"Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final."
Ranier Maria Rilke
"Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won't either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning.
You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself, you tasted as many as you could."
Louise Erdrich, The Painted Drum
Thinking of all those loved and lost in January, this year, and in all the years past.
I live in the Pacific Northwest, where it rains. And I mean...a lot. Most of the time, that suits me just fine. In fact, I relocated here from drought- and fire-ravaged California precisely because it does rain. But sometimes the rain gets to be a bit much. As in the dead of winter, when the grey wet days are ceaseless, and the idea of pulling on your still-soggy sneakers to go outside for a run is the absolute last thing in the world you want to do. During these dark winter months, it is easy to fall into a motivational sinkhole. To come up with the thousand-and-one, self-pitying reasons it’s just too damn hard to exercise. And the times when you actually do force yourself to go out? Well frankly, it’s just not that fun.
When I hiked The Camino in April of 2016, Spain was enduring a period of flooding so severe that many parts of The Camino were completely underwater. In some cases forcing diversions over busy highways, where single lines of waterlogged Pilgrims could be seen hugging the verge as lorries, weaving and bobbing unsteadily, whizzed by.
These were good days, but not easy ones--certainly much more challenging than a quick 30-minute run in the Seattle "mist." They were long, (often 18+ miles) arduous and self-questioning days. (As in: why the heck am I doing this?) Days of steady driving rain, high winds, freezing sleet and hail. Punishing days spent wading, hours-on-end, through shoe-sucking mud. Days that earned you blisters so painful you couldn’t fathom walking down to breakfast the next morning--never mind logging another 20 miles out on the trail.
But you did walk down to breakfast, and after that, you continued walking, following the scallop shell signposts through the village and back onto The Camino, where you rejoined your fellow Pilgrims. And you did this not only because you had to, but because--in spite of aching feet and throbbing joints--you wanted to.
And you wanted to because from the moment you take your first step onto The Camino, you are initiated into a unique and remarkable community of people who share a simple, but very particular goal: to get to Santiago. People whose names you’ll never know, but who lighten your load with an extended hand, a smile, a few words. People in whose footsteps you follow, just as you do the centuries of Pilgrims who came before you. And as surely as each of you etch your physical footprint into the stone of the ancient Roman byways, you leave a spiritual mark that becomes part of a transcendent collective--the magic of which buoys you as you make your way-- sometimes struggling, sometimes enraptured--to Santiago.
Someone asked me recently to explain in more substantive terms than the usual cocktail party sound byte, what motivated me to walk the 500 mile Camino de Santiago in 2016. As we talked about the various reasons people make this journey—which run the gamut from gap year jollies to religious pilgrimages and all points between—what became increasingly clear was this: Whatever reasons you THINK you’re walking the Camino bear little resemblance to the experience that unfolds after the 30+ long, blistering days it takes to make your way across Spain into Santiago.
Walking the Camino is equal parts grueling and disheartening; joyous and empowering, but ultimately more magnificent than you can ever imagine.
If you’ve been thinking about walking the Camino, but fear and reservations (i.e. Will I ever be able to do it?) are keeping you from moving forward, I would encourage you to gently push your hesitancy aside. There is no one way, no right way to do the Camino, the only way is the one that works for you. In the next installments I will talk a little more about what the Camino is, including the various routes pilgrims take into Santiago, as well as the various ways you can customize your journey.
Until then, I’ll leave you with this photo taken in Cirueña, Rioja Spain. A long solo day of walking. With this much open space, this much quiet reflection, how can the Camino not be transformative?
Over the next several days (months, more likely) I will be posting a day-by-day (mostly photographic) journal of my Camino experience--beginning with the rigors and confusion of packing for a 34 day walking trip. Today I'll leave you with one of my many favorite photos from the trip: A spectacular day walking into Hornillos del Camino. After a mis-start, I had the road to myself for several hours. No villages or cars or other hikers. It started off a bit disconcerting (especially with the scary non-hiker person on the beginning of the road, but that's another story), but then transformed into a day of great reflection, solitude and healing.
I first discovered the neighborhood of Alki (the Alki Peninsula is the westernmost point of West Seattle) when I was playing the 'where in the world do I want to live game.' (Which was generally played online using various real estate search engines.) Using real estate as a barometer, I could not for the life of me figure Alki out, but I knew that it wasn't the place for me. In spite of great downtown Seattle and Olympic Mountain views , it seemed sort of soulless and sad, in large part due to the over-development of highrise condos. (After living in this area for over a year, I'm pretty sure now that if Alki could speak for itself, it would raise a hand and beg me not to hold those unfortunate monstrosities against it.)
The more I research Alki, the more it strikes me as a sort of California beach town along the lines of a hybrid Venice Beach and Carpinteria. Surf shops and burger joints, along with more upscale dining, line the beach as does a 2.5 mile (5 mile round trip) bike path. While the beach itself may not be the kind of white sand and waves Californian's expect, bonfires are still permitted--which makes the idea of watching the sunset over Seattle pretty damn appealing.
Within walking distance from the ferry dock (roughly 2 miles) there is also the 53 acre Schmitz Preserve Park which has the largest old growth forest in Seattle.
So Alki now tops the list of places to check out. In part, because it can be accessed so easily via the King County water taxi from Pier 50. (Nothing I love more than a water taxi or a ferry.) The water taxi runs year round, and at this time of year, leaves every 30 minutes. And at $4.75 each way, the 12 minute crossing is a bargain.
From their website, (and in their words) the mission of From Hiroshima to Hope is: "To commemorate the victims of war and violence. We educate for peace, non-violent conflict resolution and nuclear disarmament through a public outdoor event featuring music, speakers, and a lantern-floating ceremony." I just love the imagery and meaning behind this ceremony. Moving. Spectacular. Beautiful.
I almost shudder to mention it...and wouldn't have, (because I don't want anyone else to discover it, although I do now feel vindicated) if Seattle Magazine, (August, 2015), didn't include it on its...wait for it...list of weekend destinations. And what is so remarkable about that, you might well ask? It's an airport hotel. Yes, let me repeat that--an A.I.R.P.O.R.T. H.O.T.E.L. But mind you, one whose praises I've been singing from the moment I first discovered it nearly a year ago. When you live on an island--as I soon found out when I moved here in 2014--you need to spend many an airport night to accommodate early morning flights since ferries don't run 24 hours a day.
When I started looking for "my hotel" and discovered Cedarbrook Lodge, while I was blown away by the reviews and the lovely website photos, I have to admit, I was also HIGHLY SUSPICIOUS. (How could an airport hotel possibly be this nice?) But from the instant I walked in the door, I knew that Cedarbrook Lodge deserved every positive comment it ever got. It's nothing short of amazing. Surrounded by trees and situated on 18 acres of restored natural wetlands, this property makes you feel as if you've been transported to the most wonderful mountain retreat. Honestly, when you look out your window onto the beautifully preserved natural surroundings, you could be anywhere. And of all the 'anywheres,' in the midst of an airport flight pattern does NOT figure in.
Fully self-contained and filled with original art, community living rooms (stocked with free water and snacks), an extraordinary restaurant, a world-class fitness facility, and a new natural products oriented spa, Cedarbrook Lodge is a place you truly could spend a delightful getaway weekend in. (Just PLEASE promise not to tell anyone else.) And lest you forget the true purpose of the Lodge, airport shuttles DO run 24 hours a day. For more information, click here.
Seattle is booming--and has been. Although dethroned from its "fastest growing" title, it's still up there...tied with Fort Worth behind Austin and Denver. According to Redfin, the number of San Francisco residents searching for Seattle homes has quadrupled over the past four years. This hotbed of growth is attracting innovators from all over, and there's a new media company in town committed to tell us all about it. Even more than that...committed to not only reporting on trends, but helping to predict and impact them. That company is Scout, co-founded by Crosscut's Berit Anderson. Having just exceeded their Kickstarter goal, Scout is still tucked behind the scenes getting ready to launch. Their mandate--"accelerating the creation of a better future through stories, conversations, and prototypes." Or, as their Kickstarter campaign described, "Near Term Science Fiction and Investigative Reporting." Go to joinscout.com to sign up for their newsletter.
When the Sorrento (Seattle's oldest, continuously running hotel) first entered the hospitality scene in 1909, few tourists had even heard of Seattle. But the Alaskan-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition of that year (Washington's first World's Fair) changed things, bringing nearly 4 million visitors to Seattle, and thereby putting the city (and the Pacific Northwest) more firmly on the map. (Side note: The fairgrounds became the U of W campus.) In addition to A-Y-P attendees, Klondike Gold Rush millionaires of 1897 also congregated in the Sorrento, making it a social gathering place for the city's entrepreneurial elite--not unlike the Arctic Club.
At the time the Sorrento was built, it's top of the hill location afforded unobstructed views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier. (Boy, it must have been something.) And while I've not stayed there, I would imagine room views are still pretty spectacular the higher you get.
The Sorrento recently underwent a multi-million dollar overhaul, restoring the hotel to its former glory, but thankfully, without losing its old world charm. Of particular note are the three designer suites which put to test the talents of Seattle's April Pride, Nicole Murillo (Brian Paquette Interiors) and Sterling Voss (Codor Design) who brought their own trademark style to each of these special rooms.
I've been told that The Fireside Room, is a special place to enjoy afternoon tea (and by tea, we mean champagne). Particularly special as Seattle trends into the cooler days of Fall.
If you want to dig a bit deeper into the hotel's architectural and social significance, here's an excerpt from the Sorrento's website..
"The hotel was commissioned by clothing merchant Samuel Rosenberg and built by architect Harlan Thomas who later became the first dean at the School of Architecture at the University of Washington. The seven-story building features Italian Renaissance style architecture, inspired by the architect’s muse, The Vittoria in Sorrento, Italy. The famous circular porte-cochére was originally a square Italianate garden. The tiled pottery surrounding the large open fireplace in the Fireside Room is a beautiful example from the famed Rookwood Pottery Company, Cincinnati, Ohio, and was their first commercial installation. The hearth is irreplaceable and designed with sea green matte textured glazed tiles, a mosaic of an Italian landscape and traditional della Robia pattern that border the fireplace opening.
A Place to Meet At the time of its opening, the Fireside Room was the Seattle gathering place for locals to engage in conversation, listen to music and poetry readings or discuss new artists and their work. The original registry has an impressive line-up: President Taft was rumored to have signed the book, plus the Vanderbilts and Guggenheims stayed here.
From the 1930s to the 1950s diners flocked to the very popular “Top O’ the Town” restaurant on the 7th floor for prime rib and entertainment from Betty Hall Jones (who performed again at the hotel’s 75th anniversary in 1984)."
With a deep maritime heritage, Port Townsend is one of only three Victorian Seaports in the U.S. A robust working waterfront, Port Townsend has two marinas at either end of town, and a beautiful, newly constructed Maritime Center at the base of Water Street. An imminently walkable town, hiking and biking trails intersect the city making it an attractive recreational destination. A meander to Fort Worden State Park is a must: In addition to housing the remarkable Point Wilson Lighthouse, Fort Worden also hosts a variety of culturally based events, workshops and performances; as well as a Writer's Conference--part of the Port Townsend arts scene since 1974. To learn more about what Port Townsend has to offer, click here. There is one restaurant--the Fountain Cafe--that seems to get consistent reviews (I've eaten there and can attest to the fact that while not a culinary marvel, it is respectably good.) As to accommodations, the only downside to a town with such a rich Victorian history is that many of the hotels and B & Bs are a bit overly chintz-ed for my taste. In perusing the list of places to stay, the one that seemed the most spare and elegant was Ravenscroft Inn.
With acres of award-winning gardens, this Bainbridge Island gem also hosts an array of special events: music, workshops, day retreats. The labor of love creation of Prentice Bloedel, here's a summary history from the Reserve's website:
"Unique among public gardens in the United States, The Bloedel Reserve was created by Prentice Bloedel and his wife, Virginia, who resided on the property from 1951 until 1986. The son of a prominent lumber company owner, Prentice was educated at the Thatcher School in Ojai, California and at Yale University. While continuing his association with the Thatcher School as a teacher in the late 1920s, he was called upon by his father to take the helm of the family timber business. He took an early retirement from the MacMillan Bloedel Timber Company in 1950 to devote the balance of his life to the creation of the gardens of what is now The Bloedel Reserve. Although he was advised by and worked with noted landscape architects, including Thomas Church, Richard Haag, Fujitaro Kubota, and Iain Robertson, the overall vision for The Reserve’s gardens was his alone.
Prentice Bloedel was a pioneer in renewable resources and sustainability. He was the first to use sawdust as a fuel to power his company’s mills. He replanted clear cut areas, and started a company that marketed fireplace logs made from sawdust. He also was deeply interested in the relationship between people and the natural world, and the power of landscape to evoke emotions ranging from tranquility to exhilaration. Indeed, some believe that due to his early school experiences and his bout with polio as a young man, Prentice Bloedel may have been ahead of his time in his understanding of the therapeutic power of gardens and landscape.
To view a video about Bloedel Reserve and its founder, Prentice Bloedel, in the words of his family and associates, click here."
One of the most cost-efficient, least stressful ways to get to Vancouver from Seattle is via the Amtrak Cascades. (The train leaves from Seattle's King Station and takes roughly 4 hours.) Once in Vancouver, you can easily negotiate the city without a car. So why not sit back and enjoy spectacular scenery (and a cocktail) and leave the driving to someone else? The downside? Infrequency of departures. So plan and book early. Click here to go to the Amtrak Cascades website. For anyone who'd like to take a deeper dive into what this experience is like, I found this video on YouTube.
Recently, friends of mine traveling to Vancouver asked if I had a recommendation of where to stay. Having never been, I couldn't be of any real help other than to direct them to one of my favorite travel sites: Tablet Hotels. Tablet led me to the Shangri-La Hotel website (stunning gallery images) and now, nothing else will do. (Sadly, my wallet may not agree.)
I've stayed at Shangri-La properties in Hong Kong and am a fan of their unparalleled service. (And honestly, unparalleled is an understatement.) The location in Vancouver is stellar--downtown, with easy access to Stanley Park.
I'm sure there are fringe neighborhoods I've yet to learn about, but for my first trip, downtown is precisely where I want to be.
A side-trip from Lake Serene sits Bridal Veil Falls. 1 Hour Northeast of Seattle, off of Highway 2 near Index.
An hour's drive northeast of Seattle near Gold Bar, Wallace Falls is an exceedingly popular day-hike destination. (Read: Annoying Summer Crowds.) A "heart-pumping, 5 mile out-and-back jaunt will take you through stunning second-growth forest to a doozy of a waterfall dropping 367 feet in three vertiginous plunges." (Seattle Magazine, June 2015)
Melrose Market houses a group of innovative retailers and restaurants. Sitka and Spruce is a lovely place to lunch. Before you go, stop at Marigold and Mint and treat yourself to an organic bouquet, some fresh herbs, or edible flowers to liven up your dinner menu.