Best Hiking Trails in Mount Rainier National Park 0 (0)

Guest author Mark Bennet discusses the best hiking trails at Mount Rainier National Park from the skyline trail at Paradise to the Summerland Trail.

Six Hand-Drawn Travel Books That Just Might Make You Want to Put Down the Camera and Pick Up a Pencil 0 (0)

Hand Drawn Travel Books A Fine Romance by Susan Branch

If you’re like me, sometimes when you travel you’re tempted to spend part of your trip behind the lens of a camera or snapping photos on your phone to share later. But putting down the gadgets and picking up a pencil can help us to slow down and have a more “mindful” journey. Here are six hand-drawn books I’ve recently enjoyed about travel or places that just might inspire me to put down the camera (only for a bit) and pick up a pencil.

Best Bookstores in Seattle 0 (0)

Seattle Best Bookstores Map Best Seattle Bookstores Elliott Bay Book Company Interior

Seattle is a literate city — Seattle tops many lists for things such as “most well-read population,” and “most literate city.” And in 2017 Seattle earned the UNESCO “City of Literature” designation. Yes, Seattle is home to Amazon — but Seattle is also home to some wonderful independent bookstoresl. Here are our favorite (independent) Seattle bookstores that we’ve visited — both new and used.

Things to Do and See at York Minster Cathedral 0 (0)

Visiting York Minster Cathedral

I usually hate the words “simply must,” in a blog post. But if you go to York you simply must visit York Minster Cathedral. Here are some things to do and see at this wonderful medieval gem that is my personal favorite of the cathedrals I’ve had an opportunity to visit.

Snickelways and Walls: Walking York’s Passages 0 (0)

When I was a kid, in the days when kids spent bored Summer days playing outside, I spent some time lurking in neighborhood alleyways. Inventing clubs, playing hide-and-seek, and sometimes being up to no good made long Summer days with nothing to do pass quickly. When I visited York, I imagined all of the mischief I could have managed there with York’s many snickelways as my stomping grounds.

What is a Snickelway?

What’s a snickelway? York’s medieval city layout means that many narrow passageways between the buildings exist. These became known as the Snickelways of York.

“Snickelway” sounds like it could be a charming Old English word or something from Harry Potter. And some of the Snickelways have names that tickle my muggle sense of humor (Nether Hornpot Lane, for one.) Therefore, I was a little disappointed to find that (at least according to the venerable Wikipedia,) author Mark W. Jones coined the word. And not in The Year of Our Lord 1600 but 1983 CE.

Nether Hornpot Lane is one of York's Snickelways

Jones’ book A Walk Around the Snickelways of York   (which seems to be out of print but is usually readily available on Amazon), is the definitive guide to “snickeling.” Jones explains that snickelways is a portmanteau word combining snicket (any relation to Lemony?), ginnel, and alleyway, all terms used to describe different types of passageways.

Jones’ book gives a walkthrough of the snickelways, which also turns out to be a great way to self-tour York.

A Snickelways Journey

When you walk York’s Snickelways, you might find your 3.5-mile walk turning into a daylong adventure. There’s plenty to get distracted by along the way. I gave up trying to record my walk and attempted to recreate the route later (see the map below.)

The map is a close approximation to the way described in the book, and the path I walked. However, a few shortcuts (like the in and outs in the Shambles,) were difficult to map.

If you want to walk all of the snickelways, your best bet is just to get the book. It’s the best available reference and includes handwritten print and delightful black and white sketches. It’s a keeper and, somehow, one I’ll keep looking through from time to time even if I never get back to York.

Image of a York Snickelways Route Map

Above is an image of a route map of the Snickelways. You can click here or on the map to get to the page with the interactive version.

Your Snickelways journey starts at the hole in the wall just past Bootham Bar (in York, the gates are bars, and the streets end with -gate.) It takes you past many (but not all) of the places I’ve listed in the Things to do in York post, including the ever-popular Shambles.

Above: Sketches from The Snickelways of York by Mark W. Jones match the view walking to York Minster from Precentor’s Court.

Walking York’s Walls

York's Walls

Walking York’s Walls

The Snickelways of York book   suggests that York’s biggest snickelways are its walls.

Other medieval cities like London, had walls, of course, but only fragments remain in most. In York, large sections of the medieval walls remain and are very walkable.

Walking York’s walls was my favorite way of getting around the city during my stay. My AirBNB in York, located near Mickelgate bar, was near a wall entrance, and I frequently walked the wall on my way into the central part of town.

York’s Wall Routes

York’s walls end in some places. Despite the signs around the route with handy QR codes, I got confused in spots and had to search for the next walkable portion of the wall. For the best experience, you might want to bring a guidebook. The Friends of York Walls website has maps and a handy guide for a thorough wall walk.

There’s also a written Walking Guide to York City Walls   available on Kindle or as a paperback.

Some parts of the wall have a safety fence on one side, and a few sections have a drop off with no barrier. Where I live, there would be fences and signs all around to prevent lawsuits injuries. But it seems York (fortunately) trusts in the common-sense of the visitor.

Walking the walls also made me feel a bit like a kid again — or a nosy neighbor. Some sections of wall adjoined homes and gave glimpses into some beautiful backyards. 

Have you walked York’s snickelways? Leave a comment!

Seattle Christmas Past: How the Grunge Stole Christmas 0 (0)

How the Grunge Stole Christmas Almost Live

I wondered if my dad even knew what RCKNDY was. The small TV in my parents’ kitchen was ever-present and ever-on…and frequently on Almost Live when it aired. The TV show had gone from talk-show format with a few comedy bits to a full sketch-comedy show that, usually hilariously, poked fun at Seattle neighborhoods and suburbs from Ballard drivers to the “Lynnwood Look.” It was where Bill Nye’s science guy got his start, but did you know he was also “SpeedWalker” before that?

Suddenly, a holiday jingle came on the tube (those days it was the regular tube that didn’t care about “You,”) and John Keister’s voice launched in with “all the rockers in the RKNDY bar liked Christmas a lot but the grunge…” and everyone paused to watch.

And, suddenly, a Christmas miracle happened.

When it got to the part where the members of the Seattle heavy metal community launched into the “fahoo fores dahoo dores,” from the 1966 Grinch TV special, my father bust out laughing. Approaching 70, I’m not sure he knew much about Grunge, or about RCKNDY, but he did know the Grinch and, perhaps, for just a moment, he agreed with the Grunge’s realization that “maybe Christmas was more. Maybe Christmas doesn’t come from the liquor store.”

Gifts for the Traveler Who Has Nothing 0 (0)

Chester suitcase with vignette starter travel gifts carry on luggage what to put in your carry on

“Gifts for the traveler who has everything,” comes to mind when thinking about holiday gift lists to create. But what about gifts for the traveler who has…nothing? When my daughter asked me to borrow my carry-on I, instead, put together a holiday package that would serve her for the many years of travel she has ahead of her. Hint: these are also good basic things to put in your carry on bag in general.

Why Didn’t I Hear of the Seattle Walk Report Before This? 0 (0)

Seattle Walk Report Book

The Seattle Walk Report is a charming Instagram account. — and now book — especially if you’re a local. How did I miss it until now?

Three Western Washington Ghost Tours To Haunt You 0 (0)

Port Gamble Ghost Tours Walker Ames Mansion with Bleach Bypass

Are you a believer? It’s OK if you’re not. Ghost tours are fun, especially in October when the days are growing shorter and the leaves are falling. And good ones are also a bit of an (entertaining) history lesson. Here are three Haunted Tours in and (relatively) near Seattle to take this Autumn: Seattle, Port Gamble, and Port Townsend

Visiting the Paris Catacombs: A Labyrinth of Death Beneath the City of Light 0 (0)

Visiting the Paris Catacombs Skulls at the Paris Catacombs

Are the Paris Catacombs worth visiting? It depends on what you like. If you’re not somebody who enjoys visiting cemeteries when you travel, it might not be the place for you. But there aren’t too many other places quite like it and it has an interesting history.

Here’s a bit of the history of the Paris Catacombs, a few interesting facts and some tips for before you go and how to get there.

Here’s more about the catacombs, with some tips for visiting.

Why Take a Ghost Tour? 0 (0)

Why take a ghost tour creepy haunted house phot

Why would a skeptic love ghost tours? There are a few good reasons why the unbeliever or undecided would enjoy taking a ghost tour. The post includes a poll you can answer about your experience with ghost tours.

Famous Seattle Graves (and Where to Find Them) 4 (1)

Jimi Hendrix gravesite Jimi hendrix face purple

If celebrity burials are your thing, the number of Seattle’s famous dead denizens does come close to rivaling many larger, and older, cities. But we do have a few here, and they’re worth visiting if you like cemeteries. Here’s more about where to find the graves of Bruce and Brandon Lee, Jimi Hendrix, and Chief Sealth (Seattle), along with a listing of a few others with a more local claim to fame.

Amidst Old Tombstones at Kirkmichael Trust Cemetery 0 (0)

Kirkmichael Trust Cemetery Doorway Monument Top Detail Medieval tombstones Scottish Highland Cemeteries

The Kirkmichael Trust Cemetery in the Scottish highlands has done some serious restoration work, bringing old medieval tombstones into a restored church building for preservation and display. The stones outside, as well as the small mausoleum, are also worth a visit if you like old cemeteries — its just a bit off the main itinerary for your North Coast 500 road trip.

Sound Fall Fun: Things to Do This Autumn in Seattle and the Puget Sound Area 0 (0)

Remlinger Farms Pumpkin Farm Festival

I haven’t updated this post for 2021, and, at this point, am not sure if I will get around to it due to life events and changes on this website. Look for future posts with holiday event, though!

A Visit to Underground Hygge: The Hobbit House by the Columbia River Gorge 0 (0)

We finally visited Underground Hygge: the AirBNB Hobbit House in Washington State that you can rent. While we loved it, you should know a few things before you book. What follows is my review and my attempt at a video.

And, if you’re interested in Middle Earth-type lodgings and places to visit, you can read my original post on Hobbit Houses in Washington State. If you want more photos I’m in the process of attaching a gallery of images here.

Nestled in a hillside overlooking the Columbia River Gorge is a little house fit for a Hobbit. This “hole in the ground” was built by Kristie Wolfe, who also constructed an AirBNB treehouse in Idaho and is for rent on AirBNB.

You can view a video about the making of Underground Hygge here or on my original Washington State Hobbit House post.

However, this AirBNB hobbit house is so popular that it generally reserves out at least a year in advance. My husband, Ted, is a huge Lord of the Rings fan so reserving this was a “must-do,” and I finally got to stay a few days in this magical dwelling with my big hobbit.

Joys and Challenges of Hobbit Living

Overall, Ted approved of Underground Hygge. His only caveat was that including a kitchen would have made it much easier to prepare breakfast, second breakfast, elevensies, luncheon, supper, dinner…and whatever other meals hobbits like to eat.

The house is off the grid — water is brought in, power is solar, there is no kitchen, and you should intend on making this a disconnected getaway as there isn’t much wi-fi service here except, possibly at the base of the hill. Hobbits don’t use electronic devices anyway!

We did run out of power one evening, but the hosts provide a generator to recharge the battery, should that happen to you.

To solve the dilemma of hobbits’ unique meal habits, we brought a camp stove, and my spouse dragged our Yeti cooler up the hill. If it had just been me, I would have brought a small cooler and made more frequent trips.- Advertisement –

We supplemented our meals with going into nearby Chelan for luncheon. The hosts of Underground Hygge supply their visiting hobbits with a nice, Middle Earth style map, instructions, and list of meal recommendations. Of the places we tried, I’d recommend The Fox and The Quail in Chelan. It’s a charming cafe with a comfortable outdoor seating area and the Ahi tuna I had there was excellent.

Bring a Soundtrack

But overall, we loved it. My husband spent time re-listening to the BBC Radio broadcast of Lord of the Rings   and The Hobbit  , as well as the soundtracks from the movies  . Watching the evening light move over the landscape here is lovely. We were amused one evening by large groups of grouse running down the dirt road below. And, though you can see other houses in the distance, you kind of get the feeling you’re the only ones in your own little world here. It’s a great couples retreat, but it would also be a great getaway if you wanted to be a hermit for a bit.

But, that may change. You can see another, partially built hobbit hole nearby and the guest notebook describes plans for three hobbit houses and a community kitchen. So, instead of it being a private getaway, it may, eventually, be a sort of mini-Shire.

Hobbity Perks we Loved:

In addition to the sheer charm of the place and the things I’ve already mentioned, here are some touches the hosts added that I loved:

Reading Material

Though my spouse came prepared with his own fancy copy of The Hobbit, we found the house (as it should) already had one.

A hobbit house also needs a riddle book, and…just so.

But my big hobbit was pleased that I did not discover the box with Table Topics cards until near the end of our visit.

The Workbench

The workbench includes wood, tools, and instructions to spend your time whittling an owl. We didn’t whittle; perhaps Ted would have had the motivation if he could have whittled a Gandalf-style pipe.

The Front “Lawn”

The hobbit house is enhanced by its front patio area. The “lawn” seems to be high-quality astroturf — so it stays green in the dry Summers.

The Amplifier Stump

You’ll find what looks like a little tree stump on the nightstand. This is actually a music amplifier. Set your phone on it to enhance your listening if you didn’t bring a speaker.

The Door

The door is stunning. It’s made from a large spool, with decorative metalwork. I want this door in my house, but I don’t think it would look right!

Some things you should be aware of before visiting the AirBNB Hobbit House:

We loved our stay at Underground Hygge and would go back, though definitely in the Summer. While the house would look charming in the snow and the propane fireplace would be cozy, Winter would bring its own challenges with navigating the dirt roads and with power issues.

Here are a few things to know before you go:

Bring a Stove and a Cooler

There’s no kitchen; the hosts will provide you with a few special treats for elevensies, an electric hot water kettle, and coffee/tea, if you want to cook, you’ll need to bring your own supplies.

Get ready to do a bit of climbing

Underground Hygge is about a 100-yard hike up a winding trail to get to the hobbit house. Nicely, rustic walking sticks are provided at the head of the trail.

Off the Grid

Power is supplied by solar panels, but the hosts provide a generator should you run out and the tap water is non-potable, but drinking water is brought in and delivered in a cute wall-keg.

I also found that the hot water ran out rapidly — too rapidly for me to finish taking a warm shower or filling the lovely deep bathtub. The house manual says that you can use the hot water kettle to heat up water. If you do this, be aware that the electric water kettle sucks up energy and you’ll have to end up using the generator. If I were genuinely motivated to fill up the tub to take a hot bath, I’d use my camp stove to heat water.

Keeping Cool

Orondo gets hot in the Summer! However, we found that an earth dwelling stays cool. Keep the door closed during the day and there’s no need for air conditioning.

For You Hammockers

There aren’t any good hammocking trees in the nearby vicinity — but there was room down the hill for setting up a hammock stand for lounging around.

The Roads

Getting there is uphill on dirt roads; some of them are rough. Our Subaru handled it just fine. However, in the winter I’d want to bring a 4 x 4 vehicle.

Bees and Other Guests

In the Summer, you’ll be visited by many yellowjackets and wasps, but they quiet down toward evening.

You might also find a few grasshoppers if you shake out the blanket. Their “music,” however, I find comforting in the evening.

Orondo Hobbit House Photos

I’m working on adding to the gallery of photos I took at the Hobbit Inn. You can click here to view the gallery.

Underground Hygge: AirBNB Hobbit House Washington State Map

Click here or on the map to view the interactive version of the map for the Hobbit Inn in Orondo

About that THING… 0 (0)

Pacific Northwest Event Calendar Outdoor Stage at Thing NW Review 2019

We attended THING, Adam Zack’s (of Sasquatch! fame) new multidisciplinary music and arts festival at Fort Worden in Port Townsend. It included a varied lineup of entertainment and was worthwhile overall, with, we think a few learning experiences for next year if there is another THING coming.

Thule Hullavator Demo and Review 5 (1)

I was fortunate to purchase two Thule Hullavators (if you need clarification, that’s two pairs of Hullavators — it takes a pair to lift a kayak) used a few years ago. From what I can see, there’s little difference between my Hullavators and the Hullavator Pro model that’s currently being sold.

Some of the issues I’ve had with my Hullavators may stem from them being older, but it gives you a general idea of some of the problems you may face over time. After all, if you’re spending in the $500-$600 range just to lift one kayak, you want to make sure the product you’re purchasing is durable. Mine has just a bit of rust, but they’ve been repeatedly exposed to the elements, and except for the occasional episode of finding one unit is not locked down fully when I go to lift the kayak off, they’re still working pretty good after years of use.

How it Works

The Hullavator is a side-loading kayak lift that has a gas-assist mechanism that assists with lifting up to 40 lbs of the weight of your boat. It’s easy to strap the kayak onto the rack once it’s on there using the provided straps and the tie-downs are easy to use as well. The downside is that you need to get that kayak up on the rack before the Hullavator helps you lift it overhead. On my Subaru Outback, that’s about waist-high for me — it was even more so when I was using the Hullavator atop a minivan. I’m able to do so with my 44lb kayak, but don’t take my preferred 16′ kayak out by myself because, for me, the weight is prohibitive. I’ve tried sliding the kayak onto the Hullavator from the back, but I find that there’s some wiggle, I find it challenging and awkward, and I worry about doing damage to the Hullavator. So I end up doing a deadlift onto the rack.

Thule Hullavator Review: Hullavator Joys and Thule Hullavator Problems

What We Like:

  • Provides substantial assist with lifting the kayak onto the roof.
  • Comes with easy-to-use straps and tie-downs; securely fastens the kayak to the car roof.
  • Sideloading. This means I can park on the street at my favorite launching spot and, if someone parks behind me, I can still get the kayak back on the car.
  • It has a high profile, but this helps me to locate my car in busy parking lots. This may beg the question if I should even be kayaking if I can’t find my own car. We refer to this as “wearing the horns” and bow to other passing vehicles also proudly sporting them.

What We Don’t Like:

  • The Hullavator asks me to deadlift the entire kayak to get it onto the lowered Hullavator bars — easier if you are putting it onto a low car, but harder if you have a high roof.
  • Due to the extra height, many parking garages are off-limits.
  • I’ve had some trouble with one of the Hullavator units that do not consistently want to lock down, likely an issue as my Hullavators are older. I’ve learned from awkward experiences getting my kayak off the rack that I need to double-check this unit carefully before I attempt to remove the kayak.
  • Though I’ve read it’s “easy to install,” we didn’t consider installing it that easy, and I so proudly carry my “horns” atop my car for most of the season.

Installation

Click here for the product manual/installation instructions from Thule. If you’re wondering how it installs, here’s a video from Thule:

Specifications:

Here are some things I’ve learned by experimenting with the Hullavator on racks over the years:

  • Works with Thule square bars.
  • I can confirm by experience that the Thule Hullavator works with Yakima Round Bars. Lately, I’ve been using mine on a 2019 Subaru Outback with Skyline Towers. For this setup, you also need Yakima Landing Pad 15 and the SL Round Bar Adapters. I was a bit worried at first as this setup seemed to be less stable than the square bars, but it’s been doing just fine with safely towing my kayaks around.NIt does NOT work with Yakima aero style bars. My video may be slightly incorrect in saying it does not work with ANY aero bars (that was my husband’s impression). I’ve heard of them being used with aero-style Thule bars with modifications.
  • The bars you use must extend out from the car a bit — it will not work, for instance, with the integrated Subaru Outback bars. On my Subaru with Yakima bars, the 58″ bars do the trick!
  • If you have a tall vehicle and you’re short (or just a wimp, like me), you might need to bring a step-stool!

Brief Instructions:

I said this would be a “how-to,” and a Thule Hullavator review. If you want installation instructions, it’s best to watch the video above and actually read the directions that come with your Hullavator. But as far as using it once it’s on your vehicle, here are the steps. It’s pretty easy:

  1. Remove the pins! I can tell you that on a bad day, I’ve failed to remove a pin and then wondered why my Hullavator wouldn’t release.
  2. Squeeze the handles on both Hullavators and pull them out and down until they lock into place.
  3. Put your kayak on the Hullavator. It should be evenly centered. I think it’s best if it’s positioned so the straps aren’t going over the cockpit, but on some kayaks, this is unavoidable to some degree.
  4. Thread the provided straps through the big loops at the top and bottom of the Hullavator. Then thread the end of the strap through the cam buckle and pull tight. The Hullavator has a pocket where you can tuck in the loose end of the strap.
  5. Squeeze both handles at once and the Hullavator will assist you in lifting your kayak STRAIGHT UP. When I’ve allowed people to use my Hullavator, I’ve found that often they expect it to just flip the kayak right up onto my car and try to force it to do so. No! This is a two-step process. The kayak goes straight up and then stops there.
  6. Now it’s time to flip the kayak onto the top of the car. Squeeze the handles again and rotate them to get the kayak to flip down onto the top of your car. Make sure the Hullavator has locked into place.
  7. Replace the pins. This is a very important step!
  8. Now you can use the tie downs. They have a locking pulley to make it easy to tighten them. Make sure you find a secure location on your kayak and a metal, not plastic, location under your car. On one car I had, I couldn’t do this so I fashioned a rope loop that went through a metal hole under the hood then came out through the hood when I needed it. This was a perfect location to tie down the kayak in front.

Thule Hullavator Review Summary:

Would I recommend the Thule Hullavator? In one word: YES! If mine broke, I think I’d repurchase one. I haven’t tried all of the other kayak racks out on the market (and there are other side-assist racks out there), but I suspect that the Hullavator, with its gas-assist mechanism, beats them all.

Otaku Kyoto 0 (0)

Otaku Kyoto Geeky Kyoto Pop Culture Kyoto Kyoto Pikachu Kyoto Pokemon Center

Tokyo, of course, is known for its Anime, Manga, pop culture — but what about Kyoto? When I toted my Anime-loving daughter along to Kyoto, I was worried that she would simply hang out at the AirBNB which, largely, she did. But we did find some loosely “Otaku” things to do in Kyoto (my daughter’s objection to the term duly noted).

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