Monday, September 30, 2013

Ready! Set! Aloha!

By the time most of you read this post we’ll be winging our way to Honolulu, Hawaii, the first stop on our island-hopping route across the Pacific Ocean to Sydney, Australia.

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Approaching the island of O'ahu Hawaii
We were at our timeshare home in Hawaii last January when The Scout found this deal of a cruise while surfing his favorite cruise travel sites.  Sydney and/or greater Australia for years has bounced up on down on our travel bucket list and finally this cruise, its price and our schedule aligned.

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Waikiki Beach - Honolulu, Hawaii

OVeniceSanJuanIsl 068ne of our favorite ways to travel is to mix a bit of the old familiar with new experiences.  We are doing that on this trip, with a couple days in our old-favorite, Honolulu, prior to boarding our ship, the Celebrity Solstice. The Solstice is also an old-favorite as it was the first Celebrity ship we ever sailed. What a fabulous introduction she provided to that cruise line.

The Solstice will be our floating home-away-from-home for 19 nights, as we travel to French Polynesia, to New Zealand and then on to Sydney.

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Inside the Celebrity Solstice 
We’ll have a dozen heavenly days ‘at sea’ – one of our favorite parts of these ‘repositioning cruises’ that move ships from  summer to winter routes. 

For those of you wondering how we pass the time on  sea days, I’ve included the photos above which were taken aboard the Solstice as she transported us from Florida to Europe two years ago.

I’ll be posting updates here about our South Pacific adventure as internet connections permit. We hope you’ll come along with us as we island-hop our way to Sydney. 

VegasHawaii2012 067Next update will be from Waikiki. . .until then,


Sunday, September 29, 2013

WAWeekend: Roslyn ~ A Warm Welcome

Roslyn, a once-thriving coal mining town in Washington State is a place to peek into Pacific Northwest history. It is also a place where the warmth of welcome is the norm, not just some tourist promotion jargon.

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Building in Cle Elum, Washington
Roslyn and its next-door neighbor, Cle Elum, are about two hours drive from western Washington’s Seattle and an almost equal distance from the TriCities (Pasco, Kennewick and Richland) in south-central Washington. The mid-Washington location is one reason why my childhood friend, Mary, and I chose them for our one-day girl’s getaway last week. 
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The Cle Elum train station now houses a restaurant and historical displays
The two of us also have ‘history’ here  because we’d fallen under the area’s spell decades ago while college students. (Ellensburg, our old college town, is about 30 minutes drive from here.)

We were overjoyed to find that its magic was as powerful now as it had been, and it quickly wrapped us up all over again in its spell. . .

The Coal Mine Beginnings

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Tribute to Fallen Miners in front of the old "Company Store"
Roslyn and Cle Elum are tucked away in the state’s Cascade Mountains. The coal discovered deep inside those mountains was needed to fuel Northern Pacific Railroad trains.

The first coal was shipped from Roslyn/Cle Elum area mines in 1886. In fact, the worst coal mine disaster in the state occurred in May 1892 at the Northern Pacific Coal Mine No.1 when an explosion and fire in the Roslyn mine (burrowed some 2,700 feet below ground) caused the death of 45 miners. Mining continued here until the last mine closed in 1962.

The Northwest Improvement Company Store (‘the company store’), pictured above, was the hub of the Roslyn community back in the town’s mining heyday and today, just like the town’s historic district, is on the  National Register of Historic Places.

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Roslyn, Washington cemetery

The Roslyn Cemetery, founded in 1886, is an amalgamation of some 25 separate cemeteries and the 5,000 graves on this 15-acre wooded site represent some 24 nationalities.  The cemeteries reflect the far reach of the mines more than a century ago. Miners hailed from as far away as Poland, Serbia, Croatia, Lithuania, Germany, Slovenia, Italy and England.  Many of those miners rest in these cemeteries and their descendants still live in the small town.

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The Runner Stumbles featured this church
Jumping ahead to a bit more modern history, the Immaculate Conception Church that towers over the town was featured in a 1979 movie, The Runner Stumbles, starring Dick Van Dyke and Kathleen Quinlan, that was filmed in this small town.

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Northern Exposure was filmed here
Many of you – if you were followers of that quirky, but insanely popular television show Northern Exposure (1991 – 1995) that was filmed here -- will recognize this building as it was used in the show’s opening. Businesses report tourists still arrive because of it. And the café is still serving up meals!

The People

I’ve long said that once a ‘place becomes people’ it becomes even more special than its history or fame has made it.  Mary and I met two such individuals in Roslyn, both deserving a mention:

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Joyce Welker of Dingo Wild Dogs of Roslyn
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Mary and Joyce posed for the shutterbug
Joyce Welker, is the owner/operator of a hot dog stand -  Dingo Wild Dogs of Roslyn - on the town’s main drag.  She was setting up for lunch as we walked past . . .the fact that we’d brought a picnic lunch didn’t deter Joyce. She was introducing a new pulled pork sandwich that day and told us that we had to sample it.  We visited with her for nearly half an hour. Next time we’ll skip the picnic!  

Her small kitchen/storeroom, behind the grill, is an old red rock mine scale shack (fitting for a mining town, after all).  She does her biggest business after 10 p.m. when the local bars close down their kitchens, she told us.  But for the non-night owls, she’s open Fridays and Saturdays from noon – 3 p.m.

We had, pardon the pun, one blooming good time – just around   the corner from Joyce’s on the other, of the town’s two, main streets:

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As we’d driven into town, I’d announced (as the shutterbug in the car), “We’ve got to walk back here so I can take a photo of that yard!”   By the time we got back, the owner of the house and creator of this masterpiece, was out working in the garden. She gave me permission to take a photo or two. . .then she invited us up onto the porch for a closer look at those baskets:

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RoslynDC2013 013By this point we were talking about ourselves, our husbands, her husband, their life and ours. 

She offered to show us  her back yard,where we continued visiting, and then  - because she decorates the yard for each season – she invited us in to her basement store room (think the elves workshop at the North Pole). 

By then it didn’t seem unusual at all when she invited us into her home to see a  few photos of her seasonally decorated yard (framed photos, newspaper clippings and awards).

RoslynDC2013 021Once inside we got around to  introducing  ourselves by name. 

When it came time to leave we each hugged this lady who only an hour before we’d not known, vowing we’d come back again when we could stay longer, have a libation and do some real visiting!

Not every visitor to these small Central Washington towns will meet our two new friends, but I know where ever you go and who ever you meet will likely greet you with that same small town warmth of welcome. We are certainly planning a return!

If You Go:

Map picture

For area information: Visit the Cle Elum/Roslyn Chamber of Commerce site by clicking this link.

Suncadia Resort, a large planned unincorporated community and resort complete with houses, condos, lodge and golf courses and  covering an area of 6,300 acres is nearby.

Roslyn’s Swiftwater Cellars winery is located on the Suncadia property near the historic Roslyn No. 9 Coal Mine.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On the Pacific Rim Highway

“When it says, ‘Slow’, it means it,” we were cautioned several times in Nanaimo before setting out on the twisting, two-lane Vancouver Island’s Pacific Rim Highway 4.

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The  highway cuts across the forested spine of the island and was our route from Nanaimo on the island’s east coast to Tofino on its west coast.  Short of using a boat or plane, it is the only route between the two.

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The scenic route some 124 miles (208 kilometers) long, twists and turns past spectacular mountain peaks, stunning lakes, many power lines and concrete road barriers; the latter two, every shutter bug’s bane. 
Come along as we set out on the Pacific Rim Highway: 

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We took a break from the highway at Port Alberni a deep port city some 51 miles/82 kilometers from Naniamo. We drove to its Harbour Quay, a delightful mix of tourist accommodations and industrial businesses.

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VancouverIs2013 051Set in the Alberni Valley it is on Vancouver Island’s longest inlet, Alberni Inlet.  With a population of some 18,000, the town’s motto is: Gateway to the West Coast

Directional signs pointed towards the Chase and Warren Estate Winery and Emerald Coast Vineyards, but those we tucked away in our ‘future trip’ file.

VancouverIs2013 053One place we couldn’t resist was off in the industrial looking area of the Quay – Home of the Cod Father.  The clever name got us in and the display case filled with smoked salmon was a feast for the culinary senses. . .teriyaki, lemon and honey, some spicy concoction . . .the selections far too many.  We finally chose two types and set off for our destination.

By early afternoon we were approaching the west coast – the sky had turned heavy and gray, the ‘highway’ narrowed and coiled:

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But by late afternoon, we’d arrived in Tofino where they obviously didn’t want anyone confused about being at the end of the road:

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If You Go:

Thanks to Tourism Vancouver for the excellent map showing the route of the Pacific Rim Highway. (It is also called Highway 4). 

VancouverIs2013 196The route is a beautiful one, but not for the faint at heart or those who have a fear of being on road trips. 

The warnings we had received were on point: the twists and turns make it a slow go.  Sadly, we passed two accident scenes – one on our westbound trip, another on our eastbound. One was an upside down car and another was a car smashed into a tree trunk. . . and both, even more sadly, were on straight stretches of the highway!

That’s it for this Travel Photo Thursday so head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Travel Tuesday: Nanaimo–Beyond the Bar

Nanaimo – a harbor town on Vancouver Island’s east coast with a name that sounds like a children’s chant:  “na-NI-moe” and rhymes with ‘the wino’ -- seems best known in this part of the world by the dessert bar that carries its name.

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That’s pretty much what we knew about the place when we set sail aboard a BC ferry headed to it on a recent September Sunday afternoon.

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Coast Hotel - Nanaimo
The city, which served as both our entry point to the island and our departure point for a road trip across it, has a long rich history, Archaeologists have traced its beginnings back 3,000 years. It was once home to migrant coastal Salish (First Nation people) called Snuneymuxw (pronounced Sna-nay-mo), we learned along the way. By 1852 coal mining was a thriving activity and that led to its nickname, "Black Diamond City."

Because we weren't arriving until evening, The Scout had found us a hotel on Expedia the day before we left, that was both a good price, had large rooms and small balconies, from which we had a view of the harbor and a tiny view of the city’s Old Quarter. 

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The Bastion
We also had a view of  The Bastion. Built in 1853, Nanaimo’s oldest building – one of the oldest in the province – and an original Hudson’s Bay Company Fort.

These days it’s pretty small compared to our hotel across the street, but back when it was built, it served as the center of this coal mining settlement.

We set out to find breakfast and explore the Old Quarter before commencing our road trip.

So come along with us while we tell you a bit more about this wonderful town:

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Commercial Street Nanaimo
Nanaimo, home to about 82,000, is 70 miles (113 kilometers) north of Victoria. Its gently curving Commercial Street is lined with turn-of-the 20th Century buildings among them Art Deco, Edwardian and one of our favorites, the columned Classical Revival styled National Land Building, built in 1914 during a coal mining strike.

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With far too many ‘cute cafes’ on Commercial Street from which to choose, we opted for Tina’s Diner.  Its décor was irresistible and clientele obviously regulars.

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Nanaimo's former train station - a highlight of the Old Quarter
Needing a bit more exercise before hitting the road, we walked a few blocks more to see the town’s former train station – now home to an eatery.
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And then back around to its still functioning Courthouse, near the harbor.

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Had we stayed longer I am certain we’d have had to sipped a cool one at this fun place just a couple blocks from our hotel, but as it was mid-morning, we only toured  its charming old interior – and vowed to return.

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Nanaimo is surrounded by golf courses, has a beautiful pleasure craft marina and has been named one of the best scuba diving destinations in North America.  Since 1967 it has been home to the World Championship Bathtub Races (yes, contestants race around the harbor in bathtubs). 
But that triple-layer sticky sweet pastry – the Nanaimo Bar – seems to remain  the iconic symbol of this town.

Don’t tell the tourism folks, who’ve actually published a directory of where to sample them during your visit – but this sign is as close as we came to seeing one, let alone eating one!

However, I did find a recipe for Nanaimo bars and a Nanaimo Bar Trail Map on this link  for those of you in need of a shot (a big shot) of sugar.

That’s it for Travel Tuesday this week.  Next week we’ll show you the other side of Vancouver Island – and give you a tour of the place where we stayed.

If You Go:                                            
A great source of information for Nanaimo is Tourism Nanaimo.  (Thanks to them for this great map!).

Click  BC ferries for schedules, destinations, prices - 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

WAWeekend: Clamming–Can you dig it?

We’ve just returned from Vancouver Island’s West Coast. While there, we decided it might be fun to return during the winter’s stormy season (and when hotel rates were hopefully lower).

But then the voice of travel reason set in and we recalled that trip to our own Washington coast – Copalis Beach –  a winter or two ago. . .

We had a dazzling taste of a winter storm and an equally satisfying taste of the razor clams for which this area is known.  Copalis Beach is less than a three-hour drive from Seattle; not a few hours drive plus a few hours longer ferry ride to return to Tofino, British Columbia.

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Copalis Beach - Washington State
Having watched razor clam diggers at work on Copalis Beach  during our visit, but not quite understanding the what- and how- of what they were doing, we were further tempted to return when we got an email this week from Iron Springs Resort, (where we had stayed on the last trip) about a clam digging activity for folks like us.

Iron Springs Alderbrook 2012 093Actually, the guided Clam Digging Package offered this fall is designed for guests who are newcomers or who could use a few tips for spotting and catching the speedy bivalves:

If you sign up for the package, you’ll be part of a small group and you’ll have. . .

· Official clam digging license, available in the General Store at check in (licenses are required in this state and the cost of the license is extra)

· Digging essentials – clam guns, shovels, clam bags, lanterns and headlamps (Which save you from having to purchase one of those wacky ‘guns’ they sell along the roadside and in shops along the beach).

· Wine or hot cocoa, upon return from the beach (you may be chilled enough to opt for hot cocoa but a celebratory wine sounds good as well!)

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Clam cleaning station - Iron Springs Resort
· Clam cleaning tutorial and tools at the Iron Springs clam cleaning station (a real plus because we watched them do this as well – you need to know what you are doing.)

· Razor clam chowder recipe to prepare in your cabin
(Let me tell you, that if this is the same recipe as the thick, savory chowder served to us during our visit – you will love it!)

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Razor clam chowder - Iron Springs Resort

If You Go:

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Package Details: The package costs $50 per adult and $25 per kid, plus the cost of clamming license and cabin rates (starting at $149 a night), and can be booked through the resort’s reservation desk (1.800.380.7950).

And, of course, the “fine print:” Package is based on availability and the announcement of the official 2013 recreational razor clam season.

Realizing many of you live too far away to participate in the package, there is a recipe for clam chowder included in this post, One “Clam” Good Time. . . and more about  Iron Springs Resort here.

That’s it for now.  Have a great weekend and see you back here on Travel Tuesday when we’ll go ‘Beyond the Bar at Nanaimo’!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Beach bummin’ and Bare footin’ in B.C. Canada

Surfers, ocean waves, sandy beaches, blue skies, high hotel prices – sounds pretty much like Hawaii, doesn’t it?

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What it hadn’t sounded like – until last week’s road trip to British Columbia’s Vancouver Island – was, Canada!  If you’ve followed along on Facebook or Tuesday’s Travel post, you know we headed north on a whim last week; our last chance  to squeeze in a summer road trip. 

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Long Beach, British Columbia

Tofino, on the island’s West Coast mid-section was our ultimate destination; one that is a great place to watch the churning Pacific Ocean surf attack the coastline during winter storms.  Having never been here before, we assumed September was mid- to low- season, hoped for reasonable hotel prices and prepared for unsettled weather. 

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Monday to the left and Tuesday to the right
Those who live in the Pacific Northwest know ‘what a difference a day makes', and that was certainly illustrated during our brief visit. The photos on the left were taken Monday afternoon and those on the right on Tuesday.

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Long Beach, just a few miles south of Tofino is the largest and longest beach in the island’s Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

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The beach surface

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The beach surface was a mixture of fine sand pebbles and hard pack (photos above) – and felt much like walking on a cobbled-street.

This portion of the Reserve with its scattered campgrounds and picnic areas, spans the forest and coast on Wickanninish Bay between the small towns of Tofino (toe-fin-oh) and Ucluelet (U-clue-let or Ukee, for short). It is one of the most popular surfing locations in Canada.

While Long Beach required a user’s fee for everyone on the beach, (self-service,‘credit/debit card only’ machines were in the parking lot and security officers checked vehicle’s dashboards for the permits), we almost preferred no-cost MacKenzie Beach, a bit further north, on which our resort was located. You can probably tell why from the photos below. . .

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MacKenzie Beach, Vancouver Island

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Sunset MacKenzie Beach, Vancouver Island

For those who have images of the Pacific Northwest being mountains and towering fir trees – don’t despair.  Come back next Thursday when we’ll take you across Vancouver Island on the Pacific Rim Highway and later this month we'll take you on a tour of the resort where we stayed.

If You Go:

Map picture

The push pins show MacKenzie Beach (near Tofino, where we stayed) and Long Beach, which is within the Pacific Rim National Park Reserve.

Hotel prices:  Mid-September hotel prices were so high, they took our breath away.  Most hotels had “No Vacancy” signs on display and we stopped at two resorts to inquire about rooms: one quoted $399CAD for a room overlooking the parking lot behind the hotel away from the water and another offered a partial view room at $420 and $460CAD for a beach view.  By the time we got to a Best Western and were quoted – at first – $299CAD a night, it sounded, downright cheap! There’ll be more on where we ended up in a future post.

VancouverIs2013 265Pacific Rim National Park Reserve user fees and other information about the reserve can be found at:

That’s it for this week’s Travel Photo Thursday. Head over to Budget Travelers Sandbox for more travels around the world! On Friday check out The Tablescraper's Oh, The Places I have been"

‘Hang Ten!’ as they say in the surfing world and see you soon. . .


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