Lavender Dilly Dilly

Little mum has been banging on about Sequim’s Lavender Festival for a year and because we knew it would be completely out of the way of anywhere we’d fancy going, I secretly hoped she’d forget about it this summer. But she didn’t. And sometimes you have to put others first. So we booked the only room we could find and drove 4.5 hours to the middle of nowhere to a very sad and dodgy motel in the centre of town (it seems people take their lavender seriously around this part of the woods, so all the hotels were booked).

To be fair, the drive up was actually quite lovely — Pacific Northwest summers really are gorgeous — we loved being near the water, as well as all the lush emerald trees. The best part of the journey was when we stumbled upon a lovely little oyster shack, Hama Hama Oyster Saloon, and devoured a scrumptious meal of raw and bbq’ed oysters, crab cakes, and salmon soup (it was tasty, but the Finns do it better) — we essentially tried everything on the menu. It was heaven. I always thought Hama Hama oysters were small and sweet but apparently they’re of the larger variety and most suitable for throwing on the grill. img_6203img_6201Before we set off I knew this was going to be one of those trips where the journey would be more meaningful than the destination. We also incorrectly assumed that the lavender festival was a special time of year where the larger lavender farms would be free to the public, but the opposite was true. It’s the only time of year that there is a fee to visit the farms. We had also hoped the lavender farms would resemble the wild lavender fields we found in New Zealand, but even the largest farm seemed small in comparison.Having said all that, the farmed lavender was lovely in its own right. We appreciated the lavender tourist tat (hope G likes his lavender earl grey tea) and the entire town smelled of sweet lavender. I’m not sure I could recommend the festival itself but if you like small towns and lavender scented and flavoured things, then perhaps you should give it a go!

Seattle’s Central Library

One of Monkey’s favourite sights in Seattle was actually the city’s central library, a magnificent 11-story glass and steel building located in downtown Seattle. It was wonderful to see such a beautiful, clean, public space for all to enjoy. When I think of libraries, I usually think of old, dusty archives. But it was refreshing to see all the colour and light, void of the typical musty smell of old books, with plenty of places to sit and read, as well as to have a cuppa tea (or in Seattle’s case, coffee).

What do you think of when you hear the word library? Do you have a favourite?

Pike Place

If you know me, you know that I love markets–especially ones filled with heaps of tasty treats. London’s Borough Market and Rusty’s in Cairns are my all-time favourites. And now I’m happy to add Pike Place to the list. Monkey could not get enough of Pike Place so we actually visited the market twice in one weekend.I’m always in the mood for tea and crumpets so I was chuffed to find “The Crumpet Shop” near the main market. I wish I could rave about the crumpets, but they weren’t anything to write home about. The menu offered more of an American interpretation of crumpets and there were a lot of sandwich type toppings (ham, tomato, ricotta cheese, etc.). In the end I opted for one of the simpler crumpets on the menu: a toasted crumpet with butter and lemon curd.
Although it can get a bit touristy Pike Place is well worth a visit. We loved all the fresh produce and seafood and other small cafes and food stalls around Pike Place. We happily sampled fresh local and imported fruits, smoked meats, and had fresh scallop sashimi. There were also shops that sold tourist tat and some vintage shops on the lower level floors (which smelled a bit pongy), so it certainly is a market that has “something for everyone”.I’m drooling just looking at all the delicious fruit the market had to offer. The muscat grapes were delish and we also got some Washington grown cherries.I still miss my old fishmongers in Islington and was thus excited to see so many varieties of fresh fish and seafood on display. Have you visited Pike Place? Do you have a favourite market? 

Seattle’s Best Parks

We finally made it up to “The Emerald City” for a glorious extended weekend. The city is surrounded by lush green trees and massive lakes and reminded me a bit of summer in Helsinki. It’s one of the more beautiful cities in the United States, if not the most beautiful, that we’ve seen. I would describe it as San Francisco and Vancouver, BC morphed into one.

Seattle is home to over 6,000 acres of parks. Although we barely scratched the surface of said parks, here are some snaps of our favourites.

Gas Works Park

Featuring an old gas works plant that manufactured gas from coal and later converted to crude oil, Gas Works Park is a great spot for a picnic and stunning views of the city.

Kerry Park

Sitting opposite some million dollar homes, Kerry Park offers the best view of downtown Seattle on a clear day–allowing photographers to capture the Space Needle and Mt. Rainier in one frame. Apparently Mt. Rainier only shows itself 10% of the year so we were lucky to see it from all angles the entire weekend. One definitely gets great views at Kerry Park, but I kind of feel bad for the residents, as the neighbourhood is swarming with tourists any time the sun is out.

It’s not every day that the mystical and stunning Mt. Rainier makes an appearance. A great part of our trip consisted of us standing in awe of the mountain, which looked like it was suspended in air, almost like a backdrop on a television set. Similar to Mt. Fuji, knowing that we were in Seattle during one of the rare times Mt. Rainier was visible made it all the more special.

Olympic Sculpture Park

Another great park with stunning views. We appreciated that there were separate pathways for pedestrians and cyclists, which made for a much more relaxing walking experience. The attention to such detail really made Seattle stand out for us. Even the bike lanes throughout town seemed better designed than any other “bike-friendly” city.

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Tulips Aren’t Just for the Dutch

One day Monkey will tiptoe through the tulip fields in Holland. But this spring, he shall take in the vast array of natural and farmed beauty that the PNW has to offer.

img_5098Tucked away in Woodburn, Oregon, you’ll find the Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm, home to a vibrant field of colourful tulips and daffodils. While the farm isn’t massive by Dutch standards, Mt. Hood serves as a stunning backdrop to the bright bulbs on a clear sunny day (sadly my ickle iPhone camera doesn’t do it justice — it’s much better and bigger in the flesh). Apparently there are several other tulip farms up toward Washington State and Canada. If you know of any prime flower viewing spots, please let us know!

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Sakura Surprise

Ever since I was a wee girl I have been captivated by the fragile beauty of sakura (cherry blossoms), and I wished I could somehow preserve the soft pink petals forever. Living in Japan for many years, I learned to appreciate the small celebrations that took place with every change in the seasons. I always looked forward to spring as I could spend hours, day or night, under the cherry blossom trees.

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Outside of Japan, London has Kew Gardens, Washington DC has Tidal Basin, and New York has the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. It was nice to discover that you can also get your cherry blossom fix in Portland (Oregon) along Waterfront Park. The blossoms had pretty much reached their peak when I stumbled upon them and were gone after a few days, so I’m grateful that I got a chance to enjoy them on one special spring day.

Do you have a favourite cherry blossom viewing spot outside of Japan?  How about in Japan?

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Portland Japanese Garden 

When visiting the Pacific Northwest, you probably wouldn’t think to look East for inspiration. But did you know that Portland, Oregon is home to two exquisite gardens with Eastern influences: the Portland Japanese Garden and the Lan Su Chinese Garden?

Having called Japan home for many years, I sometimes find myself comparing Japanese inspired things, food, etc. to ‘the real deal’.  I’m not a Japan snob, but I often find a lot of ‘ethnically inspired’ things to be tacky and not very nice. That said, the Portland Japanese Garden exceeded our expectations and I’d even say that it is arguably the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan.

The garden’s five areas include a flat garden, strolling pond garden, a tea garden, natural garden, and a sand and stone garden. Everything is really well thought out and there were moments when I felt I had been transported back to some of my favourite garden spots in Kyoto or Tokyo.

There is a small entrance fee to the garden, which is located directly above the Rose Garden in Washington Park. As the trek up the hill to the Japanese Garden can be quite strenuous for some, I recommend taking the free shuttle bus from the parking lot to the Admission Gate. Spring and autumn are probably my favourite times to view Japanese gardens, but each season has its own unique beauty.

Have you visited a Japanese garden outside of Japan that you think is noteworthy? If so, please share with us in the comments!

A Treacherous Paradise: Road To Hana

The Road to Hana is one of those touristy things that nearly everyone does when they visit Maui. Not attempting this treacherous drive through ‘paradise’ would be synonymous with going to Hawaii and not spending a day at the beach.

Is the trip worth the hype? Perhaps, but once is enough. And you’re lucky if you survive because there are about 300 turns that could kill you and your traveling companions if you’re not careful. For the most part, the drivers are cautious but we did pass a few locals in massive pick-up trucks (think Ute) that came speeding down roads that are really only fit for one vehicle driving.

View from Hana Kai Maui

We decided to stay in Hana Town so that we could go at a leisurely pace. We also made a point not to stop at any of the mile markers suggested in the guidebooks to avoid the tourists — we also weren’t that impressed with what was suggested. Hana itself is an incredibly small town with few dining or entertainment options. Our hotel didn’t even have telly! So we drove around town for a bit, had frozen pizza and pot noodles for tea. Not exactly what I’d call fine dining!

Maui Fruit Stand

A lot of people seem to drive to Hana and return the same way they came and don’t realise that the most beautiful parts of the drive lie ahead — if you go, do the entire loop and take your time. You don’t want to miss hiking through a bamboo forest, nestled within Haleakala National Park, and a beautiful waterfall at the end of the hike.

Makahiku Falls

Makahiku Falls

Although smaller than the waterfalls you’ll find in Iceland, tropical waterfalls certainly have their own charm and getting to them make for a fun adventure. We had to cross two gushing streams, with the water up to our knees, to see Waimoku Falls. Be prepared and bring rain gear/shoes as you never know what the weather will be like — it rained heavily off and on during our hike.

Waimoku Falls

Monks at Waimoku Falls

We loved how lush and green everything was — as much as I love the water, it’s nice to take a break from the beach and sun and experience a completely different island climate. This is not to say that we did not experience ‘scenic fatigue’ on the drive — after a while, as odd as it may sound, you do kind of get bored of all the beauty and long for a change of scenery. A lot is due to the far from ideal driving conditions and after miles of winding unpaved one lane roads,  you welcome the sight of beautiful, black tarmac.

Final stop before heading back into Kihei.

Final stop before completing the Hana loop and heading back into Kihei. 

Haupia Pie

Haupia is a popular coconut milk-based dessert from Hawaii, which is often served at luaus. I’m generally not a fan of coconut flavoured things unless it is fresh out of the coconut shell. But there is something about the combination of coconut milk, sugar, and cornflour that makes it tasty. McDonald's AlohaThe local Hawaiian greetings caught my eye as we drove by this McDonlad’s so we decided to stop for pics and I debated whether or not to have SPAM, Egg and Rice at McDonald’s for brekkie. Instead I opted for the Haupia Pie and am happy I did! The pie’s flaky golden brown exterior fried to perfection with creamy coconut filling and chunks of nata de coco was simply delicious and it only cost $1!

Mc Donald's Haupia PieEven if you’re not a fan of coconut, I highly recommend giving the Macca’s pies a go. I enjoyed the first one so much I had another before we went home. Seriously, they were that good!

McDonalad's Mahalo

Hungry In Maui

In the past, Hawaii, like Britain, has been the butt of many culinary jokes. And to be honest, I was not exactly expecting food to play a major role on this holiday. Things have definitely improved, but to avoid disappointment when in Maui, I would recommend skipping Paia Fish Market and Sansei — in a word, minging.

It’s very difficult to stay hungry in Hawaii. Let’s just say there are ‘American-sized’ portions and then there are ‘Hawaii-sized’ meals that will leave you clutching your belly and wondering why you kept eating! Of course we had to try a bit of everything and found it difficult to make room for the next meal. Here are some of the top eats that we enjoyed while in Maui.

Da Kitchen

From crazy combinations of loco moco to fried spam musubi and an ono Hawaiian Plate, Da Kitchen Express and Da Kitchen Cafe both offer tasty local food that will keep you full for days. Our first meal in Maui was at the Express location in Kihei near our flat and we liked it so much we also tried the Cafe in Kahului a different night. Da Kitchen Cafe even has the option of ordering chicken long rice as a side for only a few dollars. I was not prepared for how massive the “side” would be — it was more like a bucket of soup than a bowl.

Da Kitchen Maui

Top left: side order of chicken long rice; top right: Kalua pork; bottom left: Notorious B.I.G. Moco; bottom right: fried spam musubi

Hali’imaile General Store

We were rather jet-lagged and often missed the lunch service at several places so had to try our luck at random places. I thought perhaps the “general store” would offer sandwiches to go, but it turned out to be one of chef Bev Gannon’s restaurants! Although the ‘bar menu’ that was offered was simple, we were happy to have something light and tasty to tide us over until dinner. This location gets extra points for having incredibly cute decor — love the pineapple chairs!

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Hali'imaile General Store

Although we’re not huge fans of dining in hotel restaurants (due to crazy mark-ups for usually disappointing fare), we were happy we gave Kō a go. The portions were not truly ‘Hawaiin-size’ but I suppose could be considered by fine-dining standards. I’m not even a huge fan of buckwheat soba noodles, but these were wonderful with miso glazed prawns. And their pohole salad is the BEST–I wish I could eat it every day!

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Star Noodle

We came here in hopes of trying their version of pohole salad and were gutted to find that they had run out — it was barely even noontime! But the steamed pork buns (nod to Taiwanese ‘gua bao’), scallop shots and Hapa Ramen were all delish. It is a bit odd to me that there isn’t much ‘authentic’ Japanese food to be found in Maui (or Hawaii in general) considering the large Japanese population on the islands.

Star NoodleMama’s Fish House

I wouldn’t say that Mama’s is a tourist trap, but it definitely is tailored to non-locals with its own manicured beach and slightly over the top ‘island-themed’ decor. The seafood was fresh and the dishes were tasty but I’m not sure it is worth the extra money. They do get extra points for having their own beach.

Mama's Fish House 1

Mama's Fish House 2

Mama's Fish House Beach

Mama's Fish House Beach 2