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Monthly Archives: May 2017

The charm of Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada

Across the harbor, Victoria

Across the Inner Harbor, Victoria, with The Empress in the background

Amazing flowers

As the heat continues to build in Houston, it was wonderful to be able to get away to a cooler part of the U.S., specifically the Pacific Northwest, and then on to Victoria, Vancouver Island, Canada. July is always a terrific time to visit that part of the country, because you can pretty much depend on beautiful weather, warm days and nights with a chill in the air.

A walk along Puget Sound

A walk along Puget Sound

I flew into Seattle and stayed for a couple of days in the little town of Mukilteo, which is absolutely charming. The landscape is hilly, the flowers bloom recklessly, and Puget Sound is blue blue blue. On the first full day of the trip, we all drove into Seattle to experience both a foodie tour, and Seattle’s Public Market. The foodie tour, which was guided by Liz McCune of EatSeattleTours.com, was terrific. We started early, going from booths to stalls to shops, taste-testing everything from coffee to cheese, to mac and cheese, to pastries and chocolate. Yum-o!

Seattle food tasting tour

Seattle food tasting tour – the Public Market

After which we stopped for lunch! Despite having dipped tongue into so many foods, we were all still hungry, and it was terrific sitting in the pub overlooking the bay, having brunch. The weather was really beautiful…basically, you could say it was Goldilocks’ weather: not too hot, not too cold, but just right. Lucky us!

Rambling round Mukilteo

Rambling round Mukilteo

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The rest of the day I spent rambling around Mukilteo and getting ready for the brief but exciting trip to Victoria and Vancouver Island.

Driving through potato fields on the way to the ferry

Driving through potato fields on the way to the ferry

Monday morning, we drove the two-hour stretch from Mukilteo to the ferry. I loved the entire drive – through open farm country, with potato fields covered in their purple flower,

One of the picturesque barns

One of the wonderful picturesque barns

past picturesque old barns, and through tiny towns…stopping for a bite to eat in LaConner, one of my favorite towns in this area. It really is a “tiny town” … you can walk the main street in a minute. It’s filled with small boutiques, great little restaurants, and galleries. Just fun to wander around in the sunshine (and wish you lived here.)

Eating our way to Canada! A delicious cinnamon roll for breakfast in LaConner!

Eating our way to Canada! A delicious cinnamon roll for breakfast in LaConner!

Then on to the ferry, and my first glimpse of Canada. We didn’t wait long, and the ferry ride itself, although about another two-hour trip, was immensely comfortable, with booths set alongside the windows so you’re able to look out onto the islands and get the first glimpse of the Canadian shore. I really was excited…never having been to Canada before.

The ferry to Sidney by the Sea, Canada

The ferry to Sidney by the Sea, Canada

Coming to Canada

Coming to Canada

We arrived at Sidney by the Sea on Vancouver Island, and as we drove through, my first thought was: I’ve never seen such a spotless town. Not a scrap of paper, a tin can, or a piece of garbage was anywhere in sight. I didn’t know whether to wonder if the Stepford Wives lived here, or if everyone was extremely careful of the environment. Very impressive!

Victoria - Parliament

Victoria – Parliament

A tiny water taxi

A tiny water taxi

We arrived in Victoria towards the end of the day, and got ourselves settled in the Victoria Chateau, a sweet little hotel with a great restaurant perched atop with 360o views of the city.

After cleaning up, it was a short walk to dinner, and then we strolled around the harbor, watching a mime performing in the twilight,

A mime performs - the harbor in Victoria

A mime performs at the Inner Harbor, Victoria

and the lights coming on at the Governor’s Mansion. Magical. We took another stroll through the Empress Hotel, where we planned to have High Tea the following day.

The Empress Hotel

The Empress Hotel

The Empress is the grand old lady of hotels. Overlooking Inner Harbor, and close to Government Street and the Parliament buildings, its ivy-covered brick façade is absolutely enchanting. Inside are shops and boutiques, the tea room where we’ll have High Tea at 4PM, and history out the wazoo…. After which, we turned in early to get ready for the Butchart Gardens the next day.

A view at Butchart Gardens

A view at Butchart Gardens

Up at around 7:30, I ordered Room Service breakfast, which is such a great way to start the morning (for me, anyway!). Then we were off to the Gardens, and it really was a sight to behold. The flowers were out in full force, colors blending in garden vistas as far as the eye could see. But the green was what held my attention: from the cedars and yews to the beautifully mown grass, the boxwood edgings and the fences and walls covered in ivies, it was a most impressive and glorious place.

The green is amazing!

The green is amazing!

Incredible flowers - but the hydrangeas were awesome

Incredible flowers – the hydrangeas were awesome

More views of these incredible gardens

More views of these incredible gardens

We stopped mid-tour for a drink in the tea room. As we couldn’t order just a drink, we ordered high tea (despite the fact we were having High Tea at The Empress later that day!) Tea consisted of – well, tea….as well as sandwiches, small quiches, scones and dessert. Yikes! Not to say we didn’t eat it all – we did, and it was great. (But we had to move High Tea at The Empress back an hour or two in order to feel at least some hunger pangs by the time we got there.)

A view of the tearoom

A view of the tearoom

The weather was perfect. And getting to the Gardens at an early hour was smart, because by the time noon rolled around, it was packed with tourists. By arriving early, we could take our time wandering the pathways. The most spectacular part was the quarry gardens…photographs don’t do it justice. But needless to say, you were just encompassed by the beauty.

The Quarry Gardens

The Quarry Gardens

Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross....

Ride a cockhorse to Banbury Cross….

Finally, we drove back to our hotel and after a rest and freshen up, it was on to The Empress for High Tea. People took tea in all manner of dress…certainly wasn’t important to dress up for the event. After the requisite glass of sherry, we ordered….a 3-tiered cake stand offered a wonderful variety of finger sandwiches, quiches, desserts of all types…in other words: High Tea!

High Tea at The Empress

High Tea at The Empress

After the tea, we drove around Victoria, and then Vancouver Island. The day, which had been warm, eventually cooled down into the 60s, chilly but not unduly so. We viewed the Parliament buildings across the water, chatted with some locals who lived in the area, and just wandered around looking at everything and anything…it was great.

Doing my Howard Roarke imitation

Doing my Howard Roark impression, in the cool of the evening

The final day on Vancouver Island was spent touring Craigdarroch Castle, a Victorian era Scottish baronial mansion, with amazing woodwork and stained glass.

Craigderrock Castle

Craigdarroch Castle

We walked down the road from the Castle, to the Lieutenant Governor’s Mansion and grounds, which were beautifully landscaped…hydrangeas out in full force, and magnificent. And it had a teashop – the cry goes out! Another high tea was then addressed….and it was equally delicious!

Teashop - the cry goes out!

Teashop on the Lt. Governor’s grounds – the cry goes out!

The remains of the day were spent driving around the island and visiting a used bookshop, until it was time to catch the ferry back to the U.S.

Stopping to smell the ... sweet peas

Stopping to smell the … sweet peas

Although we had no time for hiking on this trip, it was a wonderful, eventful, a magical time. Next year, Banff!!

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New York Odyssey

The Mohonk Mountain House

The Mohonk Mountain House

The recent visit to the Mohonk Mountain House in upstate New York in the Hudson Valley was perfect in every way. Lene and I drove directly to the hotel that looks a little like The Shining and which has enough hallways and corners to get you completely lost if you don’t have a compass! But the views from the rooms….the beautiful lake…the trails…the gardens…the blue skies and sunshine…the peace and beauty were absolutely wonderful. We hiked ourselves silly, and enjoyed most of the amenities the inn has to offer…and the food, absolutely yum-o. What a spectacular find!

Tuesday, Day 1: I met Lene at Newark, and we wended our way to Mohonk. We managed to get a little lost trying to find the front of this gigantic hotel, but finally make it after asking several people how to get out of the parking lot. Seriously.

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Our room looked directly out onto the lake and mountain trails beyond, and the views were incredible…enhanced even more by the marvelous weather. So after quickly unpacking, we took a quick hike around the grounds, soaking in the peace and beauty.We had booked dinner at 8, so had plenty of time to ramble.

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Wednesday, Day 2: We ordered breakfast in our room, then booted up and set out to hike around Mohonk Lake and up to the Sky Top, high atop the Shawangunk Mountains…just gorgeous.

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The beautiful lake at the base of the mountains

We climbed to the top of Sky Top and took in the breathtaking view, which went on forever.

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After which, we hiked down and walked over the grounds, taking in the colors of the flowers, and the wonderful fencing that was made of twisty tree bark and wood.

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The fences around Mohonk House were absolutely beautiful

This takes us about 3-4 hours. I kept thinking of “The Last of the Mohicans” and wondering how on earth Cora raced up those mountains in that long dress and flats! 

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Mysterious Mohonk Mountain House

We managed to get back in time for tea at 4PM! After which it was time for a massage, after which fresh grapes and lemongrass were served on the terrace – we lounge about in our robes sipping and nibbling, looking at the views…and then, it’s time for dinner!! Fresh salmon is the order of the day…drinks to begin with. And so ends the first perfect day at Mohonk. I have to say, acting rich is very nice!

Thursday, Day 3: Up we get, ordered breakfast, and since we had to be out by 11AM, we’re out on the grounds and rambling around in another hike up the mountain,

How great to be in the middle of all this natural beauty!

How great to be in the middle of all this natural beauty!

and into the rocky scramble which we thought was the Labrynth and Lemon Squeeze, but actually is not…still, it was a nice little climb over, under and through the (sometimes sharp-edged) boulders.

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I wish I could hike every trail on the 1200 acres!

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Then we were on the road to Manhattan.

The iconic skyline from the iconic ferry

The iconic skyline from the iconic ferry

We arrived at the ferry and it took a moment deciding on where we could park the car. More faffing about on that, but Lene finally figured it out! And dragging our luggage, we got on the ferry toot sweet and that was our first view of the Manhattan skyline.

The view of the New York skyline across the Hudson is embodied perfectly in “Let the River Run”, the Working Girl anthem by Carly Simon: “Silver cities rise….the morning light, the streets that meet them…and sirens call them on with a song….” Loved every second of this iconic ferry ride.

Incredibly dramatic, wonderful. The sky was a pale, cloudy blue…the water fairly calm. We took lots of photographs as we approached…another carpe diem moment.

On landing, we flagged down a taxi…as the taxi took off, he almost wiped out a bicyclist – not hard to do, everyone bicycles and drives like crazy here. And the horns – they are the soundtrack of New York – the taxis hooting, the ambulances and sirens screaming – all the time….

So, off we went to W – our home away from home, in Union Square. What a beautiful hotel – very modern and the lobby was pristine and elegant.

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The W Hotel room in Union Square

Again, our room had magnificent views – looking directly across New York to the new World Trade Center.  Lene had brought champagne, so we had a glass and toasted to the start of another perfect part of our trip.

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Union Square, home to the W Hotel

We ordered room service (one of my favorite things) and since we didn’t have enough time to really eat a full meal, I inhaled a burger – which was delicious!!! While wolfing our dinner, we were cleaning up preparatory for once again taking off in a taxi, flagged down by our wonderful doorman, to see ‘Phantom of the Opera.”  Lene’s son had managed to get us tickets, and the seats were the best.  I could get used to this!

New York

New York

Friday, Day 5: Friday morning was spent at the Museum at the new World Trade Center, all the exhibits moving and poignant.  We watched videos of the day, the stories of the victims and the terrorists, saw the artifacts saved from the old sites, photographs that told the story … an amazing experience.

The new World Trade Center

The new World Trade Center

Time marched on…and we left the Museum and took the subway (another first!)

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to Greenwich Village, which I have wanted to see all my life.

Down in Washington Square

Down in Washington Square

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To actually walk around Washington Square was so meaningful to me.

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Bleecker Street

The parks everywhere, the architecture, the people…it was everything I wanted to see.

The Greenwich Village Library

The Greenwich Village Library

We passed O’Henry’s with an iconic photograph of Dylan lounging in the window – the close up photo of this photo in the window makes it seem as if he is still forever young.

O'Henry's, with Bob Dylan

Forever young…O’Henry’s, with Bob Dylan

We searched for brownstones,

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Lene looking to buy a brownstone?

meandered around Soho,

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The Café Clover in Greenwich Village

had lunch at a charming small restaurant called the Café Clover…the food was not only delicious, but beautifully prepared. One dish, Crispy Cauliflower, was something I’d never eaten and it was absolutely yummy….

We wandered about and looked at everything, until our feet could take it no more. So we skipped back down into the subway, and it was back to the W – and dinner and drinks at the hotel’s beautiful modern restaurant…very New York.

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Dining at the W

As mentioned, our hotel room looked across New York to the World Trade Center – and it was a dramatic and emotional view:  shafts of light shot up to the crescent moon from the old Twin Towers sites, and just to the right of the light was the new World Trade Center, spired and seemingly covered in diamond lights….just incredibly beautiful.

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Saturday, Day 6: Off to Bloomingdale’s for a ramble around the store, and then it was back to the W to pick up our luggage, grab a taxi and head back to the ferry…and so onto New Jersey where we finished up with a wonderful get-together, wrapping up a great New York memory….