Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Paris - armchair travel

Researching our trips is half the fun of taking them to our way of thinking. While it does involve cost analysis and scheduling, we've found that a good source of information comes from books other than guide books. These entertaining reads are great for armchair travel as well.

Take Paris.

In Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, a memoir of living in the City of Light in the 1920's, you'll sip wine in his favorite Parisian cafes, stroll along the Seine and meet his contemporaries, F. Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein. My Life in F rance by Julia Child (with Alex Prud'homme) takes you to Paris in the late 1940's. You'll go to street markets with her as she explores her new home and follow the development of her passion for cooking which ultimately led to the creation of her now-famous cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Fast forward to 1994 with Susan Herrmann Loomis in her, On Rue Tatin, Living and Cooking in a French town, as she takes you from Paris on her journey to Louviers, a small town in Normandy.

Many of these authors' favorite spots still exist. Our travel journal begins before we leave home as we take notes from these books on places that we might want to visit, turning our journal into a customized guidebook.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Off the tourist track eats

New eatery finds are a part of every trip and this time we added one to our Victoria list:

Sips, artisan bistro, 425 Simcoe Street in James Bay Square, a few blocks from Victoria's Inner Harbour, is tucked away on the lower level of this small shopping center, next door to Spinnakers James Bay Spirit Merchants, a business where shelves are filled with spirits, wines and brews for sale. Their ad in the Victoria Clipper Magazine tempted us to search them out - we would have missed their lower level location had we not been looking for them.

Sips, we agreed, lived up to its 'artisan bistro name. Our panini filled with locally grown and produced artisan charcuiterie and cheese, served bread from a local bakery rivaled some of the mouth-watering creations we've found in Italy. We sipped a B.C. white wine and then a red -- both offered as samples during our lunch hour stop.

Open from 11:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m., we plan to make this a regular stop - next time an early evening stop for a glass or two of vino paired with their B.C. cheese plate.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Victoria, British Columbia - a quick getaway

Victoria B.C. is known for its pedestrian friendliness. We were reminded of that fact last week during a quick two-day getaway to our neighbor to the north. We hopped the Victoria Clipper (www.clippervacations.com) in Seattle and less than three hours later were tucked away in our hotel overlooking Victoria's Inner Harbor.
By taking an early boat up and a late boat back, using a AAA travel rate, booking over the internet we got a rate of $80 per person (small fuel charge was tacked on - no changes or cancellations allowed).

Exploring the Inner Harbor Neighborhood

A easy walk – one that we do each trip – takes us two blocks behind the Empress Hotel to 835 Humbolt Street where the one-time convent and girl’s school. St. Ann’s Academy National Historic Site, (http://www.stannsacademy.com/, 250-953-8829) is located. Level pathways bisect the 6.3-acre heritage garden and orchards with 100-year-old cherry trees. Grounds are open to the public free of charge from dawn to dusk. The interpretive center has seasonal hours, self-guided tours are free, donations encouraged.

Café Mela, on the street level of the Belvedere condos, 784 Humbolt St. (250-383-0288) a European-style Café, has become a favorite coffee and pastry stop. Next time we’ll try its Mela’s Tearoom, next door at 792 Humboldt St.,(reservations, 250-382-8528), an off-shoot of the café. Afternoon Tea featuring tall towers of pastries, sandwiches and fruit is served inside an art gallery (Winchester Galleries). During this visit, sidewalk tables at both the tea room and café were busy.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Washington's Purple Haze and Fragrant Festivals

We missed the festivities on Vashon Island last week but have several more opportunities to celebrate this year's lavender harvest. Washington's got a purple haze. For more info see Jackie's article, "July's Lavender Haze" in the July 9th Seattle Times. www.seattletimes.com/nwweekend

Monday, July 13, 2009

Wine Roads Lead to Chelan

The hillsides surrounding Joel's hometown, Chelan, in Central Washington were once covered with orchards. In the last decade vineyards have replaced fruit trees and the town at the foot of the 55-mile glacier-created lake is quickly becoming one of Washington State's favorite wine destinations. We had one of the best meals we've eaten in a long time while sitting in the shaded patio at Karma Vineyards on the lake's south shore. Karma Kafe offers a seasonally-changing selection of small, medium and big bites. Their salmon big-bite ($19) was done to melt-in-your-mouth perfection. Save room for the saute'ed strawberry sundae ($7). Summer hours noon - 8 p.m. Tuesday - Sunday; http://goodkarmawines.com

Check out the new tasting room at Benson Vineyards Estate Winery on the lake's northshore. Located high on the hillside between Chelan and Manson, the balcony off the tasting rooms offers sweeping views. It was a great place for a late afternoon glass of wine and photography. www.bensonvenyards.com

And we are watching for the new hotel opening at B.C. MacDonald's. Luxury suites with wrought-iron balconies are being completed above the ale house of the same name, just across the street from Campbell's Resort in downtown Chelan


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