By Allan D. Kissam
Once again, I am on the road and looking for interesting things to do while participating in wine tasting (good activity) and less enjoyable shopping. I am in suburban Seattle across Lake Washington. This is Woodinville, next to Redmond where Microsoft lives. Back in the 80’s I lived around here. What a change; but life marches on and I just try to keep up these days.
Woodinville is now big into wine tasting at traditional wineries and tasting rooms. The tasting rooms are looked down on by some wine purists who consider them loading dock wineries. One big advantage of the tasting rooms is not driving across hot and dusty roads towards Yakima. These tourist-designated areas let you quickly jump from wine-to-wine and get on to lunch in a great family-owned Mexican restaurant.
I am not going to try and tell you about all the great wines because that is not my expertise. Wine that I like is usually the expensive one, like jewelry that I pick for my wife. The thing that I can tell you about is great Mexican beer as a break from wine tasting.
It takes a lot of good beer to make really great wine – this expression, so I am told, is famous in the wine business because during harvest and working in the sun, lots of beer is drunk. I broke from wine tasting to a cold beer at the Mazatlan family-owned Mexican food in Woodinville; ask for a Negra Modello on tap. What a cool, tasty treat — along with the guacamole and a traditional menu.
Full of beans and beer, I can now enjoy wine tasting or at least pretend when it drags out. To my continued enjoyment, we go to Mark Ryan Winery tasting room and there is a beautiful 1931 Indian motorcycle! It is old and black; black like a Model A Ford, with the original gold-colored Indian on the tank. After taking half a dozen pictures of this old treat, there inside the tasting room is another Indian, this time a red 1928 Indian Scout in original condition.
This Ryan guy is entertaining. He has the weirdest bottle labels. Check out the Hands bottle and the grunge art around the room. I don’t know if people keep showing up just to see the place again, or because the wine is good.
On to Bainbridge Island
Do you know the old song 45 Minutes from Broadway? The point is Eagle Harbor is just above the Winslow Marina on Bainbridge Island (near the ferry terminal) and across Puget Sound from Seattle. I am at The Eagle Harbor Inn and overlooking a beautiful bay full of sailboats.
Real estate is about location and this is a great one; just above the marina and a block down from Winslow Street wine tasting, restaurants, ice cream, book store, and man-type shopping.
Don’t underestimate the shopping enemy, however. The Churchmouse Yarn & Tea store threatens to bring chaos to my mancation, as I can see my wife in there with her credit card out. Fortunately, I see a distraction around the corner. The Wildernest Outdoor Store is full of outdoor clothing, supplies and Seattle-style clothing. I see all these guys around wearing ball caps and it is neither sunny nor hot. Most of them sport slightly worn brims. It isn’t overly sunny here normally, and it isn’t currently raining as usual – this must be a style thing. These $22 uniformly worn hats (identically spaced brim wear on each cap) are Idex brand. Nearby is a truly green (the PC kind of green, not a color) ball cap made from genuine recycled threads, and only $25! This reminds me of genuine hippie clothing sold in expensive shops during the 60’s. Dumb things aside, there are cool pants with leg pockets in this store from Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Elsewhere, bicycle riding gear and backpacks of all types were able to keep me entertained. For once, my wife had to call my cellular to find me in a shopping district.
For dinner, we dodged the usual $125 dinner bill because of the local fine food market. We got a quart of excellent clam chowder, fresh baked bread, salad, and an unusual Savuignon Blanc from Eleven Winery ($15). We took the goodies back to our condo and ate outside above the harbor on our deck and pondered the Puget Sound region.
An irrefutable fact is that I write about active trips, but in fact I do a lot of sitting around while surfing the net. This is because my mental age is 25 but my physical age is near 70 – I need to be more careful. The Eagle Harbor Inn owners thought about my generation, and built in a complete personal elevator. With bags and boxes full of wine and groceries, you can avoid the stairs.
Leaving Bainbridge is easy since the Washington State Ferries are running regular routes across the Puget Sound to downtown Seattle. Before going to the hotel in downtown Seattle, we first go to Dawg Heaven. Just outside the campus near Lake Washington, go to the University Book Store for Husky stuff and books of all types. Around the U District there are many coffee houses, novel shops, music, and things to make you feel 22 again.
On to Bellingham, Anacortes, and Friday Harbor of the San Juan Islands
North of Seattle is wine tasting trails and great seafood dinners. I recommend Anthony’s at the Bellingham Marina with the best view of the boat harbor. Before dinner I walked over to Bellingham Yacht Sales offices to see listings of what most people cannot afford in a boat. In prior years, I have taken a bareboat charter from BYC and gone to the San Juan Islands or the Canadian Gulf Islands. Depending on the boat chartered; it costs about $3,000 for the week. This is a reasonable way to experience the $500K yacht of your dreams – and skip the moorage cost.
Would you believe that I, the most bored shopper, went to a lavender farm and enjoyed it? I hit it just right; we visited while extraction of the oils was in process and got to watch. This process is like being back in chemistry lab at school. In a closed barrel is a mash of fresh lavender being heated to drive off moisture, which is condensed out over a cool water heat exchanger. Oil is lighter than water, so in the beaker the oil is run off the top layer while still useful product with more water is pulled from below. Funny how simple processes are so fascinating, like watching a perpetual motion machine or some Rube Goldberg device. This is the Red Barn Lavender farm near Ferndale.
The peak of my trip in this area is riding the ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor. In Friday Harbor after a early morning non-stop ferry from Anacortes, the easiest way to see the sites is a bus round the island. After seeing the sights (and wanting to pack up and move here), I grabbed lunch at Herb’s Tavern. This is a local landmark for draft beer and burgers, along with displays of the past on the walls. Come early afternoon you can catch the express ferry back to Anacortes.
Back in Anacortes, stay at the beautiful Heron House Bed and Breakfast. Relaxing in my suite overlooking Burrows Bay, the photo gives the view from the Heron House, but not the comfortable high-end furnishings of this near perfect B & B.
On the home stretch now, it is back to Seattle downtown for an overnight at the Hotel Vintage Park. Each suite is themed on a Washington winery with the name above the door. Nightly, there is a featured winery and expert-hosted tasting for guests in the hotel lobby. Since driving from Anacortes to Seattle is about two hours, there is still time for Pike Place Market and the famous salmon toss.
Evening mealtime I wanted to stay local and get back for packing or rest. Tulio Ristorante shares the property and is famous as the best Italian food downtown. I had linguini with clams but at Tulio this is a special experience because the pasta is made in the kitchen, crab is boiled in the water for taste, and the clams come in shell with unique spices. Chef and owner, Walter Pisano, is around checking and watching his staff but is available for questions about his unique taste achievements. This is also astoundingly reasonably priced, to boot.
This ends my 7+ day circuit around western Washington. There are many other things I could have done, such as from Bainbridge Island consider a drive around the Olympic Peninsula. This route is a two day jaunt of beaches, rain forest, charter fishing, ports, Indian crafts, and breathtaking scenery. Local in Seattle is the Boeing Field museum; with… you guessed it… airplanes. Or, see who is performing at the 5th Avenue Theater just down the street from your hotel. The final recommendation is to send your kids to UW for a degree, and have an excuse to keep returning to this beautiful place.