Monday, July 14, 2008

Seattle area (Historical 2001-2003, 2005-2006, 2008)

We have been coming to the Seattle area since we first came here for our 10th wedding anniversary. We chose the Seattle area because the weather in July on average is absolutely perfect for us; little or no humidity with an average high of 70 degrees, overnight low average is about 50 degrees, and about 1 inch of rain for the entire month of July and August. The first year we planned on being downtown with no rental car but got a huge jolt when I called all the HHonors properties in the area. The first few had no rooms available and when I finally found some rooms available the lowest rate I could get was $199 and could have spent up to $299. Turns out the MLB all star game was in Seattle at that time. After about 2 dozen phone calls and multiple web searches I was getting desperate. I finally called the Pacific Reservation Agency and told them what kind of places we generally liked and right off the bat he knew of a couple of places. We ended up choosing the Silvercloud Inn in Mukilteo ( about 30 miles north of Seattle and we could not have been happier in fact 2008 was our 6th trip to the same hotel. We had to skip 2004 due to the evaluation trips for the ESN (formerly ICSI) procurement and our 2007 trip was superseded by the ESN Enterprise meeting in Portland OR in July so we vacationed in Oregon after the meeting.

A couple of stories will really show why we like the weather here. On one of our trips we were walking back from our anniversary dinner and the tide was coming in with a strong breeze in our face and we got a little chilled by the experience. The temperature at the time was 70 degrees. When we called back to KC to talk to family we asked what the temperature was there and the comfort index was 115. The last trip in 2008 was a little warmer than usual and a little more cloudy and rainy than usual. The weather forecaster mentioned that it was going to be hot the next day; 75 degrees, and that a new high for an overnight low could be set if the forecast of 62 degrees was met. Contrast that to KC where everybody cannot seem to wait until it is in the 80's.

There is an abundance of sightseeing opportunities in the Seattle area. No matter where you are you are a short distance to mountains or islands or the coastline. The snow line in the mountains at this time of year is about 11,000 feet so you pretty much can see snow capped mountains year round. Mount Rainier National Park is one of the most scenic areas that you will ever see. Drive along the 400 mile self-guided driving tour called the Cascade Loop from the waters of the Puget Sound in Seattle across the Cascades and the Bavarian community of Leavenworth and into the Columbia River Valley which is a high desert climate that has excellent orchards for cherries near Wenatchee. While in Wenatchee also visit the Ohme Garden which Herman & Ruth Ohme developed themselves and maintained for over 40 years. Ohme Garden sits on a vista and is an evergreen oasis in the high desert. After visiting the garden continue on the loop back into the Cascades and alpine lakes and then loop back to the Seattle area and the waters of the Puget Sound.

Right across the Possession Sound from Mukilteo is Whidbey Island where you can visit Coupeville where Practical Magic was filmed and eat the best mussels that you will ever have, the Penn Cove mussels. Langley is an artsy community on South Whidbey that takes you back to the simpler times in the Pacific Northwest. Many buildings there are on the National Registry of Historic Places and the eating establishments are top notch, especially the Fish Bowl. If you are staying at the Silvercloud, or you park your car in the nearby parking lot, you can walk onto the ferry and a bus will be there to take you directly to Langley (the Langley express) or anywhere on the island for free. A can't miss place to visit is the Deception Pass and the amazing bridge on the northern most point of Whidbey Island.

Right in Mukilteo is the Mukilteo Lighthouse (or Elliot Point Lighthouse) that is just steps away from the Silvercloud Inn. Mukilteo is a local Indian word for "good place for camping" and I find that ironic since we love this place so much and we are embarking on a lifestyle of camping across these United States. Although the lighthouse was recently turned over to the city the navigational equipment is still utilized and maintained by the Coast Guard.

The Washington State Ferry system takes you to a lot of places not accessible by car, or more convenient on the ferry. One place not to miss is the San Juan Islands. This is one of the longer ferry rides where your destination is still within the United States; depending on your departure location it can be as long as 4 hours. But along the way you will see incredible scenery and the very good possibility that your trip will include whale watching as close to 90 of these wonderful creatures ply the waters near the San Juan Islands. We drove to Anacortes and walked on to the ferry there and although we did not see any whales on this trip the scenery was worth the trip. We arrived at Friday Harbor and walked around. We ate at the Downrigger which served excellent fish sandwiches on the waterfront. We visited shops, a bakery, just sat looking at the water, all in all had a great day and then we boarded the ferry for our ride back to Anacortes.

If you are visiting downtown Seattle the first place to see is the Pike Public Market. This is a daily farmers market that has seafood and other artsy booths. This is where you can see the fish tossed from behind the counter to the buying customer, but try to catch it better than Niles Crane did in the classic Frazer episode. Near Pikes Market is the original Starbucks with the risqué logo that was toned down once Starbucks went national. There is an aquarium, maritime museum, and countless shops and restaurants along the Alaskan Way.

I struggled whether to list sightseeing first or food first because the eating in the Seattle area is probably the best in the country. During our six trips here (I was also here twice on business trips where Jo did not join me) we have had the best of the following dishes:
  • clam chowder (cream based) at Ivar's (multiple locations)
  • clam chowder (broth based) at Fish Bowl in Langley
  • fish and chips at Ivar's (multiple locations)
  • halibut at Ivar's or Arnie's in Mukilteo
  • salmon at Ivar's or Arnie's in Mukilteo
  • mussels; Penn Cove mussels
  • fish taco at the Tin Fish in Mukilteo
  • oysters
  • sourdough bread from the Alaskan Sour Dough Bakery on the waterfront
  • cherries from an orchard near Wenatchee; be sure and try the Van and Lambert varieties in addition to the Bing and Rainier
  • cookie; the gold rush from the Alaskan Sour Dough Bakery
  • fudge from the Rosehill Chocolate Company in Mukilteo
In addition to those mentioned above I would also recommend the following places to eat:
  • Old Spaghetti Factory (Lynnwood and Seattle)
  • King Ludwig's in Leavenworth for German food
  • Crab Pot in Bellevue or on the waterfront; get the Seafeast for multiple people
  • Elliot Oyster on the pier
  • Winslow's Way on Bainbridge Island; get the seafood wrap
  • Padrino's Pizza & Pasta; free delivery-recommend the pasta bella and the baked spaghetti
I have a lot of things identified to do when we are back in the Seattle area in our fifth wheel and have a couple of months to get everything done. Here are just a few of the items:
  • Skagit Valley; tulip festival in April
  • Snoqualmie Falls; Salish Lodge has a die for expensive brunch that you can sit at the window overlooking the falls
  • eat at Dahlia's Lounge
  • eat at Fisherman's on the waterfront
  • eat at Voula's Offshore
  • eat at Cafe Nola on Bainbridge Island
  • eat at Shanty Cafe on Elliot Blvd; great joint serving great homestyle breakfast and lunch since 1914
  • Mount Baker
  • Mount St. Helens
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NOTE: See more photos from this and other places we have visited at

Saturday, July 12, 2008

End of an era; our last airline flights

As I write this my wife and I are packing for our last airline flights and we could not be happier. When you are working you need to be able to get someplace fast so you put up with the incredible hassle of flying. For someone who traveled a lot for business and for vacation via airline flights you get used to the hassle but it was even beginning to wear on me. As much as I was looking forward to 2008 being a low business travel year for me at work I cannot begin to express how happy I am being retired and the progress being made to getting our home sold, but more on that in a later post (part 3 of the ongoing saga towards fulltiming coming soon!).

The worst thing about using airlines for vacations, even more than the packing and prep work for flying, is that we leave our babies behind. Our cats JJ and Sandra stay in our home and Jo's friend visits them every other day but we miss them, did the feeders work? did they run out of water?, etc., and they miss us. The best thing about our new lifestyle is that our cats will be going everywhere with us.

The hassles of travel begin as you are preparing; 24 hours in advance you need to get your A from Southwest. I can say I am not a big fan of the new boarding process. In the old days when I traveled a lot I was able to get a lot of exit row seating. Now with the new process I go from too early to clicking again immediately and ending up with A35 when I used to be an A2 or A3; I am convinced that somehow there are folks electronically ahead of us in queue!! This has happened the last two times I have flown; both on vacations by the way.

After the boarding pass you begin packing so that you can lug heavy suitcases to the car and then to the airport. I noticed that airlines have started weighing bags, ours came in at 44.5 pounds or we would have had to pay, whew. Now I see where some airlines are beginning to charge just to check bags. Then you have to go through security and wait for the privilege of being crammed into seats way too small and aisles way too narrow, only to be jostled about by turbulence along the way to your destination. Once you get there you have to wait for your checked bag; if you are lucky that is. At breakfast during our current vacation we overhead a family that has been without luggage for two days already. They were planning on moving to another hotel and the airline was going to charge them to get their bags to the new hotel; the airline said the deal was to the hotel when the luggage was lost. The airline was also balking at paying for clothes and necessities for the family because it had only been two days. Just makes you want to travel more doesn't it?

Once you get your luggage and rental car and get to your hotel you have to unpack everything you packed and try to get used to a new bed and pillow. I usually do not sleep very well the first night because of all the hassle and this vacation was no exception.

The new era of travel will begin when we start fulltiming in our fifth wheel. There will be NO packing involved as everything we own will be with us. We will be sleeping in the same bed every night with the same pillow. Moving from location to location will involve disconnecting from water, sewer and electricity and pushing a button moving the slides in. Then backing up the truck and connecting the fifth wheel to the truck and off we go. We plan to drive no more than 200-250 miles per day and staying at some campgrounds for up to a month.

As promised earlier I will periodically have tips of various natures to share; this one is for business and personal travelers who use National Rent-A-Car. Honeywell and National have a contract that allows you to bring the car back and not have the tank full. National will only charge for the amount of fuel used at an agreed to rate. With gas prices climbing higher and higher you can usually save my tax dollars if you do not put gas in the tank and let National do it. For my recent vacation the going rate for gas in the Seattle area was $4.43/gallon. I was charged $3.81/gallon by National. That is not the biggest difference that I remember; once I was charged $1.99 in Albuquerque and the going rate then was about $2.85.

So to all those that are still taking airline flights wherever you we wish you luck and we will be thinking about you as you deal with the ever increasing hassle of travel.