Under London

I ❤️ London—it’s an amazing city showcasing centuries of history, layered in royalty, exploration and culture. World famous landmarks like the London Bridge and Big Ben dot the skyline.

And London is big. Big, wide and deep. Stairs, tunnels, The Tube—even The Chunnel—carry you down, down, down, then all around. So, while there is much to see all over this town, there’s plenty to discover just below its surface. Recently we decided to spend a day recovering from jet lag by visiting a few places under London.

Medieval cells

“Thrown in the Clink” is a popular and somewhat flip expression describing a guilty party’s new residence: behind the many locked doors and iron bars of a prison. But did you know The Clink is an actual place? Well, it was…

Back in the day—way back from 1144 to 1780—a series of prisons existed near and along Clink Street. Why this specific site? The first such prison in the area opened in 1127. No more than a cellar, it belonged to the Palace of the Bishop of Winchester.

Over the next five centuries, hundreds of debtors, assorted criminals, religious martyrs and would-be witches spent time (and most likely their lives) in “the Clink.”

Today, a small wall is all that remains from the original facility, housed in The Clink Prison Museum. Near the London Bridge, this modern day nod to The Clink features many medieval devices used to restrain prisoners, as well as themed decor and sounds that set the tone. Entering the museum, we walked down into the awaiting and dark bit of London’s history…

The walls displayed easy-to-read placards, corresponding with nearby weapons and tools of a featured era, telling the stories of prison life and politics. A little like a haunted house, our self-guided tour took about 40 minutes. A quick “sentence,” compared to that of its former occupants.

Transportation tunnel

“Mind the gap” is a message painted along the edge of the subway platform, reminding all passengers to watch their step when The Tube doors open.

London cabbies are friendly and knowledgeable, and the red double decker buses are a fun, easy way to get around town. Still, my favorite way to shortcut the streets of this famous city is underground.

Making our way from The Clink to Camden Market, we headed down the nearest subway entrance—trusty Oyster cards in hand—exiting a mere 15 minutes later at our stop: Camden Town.

Tea in a basement

Next door to Regents Canal in Historic Central London, Camden Market features over 1000 unique shops, eateries and points of interest. Its own history is quite young, dating back only to the 1970s.

As the area’s industrial commodity (gin production) phased out, the music and fashion scene blossomed, growing into the diverse and contemporary gathering place it is today.

Approaching mid afternoon, we found ourselves ready for one of my favorite mealtimes: Afternoon Tea. And what better place to discover a modern twist to this time honored tradition than in a sub level shop: The Basement Tea Rooms.

Ready to take in our group of six, the Tea Room staff seated us at a fun low table, shopping options just an arm length away: sweaters, shoes, books—you name it!

Very reasonably priced, our tea, sandwiches and treats were fresh and delicious. Our casual traveler attire felt right at home here.

Stuffed after our delicious meal, it was time to sleep off our food coma back at our hotel. And despite the jet lag, we truly enjoyed our underground adventure.

What’s your favorite way to warm up to a different time zone? Well, when in London, I’ll head down under… J 🕳

 

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Las Vegas lite

A weekend in Las Vegas? Sure! Help celebrate a few extended family birthdays? Of course—happy to! Only—I’ve never been. To Vegas. And I’m not much of a gambler. Or a partier.

So, what does one like me (of the low-key variety) do for entertainment? As it turns out, there’s something for everyone in Las Vegas—lots and lots of somethings…

Sin city sips

Chocolate is an easy sell for me. So is New York City. And so is Death By Chocolate, the martini styled chocolate drink I enjoyed with a few of my travel companions at The Chocolate Bar, two steps away from The Hershey Store at New York New York Resort & Casino.

A Las Vegas nod to The Big Apple, this resort features a little bit of everything one would associate with NYC: the Statue of Liberty, Time Square, the many burrows and that infamous skyline—but with a roller coaster weaving inside and out—just in case you forgot which New York you’re visiting.

Signature seasoning

As a youngster, Lawry’s Seasoning was a staple in my mom’s kitchen pantry. We enjoyed many a meal with Lawry’s enhancing the flavors of our food. I had no idea there would be an entire prime rib dinner restaurant by the same company awaiting our birthday celebration!

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A savory supper place…

This wonderful dining room features formal table side prime rib carving and tossed salad, along with some of the best service I’ve ever experienced at a bar and restaurant. Nothing was over-seasoned; all flavors were just right.

Also, I enjoyed reading the history of this flavorful company posted near their hostess podium. (Oh, and for anyone not interested in prime rib, there are other options on the menu.) A little bit of nostalgia mixed in with great food and wonderful service made for a very enjoyable dining experience.

Stars of the sea

A shark dive in the ocean? No. Not really my thing. Sharks within inches of my face—a thick, clear aquarium wall between us? Yes! Much more my thing. The Shark Reef Aquarium and Polar Journey at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino features not only sharp-tooth swimming predators, but several species of underwater critters. Many tropical (and polar) land-based critters as well call this aquarium home.

Exploring this venue was the perfect activity for our entire group, ranging in age from seven to seventy-seven. All of us enjoyed watching the quiet grace and beauty of the sea life gliding before us, above us (and below) as they swam into our line of sight.

Lots of posted information, as well as a highly trained and experienced staff, answered all our questions. Queries like: “What’s the difference between venom and poison?” Or, “How do Stingrays eat?” We also learned that a Jellyfish is not really a fish.

Surreal stage

Calling “O” a stage show would be like calling Amsterdam a canal city. Both are sooooooo much more.

Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the Bellagio Resort & Casino is beyond amazing. The performers sore, dance, swim—even dive—their way on-in-above (and below) the actual stage. The colors, costumes and scenery harmonize with the music to create a show unlike any other.

The stadium-like theater and tiered seating areas gave everyone an excellent and unobstructed view. This feature was most helpful, as there was usually more than one act in progress at any one time. Truly mesmerizing, this show was worth every penny. I would love to see it again!

Tuscany tease

Across the street from Lawry’s sits our hotel for the weekend: the Tuscany Suites & Casino. Hosting a convention attended by one of our family members, this place of lodging isn’t bedazzled like many a famous hotel on the strip.

It did however provide us with clean and spacious rooms, and a decent place to meet for breakfast: Marilyn’s. Understated but less expensive than many others in the area, we were comfortable here.

Next-time notes

Upon learning about our Vegas trip, many friends and family members gave us the following recommendations—places we ran out of time for, so they’ll just have to wait for a return visit:

Ziplining—over old Las Vegas! I love ziplining, so this event is definitely on my “next time” list.

Breakfast at The Egg Slut. The menu looks fantastic! And let’s face it—the name cracks me up.

Cosmopolitan hotel hair styling bar—because I’ve always wanted someone to serve me wine while having my hair styled…

I even dropped a dollar in a slot machine at the airport. Did I win anything? Let’s just say the city of Las Vegas is a dollar richer, thanks to me.

We really did have a great time visiting this surreal desert town. Maybe next time, I’ll get my dollar back. J 🎲 🎲

 

Scenic San Juan

How is it that a popular tourist destination at the height of tourist season can seem so…unpopulated? Welcome to the San Juans.

Enjoying a couple of three-day August weekends here gave me the chance to explore this archipelago’s namesake: the island of San Juan itself.

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed prior visits to San Juan, as well as trips to Orcas and Lopez islands too, and I always reach the same conclusion. Once we leave the ferry, where does everyone go?

The town

Inches from the dock, Friday Harbor greets ferry passengers as they disembark, ready to take them into its many unique stores, restaurants, inns and other attractions. And so much can be accessed via colorful, well maintained shop allies.

Pedestrian friendly, even near the dock, this town takes walkable to a whole new level. Plenty of sidewalks and crosswalks accommodate visitors. And the drivers exhibit patience I usually witness only in Canada.

The beaches

When you’re ready to get outta town, you won’t have far to go. Just a few minutes from Friday Harbor, we found ourselves driving along the island’s byways through farmlands, forests and hilly terrain on our way to the not so distant shoreline.

San Juan island is home to several beachfront state and local parks, all very nicely maintained. But if you’re looking for one that features a few extras—like whale watching from rocky cliffs—Lime Kiln Point State Park topped our list.

Truth be told, the Orcas that happened to be swimming by just as we reached the cliffs were the highlight of our park visit. Watching the pod make its way through the channel, so close to the shore, was a treat I’ll remember forever. Lucky for us, we could hear some of their calls too, as well as hear—and see—their blowholes in action. A few of the whales even popped their heads out of the water for a bit, as if to sneak a peek at us too. Talk about cool!

Near the cliffs, we found lots of illustrations and information posted about the Orcas, which was helpful in understanding more about these magnificent marine mammals. Lime Kiln also features an interpretive center near its picturesque lighthouse, and a snack stand.

If you’re looking for a beach where you can feel the sand between your toes, well… we discovered one of those too: Jackson Beach Park. A long stretch of beach, driftwood and sand awaited our arrival. And for anyone who’d like to have a picnic complete with a bonfire, Jackson Beach provides the necessary amenities.

Cattle Point—part of San Juan Island’s National Historic Park—features a little of both: rocky cliffs, and sandy beaches. And trails too. Such a pretty place! It’s worth a stop, just for the scenery.

The activities

A little more inland, we found fields of purple at the Pelindaba Lavender Farm. Approaching the end of the season, their plants still offered plenty of color and fun photo ops. The gift shop and treats counter provided ample shopping and munching opportunities, and the looping video programs and attractive displays made learning all about lavender fun and fragrant.

The winner here for me was the deliciously different lavender ice cream sandwich. Locally made vanilla lavender icy goodness squished between two double chocolate cookies…YUM! 😋

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If you’re in the mood for cuteness overload, check out the Krystal Acres Alpaca Country Store. Well, the cuteness is actually behind the store, roaming the fields. Alpacas—over 50 of them—didn’t seem to mind being photographed as they grazed, sauntered and otherwise enjoyed the day in their own mellow way. Some even seemed willing to strike a pose for our cameras!

Inside the store, we found beautiful wool garments (many imported from Peru), as well as yarn produced by our wooly photo models out back. As yarn is my weakness, I made a purchase. The yarn’s tags featured the photos and names of the Alpacas who provided the wool—how fun!

When we were ready for a sip of vino, we made our way to San Juan Vineyards. Under new management, this quiet, beautiful location features a brand new wine bar that runs the length of the historic school house—a structure featured on all their wine labels—with several stand up tables to accommodate many patrons.

After completing a wine tasting, my friends selected a bottle of their favorite. San Juan Vineyards also sells their wines on the ferries that service the islands; nice to see the success of their efforts expanding off the island.

Time to stretch our legs! The annual IslandRec 8.8k loop fun run celebrated its 41st year this month! And we were lucky enough to be a part of the event. Also lucky (for me), walking the route was perfectly acceptable. So I did, along with a friend who didn’t mind not competing for a placement ribbon…

A quiet yet well supervised course, water stations and event volunteers greeted us at almost every mile marker. And at the finish line, another annual event awaited our arrival: the San Juan County Fair.

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I love fairs! The exhibits, the animals, the food—and the competitions. Like chicken races. Nothing more adorable than watching young handlers release their fierce competitors at the words “Ready, set, GO!” Equally adorable is watching said handlers chase down and recapture their feathered friends, post race. (Okay, maybe more amusing than adorable…)

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The cuisine

Having a total of six days on San Juan allowed me the glorious opportunity to visit several eateries. Here’s a highlight of my favorites:

Vinney’s. When you’re in the mood for Italian food, this place tops my list—as in I wish it were closer to home! Excellent cuisine, great service and very popular with the locals. We dined here twice during one of my weekend trips.

The Cheesecake Café & Bakery. A dangerously delicious place. I enjoyed the ham & cheese croissants, lattes, and Nutella Rice Krispie treats. My friends enjoyed the cheesecakes—two of the many flavors, anyway. Tables available inside and out, in full view of the ferry dock, which just happens to be next door.

The Bean Café. Yummy lattes, cookies and more—just a very short walk from the dock. Seating inside and out, this location also features a TV displaying a live feed of the ferry dock; a noteworthy item for anyone timing an arrival or departure.

Blue Water Bar and Grill. When you’re up for seafood and wine, nachos and beer or something in between—all in full view of the dock—this is a great place to be.

McMillin’s. Located on the other end of the island in Roche Harbor, this place is worth the drive. An extensive menu and a wonderful view of its marina make it a great choice for an upscale lunch or an elegant evening.

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Downriggers. Facing Friday Harbor’s marina, very near the ferry dock, this is one of my favorites for a nice evening out. Excellent food and service; and excellent views too! We enjoyed watching float planes land behind arriving ferries, as well as dining in a lively—but not too loud—atmosphere.

From lively restaurants to quiet beaches, from Orca whales to wooly Alpacas, we enjoyed every inch of San Juan Island. And with plenty of elbow room too.

So are you ready for an island getaway? Come check out San Juan. The Orcas just might wave hello. J 🐳

 

 

A lavender peninsula

Question: what do Sequim, Washington and the Provence region of France have in common? For starters, latitude. That’s what Sequim’s dairy farmers realized nearly 25 years ago.

Faced with retiring their declining dairy businesses for something more profitable, these farmers looked to the world for other commercial products they might cultivate. Their discovery? Sharing roughly the same latitude as Provence gave them the idea to try their hand at a very famous French crop: lavender.

Fast forward to today. This summer’s Sequim Lavender Festival celebrates its 22nd year. More than 30 lavender farms are now a thriving part of its community. Sooooo wonderfully picturesque!

There are many things to do and enjoy at this summer party. And the farms—visiting all festival activities (and fields) in one weekend would make one’s head spin, so we narrowed it down just a little. Also, we needed to allow for a bit of travel time…

The ferry

Located on the northern side of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Sequim is actually closer to Canada than it is to Seattle. Rather than stick to land and circle the Puget Sound, we decided to cut across the water via the Edmonds-Kingston ferry route. (For Washington State ferries, it is tourist season, so there’s usually a bit of a wait.)

We took our place in the queue, inching our car along every so often, until we passed the ticket booth. About an hour after docking at Kingston, we reached our destination.

The festival

Arriving at the Holiday Inn Express, lavender greeted us outside and in. The grounds were alive with lavender, and the lobby featured small bundles of the dried flower—free for the taking. Talk about aromatherapy!

The Sequim Lavender Street Fair—located at Carrie Blake Community Park—featured free parking, and over 150 craft and lavender booths. As for live shows, artists and other performers took to the stage, entertaining patrons throughout the day and into the evening.

Where to begin…? Our first full day at the festival, we made it a point to start early. This proved a wise decision, as the free parking lot filled quickly. We wove through the rows of food and craft vendors, circling back to those who spoke best to our interests. The sunshine was in a hurry to begin the day as well, reaching into the 80s by noon.

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Eager to see a lavender field or two, we soon turned our attention to the farm map. Our choice?

The farms

Offering free admission during the festival, 16 lavender farms opened their doors—and fields—to the public. (Three of the largest farms charged admission, but provided free shuttle service from the park to their fields.)

We decided against waiting for the shuttles, in part because we packed our city patience, but also because a few of the street fair vendors recommended one farm in particular: B&B Family Lavender Farm.

Rustic beauty awaited us, along with about 10,000 lavender plants. The fields were buzzing with more than just honey bees; u-pick customers, photographers, admirers and employees alike could be seen amongst the purple, pink and white flowers.

The gift shop was packed with patrons. Tours of their processing facility began every 15 minutes. I love tours! And free is a great price. As an added bonus, Bruce—one of the owners—was our guide.

Time for a pop quiz. How many lavender plants does it take to produce 5 ounces of oil? Approximately

  • 1 plant
  • 5 plants
  • 10 plants

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Answer: 10 plants. That’s quite a few lavender buds. Bruce let us know that at B&B Family Lavender Farm, each oil they produce features a single variety of lavender; they do not mix their oils.

Another bit of noteworthy trivia: only English varieties of lavender, like Angustifolia, are used for culinary purposes. French (and other) varieties are used primarily for fragrances or ornamental arrangements. There are approximately 47 known types of this versatile flower, so… what to cook with? When it comes to lavender, just remember this simple rule: the English can cook; the French can’t…

Switching gears a bit the next morning, we found a very colonial setting at the Washington Lavender Farm. Also home to the George Washington Inn—a gorgeous bed & breakfast overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca—this property greeted us with wild flowers, bright daisies, and lavender (of course), all serving as lovely decorations for the inn—a replica of Virginia’s (and the real George Washington’s) very own Mount Vernon estate.

And just in case we needed to brush up on our knowledge of America’s first elected president, George Washington historian Vern Frykholm (looking every bit the part) recanted just a few lessons learned by our famous American Revolutionary War’s commander in chief.

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Noticing the sign reading “Cooking demonstration,” we made our way to the inn’s kitchen. Chris, one of the owners (and resident chef) walked us through how to make Blueberry Lemon Lavender Scones. Sharing her baking tips with us (like using a cheese grater for hard butter, or a pizza cutter for shaping scones), we marveled at how quickly—and deliciously—she assembled this wonderful and seasonal pastry.

The food

If ever you find yourself in the mood for a doughnut while awaiting the next Edmonds-Kingston ferry—and you have the ticket booth in your line of sight—you’re in luck! Top Pot Doughnuts & Coffee faces vehicles near the head of the line, ready to take your sweet-treat and caffeine order. Enjoy your selection there, or take it to go. (They also feature clean restrooms for their patrons. This can be a big deal if you’ve been in the ferry line for awhile…)

Adjacent to Sequim’s Holiday Inn Express, we discovered Black Bear Diner. One of a chain, this location has localized itself to be truly a part of the community. The newspaper menu talked about events in town, in addition to listing several tasty choices for our dinner. Their gift shop featured items crafted by local artists—and local lavender farms.

We dined there our first night, then placed a to-go order online with this diner our second night, just so we could enjoy dinner on our hotel’s rooftop terrace. The food was delicious both evenings, as well as reasonably priced.

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Our hotel stay included a daily breakfast—hot and cold items, as well as coffee, tea and juices. Perfect! We used the available food trays to tote our morning meal up to the terrace both days. (Averaging only 15 inches of rain per year, planning a rooftop meal in Sequim is a fairly safe bet.)

There was no shortage of food and beverage vendors at the festival itself: espresso, paella, burgers, lemonade—just to name a few—many advertising lavender enhanced menu items.

Heading home, we found Cup & Muffin near the Kingston ferry terminal. Yummy sandwiches and sweet treats—and coffee too. We placed a phone order to go, then picked up our lunch once we had secured our place in the Edmonds-bound ferry line.

As festivals go, Sequim’s Lavender Festival proved to be a wonderful choice. The people—volunteers, farmers, vendors and hospitality employees—all were proud of their town’s success: turning their farms into fragrant, profitably purple (and pink and white) businesses, while keeping their agricultural industry a very big part of the community.

We definitely want to return to this annual event. In fact, we’re already looking forward… J 🌞

 

My EPCOT day

How does one visit eleven countries in one day? Not easily. But what about a representation of countries—a circle of neighbors around a small body of water that just happens to find itself in Orlando, Florida?

Part of EPCOT (one of Walt Disney World’s epic theme parks) the World Showcase hosts this neighborhood of international places around its namesake lagoon.

With my family, I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying WDW parks many times over the years, but this would be my first solo visit. Having only one day (roughly 24 hours) available on my timeline, I chose to traverse this particular park.

Why EPCOT? It always reminds me of a world’s fair, but with more permanent structures, and of course, Disney flare. And since I’m a big fan of fairs (and markets and festivals and Disney), this made my narrow-it-down-to-one-park decision a little easier. So I began my one day by stepping into the future…

The future

Extremely visible from just about anywhere in the park, Future World’s Spaceship Earth was my first stop. Since I wasn’t fast enough for Fastpass on this particular trip, I targeted this attraction early in the day so as to minimize my wait time.

I really like the ride through history, particularly as it covers the progress of human communication throughout time, beginning with the drawings of cave dwellers and ending with our prototypes and predictions for the future.

Near the end of the journey, each car’s interactive touch screen allows its travelers to make selections about how they might want to live in the future. Somehow my future self ended up in outer space, but the view of Earth was phenomenal!

For my next Future World stop, it was time to take flight. I made a beeline for Soarin’ inside The Land pavilion. Another very popular attraction, I noted the wait time for the Stand-by line to be 60 minutes. Knowing the wait time approaching noon would only lengthen, I walked into the entrance, preparing to spend a little “me time” on my phone.

Well, I did spend time on my phone—playing an online Soarin’ trivia game with about one hundred other line occupants. Wall screens invited passers by to complete the quick login process, then presented the teams with True/False questions like “The Great Barrier Reef is larger than the Great Wall of China.” Definitely a fun way to pass the time.

As luck would have it, the line operator was looking for a single rider to board immediately, so after raising my hand (and shouting “Me!”), I was routed to my seat. I prepped for takeoff, and up-up-up-and-away we went. Such amazing birds-eye views and music! The Great Wall, the Golden Gate Bridge, waterfalls, plains, all as they appear from above.

The world

I fit in one last Stand-by attraction for the day, this time in Norway. Part of the World Showcase, this Northern European land was my first country stop of the day. The attraction? Frozen, which sounded really good on an 86 degree Fahrenheit day. Another 60-minute wait, but under cover, and with plenty of charming movie décor to admire before boarding the boat ride.

Young movie fans (and their chaperones) will love hearing the songs and seeing animatronic figures from the famed story as they glide along, enjoying a little drop (and maybe a splash of water) at the end.

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A trip to any of the Disney parks wouldn’t be complete without a character photo op. The trick is to queue up to the meeting spot before the Disney celebrity arrives. In Great Britain, I found the line for Alice in Wonderland just beginning, so I quickly took my place.

So very charming, Alice chatted with each guest for a bit, prior to signing autograph books and posing for photos. Watching the exchange between Alice and her fans made time pass quickly as the line progressed. And then it was my turn! She and I had a fun discussion about the Red Queen before smiling for the camera.

At the host country, I timed my visit just right to find a theater seat for an animatronic, cinematic and photographic tour through my nation’s history: The American Adventure. Narrated by famous Americans Benjamin Franklin and Mark Twain, the two took turns weaving our historical events via a chronological timeline.

Along the way, other famous Americans such as Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglas, cultural icon Rosie the Riveter and Native American Chief Joseph, added to the compelling conversations. Inventors like Alexander Graham Bell joined the group too.

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Ending with images covering more contemporary moments, celebrities and events of our time/my time, I found myself truly touched—a little choked up even—but inspired by the messages conveyed during this quick tour of American history.

My early dinner reservation was fast approaching. Eager to stop by each remaining country at least briefly, I made quick visits to the following:

    • China
    • Mexico
    • Canada
    • France
    • Morocco
    • Japan
    • Germany

I’ve had longer visits to these locales during previous vacations, but I was still a bit sad I couldn’t hang out this time—dinner called. Speaking of dining…

The cuisine

Just in case you were wondering when I’d get to Italy, worry no more. My 24-hour visit actually began the prior evening at Italy’s Napoli Ristorante E Pizzeria. Nothing like a delicious Quattro Formaggi (four-cheese) pizza and a glass of vino to make me smile! Excellent service too. I finished off my meal with a delightful tiramisu. Ahhhh…

Between my visits to Norway and Great Britain, I ventured back to Future World’s Fountain View Café. Disney and Starbucks teamed up on this venture, and came up with something fun for fans of both. I stepped outside on the terrace and found a table in the shade where I could enjoy my icy usual and a sweet treat—and a partial view of the fountain.

Toward the end of my day—my last dinner at the park—I returned to Great Britain, and entered the Rose & Crown Dining Room. (There’s a fun pub attached to the restaurant, as well as a fish & chips stand too.)

I’ve enjoyed their fan favorite here before, but this time, I decided on a Scottish inspired salmon dish. A grilled and lightly breaded filet on a bed of veggies and lentils—amazing! Truly delicious. I asked my server to pay my compliments to the chef. I ate every bite. But not to worry; I saved room for dessert: sticky toffee pudding. So heavenly! (And yes, I ate every bite of that too…)

The shopping

Along with the marvelous food, souvenirs are tough to resist here at EPCOT. I made most of my purchases in Italy and Great Britain, but found a fun pair of suspenders in Germany, and a few co branded coffee mugs at the Future World’s Fountain View Café.
And just in case you become concerned about the lack of available space in your suitcase, WDW resorts can help you ship the souvenirs home.

When I returned to the Port Orleans French Quarter Resort for the evening (a fun New Orleans themed WDW resort), I headed to the gift shop. The cast members inventoried my collection of goods, gave me my receipt, and I was good to go! My souvenirs arrived at home in excellent condition about two weeks later.

The fireworks

Have you ever had the chance to enjoy Disney fireworks? In a word: spectacular! I caught the show from one of Italy’s Venetian style bridges, but the event can be seen from anywhere in the park. What a wonderful way to end my day.

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No matter how many times I walk this park, explore the pavilions, or dine at the restaurants, I always leave mentally planning my next EPCOT visit. Conversations with World Showcase cast members—all native to the countries they represent —remind me how enriched I feel, experiencing different cultures.

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So, if you’re a foodie and a Disney fan who enjoys exploring future concepts, walking through fairs and experiencing a bit of wonder from other places, you just might develop a taste for EPCOT. I know I have.

J 🌎🌍🌏

Tea’s Grand afternoon

Afternoon tea, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways—okay just one way—I can’t pass up the opportunity. No matter where in the world I am. Even in Florida’s hot and sunny weather. All I need is a little shade and some air conditioning, and I’m set. Oh, and just one more thing: Walt Disney World.

The locale

The Garden View Tea Room at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is a perfectly comfortable and wonderful place for me to indulge my craving for this historical tea time event.

The décor of this Victorian style resort—considered to be WDW’s flagship accommodation destination—features elegant, turn-of-the-century (previous century 😁) British furnishings that highlights outdoor activities and garden parties of days gone by.

The Tea Room is adjacent to the main lobby, in full view of an adorable garden. The terrace style restaurant was busy, but not hurried. Perfect for relaxing and enjoying a spot of tea…

The tea

The menu offered a handful of choices regarding afternoon tea delectables and their accompanying beverages. I chose the Bedfordshire Tea: finger sandwiches, a scone with jam, clotted cream and lemon curd, a tart (don’t tell the Red Queen! ❤️), macaroons and a strawberry—chocolate covered, of course.

And speaking of chocolate, my tea of choice: Twinings Nutty Chocolate Tea. Yum! I added a glass of Prosecco to round out my gastronomic event. Twinings is the featured brand at the Garden View Tea Room. United Kingdom—EPCOT’s World Showcase locale—sells some of the Tea Room’s choices.

The atmosphere

As I sipped my sparkler while enjoying my treats and English tea (with cream and sugar), I could see other patrons doing the same—relaxed and smiling, each celebrating some special event.

The staff also seemed happy and relaxed, despite their continual tasks. Considering the size and occupancy of the restaurant, I thought this observation to be rather special. Truly, nothing seemed amiss.

As I finished the last bite of my food, Michelle—my server—said “You can sit and enjoy all you like; there’s no rush.” Wow. Not feeling (or made to feel) rushed is a big deal to me.

Alas, time to leave. As I made my way toward the garden in an attempt to admire the flowers, my plans were thwarted by an afternoon thunderstorm. Perhaps a reminder from the Red Queen to leave her favorite dessert alone…

I may not have had the chance that visit to stop and enjoy the roses, but my tea experience at the Garden View Tea Room gave me the perfect opportunity to relax and reflect anyway. I hope some time this summer you’ll have the chance to do the same.

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 💐