Mount Olympus – what a great name. Sounds strong and majestic. It does not disappoint. Olympus and its five glaciers are at the core of the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park in Washington state. The national park maintains plenty of trails that lead to and fro through this wilderness at 5000 feet. I wonder if any of them lead to the glaciers…? Not that I’d ever do it. I don’t mind a little adventure, but not on this scale. I am quite content with a leisurely 17 mile drive through the cloud cover to Hurricane Ridge to view Mount Olympus and its surroundings. The guide books promised it would be spectacular, and I concur!

I just love clouds moving through mountains

More clouds to enjoy

Ok, I'm cloud obsessed

Arriving mid-June to several feet of snow, the roads were only open to traffic up to the snack bar and gift shop at the start of the ridge. The road beyond was plowed but not yet open for vehicular traffic. Hiking – yes. Cars – no. We started to hike down the road, then thought better of it because we really couldn’t see past the snow drifts anyway. We returned to the welcome center just in time to see two black tailed deer entertaining the small crowd that had braved the fog like us.

A little entertainment

After gawking at the beauty of clouds floating through snowy mountains, it’s time to taste the local wine. Next stop: Olympic Cellars. Not a very imaginative name, but conveniently located right on the main road (route 101), with welcoming grounds and about 15 wines to choose from. I was tempted to buy some of the local foods available for pairing, but settled for a bottle of shiraz and some small gifts to take home to friends and family. We wanted to check out some other wineries but the ferry in Port Townsend was calling our names. And we made it just in time. We hadn’t considered making a reservation (I know, silly, right?). My first experience on the car ferry was welcomed with a little stress as we waited for the staff to determine if our rental would fit on board. Alas – we made it on with the last 10 cars and were on our way to Whidbey Island…ready to return to the Olympic Peninsula to explore another day…

Our car is down below while we enjoy the scenery

Want to know the impact of these mountains holding back the clouds on their easterly journey from the Pacific Ocean?  Check out day 2 of this amazing road trip.

I’m glad you came along for the journey. Did you like it? Please comment below to let me know your thoughts!

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We’re headed to the Olympic National Park and some of the largest temperate rainforests in the United States. Visiting the Olympic Peninsula in June means we don’t have to share the experience with many other visitors. After a hearty breakfast  at the Ocean Crest Resort in Moclips, we headed to Lake Quinault, home of one of several rainforests in Washington’s fog belt.  Ok, I have to stop for a moment because it wasn’t just a hearty breakfast, it was awesome.  Our meal consisted of veggie frittata, hazelnut crusted French toasted baguette, and creme brulee oatmeal.  All of this while we enjoyed a view of the Pacific Ocean.  This definitely helped start our day off right, and capped off a fantastic stay at this oceanfront lodge.

The rainforest at Lake Quinault is a surreal experience.  It truly feels like another world.   I can’t even find words to describe the moss, lichens, ferns, and trees to be seen at every turn.  We were so amazed at our surroundings that it took us two hours to walk the 1/2 mile loop trail near the entrance to Lake Quinault.

Moss-draped big leaf maples

Serenity at Lake Quinault

A bog on the Maple Glade Trail

 

Next stop, Ruby Beach.  One of many easily accessible beaches along the coastline portion of route 101, the loop road around the Olympic Peninsula.  A short hike and you’re surrounded by large sea stacks and bleached driftwood on the rock- and pebble-strewn beach.  Maybe there’s sand somewhere on this beach, but I didn’t see it.  Perhaps at low tide it would be apparent…?  The beach consists of smooth stones that decrease in size as you get closer to the water. Off in the distance, the aptly-named Destruction Island lighthouse keeps watch over the coastline.  This lighthouse went into service in 1889 to warn sailors of the dangers hidden in the fog of the rocky Washington coast. The lighthouse is no longer in use and sadly no longer maintained.

Sea stacks at Ruby Beach

Aptly named: Destruction Island Lighthouse

I want to experience a winter storm on this beach

 

Taking the loop road north from Ruby Beach, it’s an inland journey to the Hoh River Valley.  This rainforest region is where we are greeted by majestic Roosevelt Elk as the day transitions to dusk.  First a cow, then two bucks feeding along the side of the road.  They were all a bit camera shy and we wisely chose not to follow them into the woods to create a photo op.  The drive up the Hoh River Valley provides surprise views of the wide expanse of the river, moss-covered trees, and some brave campers. I am a fan of camping, but don’t think I could do it in any area that bears call home. We’re off to our $85 bargain hotel in Forks, then headed to the mountains tomorrow.

Like this post?  Check out what we discovered on day 1 and day 3 of this journey. Comment below to let me know your thoughts.

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The Olympic Peninsula beckoned with its temperate rainforest, rocky coastline, and snowy mountains. Driving towards the Pacific Ocean from Seattle, Washington, through small historic towns on our way to the coast, we began to adjust to our new surroundings. Chilly winds and brief rains, threatening storm clouds. Thick coniferous forest with occasional clear cuts that reminded us of this region’s roots in the timber industry.

Exploring several towns on our first day on the Olympic Peninsula, I think we’ll call Aberdeen our favorite. Driving up the hill on winding streets reminiscent of Lombard Street in San Francisco, we admired the unbelievably big and beautiful rhododendrons and azaleas. Reds, salmons, whites, pinks, and purples appeared in everyone’s yard. The view from the top of the hill into Gray’s Harbor was spectacular.

This is coffee country and driveup espresso shacks are everywhere on the Olympic Peninsula. These little shacks provide residents and visitors with the opportunity to get a latte, mocha, or cappuccino without getting wet in the drizzle and cold. I’ll take a mocha. Yum.

I'll take a mocha

 

We made it to the Pacific mid-afternoon, following the signs off the main drag to Ocean Shores beach access. Guess where you park your car? On the beach! This part of the coast is flat and sandy. The guide book tells us that the coast gets rocky as we move further north, and that we’ll see “sea stack” rock formations in the surf. Here, it’s wet compact sand and actually a state highway. I’m serious. The first time I heard this, I thought it was a loving nickname for the beach because you’re allowed to drive on it. Alas, there’s a 25 mile speed limit, no horseplay allowed, and no driving in the razor clam beds. What I need to know is…how do you know you’re driving in a razor clam bed? I hope I didn’t drive in any as we couldn’t resist the urge to take a short trip up the beach in our rented Chevy Cruze. Other than a brief flirtation with disaster as we almost went into some drier sand, it was a fun experience. And thanks to one of the locals, I now know what a razor clam looks like (well, at least I know what their shells look like). I even know about how to dig for them. But I still don’t know how to find the clam beds.

Razor clam - just the shell

We stopped briefly in Ocean Shores, with its hopeful pedestrian shopping area, then headed north to Ocean Crest Resort in Moclips. A random find for us and an apparent favorite of olympic speed skater Apollo Ohno, this oceanfront resort was quite a treat. Indoor swimming, hot tub, tanning bed, and massage therapy available in the onsite cedar lodge, and beach access through a meandering but steep wooden walkway and stairs through a wooded ravine. We were able to get the best room in the house for a bargain $120 a night. Traveling in shoulder season has its advantages. A view of the ocean from the top of a 100 foot bluff, a nice stroll on the Washington state highway….errr beach, and we finished out our first day exploring the Olympic Peninsula. Tomorrow, we’re headed to the rainforest.

Dogs and cars are welcome on this beach

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Mary on June 5th, 2011

The King William Historic District is one of the many little neighborhoods in San Antonio, Texas that is worth a stroll.  This little enclave begs you to explore on foot, especially if you like a variety of residential architecture.  Each home has its own unique flavor in this area that was first settled by wealthy German merchants.  Lest you wonder how it was named “King William”, it’s good to know that Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm is at the root of the English name.

One of many interesting homes

Some modern architecture

My favorite

Tower Life building from King William District

It's so cute!

Nice porch

Lots of wrought iron

Good bones but it needs some attention

After working up an appetite strolling through this compact neighborhood, I headed to the Guenther House at Pioneer Mills for lunch.  This was once the home of the family that founded the mill, and now there’s a luncheonette and restaurant as well as a great foodie gift shop upstairs.

More wrought iron - I love it!

The mill operation

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Flying into Schiphol International Airport, it was quite easy and fast to get to the historic heart of Amsterdam. A short train journey, and I arrived at the edge of the old city.  I headed to my hotel by tram, a convenient option for getting to the various neighborhoods and squares throughout the city.

Use the tram

My hotel

 

After an overnight stay at the art deco Amsterdam American Hotel in Leidseplein (Leides Square), I grabbed an early breakfast in the stained-glass and wood decor of their Café Americain, and headed out to explore as the city was just starting to awaken.  Right in Leides Square, I found the Stadsschouwburg (Municipal Theater).  The English name doesn’t conjure up a spectacular image, but this neo-renaissance building makes quite a statement.  I just wish I had time to see a show. In the opposite direction, the Rijksmuseum (Reichs Museum) was a 5 minute walk. Amsterdam is a city that has strong art influences, and the Reichs Museum has pieces from many masters such as Rembrandt. The Van Gogh museum is across town.

Municipal Theater - an uninteresting name for an intriguing building

 

I wandered through many neighborhoods, albeit avoiding the red light district.  Nothing there that I wanted to see, that’s for sure. My favorite places included the shops and historic buildings around Dam Square (sounds funny when you say it, I know) and walking along the canals.  Calm water, houseboats, walking bridges, and multi-story homes right along the canals.  And bicycles.  There are bicycles everywhere in Amsterdam.  Well, in all of Holland.  The country is quite flat, making it ideal for self-propelled transportation.  I almost collided with a bicycle a couple of times. Look both ways when crossing the street…just be sure to look for cars, trams, *and* bicycles.

One of the many canals - each with its own personality

Bicycles and boats - commonplace transportation

Bloomenmarkt - I wanted to spend more time in the city's flower market

 

Amsterdam is where I discovered the shwarma.  This is one of the great benefits of travel – discovering new food.  After working up a voracious appetite exploring the city, I stopped at a tiny walk-up restaurant just off Leides Square.  There were many toppings to choose from to custom build my lamb and pita bread sandwich. Standing in the street, I ate one of those meals to remember for a lifetime.  So simple. So delicious.  So not Dutch.

The little street where I discovered the shwarma

 

One of Amsterdam’s unfortunate claims to fame is the story of Anne Frank.  This young Jewish girl and her family hid from the Nazis in a secret section of a home in Amsterdam.  After being in hiding for two years, the family arrested after being betrayed.  They were  taken to Auschwitz concentration camp along with the other family that was in hiding with them. Only her father survived.  Anne’s diary, written during their two years of hiding, has made this story famous.  You can visit the hiding place today.  Be prepared for a sobering experience.

The view outside Anne Frank's house (no pics allowed inside)

 

 

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Mary on May 24th, 2011

I’ve heard that some foreigners think we’re all about hamburgers.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.  Yes, we like our beef, but there is so much more.  While hamburgers and hotdogs somehow gained the top spot, the best American food is left to be discovered within the regional cuisines.  This is one of the many joys of exploring the United States.

In my home region of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, we have the Pennsylvania Dutch influences. Shoo fly pie, chicken pot pie that is more like a stew than a pie, hard pretzels, and oh the wonderful fresh corn in summer.

Travel to coastal regions such as Maryland with the Chesapeake Bay and you’re discovering seafood. How about some Chesapeake Chicken (chicken topped with crab meat), crab cakes, or a crab feast? Or lobster in Maine?  In New England, they’re serving up clam chowder.  Well, if you’re in Boston, it’s “chowd-a”.  This chowder is cream-based, while in Maryland the chowder has a vegetable broth base. I’m really not loyal to one or the other…I’ll eat either whenever the opportunity arises.

Many regions boast of their barbecue.  Memphis, Texas, Kentucky, and North Carolina come to mind.  While on a road trip across North Carolina, I had the pleasure of discovering North Carolina barbecue.  Oh….my…..goodness!  It was soooo good.  As you travel across the state, you will notice a variation between their eastern and western styles of barbecue.  The whole hog is used in the east, while in the west it’s the shoulder and tomato sauce is part of the mix.  I thought it was all fantastic.  Accompanied by hush puppies, not fries.  I ate barbecue at every opportunity, and every place I stopped had its own rendition of the hush puppy.  It looks like a little log, now it looks like a meatball.  But, thankfully, these bite-sized fried corn breads all just taste yum.  The chefs of North Carolina also generate variety in their coleslaw creations.  On this trip, I discovered red coleslaw.  The red hue is due to the use of red wine vinegar. Ok, I will admit that this dish does not rank at the top of my list of foods to try again.

North Carolina BBQ with hush puppies, red coleslaw, and sweet tea

 

I always welcome a trip to the south.  Not just because of the warmth of the weather and the people.  It’s the food!  Grits and okra are at the top of my list. For the uninitiated, grits is a hot cereal, somewhat like cream of wheat but grittier (no pun intended) and corn-based. Yes, grits is an acquired taste.  But I didn’t have to acquire because I was born a southerner at heart. A little salt and sugar, perhaps a dollop of butter, and I’m set.

Regional cuisine is inspired by the plants and animals that thrive there.  It developed before big box grocery began allowing us to seemingly buy whatever we want at any time of year.  You want strawberries in January – sure…your grocer brings them in from California or Mexico. Seriously, though, you have not eaten strawberries until you’ve stood in the patch in June and sampled a few with a bit of the warmth of the sun in them. It is quite an experience, I assure you.  Big box grocery stores have made us forget about many wonderful foods.  If it can’t be mass-produced, is not pretty, or doesn’t travel well, it’s just not making it to your grocer.  Ever eaten an heirloom tomato ripened on the vine? How about a paw-paw? I’m in the process of raising paw-paws so that I can sample this fruit that is said to taste like banana and mango but is not available commercially because it can’t survive transportation.

If you’re like me and find yourself intrigued by the food and the history behind it, check out The Food of a Younger Land by Mark Kurlansky, the writer of Salt. He’s dusted off writings from the national archives about regional foods in the United States in the mid-20th century.  You know, before franchises and the national highway system.  When food was purely ingrained in the culture.  This is still true to an extent, but much is sadly lost through the generations. All is not lost, however, and if you search you can find.

What are your favorite regional foods? I know I’ve missed *many*, such as the chicory coffee in the south, southern fish fries, Wisconsin cheese curds, and sourdough bread born in San Francisco. Let’s share…join the conversation below…

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Mary on May 4th, 2011

Yes, that’s right.  This town claims the title “too tough to die”.  Tombstone, Arizona.  It rose as a boom town during the heyday of mining in the United States.  In the 1870s and 1880s…Tombstone came to fame as silver was discovered, and later as the site of the infamous 30-second gunfight at the OK Corral. You can still tour the site of the gunfight, which is tucked away behind a wooden fence.  You can also tour Boothill Graveyard, the most famous graveyard of the American West and permanent home to those killed at the OK Corral.

The sign speaks for itself

 

Rocks cover the graves at Boothill

Wyatt Earp, along with with his brothers, killed the McLearys and Clantons at the OK Corral.  Every Memorial Day, the town holds Wyatt Earp Days, a special celebration and re-enactment of sorts.  Is it locals that dress in period attire and re-enact a hanging?  The skit was a little corny, but it kept the crowd entertained. I was enthralled by the costumes.  Society women, lawmen, women of the night, cowboys.  At one point, I really felt that I was back in the 1880s.

There's gonna be a hanging

I'm back in the 1880s

Tombstone, which was once one of the largest settlements between St. Louis and San Francisco, should have died after the silver mines went bust.  But it was too tough to die, and survives today.  I enjoyed walking the wooden sidewalks, browsing the shops which greeted me behind wooden storefronts, and buying some special silver jewelry.

 

 

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Mary on May 1st, 2011

The giant sequoias and tall redwoods had my interest since I was growing up. I was once asked to define my dream vacation, and I quickly responded “The Redwood Forest”. Not the beach, not the mountains….but trees. Well, I haven’t made it to see the redwoods *yet*, but I have taken advantage of an opportunity to see another giant among trees, the sequoias, at the national park of the same name.

We left Los Angeles in the morning and arrived at the Sequoia National Park by mid-afternoon. It was quite a drive for one day. We anxiously headed into the park to see the largest living thing on earth…the General Sherman tree. It looked like a short drive from the park entrance according to the map, but oh my…there are a lot of switchbacks as you go gain altitude to arrive at the sequoia forest.  This is one time I wish I’d taken my own advice and stayed overnight inside the park. Or maybe this is when I formulated that tip for future reference. We stayed at a motel right outside the park, and it took us over an hour to get to our motel after hiking among these giant living beings. The cinder block motel was cute with friendly owners, a cozy pool, and the most uncomfortable hotel bed ever. But our girls had a great time in the pool.

General Sherman doesn't even fit in the lens

General Sherman's stats

The Twins

 

As I was writing this post, I realized there’s a significant similarity between the sequoias and the saguaro cactus. They are both relatively slow growers and have a limited range due to their specific altitude and habitat requirements. As you travel throughout the Sonoran Desert and Arizona, you will find the saguaro in limited areas because it desires rocky ground, altitude below 4000 feet, and temperatures above the freezing mark.

Saguaro forest - Phoenix, Arizona

 

Most of the giant sequoias are between 5000 and 7000 feet.  Fire is required to release seeds from the sequoias cones.

sequoia parts - cone and needle

Sequoias like fire and can prove it with their scars

 

It’s because of the needs of these species, and the foresight of others in setting aside these public lands, that we have unique places such as these national parks for our enjoyment.

“The Big Tree is nature’s finest masterpiece…the greatest of all living things, it belongs to an ancient stock and has a strange air of another day about it, a thoroughbred look inherited from long ago–the Auld Lang Syne of Trees .” John Muir

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Mary on April 24th, 2011

While I don’t usually travel to my local gardens with youngsters, I find it refreshing to explore the children’s gardens.  I’m referring to Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, and Winterthur in Wilmington, Delaware.  Both former du Pont estates that are now open to the public.  These amazing gardens are only about 20 minutes apart and easily part of a family getaway in the Brandywine Valley near Philadelphia.

It would be difficult for me to say if Longwood or Winterthur has the best Children’s Garden.  They’re very different…I think it’s a matter of preference and your family’s personality.

Winterthur’s entire garden area is designed from a naturalistic perspective, and that design follows through in the children’s garden.  Imagine a leisurely walk in beautifully-enhanced woods.  This is Winterthur.  The children’s garden is in the enchanted woods, where you’ll find an open-air cabin with child-sized wooden furniture and a cozy fireplace. Of course, there’s no real fire to burn their little hands. Across the way, there are creations in stone, including a labyrinth, serpentine path, and a mini stonehenge. Makes me wish for a child or two to complete the scene and give me a reason to play in the big bird’s nest.

The Enchanted Woods

Kid-sized cabin in the woods

Walking the labyrinth

 

If you have a high-energy child (or children) that can go for hours, Longwood would be my recommendation.  Longwood has an indoor children’s garden with clever water features, musical instruments, a garden maze, and “water brushes” that the children can use to paint on a tile wall.  There are also large treehouses interspersed throughout the grounds, and regularly scheduled activities for children and families.  Check the activities calendar for musical and dance performances, kids story time, and horticultural crafts.  There are many other attractions at Longwood that will be of interest to children, including the many fountains, the topiary garden, and even fireworks.  Check out my other posts on Longwood for more info.

A few of the characters I found in Longwood's children's garden

A maze for youngsters to play in

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Mary on April 20th, 2011

Ever since I visited Winterthur (“Winter-ter”) in mid-summer a few years back, I wanted to return to see the March Bank. I am pleased to report that I finally made it! It was worth the wait to see the thousands of spring-flowering bulbs. Henry Dupont skillfully established an extensive naturalistic garden on this country estate. The March Bank was one of the first garden areas he developed.

Flowering bulbs at Winterthur's March bank

Beauty!

Beauty of Yellow Winterhazels

Hellebore on the Winterhazel Walk

 

Winterthur was one of Henry’s four homes. His others were in Florida, Park Avenue in New York, and the Hamptons. Winterthur was his country estate and he intended for it to become a museum for many years.  After discovering American textiles and furniture, Henry built a grand collection of Americana. This is an extensive collection with many unique pieces, including more of George and Martha Washington’s china than their home at Mount Vernon.  I forget the number of items in the collection, but I do remember it was astronomical.

The pieces that started it all

George and Martha Washington's china

 

Henry Dupont was also intrigued by American architecture, and actually purchased several *rooms* from other buildings and had them installed at Winterthur.  This is my favorite room.  The wallpaper was handpainted in China and depicts village life there. Ok, it’s not one of the rooms that was brought from elsewhere, but it’s my favorite…

My favorite room in the mansion

 

Henry left his other homes to his daughters, but converted Winterthur to a museum while he was still living. He continued to live on the estate, and moved into a smaller home directly across from the museum that was his former mansion.

Henry's mansion...now the museum

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