Historical Astoria

I love a crisp autumn day—fiery leaves aiming for the ground under a blue sky, the cool air challenging the sun’s warmth on our faces.

But enjoying this time of year is even more fun while exploring a few special places in a picturesque seaside town. One such place I recently paid a visit to: Astoria.

Originally one of the oldest settlements on the West Coast—named after John Jacob Astor—this Oregon jewel carefully preserves its amazing past, proudly sharing it with today’s visitors. Just passing through for the day, my husband and I fancied a walk and made a stop or two…

Back in time

The first noticeable—very picturesque—feature in this coastal-river town is only 50 years old: the Astoria-Megler Bridge. Surprisingly, this pair of small towns is home to one of the longest truss bridges in the nation.

Replacing a ferry system that was always hampered by crazy currents, fog and other weather-related challenges, this attractive span does its part to connect two states, along with a road that connects three countries. Not bad for 1966! We could see it from just about anywhere in town; it likes to photobomb…

Tea time

What does a successful local river bar pilot and businessman do for retirement? Build an 11,000+ square foot Victorian home of course! Captain George Flavel wanted something stylish that he and his family could enjoy, entertain, relax and come home to after visiting the world. Sporting 12-14’ ceilings on the first two floors (and in the basement), I’d say they enjoyed plenty of elbow room…

Now maintained by the Clatsop County Historical Society (and on the National Register of Historic Places), this beautiful structure known as the Flavel House entertains visitors from all over the world. And if you’re up for tea and scones (like me—always!), I suggest booking a tour…

Entering through the front door, we were escorted to the dining room and conservatory. Taking our seats at the table, I couldn’t help but look around at the ornate wooden walls, floors and furnishings. Enjoying our delicious tea and scones (as any Victorian era group would), we listened to our guide take us through what a typical day was like for this home’s original occupants.

After enjoying one last cuppa, we continued the tour on foot, climbing the sturdy winding staircases up and up. Walking through each room and peering through the many windows, I loved seeing the accessories: the steamer trunks fit for world travel, the art and the fireplaces. And the “hidden” toilets. I guess no one was in the mood to see that particular indoor plumbing feature…

We ended the tour at the Carriage House, where we watched a short video on the Flavel family history in Astoria. I also paid my respects to the gift shop on our way out…

Maritime

Strolling along Riverwalk, we found ourselves enjoying the past coming together with the present. Like watching the town’s historic trolley making its way along the water’s edge while the epic bridge quietly guards from above.

We happened upon several historical markers along the walkway, but there’s one that impressed me the most: Maritime Memorial Park. One would expect a maritime city to have such a special and beautiful way of honoring Astorians who died at sea. But seeing two workers adding new plaques made me realize that a life at sea remains a challenging way to make a living.

Astoria’s river-meets-ocean locale was a perfectly picturesque stop for us, before continuing on our way. But I would love to return for a long weekend, just so we could explore a little more. Its beauty and history transcends all seasons. J ⚓️

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Up-n-down Juneau

Between the Gastineau Channel and the bases of Mount Roberts and Mount Juneau sits Alaska’s capital city: Juneau. Bearing a closer resemblance to a quaint coastal village than to a US government seat, this Southeast Alaskan hub packs a lot into its limited—and somewhat unreachable—locale.

At a recent cruise stop, I was able to experience a few of the literal highs and lows this town has to offer. While my cabin mate headed for Mendenhall Glacier, I opted for afternoon tea—about 1800 feet up…

Waterfront

Looking for a shore excursion that included a tour guide’s expertise (but also allowed for personal wandering time downtown) lead me to Gastineau Guiding’s Town, Tram & Timberline Trek. Our first stop? Saying hello to Tahku, the Humpback whale, who greats all his visitors with a splash roughly every few minutes.

This impressive fountain and statue—a beautiful life-like replica—lives at Overstreet Park, near the Juneau-Douglas Bridge. The statue’s detail is incredible, from the full breach pose down to the whale’s barnacles. Tahku came to town to help celebrate Alaska’s 50th anniversary of statehood. He’s simply gorgeous!

Upslope

After waving goodbye to Tahku, we headed to our mountainous mode of transportation: the Mount Roberts Tramway. Our sophisticated coach in the sky took us 1800 feet up (giving us spectacular views in the process!) to the next leg of our adventure: the Alpine Loop Trail.

Jocelyn—our fantastic guide—lead us along this meandering 1.5 mile path from the subalpine to the alpine level of Mount Roberts, bringing us up to speed on native plants and trees, the people of Juneau (native and otherwise), and also the “bear” facts, should we encounter any of the large fuzzy critters…

The views from the trail were amazing! The Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock provided natural frames for many a photo, including those I took of the cruise ships docked in the channel waaaaaaaay below our mountain perch. Several trees along the trail also sported carvings—stories being shared with each passerby…

Time for tea! One of my favorite events of any day, our little group of hikers entered the Alpine Tea Room, and enjoyed a few locally made teas, along with jams made from Alaskan berries and plants. My favorite brew was the Alaskan Wild Rose tea. And yes, I made a purchase of this item (plus a few other odds and ends) at their gift shop in the Mount Roberts Nature Center. Don’t judge…

Downtown

After returning to sea level via the tram, I made my way through the very walkable streets of Juneau to a rather famous watering hole: the Red Dog Saloon. Known as the oldest tourist attraction in town, it definitely has that “come inside” appeal. A friend and former Juneau resident suggested I stop in for a drink. Well, I didn’t want to let her down…

 

Meeting up with my cabin mate, we “bellied up to the bar” (…no—really! Not one table available; just two bar stools…), ordered our drinks and nosh, then swung around every so often to enjoy the live music. The sawdust on the floor politely hid the dirt from my hiking shoes. The décor on walls distracted us—in a fun way—from getting too carried away in conversation. One novelty in particular caught my eye: Wyatt Earp’s gun, framed and unclaimed behind the bar. Legendary!

While enjoying the sights and sounds of this happening place from the comfort of my own bar stool, I very much enjoyed my Copper River Queso and Chips as well (made with a ton of white cheddar!), along with a nice white Chardonnay all the way from California. But before you think I wimped out on having a real saloon drink, we ordered the penultimate shot: a Duck Fart…

You heard me! One part Kahlua, one part Bailey’s Irish Cream and one part Whiskey. After seeing this drink promoted just about everywhere in Alaska, I knew I couldn’t head back to the lower 48 without adding this experience to my memory bank. Truth be told, it was delicious! I now have a new favorite shot glass beverage, along with a copy of the recipe on a Red Dog Saloon magnet souvenir…

Our short-but-sweet trip to Juneau complete, we headed back to the ship. By sea or by air—the only two ways in and out of this capital city. Even though arrival and departure methods are a bit limited, a trek to this town is well worth the effort. And a Duck Fart at the Red Dog is worth it too… J 🥃

 

Tea and whimsy

I love afternoon tea—love-love-love it! A cuppa warm, loose-leaf goodness poured from a fun tea pot, into a fancy cup and saucer… mmmmmmmm… Alongside this wonderful beverage stands a tower of tasty treats, both savory and sweet. And to top it all off: a lovey glass of bubbly. Heaven—and worth finding the time for this little something special.

While there are many wonderful and unique tea rooms all over the world, one of my favorites just happens to be in my neighborhood: Seattle’s own Queen Mary Tea Room & Restaurant. There’s a fancy yet fun ambiance to this place: intimate, but full of celebrations in progress. And loads of tiaras…

Teas & cups

It’s easy to notice the tea room’s whimsical ambiance the moment you approach the front door. Along with a colorful board displaying the day’s specials, tea cups, mugs and a few other related items await the surrendering curiosity of a passerby. A birdcage just behind the entryway holds a few feathered friends ready to greet entering patrons.

As a recent Mother’s Day gift from my daughter, our girls’ group trio was greeted immediately by friendly servers as they made their way to and from the wonderful source of all things deliciously fragrant: the kitchen. Waiting a few moments before being seated, I couldn’t decide where to rest my eyes: on the amazing dessert case? Or on the beautiful tea cups & saucers (and mugs, and infusers and timers…) for sale? Tea party accessories just waiting for a celebration?

All caught my eye, along with the clever British décor. But what I really zeroed in on were containers of Queen Mary’s very own creations: several flavors of loose leaf teas, all in a row along the shelves and above the dessert case. This amazing lineup of choices reminded me that deciding on just one tea for today’s event would take me a few minutes…

Savories & sweets

Amazing soups, quiches and other hot dishes, along with sandwiches, salads and deliciously sweet treats are all made from scratch, right here. Each menu item for brunch, lunch or afternoon tea honors the British tea rooms and Victorian style of service.

But no worries about keeping your pinky finger in the air, or knowing which fork to use. The staff is smiling and friendly, and very eager to walk anyone through the menu’s courses and choices. And trust me—your selection is worth a few moments of assistance.

And the most convenient part? My tea mates and I didn’t have to partner up. For instance, two of us could order from the lunch menu, while one of us chooses afternoon tea. As in a tower of treats for one! And of course, tea selections are individually brewed. This visit I picked Mango Passion Fruit Black Tea. Very flavorful!

In the end, all three of us chose Queen Mary’s delectable afternoon tea (along with a glass of Bellini🥂), but their lunch items are very wonderful as well. I enjoyed the Vegetarian Quiche and salad on a previous visit—and a ginormous sugar cookie too, along with the Queen’s Royal Afternoon Black Tea—and a glass of Prosecco.

If you find yourself eager to try other tea flavors, not to worry. Servers meander between the tables every so often sharing tea samples with restaurant patrons. It’s a great way to discover a flavor to enjoy at your next visit. Or pick up at her tea emporium across the street…

Crowns & wares

Less than a block from the Queen Mary Tea Room & Restaurant awaits a very special store. Not only does the Queen Mary Tea Emporium sell all teas featured on the restaurant’s menu, it sells the whimsy too.

Items such as children’s tea party sets, festive celebratory accessories like tiaras or fancy small hats, hair combs and handkerchiefs, books, tea pots, cups and saucers, travel mugs, and of course tea—lots and lots and lots of Queen Mary’s finest—await eager tea enthusiasts: flavored black teas, green, white, rooibos, chai–and many more.

Once inside, it’s easy to lose track of time, but you won’t mind too much. I never do, and I always find something I didn’t know I needed until then… be it a gift for a friend or more tea for me, it truly is a fun store to shop. But if you swing by the store before your restaurant reservations, heads up: keep an eye on the clock. You don’t want to be late for tea… J ☕️

My Big Apple favorites

Dining out? Facing a googolplex of options? Italian, French, Korean, Slavic, American, and so on…? Enjoying a ginormous park in the middle of a vast metropolis? Perhaps discovering a quaint, beautifully maintained zoo (or two) inside the park? You just might be in New York City.

Home to hundreds of restaurants and scores of parks, NYC’s theatre district showcases dozens of on-and-off Broadway productions. Finding yourself in The Big Apple also means plenty of bars, pubs and fancy cafes where one can enjoy a favorite coffee or nightcap, or a fancy new boozy beverage.

So many options! Only your available moments limit your choices. Let me share with you a few of my favorite discoveries…

A ghost

Open year around, the Central Park Zoo is home to some very special critters. Like playful sea lions. Fancy peacocks. And the elusive snow leopard. Referred to as a “ghost cat” in the 2013 movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, this beautiful hunter seemed in sync with its wintery surroundings.

Visiting the zoo in early March meant cold weather for us, but also smaller crowds. Bundling up, we were able to visit each group of animals with ease, having great vantage points at every stop.

When we were ready to warm up a bit, we ducked into the Tropic Zone. Adjusting to the immediate climate change by removing our coat-glove-scarf combos, we discovered the occupants to be just as welcoming as the temperature. They seemed just as curious about us as we were about them.

A legend

Still inside Central Park—just outside the Tisch Children’s Zoo—stands a very special statue: Balto. Famous for leading his sled team in the final 53 mile stretch of snow-blinding wild Alaska wilderness (destination Nome) January 1925, this Siberian Husky and his pack won the hearts of people all over the world. Their cargo? Medicine, desperately needed to battle a diphtheria outbreak.

Their successful impossible mission inspired New Yorkers to commission this statue that very same year; a beautiful monument to all the sled teams—all the people and dogs who saved the lives of Nome’s children. Having enjoyed the 1995 animated movie “Balto” that featured a cameo of this statue, it was exciting for me to see it in person.

A queen

In step with our winter theme, we headed for the St. James theatre and Disney’s production of “Frozen” on Broadway. Having enjoyed Disney’s movie version—and its cruise line musical version—we were curious; how would it transition to this world famous entertainment capital? Answer: beautifully!

Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, and all their friends took to the stage, sharing their story in both familiar and new ways. Similar to Disney’s at-sea production, this bold version adds new songs, and tells the tale in a way that appeals to Frozen fanatics without leaving any Frozen newbies in the cold. We absolutely loved it.

A plate

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many an afternoon tea, but the Russian Tea Room provided a unique first for me: caviar atop a mini pancake. Delicious! Another first: sour cherries to flavor the tea. Also delicious! RTR has treated NYC restaurant patrons for almost one hundred years. We truly enjoyed wonderful food and fantastic service in this beautifully appointed room.

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a plate of linguini and a glass of vino to sing my soul to sleep. Biricchino Italian Restaurant—definitely a Chelsea neighborhood gem—features flavorfully fresh ingredients woven into pasta perfection. Lots of other amazing dishes too, but my favorite is the linguini with clams…ahhhhh…

And sometimes there’s nothing better than simplicity. A simple menu, a perfect cut of beef and a side of crispy French fries. And in this case, the fries really are French. Entering Le Relais de Venise and glancing at the paintings, you might think for a moment that Italian is the cuisine. Even the name might suggest so, but it’s only a nod to a street in Paris. The menu is set; the server asks only how you’d like your meat prepared.

Enjoying our green salads with a glass of beautiful French wine, and awaiting the main course, we began to relax in this place of clean and simple elegance. The price is no nonsense too; very reasonable. Wonderful food and excellent service, Le Relais de Venise is a fun place for me to revisit every time I’m in The Big Apple.

In search of something hot and nourishing one chilly evening, we headed out for a big bowl of soup. Thankfully we found our savory broth at Miss Korea. Just a block from the Hyatt Herald Square—our very comfy hotel—we didn’t wait long for a table, despite the restaurant’s obvious popularity.

Each of us ordered the beef bone broth. Soooooo gooooood! That, along with delicious house barley tea and fresh sides; we ate like royalty.

When you’re in the mood for something sweet—a ginormous something sweet—I suggest paying a visit to Levain Bakery. Lots of delectable goodies, and coffee drinks too, but you owe it to yourself to try their signature item: the chocolate chip cookie. Quite possibly the biggest chocolate chip cookies in the city, this bakery doesn’t just go for size; it goes for quality too.

The line is always out the door here, no matter the weather, so be sure to pack your patience as you wait for your turn at the counter. It will be worth the wait. Trust me.

In addition to purchasing one cookie each to enjoy right away, we picked up a dozen to share with friends and family back home. And by some miracle, two chairs freed up at their small dining counter just as we made our purchase, allowing us to enjoy the atmosphere (as well as our lattes and cookies) as we awaited our pink box of take-home goodies.

A drink

When it’s time for a spirited beverage (before, during or after dinner), I recommend Crimson and Rye. There are tables available, but our preference is to take a seat at the semicircular bar. We love to watch the mixologists in action as we nosh on bar food while enjoying our libations. This visit, I chose an Irish Coffee. Yummy stuff!

As you might have guessed, narrowing my favorites list for NYC was not easy. Not a bad problem to have… J 🍪

 

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 🕳

 

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 ☕️

 

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 🌳