A bit of Bavaria in the most unusual spot

A town must be some kind of special if one is willing to spend six hours on a Sunday drive to get there and back home again. And Leavenworth, the Bavarian-style village in Washington State’s Cascade Mountains, is worth the visit, even if only because it’s so kitschy. 

On the ‘plane somewhere between Germany and South Africa I eventually got around to editing my photos from our day-trip to Leavenworth the weekend prior. And I thought how appropriate it was that this would be my final blog post of my 5-month-long trip to Canuckistan and the upper left corner of the USA, via Germany. 

I assumed the town had been founded by German immigrants but, with a bit of research, discovered that it was just a regular timber community and key rail junction for its first six or seven decades. In the 1960s, with the sawmill struggling, and the railway headquarters having moved, a project was birthed by two businessmen to try to revitalize the moribund town. Taking their lead from the Danish-themed town of Solvang in California, the duo developed a plan to transform Leavenworth into a Bavarian hamlet. The first building to be remodelled was the Chikamin Hotel, which was renamed the Edelweiss after the state flower of Bavaria.

Leavenworth is now a popular tourist destination, for its outdoor activities like hiking, skiing and kayaking, and then for its events like the Icefest, the Autumn Leaf Festival, Oktoberfest and several Christmas lighting ceremonies.  It is also home to the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum, which opened in 1995 and contains more than 5,000 nutcrackers.  We missed all of the festivals as well as the museum but still enjoyed a stroll around town and a glass of glühwein to warm up as dusk settled. 

Seattle (still) on my mind

Yes, I already wrote a blogpost about my all-too-brief visit to Seattle last week, but still had a few more photos to share. So, here we go again.  I really did enjoy the city’s “unfinished,” grungy vibe and know that I barely scratched the surface of its awesomeness. I’m sure I will need to visit again some day. And next time for longer than a few hours!

A day out in Seattle, the emerald city

I have dreamt of visiting Seattle ever since I was a teenager. I can’t even tell you why. It’s always just  had a strange romantic attraction. And despite the fact that I have been staying only two hours north of the emerald city, I almost didn’t make it there.

But earlier this week I drove down to Bellingham, then to Burlington, and then I figured I was half way to Seattle, and so I just kept driving. By the time I saw the Space Needle, a sticky mist was just letting go of the city. I found a parking spot, and started walking – up to the Space Needle, past Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Museum of Pop Culture. I didn’t go up the Space Needle because it was still too hazy for good views, and not misty enough to capture the city’s skyscrapers poking out of the clouds. From there I strolled down to Pike Place Market and came across the disgusting Market Theater Gum Wall – a brick wall covered in used chewing gum.

I had only paid for 2 hours of parking, and so speed-walked back to where I had left the car, and made it just in time. Then I just drove around town, including up to the Starbucks Roastery. My final stop was Kerry Park, one of the best viewpoints of the city.

I didn’t want to stay too late because I had heard Seattle’s peak-hour traffic could be bad. That was an under-statement. I loved the city’s grungy vibe but that traffic would be the death of me!

About spurned love and finding sweet rhubarb pie for my soul

Once upon a time I wrote a love letter to Canuckistan. But I have fallen out of love. I’m ready for a trial separation. Probably divorce. I’m done being treated with disdain. And I prefer the neighbour now.

Since the beginning of November I have been wandering around Washington, USA, and I have found a completely different vibe down here.  I was so jaded and tired of taking photos what with the suspicion with which I was treated in Canuckistan, that I was terrified to take out my camera in ‘merica. Because I had heard scary stories about the natives and their view on foreigners. And their guns.

It’s a beautiful part of the world, though, and so I took the risk.

But here in Canuckistan’s southern neighbour I was pleasantly surprised at how uber-friendly everyone was. Like, I have even tried to get people to say no to me taking photos of them. The other day I wandered into a barbershop full of burly men having their hair and beards coiffed. I was convinced they wouldn’t want their photos taken, but no, they were completely keen. At a farmers’ market, when I took a photo of a man who looked like a gnome, his wife jumped into the shot with a “hey, what about me?” And then, more recently I asked a family if I could take photos of them in a diner and the dad offered for all of his kids to come and pose at the milkshake “bar” for me. 

Everywhere, people speak to me like I’m a human being, not a threat. They ask me where I’m from and what camera I’m shooting with, and why I chose Nikon over Canon, and whether I’ve been up Mount Baker, and what else I’d like to see. And they tell me I should visit their hometown, or maybe come back in three weeks time when there’s snow on the ground because it’s prettier then. Every day someone surprises me with their genuine friendliness. And it’s heartwarming. 

But back to the diner. I have been looking for a typical diner experience ever since arriving in Washington. One morning last week, with no food at home, we went in search of somewhere to have breakfast. We started at a diner down the road, but the light wasn’t right for photos. And so we drove south to our favourite village, Fairhaven. But that diner only opened at lunchtime, with hamburgers and ‘shakes its speciality. Of course, Google is your friend and with its help we found another diner somewhere in between the other two. 

From the outside, “My Diner” doesn’t look like a diner you might see in the movies but inside it seems as typical as I imagined. The breakfasts were huge, my coffee mug never ran dry, and every staff member came over to chit-chat. Hey, even some of the patrons would lean over their seats and shout out something to add to the conversation. I even found space for try some of their famous strawberry rhubarb pie with ice cream. And before the end of the meal I had been told about Jesus and invited to church by two different people.

These few weeks in the north-west corner of Washington State have made me feel normal again. They’ve not only swelled my stomach, but also my soul. 

Stepping way way (way) out of my comfort zone

Today I did something I practically never do: I went for stroll in a quaint, photogenic neighborhood without my Nikon, and with only my phone and a few dollars in my pocket.

The second thing taking me out of my comfort zone is that I’m trying to write and publish this blog on my phone. So, we shall see how that goes!

But on to the subject of my post: Fairhaven Village was founded in the late 1800s as a salmon canning centre but (quirky, interesting fact) its opium was at one point more popular than the salmon. The village was incorporated into the city of Bellingham to the north 20 years later, but it kept its name, minus the “village”. Fairhaven today serves as the southernmost terminus on the Alaska ferry route, but most people visit to wander through its “historical district” and to enjoy a meal at one of its many cozy eating joints.

One person on TripAdvisor described Fairhaven as “Old buildings, random statues.” I found four of the statues on my random ramble through town, Tony’s Coffee House latte in one hand and iPhone in the other.

As usual, I asked a few people if I might take photos of them and every one said yes. Some even thanked me for showing an interest in them! An elderly lady, whom I met walking down the road, told me how she had moved to Fairhaven 32 years ago for love, and then found that love had moved on. But she assured me there was hope for me yet, and that I too should not be scared to pursue love wherever it draws me.

As they say where I come from, “sy is duidelik met die helm gebore” (loosely translated, “she clearly has a freaky prophetic gift”).

But, without further ado, I bid you and this blogpost adieu, leaving behind a dizzying collection of Fairhaven images, straight out of my iPhone.

Finding colour in a taupe town

Bellingham in the upper left corner of the USA (not counting Alaska) is kind of a humdrum, mundane town. With all its old buildings, it’s pretty enough but it’s also kind of … beige. However, today I drove down every alleyway downtown (there are exactly four) to look for colour.

Because, as in most towns’ back streets, the grungy, black/brown walls and sunken doorways in Bellingham serve as blank canvasses to graffiti artists’ imagination. And, amazingly, I found very few “tags” and many works of art (along with delivery vehicles and a myriad of trash cans vomiting their offal onto the soggy pavement).

As most of you will never visit this part of the world, I did all the hard work slopping through the puddles of who knows what, parking illegally and getting stuck behind a truck with engine running but going nowhere forever.

Do you have any favourites?



Twenty refreshing reasons to visit Victorian-era Port Townsend

Actually, I don’t have twenty reasons to visit Port Townsend. I have but two: it’s a quaint town, it’s easy to get to, easy to stroll about and boasts several good little eateries. Sorry, that’s four. But at least I’m keeping you on your toes.

Port Townsend is a small seaside town on the north-east tip of the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. The town, with around 10,000 inhabitants and many visitors, dates back to Victorian times, during which time it saw most of its development as one of the busiest ports on the Puget Sound.

Unfortunately, it never grew quite as expected, with the Washington railway system never making it that far north. As a result, it lost out to towns like Tacoma and Seattle, which continued to develop, while Port Townsend saw a steady decline.

Fortunately the military base at Fort Worden north of town and a paper mill, which was built south-west of town in the 1920s, kept the town ticking over. And then, from the 1970s more artistic types and retirees moved to town, people began restoring the Victorian buildings and the town saw a bit of a revival as a tourist destination. That’s why I went for the afternoon.

Take a walk with me, why don’t you?

(Click on images for bigger versions and short descriptions.)

About cruising a Washington ferry wondering why I feel so old

Yesterday the friends I’m staying with in northern Washington State took off to Canuckistan for the day. The person with whom I was going to spend the day abandoned me to do something fun north of the border too, and so I headed south. After too many detours I eventually found myself at Fort Casey, and at the ferry bound for Port Townsend.

More about the town tomorrow.

I hadn’t booked a spot for the ferry because I didn’t know what time I would get there, and so bought my ticket on arrival, hoping there would be place on the boat (because first option is given to all those who had booked.) The youngster in the ticket booth asked if I was 65 or over, to qualify for a seniors’ fare. I decided not to take offence, despite still being a year from my 50th birthday. And as much as I love saving money, I also couldn’t bring myself to lie about my age.

I managed to answer “no, not yet,” with a straight face and handed over full fare.

The ferry, called Kennewick, has a capacity of 64 vehicles. I was the 64th loaded… For which I was very grateful, because I struggle sitting still and would have found it completely impossible to wait an hour and a half for the next ferry.

Many people just stayed in their vehicles for the 30 minute traverse of the Puget Sound into Port Townsend Bay. I, as I cannot sit staring at a stationary vehicle in front of me for half an hour, headed to the upper deck, where I roamed like a restless wraith looking for stuff to shoot.

One of the interesting things about many of the Washington State ferries is that they have jigsaw puzzles available for people to build. Many passengers head straight to a puzzle randomly placed at one of the tables on the passenger deck, foregoing the views or biting wind outside. They have the time it takes from departure to arrival on the other side to work on the puzzle, and then they leave it laid out on the table where they were sitting, as is. When the ferry heads off in the other direction someone else works on the puzzle, and so it goes until the puzzle is finished. Or not. There are 20 trips in a day. Who knows how many times the puzzles have been completed, if any.

But I watched the delight it gave several passengers (who would take photos of the puzzle before and after working on it) to be part of a bigger process; a bigger picture of many puzzle builders from who knows where.

I tried one too, and, as with the obligatory tradition, took a final photo of it.

Here then, a few snaps from my ferry trips to Port Townsend and back to Coupeville a few hours later.


Following the old nose wherever it would lead

I was busy on Wednesday morning but the day just kept getting more beautiful – without a cloud in the sky – which forced me to take a drive. I had no idea where I was going to go. My nose led me.

I found myself driving east through Nugent’s Corner, Deming, the welcoming town of Welcome, Kendall, Maple Falls, Warnick, and finally Glacier. By this time I knew that I was heading towards Mount Baker, but had no idea whether I would end up on the mountain itself, or just in a spot with great views of it.

Mount Baker is the third highest mountain in Washington State, and can be seen from across the border in Canuckistan (including from Vancouver Island) and as far south as Seattle. Interestingly enough, Baker is an active glaciated stratovolcano, and has the second-most thermally active crater in the Cascade Range after Mount Saint Helens. It is also one of the snowiest places in the world. In 1999, Mount Baker Ski Area, located 14 km (8.7 mi) to the northeast, set the world record for recorded snowfall in a single season – 1,140 inches (2,900 cm).

But on Wednesday, as I climbed the twisting pass out of the town of Glacier I didn’t see too much snow. Ice, on the other sand, had me sliding dangerously across the road a few times. Eventually I got to the Mount Baker Ski area, although the road to Artist Point, which would have got me closer to a view of Mount Baker itself, was snowed in. I did shoot Mount Shuksan from Picture Lake, apparently an iconic Instagram shot.

After the few near misses on the way up, I didn’t want to hang around too long for the road to freeze over even more, and headed gingerly back down the Mount Baker Highway in the dying light.

The final place that I stopped was the Nooksack Falls on the North Fork Nooksack River, which runs next to the highway.

It got dark quickly after that, and I drove home via Sumas because my GPS still doesn’t work, and it was the only name I recognised at the first roundabout.

I was busy in Canuckistan on Thursday morning but went in search of wider views of the mountain as soon as I drove back into Washington State in the afternoon. It was a bit more hazy than Wednesday’s weather, but still good for a drive. I found myself on a road that doesn’t exist on any GPS (even broken ones) on the Lummi Reservation and shot the mountain, and across Lummi Bay as the sun set. Enjoy!

P.S. I’m proud to say that all photos are handheld because I (stupidly) didn’t bring a tripod on this trip to North America…

Having a whale of a time in a bicycle boneyard

I’m not sure if I trespassed this afternoon. For what it’s worth, I didn’t see any “Keep Out” signs in this particular area, but the whole block had been fenced off; all the buildings boarded up, abandoned shells.

The fence to the building which used to house The Hub Community Bike Shop was open, and so I wandered in, drawn by the graffiti and twisted remains of bicycles.

The Hub is a non-profit bike shop and community resource in Bellingham, Washington. It opened in 2002 to build and refurbish custom bikes from donated parts as a service to the city. In short, people donate bikes, then The Hub‘s staff and volunteers build completely new bikes from the parts before selling them or donating them to social service organisations in town, which help put the bikes into the hands of those who need them most. They also offer full-service repairs and tune-ups, in addition to a self-repair station for people wanting  to fix their own bikes.

But at the beginning of September they were forced to move to new premises as the entire block was sold to a development company, which plans to build new housing units. Amazingly, all the parts you will see in this post were left behind when they moved.

What a treasure trove of junk!


Just meandering in ‘merica

I am clearly in the Pacific Northwest. And it is clearly Autumn (or “Fall” as they call it here) because it rains constantly. I used to joke that the sun never shone in Vancouver because I had never seen it there, but this summer the weather was actually quite nice and I managed to hike and enjoy the outdoors.

Actually, I’m currently not cruising Canuckistan, but meandering in ‘merica or wandering about Washington (to be more precise).

On Saturday the sun finally appeared for half a day, but the wind was absolutely howling. And so I jumped in my car and drove down to places with delightful names like Coupeville, Oak Harbor and Deception Pass on Whidbey Island. On my way home I picked up fish and chips for supper in Fairhaven, drove through downtown Bellingham to get back onto the Interstate 5 and then finished off the day with ice cream from Edaleen Dairy in Blaine.

Come and travel vicariously with me through this neck of the woods, why don’t you?

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream

So, yesterday I boarded a Bombardier Q400 Jazz flight from YVR to YXS after spending a few days on the lower mainland. For those of you who aren’t as cool as me and don’t know what I’m talking about, in layman’s terms: today I boarded a narrow Air Canada prop-plane from Vancouver to Prince George after spending a few days in a town an hour or so inland from Vancouver.

I carefully labelled my luggage with fragile stickers (after having acquiring a few bottles of sublime BC wine two days ago) and checked in on a typically rainy Vancouver morning. While sitting on the plane I watched two guys in the drizzle outside load the luggage into the hold. There were skinny pink bags, backpacks of all sizes, overstuffed purple bags, hard-shell bags, soft bags; even a damp dog of undetermined size in a large box. Finally, I saw my bag, which was scanned and flung gracefully onto the conveyor belt. The bright red fragile stickers got impressive air time before the bag landed with an ungraceful thud and trundled on in to the plane. I looked forward to reaching my destination to see just how well I had packed that alcohol … (Adequately, it turns out.)

But back to my trip.

After I arrived in town on Monday, the friend who picked me up from the airport and I drove straight from the airport down into Bellingham in the United States to go shopping. As we arrived at the border, alarm bells and sirens started wailing, border guards dropped what they were doing and tore off in the direction of the brouhaha. Fortunately it had nothing to do with me, all returned to normal quite quickly and we drove across the invisible line after getting a stamp in my passport. Passing through Blaine, the first US town after the border, I noticed Edaleen Dairy store, which sold home-made ice cream. I suggested we stop for one. We walked in, and straight to the back of a queue consisting of a dozen people.

At Trader Joe’s in Bellingham

After half a minute though, my driver-friend declared that she hated waiting in lines, that we would find another ice cream later and out we traipsed. We did find one. At a McDonalds. Even a Dairy Queen would have been less common. Later that afternoon, while driving towards a different border post to the one through which we had entered, with me licking out the dregs of my McDonalds Hot Fudge Sundae, we passed a large dairy with the same name as the ice cream place we had been in earlier.

“Hey,” my driver exclaimed! “I’ve heard their ice creams are really good! Pity we just had one from McD! We’ll have to come back another day to try these.”

The irony was too much. I held my tongue.

But visiting another country isn’t only about trying out local ice cream or being a tourist. And I didn’t (do either). In the last three days we hung out, ate lots, talked, laughed, played frisbee, did an informal photo shoot, tried to go shopping and I made new friends.

After a busy few months at home, I breathed again …

Life is beautiful

I know I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again – I love graffiti… So, here are a few more walls I came across while out for a walk on my last day in East Los Angeles.

I leave you not only with my photos, but also some cool quotes about graffiti:

“Art is anything you can get away with.” Andy Warhol

“If graffiti changed anything it would be illegal.” Unknown graffiti artist

“People say graffiti is ugly, irresponsible and childish… but that’s only if it’s done properly.” Banksy

“Sorry, this wall was boring me.” Unknown graffiti artist