Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Port Townsend Afternoon: Discovering a Perfect Cup of Tea

While artsy, Victorian-esque Port Townsend, Washington, is indeed quieter in the winter, it's still a fun and refreshing destination regardless of the season. 

When I go there to visit family, I regularly make pilgrimage stops at some favorite local spots like William James Bookseller for used and rare books, Chimacum Corner Farmstand for local farm meats and produce, and Elevated Ice Cream for excellent ice cream. This past weekend, thanks to a transcendent pot of exquisite tea, I've added a new stop to my list.

After a tasty lunch at Silverwater Cafe, my aunt suggested a cup of tea at Pippa's Real Tea, just around the corner on Water Street.

Last time I was at Pippa's was a few years ago, not long after it opened. I remember it as a warm, cozy yet contemporary space with nice tea.

Aussie proprietor/owner Pippa Mills (by way of London and New York) now offers High Tea on Saturday afternoons, opened a courtyard out back for warm weather tea al fresco, and has seen her business named #1 Best Tea House by the Seattle A-List (never mind that Port Townsend is over 50 miles and a ferry ride away from Seattle).

High Tea service at Pippa's
The real Pippa
But back to that amazing tea. I ordered the delicate Silver Needles white tea from Glenburn Tea Estate in the renowned Darjeeling region of northern India. What a revelation!

If you think you don't like tea, I say you haven't had a high-quality tea carefully brewed with expertise (good water heated to just the right temperature, steeped just the right amount of time, served in appropriate china or glassware in a pleasing setting, etc.).

I've had silver needle tea from China, but this Indian tea is smooth, buttery, floral, and light yet crisp. Words aren't doing it justice. Five days later I'm still thinking about it, how that perfect cup of tea sliced through everything and hit the sweet spot.

Pippa came to our table with a beautiful smile and got excited when I raved about the tea. She brought over several canisters of loose leaf tea from Glenburn and described how different teas come from the same plants with different harvesting times and processing techniques.

Different tea, same tea plants
Her enthusiasm and gracious manner (she calls herself a tea maven, not tea master) was infectious. I enjoyed a whiff of each, some richer, stronger, fruitier.

I asked Pippa how she came to open a tea house in Port Townsend.

"When I came to the States from London many years ago, I couldn't find good quality tea. People mostly drank tea in tea bags [which are generally lower quality teas]." When visiting relatives in Victoria, B.C., her family stopped in Port Townsend and fell in love pretty quickly.

Port Townsend, where small businesses have hand-crafted signs out front.
So she aimed to open a tea house serving quality loose leaf teas with excellent baked goods and lunches to match. I'm so glad she did. 

And now I'm off to see if I can possibly replicate the perfect cup with some of that silver needle tea I bought and brought home.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  

When You Go
Pippa's Real Tea is located at 636 Water Street, the main street that runs along the water in old downtown Port Townsend, toward the north end of town.  They host a variety of arts and food/tea-related activities. Pippa's is open Wednesday through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 (ish) pm. From the Seattle area, easiest driving route is to catch a ferry (downtown Seattle Colman Dock Terminal to Bainbridge, or Edmonds to Kingston) and head north/west across the Hood Canal Bridge on Highway 104, then north on SR 19. Check here for detailed directions from either ferry terminal. Expect about 90 minutes travel time if driving, given the ferry loading/unloading.

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Pacific Northwest Year in Pictures

Here we are again. Goodbye 2016, hello 2017!

I'd like to share substantive, moving reflections on the year just passed (or almost past, depending on when you read this). But I'm spent.  I've been down with a cold and am just starting to feel part of the world again today. Check my gratitude blog post in November for reflections.

So today's post is primarily photos of the year past. I hope you enjoy this perspective of my cherished Pacific Northwest. 

Winter 2016
Two words sum up my winter:  lowland hiking.  In some ways the best time of year to be out, with much lower traffic on our increasingly popular trails.

Deception Pass State Park, WA. Great winter hiking trails!
View of Salish Sea from Fragrance Lake Trail, WA
Spring 2016
One word:  Sunsets.  I love to shoot sunrises and sunsets all year. And I hike all year.

Salish Sea sunset from Seattle's Carkeek Park

Barclay Lake, WA
Sunset from Seattle's Golden Gardens Park

Two themes: (1) Hiking. A recurring theme. It's relatively inexpensive, it's good for you, and we've got endless wonderful trails here in Upper Left USA, and (2) SE Alaska and ferry ride home down the Inside Passage. One of my awesome-est trips ever!

Snow Lake, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Inside Passage, AK

Two words:  Returning and richness. For me autumn is about returning, usually to the North Cascades Institute for some wonderful food, environmental-themed speakers, and hiking; to the north-central Cascades to stalk golden larches; and to Hood River Valley for an annual weekend with high school friends. It's all rich and wonderful. My favorite season.

Draper Girls's Country Farm, Hood River Valley, Oregon
Golden larch with Mt. Stuart backdrop, Washington

And this winter now that will blend into 2017? 

Holiday frenzy shifting down to mostly napping. A nasty cold has forced me to stop everything and just allow myself to heal/regenerate/read/be.  Of course, on the first day of winter last week I did begin with an exhilarating day on the slopes.

Stevens Pass, WA (same as top photo on this post).
 So the circle starts again.

Wishing you and yours a happy, productive, joyous 2017 with a good dose of outdoors and adventure, if that's your taste.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Portland Holiday Overnight Getaway

I've hardly gotten out for any Pacific Northwest adventuring recently, but this past weekend I dashed down to Portland from Seattle for a long overdue overnight to see family and friends.

I'm always drawn to Portland around the holidays.  Partly I'm nostalgic for childhood holiday season memories like visiting Santa on the top floor of Meier & Frank downtown or watching for the red nose on the White Stag sign as we crossed the Willamette River. Meier & Frank is long gone, but the huge neon sign is still there (although the words have changed).

When I arrived, the city was still slick and frosted in lingering snow from earlier in the week, but by midday things were warming up fast. After visiting with friends for a birthday and then meeting up with my brother and wife for lunch at the Grand Central Bakery in Multnomah Village (excellent sandwiches), I headed downtown for a few hours.

Compared to downtown Seattle, downtown Portland is more compact, walkable, and charming. Seattle grew quickly in the 1890s as a gold rush town (gateway to the Klondike) in a haphazard fashion, while Portland was settled more sedately by New Englanders. It shows in how each city is planned (or not) and laid out.

 As usual, I made a beeline for Powell's Books on Burnside, perched at the edge of gentrified Pearl District. I could spend hours browsing this treasure of a huge bookstore, and came away with several books/ Christmas gifts for family and friends.

Overall I spent a couple hours wandering and shopping, and popped down to Pioneer Courthouse Square to see the Christmas tree (see top photo). While Portland has excellent transit in the form of streetcars, MAX light rail, and buses, I usually find street parking south of Burnside and up around 10th and 12th (forget about the Pearl).

Early evening was dancing and R&B at the Blue Diamond, east across the Willamette River on Sandy Boulevard. What I loved about this unpretentious bar was the great music, friendly atmosphere (a birthday boy was offering everyone free cupcakes and Voodoo Doughnuts), and a decidedly un-hipster vibe.

Instead of hitting up friends or family for a place to stay, this trip I was treated to an overnight at McMenamins Kennedy School in north Portland's Alberta Arts District. Okay, I will try to be balanced here - we weren't impressed with the  comfort and quality of the room for the cost ($260/night), the alarm clock beside the bed randomly waking us up at 4 am, and that the cozy Dentention Bar was closed. We caught an okay movie in the theater, but alas missed out on the highlight of staying here, the saltwater soaking pool.

To be fair, they did give a discount when these issues were declared.

Before heading back north, breakfast was a delicious and interesting breakfast burrito at The Big Egg Breakfast Shop on Alberta. (sorry no photo). This cozy, cute little breakfast place was the perfect spot before the slog drive back north.

Even though I was born in Seattle and have lived there most of my adult life, Portland will always have a piece of my heartespecially during the holiday season.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

When You Go
This post is just a teensy snapshot of what an overnight in Portland can be like. While I drove from Seattle (a little less than 3 hours via Interstate 5) this trip, the trip via Amtrak train is a wonderful way to travel. What do you like to do and see in Portland?

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Pacific Northwest Winter Hiking: Quiet on the East Fork Foss River

With snow falling deep and fast in the Cascade Mountains now, winter is a good time to explore lower elevation hikes and enjoy more solitude than normal on the trail. While I often head to higher elevations with my skis during the winter, in some ways it's the best hiking time of the year too.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, between heavy rainfall, a couple friends and I enjoyed a quiet, lovely hike through lush forest and encountered no other hikers in over 5 hours on the trail. With the massive influx of people moving to the region, that's a real treat now within a few hours of Seattle or Portland.

In the rush of the holiday season, walking in intentional silence in the Cascade foothills was a much-needed balm. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I was affected by a scary traffic accident recently.

After leaving Seattle in a driving rain, we were surprised to arrive at the empty trailhead off Highway 2 near Skykomish under a sky that wasn't dark gray and weeping. Everyone else must have been scared off by the rain or out shopping.

So we set off along the mostly level trail without talking, just walking and absorbing the green dampness of moss and evergreens, crossing streams swollen with recent rain.

The forest offered up wondrous and strange fungi, a lovely large wetland beneath craggy snow-dusted cliffs, and the sweet scent of pine, cedar, and logs decomposing into soil.

Every 30 minutes or so, we stopped and plopped down on our sit pads on a log or boulder and just sat in silence for 10 minutes, meditating on each precious moment in such a beautiful setting.

After a couple hours of hiking, the valley narrowed. While skirting along the edge of big rockfalls from the mist-enshrouded cliffs above, we passed immense boulders that came crashing down here some years ago. I was glad to not be around when the cliffside gave way and plunged into the valley.

When we reached a couple logs spanning the river (or was it a tributary?), the thought of crossing slick mossy wood gave us pause. With just a couple hours left of daylight on a late November day, we turned around. Meg, who has been up this trail before, thinks we were just short of where the trail starts climbing steeply to the Necklace Valley.

On the way back, we repeated the drill:  walk 30 minutes, stop and sit in silence, get back up, and do it again. Which, in a beautiful, verdant western Washington forest, is always a pleasure.

By the time we got back to the car about 3:15, the daylight was already dimming. I actually started noticing it around 2:30 p.m. Based on time hiking and Meg's recollection, we covered about 9 miles roundtrip, perhaps a bit more.

Our quiet day hiking was such a sweet contrast to the hectic frenzy of holiday shopping/traffic and the warm weather crowds that have packed our more popular trails these last couple years. 

BTW, I organize and lead these silent hikes for Blue Heron Zen Community, and everyone is welcome. Just leave a comment below if interested in future hikes!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

When You Go
It took us about 90 minutes to get to the trailhead from north Seattle. To get there, head east on U.S. Highway 2 toward Stevens Pass. After passing the Skykomish Ranger Station on the left, continue another 0.5 mile and turn right (south) onto Foss River Road (Forest Road 68). The clearly marked parking lot and trailhead will be on your left at about 4 miles. A Northwest Forest Pass is required to park. The restroom at the trailhead is locked for the winter.

AND special thanks to my hiking buddies Paul and Meg, whose photos are featured on this post along with a few of mine. I forgot my "real" camera, so all these shots were taken on smartphones.