Friday, September 2, 2011

Wednesday, August 17, through Tuesday, September 6, 2011: Based at La Conner:
On Wednesday, we drove our vehicles the 73 miles, and rode a ferry (30 minutes) the rest of the way, from Poulsbo to La Conner, Washington. This was the first time we’d taken our trailer on a ferry.

It was exciting. The ferry left from Port Townsend and landed on Whidbey Island, crossing the Strait of Juan De Fuca---named for a sailor who ostensibly came here while he was under contract with Spain to look for the Northwest Passage through the North American continent. He didn’t find it, of course. (There’s some dispute over whether he even was here, since his logs include some significant inaccuracies in describing the area.) The strait connects the Pacific Ocean to Puget sound. (Incidentally, the Navy base on Whidbey Island is where “An Officer And A Gentleman” was filmed.)

Juan De Fuca was actually a third-generation Greek sailor whose name is not even close to Juan De Fuca. Because of his work for Spain, though, he was assigned the new name by the Spanish government.

We are staying at the La Conner Thousand Trails preserve.

It’s a typical TT preserve, though located on leased Indian land, with secluded sites (we found one of the few with a satellite “window” through the trees), but without sewers at the sites. That will be a problem for us because we use (and discharge) a lot of water. We’ll have to be careful, and watch the monitor panel closely.

One of the things we intend to do while here is to have the electrical system (and a few minor things) on our trailer fixed. We have had to use our battery charger consistently for the past few weeks. We have a reservation to drop off the trailer at a local RV repair place next Tuesday. We will leave it there until we return from our southern California trip on Sunday, the 28th of August.

They have three pickleball courts here, and we played a few games on Thursday morning.

I was a bit rusty, not having played in five months; Becky was terrific. Becky played some more on Friday; I was too sore to even walk to the courts.

Otherwise, we spent the first few days shopping and relaxing. And I scoped out the RV repair place on Friday and bought some needed parts to upgrade the sewer drain system.

On Saturday afternoon, Carl and Salli Middleton (old friends of Becky’s, going back to college days) came from their home on Bainbridge Island by way of their 24-foot motorboat to meet us at the La Conner Marina.

Terrific people. We had a very nice dinner at the Nell Thorn restaurant in La Conner, after having cocktails and snacks at our RV.

They spent the night on their boat, and we met them again on Sunday morning, this time for breakfast, at Calico Cupboard, again in La Conner. I ordered their French toast (made with a cinnamon roll instead of bread). Disgustingly good!

On Monday, we made the trek to North Cascades National Park, a park we had never heard of until we saw it on a map.

It's a very interesting place, filled with trees and 340 glaciers, the most in the states. A very worthwhile stop.

On Tuesday, we dropped off the dogs at the nearby Sunnyhill Kennels, dropped off the trailer at Valley RV in Mount Vernon, and drove to Seatac, spending the night at the airport Ramada Inn so we could easily make our 11:05 AM flight to San Diego on Wednesday morning. We ordered takeout (Mongolian Beef and Chicken Curry) from the Asian restaurant in the lobby, It was surprisingly good.

The Southwest Airlines flight to San Diego (stopping first in Oakland) was uneventful, though long, and we spent Wednesday night at the Ramada Inn in the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego. Interesting area. The hotel was recently purchased by Ramada. It used to be called the St. James Hotel, and was built in 1912. It was the first high-rise hotel in Southern California---at 10 stories.

Its elevators were hailed as the fastest in the world. They still run at the same speed, which is snail-slow by today’s standards. The area has a zillion intriguing bars and restaurants, but we ended up having a delicious chicken Quesadilla for dinner in the hotel’s restaurant, which used to house a saloon run by Wyatt Earp.

Thursday was the day to start the festivities at the rented “party central” house in Temecula. Due to the limited number of bedrooms, some of the family had to stay in nearby hotels. We checked into the La Quinta Inn, and immediately headed to the house to meet with the manager, John Herrera. (He was the owner of the Temecula house we rented last November. We originally booked that house for this event, but had to change to this house due to neighbor complaints about gatherings of large groups at this place.)

Though smaller, it turned out that this house was better for our group due to the layout, location (right in the middle of Temecula), and facilities.

Starting at about 3:00 PM, people started arriving. Ultimately, there were 29 people participating. The gathering was a reunion of (primarily) the offspring of the three Smith sisters---Becky’s mom, Nancy Shelton, Steve and Bill Boggs’s mom, Barbara Boggs, and Donna Haste’s mom, Jean Steenstrup---all of whom have now passed away. We last gathered this group about 15 years ago when the three sisters were still alive.

Along with Becky and moi, participating this time were: Becky’s father, Bill; her brother Peter and his wife, Terry, and children, Michael, Molly, and Jack; her sister Wendy Kuwata and her husband, Kai, and one daughter Kerry (their other daughter was unavailable due to work commitments); her sister Carrie Carroll and her husband, Brent, and their children, Blake, Lauren, and Devon; her brother John and her sister Kimberly; Bill Boggs; Steve Boggs and his wife, Kathy, and their son, Jason, and Jason’s friend, Caroline; Donna (Steenstrup) Haste, and her husband, Rick, and their daughters, Lindsay and Allison, and Allison’s friend, Charlie. There was also a surprise guest, Will Naylor, the son of New Zealand friends of the Shelton clan, Colleen and Brett Naylor. Will stopped in Southern California on his way back to school at Dartmouth.

We ordered takeout Mexican food for Thursday night. Friday, there was a golf tournament arranged for the diehard golfers (won, incidentally, by the team of Brent and Blake Carroll), while the rest of us started hitting the local Temecula wineries. Our one and only stop on Friday was at the Leonesse Cellars, where we had arranged for a private tour, along with a tasting, and lunch. Grace, our tour and tasting guide, was terrific.

The food at lunch was very good, but it took almost an hour to be served. We later found out that the restaurant had just reopened and they were suffering some “new operation” blues.

I happened to notice that in some of the literature the name of the winery did not contain an “e” at the end. I asked the general manager about it and he explained that they were in the process of changing the name to drop the “e” due to a complaint from the Leonetti Winery (in the state of Washington) about possible confusion in pronunciation. While talking to him, I mentioned that I had also noticed a few typographical errors on the menu. He asked me if I would take a minute and point them out, which I did. He gave me a $20.00 bottle of wine for my trouble. It was well worth my time.

Friday night, Carrie made three kinds of lasagna for all of us---regular, vegetarian, and vegan. Delicious. We partied until midnight.

Saturday, we all (except the minors) headed for three wineries. We chose to start at Callaway, to show everyone its beautiful tasting room with the drop dead view of the Temecula Valley.

It turned out that they are remodeling the tasting room and shunted us to a warehouse that was mobbed with people and definitely had no view. We suffered there for about an hour, then headed for Gershon Bachus, a winery we discovered last year that is small, out-of-the-way, has beautiful views, and friendly owners. Becky had arranged for us to have a private tasting, hosted by Christina and Kenny, the owners. We had a wonderful time.

From there, at Christina’s suggestion, we went to Masia de Yabar, a winery specializing in Spanish and Argentinean wines. They had a beautiful facility with live Latin music. It was fun. We then stopped at Maurice Carrie, a winery, but only to pick up three loaves of their French bread with a wheel of brie baked inside. We devoured them in about 15 minutes after we returned to the house.

Dinner Saturday night was barbecued chicken, hamburgers, and hot dogs. Kai was in charge of cooking, and did a terrific job. After dinner there were board games and “Catch Phrase” for entertainment. Everyone partied until late, again.

Sunday was getaway day, and we all said goodbye to a wonderful reunion---with plans started for the next one.

Our Southwest Airlines flight back to Washington Sunday afternoon was the reverse of the one to San Diego---again stopping in Oakland---and was just as uneventful. We again stayed at the Ramada Inn in Seatac, and again had takeout (I had Shrimp Scampi and Becky had Edamame and Barbecued Asparagus) from the lobby restaurant. Yum.

Before we headed back to La Conner on Monday, we went to the Pike Street Market area of Seattle,

had a lovely breakfast at Café Champagne (Of course, I had French Toast, again, since the restaurant was French), wandered through the market, and in the afternoon we drove to Mount Vernon, picked up our trailer which had been totally fixed, took it back to the TT preserve in La Conner, put it back in the same site, picked up Daisy and Ramsey, had a nice sushi dinner at the Tokyo Japanese Restaurant in Anacortes,

and settled in for the night. We were all glad to be home again, and all four of us were exhausted from our respective vacations.

We had decided to go to nearby Deception Pass State Park on Tuesday. It is on Whidbey Island and is the most visited state park in Washington. There are two pretty spectacular bridges (built in the mid ‘30s) connecting Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island, where La Conner is located. (There is a tiny third island, Pass Island, sandwiched between Whidbey and Fidalgo; thus the need for two bridges.)

The park was beautiful, but otherwise a bit of a disappointment since it is primarily a forest and caters mostly to hikers and campers. We stayed only about an hour. Otherwise, Tuesday was largely a rest day, except for a trip to Anacortes to pick up Becky’s ring that had needed repair, do some laundry, do some food shopping, and a bit of dog walking.

On Thursday, the four of us (we took Daisy and Ramsey) visited Victoria, the capital of British Columbia, located on Vancouver Island. The trip involved arriving at the ferry terminal in Anacortes at 7:30 AM, for a 8:30 AM departure, a 2 ½ hour ride through the San Juan Islands (with a stop at Friday Harbor), landing at Sidney, B.C.,

and a 15-mile drive from Sidney to Victoria. Becky has been telling me forever how beautiful this place is. She is right. The old part of town is spectacular, with flowers and gardens everywhere. We had fish and chips (and Chardonnay) for lunch on the Veranda at the Empress Hotel, an old, famous, and magnificent hotel on the waterfront. The tab for lunch exceeded that at the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado, so the Empress now holds the record for the most expensive lunch we have ever had. But it was worth it.

After lunch, we toured the Parliament Building across the street from the Empress. It is an exquisite, very British, legislative headquarters (although we were told, jokingly, by some locals that the legislature seldom really meets).

We then took a 10-mile drive out to the famous Butchard Gardens, a local landmark. Since we had only a half-hour to spare, we decided to skip the full tour since the entry fee was a ridiculous Canadian $29.00 (more in U.S. dollars) per person. We settled for gazing at the periphery, which was spectacular enough. We then hit the waterfront in Sidney, and had a drink at the Beacon Landing Pub before going back to the ferry dock at 4:30 for a 6:00 departure to return to Anacortes.

We landed at 8:30, and crashed for the night. All four of us were tired.

Earlier in the week, the front legs on our trailer had collapsed. It was quite a shock, and I wasn’t sure what happened or why. I had decided to try to figure it out when I had some time and some available brain cells. On Friday, I realized Labor Day weekend was upon us and outside help would not be available for several days if I didn’t act very soon. I finally attacked the problem, determining that both pins that set the height of the legs had broken simultaneously, causing the inner legs to retract entirely into the outer legs---and jam---so the inner legs could no longer be extended.

It was a condition that was definitely beyond my ability to fix. I called the RV place that had done the work on the electrical system, and begged for help. They were able to squeeze me in that afternoon. I buttoned up the rig and headed for Mount Vernon. The folks at Valley RV (actually, James, who had done all the earlier work) quickly determined that there was permanent damage to the legs, but that he could make them workable enough, pending their early replacement. Jamie, the service manager, thought the work should be under warranty and said she would pursue that course when the manufacturer (located in Indiana) was open again on Tuesday. We are leaving the area on Wednesday, so Valley RV would not be able to get the approval, secure the parts, and make the repair before we left. But, Jamie said the approval would be transferable by us to any approved RV dealer, so there was no reason for her to not go ahead. What a gal.

On Saturday, our niece came over from her home in Seattle and met us for lunch at the Calico Cupboard in La Conner. She had a friend named Casey Cummings, whom she met playing kickball, with her. He seemed like a decent chap. We had a nice lunch (Becky and I both had a shrimp cobb salad), then came back to our trailer and spent the afternoon together. That was the first time our oldest niece had seen our traveling home, either the old one or the new one, and expressed surprise at how big and luxurious it was.

Sunday and Monday (Labor Day) were relaxing days for us. Becky and I played one game of Rummikub, which I won. Amazing.

On Tuesday, we went back into Anacortes, had Daisy visit the vet to see if her arthritis and kidney problems had changed, visited the Cap Sante Viewpoint---which has fabulous views of the Anacortes harbor and Mount Baker (the second highest mountain in Washington), and had a wonderful lunch of mussels at Anthony's Restaurant, one of the 22 they have in the Oregon/Washington area.

Our three-week stay in the La Conner area was over.

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