Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Countdown to 2010 Olympics

Washington State is as giddy over the upcoming 2010 Winter Olympics as are our friends to the north. Those in our tourism industries are hoping to catch a bit of the spotlight as it sweeps the Pacific Northwest landing on the host city, Vancouver B. C.

I noticed the Bellwether Hotel ( about 50 miles to the south of Vancouver in Bellingham, WA is in the spirit, offering an Olympics package: At the Gold level your three-night stay for two persons includes a personal town car service to and from Vancouver and other goodies, starting at $6,300. The Silver will get you the same length of stay in an Executive waterview room and a daily shuttle starting at $1,320. At the Bronze you also stay in a waterview room but you are on your own for transportation. That starts at $669.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cruise News: Cunard's World Cruise

One of our favorite website's Cruise Critic ( reported last week that a couple from Leeds, England who had been guests on the high-end Cunard cruise lines world cruise in Jan. 2008 had sued the company because of the bad weather they experienced along the way, the sleepless nights they had experienced and for resulting health problems. They had paid nearly 100,000 in US dollarsfor the cruise.

A Yorkshire Court awarded them $80,000US in refund and additional $36,000 in damages. Need I say Cunard is appealing the judgement? Read the article on Cruise Critic for details of the couple's complaint. Any one who's ever cruised will find it good for a chuckle.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Austin: Strolling through History

It is easy to stroll through history in Austin, with only a word or two of caution: sidewalks are uneven in places as mighty Oak tree roots have shifted cement slabs in certain sections over the decades. The town also has a strange way of sloping sidewalk handicap access points at a street corners - making it easy to trip over curbs in places you thought should be flat. And sidewalks sometimes have stairways and elevated sections in them. This is only worth mentioning because there is so much history to see on a simple walk through town that it is hard to pay attention to the surface on which you walk.

The Historical Commission has done a thorough job of telling the story of Austin's buildings by posting signs on those of historical significance. Stop by the Visitor's Center on 6th Street and pick up a brochure if you don't want to set out on an uncharted course of exploration.

Among our favorite historica buildings were The Driskill Hotel ( just off Sixth St. and The Austin Club ( on Ninth St. The hotel, built in 1886 by cattle baron Jesse Driskill, has 189-guest rooms in its Historical and Traditional wings. We began our weekend days with breakfast in its cafe/bakery and ended them sipping locally brewed beer in its bar. The Christmas season kicked off while we were in Austin so the enormous lobby with its columns and marble floors had a centerpiece tree that stretched to the ceiling. We found its food and beverage prices reasonable, if not on the inexpensive side for a luxury hotel; a tumbler-sized glass of fresh squeezed orange juice was $4 and a pint-sized brewskie $5.
Three blocks away, The Austin Club, is housed in the one-time Millett Opera House, built in 1878 by Captain Charles Millett. Over the years the Opera House has hosted legislative sessions, political conventions, dances and roller skating. The building is now owned by the Austin Independent School District and is being leased to the private club.

The Club's website offers a link to the history of the club and the building. One of the stories it features is that of "Priscilla" the Third Floor Ghost. As the story goes, Priscilla, was an opera singer who fell to her death from a catwalk above the stage on the night prior to her wedding. Periodic Priscilla sightings have been reported by both guests and employees over the years.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Keep Austin Weird

There's an unofficial slogan they use around these parts, "Keep Austin Weird". They have it on bumper stickers, key chains, shirts and other tourist items. It didn't seem that weird to us until we spotted this great pig-mobile parked downtown on a Sunday afternoon. A speaker I heard joked that he had spotted a bumper sticker in Houston that read, "Keep Austin 150 miles from Houston".

Monday, December 7, 2009

Austin: Hook 'em Horns

Texans are known as enthusiastic football fans. So much so that a book Friday Night Lights was written about their high school football mania and subsequently led to a television series in the U.S. We had our own taste of Lights Saturday night when the University of Texas at Austin Longhorns met the Nebraska Cornhuskers in their Big 12 championship game. As West Coast Pac-10 football fans we thought we knew football fan support . . .wrong!

The Texas Horns, as they are called, 'hooked 'em' in the final second of the game with a field goal. Score: 13-12. We were standing (three deep) as tables and booths were packed in Champions in the Courtyard by Marriott when the magic moment occurred. As the football passed through the uprights, I am sure seismologists thought it was an earthquake when a city-wide cheer swept through the area - with an epicenter in our cafe/bar.

We strolled through a very quiet campus Sunday morning and these two statues to the side of their enormous Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium caught our attention. One shows the longhorn as a calf being greeted by a young girl depicting the joy and learning ahead of them and at the opposite side of the courtyard is their mighty longhorn mascot.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Austin: A chilly reception

That title refers only to the weather! My earlier post of 300+ days of sun and December temperatures in the 60's is not to be believed. They were anticipating snow yesterday, yep y'all, snow. Thursday night they announced schools would be shutting down at noon - just in case. Joel reports seeing a few flakes. However, the sun finally reappeared and the temperatures continued to drop. Last night's temperatures were predicted to be 24 - 35-degrees.

Locals we've chatted with more than make up for the chill outside. They are warm and welcoming and more than ready to visit. Tourist bureaus everywhere could learn from this city whose unofficial motto is "Keep Austin Wierd". We've seen an ecclectic mix of cowboy, urban hippie, business folks and visitors as we've bundled up in long johns and layers of clothing to explore this pedestrian-friendly Capitol of the Lone Star State.

Tonight the town welcomes Christmas with songs and celebration. Christmas carols will be sung on the steps of the Capitol. It was refreshing to see a Christmas tree in the chamber of the House of Representatives. Instead of arguing about symbolism, as our state does, here they are celebrating the state of Texas with each representative having an ornament on the tree with a scene depicting the area they represent. For example, Tyler, known for its roses, has a beautifully decorated globe with red roses on it.
And none of this Happy Holidays - this morning the man in front of me at Starbucks turned and wished me in no uncertain terms a "Merry Christmas!"

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Cattle, cowboys. . .and wine?!

We know its reputation and claim to fame is live music, but the fact that Austin is in the heart of Texas still conjours up images of the ol' Wild West. . .cowboys and cattle, blue jeans and boots with spurs. Wine country didn't really come to mind.

But a bit of research prompted by a recent article in the New York Times took us to the web site of the Texas Wine Trail ( Austin's location is perfect for wine country exploration through the Texas Hill Country, which is home to some 24 wineries. While we won't have time to explore the trail, we'll make it a point though to sample some Texas vino while visiting some of Austin's wine bars like Cork & Co. or Max's Wine Dive. With names like that we can't pass them up.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Washington's Winter Getaways

The folks at Friday Harbor House ( on San Juan Island are offering up two cleverly-named packages that are going into our 'traveler tickler' file, the place we store good ideas about places we have not yet visited. This 23-room hotel has an Eat, Drink and be Jolly package starting at $239 a night, (two-night minimum stay required) that includes Continental breakfast and two 60-minute spa treatments - facial or massage - followed by milk and cookies in your room. Also included is a CD of holiday tunes. While that package runs through Dec. 31st, another even more tempting is the 0ne-night Curl Up with a Good Book package that includes a $30 gift certificate to a local bookstore and hot chocolate. It runs through April 30, 2010 and starts at $229 a night.

The nose-numbing crisp winter air of Central Washington tempts at Stehekin, the tiny hub nestled on the slope of the Cascade Mountain range at the tip of the 55-mile-long glacier-fed Lake Chelan. Stehekin Landing Resort ( has become a favorite summer/fall destination but unfortunately, they don't rent rooms in the winter. We don't have the equipment - nor desire - to camp in the snow. Two cabins are available for rent so we may just round up some adventuresome friends to join us in this mountainous wonderland where the winter days are short and the piles of snow tall. If nothing else a day trip aboard the Lady of the Lake to the Landing for a bowl of steaming hot soup may be in order. For more about Stehekin in the winter, check out my article in the Seattle Times, November 26, 2009.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...