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 🍪

 

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NYCity High Line

I love New York! In the city that never sleeps, it’s rather easy to find food, entertainment, attractions and activities that speak to all people and budgets.

It can be overwhelming, given all the choices, but if you’re willing to humor yourself with a mere sample of what NYC has to offer, you’ll be just fine.

Lots of transportation choices too for getting around, but my favorite way is to walk. Simply put, I can see more of the town (while I bank more steps to my FitBit).

On a recent March trip to the Big Apple, my travel companion and I challenged ourselves to reach all our city destinations on foot. A bit of a lofty dare, given winter was in no hurry to leave. But one route in particular made our Chelsea District adventures a pleasure: an elevated path known as The High Line.

The walkway

From our hotel—the perfectly placed Hyatt Regent Square—we headed west along W 30th Street. Picking up an access stairwell at 10th Avenue, we soon found ourselves at one of the most beautiful urban walkways I’ve ever seen.

Repurposing an old elevated railway line, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York created a uniquely clever public park—one that showcases a bit of its history along with some very modern urban art.

The scenery

The view from the walkway features a few key signature NYC skyline items, such as the Empire State Building and the Hudson River. But this long-and-lean park also grants one-of-a-kind views that highlight artistically painted buildings (and some “unofficial” art) we encountered along the way.

Not to be outdone by objects outside the park, The High Line is home to many cleverly displayed works of art created just for the walkway. Beautiful in their own right, all artwork inside this public space complimented the surroundings perfectly, without being distracting.

The factory

Ever heard of the National Biscuit Company? Perhaps if I shortened its name: Nabisco. That’s right—from the 1890s to the 1950s, Oreos, Premium Saltine Crackers and other iconic baked goods were manufactured here at this location.

In the 1990s, this factory site was given a facelift, and Chelsea Market was born. Exiting The High Line at W 17th Street, we entered the old brick building ready to explore.

Similar to The High Line in shape, Chelsea Market stretches the long way between 9th and 10th streets, running parallel between W 15th and 16th. Much of the old brick walls and concrete flooring that once housed flour and giant bakery equipment now hold exciting specialty shops and fun restaurants.

Walking through the market, I loved discovering showcases of local and factory history. But what really caught my eye was how one piece of old plumbing was turned into an indoor urban waterfall. Pretty cool! Also cool: seeing old Nabisco ads—painted onto the brick—as active participants of the market’s décor.

We grabbed matcha green tea lattes (and pastries!) at Chalait, then headed back to The High Line. Finding a bench in the sun, we enjoyed our well earned treats.

Returning to Chelsea Market the following three days via our new favorite walkway, we enjoyed brunching at Friedmans Lunch. And shopping! We visited many stores and stands, making purchases at Artists and Fleas, Pearl River Mart and Chelsea Wine Vault.

Inclement weather can limit access to The High Line—something we discovered one icy morning—but the park’s crew works hard to keep the walkway open, and the stairwells and elevators in good condition, maintaining safety for its patrons.

Now that spring is in the air, walking outside is a little more comfortable. So if you find yourself in NYC this season, and fancy a stroll with a view, head to The High Line. My new favorite urban walk. J 👣

 

Brewing a nation

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

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

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

Micro

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

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

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

Macro

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solo

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

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

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

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

 

Willamette Valley winter

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

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

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

Pinots & popcorn

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

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

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

Ducks & doughnuts

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

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

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

Corks & Kings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Notes on Nashville

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

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

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

Native son

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

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

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

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

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

National exposition

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

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

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

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

Noshing local

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Daylight in Oslo

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

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

Cruising in

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

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

Walking around

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

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

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

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

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

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

True!

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

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

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

Noshing on

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

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

Sailing away

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

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

 

Leavenworth: welcoming Christmas

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

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

To and from

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

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

Food and drink

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shop and marvel

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

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

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

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

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

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