Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Whidbey Island, Washington

“It is oppressively green!”

That is how The Amazin’ Ms. D described what she saw as we drove across Whidbey Island. She was on her way to a two-week retreat at Hedgebrook Farm, and I was going to spend that time driving around the Olympic Peninsula. “Oppressively Green” was a phrase that came back to me time and again during my trip.

For me, there are two advantages to passing through Whidbey Island on my way to the Peninsula. One is getting to visit Whidbey itself. More importantly, I get to take two ferries on the trip. I love taking ferries for the same reasons that I love traveling by train. It forces me to slow down. Waiting for the ferry, I can get out of my car and explore. My first ferry on this trip was from Mukilteo, about 25 miles north of Seattle, to Clinton, on Whidbey Island. This is a short ride, about 15 minutes, but it is still worth getting out of the car. I got a memorable view of the coast of Puget Sound on a foggy day.

Leaving Mukilteo on a foggy morning

Our Ferry

It is oppressively green

As we pass from Clinton WA onto route 525, we drive through the forest for the first time. That is when The Amazin’ Ms. D made her observation. The forest is impressive, especially for two city kids like us. The trees are thick and lush. Mostly evergreen, they hold their hue all year long, and even as the days shorten, the deep green of the forest remains all encompassing.  Route 525 is the main highway across Whidbey Island, and it passes through forests, and past farms. Whidbey’s economy is mostly farming and tourism. It is home to many artists and writers. Our first stop is in the town of Freeland. This quaint hamlet has galleries, boutiques, and other shops. There is enough there to keep you busy for an afternoon or two. There are also several cafes where you can sit and enjoy a good cup of coffee. We headed to Gordon’s on Blueberry Hill, where we had and excellent lunch, a burger for me and salmon for Ms. D. Our lunch came with a picture-perfect view of the inlet that Freeland sits on.

The view from Gordon's

After dropping Ms. D off, I drive north to the Coupeville-Port Townsend ferry. Following the signs, I leave route 525 for route 20. When I get to Crockett Lake, the signs take me off of route 20, and to the north of the lake. The road leads me past Camp Casey, and to the Fort Casey State Park. Being both early, and a sucker for state parks, I decide to explore a little. Fort Casey was once an important piece in the defense of Puget Sound. 

Built in 1897, Fort Casey served with Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island and Fort Worden in Port Townsend, to create what was called a “triangle of fire,” which would effectively block any invading ships trying to enter Puget Sound through Admiralty Bay. Fort Casey had two “disappearing guns.” The 8-inch artillery guns were placed on lifts which allowed them to be hidden behind the concrete fortifications when not firing. They could be loaded in relative safety and then, when ready, they were raised above the walls, fired and then returned to their original positions. This kept the crews and guns safe from enemy fire. But as air warfare developed between and during World War 2 the guns became obsolete and the fort was decommissioned in the 1950’s.

Fort Casey Firing Line

Disappearing Gun

Fort Casey Firing Line

Fort Casey State Park is home to the Admiralty Head Light House. The first light on this site was built in 1850. In 1903 it was replaced with the cement and stucco structure present today. The beacon was in service until 1922. It was restored in 2012, and today is a historical center and gift shop. 

Admiralty Head Lighthouse

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Looking to Fort Casey from the lighthouse

 Finally, Fort Casey overlooks the Coupeville-Port Townsend Ferry. This is my second ferry ride of the day. There is not to to see or do while waiting for the ferry here. There is a restaurant about 100 feet from the parking lot. The ferry ride to Port Townsend take about 30 minutes and is a great way to see the sound and its islands.

Leaving Coupeville
 Getting There: The easiest way to get to Whidbey Island is to take one of the ferries run by Washington State. Either from Mulkiteo to Clinton, or from Port Townsend to Coupeville. You can find information about schedules and rates here.

You can also drive to the island by taking the WA-20 bridge at the north end of the island from Rosario Beach WA through Deception Pass State Park.

A note on Washington State Parks - Most state parks charge a $10/day access fee. You can buy a year long "Discovery Pass" for $30, which I highly suggest if you are going to be in the area for any length of time.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Seattle's Pike Place Market is great place to visit

I love markets. They have an energy that I find invigorating. A good market draws me in, and then moves me along, from one sight to another. It will also provide a composition of sounds that grab my attention as I pass along. A good food market will add the aromas of spices and cooked food. When I get to the end of a good market, I am disappointed and want to head back in and start again, because I feel like there is always something that I have missed. Pike Place Market, in Seattle, is an excellent market.

Pike Place Market is a collection of buildings overlooking Elliot Bay, just north of Downtown Seattle. The buildings stretch 4 block along Pike Place, from Union to Virginia Street. Opened in 1907, the Public Market was created to give farmers direct access to consumers, without having to sell their produce through wholesalers. The main arcade, west of Pike Place, was mainly a place for produce and flower vendors. That is still true today.

By Seattle Municipal Archives (Flickr: Pike Place Market, circa 1922) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Pike Place today

When I visit the Pike Place Market, I prefer to start at the north end of the Main Arcade, between Stewart and Virginia streets. This is home to the many flower vendors. My reason is that this entrance is the furthest away from the “big draws” of Pike Place Fish Market and the Daily Dozen Doughnut shop, but more on them later. I would rather start at the (slightly) less crowded side of the market. As I walk down the aisle I can stop and enjoy the displays of flowers. The colors are beautiful, and the aromas wonderful .

When I get to the Joe Desimone Bridge I turn to the right and encounter the many craftspeople who sell their wares in the market. There are t-shirts, jewelry, ceramics, metal and leather goods. Crossing the bridge I arrive at the newest addition to Pike Place Market – Market Front. Built on the west side of Western Ave, this $74 million complex includes a large open-air pavilion for vendors, and a large plaza, all built on top of the Producer’s Hall, home to artisanal purveyors of beer, food, baked goods, fish and chocolate.

Market Front vendor's pavilion

Market Front Plaza

Heading back to the Arcade, I continue South. I have now entered the land of fruit and vegetables. Stand after stand offer the beautiful and tasty produce grown on local farms. I also find butcher shops, spice stands and fish mongers. If you are really hungry there are several restaurants and prepared food stands in this section.

Buskers at the market

The south end of the Arcade is home to the most famous shops in the market. First is the Pike Place Fish Market. Here selling fish is part sport and part comedy show. Founded in 1930, the employees of Pike Place Fish Market are known for throwing the fish that their customers buy. The crowd grows until someone steps forward to order some fish. While waiting for a customer, the staff have many gags that they might pull on the crowd, from a fish on a string to startle passers-by, to getting members of the crowd to take pictures with different fish. But the real action takes place when someone places an order and picks out a fish to fillet. The whole fish is picked up and tossed to a waiting staff member behind the counter to be cut and wrapped. Meanwhile the entire staff yell out the order at the top of their lungs. All in all, everyone has a good time. 

Catch of the day

Around the corner from the Pike Place Fish Market is Daily Dozen Doughnuts. These are considered to be the best doughnuts in the market. They are certainly the freshest. They are made right in front of the crowd waiting for them, and the store often can’t keep up with demand, causing a longish line, but the doughnuts are well worth the wait.

To the east and south of the Main Arcade are the Sanitary Market, so named because horses were not allowed into the building, the Corner Market and the Economy Market. Today these buildings host many stores, some food related, some not, and also many restaurants.

No trip to the Pike Place Market would be complete without a stop at the “gum wall.” Walk down to Post Alley, and you will encounter one of the “5 germiest” tourist attractions in the world. While it was completely cleaned in 2015, the collection of gum is growing again. Come and leave your contribution, and take a picture. It sure is colorful and gross.

As I said, the Pike Place Market is excellent. It has something for everyone. Come and enjoy.