” Spring offers so many beautiful moments to enjoy, especially in Skagit Valley. So keep an eye on the Bloom Map, grab your camera and enjoy! I’m glad we did. J 💐

 

A Victorian getaway

Walkies. Tea. Places to see. Victoria is a very beautiful—and very walkable—city in British Columbia. Located on the southeast tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria shares the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Washington State as a natural border between Canada and the US.

Getting there is half the fun when you travel aboard the Victoria Clipper. And if you book your trip through Clipper Vacations (like we did), your transportation and hotel—even afternoon tea, and other events or tours—can be bundled together.

Going for walks

The Clipper docked at 254 Belleville Street on Victoria’s Inner Harbour a little after 10:30 am. From there, we rolled our suitcases just 800 ft. along the street to 463 Belleville: the Hotel Grand Pacific.

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Conveniently our room was ready at this pre-check-in hour (most likely due to our mid-week arrival), so we were able to unpack our bags and relax a bit before venturing out. Shopping, restaurants, attractions—all just down the street! So, where to first?

Seeing the sights

When was the last time you saw a Woolly mammoth? Okay, to be fair, when was the first time? If you don’t possess a working time machine and have yet to see such a mammal up close, visit the Royal BC Museum. Continuing along to 675 Belleville, the museum was a short but scenic walk from our hotel.

The mammoth—think ginormous stuffed teddy bear—resides in the museum’s Natural History exhibit. Items from our more recent history, like that of Captain George Vancouver, his discovery of this corner of the world and its native people (while he searched for the Northwest Passage), can be seen and explored in the walk-through Human History exhibit. An old west harbour town brought to life. Very cool!

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Our first stop inside, however, was the IMAX Victoria Theatre’s show “Mummies: Secrets of the Pharaohs” (Amazing!), followed by a walk through the Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibit. Truly breathtaking images! I enjoy museums, and this happens to be one of my favorites.

Up for a slightly more ambitious walk, we made our way 1.6 miles from our hotel and the Inner Harbour along Government and then Fort Streets to a cozy manor at the top of the hill: Craigdarroch Castle.

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Built during the Victorian era, this National Historic Site was first home to the coal-wealthy Dunsmuir family. It has since served Victoria in many capacities, but today its rooms feature furnishings and amenities that were part of everyday life for the Dunsmuir clan.

If only the walls could talk! Listening to Darren—a castle guide—entertain questions about the colorful history of each family member, I began to visualize their very Victorian day-to-day life inside these beautiful rooms.

Wealth has a way of building castles and legacies. Or in some cases, a worked-out limestone quarry. But combine the empty quarry with a clever green thumb’s idea—financed by her family—and voila! The Butchart Gardens were born.

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In 1904, Jennie Butchart turned her husband’s old quarry and cement plant into the Sunken Garden. She soon added other gardens, all featuring many plants, flowers, and other delights that Jennie and her husband Robert brought home from their many travels abroad. The Butchart family loved to entertain visitors, naming their vast estate “Benvenuto”—“Welcome” in Italian. Today, the Butchart Gardens are a National Historic Site, seen by almost one million people each year.

Nearly 20 miles from downtown Victoria, these lovely gardens were a bit out of our desired walking range, but the desk for CVS Tours, located at the Fairmont Empress Hotel, was rather convenient—just a few minutes on foot for us.

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For the price of admission, CVS Tours provided transportation to the gardens, fun history told to us passengers by our driver, a map of the grounds, and a flower and plant guide. Admission even included a 45-minute stop at the fun-meets-fascinating Victoria Butterfly Gardens. Birds, bees, flowers and trees! And a few other critters too. Between the Butchart Gardens and the Butterfly Gardens, we enjoyed them all throughout this tour.

If you have room in your suitcase for a little local jewelry, stop by Jade (911 Government Street). Mined in upper British Columbia, this beautiful gemstone is crafted in very wearable ways. My weakness? The earrings. Gorgeous!

Stopping for tea

Walking along Government Street, just a little over half a mile from our hotel, we discovered Canada’s oldest Chinatown. And then we wandered into a fantastic tea experience: the Silk Road Aromatherapy & Tea Co. We enjoyed sampling Happy Tea (wonderful stuff!), and talking with the very knowledgeable and friendly tea-expert employees. And of course—making a purchase.

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A little closer to our hotel, we found Murchie’s Tea & Coffee (1110 Government Street), which just happens to sell lots of other goodies too: breakfast and lunch items, pastries, cakes, souvenirs, tea sets and accessories, and of course, tea, coffee and cocoa.

Established 1894, this shop’s founder—John Murchie—had delivered tea to none other than Queen Victoria herself. He learned firsthand the kind of tea his monarch preferred, as well as invaluable knowledge of the tea trade. When he immigrated to Canada, his put his tea and business smarts to the test, launching a successful company that still thrives today.

We managed to swing by for breakfast, and for an afternoon break or two. And yes, returned yet again for some shopping. There is always a line from the door to the counter, but it moves rather quickly. Finding a table can be tricky (unless placing an order to go), so I suggest stopping by between the breakfast and lunch rushes.

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A trip to Victoria is not complete without afternoon tea at the Empress. The Fairmont Empress Hotel is a true icon of Victoria’s Inner Harbour. Residing at 721 Government Street, this was another easy walk for us.

The tea room is beautiful, and the service is excellent. These are simple requirements of this famous place, which help remove any nervousness one might have when in the presence of elegant table settings. The Royal China collection used exclusively at The Empress has its own fascinating history, dating back to 1939 as a gift from the visiting King George VI.

Our choices of tea were presented to us as a book of samples. We could actually see the colorful ingredients for each blend! (The Empress gift shop features many of the hotel’s exclusive blends, along with its own line of honey products—from its own bee hives.)

The towers of treats were mini works of tasty art. We added glasses of prosecco to round out our indulgent event. Also, The Empress very kindly and deliciously accommodated our lactose intolerant family members, so no one went without.

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When the Far East meets a former British outpost on an island in the beautiful, bountiful, great Pacific Northwest, the resulting jewel for us is…? Westcoast Afternoon Tea at the Hotel Grand Pacific. Keeping in step with my walking references, this location was just an elevator ride and a lobby crossing away from our room.

Our server, Tim, shared with us his wonderfully vast knowledge of tea—knowledge he credits to his server training, and attendance at several tea courses given by… wait for it… Silk Road Aromatherapy & Tea Co. Yes! The very store we happened upon during our walkabout in Chinatown. It is also the very company that provides this hotel’s restaurant with its delicious—and now newly familiar—afternoon tea selection.

Are you aware of the color known as auspicious yellow? If so, then you just might understand why all of their teapots enjoy this happy hue. The tower of treats were Northwest delicious, and the teas (and prosecco!) absolutely hit the spot. And the chef substituted goat cheese for my lactose intolerant family members, which made our party immensely happy.

I always appreciate the pride and effort people put into creating quality products such as organic, authentic and traditional teas, then crafting time-honored and new experiences from these qualities to share in celebration with their patrons. Hats off to these merchants and restaurants of Victoria for exceeding our tea-time expectations.

Dining out

If you’re in the mood for Italian, I suggest a stroll to one of Victoria’s quiet neighborhoods where you’ll find Il Covo Trattoria (106 Superior Street). At just a half mile from our hotel, the distance was perfectly walkable.

We chose an early time slot, but the restaurant quickly filled up. Given this was a midweek evening, we guessed the locals were enjoying their favorite dinner place. Excellent food! The mushroom risotto was the best I’ve ever had. Wonderful and attentive service truly made our meal a great experience.

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Hungry for seafood? The Steamship Grill & Bar—directly across the street from our hotel—has you covered. Delicious cuisine and local wines (and great service too), this was the perfect way for us to end our last full day in town.


The Victoria Clipper took us back to Seattle the next day, carrying us, our overstuffed souvenir tote bags and a wealth of new and wonderful memories.

Along with being very walkable, Victoria is a very friendly city too. Even the crosswalk signs allow ample time for pedestrians, and drivers keep their cars well behind the white line. Their kindness is a reminder to me to always be a good neighbor. After all, we’d love to visit again. And again. J 🇨🇦