Work-related travel recently took me to Seattle and I always enjoy visiting Seattle – at least downtown Seattle. I don’t know much about the rest of the city. Our office there is downtown and there’s plenty to do within walking distance. So on this occasion I went up a couple days early.

As has become somewhat typical of a weekend visit such as this one I didn’t have much of an agenda planned in advance. Like the recent trip to San Francisco, I know Seattle is a very walkable city and so with camera in tow, I mainly planned to just choose a direction and see what I found.

Of course I also like to find interesting restaurants so I did actually google around ahead of time and read a few reviews and arrange some places I planned to seek out. Read on for more about them in the ‘Food & Wine’ section below.

So where to stay … I didn’t want to stay at the same place I planned to be at for the work-related visit. I wanted to try some place new. In the past I’ve had good luck visiting Seattle on a weekend using Priceline and this was no exception. I picked ‘downtown’ and rolled the dice. Ended up finding The Edgewater.

The Edgewater

I flew in Friday evening and cabbed it into the city. The cabbie gave the Edgewater high praise — particularly the restaurant — but we’ll see.

The bar/restaurant at the hotel is called Six Seven and on a Friday evening the place was hopping. So often a hotel bar is a depressing and boring thing that one day had high hopes but ends up being some place a few people sit around and watch the ball game. Six Seven was packed and there was a band playing. Oh, and they had a good wine list and you could still order some great snacks from the restaurant. I had some lettuce wraps – and they were good.

I got a better look at the rest of the hotel the next day. I didn’t hang around long but the lobby is inviting. The place is very lodge-like. You can sit by a big fireplace and since you’re literally right on the water you can watch the ferry boats and ships slowly sail by.

Breakfast at the restaurant there was good – though pricey at $20 for eggs, taters, bacon and coffee. It would have been even better had the weather been nicer. While the view of Puget Sound is good even when the windows aren’t open, they clearly all opened to a set of, in this case unoccupied, tables. Maybe someday when the weather is great I’ll make a return visit.

Wandering About

Saturday morning there was a steady rain coming down but I had brought clothes and rain jacket for the occasion so no worries. I struck out up Alaskan Way with the idea to ride the ferry boat over to Bainbridge Island. No particular destination in mind over there. In some ways it was just an excuse to get out on the water and see things from a different point of view.

On a Saturday morning the ferry leaves fairly often so it didn’t take long before the next one came along. Round trip: $8 for a pedestrian.

It takes about 35 minutes to make the trip over. The little town on the other side is very walkable and if you like to window shop for an hour or two it’s an interesting visit. I grabbed a sandwich mid day at the Hitchcock Deli and then later after walking around some more and a leisurely coffee at Pegasus Coffee I headed back to the ferry. But first, along the way I found Classic Cycle. It’s a very cool bike shop that has a lot of vintage bikes hanging on the wall. You can see one of them in the photos I’ve posted here. That bike is said to have gone 80mph.

The ferry ride back was uneventful. In fact, I napped most of it. Surprising considering I’d loaded up on coffee before making the return trip.

Most of the rest of Saturday afternoon was spent poking around the Pike Place Market. The place is always buzzing with people and interesting sights. That day was no exception. A heavy rain for part of the afternoon meant it was even more jammed. The b&w photo posted here of the couple with the dog was one I snapped when miraculously the throng of people parted and they were there alone. They were just waiting out the rain it seemed.

Skipping to Sunday, I stuck close to the downtown area. I walked out to Seattle Center. It’s not hard to find. Just locate the Space Needle and it’s all of the area and buildings around and near the base of the needle. The primary draw for me was a visit to the Chihuly Garden and Glass. It’s an amazing exhibit of glasswork done by Dale Chihuly. You can see a photo of one of the room sized pieces posted here. Even at the $20 ticket price, if you enjoy art glass it’s worth a visit.

Food & Wine & Coffee

Half the fun of visiting a city like Seattle is to find some cool places to eat and drink. Here are some I visited and liked:

Matt’s In The Market


Matt’s In The Market is a place I’ve visited once but it was many years ago. Since then I’ve tried to drop in on other visits but it’s a small and very popular place so my advice is to get a reservation. Even though I was traveling solo I got one this time and I’m glad I did. I ended up with a table with a great location that overlooked the Market. I snagged the photo posted here at right from the window by my table. Despite the touristy location the food is excellent. I had a salad to start but for the main had the ‘bacon wrapped rabbit’. Very tasty. It came with spiced red cabbage, lentils, carrots, parsnips, mustard seed, and some “rabbit jus”. And to enjoy with, they had a favorite Oregon Pinot Noir by the class from Stoller.

Lark

As someone doing the town on foot, at 10th Ave, Lark is a bit of a hike. But not that bad. First, I have to say I enjoyed the wine menu. As a fan of Italian wines and a recent visit, I was happy to find selections from Piedmont. I started with a glass of Roero Arneis. Then moved on to Langhe Nebbiolo. Meanwhile, they also have some great cheese selections here. I stuck with the Italian choices. A Tuscan Pecorino and a 2nd from Piedmont.

Purple Cafe and Wine Bar

While out on Bainbridge Island, I wandered the shops and one was a wine shop. I didn’t buy anything but I chatted up the guy working there and I asked him what wine bar should I visit in Seattle. His immediate reply was Purple. So, I pulled in for a visit. The place is huge. Gymnasium sized, with a circular tower of a wine rack in the middle of it. The draw of this place in my opinion were the wines by the glass. Huge selection. And wine flights too. I had an Italian White wine flight, followed by their “Tour de France” selection of 3 great French reds. The photo posted above of the solo glass of wine was taken at Purple.

Moore Coffeeshop

Last but not least, what visit to Seattle would be complete without some great coffee. I’ve tried many places there but I still really love the coffee at Moore’s Coffeeshop. This is coffee artistry. Both in taste and in the latte art they manage to pour into your cup. The place is really tiny but they also have some seating these days so it’s not just a ‘to-go’ place. I parked there for a bit and snagged this photo of the wall and my fellow patrons.

With a couple of weeks remaining before Christmas we managed to squeeze in a work related visit to a software vendor. It happened to be in the San Francisco area and given we arranged the meeting for a Monday I figured why not head out a little early and just enjoy the weekend. I always love visiting San Francisco. So I booked travel to leave early on a Saturday morning. With the added bonus of a 2 hour timezone change that meant I could plan on being in the heart of the city by noon.

So what do you do when you’ve got 36 hours to bum around the city of San Francisco? I ended up walking a lot! and eating a lot too! And naturally, I took a few photos along the way.

The first thing very apparent upon arrival at the Powell Street BART station was there were an awful lot of people wearing red outfits. I mean Santa type of gear. Hats, pants, boots, the whole shebang. The streets around Union Square were teaming with Santas. But it wasn’t just there. It was all over the city. The photo I included here is just one I took of Washington Square Park. Turns out it was “SantaCon“. Apparently such a thing has been going on for years but it was new to me. Looked like mostly a roving party. Lots and lots of revelers and the booze was flowing.

It was entertaining to watch – let’s just say some of the outfits or lack thereof were pretty crazy – but I kept on with my touristy walk around the city. My hotel stay was about a block off Union Square. From there I meandered down Market all the way to the Ferry Building. For one, I just like to check out the shops in there and turns out there are also a lot of craft booths nearby on the weekends. You can always catch a bite to eat as well and with pretty decent weather that first afternoon I hung out at Gotts. They make a good grilled chicken sandwich and it’s fun to do a little people watching from that vantage point.

The rest of the afternoon was spent wandering down the embarcadero and up to Coit Tower and then over to Washington Square Park and back up through Chinatown.. You can see some of the photos I took that afternoon to the right.

The one at the top was taken on Pier 7 looking back into the city. By that time of day it was clouding up and I did a little post processing on that photo to give it a bleaker look than it really was.

The one below that one was taken about the time I had lunch at the Ferry Building. I like the old streetcars they have fixed up and are still using in SF.

The more full sized photo at the bottom of this posting is of the Bay bridge. Not a perfect photo by any means and yet I like that one. The birds, the boats and puffy clouds… seemed to capture the moment for me.

The aerial photo of the financial district was taken from the top of Coit Tower. In all the visits I’ve made to San Francisco, I can’t recall ever taking the time to get a ticket to the top. So this time I took the opportunity. Great views of the city from up there. And the walk up the stairs from the embarcadero to get to the tower is pretty cool as well. I can’t imagine what it costs to own a home on that hillside. There were some very cool looking places tucked in there.

Dinner Saturday night was at Aliment. Aside from the fact the menu looked interesting as I walked by, it seemed to get decent Yelp reviews and it had the added benefit of being a stones throw from where I was staying. After hours of walking around, coupled with the 2 hour timezone change, I was ready for dinner early. Full service at the bar was handy but given the early hour there weren’t really many patrons joining me. I had the hearty Bolognese pasta and a tasty red wine. (Bottom photo to the right.)

Sunday I took the opportunity to head further west. In fact, to go all the way to the coast to Lands End and the Chart House. From the Union Square area it’s not exactly a walkable destination. It’s something like 80 blocks west of Union Square. I grabbed a bus instead. Even on the bus it was more than a 30 minute ride. I think we stopped almost every block. Most of the intervening city isn’t all that much to look at. But arriving at Lands End – that was definitely worth a look. There’s a really nice visitors center at Lands End. And from there, you can hike the coastal trail north for miles. You can see at least one photo here that I took along the way of the Golden Gate bridge.

I took in only a part of the trail. I could easily have spent the entire day there. Instead, I routed over through the fisherman’s wharf area. I didn’t bother much with pictures in that area. Mostly the wharf area is kind of an eyesore in my opinion. Ok, the Ghirardelli Square area on the western edge is kinda cool but a lot of the rest of the area is just tacky touristy stuff.

Eventually I wound my way back south and to near Pier 5 to a place named Coqueta. The location right along the water is pretty cool. There are essentially two parts to the restaurant. The outer part is a little building with a lot more windows. Mostly it’s a bar. You can see a shot here of the wine carafe they use to serve their wines by the glass.

The speciality at Coqueta is Spanish tapas. Small plate restaurants are all the rage. The fare here was pretty good. I had a couple of the cheeses, some kind of lamb meatball dish (that I wish I had better details on because it was really good) and an interesting potato dish. Plenty of food and yet all the servings were pretty small. If you have a hearty appetite here it can get pricey fast. I’d give the place thumbs up though and wouldn’t hesitate to go again.

36 hours goes by mighty fast when you’re trying to cover as much ground as I was. Next time – and I’m sure I’ll visit again – I’d spend more time on the coastal trail though.

As I mentioned in the last post, I visited the Santa Ynez Valley for the cycling but also for the food and wine. The area is renowned for good wines, and especially Pinot Noir.

Hitching Post

So it’s no surprise, perhaps, that I should stop in at the Hitching Post in Buellton – location for the restaurant of the same name in the movie Sideways. It’d been 10 years since I’d seen the movie so I might not have thought anything about it but a friend had recommended the place independently and I really enjoyed it.

The Hitching Post reminded me of a family steakhouse I might stop in somewhere in the Midwest. Not fancy at all. Friendly service found me a table immediately and a plate of olives and veggies followed quickly. Veggies included fresh green onions and radishes. That’s the sort of thing I would expect in the Midwest. What you wouldn’t expect though from such a restaurant in the Midwest is a full complement of restaurant produced Pinot Noir. As you can see in the photo above, I got the flight of Highliner wines – in honor of 10 years since the movie.

The food at the HP was great. A fresh salad and then a steak. Nothing fancy, just good stuff.

Trattoria Grappolo

Another of my favorites on the trip was Trattoria Grappolo in Santa Ynez. Aside from the good food and a nice wine list that included several local wines I really enjoyed the friendly service and the vantage point at the bar. The bar looks over a part of the kitchen where there’s a wood fired oven and so you get to watch the production of pizzas and salads. The abundant staff seemed to have it down to a science.

For a main dish, I had the Veal Scallopini. Excellent though perhaps just a little salty, but then I tend to like things with very little salt.

Mattei’s Tavern

Mattei’s Tavern in Los Olivos was also a fav. Here again, full restaurant menu served at the bar, which is convenient when you’re traveling solo. There’s always someone to talk to. There were also plenty of local wines to choose from.

The photo below is of what Mattei’s calls the ‘Dirty Laundry’. Based on the way the charcuterie is hung with clothes pins, I guess you can see why.

All great places and I hope to visit again one day.

Following my brief Santa Barbara stopover on my recent visit to Calif I made my way to Solvang and the Santa Ynez Valley. My intentions were to find back roads to cycle and interesting food and wine. I was not disappointed.

I think I only scratched the surface on cycling the back roads around the area. But a few of my favorites included Happy Canyon Rd east of Santa Ynez, Ballard Canyon Rd between Solvang and Los Olivos and Foxen Canyon Rd out of Los Olivos.

The photo of my bike leaning up against the tree here is on Happy Canyon Rd. This one I would definitely like to do again. I only rode part of it. There looks to be a long and interesting loop ride with some interesting climbing on that road. Plus it was just beautiful scenery. While the weather looks great in that photo, I could tell it was changing quickly, so I did an out and back ride and got back just before it rained (and sleeted).

The other photo at the end of this posting is on Ballard Canyon Rd. Wonderful vistas along that route. Where it ended in Los Olivos turned into Foxen Canyon Rd across the highway. Together they made for a great out and back route.

I’ve heard that the Santa Barbara area was good for both cycling and interesting wineries so with a very slight lull in the work schedule and very little planning in advance I thought I’d take Southwest Airlines up on their ‘wanna get away?’ slogan and take a little break from Austin.

I make a point to note Southwest Airlines because when I travel with my two bike cases that measure at the limit of what’s considered ‘checkable’ luggage they are one of the few airlines that include 2 checked bags with the fare. With fares about the same in any case, it’s been convenient in the past so I booked ‘em for a direct flight to LAX.

As you can see in the photo at right. Santa Barbara also has some interesting people wandering about. This photo was captured at the weekly farmers market in the heart of Santa Barbara. I think it says something about the casual outdoors culture of the city.

My ultimate destination wasn’t actually Santa Barbara, but rather Solvang or more generally the Santa Ynez valley. But with a long flight plus a pretty good car drive up there I opt’ed to spend at least one afternoon and evening bumming around Santa Barbara.

I found a little motel (they call it an Inn but seems like a motel) just a block from the beach called the Harbor House Inn. TripAdvisor led me there – as it often does to the destinations I find – and it was a really great find. Nice room. Clean. Even a little kitchenette. It’s the sort of place you could spend more than the one night I was planning.

It was convenient to everything I was likely to find interesting for one day stay. And by convenient I mean it was easy to walk to beach, to the ‘funk zone’ (as they call it in Santa Barbara) nearby for restaurants and winery tasting rooms and even close to the main downtown State Street with all its shops and things – including that farmers market I mentioned.

It didn’t take me long to venture out and about and take in some of the pier, beach area and one of the tasting rooms. I’d done at least a little online browsing and had concluded I wanted to check out a place called The Lark for dinner. Pali wines was a block or so down and given that the Lark didn’t open till 5 (which was 7pm my time) I pulled in. They had a nice selection of wines and an inviting little space and while the wines were good I wasn’t up for lugging any around or signing up for delivery/club membership.

The Lark turned out to be a fantastic restaurant. I like finding a place like this one – especially when traveling solo – where you can find a spot at the bar and they serve the full dinner menu at the bar. The bar staff was really friendly and helpful. And seated like this inevitably you strike up a conversation with others at the bar. The couple next to me was from Dallas.

Food at The Lark was great. I started with their appetizer of fried brussel sprouts. Nice flavors. Who’d a thought brussel sprouts would ever become so popular? but, it’s a staple of this and many other places I’ve been in the last few years.

The main dish was really, really good. It was a braised lamb served with house made pappardelle. Can’t tell you at this point what all was in the sauce but there was also acorn squash in the mix and it worked really well. It was something really different and delicious.

Fast forward to the next morning… I was up early. That 2 hour timezone change always has me up with the birds when I visit the West coast. It was good though because it would be time I could reassemble my bike. That always takes at least an hour and more like two.

On my walk around town the evening before I’d noticed a nearby bike shop. A little online snooping suggested it was highly regarded so I planned to take the bike over there after assembling so I could get it checked out. It was a place called Hazard’s Cyclesport. Really nice bike shop and some friendly folks. They also let me change into bike gear in the shop dressing room. Handy. From there I took the bike out for a spin up and down the coast and around town a bit.

Santa Barbara Cycling

I didn’t spend too much time riding though. I still needed to make the trip up to Solvang. So I packed up and headed north.

I’m back-dating this posting because I realize I never posted anything about my stay in Annecy, France.

Annecy is beautiful small city south of Geneva situated on a picturesque lake. While it’s touristy and there are throngs of people that visit I really enjoyed my stay there and would go back. I really enjoyed walking around the city and several of the restaurants. And cycling in the area is excellent. There’s a fantastic route that goes along the lake. You can spend hours on that route alone, but the other ride I did there was to bike up to the top of Semnoz.

The Sunday of the weekend I was there turned into one helluva day of cycling. It had its ups and downs both literally and figuratively. I’ll explain…

From Annecy to the top of Semnoz is up hill all the way. It’s quite a climb. But then that’s half the point of choosing such a route. It’s the challenge of it. I went by way of Leschaux to get there. The grade at 4 to 5% is not bad for the first part to Leschaux. From there, it gets interesting and a fair bit harder.

You can see my progression up to the summit in the photos here. Starting from Annecy down by the lake and then winding my way up to Leschaux. The ride up to Leschaux is not too difficult but it makes a nice spot to take a little break in prep for the next leg. There’s a bar/restaurant there where lots of cyclists take a pitstop. You can see a bunch of other riders taking it easy in one the photos.

From Leschaux the climb gets a lot steeper. You can see in the photo right below the one at the restaurant that after a bit more climbing I’m looking back down on the small town of Leschaux. You’ll need to click to view the photo because otherwise the town is too small in the thumbnail.

More climbing … you can see the grade gets to 8% pretty frequently. Then finally, the summit. There’s a couple of restaurants and a ski resort at the top. I pulled in for a coke and a sandwich. It was actually pretty chilly at the top. I was glad I had some gear I could change into for the ride back down.

After starting back, now the bad news: I got a broken spoke on the descent! Ugh! A broken spoke means the wheel was way out of balance and so the wheel wobbled horribly and rubbed the brake on every revolution. That made for a long, shaky trip back to Annecy. Thank God it was almost entirely down hill into Annecy.

Click thru here for route map to the summit, from Annecy.

In my last post, I mentioned visiting the VinoRama. It reminded me a lot of some of my recent visits to regional enotecha in Piedmont. In this case, the VinoRama represented many wines from the Lavaux region.

If you’re just inclined to try wines of the region or are headed to Lausanne or Montreux it’s pretty easy to get to the VinoRama, you don’t even need a car. You can take the train from Geneva (or whereever) to Lausanne and then from there, grab a more regional train to Rivaz. From the train station there, it’s walkable.

There were hundreds of regional wines on display and available for purchase at the VinoRama, which I must say is a pretty great name for a wine showcase. You can also taste a set of wines as well. There are several choices on the tastings. I chose an option that included some bread and snacks with it. The tasting I got included 3 whites (Chasselas) and I think 3 reds as well. Though the guy helping me, Louis, may have sensed I was interested in something else and he brought out the Z Collection you see here. It was my favorite and this was the only one I bought. I wish I could tell you what is in it but my notes are sketchy and I couldn’t find too much of a description of it at the web site I dug up for it.

The VinoRama is set back into the hillside next to a pretty little waterfall. Once you get in, it’s really dark. I guess they’re going for a kind of ‘cave’ like setting. In addition to the wines, there is also a little movie theater that does a show about growing wine in the area. It’s done in a different language depending on what you want to see. I think they do it by request.

My tasting started with a set of 3 of Chasselas wines. I don’t know much about Chasselas wines. In fact, this recent visit to Switzerland may have been the first time I can recall them. Who knows, years ago I was in Switzerland and maybe had some, I don’t remember. These three were good but my memory is that the 2nd one in the photo here was more to my liking. The wines are definitely minearly but more round in texture. I’d try them again if I can find them back home.

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