Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An island, a camel, toilets and Monsieur Gauguin

"Le Banana Slug":
Spring break in the Pacific Northwest...

The long awaited Spring Break came and went.

This year, it was [almost] des vacances au balcon (a stay-cation.) 

We spent the first weekend with good friends in the scenic San Juan islands, North of Seattle. Our destination was a favorite cruising spot: Roche Harbor resort and marina. We all drove to Anacortes, WA where we basked in the sun, played on the beach and waited for the early afternoon ferry to San Juan Island. It was a perfect day, after weeks of grey skies and rain. 


Two Fedoras and a little monkey...

There were a lot of cameras on this trip. Kids and grown-ups shot away relentlessly, pointing at the breathtaking scenery; at each other; at the sky... If someone did not have a camera in hand, it was because they were holding the dog's leash, and we took turns doing that.

Watch out: Paparazzi have descended upon the S. J. Islands!

Cameras were not the only pieces of equipment in our bags. We were a very well connected group and had a ritual before each meal: Behold the "phone stack!" (only one person and the dog were phone-less!)

I am sure you can guess the rules of the game! Most of us demonstrated sheer willpower and resisted the temptation to reach for the little devils, who kept taunting us with sounds and buzzes. 

Once on the island, we moved into our rental home, "Saltwater Taffy," one of the new properties managed by Roche Harbor resort and marina. If you have never been to Roche, I highly recommend it. Do yourselves a favor and visit off season, as it tends to become a bit of a zoo during the summer months when thousands of vacationers and boaters descend upon the place. We all loved our cute and comfortable "home," where we cooked delicious meals after full days of exploring and hiking. 

Bon Appétit!
Young Kowe: "Hey, I want to eat at the table, too!"

There is a lot to do in the San Juan islands if you are interested in nature, sunsets and wildlife. We have enjoyed our visits to "the Northwest's playground" since we have owned our first boat, 15 years ago. We were happy to share one of our favorite destinations with our buddies. 

Lime Kiln State Park: We missed a pod of Orcas by 48 hours! Rats!
"The Gang"

... and don't think for a minute that Roche Harbor is just "another quaint place," un endroit pittoresque, as the French say. To tell you the truth, it is pretty darn cute, and a must-see for many visitors. Heck, John Wayne (an avid boater) was a regular for a while, as was President Theodore Roosevelt. Can you blame them? Check out the Hotel de Haro, listed on the National Register of Historical Places, the immaculate grounds, or the Mausoleum Mr Mc. Millin (the original owner of the old company town,) built for his family in the forest nearby.

History, adventure, a sculpture park, and more: On San Juan Island, the show is everywhere in the wilderness around you. We saw deer grazing outside our house. On the last evening, a red fox came to our door and helped us finish our gourmet halibut dinner. And what about this guy, spotted in a field on the way to Friday Harbor, the local town?


It is always difficult to leave such a place, but we made the best of it, and back home, celebrated the end of our mini-vacation with a bonfire and smores...

Spring break was only beginning. Some of us had to go back to work. The Happy Fews still had a few days to relax... The weather was cool, and in typical Seattle [spring] fashion, changed every five minutes, it seemed. We kept busy, at home, or out on the town. Two field trips stood out: First, the Seattle Underground Tour, a local oddity. 

It is almost impossible to describe in a few words the story behind the rise of the "Emerald City." Located in the old Pioneer Square neighborhood (once in a bad state of disrepair until the Underground Tour made it shine again,) the 90-minute humorous tour delivers a funny and thrilling ride into the "guts" of a buried city - the original Seattle. Built on soggy tide flats; plagued with muddy streets and potholes so deep dogs and children often drowned at high tide; a testing ground for the original indoor Water Closet - aka "the crapper;" home of the least efficient sewage system this side of the Mississippi river (toilets turning into geysers several times a day when the tide came in, anyone?) - the city of Seattle knows it was lucky to get the 1889 "Great Fire." It destroyed 25 blocks but provided an unexpected opportunity for a fresh start - and more inspired urban planning. It took a few more mishaps (and miscalculations,) but a new city rose up, built on top of the old one. That folks, is what we call creative urban planning!

This door was once at street level...
The street is above our heads now.

Humidity and musty smells: the "old" Seattle...
Look, I see Seattleites above!
"The geyser - crapper,"
a true Seattle original

I could not help but compare this story with the extensive Paris remodel undertaken by Napoleon III and his "wingman," civic planner Baron Haussmann, between 1853 and 1870. Paris would not be the elegant, modern city the world admires today without them. Meanwhile, in the great Pacific Northwest, hardworking Arthur Denny and generous, free-wheeling "Doc" Maynard, (Seattle's official founders,) probably wished they had kidnapped Haussmann, their contemporary, or at least hired him as a consultant!

Another visit downtown included a tour of the exclusive Gauguin exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. Junior and I took the trip, cameras in hand, and had a wonderful time, first having lunch at the elegant Taste Restaurant inside the building; then touring the exhibit and later snapping away at other displays. I must confess I am neither a Gauguin connaisseur or fan, and I was so grateful to the excellent "Educator Resources" section of the S.A.M. website. Junior and I had a very interesting conversation about Monsieur Gauguin's rather depressing life on the drive over (Junior never knew I had "crammed" just before we left the house.) 

Some highlights of the eclectic S.A.M. selection:

"What's Scabbers* doing here?!"
(* Harry Potter reference, y'all!)

What is it with Seattle and toilets?

And Spring Break week went on... Boys riding their bicycle on nearby trails; shooting and editing mini documentaries; snapping pictures. Meanwhile, their moms fought a losing battle against millions of weeds sprouting up all over the yards, taking the occasional wine tasting break at one of the local wineries...

If you look closely, you can see Junior's "assistant,"
Felix the cat, on the railing...
The Northwest gardener's best friend...

All in all, it was a great [almost] stay-cation and we were grateful for the few friends who had not abandoned the [Seattle] ship in search of some sun in exotic locales. We could not have done it without you!

Back to reality now. Junior and his schoolmates are camping for a few days and attending an environmental program on the Olympic Peninsula - lucky buggers!

I am back at school too, and winding down my first digital photography class. This experience has kicked my French derrière, and I love it! I have struggled with photo composition, exposure,  and shutter speed, but learning a lot in the process. Some of this student's recent homework assignments: 


(do you know what this is?)

I realize I have neglected the blog lately, and I apologize. Don't count me out, though. I will be around, as I promised a few weeks ago. Thank you for stopping by today. You know I always appreciate your visits and comments. 

Here's to a warm, sunny, fun-packed, and fulfilling spring, wherever you may be.

A bientôt.

Photos by 
American Frog photography and
French Girl in Seattle. 
Please do not use without permission.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Saying goodbye is never easy

Spring arrived in Seattle during Easter weekend. Just like that, La Seattle, ever the big tease, decided that she'd had enough of rain, grey skies, and cold weather. Bam! Out came the sun, 70 F weather, and the most vibrant blue skies seen on this side of the Puget Sound in a long, long time. I could hear the Emerald city chanting: "Who Da Boss, uh-huh?! Who Da Boss?!

All right, all right, calm down now, Seattle. It was about time, and besides, let's see how long you can keep this going. To quote Kanye W., "Do you have the stamina, uh-huh? Do you have the stamina?!"

In our corner of suburbia, every single family apparently stayed home and celebrated Easter with relatives and friends. The local mall... uh... town, turned into one big, empty parking lot. Even Tar-Zhay (Target) was closed! Freaky. 

On a day like this, you realize expat life is not always what it is cut out to be: Our relatives live too far away to join us on special Holidays.  Dommage. They could have brought with them some of the delicious French chocolate confections displayed in boulangeries all over my homeland. Instead, poor Junior had to make do with the mediocre chocolate selection found at the local grocery store (Hershey, anyone?) That's right, I am an opinionated [and unrepentant] chocolate snob! 

So this family decided to do things differently. We headed down to the marina, where our favorite weekend home, Mistral, awaits. 

I have already told you about our adventures on the old girl. This trip was bitter-sweet. Mistral will be going to a new home in a few weeks. Le Husband, in his never-ending quest for the perfect sailboat, has made an offer on another beauty. She is no spring chicken, but new to us, and once he has worked his magic, she will look smashing. She is at the boat spa now. Not to worry, there will be proper introductions later.

Last weekend was our last chance to spend a couple of days on Mistral and say goodbye to our faithful companion. Together, we explored the Puget Sound area over the last four years. Ah, the fun times we had on board! I browsed through old photographs and looked back at what makes cruising in the Pacific Northwest such a special experience. 

Voilà, ma recette (my recipe,) for a perfect sailing trip...

 A great boat: Fast enough to satisfy Le Husband's and Junior's quest for speed and performance. Comfortable enough to accommodate our family and a few friends for day sails and extended coastal cruising. Beautiful Mistral fit the bill on most counts.

Elliott Bay marina, Seattle
In Victoria, BC (summer 2010)

Rosario marina, Orcas Island

 ✔ An adventure-loving crew: Junior and I trust our experienced skipper to steer Mistral safely from port to port. We do not mind camping out on the water for days on end (I confess I am more of a fair weather boater than les Boys!) Meet Mistral's crew...

 ✔ Great friends. All kinds of friends. Some live on board. Some come along for the ride. Others we meet on the way...

 ✔ Feasts. Simple meals. Everything tastes so much better on a boat! 

Catching crab in Roche Harbor,  San Juan island

Boat barbecues: Very tricky to use!

Dinner in Mistral's comfortable cabin

 ✔ Time to relax; explore; and goof around.

 ✔ Sunny days. Peaceful coves. Glorious sunsets. Favorable winds in your sail.

... and finally... 

 ✔ A reliable boat. One that will take you home safely. Always. No matter what the weather. No matter how angry the sea can be. 

Merci, et au revoir, Mistral. Fair winds and following seas, old friend! 

A bientôt.

Photos by American Frog photography. 
Please do not use without permission.