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The Fairmont Waterfront in Vancouver, British Columbia

Last week I had the pleasure of spending a night (hosted) at this luxury hotel. From my window I had a beautiful view of the harbor where the cruise ships dock. In fact the hotel even has an underground walkway that connects to the Cruise Ship Terminal. The room spelled comfort and caring from top to bottom.

I later learned that a recent $12 million renovation resulted in the hotel’s fresh, contemporary look. Besides going the extra mile to create 368 guestrooms fit for royalty, their eatery and lounge also benefitted from those dollars. Their buffet breakfast offers every item you’ve ever thought of eating in the morning. Look for honey and herbs that come from right on the property.

Vancouver’s Mayor, Gregor Robertson, is on a quest to make his city the “greenest” by the year 2020. The Fairmont Waterfront already has a head start with their organic rooftop herb garden and apiaries. The honey makes its way into chocolate desserts and cocktails. A Bee Butler provides complimentary tours of the bee activity and the gardens everyday. The hotel’s chef, Dana Hauser, shares a passion for sustainable culinary practices and has developed close relationships with local farmers and purveyors who support her views.

One of my all time favorites, Dungeness crab plays a signature role at the ARC restaurant. Hormone-free meat, artisan cheeses and free range eggs also appear on the menu. Kids five and under eat free, while those six to 12 are half price.

For a great central location and a pampered experience I highly recommend the Fairmont Waterfront.

My Favorite Trips of 2013

My friend and fellow travel writer, Sue Frause, wrote a summary of where she went in 2013 and what she recommended for the Examiner.com. I thought it was such a good idea that I’m doing it, too. All these trips came about because of writing assignments so most of my lodging and meals were complimentary, but that has not influenced my opinion. Here are some of the places I visited this year:

Alderbrook Resort & Spa (www.alderbrookresort.com)
Union, Washington

As I sat in the lobby by the blazing fire, I couldn’t help but think “what a great place to set a murder mystery.” Probably because I have read ones that have similar scenes. The setting in Union, Washington, is rural, yet serene. The lodge snuggles up against Hood Canal and the experience was almost surreal, it was so pleasant.

An Oregon reporter called Alderbrook the best lodge on the west side of Puget Sound. It’s outfitted with a wonderful spa, a gourmet restaurant and even has its own boat. If you want to rent a cottage, you can. They also have pet-friendly rooms. Whatever you choose to do, I hope you’ll have as memorable a time as I did.

White Pass
Washington

White Pass is one of our smaller places to engage in snow sports, but still beautiful with that crisp, clear mountain air and lots of snow. I attended the White Pass Winter Carnival with two other travel writers and wrote about it here for Northwest Travel Magazine. This event has been going on for years and even though I’m a native Washingtonian, I’d never heard of it before. The centerpiece of the event is a life-sized snow castle you can tour. At night a torchlight parade and fireworks light up the sky.

I also got to snowshoe for the first time on this trip. That’s now my new favorite snow sport. I’m not a skier or a snowboarder, but I do love just being in the mountains.

Sun Valley
Idaho

I had no idea what I’d been missing until this first visit. Sun Valley encompasses all my favorites in a compact little bundle – Lots of boutiques, many of which fall into the thrift category like the Gold Mine; all kinds of restaurants, snow and a Film Festival. Most of it is walkable, but if you’re tired or your destination seems a little far, the bus service is all free. Benches line the streets so you can sit and rest whenever you like.

I got to stay in the beautiful boutique hotel, Knob Hill Inn, a great location just on the edge of town. I woke up each morning to a panoramic view of the mountains. It was also next door to a cemetery, but Ernest Hemingway was buried there making that parcel of land another highlight of the trip.
Vancouver Island
British Columbia

Oh my gosh, I had no idea how gorgeous this locale could be. I’d only set foot in Victoria, the capitol, previously. This time, an individual press trip for a couple of stories I’d been assigned for Northwest Travel, had me taking the B.C. Ferry from Tsawwassen to Nanaimo. Those vessels don’t have far to go to become cruise-ship size. They even have a gift shop onboard.

The first night I had the rare and unique pleasure of staying in one of the Free Spirit Spheres in Qualicum Beach. These spheres, suspended between trees, literally give you a taste of heaven because you’re right up there next to it. The next day I fell in love with the small seaside town of Cowichan Bay and returned there two more times on this trip.

On my last night I got to sleep in a very well furnished yurt at Merridale Ciderworks. It had a large clawfoot tub not that far from the bed. And the restaurant at Merridale had fantastic food and of course, very tasty cider. I’d return in a heartbeat.

More on my 2013 trips next time.

Explore More Holiday Activities

All the gifts have been unwrapped, the tree is starting to shed and too much fattening food calls to us from the kitchen. It’s time to get out and enjoy some holiday offerings in the Pacific Northwest. Here’s a list to get you started.


Stroll down Celebration Lane at The Bellevue Collection, where live toy soldiers rove streets, music fills the air and a dazzling light show illuminates the lane, until December 31.

While in Bellevue, explore Bellevue Botanical Garden’s Garden d’Lights, a nationally recognized holiday display with more than half a million lights illuminating a winter wonderland, until January 4.

For an educational experience outside the school setting, an 1860s sewing machine is featured at a new Fort Nisqually exhibit highlighting its revolutionary impact on the daily lives of women in those times.

“Turning Drudgery into a Pastime” is on display through April 5, 2014 and is included in the price of admission to the fort. For more information, call (253) 591-5339 or go online to FortNisqually.org.

Fort Nisqually Living History Museum is a restoration of the Hudson’s Bay Company outpost on Puget Sound located in Point Defiance Park, Tacoma. Visitors experience life in Washington Territory during the Fur Trade era of the 1850s. Nine buildings are open to the public, including the Granary and the Factors House, both National Historic Landmarks, and a Visitor Center with Museum Store. Fort Nisqually Living History Museum is a facility of Metro Parks Tacoma.

How About Some Snow Play?
Squeals and laughter fill the air as people of all ages have a blast on snow trails.
Join a park ranger to learn the art of snowshoeing and discover how plants, animals, and people adapt to the challenging winter conditions at Mount Rainier.
When: Update 12/20/13. First-come, first-served guided snowshoe walks will begin on December 24, 2013. Snow conditions permitting, the walks are generally offered on Saturdays, Sundays, holidays, and daily during winter break from December 24 to January 1. After early January, walks are only offered on Saturdays and Sundays, and holidays. Walks start at 11:15 a.m. and 1:45 p.m. and meet inside the Jackson Visitor Center (near the information desk) in Paradise. Sign-ups begin 1 hour in advance of scheduled time.
Distance & Time: Snowshoe walks cover approximately 1.5 miles in 2 hours.
Group size: Snowshoe walks are limited to 25 people, eight years old or older, on a first-come, first-served basis. A sign-up sheet is available at the Jackson Visitor Center information desk one hour before each walk. All snowshoe walk participants must be present at sign-up.

Skiers, riders and foot passengers can all take a ride to the Crystal Mountain summit for captivating mountain views, a delectable meal at the Summit House and a great run down the slopes. Dogs allowed on the gondola, but not in the Summit House.

Don’t want to venture out just yet, then download the free interactive eCookbook from Visit Seattle, that highlights a range of talented chefs and signature Pacific Northwest cuisine. Fresh From Seattle features 26 recipes from 12 noteworthy local chefs, including acclaimed hotel chefs and award winners such as Tom Douglas, Maria Hines and Thierry Rautureau.

For more family fun check with my two favorite sites: Rubyslipperguide.com for the Eastside and SoundsFunMom.com for the South Sound.

Sunshine Mill Now Makes Wine

A couple of months ago I had the privilege of touring the Sunshine Mill Artisan Plaza and Winery in The Dalles, Oregon. Who would have thought a flour mill could have become a luxury wine tasting room and event venue. But it has. The cave-like dining area reminded me of a place where the Bachelorette might dine with one of her chosen men.

Why is this place called the Sunshine Mill?

If you’ve ever eaten Cheez-it crackers, those salty delights came from this very site when the flour mill was operational. Constructed of concrete and rebar, the Sunshine Flour Mill extended to a height of 125 feet, making it the tallest structure in The Dalles. For the most part the exterior remains the same to this day. Eventually cracker production decreased and the mill lost its viability. After closing shop, it stood unused until James and Molly Martin purchased it and converted it to a winery.  

The Martins named their winery, Quenett, which means steelhead. In a short amount of time, it has grown to be the second largest winery in Oregon. Quenett produces 2,500 cases of bottled wine and 125,000 cases of Copa Di Vino a year.

Are you a “Shark Tank” fan? If you watch this Friday night TV show, you may have seen James Martin. On two different occasions he appeared before the millionaires (the Sharks) asking for support for his invention of wine by the glass. Each plastic glass contains a serving of wine and is sealed with foil and a plastic cap. These can be purchased at the winery and in grocery stores. I brought some home and really wish I had more. (I just noticed on the website you can put in your zip code and find the nearest place to buy Copa Di Vino). Excuse me I need to go to the store. 

Copa Di Vino

These little gems make great picnic accompaniments plus the wine tastes divine. Martin’s Copa Di Vino (the wine by the glass) has become one of the fastest growing brands in America. And he turned down the deals the sharks offered him.

The long and cavernous wine tasting room has chandeliers made entirely from wine bottles, a comfy couch or two, tables and more to look at then you’ll find in any other winery. It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re near The Dalles.

Keep an eye on Sunshine because plans have been set into motion to make the grain silos into a seven-story hotel. If you think James Martin has unrealistic dreams, check out the photo gallery for the Quaker Square Hotel in Akron, Ohio. Converting grain silos into lavish lodging has already been done.

Explore the Recycled Spirits of Iron Sculpture Park

When I visited the place where Dan Klennert creates and displays his artwork, I had no idea that my husband had been there a number of times before and had taken several of his friends and a brother to see this amazing art. It turns out we even had taken some of the very same photos.

Guess who this native Northwesterner is.

Klennert recycles in the broadest definition of the word and what he makes from what most of us would think is junk turns out to be beautiful. He keeps a room full of driftwood and another with 60 tons of horseshoes in it. A larger-than-life thoroughbred he made was created almost entirely out of horseshoes. In another room, he has several piles of “stuff” and he can tell you just what each pile is going to become as soon as he has the right part to complete it or has the time to get to it. A motorcycle, a bird, a sea creature…

His love of art began when he was practicing welding for a job. That welding morphed into artworks and he’s been creating art from recyclables for the past 40 years. He’s shown them around the U.S.

Daniel Klennert, artist extraordinaire.

This amazing four-acre sculpture park is located in Ashford, Washington, on the way to Mount Rainier. Klennert is happy to have you look around, take photos and ask him questions. And he hopes his art will put a smile on your face. It did mine.

While visiting, you're welcome to use this award-winning outhouse.

Signs, Signs, Wherefore Art Thou?

I rarely speak derogatorily about my state, but what is the deal with not having signs so people can find area attractions?

 

Besides directional signs to attractions, the powers that be let the bushes and greenery grow over speed limit signs and stop signs so they are completely hidden. The better to give you tickets, I guess.

Yet when I drive south to Oregon, their signs are designed with very large fonts and easily visible – not hiding behind bushes.

My latest sign fiasco was last week when I needed to find a wildlife refuge in Ridgefield, Washington. People told me it was huge. Still I couldn’t find it. One sign embellished the highway and told me where to exit. After the exit, I had four choices of roads, but that was the end of the signs. I tried driving a couple miles down each of my choices and tried the web site directions and the GPS on my phone. Still didn’t find the refuge.

I think the people who host garage or yard sales should be in charge of our signs. They have signs everywhere and certainly know how to direct people to their yards so they can spend money.

 

How is the signage in your state? Any suggestions on how to get Washington to come to the sign party?

Flower photos for your viewing pleasure because I couldn’t find those gosh darn signs.

Travel and Words: An Excellent Conference

I’ve gone to the Travel & Words Conference for the past two years. Not only is it set in an appealing Northwest location every time, but the opportunities to speak with local Convention & Visitor Bureau representatives, other writers and editors makes it so worthwhile. Writers need to leave their desks once in awhile and socialize. If you’re already a travel writer or would like to dip your toe into this genre, I urge you to consider attending.

Some friendly faces you may see at Travel and Words

Here are the details:  Pacific Northwest Travel Writers Conference runs from April 29-30, at Fort Worden State Park Conference Center in historic Port Townsend, Washington. This year’s theme is “Go! Pitch. Write. Publish.” Some of my colleagues will be speaking on topics that will help all of us with our travel writing.

 

JASON BRICK, of Portland, Oregon, will share his strategies for writing full time as well as being a house-dad and using his experience from the business world as a springboard for gaining paying gigs online and in print

MICHAEL FAGIN, from Redmond, Wash., writes, blogs and forecast the weather. He will disclose tips on how to cast a wider net with your freelancing endeavors.

SUE FRAUSE, who lives on Whidbey Island, writes, blogs, posts on Facebook and Twitter, hosts a culinary theatre show and also is on the road constantly. You must ask her what her time management secrets are. She reveals what the travel writing lifestyle entails.

KAREN GILB, of Vancouver, Wash., writes fiction as well as travel and blogs. She’ll share her new strategy for expanding her Northwest writer’s brand in 2012-13.

MARTY WINGATE, from Seattle, writes mysteries (“The Garden Plot” and the “Potting Shed Mystery” series) and about gardens plus develops garden tours.  Her topic for the conference will be how she’s marketing her writing and traveling interests.

CARRIE UFFINDELL, who lives in Portland, blogs, writes fiction and specializes in writing about family travel in the Northwest and in the country of Wales.

See the Event Schedule, Travel and Tourism Exhibitors, and Registration details. I hope to see you April 29-30 in Port Townsend!

Fascinated by Fascination

 

I have a new favorite game. It’s not as accessible as Words with Friends but it is equally addicting and even more fun plus it’s a little physical.

I just returned from a trip the northern Oregon Coast and in Seaside at the Funland Arcade I had the opportunity to play Fascination.

Invented in the 1920’s, it’s a game similar to Skeeball or Rollerball. You roll a ball under a Plexiglas screen and when it falls through one of the 25 holes provided, a light lights up on the backboard. Your goal is to get a “bingo” either across, down or diagonally with the lights. An auctioneer-type emcee lets everyone know how many lights they need for a bingo to keep the challenge going.

Sometimes he gave us two balls, which really confuses non-multitaskers like myself or sometimes we played black out. In the end I finally won a Frisbee. Others walked away with Seaside coffee mugs, six packs of soda made in Seaside and saltwater taffy.

I highly recommend it as a delightful family activity free of video games and screens. Fascination is operated by relays like our telephones used to be.

The Fascination Room is open seven days a week in the summer and on Thursday, Friday and Saturday the rest of the year.

Burgerville Does It Right

The Burgerville chain encompasses 39 quick-serve restaurants in the Pacific Northwest. Six cities in South Central and Southwest Washington have at least one. The closest location to the Seattle area is the restaurant in Centralia. We try to always stop and eat a hamburger there when we pass through.

Because the hamburgers are made from vegetarian-fed and antibiotic-free beef, they seem to taste much better than most. Add a slice of Tillamook Cheddar and you have a delicious sandwich.

Burgerville relies on local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible. Blackberries for their milkshakes, sweet onions from Walla Walla for onion rings and hazelnuts from Oregon for their Wild Smoked Salmon and Hazelnut Salad.

Not only does this chain serve high-quality, tasty food, but they also use many sustainable business practices. They purchase 100 percent renewable wind power credits equal to the energy use in all 39 locations plus their corporate headquarters. By using wind power of this magnitude, Burgerville eliminates a huge amount of greenhouse gases. This is the equivalent of taking 1,700 cars off the road.

Constantly improving and expanding their composting and recycling programs also makes Burgerville a “green” company.

And this company loves their employees. They provide healthcare insurance, which is very rare at quick-serve restaurants. Burgerville contributes more than 90 percent of the insurance costs for employees and their dependents.

If you’re in the neighborhood, I urge you to sample some of their menu items. They have hamburgers and lots more to choose from.

Dining in Yakima

Last weekend we had the opportunity to visit Yakima, on the eastern side of the Cascade Mountain Range. Besides a ton of wineries that produce award-winning wines, some of the best dining experiences can also be found there.

Lunchtime at Gasperetti's

For lunch we tried Gasperetti’s. The restaurant’s history dates back to 1943 when John Gasperetti opened a dining establishment of the same name in Union Gap (close to Yakima). Menus now reflect that first restaurant and the Italian recipes have been passed down. The current chef, Brad Patterson, relishes in using the bounty of fruits and vegetables available in the Yakima Valley.

I had the Fresh Dungeness Crabmeat Salad, which makes my mouth water just typing the words. Besides the Northwest’s signature crab, the salad combines romaine, pecans, and julienned Yakima apples. I also heard from one Yakima resident that it was her favorite entrée at Gasperetti’s also.

Dining with a white tablecloth and cloth napkins at lunchtime made me feel pampered and rich. I highly recommend it. We ate in the Bistro and the Bar was also open, but the restaurant must only be open for dinner.

A new restaurant, 5 North Metropolitan Kitchen & Lounge, beckoned us for dinner. It was difficult to find because the sign was small, but the hostess promised they were getting a large banner soon so everyone could find them.

I’d read a review in the local newspaper so I ventured out on a limb and tried the Root Vegetable Chips the reviewer raved about. Great way to down vegetables, if you’re not a big fan. I loved the sweet and saltiness of the potatoes, turnips and rutabagas.

Root Vegetable Chip appetizer at 5 North

This would be a great place for a romantic dinner – it’s small and intimate, but the food was over-the-top delicious.