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Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Mysterious Mansion

Taken in 1971
When Kees and I got engaged, over 40 years ago, we spent a few days in South Limburg, our favorite part of The Netherlands. One day we were hiking along a narrow path lined with brambles. 
Through the greenery we spotted a huge, very unique house. 
We peeked through the blackberries and saw a red tile roof over a wide veranda with many arched openings. On the veranda, in wooden reclining chairs, were men reading. 

Later we learned that this house was called Emmaus and that it belonged to the Catholic church, specifically to the cloister of Wittem. The priests came here for a day off, to rest, to read and the contemplate. One of the priests, an Italian architect, had designed the building. And many priests worked on the construction in the early 1900’s. The building really only consisted of one large room surrounded by an enormous wrap-around porch and a second story that was open on all sides serving as another porch. 

Over the years, we often came back to this exact spot and we never failed to take a peek at “our” ghost house as we called it. It seemed bleak and deserted for many years and we often dreamed about what it might have been like if we had not emigrated to Canada and what if we had bought it and renovated it and ran a B & B here….? 

During our previous visit to the area, perhaps a year ago, we noticed there was construction going on. The house was being renovated! 

This time around, I googled for the house name: ‘Emmaus’ and discovered that the building was now privately owned, renovated and used as a small, exclusive meeting place for business leaders. I contacted the manager to see if, by chance, there was a restaurant so that we could finally see this building inside. There wasn’t. 
However, because she liked the idea that we had been drooling through the hedges for so many years, she kindly invited us for coffee. And that is why, after more than 40 years, we got to see the house that has become so special to us. It is gorgeously renovated to modern day standards but preserving the old features: a grey stone floor, the arched windows, the enormous wrap-around porches. The old wall paintings that once flanked the altar are preserved under a thin layer of new walls. The ceilings are still towering and candles everywhere present a still serene feel to the house. It was so nice to be able to walk around without feeling like a spy! And we still wonder what might have happened to us and to that old house that we fell in love with so many years ago…. 

'Hold fast to dreams,
    for if dreams die,
         Life is a broken-winged bird
                 That cannot fly.'   - Langston Hughes 

The house as it is now.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

In Flanders' Fields

Southern Limburg, the most southern tip of the most southern province of The Netherlands, is legally Dutch. But it’s landscape and atmosphere are more Belgium, with a hint of French and a dollop of German mixed in. It’s my favorite part of the country. 

The architecture is typical: white stucco houses with dark wooden beams showing on the inside and out, usually with window boxes with cascading red geraniums under each window. The land here is not flat but very hilly. Gorgeous rolling hills of pastures with cows, interspersed with forests and tiny villages. Each village has a medieval look: narrow crooked streets lined with houses that lean in a tight circle around a pointy church. Sometimes the streets are so narrow that I was sure we were driving on a bicycle path but it always really was the street - just wide enough for the horse and wagon that used to come around the bend not long ago. 

We found a lovely little house to rent - a small brick building with a kitchen, tiny living room with fireplace and a small bed- and bathroom. Perfect for a week of hiking and writing.
I had wifi and a kitchen table so I happily worked away on overdue manuscripts and tedious editing. In the mornings I dropped Kees off at the spot of his choice from where he would hike that day. He savored these hilly hikes through foggy farm land and picturesque forests. 

We’ve been so lucky: in nearly 3 months we had 3 days of rain.
We spent one lovely sunny Sunday hiking for the local ladies’ choir. They had organized a fundraiser walk. We enjoyed seeing many other hikers trudging among the cow patties. 

One morning I noticed I was driving right by the American Military Cemetery of Margraten so we paid a visit. The rows and rows of white crossed under bright red and yellow fall colors, were touching. To read the names of thousands of young American boys, who came from so far to help liberate a country they didn’t know…. It is a humbling and touching experience. Especially now that thousands of refugees are arriving in the country, many of them escaping war. When will we ever learn?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Castles and the real Spa

One thing I love about traveling on our own, without having everything planned ahead of time, is the discoveries we make along the way.
But heading south into Belgium and towards Luxembourg we realized it was better to have a reservation, and thus a destination, rather than simply hoping to find a hotel or B & B by passing one along the road. That way we made too many stops where everything was full, and finally had to settle for a more expensive hotel room than we had planned. 
Even though it is October and not so busy with tourists anymore, many villages seem to have festivals and celebrations, especially on weekends. 
Chateau Harzé

So I searched online (actually I mostly use to make bookings) and discovered a gorgeous looking castle in a tiny village in the area we wanted to visit in the Ardennes. The castle looked like a fancy hotel on the website but the cost was half of what we would have expected. It fitted our budget so I booked a room.
When we arrived, we were most impressed with the huge, gray stone castle, complete with turrets and surrounded by a wall with a gate. I had expected snooty waiters and a regular hotel lobby. Instead, there was a small reception desk with a very friendly gentleman. Our room was large with high ceilings. A kingsize bed with memory foam, a nice bathroom. We have a fridge and a coffee maker in our room - more than we had in many other hotels on this trip. And a view onto the castle garden and fountain. It is dead quiet.
Breakfast is included in the cute restaurant in what seems to be the old wine cellar. Rather than being part of a hotel chain, this castle is owned by the county.

When you sleep between the thick stone walls of this castle, you are certainly surrounded by history. The original building dates back to about 1200, with the main building as it is now arising around the 1600’s. I love the history sheet we were given in “English” - referring to a colonel who lived here in 1647 - and I quote: “Its armorial bearings were twinned with those of his wife.” I can just picture her armorial bearings…

During World War II the castle was the headquarters of the US 18th Airborne Corps during the Battle of the Bulge. A sign states that General Eisenhower was here.
We enjoyed staying here and I highly recommend Chateau Harzé if you visit this area:

From Harzé it is a 25 minutes drive, among lovely rolling hills and picturesque villages, to the city of Spa.
The word is recognized worldwide as a synonym for health. My dictionary defines the noun ‘spa’ as ‘mineral water’ or ‘resort with water for bathing’. So, if you are this close to the REAL Spa, I decided we better visit. I also happen to love spa’s in the broadest sense. 
Spa, Belgium has apparently been known for its healing waters since Roman times. Since Medieval times its waters have been used to cure illnesses. 
In Spa, you can stay in the Radisson Hotel which has a vernicular (tram) to the resort. We, however, preferred ‘our’ castle in Harzé and drove to Spa this morning. You can buy a day pass or a 3 hour pass. We figured that 3 hours of soaking would be plenty. They have a smart system: when you pay your admission they give you a small plastic chip. It opens the turn style to go into the change rooms. It also opens a locker for your stuff, and fits into a wristband that you then wear into the pool. When you want to eat or drink something, you “charge” it to the chip in your wrist band. Once you are ready to leave, you pay the balance and ‘voila’ - the chip opens the exit for you.

The pool consists of an enormous glass dome over a huge pool of wonderful warm water. Just the perfect temperature. You can float and swim. There are edges with massaging water nozzles. There are flumes and spouts and bubble seats, even bubble beds on which you can relax. You can swim outside, through a strong jetted river. We’ve seldom been so clean. And so relaxed. 
The only problem? I’m now spoiled for life by visiting the grandest ‘spa’ of them all.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Margriet's BOOK Blog: One Year Off by David Elliot Cohen

Margriet's BOOK Blog: One Year Off by David Elliot Cohen: I don't know how this book ended up on my shelf. But, looking for a book to take along on my next trip, it seemed like a fitting titl...

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Walking down Memory Lane

Kees’ love for the outdoors might have started when he was a little boy and his parents bought a piece of land in the forest to build a cottage. He has fond memories of leaving the city every weekend, working as a family building the cottage his parents designed. Of helping at the neighboring farm and of roaming the forest playing cowboys and indians and looking for seedlings to plant around the cottage.

The cottage in the woods was a place where his family spent weekends and holidays, walking and exploring. They named it ‘Keverhut’, or ‘Beetle Cottage’. This name came about because of his father’s hobby of collecting every possible species of beetle that lived in the Netherlands. In fact, after his death, his extensive collection ended up in a museum and is still on display there today. Kees and his younger brother were paid a penny for every beetle they caught and brought home.  
"That's where we used to live!"

Today, Kees still loves roaming forests and exploring nature. He especially likes long distance hiking, and trail systems in the Netherlands are among his favorites. Recently he was googling for trails and walks in Holland when he noticed one called the ‘Keverhut walk’. Curiosity peaked, he contacted the local walking club coordinator to ask where they got the name from. This particular walk circled the exact spot of his family’s former weekend home, even though the name of the cottage had been changed by new owners 40 yeas ago. The coordinators had no idea where the name came from so Kees told them the story.

Kees with the trees he planted 60 years ago!
They were thrilled and invited us to join them on one of the ‘Keverhut' walks when we were in the Netherlands this time around. Last Saturday morning we gathered, in a sun dappled forest, with childhood friends and with members of the local walk - and running club, for the Keverhut Run / Walk. The local newspaper even ran an article about it. As we walked, we refreshed memories and marveled at the seedlings that Kees had planted some 60 years ago. They were now solid maples and birches that lined the area around the spot where his memories still roam.

Unfortunately, the original cottage the family built had burned down 2 years ago and a much larger and modern house was being constructed on the site. But the surrounding area and the trees, even though 60 years older and bigger, were still all there and still brought back many cherished memories.  

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Who Knew.... Miscellaneous Things We Learned Along The Way

Brasov, Romenia
Best pizza: in a small pizzeria in Bucharest: thin crust, hand made, tasty. $4 for a large one.
Worst pizza: in Emmen, Netherlands. Ordered the pepperoni pizza but had no pepperoni on it at all!

Who knew people are still allowed to smoke in restaurants, coffee shops and all public places in Romania. 

Who knew that Romanian is very, very similar to Italian. They sound and gesture just like Italians and the words look very similar, ‘formaggio is cheese’, etc.

Did you know that both Romania and Czech Republic do not use euros (yet)? The first has ‘leis’ or RON, the latter uses Czech koruna.

Bran Castle in Romania apparently stood model for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The author was never there but the castle is now famous as Dracula’s castle and you can buy bloodsoaked vampire teeth in the gift shop. I bought a hand embroidered blouse instead, as my Romanian souvenir.

If you travel on trains in The Netherlands you can select the ‘Silence’ car where conversations and cell phones are not allowed. A real treat, especially after spending 3 hours on a train in Romania next to two ladies who rattled like absolute waterfalls, nonstop.

Bakeries in Czech Republic and Romania produce breads, croissants and pastries second to none. 

The Romanian railway system (especially the rolling material) reminded me exactly of the Märklin model train designs I had as a boy 60 years ago. 
Watch out when getting into a taxi in Romania. The fare per kilometer is noted on the fender outside of the taxi. But fares (per kilometer) differ between companies by as much as 400%. Check before you get in any taxi.

The Czech Republic is very ‘western’, modern and clean. Romania is still stuck in the 20th, or even 19th century with a broken down infrastructure. Prague has many beautiful old buildings which have been restored and are maintained. Bucharest too, has many old buildings but unfortunately not many are maintained and allowed to disintegrate. 

Compared to North American standards the food is excellent and cheap both in the Czech Republic as well as Romania.

Who knew that the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heyn is all over here, too? ‘Albert’ was the supermarket of choice in Czech Republic. C & A clothing stores are everywhere too. And Starbucks carries ‘stroopwafels.’ Let’s hope that those wonderful syrup wafers will reach North American Starbucks, too, soon.

Who knew we couldn't afford to eat in Brussels' restaurants? Coffee alone is double from what we've seen so far.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Czech Your Wallet - and other Misadventures

Cesky Krumlov
One morning in Prague, we boarded a bus for a three hours ride to a village in southern Czeck Republic, on the border with Austria. For 15 euros, we bought tickets on a comfortable, airconditioned bus. We mostly wanted to see what the Czech countryside looked like. 

Through rolling, green farm fields we reached the UNESCO World Heritage Village of Cesky Krumlov:
The castle on the hill dates to the 13th century and the lovely village is like that from an old world picturebook, with crooked cobblestone streets and little shops leaning into each other, all conspiring to lure tourists inside and dazzle them with souvenirs. 

We resisted most of the temptations but did have coffee and apple strudel on the edge of the Moldau. The very second we started our stroll through this medieval village, an elderly lady approached us, asking if we spoke German or French or Dutch. I told her we did. She gestured wildly, explaining that she couldn’t find her friends back and that their bus was almost leaving. After some questioning we found out that she had left a friend on a patio while she was going to look around the village. But which patio? She remembered seeing the castle on her left and coming across a bridge. The village is full of patios and bridges but we decided to see if we could help her to find her friends. 
We walked down one alley, traipsing through puddles, the Moldau on our left and the castle up on the hill. Finally we spotted a patio that she thought looked familiar. But no friends. A waitress explain in Czech and broken English that her friend had left for the bus. 
Rosalie, as she was called, told us many memories and stories as we walked along, but no recollection of where she had to catch the bus. Kees decided to sprint ahead and let the bus driver know that she was coming. She did remember the tour company but there are at least three bus parking areas around the town. Kees took off - I yelled a Plan B as he left. Just in case we’d never find each other again.

So Rosalie and I trudged, arm in arm, across bridges and through alleys. I dragged her up steep staircases toward the castle. Through the courtyard. “I was here this morning,” she’d say. 
“Good,” I thought, “at least she came this way.”
She was panting and puffing and I thought she’d collapse right there and then. No sign of a bus or a parking lot.
Across another bridge, up more staircases. “I’m 84, you know,” she puffed. But she kept on trudging.
I asked in a shop “Where are the bus parking lots?”
They pointed and gestured - a long way away.
We went through the castle grounds and found more long roads around. No Kees in sight. No bus in sight. I finally spotted a car with a lady in it and ran over. “I don’t know this lady,” I explained, “but she can’t walk much further and she’s going to miss her bus!” 
“I’ll drive you,” the lady said.
We got in and this kind lady drove us way around, across the main road and to a bus parking lot! A frantic, white haired lady with a cane spotted us and came running! 
“Don’t tell her what happened!” hissed Rosalie, kissing me on both cheeks.
The bus driver had been at the intersection on the look out for our missing lady. He,too, kissed me on both cheeks for returning what he had lost so carelessly. They should not let little old ladies loose in this medieval town without a map or a phone number for a taxi! 

We saw the entire village in record time while racing around with Rosalie. But we did relax over a nice dinner in a "medieval castle" that night. What do you eat for dinner in a castle in Czech Republic? Why, wild boar of course!

Wild boar for dinner
At least this chapter had a happy ending. Unlike the adventure we had in Prague itself. 
When we moved into the Old City, we took the metro. Pulling our little suitcases, we came up from bowels of the city onto a large square hemmed by ornate buildings. As soon as we stopped to look around and get our bearings, a guy approached us and asked if we wanted to exchange money. Of course we looked like total tourists.
“No thanks,” we waved and briskly walked away. Ten minutes later we had found our hotel and Kees discovered that his wallet was gone. “That guy!” we both said.
Kees hurried back but of course, no one was there. We spent the next several hours canceling credit cards. It was no problem and everyone was very helpful. Within ten minutes of having the card stolen, a cash withdrawal was already made. We found out at which ATM and spent the rest of the afternoon at a small police station. We hope they will actually follow up by finding the guy on the ATM’s video. The police were very thorough and helpful. The worst thing now is a missing driver’s license but that, too, can be replaced.
Local tradititional pastries

What we learned from this mishap was that we had done the right thing by only carrying one or two credit cards in the wallet and keeping another card in a different place. Keep your passport separate from a wallet and behind zippers! Velcro isn’t good enough for professional pick-pockets! Keep a piece of paper with your account numbers but also with your social security number handy. And 1-800 numbers to call if needed. We were grateful to have money on our Skype account so that we could use our own laptop to phone.

Live and learn… 

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

A Small Country for Small People: The Netherlands with Children

Amstel Park in Amsterdam has a huge playground, including this giant furniture!
The Netherlands is likely one of the best countries in the world to visit with children! There are so many special facilities and attractions for kids, that it is hard to select just a few.
It already starts at the airport: Touch Down restaurant offers pancake and chocolate milk together with the best views on planes taking off and landing from the Panorama Terrace. There are also playgrounds and family washrooms throughout this attractive airport.

Once in the country, there are restaurants everywhere with elaborate playgrounds. It is very common to find special children’s menu’s. Attractions are too numerous to mention in one article, including Artis, a well established zoo in the heart of Amsterdam or tropical swimming pools everywhere. 

In Amstel Park, Amsterdam

A train playground

Playgrounds everywhere!

A huge jungle gym in Ouwehands Zoo
We chose to visit a larger zoo called Ouwehands Dierenpark:
Ouwehands has roomy pathways through various parts of the zoo that each have a specific theme like ‘jungle’ or ‘bears’. Almost every section has an extensive playground so that you are not just walking from one animal to the next but kids can climb, swing and slide everywhere. In fact, the zoo includes one of Europe’s largest indoor playgrounds, complete with a pirate ship, sand and water playpark. A small train takes you around a portion of the zoo - all at no additional cost. When you arrive at the zoo you can rent, for a small fee, a wagon to pull the kids in all day.
Elephant shaped slide in Ouwehands Zoo

Real monkeys on the loose in Apenheul!
We also visited a park we remembered fondly from the past: Apenheul: 
Apenheul features monkeys and primates of all shapes and sizes. The unique feature is that the smaller monkeys are not in cages but loose throughout the park.They might sit on your shoulder or swing from branches just inches away.
A free carousel ride in Apenheul
However, this time around the park was incredibly crowded, making it difficult to even walk on the paths and to see any animals. This was due to the fact that holiday time in The Netherlands is very concentrated. Most people get a specific time of the summer during which they can go on their annual holidays. Two of the three regions overlapped during August so 2/3 of the country still had school holidays and were making the most of the last warm summer days. 

A major attraction for kids in The Netherlands is Madurodam:
This miniature city features well known Dutch buildings and scenes, roads, trains, even a ‘working’ airport - all built in miniature. You can hear a street organ and see lights inside houses. We chose not to visit this site, this time around, because we weren’t anywhere near the vicinity and also because our grandsons, at 3 and 5, are a bit young. You can’t touch much in this ‘eyes only’ attraction. But when our own kids were around 9 years old, they absolutely loved it and it was definitely worth a visit
In The Netherlands you can rent bikes everywhere: at hotels, at train stations and, of course, at bicycle repair shops. You can rent bicycles with a child’s seat on the handlebars and/or on the luggage carrier behind you so that you can ride with two children on your bike. But you can also rent a bike trailer in which the kids can sit. Or, best of all, you can rent a ‘bakfiets’ in which the children sit in a wooden container in front of you, in seatbelts: 

Overnight accomodations can also be specifically attractive to children. We stayed in one resort, a park with cottages close to the beach in Noordwijkerhout. They are part of this chain:
Thomas the Train offers children a free ride in a bungalow park in Lochem
The bungalow had everything we needed, complete with dishes and bed linens, a fridge and dishwasher. Outside we had our own lawn with lawn furniture. The restaurant had both an indoor and outdoor playground. And the resort had an indoor swimming pool with waterslide, included in the price of staying overnight. When we ordered a children’s menu, the kids also receive their choice of gift ( in our case felt markers and a pirate gun with gold coins).

All in all a very successful place to visit with children!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Amsterdam for Smarties

This city of over 800,000 people has enough dummies. So let's look at how to enjoy this world renowned historic city as a smart tourist.
Did you know that the city has the same number people as it has bicycles? Ever wondered what over 800,000 bicycles in a city look like? When they rent them to tourists, amazing things happen - as you can see on any bike lane or intersection in the centre of this busy city. It's a miracle that not more people get killed each day as they jump in front of bikes, get hit and run over... It's fun to sit back and watch the Dutch as they maneuver traffic, traffic lights, speeding trams and hordes of pedestrians all while carrying children, instruments, groceries, and dogs on their bike AND while texting!

Rather than jumping on a bike right away, it's a good idea to get a sense of the layout of the city's spiderweb-shaped centre by jumping on a boat. Taking a canal cruise will give you a feel for the water, the narrow roads, the tall houses and the history of this world heritage site. I learned all sorts of interesting facts, such as word origins, historic facts about trade and taxes and politics, as well as useful information on where to eat and which museums to visit. There are different companies to choose from and their cruises are slightly different. We used this one: and enjoyed the personal headsets and the tour of not just the inner city canals but also across the IJ and past the Scheepvaart Museum (ship industry).

Because we had our extended family with us, on this particular trip to Amsterdam, we rented a house rather than a hotel room or hostel. The house had typical narrow staircases up three floors and offered 3 bedrooms and a kitchen, allowing us to make our own meals. A blue AH is the symbol for Albert Heyn, one of the largest supermarket chains in the Netherlands. They usually offer fresh bakings as well as many ready made meals. So lunch and supper were easy.
Image result for AH
To get around Amsterdam, and indeed the entire country, the smartest thing to do is to immediately get an OV Chip card. OV means public transit:
If you will be traveling throughout the country, be sure to read this:
Initially you have to pay 7.50 euros to obtain the card but it pays off since each ride using the card is almost half the cost of paying for individual tickets. You can use this card like a credit card by putting money on it and paying for all public transit: trams, busses, trains and more. You can even rent OV Chip bicycles using this card, at certain real stations.

Another smart thing to do is to plan your travel by using this website: (Notice that these websites are in English!!) Here you enter your starting point, your desired destination, date and time of travel and voila! The site presents you with all options and easiest ways of getting there. If a schedule in Holland says that the train will depart at 10:32 AM you can pretty well bet on it to depart at 10:32 and not a minute later.

If you will spend more than a day in Amsterdam, you might want to invest in a museum card:
This will allow you unlimited, and faster, entrance into many museums including the fabulous Rijksmuseum with its Rembrandt paintings where you can spend more than a day; also the Van Gogh museum, Anne Frank House and many more.

So, what's keeping you? Come and visit Amsterdam and, while you are here, be sure to spend more time in this hospitable, interesting country below sea level!

NEMO Science Center

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Lavender, books, bed and a hot tub!

Well, after meandering for 2,000 KM through Washington and Oregon, we just found the best B & B anywhere!
We tried other islands...
We tried the coast, the valleys, the foothills...

We stayed in lovely places with gorgeous views or in fun locations.
But, until now, we had not found a place on 5 acres, surrounded by glorious flowers and rows of lavender. A place that has kingsize beds, memory foam no less! A hot tub on the deck... AND it is under $100 per night, including breakfast.

Maybe you guessed it?
We are home again! :-)
At Between The Covers Booklovers' B & B we really do live in paradise. I picked strawberries and even a few early raspberries from the garden today. Hummingbirds came to drink when I watered the veggies.
The ducks and chickens happily waddled around the garden tonight.
We just brought a basket of muffins, homemade granola, yogurt with organic strawberries and cantaloupe to our guest. I'd love to stay here, too! :-)

O wait, I can. But I DO have to do all the weeding.

If YOU would like to stay here, check out:
or join us on Facebook: Between the Covers, Booklovers' B & B

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Historic Mill and Backroads to Buckley

Our last stop in Oregon was at one of our favorite places: Thompsons Mills State Heritage Site.

We lived here for several years when Kees worked with Oregon State Parks and when the state had newly acquired this historic property. The mill was one of the first industries in the state of Oregon, build in the mid 1800’s and has a rich history of grinding and storing grains for farmers of the area. The 2 storey mill building was constructed with wooden pegs, impressive silo’s held the grains and, inside, an amazing system of pulleys and ladders is powered by the water of the Calapooia River. Once the mills start grinding, the entire building comes to live. It is a sight, and sound, to behold. 

If it was once lovingly built, it has now been just as lovingly restored to its old glory. Park rangers and hosts made it possible for the mill to operate, and demonstrate, again. 
I had the privilege of helping to restore the millkeeper’s Queen Anne house, built around 1900, to the proud home it once was, boasting electricity as one of the first homes in the state.
When we moved in, windows were broken, blackberries had worked their way in through the walls and rats infested the walls. It took years to restore the original wainscoting, the ceiling trim and corner pieces. To get the transom windows to work again and to figure out what color paint and wallpaper might once have been on the parlor walls. I cooked on the wood stove in the kitchen and we had new pillars turned to support the porches. It was an exciting time to live in Shedd, Oregon.

Now you can visit here, too, and see how the mill operates. Plan on spending several hours walking around outside and in the visitors’ centre, playing with several hands-on displays. And then treat yourself to lunch in the newly refurbished Shedd Cafe! A great menu at - almost - prehistoric prices… 

Check out these videos of the Mill:

After our visit, we had to head north again. But instead of driving the I-5, which have done hundreds of times, we opted for back roads. I love finding a way on the map, through tiny towns, to make it to our destination without hitting major roads. We drove through towns we’d never even heard of.
At the foot of the Cascades we are now winding our way back to the Canadian border. We had dinner in a fantastic, brand new restaurant: Giorgio’s on Main in the town of Buckley, WA. 
Modern and stylish with great staff, best pizza ever, decent lobster ravioli and great tiramisu. Check them out if you are in the greater Seattle area and looking for a day trip with dinner:

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Driving from Newport to Eugene, Oregon

Secret Garden B&B in Eugene
There are different ways to get from Newport on the coast, to Eugene in the Willamette Valley. 

Our favorite way is to drive south along the 101, along the cute little town of Yachats, by the Sealion Caves, past Cape Perpetua, with its gorgeous tidal pools and visitor’s centre. 
But this time it was raining, a miserable cold drizzle and fog. So we opted for Hwy 34 along the Alsea River. 

This is a drive through a rhapsody of green: tall woods, moss covered branches, towering ferns. You end up in Corvallis, a small town with a university and funky stores and pubs. We had lunch at New Morning Bakery, did some chores, some shopping and then drove along backroads, through impeccable Mennonite farm country to Eugene.
Breakfast at The Secret Garden

In all the 40+ years we’ve been coming here, we have almost always either lived here or stayed with friends. 

This time we booked a B & B right next to the campus. It exceeded all of our expectations: The Secret Garden is a huge heritage house surrounded by greenery. We are kiddy corner to the campus and love roaming the paths that we walked here when Kees was a student. 

Many of the restaurants and shops remain unchanged. 
We have been having Italian dinners at Mazzi’s for over 40 years. Smith Family Bookstore, Prince Puckler’s icecream, and many other places have been here forever it seems.

Our room in the B & B is lovely, with a large private bathroom. Breakfast is served in a beautiful parlor with flowered porcelain dishes. We highly recommend this place if you ever want to stay in Eugene - same cost as an impersonal hotel room but with lots of character and charm.

We spent time at both locations of Smith Family Bookstore today, browsing the endless piles of books scattered everywhere. This is book heaven. And they have most titles that you might be looking for. It’s amazing they can even find them among the teetering stacks of books. I was delighted to finds two of Patrick Taylor’s Irish Country Doctor titles. And Kees found some nice travel titles.
We had dinner at one of our old favorites: the Oregon Electric Station. The pub has comfy chairs and nice food.
Tomorrow we’ll be homeward bound.


Anacortes to Newport

And then we steamed out of town on our way to Anacortes. No orcas or whales but the ferry did have to slow down for a deer swimming off the bow…
From Anacortes we drove south to the Port Towsend ferry - a crossing of 20 minutes.
From there is was south and west across the Olympic Peninsula, with views of Mt Olympus, Mt Baker and Mt Rainier most of the day. Gorgeous time to drive here as the fields are green and the abundant rhododendrons are still blooming.

Having lived here, the US always feels like a comfortable, old pair of shoes we slip on again. But the differences with Canada are always apparent to us. The people so jovial and kind - yet everywhere are signed for guns for sale. One store boasted a huge sign: “Guns for sale, new and used, the tools of freedom”. 
I notice many more drive-by coffee shops. It’s nice to have dinner, in a typical American diner, for under 35.- including wine and beer for two. And I love being able to pick up a bottle of wine in Safeway. Bought a bottle of Barefoot Moscato for 4.- today!
We drove many backroads south through Washington, ending up at the 6 KM long (!) Astoria bridge. Can’t help wonder what Lewis and Clark would think if they saw this amazing structure connecting the north and south shores of the Columbia River at its mouth just before the Pacific Ocean.  
Sauntering (can you ‘saunter’ in a car?) through small villages along Oregon’s Highway 101, we past the Haystack Rocks at Cannon Beach, the picture perfect beach of Manzanita and the green pastures around Tillamook. Here you can travel on a steam train, visit the cheese factory and an aviation museum.
We continued to Depoe Bay, which seems to have changed its slogan from ‘world’s smallest harbour’ to ‘whale watching capital of the world’. The latter does seem more attractive, even if it may be debatable. We always stop into The Leather Store, here or in Newport. Leather briefcases, belts and much more at low prices.

Three miles north of Newport we finally reached our destination for the next few days: Moolack Shores Motel. For many years we drove by this place and often said that “one day we should stay there!” Today we finally did. And it beat my high expectations.
The view from our room
We have a corner room with large windows looking out over the Pacific Ocean. The motel is directly over the beach, with a private balcony. We have a lovely room with a small kitchen and bathroom. I’d like to pack up all the Hawaiian yard sale junk that decorates the room and take it to the nearest thrift store: there are parrots dangling over the bed, pineapple shaped lamps and mirrors and gawdy lamps made from shells. But the location and view make up for the decor. 

Unfortunately, the next two days turned cold and rainy. We enjoyed sitting on our private deck for the first afternoon but after that it was cold, wet and miserable. You just never know on the Oregon coast. But how nice to have a (fake) fireplace, wine and a laptop to get some work done.
We had dinner at the best steak house in town: Szabos looks like an old wild west saloon, inside and out. But they serve the best darn steak dinners for under 14.- Highly recommended.