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Seaplane Ride and Whale Watching in the San Juan Islands

Food-C and I are adventurers, though C is much more of a thrill-seeker than me (he has been skydiving, bungee jumping, and regularly eats Chinese food from a restaurant where the likelihood that you’re eating cat is greater than 50%).  Although I was thrilled to ride in a seaplane, I was more than a little nervous.

The physics of the whole seaplane thing just doesn’t make sense to me.  How does it get enough speed up while on the water to actually take off?  How does it land without going underwater?  Are my chances of survival better or worse than flying on a regular, non-seafaring aircraft?    I don’t know what to say, but somehow, the plane DOES get off the water and fly.  It DOES land (quite smoothly in fact), and luckily, I didn’t have to lest my survival skills because we got to and from Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands without incident.

We departed in the Kenmore Sea Plane  from Kenmore airport (on the water, duh!) at 9:00am.  The pilot told us the trip would be a bit longer because they had to “taxi” (drive the plane on water) to the other side of the lake due to the wind direction.  Once we reached the other side of the lake, we got up speed and before I knew it, we were in the air!  It was a bumpy ride, but the views were SPECTACULAR!  We flew right by the Space Needle and got to watch the boats on the water in both the United States and Canada.  Our total flight (including taxi) was about 40 minutes.  We landed softly and the plane dropped us off on a dock at Friday Harbor where we met Captain Jim with Maya’s Westside Charters who drove us to his boat for the whale watching tour.

Jim gave us some great history of the San Juan Islands as we drove to the boat.  The San Juan islands were originally inhabited by native americans, and for many years various pioneers, soldiers and smugglers lived in the islands (from both the UK and the US) but a war over a pig eventually made the San Juan Islands a US territory.

During the “Pig War of 1859”, conflicts between British and American citizens came to a head, resulting in a military occupation that lasted 12 years.  The conflict began when an American settler in San Juan shot and killed a hog belonging to Bellevue Farm, which supported the Hudson’s Bay Co.’s fur trapping operations. The settler, Lyman Cutler, killed the hog because it persisted in invading his garden.

Since the language defining the boundary between Canada and the United States was unclear, and with both nations claimed jurisdiction, U.S. troops were sent to confront British authorities when they attempted to arrest the American settler. British warships appeared off the San Juan coast and a war appeared imminent. Eventually, the two governments agreed to a joint occupation of the San Juan’s until the boundary dispute could be settled. A tribunal settled the dispute in 1872 in favor of the United States.  San Juan Island is actually the last American soil occupied by Great Britain.

 When we boarded the boat, we were introduced to Jeannie, our “naturalist”.  Jeannie was a real character, and was PASSIONATE about whales.  She told us that she sleeps with two hydrophones (devices used to listen to whales’ calls) by her bed so that she can know their locations at all times.  She also has a blog http://whale-of-a-porpoise.blogspot.com/ where she posts pictures of the whales and other animals she sees on whale watching tours.  She knew every whale by name and description.  She also helped us spot bald eagles, falcons, Harbor Seals and other birds.

 I don’t think Food-C and I were nearly as impressed with the Falcon as Captain Jim and Jeannie would have liked.  They relayed a story about a family that went on a tour looking for this specific falcon and the whole group wept when they laid eyes on it.  We couldn’t quite work up any tears (perhaps we were dehydrated from drinking so much at Lark the night before…or perhaps we were preoccupied by our hunger and worried that our ration of peanut butter crackers was about to run out) but we really enjoyed watching the birds fly around for a few minutes.

Sadly, we did not see any whales.  The whales that live in the San Juan Islands are Orca (killer whales!) and unlike the whales we have seen in Hawaii and Costa Rica, they are not migratory.  These whales stick to the same general region and travel in pods: some are “resident” (stay in the same area) and others are “transient” (stay in the same region).  Interestingly, each pod has a different “accent” in their calls.   Different resident pods understand and communicate with each other, but resident and transient pods to not speak to each other.   Anyway, enough whale talk (ha!).

After the whale watching tour we walked around Friday Harbor.  The entire town is about 3 blocks long so we were there much longer than necessary.  There was a REALLY cool hotel called the Friday Harbor House.   We tried to eat at their restaurant, The Bluff, but they were only open for dinner.  The menu looked amazing.   The hotel was on a hill overlooking the harbor and the views were breathtaking.  We took a few pictures and went searching for sustenance.

We ended up eating outside at Downriggers.  It was a typical tourist spot, but our food was surprisingly delicious, especially the mussels and clams we ordered as an appetizer.  They were in a buttery wine sauce that begged to be sopped up with the sourdough bread they brought alongside the shellfish.  Yum!  Food-C got the salmon burger (fresh caught that morning!) which he said was the best salmon he’d ever eaten! I got the crab salad sandwich (which I thought was heavy on the mayo, but Food-C said was cheesy/buttery and delicious..  We also got onion rings because they were the house specialty.  They were exceptional–crispy and sweet with none of that fried sogginess you often find in onion rings.

After lunch, we made a few more loops around town looking for a souvenir for Foodie Baby and an Xmas ornament for our collection (I know, we are nerds), and then headed to Herbs, the local hangout for an IPA.  Herbs was one of those places that has writing all over the wall and crude bumper stickers tacked up behind the bar.  There was a pool table in the back and golden tee in the corner.  It was the perfect place to drink a few cold ones and breathe in the local vibe.

Overall it was a great day, but we probably could have left Friday Harbor on the 3pm Sea Plane instead of the 5pm.  If we head back out to Seattle, we will probably spend a few days in some of the other San Juan Islands, sailing, kayaking or hiking around.  It looks to be a great place to “unplug” for a little isolation and relaxation–several of the islands are completely “off the grid” and operate entirely on solar power and generators.  The San Juans are said to have some great B&Bs (not my thing, but for some reason Food-C seems really into them…probably the breakfast) and they have houses available to rent.  I would really enjoy breaking up the city of Seattle with a few days on a sailboat reading and island hopping!

If you aren’t into the Sea Plane thing, they have a ferry that goes to the various islands from Seattle or Vancouver.  On the other side of Friday Harbor is Roche Harbor, a place that used to be frequented regularly by the one and only John Wayne.  He actually owned an entire island in the San Juans which is now owned by Oakley Sunglasses.  According to Captain Jim, Roche Harbor is the fanciest area in the San Juan Islands.

 

 

 

Surprise Vacation to Seattle and San Francisco

Last week my husband, Food-C (I told him I couldn’t handle his former name, honey buns), took me on a SURPRISE trip to celebrate our anniversary, the big 03.  (No, I’m not dyslexic, we’ve only been married 3 years, but when you have divorced parents, you tend to celebrate the smaller marriage victories…especially if you had your first kid since the big 02…and were pregnant on your last anniversary so you couldn’t even celebrate properly with champagne…I digress.)  No, ladies, this was not Food-C’s independent idea.  I hinted pretty hard (beginning last October) that I wanted HIM to plan a trip that I took NO part in.  Usually, I’m the one that plans our family vacations (unless my step-sister, “Julie McCoy the cruise director” is joining, then she does everything…it’s awesome) and I wanted Food-C to plan an entire vacation as my birthday/Christmas/anniversary gift.

I guess the not-so-subtle hinting paid off because he planned the most fantastic trip!  He spent about three weeks in February researching the location, deciding where we should eat and what we should do.  He tells me he had 7 or 8 different versions of the itinerary before he finally settled on our perfect trip.

Things weren’t always so organized in Food-C’s trip planning.  When we were in law school, we spent a summer in Oxford as part of an exchange program offered through our college.  One weekend, Food-C planned a trip to Marrakech, Morocco.  Actually, I booked the tickets.  Food-C just arranged the lodging.  In Marrakech, most people stay in  a bed and breakfast/hostel hybrid called a Riad.  Chris booked us a room at the Riad Messin, and even sprung for the airport transfer since the Riads are notoriously difficult to find and the cab drivers typically speak only French and Arabic, the native languages of Morocco.  We were greeted in Marrakech on a steamy June morning by the Marrakech militia, armed with what appeared to be very well used machine guns.

As we exited the airport, I asked Food-C, “How will we know where to meet the driver for Riad Messin?”  “Easy” said Food-C, “he will be holding a blue Moroccan view”.  You might be wondering  (as I was) what exactly does a blue Morroccan view look like?  Good effing question!  I wish I could answer that, but we never saw anything in the transport area besides pieces of paper with other people’s names on them.  No blue.  No Moroccan views.  Only well used artillery and tears.  Okay, I’m exaggerating now, but I WAS more than a little freaked out at the airport.  Everything turned out just fine: I called my mom (at 3am Oklahoma time) and she found us a hotel with a name we could pronounce (The Golden Tulip!)  But needless to say, Food-C’s trip planning privileges were suspended for the next 5 years.  And I tell that story any time I am afforded the opportunity as additional punishment.  Luckily, Food-C is a very good sport.

Food-C told me I could ask exactly one question about the trip, on or after May 1.  After careful consideration, I asked, “will the weather be nice?” and received “yes” as an answer.  When I pressed, Food-C lawyered me, telling me I should have asked a more specific question if I wanted a more specific answer.  A few weeks later, he told me I needed a puffy jacket and a bathing suit which sent me into a fit of hysterics trying to figure out what ELSE I needed to pack.  The night before we left, Food-C read me the entire itinerary which he typed and printed at work, along with confirmation codes, contact names, departure/arrival times and “free time activity options”!  He did such a great job; I may never plan a vacation again!

We spent 4 days in Seattle and 3 days in San Francisco, just the two of us!  Foodie Baby stayed with his grandparents, and we were alone and childless for eight entire days!  Was it difficult? YES!  Especially after the first few days, we missed our little dude a lot!  But we also enjoyed the hell out of getting to reconnect with each other, drink an ENTIRE cup of coffee while it was still warm, and reading the paper cover to cover.  So many people act shocked when I tell them we left for 8 days, but I have to tell you, everything I read about child development says the absolute BEST thing you can do to raise a happy, curious, intelligent child is have a healthy marriage.  And sometimes to have a happy marriage, you have to spend time ALONE.  It doesn’t mean you don’t love your kid, it just means that you are also making your marriage a priority.  Take that, haters!

I’m going to post about each of our adventures so stay tuned…Until then, if you’re a woman, start dropping not-so-subtle hints to your man! (Maybe direct him to this blog!) If you’re a man, plan a trip for your lady.  I guarantee it will be worth your while!

Lark, Seattle

Located in the Capitol Hill area, Lark is primarily a walk-in restaurant but they do take a FEW nightly reservations which you must make the day you would like to dine.  When our flight from Denver to Seattle (or SEA-TAC as the locals call it) was delayed, we had just enough time at the Denver airport to grab our first vacation beer and make a 7:30 reservation at Lark.

The Capitol Hill area in Seattle seems to be the hip place to live and eat.  There are about 1 million coffee houses (What else do you expect in Seattle? It’s the birthplace of Starbucks!) as well as restaurants, bars and clubs.  Apparently Capitol Hill was the neighborhood most associated with the Grunge movement in the 1990s, and it’s currently the “it” place for the counterculture scene (which appeared to be mainly hipsters) and the gay and lesbian population.  It’s somewhat surprising that it’s such a popular place for the counterculture scene because it’s also the most expensive place to live in Seattle.

After a drink at a Capitol Hill speakeasy, Needle & Thread (which is located above Tavern Law on 12th street) we arrived at Lark for our 7:30 reservation.  

The restaurant is warm and cozy with only about 30 seats, and the woman who greeted us at the door was incredibly friendly.  Our table was not yet ready, but there were two seats at the bar so we decided  eat there.  (That’s two seats total.  It was the cutest little two seat bar)

I knew this place was going to be good when I noticed that the first page of the menu consisted entirely of cheeses. Oh Jesus, all the Cheesses!  We decided to reserve the cheeses for dessert and move straight into the “meat and potatoes” of the menu (so to speak).  The menu consists of small plates, and our waiter recommended we choose 2-3 dishes per person and share them.  The hostess felt bad about our seating (which we were delighted with) so she brought us a small plate from the charcuterie section of the menu.  It was La Quercia prosciutto with truffled green peach and Parmigiano Reggiano.  I don’t usually like prosciutto, but this dish was so delicious, we didn’t even remember to take a picture of it until we’d polished off the last bite!  The sweetness of the peach mixed with the saltiness of the pig really worked well, and the parmesean gave the dish a little bit of a firmer texture which I appreciated.

Next we shared the Carpaccio of Yellowtail with lemon oil, fennel and green olives.  When I was in Paris a few years ago, I ate a fish crudo at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon that was truly the most wonderful fish I’ve ever eaten.  After extremely careful consideration, I’ve decided that it was not only the high quality, VERY thinly sliced fish, but the perfect marriage of olive oil and lemon juice mixed with salt that made this raw fish dish so amazing.   I had high hopes for Lark’s fish Carpaccio, but it didn’t quite make the Joel Robuchon mark.  I did, however, think they used high quality fish with a good balance of acid and salt.  I wish they had sliced the fish thinner, and perhaps used a bit more oil, but the green olives were a nice touch.

Our next course was the all star of the night.  It was Penn cove mussels with chorizo, piquillo pepper broth and a garlic crouton.  It was so good, I wanted to drink the broth from the pot when the mussels were gone, and we fought over who got the last delicious, butter soaked garlic crouton! 

I am NOT a huge chorizo fan, and it often overpowers a dish, but it was perfectly used in the mussels.  It added a smoky spice, but didn’t make the shellfish taste like sausage (which I appreciated).   The broth was comforting with a kick of spice, just as I like it!

 The fourth course had two of my favorite foods in it: mushrooms and eggs!  The eggs were from a duck, which was a new variety for me, and the mushrooms were baked with onion, bacon and red wine, which really accentuated their earthiness.  My husband ADORED this dish.  He is still talking about it.  Again, the bacon didn’t overpower the mushrooms, but just added a hint of smoke.

The red wine and egg made the dish so rich and hearty it was something I would want to eat after being outside building a snowman!  And since Seattle was pretty chilly and wet, it was the perfect dish to warm us up…and make me feel ready to crawl into bed!

 

 

 

 

We ended the meal with the Mishima Ranch waygu hanger steak with gnocchi and veggies and a side of

Robuchon potatoes.  This was my least favorite dish of the night, though the meat was perfectly cooked.

The gnocchi seemed more like a polenta cake, and the Robuchon potatoes, though delicious, were really just mashed potatoes with a butter to potato to cream ratio of about 1:1:1.  Good, but not worth ordering again.

Unfortunately, we had to forego the cheese course because, seriously, I was so full I couldn’t breathe.  If I had 3 meals in Seattle, I would definitely eat at Lark again.   The food was thoughtful and delicious, the staff was friendly, and the wine was unique and well priced.