Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
Today is the Chinese New Year or the Lunar New Year. It is the start of the Chinese Lunar Year. Today is a big deal to the Chinese people and the day is usually a national holiday with great celebration (food, fun and fireworks). Millions are celebrating the year of the Ox.
To help you get inspired, here are some web links to help you get into the mood for the Year of the Ox and the Chinese New Year:
Saturday, January 17, 2009
I started my day with a free continental breakfast at my hotel. This continental was unlike those cheap Costco muffin spreads. There was fresh fruit juices, dry cereals, oatmeal, freshly baked goods (try the orange almond muffins...they're my favorite), hard boiled eggs and freshly brewed coffee and Numi teas. The views from the dining area is very nice. Grab a free newspaper to catch up on daily events.
Here's a tip for San Juan Island traveling. Be sure to fill up gas in Friday Harbor as there are no gas stations along the way. I started my tour of the island by headed to Spring Street. Take a right on Spring Street and a right onto Second Street (which becomes Guard Street). Follow the signs (they're small) to Roche Harbor. You'll need to take a right on Tucker Road (which becomes Roche Harbor Road) and it will take about 20 minutes to get to Roche Harbor. There's some amazing lakes on the island and you'll pass a few with beautiful views from the road.
About 1/2 way to Roche Harbor, you'll pass San Juan Vineyards on the right. There is a tasting room in an old historic school house. They were closed while I was there. I was really bummed!
After you pass under the arch that says Roche Harbor Resorts, you'll pass the Westcott Bay Sculpture Park on your left. It'll look rather bizarre. The "park" is nestled in 19 acres of land by a pond and features over 100 sculptures in the open fields. At first it'll seem silly to stop here but look around. It's well worth it. The entrance fee is $5 for adults. On the off season, it is based on the honor system. Leave your donation in envelopes provided. Tour the sculptures. They are all unique and amazing! They feature various media such as metal, cedar, aluminum, steel, marble, granite, concrete, bronze, sandstone and others. Some were fun and whimsical, others were of nature, some abstract and some were emotional.
The most moving piece was one called "Silent Words" by Lloyd Whannell made of Texas limestone & bronze. It was accompanied by these words: "Silent words spoken to the night sky, reflected by the stars and heard in the hearts of those with silent minds."
The one that made me laugh was this one. It was odd. I noticed it as I was driving up. There was a large field and a large easel in the middle of it. I wondered what that was about. In the middle of my tour of the sculptures, I found it. Walking up to the back of it, the easel was large. As I saw the front of it, I let out a big laugh. It was a large mirror so the picture was of yourself and the beautiful trees behind you in the distance. Absolutely brilliant! I had fun with this one!
It takes a while to walk through all the sculptures but it's fun. There's a pond in the middle of the park that's very tranquil. While I was there a bunch of sea gulls decided it would be fun to play in the water. If you like, you can also walk through the nature trail developed by island Girl Scouts that will take you through a native forest and close to Westcott Bay, home of the world famous oysters.
Leaving the park, take a left and continue towards Roche Harbor. The Hotel de Haro is on the middle of town and was built in 1886. It is on the National Register of Historic Places. After leaving Roche Harbor, retrace your steps and take a right onto West Valley Road. Follow the signs to English Camp (part of the San Juan Island National Historical Park).
The Pig War was set on San Juan Island. In 1859, an American settler killed a British soldier's pig as it was eating his crops. The dispute escalated until about 500 American soldiers and 2,200 British soldiers with warships were set to battle. Luckily, there was no bloodshed and the dispute was settled in 1872 in the Americans' favor by Emperor William I of Germany. The British camp is on the northern side of the island and the American camp is on the South end.
You can park in the lot and walk down to the shore of Garrison Bay where the British Royal Marines occupied San Juan Island for 12 yrs. The island was eventually awarded to the US and the British vacated the camp. There's many trails here for hiking. Pick one!
If you return to West Valley Road, take a right. Keep an eye out on the right for Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm. Be sure to stop to see them. The alpaca are very cute and friendly. There's a gift shop on site also. I stopped to take some pictures of the alpaca in the front pastures. They are curious little guys and a few of them came in for a closer look. They even let me pet them. They are super soft and sweet animals.
Continue on West Valley Road then take a right onto Mitchell Bay Road. Follow the paved road and take a left onto West Side Road. Follow this road down the west side of the island to San Juan County Park. The park is great for picnics, camping, watching wildlife and kayaking. It was also were the Owen's house was built and filmed for the movie Practical Magic starring Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock and Aidan Quinn. Remember this flick? I loved this movie!
The park has amazing views!
If you get back to West Side Road and take a right, drive a few more minutes until you reach Lime Kiln Point State Park (Whale Watch Park) on your right. This park must be spectacular during the spring and summer. It's the only park in the world dedicated to shore based orca whale watching. Short trails down to the water's edge and along the shore make for great whale watching when the orcas return to the island. There's also a working lighthouse at the point. There are also many hiking trails in this park.
Leaving the park, turn right and south to continue along West Side Road. It will eventually become Bailer Hill Road and the drive is amazing! You will pass rocky overlooks (the views are stunning!), shady bays and picturesque farmland. Don't be too distracted by the scenery or you'll miss Wold Road on your left. Turn down this road to get to Pelindaba Lavender Farm on the right side. The farm is one of the largest in the country and produces the widest variety of lavender products. The farm was closed when I drove by but I took the opportunity to snap some pics.
Backtrack to Bailer Hill Road. Enjoy the scenery and occasional views of Mt. Baker. Gorgeous!! Take a right on Little Road and a right on Cattle Point Road. Drive for about 5 minutes to the American Camp (the other half of San Juan Island National Historical Park). This is where the American troops were stationed during the Pig War. Take a hike on the self-guided trails to Redoubt which is surrounded by grazing land that was once Hudson's Bay Company cattle and sheep ranch.
This park is so peaceful. As you walk from the parking lot into the field, you're greeted by a great view of Mt. Baker. As I first approached the trail, I was startled by a noise in the bushes. Then I saw it....a fox! It was the most amazing experience. He was so close. Before I could snap a picture, he took off. He was a quick little bugger. I continued up the trail. On my way back, I happened to spot 2 of them near the fields closer to the water. I followed for a closer look. They took off towards the ocean and I continued to follow them. I stopped after it seemed like they were gone. I turned around and realized that I was surrounded by 360 degrees of pure wilderness. The views were amazing! In front of me was the ocean, on either side were fields of prairie-land. To my back were hills.
I stood there for a moment, soaking in my zen moment. All I could hear was the wildlife. Then I heard what sounded like dogs barking. I turned to see the 2 red foxes zigzagging up the hill. I watched them disappear over the hill before heading back. That had to be my favorite part of the whole trip!
From here, I headed back to Friday Harbor via Cattle Point Road. There were many gorgeous views of Mt. Baker along the way.
When I got back into town, I was starving. I headed to Cannery House Restaurant. It's located on First Street (up the street from the Whale Museum and across the street from the courthouse). Talk to Richard. He's quite friendly. They serve fabulous sandwiches, soups and salads. They all look so yummy, it's hard to choose! I settled for a 1/2 of their special sandwich, a Crab salad (crab, mayo, capers, shallots, roasted garlic and other secret ingredients). The breads are fabulous and homemade. I tried the 9 grain and wasn't disappointed. I also had a cup of the clam chowder. It was yummy too! I was so full! I had a seat by the window and had a nice view of the harbor.
After a late lunch, I stopped by The Whale Museum. It's a very small museum with models of whales and skeletons and videos. There's a wall for recent whale sitings too. The museum promotes stewardship of whales and their ecosystem.
I decided to walk around the shops in Friday Harbor. There's a delightful wine shop near the ferry docks. They do wine tasting. Pelindaba Lavender has a downtown retail shop that sells their goods. They have everything lavender...from bath salts, to lotions, to wreaths, to salts and sugars, to infused teas and coffees, to fabulous baked goods. They're located on 1st Street. Try the lavender shortbread cookies. They're delicious!!
If you're looking for Native American artwork, try Arctic Raven Gallery. They have an amazing selection of Native American artists and feature prints, sculptures, masks, glass works and other fabulous pieces. They are also located on First Street.
There's many more little shops scattered throughout Friday Harbor. It's fun just to window shop too!
For dinner I went to The Place Bar & Grill. It's the only restaurant located right on the water. My table was perfect, right next to the window. I couldn't decide between the oysters or scallops. I chose the oysters because they were fresh from Orcas Islands (choosing the local finds). The Judd Cove Oysters are roasted on the 1/2 shell with a hazelnut garlic butter. There were 9 oysters which was perfect. They were served with oven roasted red potatoes and fresh steamed veggies (carrots, broccoli and baby bok choy..yum!). I ordered a glass of the 2006 San Juan Vineyards Reisling since I didn't get to sample any at the vineyard. It was a nice Reisling. I was thinking I was full and wasn't even going to peak at the dessert menu. However, the waitress brought me one so I peeked. The pear tart looked too good to resist. It featured Washington pears baked in a shortbread tart and served with a homemade toffee sauce. OMG...it is soooo good!
San Juan Vineyards
3136 Roche Harbor Road
phone: (360) 378-WINE
Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm
152 Blazing Tree Road
Pelindaba Lavender Farm
33 Hawthorne Lane
phone: (360) 378-4248
The Cannery House Restaurant
174 N. First Street
phone: (360) 378-6505
The Whale Museum
62 First Street N.
phone: (360) 378-4710
Pelindaba Lavender Retail Store
150 First Street
phone: (360) 378-6900
Arctic Raven Gallery
130 S. First Street
phone: (360) 378-3433
The Place Bar & Grill
1 Spring Street
phone: (360) 378-8707
**Pictures coming soon!**
Friday, January 16, 2009
I've never been to the San Juan Islands but I've always heard people rave about it. I've gone so far as made reservations and had to cancel at the last minute before. With a few days off, I decided why not? It was low season for the islands (as it was winter). I checked the weather report before leaving.....mid 50's and slightly overcast. Good enough.
I headed north from Portland to Seattle. The San Juan Islands are located between Washington state and Vancouver Island (Canada). It's a really cool group of about 175 named islands. About 60 are populated and 10 are designated state marine parks. Each has its unique scenery and flair. To get here, you have to take a ferry from Anacortes, WA. Anacortes is about 1 1/2 - 2 hrs north of Seattle.
Most of my drive from Portland, Oregon to Seattle, Washington was foggy. It was a relatively warm winter day (mid 50's). After hitting Seattle, I kept heading north on I-5. I got off on exit 230 and followed Highway 20 to Anacortes. Believe it or not but once I got off of I-5, the weather instantly changed. It was sunny!! Was this a good sign of things to come?
Once in Anacortes, I look a left on 12th Street. I followed the signs to the ferry. Driving down to the ferry dock in Anacortes was beautiful. It's a very cute seaside community with great views of the water.
When you pay your fare at the toll booth, keep in mind that fares to the San Juans include a round trip ticket. You will only pay going west bound. Washington State Ferry recommends getting to the terminal (passenger + vehicle) about 1 hour ahead of sailing time (2 hrs during peak season). Cars are taken on a first come, first served basis. The ferries stop at the 4 main islands that make up the San Juan Islands: San Juan Island, Lopez Island, Shaw Island and Orcas Island. See ferry schedules at www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/. Keep in mind that if you would like to leave your vehicle at the terminal, you can for a fee. You can go as a passenger and walk or bike on the island.
I took an express ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. It was a direct sail and didn't stop on any of the other islands. It took about 1 hour by ferry. The ferry through the Rosario Strait and San Juan Channel was beautiful. I could just imagine living here!!
San Juan Island was first settled by the Lummi Indians. They settled on the north end of the island to take advantage of the annual salmon migrations. Many of the Lummi were killed by Western diseases such as smallpox during the 18th and 19th centuries. Explorers from England and Spain came to San Juan Island during the 18th century and populated the island in the mid 1800's. The entire island is rich in culture and history and was the setting for the Pig War (more history later).
I arrived in Friday Harbor in the late afternoon. I had made last minute reservations via phone the day before for 1 night at the Friday Harbor House. I had called and since it was low season, they had a special going on....$119 per night (best available room at check it). I had read up on the hotel and had heard good things. The hotel contains 23 rooms that include jetted tubs and some have beautiful harbor views. All rooms have at least a partial harbor view. Regular peak room rates are from $130 - $360 (YIKES!).
Friday Harbor House is located right up the road from the ferry terminal. It is a hotel with 23 rooms. Parking is free in the lot. I checked in and Lisa at the front desk was most helpful! I had only made 1 night's reservations as I wasn't too sure of my travel plans. I asked at the desk if my room was available the following night and it was. 2 nights please!! While I was there (January), the restaurant was under renovation and was set to re-open June 2009. Too bad as I heard the food there was pretty tasty.
Lisa had upgraded my room to a harbor view. It was spectacular! She says room #35 is her favorite. I can see why! It is located on the 3rd floor and as soon as I opened up the door, all I could say was "WOW!". The harbor views are absolutely stunning with floor to ceiling sliding glass doors! Here's my view from my window.
Some additional perks of the hotel are: free wi-fi internet connection (be sure to ask for the password at the front desk), free continental breakfast (it's not your normal Costco muffins), Aveda products (shampoos and soaps) and friendly and very helpful staff. At the main desk be sure to check out the sample menus of local restaurants if you haven't done your research. Be sure to plan ahead as some restaurants close during low season. If you're there during high season, I suggest scouting restaurants ahead of time and making reservations.
Also, at the front desk of the hotel, ask to see the list of movies that you can check out. Most movies are older but you'll find a nice variety. If you didn't bring a book to read, see some of the ones left in your room. Also, games are available in the hallway. What a great little retreat!! I would definitely come back again!
Restaurants are funny here. Like I said, some are closed during the low season. Some have odd days of operation. The restaurant at my hotel was closed for renovations. One of the restaurants I wanted to try was also closed for the low season. The two restaurants that were recommended to me. The first one that I called was only open Friday - Tuesday. The other one normally should be open but they were closed the day I was there.
I was left with little options. Luckily there was a quaint Italian place right across the parking lot from my hotel. It was called Vinny's Ristorante. If you can, ask for a window seat and you can see the ferry's coming into port. The dining room is nicely lit. You can see the kitchen and the cooks busy at work from most of the tables. They have a lovely pasta dish with Dungeness crab. It's called Linguine alla Granchio (Dungeness crab sauteed with butter and garlic and tossed with tomato, fresh basil and linguine) for $23.95. It was supper delicious. I ate it all! Get a glass of Chardonnay with your meal. They have a great wine list and selection of both white and red wine by the glass.
130 West Street
Friday Harbor, WA 98250
165 West Street
Friday Harbor, WA 98250
Thursday, January 15, 2009
So since my last adventure in Thailand didn't go as planned, I'm jones-ing for another vacation. I've recently been looking for an affordable winter/spring adventure. I've been toying around with Greece but the recent riots have me a little skiddish. I was very close to booking a Costa Rican adventure but the recent 6.1 magnitude earthquake made me nervous.
I have also been looking at Ireland, Scotland & England. I really really want to go to Spain and Portugal but the cost is a little too steep for me right now. Greece looks totally awesome right now too! After my Thai adventure, you could say that I'm worried I have bad vacation karma.
I'm constantly searching sites for good deals on vacations. Some of my favorite sites to drool over are:
http://www.budgettravel.com/ (click on Real Deals)
http://www.frommers.com/ (click on Deals and News)
If anyone else knows about websites with good travel deals, feel free to share. Right now I'm just daydreaming of my next adventure. The travel bug has definitely bitten. I'm due to put in my 1st round vacation soon so I have to decide on a when (to go). The where can always wait. I think I'm leaning towards Europe this year. We'll see what trouble I get myself into next.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Tuesday, January 13, 2009
Monday, January 12, 2009
Yesterday I had made arrangements for a day trip by speedboat to 4 of Krabi's islands. My trip was fairly cheap - 1000 BHT or about $30 USD.
I met my group at the lobby and we made our way down the beach to our speedboat. We went straight to Tup Isalnd. Tup Island was actually 2 islands that were separated via a small sand bank. At high tide, they seem to be 2 islands but at low tide they are one. We arrived at an in-between time and you could easily go from one sandbank to the next.
I decided to do some snorkeling. There were a lot of fish here. There weren't too many coral but lots of rocks. It was a beautiful island!
Next we drove by Chicken Island for photos. Chicken Island is named because of the long thin limestone slab that sticks up over the island and a mound on top. It looks just like a chicken's head.
We drove around Chicken island and anchored near shore for more snorkeling. The crew threw bread in the water and the fish came in a hurry. There were so many of them! There was a huge feeding frenzy. You didn't even have to snorkel to see them! After seeing the frenzy, I wasn't sure I wanted to get into the water with them. Yikes!
I did end up going in and seeing them up close. They're called tiger fish. I saw many other types of fish also.
We then shuttled over to Poda Island. Poda Island was very pretty and maybe one of my favorites! We stopped there for quite a while to hang out. I did more snorkeling right off shore. The beach was pretty and calming.
Just offshore was a large limestone island that shoots out of the water. It was amazing! We also had lunch on the island.
We gathered our things and were off to Railay East Beach. This beach was located just on the other side of my resort. Railay East was amazing! It was a small beach but very lively. There were lots of locals selling all sorts of snacks on the beach.
Phra Nang Cave is located at the end of Railay East Beach. If you're thinking that the red object on the right side of the picture below looks like a giant p*nis, you're right.
Phra Nang is also called Princess Cave. It is an important shrine for local fisherman. The legend says that during the 3rd century BC, an Indian princess was on a voyage and her ship sunk during a storm. The spirit of the drowned princess was said to come to inhabit the cave. She is said to grant favors to all who come to pay respect. Till this day, local fisherman place carved wooden phalluses in the cave as offerings in the hope that the spirit will provide a bountiful catch.
For more pictures of my Krabi Island tour, click here.
At the end of my journey, we were taken back to Railay West Beach. I hung out at the beach for the rest of the afternoon.
I decided I wanted a snack. I walked past BoBo's Bar into an alley of shops. At the end of the shop was a Thai pancake stand. Remember these? There's called rotee. I had a banana and Nutella rotee.
After more fun in the sun, I walked over to the Railay Bay Resort Restaurant. I sat down and had an appetizer while I watched the sun go down. I tried the Seafood Spring Rolls for 220 BHT. They were okay. Totally not what I had expected. I thought it would be pieces of seafood, instead it was a seafood paste. The view of the sunset was gorgeous.
Much later that night I decided to try my own hotel's restaurant. Since I was in love with tamarind sauce, I got the mixed seafood with tamarind sauce for 180 BHT. This one was served with a few prawns but mostly squid and fish.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
By the time I got back to the hotel and took a shower, it was almost time to check out. My driver and bell boy from the next hotel were here. We loaded up the van and set off for Krabi. The bell boy was very chatty. Along the way, he asked if I wanted to stop at the local waterhole. I thought why not? We made a small stop at the Than Bokkharani National Park in Ao Leuk. It was on the way to Krabi and very pretty. My new friend told me it was quite popular with the locals. The locals actually swim in the ponds. The park was small but featured forests and mangroves. Water flowed out from a narrow cave in a cliff and flowed into a large lotus pool. The pool then spilled into a stream and divides and cascades into many smaller cascades or little waterfalls.
After our little side trip, we were back on our way to the hotel. We reached Krabi and made our way to the beach. My hotel was located on Railay West Beach. It was only accessible via longtail boat. The launching point was Aonang Beach. Aonang was pretty. White sands, blue-green water and spectacular limestone cliffs provided a dramatic backdrop.
The ride was very beautiful and scenic. The Adaman Coast of Thailand is stunning. There's lush green forests surrounded by amazing limestone cliffs. Along the way we passed by many other longtail boats, snorkelers and kayakers. Here's a glimpse of some of the views.
After getting settled, I hung out on the beach. It was very peaceful and very remote. There were about 4 or 5 other resorts on the west side of the beach. I had heard that the sunsets on Railay West Beach were spectacular. I sat and patiently waited. It was amazing! The pictures don't do it justice!
After a few drinks in the bar, I decided on my favorite...a green papaya salad with a side of Thai fried chicken and sticky rice. You maybe asking why did you order fried chicken in Thailand? You haven't tried this fried chicken. It was very good. It was marinated in some kind of teriyaki sauce. For those of you from Kauai, it was similar to Hanamaulu chicken (YUM!).
Mali Seafood Restaurant & Bar