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 🚣‍♀️

 

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 🇨🇦

Bridges, bites & bars

San Francisco. I absolutely love this place. Bridges connecting cities and counties, cable cars connecting districts, and old prison bars connecting the past with the present.

Back in the day, I had the pleasure of living in the Bay Area for a couple of years, and spent most of my days off getting to know—as best I could—this town. Fast forward to today, I recently rediscovered my fondness for SF by discovering something(s) new.

The Golden Gate Bridge
San Francisco’s infamous Golden Gate Bridge

Bridges

Ready for a little fill-in-the-blanks? 1) The Golden Gate Bridge takes its name from:
A) the strait that passes under the bridge
B) the official name of its paint
C) the naval ship that first entered San Francisco Bay

Answer: A! The Golden Gate Strait, so named by an army captain in the mid 1800s, became the name for this famous landmark.

I’ve driven over the Golden Gate Bridge a handful of times, stopping at one end or the other to record photographic evidence—my “proof I was there” shot. My something-new discovery on this trip? When one of my travel companions suggested we walk it. Whoa. I love to walk—what a great idea!

Everyone was onboard. Even the weather agreed, providing ample sunshine and just a hint of a breeze. Not bad for winter. And the view! So much easier to enjoy while walking.

The Bay Bridge visible to the east, and the Pacific Ocean to the west. And the spectacular view of The city itself. Ahhhhh… wonderful!

Another fun bridge—albeit a much shorter one—the Drum Bridge. We found this enchanting structure in the Japanese Tea Garden, located inside Golden Gate Park.

All that walking made me feel a lot less guilty about enjoying great food, beverages and desserts. The new restaurant discoveries for me?

Bites

Staying at the Argonaut provided us with more than just an excellent location, wonderfully appointed rooms and great service, it also gave us a terrific bite to eat at its own Blue Mermaid Restaurant.

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We enjoyed the atmosphere of their patio as we nibbled on tasty appetizers and wet our whistles on custom beverages. The service was wonderful! They very kindly crafted the drinks we described to them.

The Commissary.  Fresh and delicious, the food was unique, celebrating both Spanish influence and local ingredients. The menu featured so many one-of-a-kind creations, our server deserved a gold star just for patiently (and happily!) answering all our questions.

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Although not a new discovery for me, The Stinking Rose was new to our companions. Located in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, this garlic restaurant is in good company with many Italian restaurants, but has a way of standing out. Vampires beware! If you love garlic, you owe it to yourself to dine here.

After a wonderful but breezy-chilly tour through the east side of Golden Gate Park, it was time to warm up at the Japanese Tea Garden. What wonderful service and treats—and tea! And the setting couldn’t be more perfect. We scored a great table (open seating, so we put on our eagle eyes) next to the pond. We warmed up instantly.

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Later, we ventured to Chinatown to enjoy the shops and decor, and to warm up a bit (again) with more hot tea and noodles. We chose the Utopia Cafe on Waverly Place. Authentic and unpretentious, this place really hit the spot.

Bars

Our breezy-chilly wonderful tour through the east side of Golden Gate Park involved handlebars. No, not on a bike, although we did encounter several. If you’re looking for a different set of wheels to carry you around, I suggest a Segway.

This was my first time on such a device, but it only took a few minutes of instruction and practice to be ready. What a blast! And what a fantastic tour too. Our expert guide, Johannes, took us through the grounds, sharing with us how it all came to be.

Ghirardelli Square neighbors the Argonaut, so picking up souvenir chocolate bars—squares—was very convenient. Talk about a lively corner of town! We quickly learned that the best time for shopping here is early in the day—right when the stores open. (Shopping here later in the day equates to loooong lines out the door.)

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In my blog post “Wave meets rock,” I shared my bucket list—just a few locations for starters—of places I’d like to visit in the near future. Enter Alcatraz, the second item on that list.

For all my curiosity about this infamously historical island, I was surprised by its beauty. And how peaceful it was, despite the groups of tourists. I was equally surprised by what quickly became my favorite part of this visit: the audio tour.

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Narrated by former prison guards and inmates, this feature really helped us understand what it was like to live and work and experience “The Rock” by those who were employed and their families—and those who were imprisoned.

As each day became evening, I was privileged to share my favorite watering hole with my companions: the Buena Vista. It soon became their favorite too.

Finding room at the bar or a table any time of day requires watchful eyes and quick reflexes, but once you’re seated, the service is fast. And what is everyone ordering? The Buena Vista’s signature menu item: Irish Coffee.

If you manage to secure a place at the bar, then you’re in for a show. They receive so many Irish Coffee orders at a time, the bartenders create this drink in assembly line fashion. Quickly. So delicious! I added a bread pudding to my order, which made my taste buds do backflips. Goooood stuff!

My connection to this town is a fun one, and it’s always tough to leave. But I take away the bonus of new discoveries (including a bucket list item!) balanced with the happiness of revisiting old favorites. Is San Francisco on your bucket list? I highly recommend it.

Until next time, wishing you safe and pleasant travels. J 🌉

 

Art of arts

What is art? To me, art is something that assembles lines, patterns and designs of colors, sounds and elements, organizing these would-be ingredients into something that captures our attention. Something that wows us, stops us in our tracks and causes us to feel. Emotions generated by our senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste—just because we experienced art.

Artists are those who dare to share such creations with others, hoping to evoke reactions of enjoyment, or maybe to bring about awareness and change. And oftentimes, to make a living by sharing their passion via their work.

Performing arts

Here in Seattle, we’re fortunate to have all shapes and sizes of art to enjoy. And for my family on a recent Saturday, we experienced the fine art of dance—specifically the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s mesmerizing version of Swan Lake.

Seattle Center just happens to be home to a large concentration of the arts for the city. And McCaw Hall—home to PNB and the Seattle Opera—is one of Seattle Center’s largest facilities.

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We arrived early enough to enjoy the lobby and gift shops, as well as place our drink order for one of the intermissions. Settling into our seats, anticipating the curtain’s rise, I couldn’t help but wonder what would wow me. We are big fans of PNB’s ballets, but this four-act story is one of our favorites.

I must say, this company wove all its storytelling threads together flawlessly, giving us goosebumps, and leaving us with a sense of awe. It’s tough to choose only one “wow” element, but I’ll highlight the dancers themselves. They conveyed all the essential emotions necessary to make us believe. Their performance—dancing in beautiful costumes against fascinating sets to the orchestra’s superb rendition of this Tchaikovsky classic—earns a collective wow.

Contemporary arts

After the final curtain, we had a couple of hours before dinner; this was just enough time to take in the neighboring Chihuly Garden and Glass gallery.

Aside from the breathtaking glass structures, what really captured my attention was the brilliance of color. Impressive without being too much. Equally impressive are the number of glass works in the garden that are literally exposed to the elements. Fascinating! Kudos to the caretakers of the special place for keeping all glass pieces clean and shining like new.

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Also fascinating is how life is depicted in each piece. Life–the land, the seas, evidence of animals and people–the environment of all living things and more–captured in beautiful glass. Glass placed harmoniously within industrial and natural surroundings.

Culinary arts

Earlier in the day—before the ballet—we stopped at Caffe Zingaro for a latte. What a fun coffee house! The walls featured fun paintings—pattern-focused and colorful. The staff was friendly and very helpful when it came to answering questions about their unique menu. I selected a Cubano latte (featuring cinnamon and raw sugar steamed and blended into the coffee drink). Delicious! I plan on trying the Broken Umbrella next time (featuring vanilla and honey).

To end our day, we enjoyed yummy Irish Soda Bread—and a few other Irish dinner items—at near by T.S. McHugh’s. This fun pub-style restaurant showcases Irish nostalgia, and is a favorite way for us to round out our day of events at Seattle Center.

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What is your favorite way to enjoy the arts? Is there one that stands out as your favorite? It was fun for us to enjoy familiar favs like the ballet and the restaurant, but equally fun to discover a different coffee place and the gallery showcasing Chihuly’s glass works.

Whatever you choose to do—enjoy fantastic favorites or discover something exciting, you owe it to yourself to experience the art of artists who dare to share.

J 🎨

 

Odd things chocolate

Are you ready for some chocolate!?! It’s February, and that means two foodie-frenzy celebration days: Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine’s Day. And while chocolate will play a minor roll on the menu of most Super Bowl parties, chocolate will enjoy center stage come February 14.

So, time to visit a market! But for me, not just any market will do. When I’m looking for something unique from the world of chocolate, I head to the market: Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

Piggy banks

A city icon since 1907, the Pike Place Market receives over 10 million visitors per year, and is Seattle’s number one tourist attraction. Here you can find anything from produce to baked goods, fresh cut flowers to hand-crafted leather journals, even flying fish and giant piggy banks. Oh, and odd things chocolate.

Recently one Tuesday morning, I walked from Rachel the Piggy Bank to Billie the Piggy Bank (both located on the market’s main arcade level), then went in search of something different to enjoy at dinner time—a variation of chocolate not found on your average supermarket shelf: chocolate pasta.

Papperdelle’s Pasta of Pike Place Market was just setting up their selection of pastas for the day when I found the exact flavor I was looking for. I picked up both the gemelli and the linguine noodles—one pound each. And a friendly, helpful employee at Papperdelle’s made sure I had recipes to go with each type of noodle.

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By the way, it’s exciting to watch the market come to life. Shops and stands were preparing for the day, and the number of visitors was well under crowd level—for the moment.

Charms

Making my way to the north end of the market (near Billie), I found something else on my list: Market Charms. Specifically the panel featuring my family’s charm. (The market’s information booth employee kindly helped me with its location.)

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Very exciting! Part of the new MarketFront area, the charms face Elliott Bay, escorting visitors as they make their way through the stands of local artists and down the stairs to lower levels. It was there I discovered my next chocolate stop: Indi Chocolate.

Have you ever tried chocolate orange tea? After paying a visit to this heavenly smelling shop, I can say I have. Delicious! Perfect for a slightly chilly morning in Seattle as the weather was making up its mind, switching from rain to sunshine.

Alleys

If you’re done chewing your gum and wish to contribute to the artistry of the market, you owe it to yourself to swing by the Gum Wall of Post Alley.

You’ll find it just below the market’s main entrance, near Ghost Alley Espresso. While I don’t consider gum—chewed gum, no less—to be a common ingredient in works of art (especially when I step in it or grab the wrong spot on the railing for the subway stairs), this alley’s decorated brick walls are a thing of beauty. Oddly so.

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From the Gum Wall, Post Alley weaves its way along the east side of the market, cutting through streets and stands, a bit hidden, but not too difficult to find. Making my way north along the alleys, I found Gosanko Chocolate. A shop very near The Pink Door, I wandered in just to see what fun chocolate treasures I could discover.

And there it was. Chocolate on a stick, just waiting for a mug of hot milk! I picked up three flavors: peppermint, salted caramel and French truffle. (I couldn’t decide on just one…)

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As morning switched over to noon, it was time for me to make my way home. I always appreciate this special place, every time I visit. The Pike Place Market is a vibrant community with a rich history and an exciting future. Lots of oddly wonderful and yummy discoveries await.

Whatever you need for your Super Bowl or Valentine’s Day cuisine, you’ll find it here. For now, I wish you safe and pleasant travels, and all the odd chocolate you can enjoy.

J 😎🍫