Friday, June 20, 2014

October 2013 - Pacific Northwest

Seattle- Port Angeles - Cape Flattery - Columbia River Gorge - the Oregon Coast
October 2013

Some trips come together because we have a list of “places to see” – Others come together because an opportunity comes along & we say, “why not”.  This was a combination of both.  We had wanted to travel to the Pacific Northwest & we received an alert from with a fare from Boston to Seattle that didn’t involve a red-eye, was sold as a direct flight & fit within our timeframe.  Additionally – it was at a good rate.  So – we made a decision – we would be off to Seattle in October. 
This trip was not without issues.  To start with – we were flying via United (not one of our normal carriers).  On United – each bag costs $25.  Our direct flight was changed a few weeks before to a change of planes in Chicago on the way out & a routing through Houston [with a plane change] on the way back.  On United – you pay for everything.  On the way out – we didn’t even have the option of paying to watch a movie.  The plane had no in-flight entertainment.  On the way back we had 40 minutes to change planes & we arrived late to Houston.  We raced through the airport to reach our gate only to be told that we had to check both carry-on bags since there was no room in the overhead bins.  On this flight there were individual monitors, but it would cost $7.99 per person to watch anything on DirectTV.  No thanks.  They do provide beverages, but a small bag of chips cost $2.99 & sandwiches were $8.99.  I doubt that we’ll fly United again unless there’s a deal that’s too good to pass on.  The space between seats is very tight & you can pay an additional fee to sit in the exit rows.

Because we had a very early flight from Boston we opted for the Park, Sleep Fly option.  It cost $180 to stay for the night, take a shuttle to the airport & leave our car there for the week.  There are several different hotels that offer this service & we’ve used it when we had a flight that was early.  We had dinner with Tim & Jessie on Monday night.  It was one of the best meals of our vacation.  Tim grilled the steaks on a cast iron grill pan & served them sliced over arugula & roasted sweet potatoes, red peppers & onions.  Tim & David both had their dinners with balsamic vinegar.  Jessie & I had ours plain & everything was delicious.

Once we arrived in Seattle we picked up our rental car from Dollar.  David had done research re: the various car rental options & we had seen several instances where people chose cheaper rental companies & then found charges add to their credit card after the fact for damage that they believed hadn’t happened.  We decided to go with a known company that participated in the on-site airport rental arrangement. 
We picked up our Toyota Corolla (which we decided was too small after a few hours, but you don’t know until you try it).  We always bring our GPS with us, but also pick up maps from AAA.  We knew that the shortest way was via ferry to Port Angeles, but we had plenty of time & opted for the southern route from the Airport.  It was a rainy day & we had each other for company so off we went.

Re: hotels on this trip à I had purchased vouchers for hotels.  I receive emails regularly with discounted rates & I thought I’d take a chance.  The deal was 2 nights for $99.  The dates we wanted to travel were available & I sent the requested dates & requested hotels.  The travel agency books it & confirms.  These were budget hotels (Comfort Inn & Ramada), but that was fine for our purposes.  I booked 2 nights in Port Angeles at the beginning of our trip & 2 nights near the Seattle Airport for the end.  They weren’t anything special, but they were clean & easy to find.  4 nights for under $200 is a deal.  At the first hotel our stay included breakfast in the mornings.

Note – we didn’t do one thing that we always do when we travel & we realized it was a mistake.  We didn’t stop at a local grocery/department store to pick up water/snacks right at the beginning.  Since our schedule was very flexible (we had only booked hotels & had no other confirmed plans) we just kept going.  We found ourselves hungry & in locations where there was no place to stop on various days.  Eventually we did go to the grocery store & picked up Snapple iced tea, dried fruit & nuts & pretzels, but we should have thought of it sooner.

Tuesday was a travel day & we arrived in Port Angeles in the afternoon.  On the way I’d read in our AAA Tour Guide of a restaurant in Sequim, WA that they recommended.  In looking at the map it seemed like a reasonable place to stop. We had an early dinner at the Hi-Way 101 Diner.  David had the pot roast & potatoes.  I had a pulled pork sandwich.  The waitress brought us Fry Sauce & I asked her what was in it, since that was a new condiment for me.  She said it was Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce, mayonnaise & something else that the chef wouldn’t tell her.  It was ok, but I think I’ll stick to our red pepper mayo as our unique condiment (red pepper relish mixed with mayo – YUM).

We woke on Wednesday morning to clouds & light rain.  We took a look at the map & decided to head due west.  Our goal was Cape Flattery – the most northwestern point in the U.S.  We took Route 101 out of Port Angeles.  It was very scenic & we both fell in love with the large trees, water views & mild climate.  We had to stop a couple of times for David to participate in conference calls for work but we weren’t on a deadline so took our time.  We drove out to the parking lot & followed the trail to Cape Flattery.  It was a beautiful place & we were both so glad that we had chosen that adventure for our day on the Olympic Peninsula.

 On the way back we stopped for a late lunch at the Breakwater Restaurant.  The food was ok, but the owner was delightful & told us about the logging industry, reduction in population, Native American issues and we talked a little sports, too since she is a Mariners fan.  We were full of good intentions & wanted to take a 2nd hike, but were unable since the falls we wanted to see were within a National Forest & the government shut-down meant the road was closed, too.  We decided to take the scenic loop back to Port Angeles & had dinner at the Café Garden.  The food at this tiny restaurant was very good.  I had the Stir-Fried seasonal vegetables over rice which included their homemade teriyaki sauce.  David had Spicy Seafood Rigatoni.  It wasn’t as spicy as he likes, but it was good.  We shared a crème brulee for dessert.
In the morning we knew we had a long drive since we were headed to Stevenson, WA to the Columbia River Gorge area.  We got up, took some muffins from the hotel & headed on our way.  It was a beautiful ride & we stopped to enjoy Multnomah Falls. 

 We still hadn’t stopped for snacks & we were getting hungry so we pulled over at a Dairy Queen for their $5 lunch special.  [1/4 pound burger, fries, drink & small sundae]  We continued on to Stevenson & noticed the train tracks right next to the highway.  When I booked our stay at the Columbia Gorge Riverside Lodge they made it very clear that this establishment is right next to the train tracks.  They weren’t kidding, but I love trains & I’d read all of the comments from previous guests to I felt prepared (& they do leave earplugs in each unit).  We stayed in the Northwest Passage unit (#4) since I wanted to have a view of the Columbia River, be far enough from the trains that we wouldn’t be jostled out of bed & not have anyone above us.  This unit was perfect except for 1 thing – the bed is a full size bed & we were a bit crowded [spoiled from sleeping on a king size bed].  We used the fan in the room just to have background noise to cover up the train & it worked fine.  The unit was very comfortable & we would go back again without any question. After settling in we went for a walk along the river & then went into town to look around. For dinner we went to the El Rio Restaurant (within walking distance of the Lodge).  This small restaurant had delicious food.  I chose the beef burrito with ranchero sauce on the side & pinto beans.  David had chicken fajitas which came with all of the condiments you could want (guacamole, sour cream, lettuce, black olives).  Our waitress recommended keeping the salsa at the table to add to our dinner items.  It was a good recommendation.  I ordered sangria (which the waitress said would come in a small fishbowl) & it was equal to the sangria I’d enjoyed in Barcelona. 
On Friday we knew that our next hotel was only about 30 minutes from Stevenson, but we wanted to explore more of the area.  David had said he wanted to see Mt Saint Helens & we saw a back route in one o f the travel brochures left in the lodge.  After a few missed roads we found the route up into the mountains & came to the McClelland [?] Lookout.  It was a perfect day with clear blue skies & Mt Saint Helens was breathtaking.  On the way there we had an unexpected treat when I saw a large owl perched on the guardrail.  We turned around & it was just flying away, but didn’t go deep into the forest so David was able to get a great photograph.  It was a moment of awe.  Such beauty & there we were. 

As we were driving all over the back roads of Washington we realized that we needed gas.  We were also getting hungry.  We found a gas station to get gas that said it was also a deli, but we were there in the off-season so no fresh sandwiches to be had.  We decided to head out of the mountains & find our way to Historic Route 30 & on to Hood River, OR.  As we came around the corner we saw a store that spoke to both of us, “Mark’s Snack & Tackle”.  We were right on the edge of the Columbia River & the sign said that they had sandwiches.  It appeared to be a win/win.  David asked some fishing questions & we both ordered the special (pulled pork sandwiches).  Unfortunately – it wasn’t the best lunch we had, but we did like sitting next to the Columbia River.  We continued along Historic Route 30 & stopped at a couple of waterfalls (well worth the hikes) as well as the Vista House.  It’s a trip that I would recommend to anyone.
Our stay was booked at the Hood River Hotel.  This historic hotel was right on the main street [Oak Street] of Hood River.  It’s a small town with a vibrant street presence & they were celebrating their last First Friday of the year.  We didn’t stay out late enough to see what it was about & I’d done my research & booked an internal room since the rooms in the front could be noisy.  We walked up & down & decided to have Italian food for dinner at Romuls.  It was a good choice.  David had Saltimbocca with lamb & I had a delicious cream of mushroom soup with a grilled pear salad.  Everything was well prepared.
For breakfast we had received a $10 breakfast voucher from the hotel to have breakfast in their adjoining restaurant.  I had the French toast (which came with honey butter) & David ordered Eggs Benedict.  The coffee & food were very good.

Saturday was going to be a long day since we were headed to the Oregon Coast.  We had heard that the Oregon Coast was more beautiful than the Washington & we wanted to see for ourselves.  We had loved the Olympic Peninsula.  How would Oregon compare?  Since neither of us had been to the Oregon Coast I’d looked for a place to stay up & down the coast.  I ran into an interesting problem.  They wanted multi-night bookings & we only had 1 night to stay.  Since I wanted to stay on the water [it was the ocean in the off-season – I thought that was a reasonable idea] we ended up in Rockaway.  There’s not much to say about this town other than it is on the Coast, but our demands weren’t many.  We drove up the Oregon Coast on Route 101 all the way to Astoria (where the movie Goonies was filmed) & stopped at Cannon Beach to take pictures of Haystack.  It really is a sight to see.  We settled into our unit, walked on the beach for a bit & decided to get something to eat.  We went to the Whale Spout Restaurant for dinner.  I’d read about it on & expected good food.  We weren’t disappointed.  I had a burger with grilled pineapple, lettuce, tomato, local cheddar cheese, red onion & teriyaki mayo.  David had fish & chips.  We both enjoyed our meals & stopped for ice cream at a shop nearby.  We went back to our oceanfront unit & went for a walk on the beach in anticipation of the sunset.  What a beautiful beach & you can walk for miles.  There were a few families walking & plenty of people with dogs.  It was a good way to end a good day.

Sunday we had the trip back to Seattle to make.  I had purchased a from Jamba Juice & we made a stop in Puyallup for Razmatazz smoothies.  It was a delicious treat along the way.  When we left Rockaway Beach we wanted to take in as much coast as possible so we set our GPS for Aberdeen, WA in order to keep driving up the Coast.  We came across & picked up I-5 to head towards Seattle.  Here’s where I was very, very lucky& I want to make note of this in case I’m in Seattle again.  I had used the 2nd 2 nights for $99 for our final 2 nights in Seattle & we wanted to be near the airport since we had a 6 a.m. flight.  I didn’t plan it, but I booked a hotel on International Drive & it was PERFECT for dropping off our car at the airport.  We were 5 minutes from the drop-off location.  We were pretty tired from driving all day & decided to have dinner at the hotel restaurant.  They advertised it as Pan-Asian & I wanted to have Pad Thai while I was on the West coast.  David had the Thai Chicken Curry.  Because we were there before 5 we also enjoyed $3.95 appetizers (pot stickers & egg rolls).  The food was good.  It wasn’t great or exceptional, but it was fine for our purposes. 

On Monday we had planned to go to Seattle & take some time at Pike’s Place Market.  We had stopped there briefly when we were in Seattle in July, but we wanted to take our time.  We found a parking space on 1st & Seneca & walked up to the Market.  We had coffee at one of the Italian shops (delicious) & then meandered around.  We went down the street & into World Market which was a fun shop & I’d like to find one closer to Massachusetts.  I had a certificate for a tavern in Seattle & we wanted to use it for lunch.  We went to the Eastlake Grill & I had tomato basil soup & a Caesar salad.  David had one of their signature burgers – Bamb [beef & lamb] but he said it was dry & the roll didn’t have much flavor.  Since the certificate was $15 for $30 worth of food & we went at lunch we really made the most of this deal.  We went back to our hotel & I had started out the day with a headache & it was getting much worse.  I tried aspirin & ibuprofen & nothing was making it better.  I started to think maybe I was dehydrated.  David wanted ice cream from Outback & I had several gift cards so off we went.  Once there – I decided to have the potato soup & pecan salad [minus the blue cheese].  David had filet mignon.  Everything was good & we shared their famous sundae (ice cream rolled in toasted coconut with hot fudge/whipped cream) for dessert.

Tuesday morning was a very early wake-up (4 a.m. for a 6 a.m. flight).  We did have time to pick up 2 muffins before boarding our flight & purchased sandwiches on the flight from Houston to Boston.  

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Planes, Trains & Automobiles --- February Vacation 2014

This trip was almost as much fun to plan as it was to take.  Katie wanted to check off a few more states & her older siblings had all traveled by train between Chicago, IL & Springfield, MA before she was born.  I don't ever need much nudging to organize a train trip so we started to talk about what we could do.  David wasn't excited about going both ways via train so we looked at flying 1 way & taking the train one way.  We each traveled with 1 carry-on as we knew that space on the train would be limited.
Here are the details to maximize the number of states visited (CT, IL, WI, IN, MI, OH, PA, NY, MA).
Feb 15 - flight from Hartford, CT to Midway Airport on Southwest Airlines [used free flights that we'd earned]
Picked up a rental car from Hertz [AAA discount was the best deal we could find]
Started driving to Wisconsin
Visited the AirVenture Museum in Oshkosh, WI [highly recommend]
EAA AirVenture Museum
Stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites [good choice since it included breakfast]
Best surprise of Wisconsin -
Leon's Frozen Custard in Milwaukee --- DELICIOUS!
Feb 16
Breakfast at the hotel & headed for Michigan
Drove through Indiana & over to St Joseph, MI
Will leave off lunch location as it was just ok
Arrived in Chicago to check into the Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront
Welcome to Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront at the Wyndham Grand Chicago Riverfront in Chicago, IL
This beautiful hotel couldn't have been more lovely (especially from the 21st floor)
David headed off to drop off the car & we settled in for an incoming snow storm
Feb 17
What an exciting day in Chicago.  We experienced Thunder Snow & headed out for lunch at Lou Malnati's for Deep Dish Pizza.  We'd answered a survey for Wyndham & had been given a gift card that we used for this meal.  It was so much fun walking around Chicago with the snow flying.  For anyone that lives in Chicago layers are definitely the way to go.
Feb 18
It was still pretty snowy, but we were ready for an adventure.  We stopped the Corner Bakery Cafe for breakfast [so good] & started walking to the Chicago History Museum (not to be confused with the Field Museum).
  I had purchased tickets for this Museum using Groupon & it was a very interesting place with exhibits focused on the City of Chicago.  There was a photography exhibit of photos taken during the 60s & 70s by Vivian Maier.  It was very insightful.
We had another Groupon for O'Brien's Restaurant which was within walking distance of the History Museum so we enjoyed an excellent lunch before heading back to our beautiful hotel.
Feb 19
We didn't have firm plans for this day so we took the bus to the Navy Pier.  We were disappointed as there really wasn't much there, but would imagine it's a great place to go when the weather is nice.  We decided to walk back from the Navy Pier & found ourselves at Millennium Park [home to The Bean].  It was a sunny day (but chilly).  People were out enjoying lunch, taking reflective photos & adjusting their scarves.
We walked back to our hotel & thought about dinner.  We had picked up some dining magazines & found an ad for Carson's BBQ on North Wells Street.
Carson's Wells Location
 It was a historic restaurant & didn't disappoint.  David & Katie wore bibs to eat their ribs.  I enjoyed the most delicious cole slaw I've ever eaten along with pulled pork.  It was a filling meal & a great way to experience the food in Chicago.
Feb 20
We knew that this was going to be a very LONG day.  Our train wasn't scheduled to leave until 9:30 at night & we had to check out of our hotel earlier in the day.  We decided to check out & store our luggage at the hotel.  We went to the Field Museum for the entire day.  It was one of the highlights of our trip.  The special exhibit was from the Columbian Exposition from 1893.  I loved seeing all of the artifacts & interesting stories that went along with this exhibit.

After exploring ever nook & cranny of the Field Museum (& staying until closing) we headed back towards our hotel.  We had made a change to our AAA Amtrak Reservation when we found that it wasn't that much more to book a Pullman Sleeper for the overnight trip from Chicago to Cleveland.  I'll save that story for a little later.
We enjoyed a hearty Italian meal at Bella Bacino.  Our hotel had 20% coupons for this restaurant.  It's ALWAYS a good idea to check with the hotel regarding recommendations or discounts.
After dinner we retrieved our luggage & headed to Union Station via taxi.

We checked in & because we were taking a sleeper we were sent to the Waiting Area for Pullman Passengers.  I'm sure that in the past this was probably a very swanky place to wait for the train.  At this time it's a little rundown, but there are chairs & tables, things to drink & you are directed to your coach when it arrives (which for us was at the very front of the train so involved a hike [another reason to take a carry on]).  We had booked a B sleeper unit.  This was a very TINY space.  We entered & the beds were up.  There were 3 seats facing a sink.  The bathroom/shower [yep - it's all in one itsy bitsy space] could be accessed by folding up one of the seats.  We were arriving late so our steward told us that she'd set up our bedding.  There were plates of grapes/cheese & crackers & bottles of water in our cabin.  We were offered wine, but were too tired to partake.  David opted for the top bunk (which folded down from the wall) & Katie & I shared the bottom bunk (seats folded flat).  We settled in for the night & the attendant promised to wake us up prior to arrival in Cleveland.  It was certainly an adventure!
Feb 21
We arrived in Cleveland & spent a few minutes stretching after we exited the train.  We took a local taxi (with a very exuberant local taxi driver) to the airport car rental area to pick up our rental car.  Once we had our rental car we stopped at Cracker Barrel for breakfast (using a gift card that we had).  We planned to go to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, OH as it opened at 9 a.m.

Upon arrival we saw the front of the Hall of Fame swarming with SWAT officers (including K-9s).  We wondered what we were seeing, but found out that it was only a photo shoot.  Phew!  The Football Hall of Fame is more than you'd expect & we spent several hours there.  Even seeing the busts of the inductees along with the Super Bowl rings is something you don't want to miss.  Note - there is a discount if you buy the tickets for the Football Hall of Fame & Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a combined ticket.
We checked into our hotel (which I won't mention by name since we moved out after 1 night).  We took Katie to Outback Steakhouse & the food was delicious.
Feb 22
Day 2 in Ohio & we were headed to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  We didn't really know what to expect.

I would say that anyone that enjoys music or history should make a trip to the Hall of Fame.  It wasn't that interesting to Katie, but David & I thought that the artifacts were amazing & they move people through the museum very well.  We sat & watched videos of American Bandstand & reminisced.
We moved to the Crowne Plaza Hotel & wanted to pick up some food for the long trip tomorrow.  On our way to the grocery store we saw a Big Boy Restaurant.  Katie had never been (or heard of) a Big Boy Restaurant so we took her to a part of our childhoods.  The food was mediocre, but it was fun to see the chubby guy with plaid overalls.

Dropped off the car & worked on getting some sleep before a long day tomorrow.
Feb 23
5:30 a.m. departure from Cleveland, OH on Amtrak 448 to Springfield, MA.  It was the Lake Shore Limited & we settled in for a long day.  It was a wonderful trip & I think anyone would benefit from seeing the US in this way.