Druthers Brewing Company, Albany NY

After a solid hike there is nothing I want more than mac and cheese. It’s pure comfort, and Druthers [1053 Broadway, Albany NY] does it right.

druthers_albany_1They’re excellent with comfort food and feel in general. On an early evening weekend we were seated in the bustling brewery. I loved the wide open space and relaxed atmosphere. I had been curious about the establishment when there was only one location, in Saratoga. Now with a second in town, I had no excuses not to visit! As it is a brewing co, you should definitely sample one (some) of their beer.

druthers_albanyReally feeling devious, we went for the pork belly banh-mi as a starter. They were perfectly fluffy with a crisp and just melt in your mouth good.

druthers_albany_3We split an order of the creamy dreamy mac and cheese for our main, with spinach and artichokes in the mix.

druthers_albany_2The shells were huge and soaked up the cheese in their ridges, they were exactly the level of al dente that I hope for. What I loved so much about this variation (you can order different things in your mac) was the spinach leaves were whole and the artichokes were clearly pealed fresh. Not that this is healthy at all! But the vegetables were real, not just an afterthought mixed it.

druthers_albany_4Everything was so ridiculously delicious, even though I was stuffed we weren’t leaving without dessert. We split a pineapple upside down cake, it was the only item on the dessert menu for the night. It kind of surprised me that a brewery would have this choice for dessert, I’ve never had a cake like this before and it totally exceeded my expectations. Extremely moist and flavorful, excellent texture, just right on!

druthers_brewing_coWe had a wonderfully sinful dinner right in town, I can see why people love Druthers. Everything hits the spot and you feel at home.

Posted in Albany | Leave a comment

Visiting North Cascades National Park

This is a landscape where the sandman went to get the schematics for dreams. North Cascades National Park is devastatingly beautiful. If you are a fan of the writer Jack Kerouac you may know that he spent a lot of time in the park working as a Forest Service fire lookout on Desolation Peak. On a mid-October trip the weather was not ripe for climbing the peak, I’ll have to catch it next time around. The park is expansive and driving throughout the roads are a real treat. There are the greenest lakes you have ever seen,

north_cascades_national_park_5short spur hikes to take leading to little destinations, and so many magnificent roadside waterfalls.

north_cascades_washingtonOh, and of course, the mountains. The formidable, jagged, towering mountains.

north_cascades_national_park_7You’ll want to stop off at many different viewpoints, but one you simply cannot miss is Washington Pass Overlook. As we drove into the depths of the park, I realized why Washington is nicknamed the Evergreen State. I couldn’t believe how lush and pure the roadside was.The snow started to come down lightly, dusting the tips of the trees, pure magic. north_cascades_national_park_6We reached the overlook, the furthest point of the gigantic park we felt comfortable going to with our gas tank and bundled up. Liberty Bell Mountain although partially obscured was breathtaking.north_cascades_national_park_washington_pass_2

There is a short walk to take, because the parking lot is just breaking the surface. north_cascades_national_park_washington_passThis vista will touch you. It will inspire you. Perhaps that is why there are panels of poetry, to try to put into words how a valley like this makes you feel. north_cascades_national_park_washington_pass_3As if there could never being anything to top that sight, we made our way to Cascade Pass. It isn’t as simple as it sounds. There is a long jaw clenching nerve wracking drive down a long and narrow dirt road. You need to make sure you have enough time in the day so that you don’t have to drive it in the dark. As worrisome as the road was for me, it was also one of the most lovely drives I have ever been on and what it lead to is almost indescribable. Glaciers,north_cascades_national_park_cascade_pass_2ribbons of waterfalls,

north_cascades_national_park_cascade_pass_8terrifyingly gorgeous mountains,

north_cascades_national_park_cascade_pass_6and you’re at the epicenter of it all. Take the switchbacks up through the elegant woods

north_cascades_national_park_cascade_pass_4to find what waits for only the adventurous souls out in the middle of nowhere.

north_cascades_national_park_cascade_pass_3There is nothing else quite like this park. It is quite possibly the most wild and dazzling place I have ever been. I understand why Kerouac was drawn to these mountains, out of all the places in the world to wander – this is a truly rejuvenating land. Try driving home at sunset.

north_cascades_national_park_8It’s hard to say goodbye, but this is one park that is worth visiting again and again.

Posted in Washington | Leave a comment

Visit San Juan Islands National Monument, Washington

San Juan Islands National Monument is made up of a collection of islands off the coast of Washington State in the Salish Sea. The islands are renowned for their beauty, rich marine wildlife, as well as their history and the arts. I was eager to visit because there is a great opportunity to see orca whales. You can reach the islands by the Washington State Ferries and right as you get to the harbor you will relish in the splendor.

san_juan_islandsSince you have to be to the ferry early, you may as well scan the waters. It was certainly late in the season, and correct me if I’m wrong because I’m certainly no whale expert, but are these the dorsal fins of an orca!?

san_juan_islands_2I believe so. So here is your first choice, which island? We chose the namesake San Juan Island because it has the biggest tourist infrastructure and so much to do. The ferry ride was lovely – go outside for some fresh air or stay in the cabin to warm up, and you can bring your car along!

san_juan_islands_3After we landed on the island we drove out to Cattle Point to take a look at the cove, the colors of the water were so pure and mesmerizing.

cattle_point_san_juan_islandsWe were soon joined by a harbor seal and a loon.

cattle_point_san_juan_island_8From the viewpoint it is a short walk to get to the nearby lighthouse you will have noticed on the drive.

cattle_point_light_house_san_juan_islandsWhile it isn’t open, it sure is picturesque and nice to stretch your legs. Driving around the island you’re sure to swoon at the views. Keep your eyes peeled for bald eagles, they’re all over the place!

san_juan_islands_4Next stop was to Lime Kiln Point State Park, but we decided to park just outside of the park so we didn’t have to pay. There is a view point right by the mile marker 9 and if it isn’t full, it’s find to park at and walk on in. We were hoping to see some more orca action, but that wasn’t in the plans for the rest of the day. However, we didn’t leave disappointed because the park is home to another post-card worthy lighthouse and more!

lime_kiln_point_state_park_san_juan_islands_2Some shy sea lions and one ham of a harbor seal graced us.

lime_kiln_point_state_park_san_juan_islands_1There are two national historic parks on the island, American Camp and English Camp. In the 1800s there were tensions between American and English over who owned the islands. You can learn more about what happened, although you can likely guess how things turned out. A hike up Young Hill is an easy 1.8 miles round trip with 650 foot elevation gain. Along the way you can stop at an English cemetery before reaching views that are as stunning as they are strategic to soldiers.

english_camp_young_hill_san_juan_island_7With a few more hours of daylight we ventured to San Juan Sculpture Park to enjoy nature melded with the arts. This park was expansive and very unique. There were so many pieces that spoke to me like this,

san_juan_island_sculpture_park_1and this,

san_juan_island_sculpture_park_washington_8and this,

san_juan_islands_sculpture_parkand this.

san_juan_island_sculpture_park_washington_9I loved seeing a rendition of the Winged Victory which brought me back to Paris.

san_juan_island_sculpture_park_2I also appreciated the poetry panels that were scattered along the trails, they added a literary element to the setting I have never experienced before at a sculpture park.

san_juan_island_sculpture_park_washington_5Also, the birding was great in the park, especially at the little lake,

san_juan_island_sculpture_park_9that was home to many ducks, and a gorgeous marshland home to a noble heron.

san_juan_islands_sculpture_park_3The final stop of the day was for dinner at Duck Soup Inn. We were there a bit before our reservation so sitting by the pond watching the sun go down was just fine. duck_soup_inn_7Inside the décor is classy, service is attentive, and food is perfection. I went for a few small plates as my meal, a creamy cod soup – a light salad with seasonal fresh greens, some parsnips with thick cut bacon, and a sensational chocolate hazelnut and meringue cake!duck_soup_inn_8

Every aspect of this day was a smash hit, this island is pure magic. I would love to return to this national monument to explore the additional islands, preferably in a warmer month and kayak to search for orcas!

Posted in Washington | Leave a comment

How to spend a day in Mount Rainier National Park

I had one day to spend in Mount Rainier National Park and it was less than perfect weather-wise. I guess that’s the risk you take when visiting in October! However the magnitude of amazing that emanates from this natural place made it unforgettable, nonetheless – and I know there will be a Part II for this post in the future. Only the Longmire and Paradise sections of the park were open, so my hopes for driving to the highest point possible in the park located in the Sunrise section was squashed. No big deal on that because the summit was and most of surrounding views were obscured. We made our way to the Paradise visitor’s center, checked in with the park ranger, and got a map. From the same parking lot we hopped onto a hike I was really excited about, the Skyline Trail. If you only have one major hike like I did, this one is supremely satisfying. If you are interested in taking this 5.5 mile loop trail gaining 1,700 ft in elevation, climb the stairs and begin.

skyline_trail_mount_rainierYour initial ascent climbs fast and hard, but it calms down a bit after about a half mile and views like this,

skyline_trail_mount_rainier_1and this,

skyline_trail_mount_rainier_2and this,

skyline_trail_mount_rainier_3could really be what is taking your breath away. The weather was getting progressively worse, but it was also moving very quickly. What once was a white out would be exposed for a few moments for spectacle.

skyline_trail_mount_rainier_6After we trekked up a certain amount of elevation we reached the snowline and a bit of precipitation was still falling.

skyline_trail_mount_rainier_5I couldn’t get the tune out of my head, ‘vacation all I ever wanted!’ as the chilling wind was licking my face. There came a point where we needed to make a stream crossing beside a waterfall which was raging, my knees were quivering.

skyline_trail_mount_rainier_4By the time we made it up to Panoramic view we could barely see five feet in front of us, so there are no pictures for the highest points of elevation. What goes up must come down. Eventually we descended enough to feel our faces again and see the beautiful world around us. Views like this,

skyline_trail_mount_rainier_7and this,

skyline_trail_mount_rainier_8and this,

skyline_trail_mount_rainier_9made us shrug off the insanity that occurred minutes before. There were so many waterfalls along the trails (and roadsides, but we’ll talk about that in a few minutes), but Myrtle Falls was one of the most popular and stunning. You will catch it along the Skyline Trail, but if you don’t feel like making the whole hike you can access the falls by taking a much quicker trail (.4 one way) and it is still epically gorgeous scenery!

myrtle_falls_mount_rainier_So if you’re at the falls, you’re close to the parking lot, and the extraordinary loop is almost complete. The weather wasn’t getting any better so we weren’t going to commit to any longer trails, we decided to hit the road!

mount_rainier_national_park_3The park road, of course, because these are some of the most scenic drives in the world with plenty of overlooks,

mount_rainier_national_park_4roadside waterfalls!!!,

mount_rainier_national_park_5and little spur trails to interesting odds and ends.mount_rainier_national_parkWe saw a lot of birds hanging out, probably looking for a hand out, at the overlooks. The grey jays (below, left) were so aggressive it was incredible. They all swarmed our car and even landed on the antenna! mount_rainier_national_park_9The bird on the right is a stellers jay and one of my favorite west coast staples. So you can see that hiking isn’t even a necessity to enjoy this park and encounter awe-inspiring nature. All you need to do is go and experience!

Posted in Washington | 2 Comments

Parks of Seattle, Part II: Local Edition

If you find yourself with an extra few days and are looking to get some fresh air these are wonderful choices. Filled with wildlife and/or locals, some of these parks fly under the radar of many tourists and can feel like a true haven in the city. Once again, all of these parks are free to visit.

Discovery Park, 3801 Discovery Park Blvd, Seattle, WA 98199

City life can bring you down. The traffic, pollution, and crowds are just not natural to us. Sometimes you just want to get away and the magical thing about this park is you don’t even have to leave the city to do so. I couldn’t believe how removed I felt, how calm and happy to be trotting the trails of the fields and forests. Looking out from the bluffs to the Puget Sound,

discovery_park_seattle_3Heading down to the shore to see the lighthouse,

discovery_park_seattle_5Capturing a glimpse of the mountains.

discovery_park_seattleOn a clear day you can see both the Cascade and Olympic ranges. Throughout the park I heard and saw plenty of birds and even spotted some bunnies.

discovery_park_seattle_1There are just under 12 miles of trails to explore so you can really stretch your legs out here.

Golden Gardens Park, 8498 Seaview Pl NW, Seattle, WA 98117

Very popular in the summertime for taking a dip or simply soaking up some sun, but any day is fine in my book for a walk on the beach. Low tide makes it particularly interesting to search for critters on a clear day you can see the Olympic Mountains, and there is a long fishing pier. Being an east coaster the grayish black pebbly sand was unique and interesting to me.

golden_gardens_seattleWalk the distance of the beach and then hop on to the wetlands trail, a little ways inland. There was so much action going on! I stood at the edge and watched the wildlife, knowing the turtle and heron, but I never saw these particular ducks before, so I looked them up and they are called wigeons!

golden_gardens_seattle_5Gorgeous. If you’re looking to take more of a walk, find the mosaic tunnel.

golden_gardens_seattle_4There are some forested trails and a playground you may have noticed as you were driving down the winding road towards the parking lot.

Washington Park Arboretum, 2300 Arboretum Dr E, Seattle, WA 98112

Heading deep into a residential area, I almost thought my GPS was taking me on another roadtrip into the unwanted. However, the ‘welcome’ sign appeared, and the road ushered me into a parking lot where there was even a little visitor’s center. Excited to hit the trails I was lured to the shores of a pond. I followed it towards a quiet section of the park and found more wetlands, filled with ducks! A whole squad of wood ducks, more than I have ever seen together in a group, many mallards, and more wigeons!washington_park_arboretum_seattle_1It’s always lots of fun watching the everyday life of ducks. There are many trails more focused on trees (arboretum) winding through different groups such as Japanese maples and mountain ashes.

washington_park_arboretum_seattle_2Try the mile long ‘look out loop’ for some beautiful sights!

Green Lake Park, 7201 Green Lake Trail, Seattle, WA 98115

Jam packed on a sunny day with locals running, biking, rollerblading, and simply walking the 2.8-mile path around the lake.

green_lake_park_seattle_2This is the perfect place for exercising and it’s a pretty lake to be sure, but it’s nothing so out of the ordinary. It actually made me feel like I was home, which was it’s most amazing act. In the summer you can swim and there is boat access, which I’m sure would be really nice on a warm day, and there were plenty of birds and great trees to admire. If you want to feel like a local, get your work out on (feel free to bring Fido)!

Posted in Seattle | Leave a comment

Parks of Seattle, Part I

Seattle is a city dotted with many diverse and sensational parks, well worth a priority placement on any itinerary. I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time exploring the green spaces and below are four of my top picks that you should not miss! Good to note, if you’re on a budget – all of these parks are free.

Ballard Locks, 3015 NW 54th St, Seattle, WA 98107

Funny. I almost missed out on visiting this park because I thought, it’s just locks – but it turned out to be one of my favorite parks. I’ve been on an Eerie Canal tour because I wanted to see locks in action and it’s pretty neat. How many times do you really need to see a boat go through a lock system though? People kayak through them, which would be a really unique experience, but our weather was a bit cruddy. Actually, I didn’t even see the locks in action – no boats even came by – and they’re not particularly beautiful to look at.

ballard_locks_seattle_1So why was this a favorite park again? There happens to be a lot more going on other than locks. For instance, the fish ladder. The locks were built over 100 years ago and they are important for water transportation, but also salmon migration. The best time of year to catch a glimpse the salmon is between June and October. You can go in a mini-museum and read up all sorts of information on the fish and the area, and if you’re lucky see a whole bunch of them like I did.

ballard_locks_seattle_6Outside lurking near the locks is probably what made this the coolest park of all. I read some signs outside about how to tell the difference between sea lions and seals, but I didn’t think I’d be seeing any. However, we saw a sea lion, a savage…savage…sea lion, and he saw a salmon. It was a natgeo moment watching this guy hunt his meal, something I will never forget.

chittenden_locks_seattleDusk was coming, but the park stays open till 9PM so we lingered. All the sudden I heard the familiar sound of one of my favorite birds the kingfish, looking for a fish.

ballard_locks_seattle_4So you see why this park is so amazing, right? The wildlife here is incredible! In the short time I visited I saw so much. This isn’t a big park for hiking, but join the crowds and enjoy some wild sightseeing.

Gas Works Park, 2101 N Northlake Way Seattle, Washington

There is something so intriguing about ruins, from ancient cultures like the Incas or Romans, to that house that’s abandoned down the street. Maybe it’s because they’re often off limits or they are shrouded in mystery. The ruins of America’s last coal gasification plant is the centerpiece of this park – boldly showcased on top of a hill. The rusted over vision of industrialization is indeed fenced off,

gas_works_park_seattle_1but there are some components that accessible and you won’t get tetanus from. A ‘play-barn’ houses colorfully painted machinery for kids, and well, me.

gas_works_park_seattleA boiler house doubles as a picnic pavilion. What kind of a city does this? I love it. Climb to the top of the other hill to check out the stunning sundial and maybe fly your kite.

gas_works_park_seattle_2It’s such a grand open grassy field, perfect for packing a picnic, playing Frisbee, or just admiring the harbor. This is Seattle, soak it in.

Kerry Park, 211 W Highland Dr, Seattle, WA 98119

Come at sunset and stay to watch the city light up. You’ll see it all from this height, from the Space Needle to the harbor.

kerry_park_seattleThere isn’t much room to move around here, it’s more of a ‘view’ park. Bring some quarters to take an even closer look!

kerry_park_seattle_1PS the drive up here is one of the wildest parts. The streets are so narrow and the homes are incredible! The journeys is the destination.

Kubota Garden, 9817 55th Ave S, Seattle, WA 98118

A Japanese garden that truly whisks you away to another corner of the world complete with pagoda, red bridges, unusual stones, and waterfalls.

kubota_garden_seattle_3While this park isn’t huge, out of the three it is best for taking an actual walk! The trails are winding, so be sure to grab a map. The landscaping of this park is marvelous, there are so many different trees nestled together in a harmonious forest.

kubota_garden_seattle_4Hours are very generous and the park stays open late, we came around dusk and encountered a wonderful treat. A spotted owl swooped close and landed to allow us a viewing.

kubota_garden_seattle_2It was a truly magical moment, making this garden one of our favorite memories from Seattle.

Posted in Seattle | Leave a comment

Street Art around Seattle

Seattle doesn’t have the most dense collection of street art I’ve ever seen in a city, but every so often during a bout of traffic a splash of genuinely color catches the eye. A kooky expression on a cartoony bison made me smile.

seattle_muralI noticed the name Henry beside it and would continue to see more of this artists work around the city – always top quality from octopus to walrus. Another favorite mural was next to Café Racer made up of bugs in a band with punny names such as nectarphilliacs and pollen nation.

seattle_street_art_6A side street snowy Ranier was made even more realistic with live ivy joining the canvas.

seattle_street_art_1More than just murals, as I got to know the city better I enjoyed seeing artistic flare everywhere – and appreciated businesses making their advertising meaningful.

seattle_street_artDriving around the Fremont neighborhood I was a surprised to see a statue of Lenin with blood stained hands.

seattle_street_art_2Across the street from Paseo is a playful polka-dot house, simple but sweet.seattle_street_art_8Seattleites are definitely a creative bunch and what they do, they do with care.

Posted in Seattle | Leave a comment