Europe Trip, May 2016

We didn’t have great weather on this five country European adventure, but we did have eleven rewarding days of wining, dining and some culture gathering. This was a true plane, train and automobiles adventure with four planes, five trains and three rented automobiles to conquer five countries in a very short period. Our Seattle group consisted of Jim & Ione Darmiento, Emelie & Erik Espling and my lovely wife Linna Freeman. This trip came together for various reasons…Emelie wanted to spend her 50th birthday in Nice or Monaco and Jim and Ione wanted to explore Europe for their first time and Linna and I just love to travel.

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS
Our vacation excursion started and ended in Amsterdam mainly because of the direct flight from Seattle. We all had the same Delta flight into Schiphol except for Emelie, she skipped Amsterdam and flew to London to run the renowned London Marathon for her first time and would meet us in Paris later.

We rented a 3 series BMW for the five of us (tight) and headed to our first Airbnb two day rental. Our home away from home was a cute farmhouse few minutes from the airport in the countryside. The ride should have only took us ten minutes, but we managed to double it because of the challenging navigation system we had.

After a speedy luggage dump and fresh jet-lag bodies we drove through heavy Amsterdam traffic to walk around in a daze and stupor among the other tourists for a couple of hours. One needs to be mindful of all the bike riders that goes zooming by you in this concentrated bike filled city, one wrong misstep and you are damaged goods. It didn’t take too long until the nap syndrome came on, so we headed back for a siesta. The problem with naps during the jet-lag stage…you tend to sleep much longer then you should. I was able to pull myself from a death sleep to wake everyone else for a much needed dinner…especially before everything closed for the evening. We found this great Italian restaurant very close to our farm house, the Bistro Nice bistronice.com.

Our second day in Amsterdam we explored the Red Light district (of course) and spent the evening on a private boat ride rentaboatamsterdam.com cruising the numerous canals with Captain Mark aboard the Admiral Heijin. I did this same boat tour three years ago with some highschool buddies and we had identical weather…damp and cold. I totally recommend a private boat tour…it’s personal, romantic, entertaining and makes site seeing stress-free.

PARIS, FRANCE
We had first class train seats from Amsterdam to Paris…speedy, peaceful and quiet. We met up with Emelie, she just ran the London marathon and her train came in 5 minutes after ours. Our Paris apartment rental was close enough to walk from the Gare du Nord train station, we had a great location but a shitty apartment. This Airbnb was probably the worst vacation rental I have stayed in with all my travels, only one bath, sluggish internet and beds sized for children.

We only spent one full day in Paris and of course it wasn’t enough time to see much, but we did make sure Jim and Ione went up the Eiffel tower to see the city. We didn’t have rental cars with us in Paris, but shuffled ourselves around using Uber Van, this became an economical way of transport…averaging 4 to 5 euros per person.

Paris was mainly cold and wet but we succeeded to find a warm spot to spend a couple of entertaining nights. Our first night we met Nicholas Darde, the owner of Café Bar 21, he was just closing his establishment when we walked by after dinner out and he invited our group in for a personal festivity. We might have had a little too much celebration, we didn’t leave our dreadful apartment until the afternoon the next day. For an encore, Nicholas invited us back for a personal chef fixed menu feast. We were totally overwhelmed with his creativity and presentation of dishes coming from his petite kitchen.

NICE, FRANCE
From Paris we all booked the same Air France flight down to Nice and took Uber to our hotel for only one night stay. For being the fifth largest city in France, it seemed really small to me, but we only walked around our neighborhood and down to beautiful Mediterranean coast. I fell in love with a pair of eye glass frames along our walk to the water and became the only large purchase I made for the entire journey.

Erik booked a Michelin restaurant for Emelie’s 50th birthday, it was fantastic food and presentation but the tone was more on the stuffy side compared to the night before in Paris where the venue was more stimulating and buzzing. It became a leisurely night especially after two late nights in Paris and flying during the day, I suppose our minds, bodies and souls were exhausted. We rented two cars the next day and headed for the most densely populated country in the world…Monaco.

MONTE CARLO, MONACO
Driving twenty minutes to get to Monto Carlo, Monaco was easy, but driving around one way streets, tight turns and finding parking the next twenty minutes wasn’t easy. At this time, Jim opted out of the fun and headed for our next destination…Cinque Terre, Italy. Too bad for him and Ione though, they missed out on one of best lunches we had on this European journey…the Beefbar monaco.beefbar.com.

CINQUE TERRE, ITALY
It’s not recommended to drive to or within Cinque Terre, but our group did anyway and it’s probably a good thing our Airbnb house was located at the westernmost village Monterosso al Mare because some of the roads to the other villages were closed to rock slides. We found out the hard way, we drove over thirty minutes on our third day heading to Riomaggiore when we came to a closed road and had to turn around. We decided to take the train instead which was dirt cheap anyway…in fact free if you don’t buy any tickets and just hop on.

We spent three nights in Monterosso and was able to catch up on our laundry, our house was located on the old side of town away from the noisy tourist area. We hiked over to the next village of Vernazza on our first full day and I was surprised by the steepness in some areas, but totally worth the sweat and highly recommended the hike for the views and photo ops. After a few cold beers and a pizza we took a 30 euro personal water taxi back, I wouldn’t recommend this especially when you could train back for free.

We ended our last night stay with a two hour boat tour of all five Cinque Terre villages. I truly enjoyed this and highly recommend this to get a full perspective from the water and provides abundant photo ops too.

LAKE COMO, ITALY
We had a three hour drive to our next destination, Lake Como for two nights. Like Paris our Airbnb in Como was in a wonderful location, we had shopping, restaurants and the lake within walking distance. Unlike the Paris apartment, this apartment was magnificent with large comfortable bedrooms with your own balcony, two bathrooms, new appliances and fast internet. Linna and I wasn’t a fan of Lake Como, but we really didn’t adventure out much either. We did have a splendid dinner our first night at Osteria, just a ten minute walk from our apartment.

We dropped Eric and Emelie at the Milan airport and the rest of us headed towards Chamonix, France hoping to take the tram up to view Mont Blanc up close, but just like last year’s visit for Linna and I…it was covered in dense cloud cover. No worries though, we had an enjoyable lunch along with some shopping in the quaint ski town of Chamonix.

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND
We continued onto Geneva, Switzerland to catch our flight to Amsterdam. We spent the night at the Hilton airport and flew direct to Seattle the next day.

Overall it was an exceptional trip with good friends, lovely dinners and cool cities.

Mount Ellinor Hike, April 2016

Mount Ellinor
Date: April 17, 2016
Difficulty: 6 out of 10
Distance: 6.2 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Location: Near Hoodsport, Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Northwest Forest Pass Required
Trail Conditions: Dry to Snow-Pack
Hiking With: Jim Darmiento, Ione Darmiento, Linna Freeman & my wonder dog Macho

My Audi S6 was in the shop and I had a Q5 SUV loaner car so I thought I had better use this vehicle to the fullest…so I decided on hiking Mount Ellinor goo.gl/w0nY6Z in the beautiful Olympic Mountains. To get to this beautiful hike you need to travel on gravel forest roads with a shit load of deep pot-holes…perfect for a loaner SUV. I called my good friend Jim Darmiento and his wife Ione to join my wife Linna and me on this Olympic mountain hike. Linna and I drove over to Jim’s cabin the night before so the drive to the trailhead the next day was only 45 minutes from Jim’s cabin on Panther Lake, Washington.

Just what I had suspected…the forest road to the trailhead was filled with bottomless pot-holes, but my loaner Q5 Audi took them like a champ and I didn’t go around them either the suspension took each foot deep hole like it was nothing.

We had to start at the lower trailhead because the road to the upper trailhead was snow filled. The hike started steep and eventually got into snow. I love hiking in the snow because it’s actually easier to step straight up than hiking in loose gravel.

We didn’t make the summit, but decided on a lunch spot with a huge view of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. Saint Helen’s and Puget Sound. We ended up back at Jim’s cabin for a swim and a cold beer.

Source Lake, February 2016

Source Lake Snowshoe
Date:
February 19, 2016
Difficulty: 6 out of 10
Distance: 4.8 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,400 feet
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Location: I-90 exit 52; Alpental Ski Area
Users Group: Hikers & Leashed Dogs Only
Permits: No Permits Required
Trail Conditions: 8″ to 10″ of fresh fluffy snow
Hiking with: Jim Darmiento, Rick Massie and my faithful dog Macho.

Timing is everything when it comes to snowshoeing and we hit a perfect day with 8 inches of new snow. The only time I like tromping in the snow is when it’s fresh and I am the first one marching on it. Only way this can happen is if it snowed the night before and you get up damn early to get to the snow first.

I met up with my good friends Jim Darmiento and Rick Massie in North Bend, Washington and we drove to exit 52 off of I-90 past Alpental ski area. We made it to Source Lake in good time and we decided to turn around at the lake due to avalanche conditions.

We came across only two other snowshoers that was nice enough to take a few pictures of us. We wanted to end our day at the Mt. Si tavern, but they were not open yet so we found ourselves at our old hangout North Bend Bar & Grill.

Mason Lake Hike, November 2015

Mason Lake
Date:
November 13, 2015
Difficulty: 5 out of 10
Distance: 6.5 Miles / 10 Kilometers Roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2,550 Feet / 777 Meters
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Location: Exit 45, I-90
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Northwest Forest Pass
Trail Conditions: Wet to Very Wet
Hiking with: Jim Darmiento, Rick Massie and my faithful dog Macho

During the summer you are lucky to find a parking spot at the Ira Spring trailhead, but we were the only brave souls to utilize our rain gear on this blistery rainy morning. This was my first time in 10 years to see only our car in the parking lot all day…it was just weird.

Wet and damn wet. That pretty much describes our saturated hike to Mason Lake www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/ira-spring-memorial. We started off determined to summit Bandera Mountain, but when we came to the split to Mason Lake or Bandera my good friends Jim Darmiento and Rick Massie voted for the less exposed and the more sheltered type route to the lake.

If it wasn’t for the new bridge across Mason Creek, this would have been a short roundtrip hike of 1.6 miles. The creek was raging and it was dangerously impossible to cross without the bridge. We finished this hike with a bowl of Jambalaya and a proper pint of Mac & Jacks www.macandjacks.com at the North Bend Bar & Grill www.northbendbarandgrill.com.

On the drive back to Seattle, Jim Darmiento and I decided to stop at Snoqualmie Falls, the falls were rampant and furious due to the substantial precipitation in the last few days.

Moab Trip, September 2015

Our Moab adventure started early in the trip with my good friend Jim Darmiento and his wife Ione missing our 6:00 a.m. flight from Seattle to Salt Lake City, Utah. So it was my wife Linna, me and my longtime friend Mike Curry on the flight to Salt Lake City. We ended up picking up Jim and Ione at the Salt Lake City Airport four hours later in our BMW (Bigass Mormon Wagon)…also known as a Chevy Suburban. After everyone was loaded up we headed down to Moab with a lunch break at the beautiful Sundance Resort.

Our first day in Moab we hit the Jail House for breakfast on Main street and then we were off to Arch National Park which was totally awe-inspiring and just a five minute ride from Moab. Note to oneself…start very early, it’s much cooler and less people! I am pleased that Linna convinced us to go back to the park at sunset to watch the Delicate Arch change from a sandy brown color to a vibrate orange. We finished our day with a 9:30 p.m. dinner reservation at the Desert Bistro desertbistro.com which was the finest restaurant in Moab.

Linna was able to convince the group a second time to get up 5:30 a.m. and head off to Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park to watch the sunrise and see the sun rays turn the Mesa Arch from a dull sandstone color to a fiery glowing orange. This was completely worth waking up damn early, I absolutely recommend this. We hit the highly rated Love Muffin café lovemuffincafe.com for breakfast after we got back to town, great food but long lines and ordering at the counter gave me negative vibes. We still had plenty of time for a nap before our river adventure in the afternoon.

If you only have time for one adventure in Moab during the summer…I highly recommend paddle boarding on the Colorado River with Paddle Moab paddlemoab.com. Josh (guide/owner) made the 2 ½ hour river trip exhilarating, entertaining and relaxing.

Rachel Lake Hike, May 2015

Rachel Lake
Date: May 21, 2015
Difficulty: 5 out of 10
Distance: 8.0 Miles / 12.8 Kilometers Roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1,600 feet / 487 Meters
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Location: Exit 62 of I-90 in Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Discovery Pass
Trail Conditions: Dry to the lake
Hiking With: Jim Darmiento, Rick Massie & my fearless dog Macho

My wife Linna is always complaining that I do the same Washington hikes through-out the year, well today I would have made her proud. It was my good friend Jim Darmiento that suggested we try Rachel Lake wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/rachel-lake hike for something new; exit 62 off of I-90 in the state of Washington. It turned out to be a worthy hike with abundance of waterfalls through-out day.

The elevation gain seemed much more than what is posted on the Washington Trails Association website…which was 1,600 feet, but for some reason it felt more like 2,500 feet or more. Once we hit the summit, Jim got out his Jetboil and heated some water up for our lunch at the lake. I came damn close to jumping in, but my body said no….pretty much ice water temperature right now.

We didn’t see too many people all day….just like it should be.

Denny Creek Hike, July 2014

Denny Creek Trail
Date:
July 24, 2014
Difficulty: 5 out of 10
Distance: 9 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 2,300 ft
Time: 4 to 5 hours
Location: I-90 exit 47
Users Group: Hikers & Leashed Dogs Only
Permits: Northwest Forest Pass Required
Trail Conditions: Wet to the top
Hiking with: Jim Darmiento, Rick Massie and the wonder dog Macho.

Jim Darmiento, Rick Massie and I had this hiked planned for a couple of weeks and usually the full month of July is sunny and warm. Somehow we picked the only rain day in July; it was raining when we started and was still raining when we finished…we were truly soaked by the time we got back to Jim’s pick-up.

To remove the chill from our bones we headed to North Bend Bar & Grille for a warm bowl of Jambalaya.

Mount Ellinor Hike, June 2014

Mount Ellinor
Date: June 6, 2014
Difficulty: 6 out of 10
Distance: 6.2 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet
Time: 3 to 4 hours
Location: Near Hoodsport, Washington
Users Group: Hikers & Dogs Only
Permits: Northwest Forest Pass Required
Trail Conditions: Dry to Snow-Pack
Hiking With: Jim Darmiento & Macho the dog wonder.

This is a short but fairly steep hike with 360 degree views, unfortunately the summit was socked in so we stopped short and had a quick lunch. As we were putting our backpacks on and getting ready for our descent, along came a huge ass mountain goat on the trail.

Two years ago an older gentleman was killed by a mountain goat on this very mountain so this was in my head during the ascent. As we were approaching the summit, three young men was descending and they stated they saw a lot of goats and mentioned they were not afraid either. After hearing that…I was being cautious. So when my friend Jim Darmiento bellowed out the word “GOAT”, that was all I needed…I quickly grabbed my poles and jumped on the snowy slope and glissaded to a safe distance. Mr. Mountain Goat had a baby goat with him and when we looked back up the slope he was proudly staring down at us.

We finished the day at Jim’s cabin on Lake Panther where we cooled off with a nice swim and a few beers around the campfire.

Hawaii Trip, May 2014

Most Seattleites either fly south to Mexico/Arizona area or off to Hawaii for a warm weather vacation. For some odd reason this will be my first visit to the Hawaii islands. My good friend Jim Darmiento set the ball a rolling by finding an enormous house on the beach in the town of Hana on the island of Maui for all of us to appreciate. When I say all of us I mean Linna Freeman (my wife), Ione Darmiento (Jim’s wife) Rick Massie (friend and co-worker), Scott and his wife Jesse (daughter and son in law to Ione).

We all flew the same airline and flight over to Maua on Hawaiian Airlines for only $300. After landing, we drove to Costco to pick up groceries for the week; we had no preset meal plan so we all just grabbed something we wanted to consume or cook up.

Once on the road the adventure begins right away with the famous twisty rode to Hana with hundreds of tight curves and single lane bridges. We just happened to hit a huge rain storm all the way to Hana; the torrents of rain was crashing down between the hillsides which was totally awesome to witness the power of rain-water. The guidebook stated that “Hana as a reputation for being a rainy place and receives over 80 inches of rain yearly”, our first two days clearly lived up to that.

We chose Hana for more a peaceful serene setting without the tourist influence. Our house was perfectly located near the famous Hamoa Beach…considered one of the best beaches in the Maui for body surfing. Our crew woke around sunrise (06:00) each day to start the day with a hot cup of Kona java and a hearty breakfast of bacon and eggs that was cooked up by our own Rick Massie. After breakfast each day was a short walk to Hamoa beach; most mornings we were the first ones enjoying the fine salt and pepper sand and the powerful waves.

We left our perfect location one day to hike the Pipiwai trail to the Waimoku waterfall. This is a very easy 2 mile trek of only 600 feet gain with a mystical 400 foot waterfall that awaits your arrival. Another day excursion we were off to one of the largest and coolest freshwater pools called Waioko by the Hawaiians or the Venus pool by others. You will find numerous deep spots to dive or jump in…depending how courageous you are. Jim Darmiento and I were the only daring among us to make the plunge in the darkish colored water from being so deep.

We had the pleasure to witness a beautiful marriage ceremony right on our own beach house. Scott and Jesse decided exchange wedding vows in Maui after being together for over 10 years.

Winthrop Ski Trip, February 2014

We make a trip to Winthrop, Washington at least once a year for cross-country skiing. We took off from Seattle on Thursday making a four day holiday. Our group consisted of Rick Massie, Jim Darmiento and his wife Ione and my wife Linna Wei. About half way to Winthrop, we stopped for lunch at the Milepost 111 Brewing Company www.milepost111brewingcompany.com in Cashmere, Washington for a sandwich and beer.

We have been staying at the Cottonwood Cottage www.cottonwood-cottage.com for the last four visits. This three bedroom cabin is located on the outskirts of Winthrop right on the Methow River and walking distance from Methow Valley Trail System. The Methow Valley www.mvsta.com is considered to have more cross country ski trails than any other place in United States.

After settling into the Cottonwood Cottage we were off to our favorite pub house in Winthrop….the Old School Brewery www.oldschoolhousebrewery.com This small place has been around for years and if you don’t get there early on weekends, you will find yourself standing. They have live music on Friday and Saturday and usually a different band each night.

This year the state of Washington didn’t receive much snow including the Methow Valley which limited where we skied. We actually had to drive to higher elevation to find quality skiing.