Sunday, September 21, 2014

Leicester City 3
Manchester United 3
Man with Whistle 2

"an eccentric performance" by England's top referee.

I'm just glad he wasn't in charge of the Liverpool match.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

End of the End of the Road


There is a reason why they call it "The Grand Canyon":

We arrived at the North Rim on a foggy, drizzly morning, and even in those conditions it was a magnificent spectacle. It was too early to check into the lodge, so we drove up the road to the few viewpoints accessible by car: Imperial Point, Roosevelt Point, Cape Final, Vista Encantada. We stared off into the distance, as the fog rose and fell, toward hoodoos and mesas and great piles of eroded rocks, things with romantic names like Jupiter's Temple and Freya Castle, and we were amazed.

 Eventually the fog lifted, and we were amazed again. Words fail me.
The Colorado River used to run red. Since the dams built across it above the Canyon, it's now a mundane shade of greenish-brown for most of the year.
While we were there, we took a hike along the Widforss Trail, which goes west from the road along the rim of the canyon to join with another trail near an overlook at the top end of Transept Canyon.
This formation is called a "temple."
Transept Canyon
When the fog lifted

To see the rest of the pictures from the Canyon, click here.

Beginning of the End of the Road

What that means
Our last day in the condo in Birch Bay was a quiet one; I went up into the town, such as it is, to have lunch with the Church Lady and the Perfesser (Buttermilk didn't want to go). We picked a place called CJ's Beach House, with a deck overlooking the bay; we chose it just because of that deck, and because, well, there aren't a whole lot of options in the little shoreline community of Birch Bay. As it happened, the place wasn't bad. The food was good with the exception of the shrimp used to top the seafood salad; they were small, cold, limp cocktail shrimp, so if I were to ever go back I'd order something else. But the service was very good and the ambience, featuring the bay across the road (with almost no traffic), was superior.
CJ's Beach House on Urbanspoon

After that, we went back and fetched Buttermilk and forced her to indulge in some ice cream from the C-Store in town, then dragged her up to the little miniature golf place for a round. (I won't mention who won; I've already taken all the bows I'm going to take.)

In the evening, the Perfesser mentioned that he wanted to try something called a "poutine," which we had seen on menus in a number of places. It was described as french fries covered with sausage gravy, and he thought, repulsive as that sounded, that we ought to at least try it. After all, we wouldn't go to Delaware and not try scrapple, would we? We recalled, perhaps incorrectly, that Bob's Burgers & Brew in Ferndale had had it on their menu, so we went to the Bob's location in Birch Bay ... which didn't have it. Not only did they not offer it, the hostess wasn't entirely sure what it was. "Is that that Canadian thing with the gravy? Yeah, we don't have that." Ah, well, so we have at least one thing in Canada to look forward to besides the 2015 Women's World Cup.

What that means
(The Birch Bay location of Bob's Burgers & Brew was nothing special: I opted for a New York steak, which was a mediocre cut served slightly overcooked and, all things considered, slightly overpriced by local standards, and, it naturally follows, grossly offensive to the sense of value honed in south Texas.)
Bob's Burgers & Brew on Urbanspoon

Then it was back to the condo for a last round of margaritas.

Morning comes, and off we go. On the way down to Sea-Tac, we stopped off at Burlington in response to the powerful and ineluctable call of Lafeen's Donuts. This time, it looked like hundreds of people had read and believed my previous post, as the display cases were stripped nearly bare. I could not, therefore, get an exquisitely light French cruller, nor a thick, fruity apple fritter; but had to settle, regrette rien, for a chocolate-dipped old fashioned doughnut and a blueberry fritter. (It's been almost a week and writing this makes me think of contacting them to enquire about a care package.)

Then it was down to the long-term parking where I'd stored my little convertible during the Group Tour. A quick goodbye to Church Lady and the Perfesser (because by now the rental charges on the anemic Rogue were accruing hourly), then throw our stuff in the Roller Skate, and we're off for home, the long way.

The first order of business was lunch, which we had at Las Palmas, a Salvadoran restaurant just down the street from the parking lot, where I had eaten a pretty good breakfast two Sundays before. Salvadoran food is similar in many ways to Mexican food, of course, but with a tropical twist that makes it identifiably different, certainly from the Tex-Mex variety that's so common in my home town, and from the more exotic varieties that are available in many places in south Texas. My own experience with Salvadoran restaurants back home is limited -- I can only think of two that I've been to, though I've been also to Honduran and Costa Rican restaurants, which I think are indistinguishable in any meaningful way from Salvadoran cuisine.

What that means
Our lunch wasn't quite as good as that breakfast, but it wasn't bad. I had a spinach papusa and a papusa revuelta (if memory serves): beans, beef and cheese on a thick, pillowy tortilla. Both were ordinary-good, neither was exceptional in any way. Overall the place was good enough to recommend but not good enough to recommend heartily ... except that it was cheap. And when I compare the prices I've seen around Seattle to the prices I'm used to around San Antonio, I think Las Palmas is an excellent place for lunch.
Las Palmas Restaurant on Urbanspoon
By the time we got to the freeway after lunch, we had discerned that the air-conditioning in the car wasn't working. That's not a big deal, I suppose, in Seattle, even in August, but we had six days in the desert southwest ahead of us. In fact, the drive across eastern Washington was looking like it would be hellish. But first, we decided on a stop at Snoqualmie Falls, it being a beautifully clear day, and much cooler up in the mountains.

After all the build-up to Snoqualmie Falls -- it was on the list of Things To See four years ago, and again two weekends before, and I never managed to get up there -- you would think a curmudgeon like me would have been disappointed. I wasn't. It is a beautiful waterfall, in a nice setting, with a pleasant lodge above it and not really all that many people for a magnificent summer Friday near a big city. In fact, I wish it had been another day, when I didn't have to get back in the car and head on down the road. It would've been real nice to have spent more time there.

We drove, top down, across eastern Washington. Boy, was that a mistake. Generally, my rule is this: if it's not raining, the top will be down if the temperature is more than 70 and less than 94; between 55 and 70, and between 94 and 97, it depends on other factors; but at 55 or less, and 97 or more, the top will be up. But then, I usually have air conditioning. Not this time, so I left the top down even though it got to 103, and nary a cloud in the sky. (Some smoke from the continuing wildfires, but that hardly qualifies as the silver lining in that particular cloud.)  So when we pulled into Baker City, Oregon, we were a little crispy around the edges. (After that, no matter the temperature, if the sun was up, so was the top.)

Baker City is a charming little community in eastern Oregon, once a stop on the Oregon Trail, later
Geiser Grand Hotel
and still a center for local agriculture. In the 1880s, it was prosperous enough to have a landmark hotel, the Geiser Grand, which was renovated about 20 years ago and returned to its former glory. I don't usually stay in such luxury, being too cheap to throw much money at a place to be unconscious; but every now and then I like to splurge, and in all honesty it wasn't really that much -- about what you'd expect to pay in a Hilton Garden Inn (which I'd never stay in, given a choice) or a Marriott. For the price we got an elegant room with a king-sized bed, a 14-foot ceiling and huge bathroom. The kind of hotel where they have embroidered bathrobes hanging there for your use. Not quite the Plaza, but beats the hell out of any Hilton Garden Inn.  Outstanding service, too, except in the bar.

twilight in Baker City
It was just coming sunset when we arrived, and it was First Friday, when this surprisingly arty little town has its monthly gallery walk. There were rumblings of distant thunder and not many people on the streets, but the several galleries in the town's Historical District around our hotel had a number of patrons in them, and enough interesting artworks visible through large windows that I would have been happy to browse among for a few hours -- but it was already pretty late and we were hot and tired and in need of a drink, so we passed on all the galleries and just strolled down to the one tall building in town, around that block to the courthouse, and back to the hotel bar. Then we retired to our room and slept the sleep of the exhausted cattle baron.

compare this to May 2013
We had no specific plans for the next day, except to get to Panguitch, Utah, so as to be within striking distance of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. That didn't stop us, though, from taking time to see Shoshone Falls, in Twin Falls, Idaho. I had been there a year ago on the Western Circuit (an excellent trip that, I'm surprised to discover, I wrote nothing about; though I posted lots of pictures), and was as impressed as any yokel by the massive amount of water cascading over the cliff. That was in May, though; in August, it's not quite the same experience. Still nice, pretty, unexpected in such a desert, but not awesome.

There aren't a whole lot of towns in Utah south of Salt Lake, but Panguitch, a town I stayed in with a friend a couple of years ago, is a pleasant little town with almost all the motels in Southern Utah (it being 20 miles from Bryce Canyon and close also to Zion National Park, Cedar Breaks, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Capitol Reef, and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon). It also has one good restaurant, the Cowboy's Smoke House. (Don't get the brisket; it was dry two years ago and is still dry, but the sausage is very good and the pulled pork is outstanding. So is the service. The prices are reasonable but they only take cash. They're open, and packed, until 10.)
Cowboy's Smoke House on Urbanspoon

What that means
In the morning, we headed for the Grand Canyon. We had breakfast at the unexpected Bäkerei Forscher in Orderville, Utah. What is a high-quality German bakery doing out in the rural wilds of the Colorado Plateau? Well, obviously, they're doing a successful business, judging from (a) the big, clean, sparkling new building beside the highway and (b) the display cases that looked like everyone in Utah had been there that morning before us. From what was left, Buttermilk had a nice rhubarb streuseltaler, moist with a nice crunchy topping; while I had a vanileshiffen, which had a very good cream filling inside a slightly dry bread shell (which made it perfect for dunking). The prices were not as high as at similar snooty bakeries back home. The counter help, which may or may not have been German, was a little vague in replies to my enquiries about their offerings, so I gave up. (Besides, I didn't really want to know about the pastries, I wanted to eat them.)


Forscher German Bakery on Urbanspoon

(This is getting too long for most people to bother with reading, so I'll break it off here and continue it on another post.)