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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Living the Highlife

Monday's High point: Our vacation begins ... and we had a gorgeous hotel!
Low point: Leaving my hubby in LA
Weather: Cloudy but no rain

Our week-long vacation started on Monday when my parents, Jules and I flew to Seattle. Everything proceeded smoothly, from our shuttle pick-up in LA, to the 2-hour and 11-minute flight, all the way to our shuttle ride to the hotel in Seattle. Since we arrived half-an-hour before check in, we passed the time with soup, chips and cocktails at a nearby Mexican cantina called Guaymas. Later on, we walked over to the Inn at Harbor Steps and checked in. I was extremely delighted with the Inn. First of all, it is so conveniently located to everything and there are so many shops and restaurants nearby. The Inn is a boutique hotel with only 30 rooms located on the first 2 floors of an apartment high-rise. All the rooms are elegantly done in muted colors, rich wood furniture, and Laura Ashley prints. Jules, (and later Jojo), plus myself were booked in a double room with a balcony that overlooked Elliot Bay, while my parents were in another wing of the Inn in a room that had a cozy hearth and fireplace. The Inn was a great blend of five-star hotel accommodations (great customer service and luxurious amenities) but was intimate enough to give us a bed-and-breakfast-like experience – complete with a continental breakfast spread every morning, wine and cheese before dinner, and an assortment of sodas and cookies throughout the day. Because of our wonderful accommodations, my brother dubbed this trip as “Living the Highlife” (which is true of any vacation you take with my parents) - and so “Living the Highlife” kind of became our mantra the whole time we were on vacation.

Tuesday Highlights: The Seafest dinner at The Crab Pot
Low point: Discovering that shops are closed by 6:00 PM everywhere in Seattle
Weather: Cloudy but no rain

On Tuesday, we explored Pioneer Square which is a section of downtown that houses countless coffee shops, boutiques, and art galleries. My three favorite stores include:
1.) The Elliot Bay Book Co. (an independently owned bookstore complete with creaking wooden floors, brick walls, cozy nooks for reading, and a wonderfully quaint ambience). I was so inspired by the place that I actually told my dad I’d like to own a shop like this one day – it must be wonderful to be in such a charming place surrounded by books and book-lovers all day!
2.) The Glass House which showcased such beautiful pieces of glass-blown art. We got to see a demo of glass-blowing (which was literally pretty hot).
3.) Fireworks an interesting store with a little something of everything (where my mom indulged in her shopping for Xmas tree ornaments and amusing knick-knacks).

After shopping we lined up at Salumi, a local deli owned by Armandino Batali, (the father of the famous Iron Chef and restauranteur Mario Batali). We picnicked at the Waterfall Garden Park and shared a salami platter (different varities of salami, cheeses, olives and bread). After lunch we headed to the Pike Market where I discovered that it was not nearly as big as I thought it would be. Even the fishstalls where the famous fish-throwing was pretty small. But it was a bustling place nonetheless with lots to see, hear, feel, taste and experience. We enjoyed freshly-baked piroshkys (which quickly became a family favorite). Piroshkys are a Ukranian treat somewhat similar to the Latin American empanada, the American chicken pie, the Chinese bbq pork bun, and the Indian samosa. It is a bread filled with either savory or sweet ingredients. My favorites were the beef and cheese, and the marzipan (made with creamy almond paste). After much walking around, and discovering that most stores in Seattle close by 6 PM, we headed to the Waterfront and had a clam/mussel/shrimp/crab-bake dinner at The Crab Pot. I loved that dinner – all that boiled seafood (dumped in a steaming pile in the center of our table) was so good, tasted so fresh, and was actually sort of creamy. The red potatoes, spicy sausages and corn were great side dishes too. We were a happy bunch with bibs around our necks, mallets in our hands, happily pounding on crab and mussels, working our way through the mound of seafood.

Wednesday Highlights: Jojo’s here and he got to join us for a vineyard and waterfall tour
Low-Point: not enough chocolate samples at the Chocolate factory
Weather: Cloudy with scattered showers (luckily most of the rain happened while we were in the tourbus)

Our whole-day tour started when our tour guide (John) and his wife (Renee) picked us up at 9:30 in front of the Inn. Along with about a dozen other passengers we headed for the outskirts of the city and enjoyed serene and picturesque views of hills, waterfronts, and wildlife. Our first stop was the Columbia Winery in Woodinville where we got to tour their wine cellars and got to taste their award winning wines. We liked the Gewurztraminer (a dessert wine similar to Riesling) so much that we bought four bottles for our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner. Next door we also made a quick stop at the Chateu St. Michelle (another local vineyard with lovely grounds and is the oldest one in Washington state) and sampled their wines as well. We made a quick pitstop lunch at a local Texas bbq place for beef brisket and pulled pork sandwiches. Then it was off to see the Snoqualmie Falls ( a 250-feet waterfall) in Isaquah, Washington. The falls were nice to see but the weather was getting chilly for me so I spent more time in the giftshop than in the viewing platform. Our last stop of the day was Boehm’s Chocolate Factory where we got a tour of Joseph Boehm’s chalet, tasted his Belgian chocolates and purchased a few more for the road. We got back to Seattle past 5 and had a quiet dinner at Ivar’s (a fine-dining waterfront eatery that served so-so seafood).

Thursday Highlights: Ride the Ducks Tour
Low-Point: Not going up on the Space Needle since it was way too foggy to see anything
Weather: Cloudy and very foggy

We got to the Space Needle at around 10 but found it was too foggy to see anything so we headed across the street to the Ride the Ducks tour. The tour is on an amphibious vehicle (that runs about 30-miles an hour on land and even slower on water). We took the 90-minute tour with the hilarious Captain (Rocky Bottom) and got to see Seattle City and tour Lake Union (where we saw the famous houseboats – including the one featured in Sleepless in Seattle). By the time the tour was over, we were hungry and walked over to the Experience Music Project (EMP) and had sandwiches at the Revolution CafĂ©. Since it was still foggy after lunch, we took the Monorail over to the Westlake Center Mall and the Nordstrom flagship store. We spent the afternoon exploring the shopping sights of downtown Seattle. My folks headed back to the hotel while Jojo, Jules and I visited to the First Starbucks retail store and picked up piroshlys for dinner back at the hotel.

Friday Highlights: Dimsum at O Asian
Low-Point: Long walk from Chinatown
Weather: Cloudy

We decided to take the Metro and head to Chinatown to explore that part of the city. Somewhat surprising, Seattle’s Chinatown is very low-key and quite deserted - a far cry from most Chinatowns’ that are noisy, vibrant and busy. We explored Uwajimaya (the largest Japanese foodstore in the Northwest) and walked 8 long, agonizing blocks to O Asian for dimsum. The food at O Asian was very good (I especially liked their steamed spareribs and the spinach noodles). The place was located close to the financial district so it was a bit subdued and more fine-dining compared to most dimsum houses. On our walk back to our hotel we stopped by huge and very modern structure that housed the Seattle Central Public Library. We then walked down to Rainier Square (or what I call the fancy part of town) to browse the Louis Vuitton and Coach shops and to find the Newhaus Chocolatier on Fourth Street. My friend, Ayesha, who used to live in Seattle said a visit to this chocolate boutique was a must and so we did (purchasing Belgian chocolates and enjoying hot chocolate drinks). The walk back to the hotel although long was much easier since it was all downhill!

Saturday Highlights: Meeting Auntie Edna and Deanna and my cousins Darren and Heather for the first time
Low Point: the inauthentic Native American meal at Tillicum Village
Weather: Drizzled in the early morning but it actually became sunny the rest of the day

On Saturday, we boarded the Argosy Cruise line for a 45-minute ride to Tillicum Village on Blake Island. The ride was pleasant enough and the views were really amazing (I liked seeing the Seattle skyline from the water on one side and the views of mountain ranges and wildlife on the other). We arrived on the island and were greeted with steaming bowls of clams in sweet broth (great way to ward off the cold). We lined up for a salmon buffet lunch supposedly cooked the Native American way (on alderwood planks secured with spikes). But it was not very authentic because the salmon was farm raised (not wild) and brushed with lemon butter (which Native Americans probably did not use). The rest of the buffet was ok (long grain wild rice, dark brown sweet bread, red potatoes and leafy green salad veggies). After our meal we watched a tribal dance that told the story of Chief Seattle and his band of Indians and their tribe’s ties with nature. It was interesting (and so timely since I just finished Jim Ferguson’s novel about the Cheyenne Indians). We had half an hour to walk around Blake Island (but it was so cold that we stayed close to the lodge and our ship). At around 4 we boarded the ship and cruised back to Seattle.

We met my mom’s cousins Auntie Edna and Auntie Deanna for dinner along with Auntie Edna’s son Darren and his wife Heather. It was really nice meeting them – considering my mom has not seen Auntie Edna in 40 years (and I’ve never met any of them before). We had dinner at Anthony’s on Pier 66 (another fancy place where the food was good but nothing great). I had the grilled wild salmon over a butternut squash risotto and shared a wild berry something for dessert. Over dinner there was a lot of catching up and exchanging of stories, so while the food was nothing memorable, the company certainly was.

Sunday’s Highlights: No highlight since it was the end of our vacation
Low Point: Our flight was delayed for 5 hours!
Weather: Cloudy up till our drive to the airport then it started to rain (while we were in the shuttle)

Sunday we went to mass at the St. James Cathedral (a really beautiful church in downtown Seattle). Our family was even chosen to participate in the mass by offering the collection and the bread and wine. After mass, we walked back to do some last minute packing and to check out of the Inn. We had a quick lunch at Ipanema, a Brazilian place next to the Inn, while waiting for the shuttle to take us to the airport. Our flight was suppose to leave at 5:05 pm but because of a delay, we left Seattle at 7 pm. We were suppose to arrive at 7 pm, but instead were re-routed to the Ontario Airport at around 9:30 pm (there was too much fog over LA and the plane could not land in LAX). We waited 3 hours (inside the plane because we were not allowed to disembark in Ontario) and finally took off for LA at about 12:30. We arrived in LA, at almost 1 AM and by the time we got our luggage and drove home, it was just past 2 AM. So far that was the only bummer to an otherwise “Living the Highlife” vacation.


jol said...

For me, the most important ingredient for an enjoyable vacation is the company. For whatever the sights, the accomodation, the food and whatever the place has to offer; all will fall into place when you are with the right people. In this Seattle trip, the only bummer for me is that not all my children were with us.

joyeee said...

wow! you guys really had one busy and interesting glad you guys had fun even though there were a few low points in your adventures, what matters is the company and just having fun!:)
I also didnt know we had cousins there...haha:) I guess every year, we'd meet new one's since the last time it was Mark and Michael remember?:) haha
Can't wait to take trip with all of you guys there too someday. I sure it would be a blast!
I was anticipating the picture though...maybe next time, you could post some pictures too:) haha
You really have a gift in telling stories..I could feel as if I were there!!!:)