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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Chapel of Bones

“We bones in here wait for yours to join us.”  This message over the door greets visitors who enter the Chapel of Bones.  Disturbing and disruptive.  Unlike anything I had ever experienced,  Capela dos Ossos is in the Church of St. Francis in Evora, a cute Portugal city that has been around for 2,000+ years.

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Three monks, concerned with the values they saw in Evora’s society in the 1600’s, created this macabre chapel to give residents a place to contemplate their love of material things against their inevitable death.  Using locales from the cemeteries around town, skulls and bones were gathered to form the walls, columns and ceiling.  Full corpses of an adult and a child also are on display.  To stand in that room looking at this religious expression of protest against wealth and status from so long ago shows that society never changes.  You have that same wealth disparity today across the world.  Will  human beings ever learn?

Not my cup of tea usually but staring at the display made me reflect on the need to be in the present, appreciate my blessings and not take one minute of this precious life for granted.  Because, just like these bones and skulls staring back at me, we will all join them some day.  All that matters then is the lasting good that we are able to create while alive.  Unfortunately, though, most shun thoughts of our eventual demise and focus on gathering as many material things as we can while alive.  The old saying “you can’t take it with you” comes to mind.  Why on Earth then do we spending all our time working to buy stuff that we don’t really need?

On Mother’s Day, I appreciate that Thom and I created two really outstanding human beings who are now making a difference themselves in the world.  Hannah and James make me very proud every day of the worthy life I have lived.  Until I depart to be only bones, I can only hope to continue to do good work and live a life well served.

Scenic Sintra

After a sleepless night (falling FINALLY asleep at 5 a.m. after counting a herd of sheep) I woke up at 11:30 a.m. and off we went to Sintra.  After a metro stop, a short train ride, and the bus ride from Hell, we were transported to another time where palaces and castles were the norm.  Amazing!

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Of course, the bus ride up to the beautiful Palace of Pena scared the crap out of me.  OMG!  Blaring his horn to alert anyone crazy enough to drive this lane, the driver confidently took the hairpin curves in the big bus up the narrow path.  I thought we were surely going to die.  But we survived to climb up a steep hill and roam about the palace where safety is more of a suggestion than a standard, i.e. don’t bring your toddler or aging parents.  They’ll die.  With gaps in the railing and steep drops into crevices, we watched our steps and checked it all out.

The views were breathtaking looking out onto the Moorish Castle and the sea.  Inside, the kitchens still full equipped with the biggest mort/pestle I have ever seen.  What. The. Hell.  Were they grounding up trees in there not spices??  Two of the original ovens used by King Ferdinand II’s staff are still displayed along with lots of other relics.  You can only imagine the three man lift required to haul up one of the large cauldrons to make soup for the King.  Damn.  The chapel from the early 1500’s was serene and peaceful.

Deciding after waiting awhile in line for the bus down the mountain, we blew off the Moorish castle (cool from a distance but it was starting to rain) which was further down the hill and thought we would just check out the town square instead.  Of course, first we would have to survive the bus trip down.  Packed in like the favorite Portugal sardines, I warned Thom to hold on tight as we stood or he would wind up in the lady’s lap he was huddled next to.  As the “Eye of the Tiger” came on the bus radio, the lively British gals that had stood behind us in line as we waited for the bus broke out into loud song.  Bus Karaoke was on!  Hilarious.

Tired from all that singing, we quickly exited on the main square in Sintra, checked out the News Museum with it’s Macho Media exhibit and headed down the quaint curvy streets.  There I found the best thing ever-Ginja!  Cherry liqueur shots served in a dark chocolate cup for only 1 euro.  You nibble a little chocolate, sip a little liqueur and repeat.  Of course, you could just throw it all at once in your mouth but I wanted to savor it.  Tasting like a cherry cordial that my dad used to love at Christmas time but with booze, it was a perfect union of tastes.  Yum!

Walking down the mountain in the rain, it was the end of a perfect day in Sintra, a fairy tale land where you can easily imagine another time where knights defended their kings and queens.  Magical.

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