Friday, August 3: Portlandia

There was no post yesterday, Thursday. All we did was pack up and leave Seattle, and drive to Portland. This marks 42 states (plus DC and PR) that I’ve visited. There was nothing special about the drive; I-5 all the way down. The Sentinal Hotel, where we’re staying, is very eclectic: it’s a moderately sized hotel, with a very friendly and energetic young staff, and a very lively bar scene in the evenings.

Sentinel Hotel, Portland, August 2018

We had dinner with Sally’s niece and nephew last night, in a very Portlandish brew pub. Good food, and good beers.

Today we spent with Sally’s nephew and his wife. They moved here a couple of years ago, bought a house and love living here. They offered to show us around, so we went out to their place and the four of us spent the day driving around the countryside. From Portland, we headed east through the Columbia River Gorge.

We are family, August 2018

Multnomah Falls, August 2018

Multnomah is allegedly the “most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest”, according to the National Park Service. It certainly was busy enough on a Friday afternoon.

Bonneville Dam and salmon ladder, August 2018

From there we continued up the Gorge, stopping at another lesser waterfall, and then decided to see the Bonneville Dam. The Columbia River has massive and powerful water flow, and there at 14 dams on the main river itself, plus another 46 on its tributaries. This dam is not the largest by a long stretch, yet was impressive in its power. The salmon ladder was also interesting, although we didn’t see any salmon.

Kool kars, August 2018

Brilliant, August 2018

Our last stop for the day was the town of Hood River, cleverly located where the Hood River flows into the Columbia. We expected a cute little town, but we were pleasantly surprised to find a Street fair with a dozen or more classic cars from the WAAAM (1). There were a number from the 50s and 60s, which tickled my imagination and brought back memories of lusting after hot rods and muscle cars as a youth. Among them was a 1970 powder blue Oldsmobile 442 convertible, similar to one that Sally’s cousin drove. And a 1965 Ford Mustang convertible, like the one I owned for about 9 months in 1969. This one was nice, mine (49 years ago!) was already a heap.

Hubba Hubba hula, August 2018

Several of us – including me – braved using hula hoops that were laying around. We wound up having dinner in a pub in town, and got home pretty late (for us).


(1) Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum, conveniently located in Hood River.

Wednesday, August 1: Pioneer Square and SAM

We had two more items on our list of potentials, both of which we accomplished today.

“Untitled” by Jean-Michel Basquiat, August 2018

The first was the Seattle Art Museum,which is just three blocks (downhill) from our hotel. Honestly, it was never a “definite” on our list. In fact, it wasn’t until we got here and I was browsing the options that I decided it would be a nice thing to do. Interestingly, we’ve probably been to more museums on this trip than most of our past trips.

SAM exceeded our expectations.

Native American sculptures, August 2018

While the exhibit space only covered two floors in the building, we found most of them very interesting (1). The Basquiat piece is phenomenal, IMHO. There was a major exhibit of photographs by Edward S. Curtis, who took on the task of documenting Native Americans and the West while running a photography business in Seattle. There was a large collection of contemporary sculptures by Native Americans (2).

There was a collection of Asian porcelain, some Australian Aboriginal art, some classical American art, renaissance Italian and Spanish art.

After spending more time than we had expected at the Museum, we Ubered over to Pioneer Square.

UPS park and Firemen’s monument, Pioneer Square, August 2018

Pioneer Square is technically a small park at the edge of a district that has taken on its name. It’s billed as Seattle’s first neighborhood, but what we see now is not what was originally built there starting in 1852. Sadly, it all burned in the Great Fire of 1889. Many of the buildings, and most of the architectural styles, date from the rebuilding after the fire.

Wall art and tents on the sidewalk, August 2018

Seattle, like Vancouver, has a very visible homeless population. There was no section of the city that we were in that was free of them, but the small collection of tents pitched on the sidewalk in this area was notable.

We ended the day with dinner in the seafood restaurant in the hotel, as we had a credit from our travel agent to spend. It was very good, and almost everything Sally asked about was available garlic-free. And the credit was useful, as the salmon I had was $4,800 (3).


(1) That excludes, of course, the modern abstract art like a wooden box that played recordings of the box being made, or the painting of a square titled “Square”. Or the mostly black canvas with a white “X” going from corner to corner, which was described as showing the texture of darkness, and the separation created by the X.

(2) The term “Native Americans” is in some sense misleading – it somehow implies they originated in this country, while they actually migrated (from Asia) like everyone else. I like the Canadian nomenclature: First Peoples. It correctly connotes that they were (merely) the first here, not that they arose here spontaneously.

(3) Just kidding. But it was the most expensive item on the menu.

Sunday, July 29: Whidbey again

I was up early, so I went out for a walk along the beach at Double Bluff. There’s a county park there which extends a few hundred yards west from the small parking lot. Then you’re apparently on your own, and can walk as far on the beach as you care (1). There are tons of driftwood along the beach, and people have used some of the bigger pieces to make crude structures along the sand.

Beach structures, July 2018

Our first stop was Fort Casey Historical State Park. Two points of interest: a nice lighthouse, and the remains of a turn-off-the-(20th)-century fort.

Admiralty Head Lighthouse, July 2019

Of course, the most desirable thing to do when confronted with a lighthouse or other tall structure is to climb up. Which I did.

Lighthouse spiral stairs and view from top, July 2018

Ft. Casey never saw real action. Built in the 1890s, it was obsolete by the time WW I ended in 1918. It was used for training during WW I, and then reactivated during WW II as an induction center. In addition to a number of structures, there are two huge 10″ cannon (2) on display.

Top Gun, July 2018

After much debate, we decided to go explore an “Art Trail” maintained on the island. This is where you can drive around and visit artists in their studios, where you can see how they work and they can try to sell some of their art. A fair trade.

Artist’s Workbench, July 2018

The first artist we tried was a woman who makes metal jewelry and small boxes. Her studio was down a narrow dirt road, and in the lower level of her house. Although it was Sunday, she was extremely gracious in explaining how she worked, and showing us the results. We didn’t buy anything.

The second one we tried was an art store located on a farm that’s turning itself into a tourist-focused mini-mall. We didn’t buy anything there, either.

By this time we were hungry, so we headed back to Langley with the vague thought that we would head out again after a late lunch. That never happened. Instead :

Chillin’, July 2018

Despite snacking the day away on our deck, we decided to walk a couple blocks and have dinner anyway. And then back to start packing, as we leave Whidbey in the morning.


(1) I cared to walk 1.5 miles out, and the same back 😉

(2) A 10″ cannon shoots shells that are 10″ in diameter.

Tuesday, July 31: Seattle

Seattle offers a discount booklet of admission vouchers for seven attractions, of which you can do five. We took a look, and thought we would do two and perhaps a third, so we passed on the booklet. We headed over this morning to take in the Chihuly Garden and Glass, and The Museum of Pop Culture. Turns out the hotel has a complimentary car service around central Seattle, so we opted for this for the 10 minute ride.

Dale Chihuly is a Washington Native who works extensively in very complex glass sculptures. His works and installations are big, and the technical diffulties in constructing his works are significant.

I’ll just let them speak for themselves. They all have names, but I don’t remember any of them.

Chihuly Garden and Glass, July 2018

Up next was the Museum of Popular Culture (MoPOP), which had a number of exhibits we looked at: fantasy in popular culture (movies, books, etc ), Jimi Hendrix, and Kurt Cobain. Both musicians were from Washington. We didn’t bother with the video game or Marvel characters exhibits.

Guitar sculpture at MoPOP, July 2018

From there we took the monorail back to downtown. The monorail and the entire Seattle Center, where these attractions along with the Space Needle and lots of other stuff, were built for the World’s Fair in 1962.

We tried to have lunch at PF Chang’s, which sounded encouraging when the waiter said they have a special menu of garlic-free items. If you’ve ever been in Chang’s, you know the menu is pretty long. So here’s the complete menu of garlic free items:

  1. White rice
  1. Brown rice
  1. Tofu with asparagus, broccoli, shiitake and carrots
  2. A number of deserts

Obviously that wasn’t going to work. But we found a great restaurant called the Yard House with 110 beers on tap. We only tried two. But the food was also good.

Later in the afternoon we went to an area called Ballard, where there are a couple of blocks of cute stores and restaurants. We saw them. We didn’t buy anything or eat anything. But on the way back, Sally found a chocolate store and bought something. They had a very cool piece of art, a larger-than-life portrait made out of different colored miniatures.

You have a chocolate face, July 2018

Monday, July 30: Leaving Whidbey

Well, that’s a negative headline. How about “Going to Seattle?” Because that’s what we did. But Whidbey Island was very nice, the Inn was very nice (especially sitting on the deck looking at the water). We were not anxious to leave. And who knows what Seattle will bring?

Washington State Ferry, July 2018

Like our previous two transfers, this trip involved a ferry. Unlike them, there is no reservation – it was a short ferry ride (20 minutes), and close to the hotel (20 minutes), but we had no idea how long the line would be. The ferries run every 30 minutes, and the two of them have a maximum capacity of 270 cars per hour. I checked the wait time on Sunday afternoon, and it was over two hours, but that was clearly the weekend traffic heading home. I started checking this morning, and the report and traffic cams (very hitech) showed no line. As it turned out, we got on the first ferry after we arrived and only waited about 30 minutes.

Fairmont Olympic Hotel, July 2018

The ride down to Seattle was uneventful. We checked in at the Fairmont Olympic (room not ready, of course), went for lunch, then unpacked. Sally had arranged for the best available view, which included a glimpse of Elliot Bay in the distance.

View from a room, July 2018

After unpacking, we had to decide how to spend the remainder of the afternoon. We made the obvious choice, which was Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market, July 2018

Pike Place is a combination of a touristy T-shirt/souvenir/food & drink area, and a working market specializing in fish, produce and meat. It was extremely crowded, even on a Monday. One of the highlights is the original Starbucks, which we walked past. There were two lines outside: a formal one to get inside and get your favorite drink, and an informal one to get your picture taken in front of the store. We did neither.

Waiting at Starbucks #1, July 2018

We wanted to stop for a drink, but none of the places I checked out around the Market had A/C, and they were pretty warm inside. And they all had that “worn” feel that some people prize. So we headed back towards the hotel and stopped in a wine bar.

Waiting at the Crocodile, July 2018

Later I went out for dinner, and tried a place that the concierge recommended that had light fare and live music. Unfortunately, there was a line to gain admission and I didn’t feel like waiting. So I found a Bar & Grill and had a pleasant enough meal.

Market Bar & Grill, July 2018

Saturday, July 28: Langley, Whidbey Island

To start, let’s straighten out the name: Joseph Whidbey was an Englishman and Master of the HMS Discovery who explored this area with Captain George Vancouver and Lt. Peter Puget. He returned to England, and retired from seafaring. But left his name here. Langley is a small town on the southeastern coast of the island.

Escaping the fog, July 2018

We took the ferry back from SJI, which arrived about 35 minutes late to pick us up. No explanation was offered, of course. But then we ran into a dense fog a few miles off of Anacortes, our destination, which slowed the ferry to a crawl. That cleared things up, so to speak. From the ferry terminal we drove over an hour (plus a lunch stop) to Langley. So we wound up arriving later than we planned, but we’re on vacation, so who cares?

The Inn at Langley, July 2018

Out hotel here is a 26 room boutique on the water. The driftwood from yesterday sits on the tiny beach directly below our 2nd floor balcony, which looks across Possession Sound to Camino Island, and the city of Everett on the mainland 10 or 15 miles away. The room is quite nice: simple rather than ornate, large enough without being huge. What is overdone, however, is the “special dinner” in the hotel restaurant. $160 pp, plus wine, tax and tip. Judging by the not-very-impressive continental breakfast this morning, it’s overpriced.

Early morning in Langley, July 2018

I was up early this morning, so I took a daybreak walk around a town that wasn’t really up yet. By the time I came back at 7:30, none of the restaurants in town were open yet.

Langley scenes, July 2018

After breakfast Sally and I went for a shop tour of 1st Street, which is where the Inn is. The shops were nice enough, and she bought something nice. We had lunch, then retired back to read.

To cap off the afternoon, we did something I don’t think we’ve ever done while traveling – we went to see a movie. I rather enjoyed Incredibles 2.

Thursday, July 26: A couple of walks

English Camp and Block House, July, 2018

This morning I went for a hike. Nothing on SJI is particularly hilly, but the highest point on the island – Young Hill at 650′ – is conveniently located in a National Historical Park, namely the English Camp area. This was the northern counterpart to the American Camp which I described yesterday, and which is located at the south shore. Where the American Camp is sparse and sandy, the English Camp is wooded and hilly. The UK also invested more money in the camp during the dispute, as they were one of the richest countries in the world at the time, with a thriving settlement in Victoria on Vancouver Island only a few miles away. The Americans, on the other hand, were consumed by the Civil War and never really invested much in their base.

Sitting in an English garden, in the sun, July 2018

The English Commander insisted on a formal garden for the enjoyment of the officers’ wife’s. Of course.

View from Young Hill, July 2018

The climb up to the summit of Young Hill was actually 650′, since I started from sea level. It was a good climb, rewarded with views of SJI, the neighboring islands, and the Olympic Peninsula.

The lower building is our hotel, the upper is a private residence, July 2018

After returning to Roche Harbor, Sally and I had lunch and then walked around the property some more. The marina is beautiful and there were a fair number of yachts for sale in the $1-5m range.

Scenes from the marina, July 2018

Plus all the usual services: a post office, seafood for sale, RIBs waiting to ferry you to your yacht, etc.

Wednesday, July 25: San Juan Island

Today was our first full day in SJI and we set out to explore.

First a bit about this place, which we unexpectedly found ourselves staying at. Roche Harbor Resort is located at the site of a 19th and 20th century lime company called (wait for it …) Roche Harbor Lime & Cement Company. In 1956 the 4,000 acre property was bought, the lime operation was shuttered, and it was converted into a resort. Many of the old building have been repurposed into facilities for the resort, which now has hotel accommodations, condos and private lots with private houses. And a 400 slip marina.

Market, July 2018

Since there’s a grocery store on premises, we bought some supplies and ate breakfast in the room, which is quite nice and has a covered porch with an excellent view of the marina.

Views of Roche Harbor Marina (not from our room), July 2018

After a late breakfast and some relaxation, we took off for an island tour. Our first stop was Friday Harbor, the only real town on the island and where our aborted hotel stay was to take place (1). Our immediate reaction on arrival was that we were in Martha’s Vineyard: the ferry dock, the restaurants facing the harbor, the same stores selling the same stuff, the real estate agents. I don’t mean this in a negative way; it’s a pleasant little place with a downtown of perhaps 8 blocks altogether. The whole island is not very crowded, which is surprising considering it’s the last week in July and the weather is beautiful here. It’s also not empty, but we had no problem getting a table outside with a harbor view without any wait at all.

Friday Harbor, July 2018

There are only a few sightseeing opportunities on SJI and we set out to see two of them. The history of the island is that the San Juan Islands were the subject of a 12 year saber-rattling between the US and UK over ownership, as the issue was unclear from the terms of the Treaty of Oregon of 1846. In 1859, the British and the US both established army camps on the SJI to protect their interests while the diplomats worked on a solution. These were at opposite ends of the island and called the American Camp and English Camp (clever, I know). We went to see the American Camp. It’s a mostly desolate strip of land along the south shore, with two structures still standing and miles of beaches to walk.

In deference to Sally’s ankle (not to mention the fact that there really wasn’t much to see), we walked in to see the two buildings at the parade grounds, then walked out. We never got as far as the beach, it would have been too much.

Historically interesting, but visually not exciting. Oh yeah, the dispute was settled in 1872 by Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, who was selected to be an impartial judge and decided in favor of Americans. I don’t know why he was given this job, nor why he decided what he did. But everything here would probably cost less if we were paying with Canadian dollars 😉 .

Lime Kiln State Park and lighthouse, July 2018

The last scheduled stop was Lime Kiln Point State Park, the site of a very picturesque lighthouse and also renowned for Orca sightings. The location is indeed pretty, and Orcas are indeed sighted in the channel adjacent to the park. However, your chances of seeing one if you watch for an hour is less than 1%, so we didn’t stay very long.

While we were driving, Sally had mentioned that there was a goat farm that we could think about visiting. So we pulled over and did a bit of googling, but couldn’t find anything. Then, just before we got back to the resort, we passed an alpaca farm. So we stopped and looked around the alpaca products shops – sweaters, scarves, jackets, stuffed animals, etc. perhaps we should have been looking for this 😉 .


(1) For those keeping track, we were in-and-out of hotels four times yesterday: out of the Rosewood Georgia in Vancouver, in and out of the Friday Harbor Inn (complete with me lugging all our stuff up and down a narrow flight of stairs) and in to the Roche Harbor. Neither of the latter two seem to believe in bellmen.

Monday, July 23 – Gastown, finally

(Note: this should have been posted yesterday, but I got distracted.)

Today we screwed up our courage and went back to Gastown, which you’ll recall we were unable to find on Friday. It seems we were a couple of blocks off and were in the middle of the skid row, which gives a distinctly different experience than we were expecting. This time we decided to take no chances: we took a taxi to the Steam Clock at the heart of Gastown. Seven minutes later we were there.

Gassy Jack and the Steam Clock, July 2018

Gastown allegedly got its name from a character named Gassy Jack, so called because he liked to talk a lot, hence “gassy”. He was an Englishman who owned a bar or two in the area for a few years, but also lived in many other places in BC and California during his 44 year life. He worked as a merchant seaman, and failed as a miner. Anyway, there’s a statue, so the story must be true.

Looking for a place to eat, July 2018

The core of Gastown is a few blocks along Water Street filled with bars, restaurants, clothing and decorating stores, gift shops, galleries, etc. The area was once the core of Granville, which grew and was renamed Vancouver in 1887 as the Canadian Pacific Railway was being built. The surrounding blocks are a bit more residential, and also quite trendy.

The overwhelming majority of the people we saw in Gastown were either shop workers or tourists, many of them from the giant cruise ships which inhabit Vancouver all season. As with our day yesterday, the crowds were just short of “too much”. We had no trouble walking on the sidewalk, nor getting a table for lunch.

Since we’re way past the souvenir stage, our shopping is generally very casual and we rarely actually buy anything. But it was pleasant today, and we enjoyed the area.

Art, but not “Art”, July 2018

After walking home, we rested for a while then went across the street to the Vancouver Art Gallery. They had a number of exhibits on their four floors of gallery space, much of which was terrible. I’d say the worst piece was a video of the (female) artist and a man taking turns washing each other. I’m not embarrassed to say I don’t get it, because I’m highly confident there’s nothing there to “get”. But there were also paintings by one of BC’s most famous artists, and another set by an artist from Ontario. These were mixed at best, with some interesting pieces, but a lot of stuff I wouldn’t hang in my house.