Pride Takes Over Seattle

“Happy Pride!”  Greeting the crowd as they veered off at the end of the Seattle Pride parade route and toward the celebration at the Seattle Center,  I got lots of love from the fun crowd as we handed out refreshments courtesy of First United Methodist Church.

“Are these plain or “special” cookies?”  Wink.  Wink.  I replied that these were the plain variety but I was sure he would have no problem finding those “special” cookies elsewhere in Seattle.  Surprisingly, this was not the only time I was asked if the free cookies were “special”.  I guess after you walk 4 miles in extreme heat, hot at least by Seattle standards, you’re not only thirsty but hoping for some medicinal aka cannabis cookies.   We had water but no weed.  Still, they were very good cookies and enjoyed by all!  Among the many booths at the Seattle Center was a very popular one where cannabis lotions were being applied and enjoyed by many tired parade goers.  Got to love our hot new industry helping customers to relax and enjoy life in Seattle.

A rainbow of groups from various companies, including a huge force of Amazonians, swarmed the streets as well as many politicians, families and dancers galore rocking out to the steady beat of tunes blaring away.  Super fun.  The parade on Sunday is just one part of the celebration that takes place all over the city all weekend.  We went to the Seattle Storm WNBA game on Friday night and the whole arena was decked out to support the team AND Pride.  All the Seattle sports teams had games in town this weekend and all had special events that tied in with the celebration.  Got to love the support of Seattle sports!

At our outpost, we not only had our free “plain” cookies, cold water, frozen juice slushies and use of the church bathrooms (very popular!) but also our very own music experience.  The friendly Seattle pop cover drag band, The Pop Drops, rocked out and entertained the crowds.  Props to wearing those boots in this heat but they look marvelous, don’t they?

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Pride is part of our Seattle life.  In the past, we have walked in the parade as part of my company’s unit and also one year with the Seattle Storm.  Pride celebrations will remind you that love is love is love and we should appreciate each other and embrace our diverse country.  If you have not been one of the 200,000+ to experience Pride Weekend in Seattle, you need to jump on your Harley, grab a rainbow flag and make this a priority from now on. Go Pride!

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Hamlet amidst the foothills of Boise

“To be, or not to be..”  That IS the question but if you want TO BE entertained and see some damn fine theater, get thee to the Idaho Shakespeare Festival in Boise. Pronto.  Wow!  The level of artistry was top-notch and having seen my fair share of NYC and London theater, I can tell you I am usually a tough critic but I was duly impressed.  In fact, the last Shakespeare play I attended was at The Globe in London for a Goth version of Romeo and Juliet this spring that I loved.  Hamlet, while sticking true to the story, did have an interesting casting twist.  Hamlet might be female or male, depending on the night you attend.  Hmmmm…..

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The night we attended we were treated to Laura Welsh Berg in the lead role, the only female in the US to be professionally acting the part of Hamlet right now.  How cool is that?  She alternates with Jonathan Dyrud and when they are not playing Hamlet, they are part of the supporting company.  Those actors work hard for their money.  And how on earth do they remember all those complex dialogues for multiple characters??  Throw in needing to know how to throw down some serious sword play and you have quite the acting challenge before they all die. Oops…spoiler alert.

The Elizabethan setting amongst the beautiful Boise foothills features a variety of seating arrangements including a new seating section on the stage so you can be part of the action as well as the standard options of tables, chairs or the hillside.  All good views.  We chose the blanket experience with lots of snacks, booze and fun.  They even provide little red carts to drag in all your picnic stuff from the parking lot.  Convenient.  You can also rent low chairs with backs for only $2 a piece for the hillside area.  After drinking a nice Merlot, it might be a challenge getting out of these low chairs but would provide additional entertainment for nearby patrons.  Beware.

Having been to lots of great outdoor venues and suffering through tough traffic and long lines to get into and out of concerts, we left for the performance fearful of the wait to get in and laughed our asses off when there was no traffic AT ALL and we easily parked in the main lot.  I love Boise!  This is a beautiful facility, moderately priced for such quality entertainment and definitely worth the road trip from Seattle to enjoy Shakespeare.  I can’t wait to go back and see A Midsummer Night’s Dream in August.  Having seen this play staged while we lived in Shanghai when Tim Robbins staged an updated version that I thoroughly enjoyed, I am looking forward to the Boise version.  From Shanghai to Boise, when Shakespeare’s words come to life, it’s a treat!  “Listen to many, speak to a few”  So wise and always relevant.

Ode to Bacon in Boise

Bacon. In Boise on Father’s Day, there was no better place to be for brunch.  Bacon is not only a unique concept in that the menu is all about the pig but the whole structure of the serving experience is very different.  Shots of bacon anyone?  Everyone?

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As you enter Bacon in downtown Boise, you can pick from outdoor patio seating or indoor tables with massive wood chairs or a leather seating area by the bar.  What’s so interesting is that while it looks like a sit down restaurant experience, you actually line up in the back by the kitchen and select your food, pay for it and then take a # to your table to wait for it to be served.  Want water?  Help yourself from the water jugs.  Need more coffee?  Yep, serve yourself.  This service style frees up the friendly and plentiful wait staff to concentrate on customer service, checking in on each table several times, delivering food and turning those tables over quickly for more bacon lovers.  It works.  Really well.

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Want a mimosa to wash down all that bacon?  Belly up to the bar and order/pay yourself.  Of course, I decided on a screwdriver and was shot down by the bartender because it was before 10 a.m. on a Sunday and Idaho has a draconian liquor law prohibiting hard alcohol sales that early.  What???  Is that a sign that I shouldn’t be drinking that early perhaps?  While I laughed with the other bar patrons as they waited for their Bloody Mary’s to be available (served with bacon garnish), finally the locked panels covering the alcohol got ripped off and the booze was flowing once more.  Cheers!

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But back to the bacon selections, we started with the shooter selection featuring these options to taste:  Berryhill, Spicy Hot, Kurobuta, Maple Rosemary and Candied.  Of course, I liked the Candied because I have a sweet tooth but, just as there is no bad wine or bad pie, there is no bad bacon so we all happily munched away trying all the varieties.

Of course, then more bacon came with my grit bowl.  I enjoyed a huge sea of creamy grits with poached eggs floating amongst the green onion bits with a side of bacon and a fluffy hot biscuit.  Heaven!  Bacon is only open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.  In the evenings, they flip the Bacon sign to become Berryhill & Co., a different restaurant owned by same folks but with different food offerings.  Next time in Boise, we’ll have to check it out!

Freak Alley is place to be in Boise

If you are lucky enough to explore Boise, you have to check out Freak Alley.  What surely used to be an ugly alley in downtown Boise has been creatively reimagined into an outside gallery that will stun you with the level of street art on display.freak alley

Billed as the “largest outdoor gallery in the Northwest”, Freak Alley began in 2002 as an artistic expression and grew into a multi-faceted lane showcasing superior talent that will blow you away.

I love Boise and the diversity found here whether in the art, the food (check out the Basque paella on Wednesday and Fridays at noon), and the spirits of all kinds from wine to craft beer to tasty cocktails.  We love our second home here and look forward to spending more time in Boise this summer.

 

Seattle Neighborhood: Fremont

Freaky Fremont was looking a whole lot more mainstream on a recent visit.  While it was once THE place to live if you favored tie-dye, nude bike riding during the Solstice and feasting on organic granola, you now had better make some major bucks to call this your home and enjoy the trendy cafes, boutiques and bars.  Fremont is still a cool place no doubt but definitely more trendy and sophisticated than in the past.

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After a quick Metro ride from our Lower Queen Anne hood, I wandered Fremont to check out all it has to offer in an urban community.  We don’t get up here often but did recently enjoy The Barrel Thief with friends for an Ardbeg whiskey tasting.  Right up the street, our friends told us there was a great place to satisfy our foot massage yearnings.  Two Smiling Feet does a 60 minute foot massage for $35 which we plan to check out soon.  One of the experiences I miss most from living in China is our weekly foot massage date.  Damn that was habit-forming!  I look forward to seeing if Two Smiling Feet delivers a true Chinese foot massage that makes me cry with pain but leaves me smiling with happy feet.

Fremont does has a movie theater, Century at Pacific Commons, as well as Ophelia’s Books where you can get a .50 book bargain from the outside rack or wander the many titles inside while the shop cat prowls the book stacks.  I never leave there without at least a bag full of “must read” used books.  Next door to Ophelia’s is Jive Time Used Record Store where Thom likes to browse to feed his vinyl habit.

Of course, there are bakeries, cool cafes, gelato places and more to feed your appetite for anything you could want to eat plus a downtown PCC Market for a wide selection of groceries.  The shopping is good too with an always packed Warby Parker store (trendy and inexpensive glasses) and boutiques selling $200+ upscale clothes as well as some vintage bargain places.  A great walking neighborhood with a concentrated few blocks of everything you could want and need, you can also take advantage of a gorgeous river trail that is shaded and lovely to stroll on a sunny Seattle day.

Fremont is also known for their Solstice Parade in June where a Mardi-Gras style parade proceeds with Solstice Cyclists stripping down and painting their bodies to lead the merriment.  I’ve never been to the parade but look forward to experiencing it soon.  Their Sunday Farmer’s Market is also top notch and showcases lots of vintage clothing, accessories and kitschy stuff along with food trucks/stalls galore.  Not a “farmer’s” market with produce but more a place to shop and eat that is very dog friendly.  All in all, Fremont would be a good place to call home if you want to be outside the Seattle downtown core but close enough for a quick commute.

Seattle Neighborhoods-Lower Queen Anne

I have lived in many places from Seattle to Shanghai.  I’ve loved them all but if I’m living in Seattle, I will always choose to live in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood.  I love everything about this place.  It has beautiful views of the water as you walk the streets and from our home.  The Seattle Center is our backyard where we walk our dogs daily under the Space Needle.  I love the Space Needle silhouetted in the sky, both day and night.  While Seattle has many great neighborhoods, this one is mine.

This is a diverse neighborhood with all levels of income and many homeless.  It can be dangerous here no doubt and you don’t see many families living here.  Awakened at 4 a.m. on a Sunday morning recently, a squad of police cars and ambulance were taking care of a belligerent homeless guy fighting arrest.  It was loud. That’s life in the city and it’s heartbreaking at times. Our fellow volunteers and guests at Shared Breakfast, where we volunteer every Sunday morning feeding 300+ homeless, are part of our family now and very dear to us.

I will never, ever take this view for granted or leave if I can help it.  I told Thom the other day that I would even get a second job if I had to in order to afford to continue living here as the rent just keeps going up every year and this view is costly but totally worth it.  Life is short and I want to enjoy what’s left with a view that makes me appreciate life.

One has to eat and there are enough restaurants in Lower Queen Anne that we are still trying out new ones although we have lived here for years-in fact, longer than anywhere else in our life journey.  We tried a new one the other night and it was fantastic-Crow.  Eat the chicken.  Toulouse Petit is always a favorite with long lines on the weekend for brunch-hint: go for happy hour with lots of small bites that are delish and cheap.  Whatever cuisine you want-you can find it in our hood.  We like Agave  for Mexican and Athina Grill  for Greek.  For a colorful experience, try Mecca Café-a dim diner with good food, especially breakfast.  Of course, the most popular place is one block north of our home-as we like to say, nothing beats a big bag of Dick’s!  Line up and get a burger, fries and a shake-now finally accepting c. cards.

Do you know how hard it is to find a good mani/pedi shop AND a place to cut my hair?  While I do have to travel up the hill to Upper Queen Anne to The Shop for my hair, it affords me the opportunity to shop at Trader Joe’s which is right across the street.  Not that we don’t also have a Safeway and Metro Market in Lower Queen Anne but Trader Joe’s just has stuff I crave.  We visit Upper Queen Anne frequently,  which is lovely for families but we prefer our more urbane environment at the bottom of the hill.

Every good neighborhood MUST have a bookstore and a movie theater.  Check and check.  We have the cutest Mercer St. Bookstore with their .50 cent cart out front with used books to browse and my go-to for travel books for our next adventure.  The Uptown is one of the finest small theaters in the city and hosts the SIFF, which we have yet to take advantage of but do love going to those quirky indie films typically shown here.  All in all, Lower Queen Anne is our home and what a lovely place it is.

Woodinville for wine AND whiskey

Woodinville is not just for wine.  In the countryside 30 minutes outside Seattle, known for the many wineries such as Chateau St. Michelle, there are indeed a great number of places to sip the vino.  However, don’t overlook the Woodinville Whiskey Co.  Get yourself a designated driver, then sip, shot and repeat.  Which is exactly what I did recently when Thom and I joined friends for a day of tasting wine AND whiskey.

First stop was Novelty Hill/Januik winery where we found a gorgeous facility with loads of outdoor space to enjoy your wine tasting.  With healthy pours of a tasting of any 4 (including $65/bottle wine) for $12, I started with Januik 2014 Columbia Valley Merlot (which I ended up buying a bottle to take home) followed by two King Cabs and finishing with their Syrah.  All very good and enjoyed with the company of our friends, Kurt and Ernie, who invited us along so we could be initiated in the ways of Woodinville.

Enjoying a short drive in Sexy Best with Thom as the designated driver, we stopped by Chateau St. Michelle just so I could see the beautiful grounds but it was too busy to wade through the crowd for a tasting.  I can see why people love coming here-gorgeous lawn where you are encouraged to buy a bottle and picnic with your family.  I haven’t ever attended one of their outdoor concerts but definitely hope to in the future now that we have a car and get around outside the city.

Nearby, Woodinville Whiskey Co was next on the tasting tour.  Learning about their varieties of whiskey,  Melissa explained how they use ingredients from the Pacific Northwest to produce their award-winning booze.  Ernie and Kurt are whiskey experts so they guided me, the whiskey virgin, through how to properly “smell” each tasting and savor the differences between each type.   Sweet and soft, I took home a bottle of the Straight American Whiskey AND their maple syrup aged in whiskey barrels.  I thought I had died and gone to heaven when they poured us each a shot of syrup with a vodka chaser.  My Belgium waffles (Trader Joe’s) that I love will only be better with this liquid gold on top that costs $20 a bottle and is well worth it.  So.  Good.

All in all, a successful day finally visiting the Woodinville area I had heard so much about but had never had the time to enjoy.  Thankful that Thom was at the wheel, we put the top down and let the sun shine down upon us while I slipped in a quick nap on the way home from our wine and whiskey tasting.  Can’t wait to try the other 130+ wineries and tasting rooms there.  So much wine, so little time!

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My designated driver looking good in Sexy Beast

 

Wandering the SLU Saturday Market

Happy Saturday to you!  Nothing says weekend fun like going to a local farmer’s market so we were so excited to stumble upon the SLU Saturday Farmer’s Market which is now located by the recently renovated Denny Park.  Nice to see families and great music by buskers livening up what used to be a pretty sad green space.

The Farmer’s Market which used to be on a deserted street closer to the highway, now has interesting vintage jewelry/clothing booths AND lots of food that is both healthy and yummy including lots of various dessert items which I can totally support every weekend.  We had just eaten or I would have tasted my way up and down the line.  BTW, what the hell is Kombucha?  This tent seemed popular but not quite as busy as the Raclette food stand where they melt golden cheese from blocks of the stuff and then drizzle them over all kinds of good stuff-veggies, meat, potatoes and more.  I am DEFINITELY trying that next weekend.  Come hungry and leave happy!

While it was a cloudy and chilly day, as we say in Seattle “if it ain’t raining, it’s summer” so everyone was having a good time.   Nosh even had their sign board commenting on the weather, “Don’t let the clouds get you down.  Let Fish and Chips lift you up!”   One of the more unique items offered for sale was handmade record bowls for $5 made out of vintage vinyl.  So cool!  Thom and I decided we’ll try to explore a new Farmer’s Market every weekend this summer so more to come!

Trains, Trolleys & Tuk Tuks-Getting around Lisbon

When you visit Lisbon, don’t even contemplate renting a car.  The traffic is crazy and the streets are uneven cobblestone narrow lanes.  Picturesque the crooked quaint streets are, but you do NOT want to drive here.  Trust me.  Instead, enjoy the public transportation system and treat yourself to a tuk tuk too.

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If you are a typical American, you are dependent on and feel lost without your own car.  In Europe, it’s practical and easy to let someone else do the driving.  So here’s a quick guide to public transportation in Europe.  Buy your travel card (could be paper or plastic depending on country) and use your credit card to put money on it to use as needed at the machine at the bus/train/trolley station.  We usually start with 10 euros on each of ours and then “top off” or add more $ at the machines as we use it up.  Ride costs vary but are usually 1-2 euros each trip.  Machines will be around the stations, usually with a line waiting to use, and just step up when it’s your turn, select your language and the machine will walk you through the process.  Easy peasey.

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As you proceed with your card/ticket, you will either just slap it on the pad at the machine turnstyles to enter the station or at the station just inside the door as you enter the trolly or sometimes it will be fed into the machine and spit out on the other side.  Just watch the other passengers and follow in style.  Grab a map of the subway or trolley lines at the station and off you go!  Most systems are color coded, i.e. in Lisbon we took the red line to the blue line to get around the entire town.  Inside the subway, trolley, etc. you will usually see a map of the system with the stops called out.  Just watch for your stop and if you miss it, get off at the next stop and switch tracks to go back.  It happens!  Keep your card handy as you sometimes have to use it to get out of the turn styles upon arrival.  Make sure you look for the green light vs. the red light so the exit you pick is active.  Don’t be that crazy American tourist trying to exit a closed lane.

I have to give Lisbon A+ for their public transportation.  In addition to a great metro (subway) system, they have trolleys/buses for easy around town travel and trains to get out of town and explore Sentra, Porto, Evora, etc.  All except the trains use the one transport card.  For trains, you have to get a separate ticket.  We found out that they assign seats on the train tickets after we sat in the wrong seats and had to move.  Oops.

For fun, we tried a tuk tuk one day for short ride.  For $10 euros for the two of us, the lovely lady took us in her three wheel golf cart-like tuk tuk and proceeded to tell us stories about Lisbon during our trip.  Travel + a story!  She explained that Lisbon is quite safe but there are lots of “soft” crime meaning pickpockets.  She told us about a tradition where the governor pays for 10 weddings a year at a big event in June.  Unfortunately, our driver is engaged to a Porto resident not a Lisbon resident so she was not qualified to enter the wedding raffle.  She contemplated finding another boyfriend but decided to keep him.  Ah, true love! Hint:  look for electric tuk tuk vs. a gas one so you aren’t sucking in deadly fumes on your lovely ride around Lisbon.  Cheers!

Eating & drinking in Lisbon

Pastel de nata.  Pastel de Belem.  Whatever name you want to call it, in Portugal this is the national treasure and really all you need to know about Portugal food.  It is the food of the Gods.  Flaky crust, warm egg custard interior with torched sugar top that oozes creamy goodness as you bite into the lusciousness.  Seriously, I am in love with a tart. I’ve already searched for where I can find it back home in Seattle and am considering how to smuggle home a few (or a backpack full) to tide me over.  Full.  On.  Obsession.

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Yes, the seafood is pretty good here too.  Thom had a grilled sea bass at the Fado place near our arbnb that was quite tasty.  BTW, Fado is seriously promoted here.  You can walk almost any curvy ancient cobblestone street here and find a Fado bar where the music starts about 9 p.m.  We ordered right before the singing started.  Big mistake-no food service while the singing is going on.  Thank goodness the singers were really loud so their soulful tunes covered the sounds of our stomachs rumbling loudly in hunger.  Finally around 10 p.m., the singing stopped and the food flooded out to the hungry patrons.  Fado was nice but since it is sung in Portugese (duh!) and I couldn’t understand the sad words, it was a one night and done for us to enjoy.

Acting on a recommendation by my cousin Eve, we went to the Anthony Boudain-approved seafood joint, Cervejaria Ramiro.  Far away from the main square and tourist area, we walked through Lisbon’s Chinatown and into the best food ever.   We thought by going “early” at 7 p.m. it would not be so busy as most people eat late here after they enjoy their afternoon siesta and go back to work for awhile.  Nope.  Even at 7 p.m. there was a line forming and the #’s were being given out to wait until you could be seated.

After a short wait though, we were directed upstairs from the main floor craziness.  The iPad with the menu was quickly discussed with the friendly wait staff that wanted us to order everything on the menu.  Having checked out the reviews, I knew to go with the garlic shrimp, garlic bread and steak sandwich for Thom.  With no choice to go with a single glass of wine, I had to order the “small” bottle.  Once again, cheap and delicious, I couldn’t finish the wine before we left.  So much wine, so little time!  Soaking up the juices with the bread, the garlic shrimp was divine.  Thom was making yummy sounds as he enjoyed the steak sandwich and stole a few of my shrimp.  Seriously, we could eat this every day and be very, very happy.  Total bill for two with wine was under 25 euros.  Thanks, Eve, for the tip!

Last night we just cooked in our teeny, tiny kitchen.  We found that every train station has a grocery so on our way back from Evora we picked up eggs, bread, etc. for a quick breakfast dinner (with wine of course!).  I still can’t understand how anyone can eat the huge slabs of salted cod you find in all groceries.  Must be an acquired taste.  The food is very inexpensive here in groceries and restaurants.

 

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Tower of salted cod at the grocery store.

 

Coffee is not a big deal here.  Most people drink espresso in cafes.  We didn’t even have a coffee maker of any type provided in our arbnb.  We found a cheap coffee press at Flying Tiger for 8 euros that we’ll leave for the next guest.  Cheaper to do that than buy coffee out every day.  We found one Starbucks at the train station but that was it for national coffee chain stores.  Tea is not big here either though we did have a hot water kettle provided in the apartment.  Next time I’ll bring more Starbucks instant coffee to tide us over as you just never know.

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For lunches, toasties are big here, as in grilled cheese and grilled ham/cheese.  We’ve had several of these and for about 2 euros each, provide a quick and hot lunch.  Tarts and toasties-that’s seems to be my standard diet here with cheap and tasty wine to wash it all down.  The sangria is amazing with so much fruit and spices that it is a tango on your tongue.  Even the food carts get into the vino action.  We found “wine with a view” on the waterfront in Belem, cork bar and all.  A perfect way to end a day in sunny Portugal!

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