DC Vacation: Day 12, Koi & Friends on Earth Day

Day 12 of my DC holiday started off with a drive down to Capitol Hill. The ten-mile trip took 50 minutes in the morning (love that extra lane on Connecticut Avenue) and 90 minutes in the evening. I had hoped that Earth Day would mean fewer drivers, but alas that was not the case. I did commune with nature over lunch that day by having vegan bean salad and vegetarian yogurt salad combination beside the nearest koi pond – PHOTO.

That evening, I enjoyed some catching up time with a few of my dearest high school friends! You know those friends who are easy to be with and when you get together you catch up and chat like your relationship is exactly where you left it last time? I am fortunate to have such dear friends as this and the fact that they found time on a school night (they have children) to escape for a little girl time is fabulous.

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DC Vacation: Days 9-11, Puttering Around & Eating

After an eventful weekend in Pittsburgh, I relaxed and did some gardening on Monday. The harsh winter really took its toll on my parents’ shrubs so it was satisfying to nurture them back to spring health. While pruning and weeding, I found two nests. So sweet to see that the overgrown shrubs that I was trying to tidy had in fact made a cozy winter home for a couple bird families. For dinner, my mom and I curled up with a few Castle episodes and a pizza!

Bird's Nest
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DC Vacation: Days 6-8, Pittsburgh & Carnegie Mellon Spring Carnival

With my husband stranded in Ireland thanks to Eyjafjallajökull, I joined my father for a weekend in Pittsburgh for the always enjoyable Carnegie Mellon University Spring Carnival. The drive up on Friday was longer than usual due to three separate yet equally torrential rain storms. Upon arrival, we joined a reception for alumni and I had my first Yuengling in over 14 months. This is also when the Black Keys concert was being held. I did not go because other than it being sold out, there isn’t much I wanted to do besides listen to stories. The carnival was set up, but eerily quiet yet bright that evening, but held promise for the next day.

Carnival At Night
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DC Vacation: Day 5, Eyjafjallajökull & Arnold Palmer

On my fifth day inside the Beltway, I awoke to hear my mother rustling in the kitchen and wandered out in my pjs. The first thing I heard came from the television, “all flights grounded at Heathrow Airport in London.” WHAT?! My husband was meant to join me on our American holiday and at the exact moment I was padding through my parents’ house, he was sitting on the floor or Cork International Airport trying to get a new itinerary with a TG3 cameraman capturing him for the news. So, why all the airline havoc? Well, the Icelandic volcano, Eyjafjallajökull. It’s hard to spell, harder to pronounce (ay-yah-FYAH’-plah-yer-kuh-duhl), and even harder to travel through. Already missing my husband was not much fun, but being faced with uncertainty about when I’d next see him was just rotten. At least he’s safe.
My day quickly brightened up with a late breakfast with Alicia, my wonderful high school friend and bridesmaid at my wedding. We went to Silver Diner, a high school hangout. I then went to lunch with my mom and Valerie. The ladies were kind enough to let me choose the restaurant and having been without spinach artichoke dip for two years, I opted for Chili’s. Mmm. I even got to drink a bottomless Arnold Palmer (photo below).

An Arnold Palmer

DC Vacation: Days 1-4, Settling In

I arrived Saturday night and was welcomed by a home-cooked dinner and soft bed. Nice to be with family again and the warm, sunny weather is lovely.

On my first full day here, I went to buy sunscreen (SPF 30) and visited A.C. Moore to pick up embroidery thread to mend my favorite cardigan that has been stored at my parents’ house until I could knit well enough to repair it. The yarn selection was astounding, but we managed to get out with just the basics. Both errands were with my mom so it was nice to be with her doing ordinary stuff. And yes, driving on the right counts as ordinary stuff even though it took concentration.

After errands, mom, dad, and I went to lunch at Manoli Canoli. After lunch, we took the dog for a walk and visited with one of our neighbors. His garden is blooming and as a fan of Dogwood trees, I was thrilled to see the medley of pink and white blossoms adorning his trees. It reminded me so much of my Grandma’s house.

Virginia Spring
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Visiting Seattle

Emerald City Itinerary

Seattle, Washington, is perched on the western coast of the United States and enjoys its Pacific Northwest weather to the fullest. Nine months of the year, it enjoys lush rain and in the summer months the sun is out most days. In the winter, the temperatures can drop below freezing, but snow accumulation is rare. June, July, and August are paradise with long hours of sunlight, moderate temperatures, and the occasional bout of rain.

Style

Casual, comfortable, and true to yourself seem to be the best ways to dress for Seattle. To keep up with the changing weather, layers are key. In general, those I know in Seattle don’t like to subscribe to labels and though they may have brand loyalty, style is very individual in the Emerald City.

Rain Gear

One thing that surprised me most is that few people carry umbrellas since the wind can flip one inside out quite easily, leaving it useless against the downpour. On my first visit to Seattle, I ended up out on a stormy night and took out my umbrella, feeling rather proud to have remembered it in the first place, only to have the storm laugh at the attempt and flip it backward then rip bits of it from their spokes. A raincoat is definitely the wise choice and helpful for a chilly day as much as a rain or blustery one. If you forget your raincoat, REI’s flagship store is among the many shops carrying durable outdoor gear.

My Short List

If I only am in Seattle for a long weekend, my priorities are seeing my friends and family, visiting Rachel at Pike Place Market, and eating at:

Piroshky Piroshky

HoneyHole Sandwiches

Kingfish Cafe

Monsoon

Galerias Restaurant

However, if you want to do more than just eat while you are in Seattle, here is a six-day itinerary I cooked up that lets you see the city.

Day 1 – Welcome!

You have arrived in Seattle and are ready to start your vacation. Perhaps you arrived through the nearest airport, SeaTac, which is located closer to Tacoma than Seattle. You may have even driven yourself as part of a Pacific Northwest road trip vacation or arrived by train after a bit of railroad exploration. No matter your mode of transportation or budget level, Seattle has something for everyone.

If you want to stay in a social and budget-minded hostel, Seattle’s Green Tortoise Hostel (1525 2nd Ave.) is the place to be. It is located one block from Pike Place Market and close to most downtown attractions. Dormitory-style accommodations cost $23 to $25 per person per night. Private rooms are available for a single or couple for $48 and rooms accommodating three people cost $65 per night. Special offers for discounts are posted on their website. If you prefer to stay in an inn or B & B, focus your search on Capitol Hill or Madison Park. These neighborhoods have a more residential feel and historic architecture. For a standard hotel experience or a boutique hotel stay, there are scores of places within walking distance of Pike Place Market.

One thing to keep in mind while in Seattle is that summer is its time to shine. The slight, but nearly constant rainfall the rest of the year nourishes the city’s lush landscape to be emerald green. To get a feel for local music and the city’s passion for it, tune your radio to 90.3 FM, KEXP. It’s a listener-supported station that is known for its independent thinking and appreciation for up-and-coming and legendarily talented folk, blues, and alternative musicians.

Day 2 – Pike Place Market

Start your day at The Pike Place Market, a nine-acre gem and home of the first Starbucks. To get an overview of Pike Place Market’s history and what it has to offer, visit its website. With so many options, you will undoubtedly find a breakfast you’ll enjoy. Three Girls Bakery has wonderful baked goods or grab a Russian pastry from Piroshky Piroshky. They have delicious a smoked salmon piroshky that costs about $5 that has its pastry shell shaped like a fish. Both places cater to on-the-go eating with limited in-shop seating. Both bakeries are a good value and are located on Pike Place directly across from Pike Place Market.

Roam the shops of Pike Place Market. This is a historic and expansive market that embodies the spirit of Seattle – fresh, local, and friendly. There is something for everyone and many hidden hallways with curious and amazing items. Don’t forget to stop and admire the World-Famous Pike Place Fishmongers as the fish fly. The fresh seafood can be ice-packed and mailed or packed for your return travel so you can bring some real Pacific Northwest Salmon home with you. For a less perishable souvenir, buy some smoked salmon or a coffee mug. If you love fresh sausage, look for Uli’s Famous. His non-pork spicy sausage raises the standard for sausage. To check out his work, visit: http://www.ulisfamoussausage.com. Don’t forget to say hello to Rachel, the life-size piggy bank who stands guard near the World-Famous Pike Place Fish Market.

For a quick and casual lunch costing less than $10 per person, order up a sandwich and soda at Sound View Café, where my husband and I enjoyed our first date in tandem with a visit to Seattle Art Museum (aka SAM). There is an amazing view of Seattle’s Elliot Bay. If you don’t mind taking a little time to stop and smell the fresh air, dine at The Pink Door (1919 Post Alley, behind Piroshky Piroshky). It is not well-marked so just look for a peachy-pink door in the alley. It is closed on Mondays. Lunch ranges from $8 to $15.

Sit down for a casual, but elegant dinner at Alibi Room in Post Alley (85 Pike St.). The entrance is in an alcove of the brick alley somewhat beneath the World-Famous Pike Place Fish Market, so it’s not obvious to passerby, but worth seeking out. The portions always seem smaller on the plate than in your stomach. For something you will remember for years to come, try their Caesar salad to start and their “New Mac” as your main course. A full bar is available. Meals at Alibi Room cost less than $25 per person.

To enjoy a late-night pint, visit Owl ‘n Thistle in Post Alley. They have large screen TVs for big game nights, but also host live local music.

Day 3 – U District & Fremont

Go to the U. District and have your morning coffee and a bite at one of the eclectic bakeries then check out the Burke Museum. Admission to this museum on the University of Washington’s campus costs a few dollars, but once inside, you will enjoy a feast of Pacific Northwest art and artifacts.

Enjoy some shopping while in the U District. Be sure to check out Buffalo Exchange (4530 University Way NE), Newberry Books (4760 University Way NE), and Earth River Records Blue (4744 University Way). Earth River Records Blue has a huge upfront shelf selection and also an extensive stockroom so don’t be afraid to ask for something obscure since the staff is knowledgeable and friendly. If it reminds you a little bit of the record shop in High Fidelity, you’re not alone. If you prefer more commercial shops, such as those you’d find in your local mall, visit University Village. There you will find the Rosanna store. This shop carries the designs of Rosanna Bowles who specializes in household items, such as china. While at University Village, enjoy a cup of coffee at Zoka, a two café company that sticks close to its mission to make good coffee. Zoka’s menu and location information can be found on its website.

Head over to Fremont to enjoy lunch with a Caribbean flair at Paseo (4225 Fremont Ave N). Some say they have the best sandwiches on the planet, but you will have to decide that for yourself after dining at the HoneyHole on Day 3. Paseo is cash only and averages $25 or less per person for a full meal.

Drive to see the Fremont Troll and the statue of Lenin.

Then go to the neighborhood of Ballard to take visit the Hiram M. Chittenden Government Locks (3015 NW 54th St.). While in Ballard, visit the zany, retro, and eclectic Archie McPhee store (2428 NW Market St.). If you can’t get enough of the store while you’re there, you can shop online too!

Make your way back to Fremont for dinner at Bizarro (1307 N. 46th St.). An amazing Italian place with a quirky decor. If you are a group of six or more, it is a good idea to call ahead and get reservations. After dinner, have an imported beer at Brouwers Café (400 N. 35th St. at Phinney). With a wide selection of brews, this Flemish grand café has a beer to suit your taste.

Day 4 – Capitol Hill

Go to Fuel (610  19th Ave. E) on Capitol Hill for a cup of authentic Seattle coffee and a freshly baked something for breakfast. This place is one of a kind so you will be enjoying a genuine Seattle morning, but rest assured they also serve tea and a variety of other beverages. Pick up a copy of The Stranger or Seattle Weekly to peruse special events and activities taking place while you’re there. Both are free publications and readily available throughout Seattle.

Browse the unique shops on 15th Avenue East and on Broadway then visit the Washington Park Arboretum located between the bottom east side of Capitol Hill and Madison Park.  If you’re there on the third Saturday of the month, enjoy the Ceremony in the Japanese Tea Garden at 1:30pm.

Have lunch at HoneyHole Sandwiches (703 East Pike St.). This little find is only for locals so appreciate the reasonable prices and funky décor. Every sandwich is a delicious experience. HoneyHole is open late and table service is available after 5pm when it takes on a nightlife vibe.

If you want a sit-down meal to remember, make reservations at: Kingfish Cafe (602 19th Ave. E), Monsoon (19th Ave. E), Galerias Restaurant (611 Broadway E).

As the day winds down and happy hour winds up, have drinks at Coastal Kitchen (429 15th Ave. E), Linda’s Tavern (707 E. Pine St.), or the Tiki-style Cha Cha Lounge (506 E. Pine St.). All three have happy hour and beer specials. Since they are in the top ten happy hour spots on Capitol Hill, these spots get crowded after 9pm so if you want a table, arrive early.

For the latest in best places to drink, eat, and be merry, check out the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog.

Day 5 – Music

Grab a booth at Hurricane Café (2230 7th Ave. near Denny) and order up a late breakfast. Arriving after the breakfast crowd and before the lunch-goers still leaves you with a potentially distracted server, but not having to wait for a table. Their coffee is not characteristic of Seattle’s reputation since it is not made to order, but otherwise their menu selection is fairly good. It’s main attraction is that it is open 24/7 and it isn’t overpriced. Breakfast there is under $10 per person.

Check out the Space Needle on the grounds of the Seattle Center, which was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. At 605 feet tall, it is a great navigation tool and a fun part of Seattle’s skyline. A ride to the top to enjoy the view from the observation deck costs $14 per adult.

Have late lunch around 1pm at one of the restaurants in nearby Belltown. If you like Japanese cuisine (not necessarily raw fish sushi), try Wasabi Bistro (2311 2nd Ave.). Menu items range from $2 to $12.

After lunch, your adventures in Seattle music begin. Take a tour of the Experience Music Project at Seattle Center. Admission is just under $20 per person with special events and shows as a separate admission fee.

That night, attend a musical performance. To Seattle residents, music is like water or air or organic food. Check out a venue’s calendar and if you see something you like, you have a plan for the evening. Showbox (1st & Pike by Pike Place Market) is a great venue that tends to host established musicians who still prefer the small club vibe. Chop Suey (1325 E. Madison) has shows nightly.

Day 6 – Alki

Sleep late recover from your night out on the town. After a cup of the nearest coffee, drive to Alki Point, which is southwest of downtown Seattle. Stroll along the promenade and enjoy a different view of the Seattle skyline. Explore the shore-front shops and bask in Seattle’s amazing summer weather. Have lunch at Bamboo Bar & Grill (2806 Alki Ave. SW). Bamboo has a delicious salmon and avocado sandwich.

Depart the Emerald City having had a glimpse into what it is like as a resident, not as a tourist.

Sunset from the Park

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Star of the Sea, a Good Read for Irish-Americans

This Christmas, I gave my Irish-American husband Star of the Sea by Joseph O’Connor. Like most people, his leisure reading time is limited, but when a book captures his interest it pulls him back at every spare moment to read. Star of the Sea did just that!  Though it can by no means be considered a light read, he enjoyed it and the detail-rich experience that Irish would have had as famine era immigrants heading to America.

Photo by Stephen Orsillo