Monthly Archives: April 2013

Spring in Seattle!

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It was a typical Seattle Spring when we were there last week for couple of days. Sun peeking out between clouds teasing us to come out only to start drizzling moments later.It was cool and refreshing to go outside especially since we were visiting from a hot and dry Hyderabad.

Cherry blossom

We went to checkout the annual Cherry blossom festival in the University of Washington. The recent rains had faded the blooms and it was past its peak. But I managed to relive the past experience when we visited with Varun with a couple of close up photos of the lovely pink blooms. They are a reason to visit the Pacific North West (PNW)  in April first week.

If that’s not inspiring enough, then there are acres and acres of Tulips and Daffodils fields blooming in Skagit valley for the entire month of April -though mid April is better as it is at its peak. Why plan a trip to Holland when you can experience these beauties in PNW?

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And if the trip to even Skagit valley seems like a long drive from Seattle ( and it can be on a sunny weekend when it seems like everyone wants to visit the blooming tulip farms), then Pike Place Market vendors offer luscious bouquets in every hue possible that you can’t resist to take home. From soft pastels to deep purples, single or double petaled, the prices and the fragrance is heady.

Liriope

Magnolias

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Even along the streets,pops of color brighten up the otherwise rainy day. Liriope, Magnolia, Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Purple rain flower,Cherry blossoms and a lot more. The light green buds unfurling with their copper pink tips, the white flowers of Pieris Japonica set against the deep red new growth reminded me of our own garden and trips to garden centers with my friend Donna who introduced me to the world of gardening!

Lone Orange Tulip

And if you are in the Pike Place Market, don’t miss the fresh fruits – rhubarb and strawberries that are in season! We had lunch at Matt’s in the Market – an old favorite where we literally enjoyed Spring on our plate – Fresh Halibut with wilted pea-shoots and radishes on a pea puree.  Delish with some PNW inspired devilled eggs. Vipul had his standard sandwich on a brioche. Trust me, comfort gourmet doesn’t get better than this!

Spring on a plate - Halibut with radishes and pea shoots

Burger on a Brioche

Gourmet Devilled Eggs

We enjoyed our two day visit to Seattle. Friends, flowers, fun and also shopping. But we missed Varun and couldn’t wait to come back home. After all home is where the heart is and we missed our heart more than he missed us!

A book for Varun -aka Prepping Your Toddler To Stay With Grandparents When You Have to Travel

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Some of you know that we had to travel again to Seattle last week. We were going to be there for just 48 hours and it didn’t make sense to take Varun along for such a short time. Our previous US trip was barely a month earlier and I didn’t want to subject Varun to long travel and jet lag again.

But our work was something that we couldn’t reschedule and it had to be done. So, here we were faced with a big dilemma of leaving Varun with his grandparents while we travelled. While he is used to me being away during the day, he has never spent an evening without me. On evenings when I have to come late from work, he gives Vipul a hard time. With travel we would be gone for 4 days and 5 nights. A real long time for someone who has never left him overnight. Ever.

We asked Vipul’s parents to come and stay in Hyderabad. That way he could go to his school and daycare during the day and they only had to manage him in the evenings. I told his teachers to be extra attentive as I wasn’t sure how he would react to this.I was very worried that he may be distressed while we are gone and act out in school.

I recalled reading on Babycenter or on Ask Moxie to talk to the child before hand about any bigger change and so about a week in advance I started telling him about my trip to US. And every time I started telling him about the trip, he would cry, give me a hug and say “Please take me along as well…Varun la gheun jaa na

This broke my heart but I didn’t really have an option.

So, I made him a book – a custom book that talked about when and where we are going, when we will be back and how much fun he will have with grandparents.
We focused on the fun and when we will be back. I wanted to print out this photo book at a studio like a photo album but didn’t have time.I simply printed it out and stapled it together.

As a story with photos, Varun was hooked. We read the book at least a couple of dozen times before we left. He didn’t resist our travelling as much. The evening before we left, we read the book one last time. I also left him small gifts/toys that he could open each day – like a stack of stickers, a soap bubble blower, some post it notes with crayons, a new story book etc.

More than the toys, the book was a big hit. He didn’t cry when we left in our taxi. He in fact hugged us good bye with a smile. Every evening he would sit with the book and make Vipul’s mom read the book over and over again. And together they would “send” us an aero plane to fly back!

On our daily phone calls he would ask us to come back soon, on Saturday, and bring him new shoes. He used to lament that we didn’t take him along but otherwise he did fine. He also reminded us that he has sent us an aero plane and to comeback in it. We played along and said we were still waiting for it. But, whenever he missed us, he brought out the book and read it and kissed our photos in the book.

On Friday night, he refused to read the book stating that its Saturday tomorrow and its time for mamma-dada to come back. Instead he brought all his crayons out and colored all over the paper!

Without further ado, this is the  story I created for him. It helped us a lot. Hoping that it will give you an idea if you ever have to travel leaving your toddler behind.

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Exploring Olympic National Park: Beaches and Coast

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Olympic National Park has a rugged coastline where the beauty lies in pebble stone beaches, sea stacks and drift wood bleached by constant waves and cold winds. This is not the beach to sun-bathe on but a beach to bundle up and enjoy with a hot cup of coffee.

There are beautiful trails along with the coastline where you can stand on the buff top and enjoy the many moods of Pacific.

Kalaloch Lodge

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Kalaloch Lodge is probably the best base to explore the Olympic coast. We stayed in their rustic cabins overlooking the coast one winter and enjoyed the fiery pacific amidst stormy February. The sandy beach below is perfect for long strolls where you can find star fish and shell-fish  on rocky formations accessible during low tide from the beach.

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La Push Beach

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Driving further from Hoh Rain Forest, we reach La Push beach which is made up of First beach, Second beach and third beach. This is the place to watch the sea stacks. We visited  these beaches once with mom and dad and they simply loved the raw power of Pacific that you experience here although they were cold even in peak summer.

Lake Quinault

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Even if you don’t stay at Lake Quinault lodge, a visit to the lake Quinault is a welcome change from the rugged coast. Set amidst mountains, this historic lodge is welcoming with sprawling lawns that extend to the lake front. We have stopped here for an evening of tea/coffee/snacks and just savored the beautiful nature. We had planned on taking the boat tour on the lake but that has never materialized so far. Sunset tour would be perfect 🙂

Nearby there is a very short flat trail to the worlds largest Spruce tree. We expected to see one where you can drive through but it’s just a very tall tree. We were a bit disappointed.

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There are even more beaches, some remote than others. I admit, I love beaches – be it the soft sandy beaches or the pebbly wild ones of Olympic peninsula. The weather here is iffy but can be sunny when its cloudy in Seattle. So, if you don’t have any plans for this summer, plan a loop around Olympic National Park. From scenery, local food, lavender farms and various activities you won’t regret it. Its Pacific Northwest in all its glory!

Exploring Olympic National Park: Mountains and Rain Forest

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There are very few national parks where you have to choose between hot springs or lake; beach or mountain or rain forest. Olympic National Park in the north-western corner of Washington is one such park. Here you can spent the day at the rain forest and then watch sea stacks glow in the sunset throwing pebbles into the on coming waves while sitting on driftwood. Or you can spend the day hiking around hurricane ridge and then unwind in the hot springs. All within 3 hours of driving distance from Seattle!

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We have visited Olympic National Park several times with friends, with parents and by ourselves. We have spent a weekend driving along its beautiful beaches watching stormy skies and waves from beach-huts in peak of winter. We have spent summer weekend in the rustic A frame cabins at Crescent lake. And of course we have made impromptu last-minute trip and stayed in one of the many motels in Port Townsend overlooking the Strait of Jaun de Fuca with sights of Victoria, Canada on clear day.

There are mainly two ways that we have taken to Olympic National Park:
1. Drive up to Edmonds and then take a car ferry to Port Townsend
2. Drive south to Olympia and then drive around north on to 101.

We have usually taken # 1.above when we visit Hurricane Ridge, Sol duc hot springs, Crescent lake and Hoh Rainforest; and taken #2. route above when visiting the coast beaches of Kalaloch and Quinault lake. It’s possible to drive down to the beach from Hoh rain forest and then drive along the coast to the beaches and then lake Quinault and then complete the loop south and reach Olympia. It really depends on how many days you have on hand! Set aside at least 4 days if you want to visit and drive around the entire loop. We have usually split the trip between the mountains/ rainforest and the beaches.

Hurricane Ridge

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Leave as early as possible and take the ferry across from Edmonds to Port Angeles. Once on the Olympic peninsula, drive up to Hurricane Ridge. You will drive past quaint villages, antique shops and lavender farms. Once at the top,on a clear sunny day it offers majestic views of the park-mountains, valleys, strait of Juan de Fuca that separates USA from Canada and wildflowers! The visitor center here has maps, snacks, restrooms etc. In winter, its offers cross-country skiing.

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This is usually our first stop on the peninsula. We love the views here though parking sometimes is hard in summer as the place is extremely popular.

Crescent Lake

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Next stop usually for us is Lake Crescent. We love this place with its A-frame cabins on waterfront. Sleeping in the loft and gazing straight out to the calm blue water of the lake is my idea of a lazy vacation. The meals at the restaurant on-site are fairly good. Kayaking and boating is an option and so is camping. On one occasion when we were visiting with my parents, some of the campers offered my parents tea at 6:00 am when they were out for a walk as the restaurant was still closed.

Sol Duc Hot Springs

Usually we end day 1 with a quick hike to the Sol duc waterfalls or a soak in the Sol duc hot springs. We have never stayed here as the resort fills up quickly but you can just visit the hot springs for a fee. They even have swim suit rental incase you have forgotten to pack one – after all who thinks about swimsuit and pacific northwest in the same sentence 😉

Hoh Rainforest

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Our typical itinerary entails driving to Forks ( of the Twilight fame) to visit the temperate Hoh Rain forest.  Moss covered trees and fallen logs add to the lush green canopy. There are short flat trails that let us enjoy the unique ecosystem without actually sweating it though I am sure there are longer trails here as well.

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Dungeness Spit

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If we have only two days on the peninsula, we drive back from Hoh rainforest to Port Angeles. Before getting on the ferry, we stop at Dungeness Spit. It’s an arch of land that shoots off into the Strait of Juan de Fuca. We have always seen deer here and is usually quiet with fewer tourists.

Coffee in hand, this is the perfect place to hang out and stretch your legs before getting back on to the ferry. Mountains, forests, hot springs and lake offer a quick breather away from city life. Ferrying across helps put you in a vacation mood already. Try this even on a not so sunny Seattle weekend – it will definitely put a spring in your step and a smile on your face!

Stay tuned for next post on Olympic National Park’s beaches and coastal explorations!

Alaskan Adventures: Whittier

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Before visiting Alaska,I imagined Alaska as teeming with icebergs, calving glaciers, bears, vast open lands, snow clad mountains,caribous and bald eagles and salmon. We got to see all of the above in Kenai and Denali -more than I ever imagined. But thanks to Discovery channel, we wanted to see the spectacular glacier calving. The one where the entire cliff seems to collapse rocking everything below with thundering echoes.

One of our friends wisely pointed out that the calving is result of global warming and wanting to see more glaciers calve is not good for the health of the planet. But the glaciers would calve whether we were there to watch it or not. So we decided to skip Native Alaskan Heritage Center and instead drove down back south to Whittier – which is gateway to Prince William Sound.

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Although not a national park like Kenai Fjord and Denali, PWS is the place to watch glaciers up close. There isn’t much wildlife here to be seen (other than the salmon hatchery,sea puffs and occasional otter). So if you decide to fly into anchorage instead of taking the cruise, and want to spent an afternoon watching glaciers and ice-bergs then go to Whittier. Also the water here is calm so this is a great alternative to Kenai Fjord cruises if sea sickness is a concern.

To reach Whittier you have to cross a tunnel that is shared with rail road tracks and hence the tunnel is open only at specific times. I have heard that the wait can be longer in peak season but we crossed over in 10 -15 minutes.

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Once there we went an eco-friendly cruise.The cruise was boring as we ferried across the water. The only interesting part was when we reached the glaciers and saw them calve.There is truly nothing else to see on this cruise. But the glaciers and ice-bergs made it worth its while.

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On the way back from Whittier, we stopped at Alaskan Wildlife Conservation Center in Girdwood, to watch Moose, Elk, Bears and other animals that are rescued and provided a shelter till they can be released into the wild again. Awesome concept and a great way to see all the big animals together. So if you didn’t get to see them enough in the wild or didn’t get closeup shots of them in the wild,this is a great spot.We lingered here for an hour or so before we had to drive back to Anchorage.

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We were all flying out that evening from Anchorage on different flights. We wanted to have spare time to return the car, grab dinner and then check in/security.

It was a refreshing 5 day trip.A teaser, tantalizing our appetite for more.The vast open landscape of Alaska and the unhurried pace of life was welcoming. Its the place to go with a  RV and drive around. Nature here exceeds expectations. Stunning views vie for your attention at every turn.

This is one place I hope to return for a longer time ,a month or so at least. Preferably in fall. And visit Homer, Katmai and Denali again!

Alaskan Adventures: Denali National Park

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After our day trip to Kenai Fjord National Park, we walked back to the RV parking lot and started driving up towards Denali National Park. After seeing whales, porpoises, sea-lions and bald eagles, it was time to now see the land animals – bears, caribou, dall sheep etc. We started driving north from Seward to Denali. As this is a 8+  hour drive, we broke it up with an overnight stop in Anchorage.

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On the way we stopped at Portage glacier. By then the sun was out and we had beautiful views of the glacier and the Turnagain Arm on the drive back. We stayed at RV park very close to the city centre. The RV parks in the city were smaller and noisier than in Seward (naturally!) and a couple of them looked a bit shady. Again, I can’t remember the names but its all in Milepost magazine – a handy guide to everything in Alaska mile by mile. Don’t forget to pick up a copy in Wal-Mart along with other supplies.

The following morning we showered in the RV camp, had breakfast and then made our way to Denali National Park. We had almost all day to drive up and make it to a 6:00 pm White water rafting trip. En-route we planned to do the short trail of Thunderbird  falls and then an airplane ride around Mt McKinley near Talkeetna. The air plane ride was a bit expensive so we thought we will do it only if Mt. McKinley was visible.

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This day was better than the previous day on boat cruise and we had a ball of time – fantastic company, stunning scenery, few RV’s on the open road. We pulled over at one of the many pit stops to have lunch while enjoying the views. We met another couple who had driven their RV all the way up from Iowa and were planning to spend their Spring and Summer in Alaska.  And here we were on a 5 day road trip trying to see as much of this gorgeous state. Something better than nothing, eh?

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Although it was sunny, Mt McKinley generates its own weather system, similar to Mt. Rainier in Seattle area. So while we enjoyed the plains and low mountains, the top of Mt. McKinley was covered in clouds. We decided to skip the air plane ride and instead continued onwards to Denali.

Once at Healy, the town closest to Denali National Park, we checked into the RV park, picked up our bus tickets for the trip inside Denali National Park which we had pre-booked online and then went White water rafting. According to our raft guide, the water level is much higher in August, making it the best time to white water in Denali. White water rafting was a great way to end the day after the long drive. Dinner was in one of the many restaurants in Healy which were all open at 11:00 pm and had some great music. What a mesmerizing journey so far!

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The next morning  was our day trip in the park. Personal vehicles are not allowed in the park (beyond the first 15 miles) and shuttles are the only way to go. We took the 8:00 am shuttle so we could go as far inside and hike around a bit. The ideal way to see this park is to stay overnight in the  Wonderlake  campground. Experience the sunset and sunrise in the park. But this early in the season, the campground was closed and we could go only up to Tolkat River. En-route we saw herds and herds of caribou, grizzlies, Dall sheep, bears and owls amongst other birds. Our initial plan was to hike around Tolkat River, but it was awfully cold and it started snowing at Tolkat. We took the shuttle back to Savage River and then hiked a bit around that area. The ranger recommended a few paths along the Caribou creek and we saw a couple of them just 100 ft away. I was a bit terrified when ne of them looked up and stared at us. They can outrun humans if they choose to. We slowly backtracked on the soft lichen covered trail and headed to the bus stop. It was going to be a while before the bus so we climbed up some rock formations to take in aerial views of the park. We took in some fabulous views of area – the lone bus on the lone track, scree covered mountain bases, different colors of the rock formations and the vastness and silence that is only seen in Denali with miles upon miles of plains set amidst the backdrop of the mountain ranges.

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We hurried down as the next bus came around and we were back to the RV by 6:00 -6:30. AA couple of friends had skipped the hike and headed to the visitor center for seeing movies/information on the area, its natives etc. We all met up in the evening and headed back to Anchorage after some refreshments.

A visit to national par is always refreshing  – the fresh mountain air, relaxed vibe, starry nights, trails and the peace and calm that is hard to get by in the cities. But even more it refreshes the spirit which is re-energized and humbled in the presence of tall conifers, cycle of life and majestic mountains!

Stay tuned on the next post on Whittier – the last of our Alaska series.

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