What Travel Writers Say

March 14th, 2013

By Mike Keenan

A small mint chocolate melts deliciously in my mouth as the aroma of freshly-brewed coffee fills the air with its pungent ambrosia. We sit in large, comfortable armchairs, feet resting on a strange, hairy footstool that resembles a miniature brown bear. The bruin motif carries into the décor with another bear in a picture frame on the wall, biting a large salmon. Beside the picture, the silhouette of a bear is imprinted on the lampshade, and there is a teddy bear recumbent on the bed.

Through large windows, we gaze at the expanse of water with ferries ambling along towards nearby islands, the white-caped Cascade Mountains solidly in the background. It’s twilight; small birds manouever silently and skillfully near the water adjacent to the hotel, aptly named The Edgewater. Last night we ate at Six-Seven, the hotel’s restaurant, named numerically after the wharf where it sits. To celebrate my birthday, I enjoyed King salmon like the bear in the picture. Outside, the water appears calm with gentle undulations that present a peaceful character.

“It’s tranquil here, isn’t it?” says my spouse, and before I can respond, a yacht quietly slips by us returning to its Seattle berth. A few minutes later, in contrast, a man and a woman slowly pass in a row boat, she singing the lyrics, “Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream…” as the man dutifully rows. Slowly, the skylight dims and the ferries now shine radiantly, dotting their way across the harbour. There is no thought to ruin the evening by turning on the huge TV set.

Earlier, in a nautical mood, we experienced two boat tours aboard the Argosy. Water is omnipresent in Seattle, and the natives have responded with one in ten owning a boat, kayak or canoe. Hundreds have chosen to live aboard nifty house boats that hug the shores, the kind featured in the movie, “Sleepless in Seattle.”
I checked out the Seattle library. It was spectacular. I could live there during the day. All I require is $600,000 for a houseboat. However, if we decide to reside on Lake Washington in Medina near Bill and Melinda Gates, I need to win the lottery, probably twice. The Gates’ pad is a mere 60,000 square feet, the largest house around.

The Argosy’s captain informed me that house boats are hooked up to public sewers, but that sometimes the pipes freeze. On those occasions, I would stay longer at the library and be sure to use its facilities.

In the harbour, there are huge mechanical devices employed to offload ship containers, one container processed every 30 seconds. Skilled operators work two-hour shifts to maintain accuracy and incredible hand-eye coordination worthy of an NFL receiver scampering to catch a long, spiral pass.

Besides two nautical journeys, I managed a fair amount of walking. After all, Seattle did win the following awards:
Top Ten Cities in the United States( #9)
Favorite cities in the Continental U.S. and Canada ( #10)
World’s Best Cities annual readers’ poll – Travel + Leisure (#6)
Top ten arts destinations in the U.S. (#6)
Most Livable City in America (#1)
Most Unwired City in the United States: city with the best wireless internet access (#1)
America’s Fittest City (#1)
Best Walking City (#3)
America’s Most Literate Cities (#2).

Walking here is good exercise. You do not encounter obese people except for tourists. Attractions are numerous. We visited Pike Place Market several times for its atmosphere and watched fishmongers throw huge salmon to one another, often several metres through the air. Serendipitously, we happened upon a cheese festival, allowing us to exercise our taste buds.

Pike Place is one of the oldest farmer’s markets in the U.S., nine acres (between First & Western Avenues bound by Union & Stewart Streets) in the heart of downtown Seattle. We were treated to fresh fish and produce stands, arts and crafts, ethnic groceries and gift stores, vintage clothing, antiques and collectibles, international restaurants, cafes and food bars.

An historic district on the southern fringe of the downtown business core features 20 square blocks of Victorian Romanesque architecture, museums, the city’s highest concentration of art galleries and many restaurants. Architecture is a treat with architects seemingly bent on making each creation both unique and pleasing to the eye.

Seattle once boomed as a staging area for Klondike miners during the Gold Rush in the 1890′s as 70,000 prospectors passed through. An Underground Tour reveals a look at the remnants of the old town below street level, and Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park interprets Seattle’s critical role.

With the Edgewater, the only hotel anchored on the water, we took advantage of Seattle’s natural deep-water harbor, Elliott Bay, which teems with ferry boats, luxury cruise liners, sightseeing tour boats and myriad pleasure craft. The Seattle Aquarium, close by, offers a 40-foot, 55,000-lb. viewing window, a new 120,000-gallon showcase exhibit where I watched a diver feed fish, including sharks.

Olympic Sculpture Park was just north of the Edgewater, a nine-acre park featuring a 2,500-foot descending, Z-shaped path that takes visitors past a range of permanent and rotating sculptures and major works by world-renowned artists while simultaneously allowing us to absorb the panoramic view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

We walked to Seattle Center, scene of the 1962 World’s Fair, a 74-acre urban park and home to the landmark Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, Experience Music Project, Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Seattle Children’s Museum and many other attractions.

The Music Project, invented by Microsoft co-founder, Paul G. Allen, is dedicated to exploring creativity and innovation from rock ‘n’ roll, to jazz, soul, gospel, country, blues, hip-hop, punk and other genres. Frank Gehry designed this bizarre 140,000-square-foot museum to feature artifacts including the world’s largest collection of memorabilia of native son, Jimi Hendrix.

The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame is co-located with the Experience Music Project featuring artifacts and memorabilia that include works by Isaac Asimov, Ursula Le Guin, H.G. Wells, George Lucas, Gene Rodenberry, Canada’s James Cameron and Steven Spielberg.

At the Pacific Science Center, a hands-on learning opportunity for kids and families, along with a thousand kids, Miriam and I took in a terrific 3-D movie in the Boeing IMAX Theatre whose screen stands six stories high and 80 feet wide with 12,000 watts of stereo sound to outdo the kids.

Seattle’s Pacific Science Center has risen to the occasion to make even their washrooms a teachable experience. I’m confronted with informative posters that change a mundane routine into fascinating discovery. I learn: in France in the late 1600′s it was considered an honour to speak to King Louis XIV while he perched on his secular throne. Every day we manufacture 4-8 cups of urine. The average person passes a lifetime 9,202 gallons which would fill 315 bathtubs. In England in the 1700′s, doctors convinced people that they could turn urine into gold. The average male takes 45 seconds to finish his business while a female takes 79 seconds, hence lineups at the ladies’ facility. Eating beets turns your pee red, and there are people in the world who actually drink pee because they believe it’s healthy. Fresh urine is cleaner than poop, spit or the skin on your face because it harbours no bacteria.

Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for the Seattle Art Museum or the Seattle Asian Art Museum, but we did visit private galleries downtown. When we return, we plan on taking ferry rides to the nearby islands.

Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada’s largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review. Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington’s View Magazine. His work is found in QMI published dailies such as the Toronto Sun, Ottawa Sun, Vancouver Sun, London Free Press, Calgary Sun, Winnipeg Sun and Edmonton Sun.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

Look Up, Washington! Walking Tours of 3 Towns In The Evergreen State

February 18th, 2013

There is no better way to see Washington towns than on foot. And there is no better way to appreciate what you are looking at than with a self-guided walking tour. A walking tour can be many things. Interested in heritage tourism? Looking for an educational day trip for the kids? Need a fun exercise plan? Want to find subjects to take great pictures? Whether you are visiting a new town or just out to look at your own town in a new way, a Washington walking tour from walkthetown.com is ready to explore when you are.

Each of the 4 walking tours in LOOK UP, WASHINGTON! describes a mix of historical, architectural, cultural and ecclesiastical landmarks. Street addresses and step-by-step directions lead the way. A quick primer on identifying architectural styles seen on Washington’s streets is included. So look both ways before crossing the street and LOOK UP, WASHINGTON!

Tours Included:

Seattle – Pike Place Market
Seattle – Pioneer Square

Get this book on your Kindle now…

Get this title free on Kindle this month from February 20 until February 24

Franny has arrived!

December 1st, 2012

On October 25, my 6th grandchild was born, my younger daughter’s first-born.  Sweet.  I flew down to San Francisco to join the new little family as soon as I could, and spent two sleepless, heavenly weeks with them, helping to care for little Franny.  She is a beautiful baby, as all babies are.

The quilt in the background is a labor of love.  Each relative or family friend sent a handmade African-animal-based (or whatever they felt like) square with a personal message of love for the new babe.  Elephants, monkeys, and giraffes are popular nursery themes these days – but also Franny’s parents worked in Tanzania for three years, so it’s especially meaningful for them.

Hiking in the Cascades, Summer of ’12

October 15th, 2012


When guests explore our nearby majestic mountains, I’m always thrilled for them.  Here are 2 spectacular dayhikes I took late this summer – we had a late summer! – one to Summerland on the eastern shoulder of Mt Rainier, and the other to the awesome North Cascades out of Rainy Pass – 50 miles east of Marblemount.  I also did a 4-day backpack out of Stevens Pass which intercepted the Pacific Crest Trail in places, and that was equally beautiful – but I didn’t bring my camera on that one.  I hope you enjoy these photos.

The scrawny little trees that are turning yellow are larches – some call them tamaracks – at about 6,000 elevation.  And that cute rodent creature is a marmot.  He was so tame!

My other summer trip, to Costa Rica

October 15th, 2012

I have been blessed with 5 grandchildren, and the 6th is almost here!  My big idea is to take each kid individually on an important trip – ideally, to a less-developed country where skins are not white, English is not the native language, and the dollar is not the local currency.  Last summer was my 3rd “Nonnie Trip” – this time with 13-year-old Logan to Costa Rica.  We had a blast.

It’s a beautiful country, and Costa Ricans are justly proud of it and of their progressive program to preserve wild spaces – >30% of the country is national parks.  We saw jungle habitat; both oceans; wildlife in trees, jungles, beaches and rivers; an active volcano; and each other – but not much local culture.  I was hoping Logan, who is a soccer star, could mingle with some village boys and join a pick-up game, but that didn’t happen.  With an inter-generational tour group of 31, it was not too likely.  But  it was still a wonderful trip.  I did my first zipline – whoo-hoo! – and Logan made some good friends.

Here are some photos from Costa Rica.  Pura Vida!  (that means life is good)

In case anyone’s wondering what happens to the cottage while I’m away for weeks at a time, there are two couples, friends from other parts of the country who like spending time in this area. They come and live in my home and manage the cottage (not all four at once – either George and Catie OR Don and Karla).  Since guests cook for themselves, it’s not a lot of work to make sure the cleaning lady does her job, the hot tub is ready, and the cupboards and fridge are stocked with all the breakfast ingredients that I always provide.  These good folks are on call 24/7  (or “on-knock” – come down and knock on the door if you need anything), and guests have given them good reviews for helpfulness.

What I did last summer…

October 15th, 2012

I took two wonderful trips abroad – in June I toured Ireland and Scotland with friends, and in July I took my 13-year-old grandson to Costa Rica.

I had always wanted to go to Ireland, and when new friends from Australia – who stayed in the cottage last year – invited me to meet them in Dublin and drive around the countryside, I couldn’t wait!  Except for the damp and cloudy weather, Ireland and Scotland both exceeded my expectations. The mysterious castles, the green countryside, the vast open spaces outside the cities, the dramatic cliffs and ocean views, the darling villages, the proud history and friendly people, the spontaneous joyful trad music in the pubs.  We stayed in B&Bs, always finding something delightful as the daylight waned, and then dashing out for a brilliant dinner or an evening of trad and fish & chips.  Yes, contrary to the bad rap re: UK dining, the food was delicious!

My next post will be about Costa Rica.  If anyone has any questions like “Where was that photo taken?” or “Where did you stay on the Isle of Skye?” – pls email me – annie@soundviewcottage.com

No SADS at Soundview!

August 19th, 2012

Keeping the cottage busy in the summertime is always easy.  This last summer especially, parched Americans from everywhere else in the country were flocking to the cool, comfortable Northwest, and Soundview was booked almost every night.  But in the autumn the snowbirds fly south and it’s harder to make a living.  But the more interesting guests start coming now.  It takes grit to sit in a hot tub when your head is sticking up into 35-degree night air.   It takes vision to enjoy the view of the Sound when it’s raining, and insight to imagine the Olympic Mountains looming on the northern horizon when the clouds come.

So this time of year I lower the rates – 20% off, even on the weekends and holidays, from November 1 through May 15.  And I keep the hot tub going.   I tried this for the first time last year, and the results were significant.  Everybody won!  The cottage was busier than it had ever been during that period, and so was I – and I enjoyed it.

Fall and winter months are perfect times for persona

l retreats, romantic hideaways, and business trips.  Concerts, plays, ballet, and opera are 15 minutes away in downtown Seattle, and the sports stadiums (stadia?) are even closer.  Yet Soundview as always is peaceful and serene.  Come enjoy some down time here.

My Darling Little i-Car!

May 17th, 2012

I love my new little Mitusbishi i-Car!  I’ve had it since Feb. 22, and it did take a little getting used to, because it will only go about 72 miles on a full charge.  It’s all-electric!   I got it to save money on gasoline, to reduce my carbon footprint, and to advertise the cottage with the graphics on the sides.

I kept my old faithful ’96 Subaru wagon for longer trips and for hauling the occasional sheet of plywood or lots of plants – although I did recently bring home 3 giant fuchsias for the cottage in my new little i-Car.

I couldn’t get the graphics right away – I was picky about the design, and my good friend graphic artist Lari (Power Graphics SD) was very patient with me through about 17 takes on the design.  Then the application was a little problematic – had to be redone cuz of a technical glitch.  But now it’s finished!  And I absolutely love the graphics and the car.

These photos show how the graphics were applied.  These cool young guys came out to my place and put the printed film on right on the spot in just about an hour!

The car is  really pretty zippy.  The brakes and steering are marvelous, and I can turn on a dime and tuck it into a very short parking space!  Best of all, the electricity it takes to charge it doesn’t cost me much at all.  I had a “Level 2″ charger installed in my garage – it takes about 7 hrs from no-charge to full-charge.  My last electric bill was hardly increased from the same 2 months last year, and the rates have gone up, AND I also have a new electric heat pump (installed last July) for my own house – to replace my oil furnace.

This Mitsubishi is cheaper than the other all-electric on the road, the Nissan Leaf.  After I get my tax credit for 2012 (fingers crossed), the price tag, with graphics and leather seats, will be about $25,000. (plus the charger)  In Washington State, they don’t charge sales tax on electric cars.

For my local errands, which is most of my driving, this little car is perfect!


New all-electric car!

March 9th, 2012

My new Mitsubishi i-Car is so cute!  It handles beautifully and has lots of pep, even on the freeway!  It’s all-electric. No gas, no pollution.  It won’t go very far (about 60 mile range), so I’m keeping my faithful Subaru wagon.  Within a couple of weeks, it will sport this graphic to advertise the cottage.  More photos soon!  I can’t wait.  (there’s no orange stripe between the doors – that was just to see where the break would come in the design process.)  My old friend Lari Power did the beautiful graphic.

Democracy, are you still there?

December 21st, 2011

Last October, when Occupy Seattle was only an encampment in Westlake Park, I ventured downtown with a friend to see what it was all about.  We were impressed with the variety and sincerity of the protesters, and their messages resonated for me: we are the 99%, the rich are getting too rich on the backs of the poor, restore American values and the middle class, bring back democracy.

I began participating in meetings, especially the working group called Get Money out of Politics (“GMOP”).  I  joined nationwide conference calls for the national working group focusing on this same issue.  These people are inspiring.  All ages, all backgrounds and income/educational levels – bright, creative, cooperative – motivated by what I call our national values of freedom, compassion and fairness.

Here’s a photo from a recent GMOP meeting – they’re held at our beautiful  Washington Convention Center in downtown Seattle.

Some people may think Occupy Wherever has packed up their tents and gone home, bowing to police or winter or just petering out.  They will see.  The “occupation” of so many public places has served its purpose: to get our attention.  And now the movement begins.

January 20 and 21 will mark the 2nd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that narrowly (5-4) gave corporations the same “free speech” rights as real people, allowing them to donate unlimited money to political campaigns, anonymously.  Just wait for next summer.  Big Money will drown TV programming with short, shallow ads which will buy the results of many races.

In Seattle on those dates, a coalition of many groups including Occupy Seattle, Move to Amend, and WA Public Campaigns, is currently planning a march, a couple of rallies, some brilliant street theater, concerts, and other events to promote the need to amend the Constitution to clarify that only people are entitled to free speech.  Similar events will happen that weekend across the country.

A Constitutional amendment is the only way to overturn a Supreme Court decision.  Many city councils across the U.S. have recently passed a resolution, which is then passed on to the voters, advocating such an amendment.  So far, the cities include Los Angeles, New York City, Boulder, Missoula, and Duluth.  Voters agree, by around 75%.  We are working on Seattle and King County to get with it!

I know some of you disagree with my liberal views and activism.  That’s fine, this is a democracy.  But I can’t be honest with myself and hide my political views.  It’s time to take a stand.  This is our moment to start cleaning up our government and restoring our democracy.  The Occupy movement is providing the energy and visibility to make it happen.  Count me in!