Saturday, July 30, 2011

Saturday’s Satchel: BC’s Queer Film Festival, Music and More. . .

Travel tidbits from the satchel came from this week's emails:
kirkland 031 *Vancouver, British Columbia – Our neighbor to the north is celebrating the arts with two August event traditions.  Both have been around for years so if you can’t make it this year, keep them in mind for next year:

MusicFest (formerly Festival Vancouver), now in it’s 11th year, will present some 40 concerts between Aug. 5 – 14, including this year (2011) a performance by Sarah McLachlan with the Vancouver Symphony.

Queer Film Festival, Aug. 11 – 21,is the city’s second-largest film festival.  In addition to viewing independent films, many of the films creators will be on hand as well.
Click the links for schedules, ticket information and other details.
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solsticetransatlantic 043 Lisbon, Portugal – Ever dream of being named an Ambassador to some far away country? In case it doesn’t happen, you can still stay in a place that once housed an ambassador.

Independente Hostel and Suites, at Rua Sao Pedro Alcantara, 81, where Lisbon’s Bairro Alto and Principe Real districts converge, is now offering pre-opening bookings.

The place, originally built as a home for the Swiss ambassador, offers 114 beds in 14 rooms (prices from 15 – 20E) or a private suite for 62.50E.  There’s a restaurant, bar and beer garden as well.
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cretan peoplenplaces 018 Greece – Kalokairi, is Greek for summer. It means, “good time”.
Hope you are having just that where ever you are this week!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Washington Wednesday: Kirkland

J. Smith photo - (c) 2011
Kirkland, the city just east of Seattle on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, in recent years has been called Washington's Sausalito (one of California's trendy, touristy beach towns).

On sunny days (this summer, sadly, there have been few) it just might put you in mind of a California beach town; but Kirkland's  worth a visit for what it offers, not what it is like

J. Smith photo, (C) 2011
Just take a walk along Kirkland's Lake Washington Blvd., the scent of coconut oil tanning creams wafting through the air,  the beach parks filled with sunbathers, and panoramic, spectacular views over Lake Washington of the Olympic Mountain range and the Seattle cityscape in the distance and you'll know what I mean.

Or take in a performance at the Kirkland Performance Center, visit one of its many art galleries. . .

Kirkland is a care-free, kick back and still somewhat undiscovered destination for those seeking an alternative to staying in its big city neighbor to the west, Seattle. Despite a population swell to 80,000 this year as result of an annexation, Kirkland's downtown still has a small-town feel, with art galleries, restaurants, coffee and beverage lounges and shops housed in low-rise, mid-century buildings.

Founded in 1889 by Peter Kirk, who planned to build a steel mill on the lake shore here, Kirkland is home to two luxury hotels: The Woodmark on the banks of Lake Washington at Carillon Point and The Heathman, in the heart of the downtown. For those not into hotels, there's also Loomis House B & B, one of the few remaining 1889 Victorian homes built by the Kirkland Land and  Improvement Company.
J. Smith photo, (C) 2011
The place - no matter where you go - is a walking-friendly town (dog friendly, as well, for those you who travel with your four-footed family members).   And, here are some of our recommended routes:
* The stretch of Lake Washington Blvd. between Carillon Point and downtown Kirkland. (Just under three miles round-trip.  Watch for signs along the way directing you to public pathways along the water's edge - some are tucked away behind condominiums.
* Along Lake Washington Blvd. to Marina Park, Park Lane and Central -- an art walk to find as many of its big bronze public sculptures as you can.
*Through the gardens at Heritage Park, at the corner of Central and Market Streets. (If you have the energy, continue walking north on Market to experience Kirkland’s Historic District.
* Onto the Marina Park or Carillon Point docks for some spectacular lake and Seattle cityscape views.
* Tired of walking?  Rest up in one of the lakefront parks.
If You Go:

Kirkland is just east of Seattle, (20 miles north of SeaTac) and can be reached by using public transit.  King County METRO provides a free trip planner or call, 206-553-3000, to help you plan your route.  Taxis are also available.

Explore Kirkland, web site provides information about upcoming events, accommodations and entertainment.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday’s Satchel: Vegas and Miami Eats

We love Vegas Happy Hours – it’s that time period in late afternoon or early evening when restaurants and/or bars offer discount appetizers and drinks. And there are many to choose from on The Strip.

On this trip, with 100+ temperatures outside we didn’t want much more than the small nibbles, so we were off to Canaletto in the Venetian Resort’s San Marco Square.

Often times a Happy Hour requires sitting at a restaurant’s bar which provides an extra bonus: an opportunity to meet some interesting fellow travelers. And this time, it led to a restaurant tip we plan to pursue the next time we head to Florida for a cruise.
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We’d struck up a conversation with Vegas visitors, Dina and Rodrigo Gonzalez, from Miami, Florida, and as we munched and sipped together, we learned they are co-owners of Basilico, a restaurant that’s been serving northern Italian cuisine at its Miami Springs location since 1998. (It has been Zagat rated ‘excellent’ every year since 2002!)

Along with their founding business partner, Carlos Loya, they opened a second Basilico, (which is Italian for basil), in Doral in 2010.

We checked out the restaurant’s web site after returning home and now can hardly wait to try one of the two the next time we are in the area. Basilico is located at 5879 NW 36th St. Miami, 33166, 305-871-3585 or 10405 N.W. 41st St., Doral, 33178,  305-406-3737.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Washington Wednesday: Yakima’s Ale Trail

 Yakima Ale Trail 002 This week's focus is on the Yakima Valley, where I grew up, because  nearly 80% of the United State’s hop crop is grown there.

And for those of you who don’t drink brewskies (aka beer and/or ale) hops, well, specifically, the hop flowers that grow on the vines are one of the four key ingredients used in the liquid gold.
Yakima Ale Trail 017

I wrote an article about Yakima’s hops that appears in today’s Seattle Times, so I won’t tell you any more than to click on the link to the paper.  Even if you don’t read what I wrote, be sure to check out the photos as the paper’s photographer did a spectacular job and they created a great map that you could use should you find yourself ‘hop-ing’ through the Valley as I did.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Free and Easy Vegas-style

No matter what end of  The Strip we stay on, a visit to the Conservatory and Botanical Gardens at the Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd., is a must.  And, it is just one of the many free and easy things to do while in Las Vegas.  Since it's at the top of our favorite freebies list, let's start there and then set out:

vegas 057 1. Inside the Bellagio: Gifted artists, florists and engineers create seasonal displays that always seems to be a bit better than the last. There’s a very Americana summer theme featuring a 40-foot Ferris wheel and an 11-foot carousel underneath a canopy of hot-air balloons right now (through Sept. 11)..
vegas 062

2. Outside the Bellagio: The fountain show takes place daily every half hour from 3 – 7 pm weekdays and from noon- 7 weekends; then every 15 minutes in the evenings until midnight. (It is spectacular at night with the fountains soaring as high as 460 feet).

3. The Flamingo Wildlife Habitat, 3555 Las Vegas Blvd, S, (just across the street from the Bellagio) is a 15-acre habitat with birds, fish, pheasants, ducks, koi and of course, flamingos! The habitat is open 24 hours a day.  You’ll find this quiet, green oasis  tucked away from the street to the back of the Flamingo.

4. The Forum Shops Fountains, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd., S, is the shopping center connected to Caesar's. The fountain show runs every hour, beginning at 10 am.  Take time to visit the Atlantis Aquarium that is to the back of the fountain. There’s a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium offered weekdays at 3:15 pm.

5. Free shows at The Mirage and its next-door-neighbor, Treasure Island take place each evening and sidewalks along those two casinos fill early for the free 042
Off The Strip:
6.  Freemont Street Experience takes place each night between Main Street and Las Vegas Blvd. Light shows on a four-block-long display system begin at dusk and then play on the hour until midnight. The screen is some 90 feet above a pedestrian mall lined with shops, restaurants, bars, casinos so there’s plenty to keep your attention.

Note: Times were current as of summer 2011, but are always subject to change. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Sizzling Summer in the City - Vegas

So who in their right minds would go to Vegas in the middle of July?  We would!

And did. . .along with thousands of others, young and old, it appears.  The shopping malls, the casinos, the restaurants and poolside are packed, simply jam-packed, with sun worshippers such as ourselves.

vegas 053 It’s midday and the temperatures are climbing to 104F outside, as I write this post from our room at Wynn Resort. Skies are blue – sun is bright. We are happy.

In all honesty, this isn’t one of those bargain trips where we nabbed great room rates, summer isn’t the cheapest time to travel even to brain-burning-hot destinations; but sometimes you bite the bullet and go. It was finally time to take this off my ‘birthday’ wish list and make it reality. (I figured I’d either love it or hate it. . .but at least I’d know).

But where else could I celebrate a birthday by dining  in an Italian piazza one night and then at the base of the Eiffel Tower the next?  Here I can window shop at designer stores from London, Paris and Milan all within footsteps of each other as I head to my favorite “ABC” store from Honolulu for my chocolate covered macadamia nuts.

vegas 023 And of course, there is the pool – a must visit each afternoon for a at least a short amount of time. . .it's my favorite ‘people watching’ venue; the bronze and beautiful parade their scantily-clad bodies for the benefit of the opposite sexto the beat of the latest music that reverberates off the buildings. It provides great amusement.

So did I pick the right place? I’ve already announced that this trip may have to become a birthday tradition – maybe I am suffering heat stroke or the sun's melted my brains, but being a year older here doesn’t seem so bad at all. . .in fact, I am feeling younger! Time to head to the pool. . .

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Saturday’s Satchel: Bright Lights and Wine

new fuji 002 * Las Vegas:  Ever wonder what happens to those neon lights that have helped make this place famous when they dim or die? 

Some 150 of them have been donated or rescued and are resting comfortably in the Neon Boneyard (821 Las Vegas Blvd. N., 702-387-6366), run by the Neon Museum, a non-profit organization there.

The Boneyard is a two-acre home to retired signs from casinos, restaurants and hotels that lit up the Las Vegas Valley between the  1930’s to the 90’s.

If You Go:  Boneyard Tours, from noon to 2 p.m., Tuesday – Saturday and must be arranged in advance.  Tickets: $15.

Note: Some of the old signs have been brought back to life and they are on display on Fremont Street (home to the Freemont Experience lightshow); check the web link above for the history of those signs..

* Tri-Cities, Washington State: If your fall travels might take you to Central Washington State this fall, consider timing it to coincide with the Catch the Crush Wine Festival - Sat. Sept. 24 and Sun, Sept. 25. Wineries from Red Mountain, Columbia Valley and Yakima Valley will be celebrating the fall harvest and the 25th annual seasonal grape crush. Each of the participating wineries will offer celebratory events including winery tours, free-run juice, wine tasting and hors d'oeuvres . Of course there'll be wine for sale. Crush pads will be set up and winemakers will host live grape stomps at 4 p.m. on Saturday; get a team together and sign up! There'll also be live music and entertainment. Admission is free. For more information, visit  or call 509-965-5201.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Washington Wednesday: Chelan

Years ago this small town at the foot of Lake Chelan was known for its orchards.  Then a decade ago acres of those orchards gave way to vineyards. Chelan is now one of the newest AVA's in Washington Wine Country.

You might call it ‘the’ destination on one of the state’s newest wine roads. We call it Joel’s hometown, so that makes it even more fun to write about:

Chelan, a town of under 4,000 residents, wraps itself around the foot of 55-mile long glacier-fed lake of the same name. Chelan -- along with its neighbor, Manson, a yet smaller town two miles down the road on the north side of the lake -- is home to more than a dozen wineries and half dozen wine tasting rooms.

Among our favorites, (starting on the lake’s south side):

moocards 022 *Nefarious Cellars, (495 S. Lakeshore Rd., 509-682-9505), tops our list because its tasting room and vineyard are on the property that was once the Smith family's orchard – Joel and his dad tended apples trees on that same land, so we have a homecoming of sorts each time we visit. (Sentimentality aside, we also love their white wine, Consequence).

A couple miles beyond Nefarious is Karma Vineyards (1681 S. Lakeshore Rd., 509-682-5538).  Their restaurant, 18 Brix, is where we had one of the best meals we can recall eating in a long time. In good weather you can dine on their landscaped patio or sit inside by the fireplace when temperatures turn chilly.

On the other side (north side) of the lake, heading toward Manson from Chelan:

In one of the most picturesque settings – one that pays tribute to both the orchards and vineyards of the area – Vin du Lac, (105 Highway 150, Chelan, 509-682-2882) offers French bistro fare and glasses (bottles, too!) of its award-winning wines.  With the old-farm-house-turned-tasting room painted Provence yellow and surrounded by rose beds and lavender plants, we find it difficult to leave the garden setting but you can’t miss. . .

washington wednesdays 003 Benson Vineyards (754 Winesap Ave., Manson, 509-687-0313).  It's just a couple miles beyond Vin du Lac. Even if you don’t drink wine, you can drink in the spectacular lake views from this tasting room and manicured grounds set high on a hill.  (Try their Rose, it’s a dry French-style  – nothing better to sip on one of Chelan’s hot summer/fall days).

If you go:

Getting there:  Chelan is about 3.5 hours from Seattle by car. The nearest airport is 35 miles away in Wenatchee.  Horizon Airlines flies there from Seattle.

Accommodations/tourist attractions: Chelan Chamber of Commerce,  has information about hotels, motels and restaurants. (Or send an email and we'll make some recommendations).

Have you a favorite winery in Lake Chelan? Recommendations for visitors? If so, please leave a comment below.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Sintra, Portugal: Visitng a Fairy Tale

solsticetransatlantic 042 “Once upon a time” as this travel fairy tale begins,“two cruise ship passengers set out on a train from Lisbon and found themselves some 40 minutes later in an enchanting place. . .a place of castles, kings and goddesses.”

It was tempting to spend the entire day-long cruise stop in Lisbon, Portugal's capital of more than a half million people, because it offers plenty to see and do. But we'd hit the highlights on a previous cruise stop so it was time to venture a bit further afield on one of our 'do it ourselves' outings. Little did we expect to visit a fairy tale. . .
solsticetransatlantic 044 . . .when we traveled to Sintra, Portugal

Prior to the cruise, Joel had read up on taking local trains to either Cascais or Estoril, on the coast or inland to Sintra (see map below). Any of the three sounded good, but the latter won out and we headed to this picturesque hamlet in the Sintra Mountains -- once a retreat of Diana, the huntress, or so the legends go -- today a popular tourist stop; a village of palaces and castles.

After spending the morning in Lisbon, we popped into the train station to check out the schedules and prices. Within minutes, we'd purchased round-trip tickets from the teller window (nice not having to figure out a machine).  Signs above the track directed us to the correct train.

We could have taken one of two ship's tours that included both Cascais and Sintra, but we generally shy away from those crowd-cramped outings. In this case, a commuter train runs regularly to this town of 33,000, a stark contrast to Lisbon. Our train tickets cost 4.10E ($5.85US) p/p round-trip, comparing favorably to the ship's tours at $45 and $118 p/p.
Map picture
The train made several stops in Lisbon's graffiti-wounded suburbs then picked up speed as it carried us to this UNESCO World Heritage site, where the only blemish on fantasy seemed the number of large tourist buses inching their way through Sintra's narrow tourist-jammed streets.

We didn't have enough time there, a common dilemma of cruise ship stops whether done independently or as part of a group. But we did have a leisurely cup of coffee and sampled Portugal's famous white wine, vinho verde, while we watched gaggles of tourists return to their buses. By being on our own we had an hour longer in the town than the 'bus people'. We'd also simplified the trip by buying round-trip tickets in Lisbon which gave us more time to enjoy Sintra without searching for return ticket machines.

If you can't get to Sintra, click the link above for a YouTube tour. If you do follow our trip, make sure to allow yourself time to get back to the cruise ship after arriving back in Lisbon's central train station.  You'll need to take a taxi or public transport as the cruise ship dock is not walking distance.solsticetransatlantic 045

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Saturday’s Satchel: London, Hawaii and Greece

This weeks tips and tidbits:

London: The Courtyard at 51 is celebrating summer with a series of musical performances. That would be the courtyard at the 5-star 51-Buckingham Gate, Taj Suites and Residences, -- the posh digs formerly known as St. James Court -- tucked away on a side street between Buckingham Palace and Westminster. 

Tickets for the musical events are priced from 75L and include a three-course dinner and signature ‘51’ cocktail. 
Hawaii:   If you are planning a visit to Hawaii think about going for Oahu’s 2011 Food and Wine Festival being held in a number of locations including Waikiki Edition, Halekulani and Hilton Hawaiian Village, Sept. 29 – Oct.1, 2011.

We can only imagine the culinary wonders that will be created by chefs from the U.S., Canada, Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore and Australia will take part. For ticket information, click the link above.

Symi, Greece:  This comes from Symi Dream, one of our favorite blogs written about one of our favorite Greek islands:

The Symi Dreamers Exhibition runs through October 2011 at the gallery of the same name as the blog.  Artists who are visiting the island are invited to bring a piece of art to display that has been inspired by the island. (Contest rules can be found by clicking the link above). And if you make it to the island (which, drat, we won’t this year) stop by the Gallery and meet James and Neil.  They also offer photo walks of the islands – which will be high on my list when we return.

Symi Dream is a great source of information about activities and life on this island, just a short ferry ride from Rhodes.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Reality Travel: Where ‘Unsettled’ Happens

Over coffee with a friend, I said we missed Greece and were thinking about a return visit.
“Greece?!! It is rather unsettled right now. . .are you sure you want to go there?” she asked, obviously influenced by the recent media reports of Athens' protests and riots.  

In reality, many of our favorite places are 'unsettled' right now.  Some just don't make headlines back home as does Greece.  For example, our trip to Spain this spring:  

solsticetransatlantic 031 In Malaga. . .
. . .a popular cruise port on Spain's Costa del Sol, we experienced, first-hand, a Spanish work 'slow down'.  We'd signed up for a ship-sponsored "Granada on Your Own" tour (a two-hour bus trip each way, with refreshment/rest stops mid-point). On our return trip we were perplexed by the driver's delay in finishing his coffee - our agreed upon 10 minute stop found us all sitting in the bus, waiting, and waiting and waiting for the driver. 

We simply figured the guy was a flake; his -- make that, their --message was lost on us.  Later arriving shore-tour passengers, however, got the brunt of the delay, with long waits at security that finally required our top brass to intervene in order to sail away on schedule.  

madrid2011 018 While in Madrid. . .
. . . Spain's magnificent capital, we were closer to protests than we ever have been in Greece. (With the protests there centered in Athens, we've avoided mayhem by heading directly to their calm, laid back islands.)

We watched a Madrilenos' manifestacion (protest) in the city's famed Puerto del Sol grow to tens of thousands in just a few days. Spain's elections were being held near the end of our stay and lots of folks, it seemed, had a message for the candidates. Puerto del Sol, the very heart of Madrid,  had been the gathering place for families, young lovers (and of course pickpockets) on our first stroll through it, but by the end of our stay, the crush of manifestacion crowds and media trucks had made it a place to be avoided.  
solsticetransatlantic 047
Our route often took us past the Syrian Embassy, a few blocks from our apartment. For several days we noted a  group of peaceful protesters who stood across the street from it; their sign boards demanding human rights for those in their country. 

madrid2011 028

As we passed the Embassy one morning we noticed the red paint splatters that soiled the front of the building. Upon our return two hours later, they had been removed.

Just down the road, a more amusing group of protesters were Madrid’s firefighters who'd set up a camp ground of sorts along the upscale Paseo del Prado.  Their message, it seemed, was unhappiness with their lot in life but set amidst a 'glamping' sort of camp with frequent trips to the nearby Starbucks for coffee and treats, again, their message was lost.

Another day we heard music playing and saw a small group dancing on a sidewalk. Their signboards were were a party pink.  It wasn't until I was taking a photo of what I thought was this street celebration that I  realized it was a protest; an outcry against children who are living in rat infested conditions.madrid2011  

These 'unsettled' scenes aren't limited to Spain or Greece.  We  found those in Madrid to be interesting - not threatening or unsafe. And for each of the photos in this post, I took dozens more showing peaceful, beautiful scenes in the same city.  

So the world is 'unsettled' these days, that's the reality of travel. But instead of musing about Greece we should figure out a way to get back to it AND Spain. . .as soon as possible.    

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Washington Wednesday: Stehekin


Stehekin, a small outpost at the head of the 55-mile long glacier-fed Lake Chelan in Central Washington State is one of our favorite getaway destinations.

DSCF0577Accessible by boat or float plane (or for the outdoors enthusiasts) by trail; this remote treasure has been ‘discovered’ in recent years by Sunset and Martha Stewart magazines - yet, it remains a place where the biggest excitement of the day is the ferry’s arrival at The Landing.  (That bus in the photo provides the shuttle service up into the Valley – a must trip if you go.) 

Getting there: Most visitors depart for Stehekin from Chelan, about 180 miles from Seattle.  This  small town wraps around  the foot of Lake Chelan (consider staying there at least a day to visit its wineries).  Note: You can  also catch the ferry at Field's Point, about mid-way up the lake but you'll need a car to get there.

The nearest airport is Pangborn in Wenatchee, some 35 miles from Chelan.  From there you’ll need to use public transportation or rent a car. The route from Wenatchee follows Washington’s Columbia River.  If you are driving, a stop at Rocky Reach Dam visitor's center, just a few miles north of Wenatchee shouldn't be missed.
The Lady of the Lake – a bit of lake history in itself – and the Lady Express are our favorite forms of travel  between Chelan and Stehekin. (I snapped this photo of the Express stopping at Field’s Point to pick up passengers.) For day-trippers, there's time for a long lunch (a trip to the Stehekin Bakery is a must) before heading back to Chelan. 

Accommodations:  In the Stehekin Valley range from cabin rentals to ranch stays and hotel type rooms at The Landing.  (Click the link to see photos, availability and prices).

Activities:  Way too many choices: hiking, horseback riding, waterfalls and meadows.  You can rent bikes (seasonally) or simply set off walking – the road to the bakery and beyond is level and paved.  Disconnect: There’s limited computer access at The Landing and a public phone.  Turn off your cell – it won’t work anyway. Don't forget your camera!

Have you been to Stehekin? Got a recommendation?  Share it with us in the comments below.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

America’s 4th of July!

“From the mountains. . .
kirkland 015
“To the prairies. . .
moocards 027
“To the oceans, white with foam. . .
hawaii 2010 077
. . .it's America! Our home, sweet, home!
                                    Happy Fourth of July!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Travel Tidbits from Saturday's Satchel

Satchels are small bags, some with over the shoulder straps, that make for great places to put the small stuff, your travel tidbits.  So this week we introduce Saturday Satchel, brief tidbits from the Travelnwrite satchel:
  • Travelnwrite turned two in June. Now, 300 posts later,we send a big 'shout out' (that's techno speak for "Thank You") to those of you in 50 states and 83 countries who've "joined us"on our journeys.
  • Last week Travelnwrite -- in honor of its second birthday-- got a new look.  Those of you who get TnW posts by email should take a peak at Travelnwrite.
  • More changes are in store including the addition of: Saturday's Satchel and Washington Wednesdays to the line up of summer posts.
  • We've expanded our travel tales and tips into the micro-blogging world of Twitter . You can follow us: @Travelnwrite
  • I was one of 25 travel bloggers at the TBEX (Travel Bloggers Exchange) conference in Vancouver, B.C. invited to submit a travel tidbit (it's #14) to BTW, although Evelyn Hammond's site is focused on solo woman travel, the tips are useful for all travelers.
  • A review we wrote about our Madrid apartment appeared this week on They added some great photos to it, so take a peek at our Spanish digs.
  • If you've got a travel tip, lesson learned, or recommendation you want to share, in a future Saturday's Satchel, send it to us at: or simply write a comment below.


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