Sunday, March 11, 2018

Packing for Nicaragua

While packing my carry-on this morning, I have been thinking about our trips, past and future.  The first time we went down to Central America was in 2001 with two teenage boys in tow.  We had no reservations.  Just rented a car and criss-crossed Costa Rica with no set itinerary.  We did this again in 2003 in Belize.  In 2013, however, we booked a tour to Panama and then traveled independently for a week, although we had prebooked all our accommodations.

The internet has changed travel planning forever.  Flying to a foreign country without prebooking is a risky business.  Every good hotel has its own website, not to mention space on Expedia, Travelocity and  With everyone owning a cell phone, tablet or laptop computer, those carefree days of spontaneity are long gone.  Hotels are booked months ahead.

I'm trying to embrace this fact and not fight it.  After all, it takes the stress out of travel.  I know exactly where I'll be staying every inch of the way.  With that being said, I have intentionally left three days blank for those serendipitious encounters.  I'll let you know how that goes!

See you in April.

                                                                                       Marea and Mimi

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Teacup Lake Sno-Park

Winter in the Pacific Northwest

A remarkable thing has happened this winter.  I can now cross-country ski on those intermediate blue trails WITHOUT falling.  My travel buddy told me this would be the case, but I wasn't sure I believed him.  We started skiing on a regular basis in January and of all the sno-parks we have explored in Oregon, Idaho and Washington, it is little Teacup Lake on Mt. Hood that I love the most.

"Just you wait.  Next year you'll be skiing the blacks."

Yeah, right.

Well . . .  maybe.

Tea Cup Lake Sno-Park is located on Oregon Highway 35, one mile north of the Mt. Hood Meadows turn-off and 35 miles south of Hood River.  Although the temperatures have risen in Hood River, snow keeps falling on a daily basis up on the mountain.  The skiing has been spectacular and I am told by locals that it will continue into the Spring.

I love the exercise I get from cross-country skiing, but there is an extra bonus--that "stop and smell the roses" mentality that grips us as we kick and glide along.  "It's so beautiful," we both shout at every turn, sounding like broken records.  We stop.  Pull out our cameras.  Pull out a snack.  Have a sip of water. 

I am ecstatic that my skiing has improved.  I can now explore even more trails and at Teacup, there are 12 miles of them, all groomed and easy to navigate.  There is a warming hut where you can rest, catch your breath and then carry on, but my travel buddy and I have carved out our own routine.  We hit the trails around 10 am, ski for two hours and then we drive north to the restaurant at Cooper Spur and have chicken fajitas and lagers for lunch.  The waiters there don't even give us menus anymore.  We love it!

I'm in no hurry for winter to end.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Nights at Hotel Murano

Exploring Tacoma, Washington

As part of my newfound determination to extend those magical moments far into the night, I now try to book extraordinary places to stay.  Hotel Murano in downtown Tacoma is such a place.  I toured the art museums by day.  I stayed in one at night.  The hotel houses an international glass collection.  The lobby is filled with gorgeous art and all 25 floors are dedicated to a single artist.  We stayed on the 22nd floor where the work of Peter Downing was displayed.   The receptionist has brochures available about the collection so you can take your own self-guided tour, floor by floor.

 If you are lucky enough to stay here on a sunny day, the view rivals the art.  We gasped when we walked into the room and drew the curtains.  There it was--Mt. Rainier in all its glory.

Once we parked our van, we didn't drive again for three days.  All the museums are only a few blocks away.  We had every intention of exploring some of Tacoma's downtown restaurants for dinner, but after being on our feet all day, our desire to get up again . . . well . . . simply vanished.  Why would we?  We were sitting in the lobby bar, surrounded by art, and drinking good wine by a warm and inviting fire.  We ended up eating at the hotel's restaurant on the 4th floor one night, and ordering room service the second night.

I think I'm on to something here.  No more blah generic motels for me.  Hint:  If you stay here on Monday and Tuesday nights, rates drop significantly.

Hotel Murano--worth the splurge.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tacoma's Glass Museum

Cross the Bridge of Glass and descend the Grand Staircase.  You will walk around the iconic stainless steel cone (pictured above) and enter a world of magic.  I was in a state of awe the minute I walked through the museum's doors.  If you only have the time to visit one museum in Tacoma, Washington, visit this one.
We began our tour inside the cone, which houses the Hot Shop.  Here you can view the glassblowers at work.  See them sculpt hot molten glass into delicate masterpieces.  They must work fast.  Deliberately.  The room is hot.  The liquid glass even hotter.  These men and women aren't only artists, they are chemists and physicists.  It is a mind blowing technique.
Dale Chihuly is Tacoma's most famous son.  His achievements have inspired glass artists from all over the world and many of them have made their way to this museum.  Chihuly made it clear he did not want the museum to be all about him, but rather a place to give glass artists an opportunity to experiment and explore their own creations.  Since its opening in 2002, more than 300 artists have been invited to produce and exhibit their works here.  For many of them, it has been a godsend because studios are prohibitively expensive.   And in return?  They must donate one piece to the museum's permanent collection.  Ingenious.

The two exhibits we had the privilege of seeing were the glass and steel sculptures of Albert Paley and the delicate creations of Michael E. Taylor.  My travel buddy and I were speechless.  Their work was staggeringly beautiful.

Another very fun exhibit were the designs of children made into sculptures by the Hot Shop artists.
We particularly fell in love with Ian Wick's Night of the Living Dead Pig, pictured below.  Ian is 9 years old.

In addition to the art exhibits, there is good cafe where we had lunch and then we wandered into the museum's store.  I had every intention of buying a piece of art to take home with me, but the prices were a bit too steep.  I am determined, however, to seek out emerging young artists and to add one of their glass sculptures to my growing art collection.  And this, I realize, is the purpose of the Tacoma Museum of Glass. To inspire and to educate.  To promote the work of  talented glassblowers and to encourage the public to support them. 

Mission accomplished.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Chihuly Glass Walking Tour

Exploring Tacoma, Washington

Before leaving the Tacoma Art Museum, we picked up an enticing brochure that highlighted Dale Chihuly's art in the downtown district.  It contained a map with a self-guided tour.  So off we went!

Starting with the old Union Station, we made our way to its entrance.  This historic building is now a federal courthouse so we had to show identification to enter (a driver's license is adequate) and then we were given a stern lecture by the security guard.  Photograph the Chihuly art ONLY.

Yes, Sir.

I confess it was a bit nerve wracking to be so closely scrutinized, but I was thankful they still allowed us tourists in. 

By now we were faint with hunger, so we headed across the University of Washington's campus to eat lunch at the Swiss Restaurant and Pub where Chihuly glass is displayed above the bar.  The tables were filled with students and professors.  My travel buddy and I ordered fish tacos and beer and forced ourselves to eat slowly.  By now we had been on our feet for about four hours and welcomed the opportunity to sit and recharge our batteries.

The Bridge of Glass was next.  This is a pedestrian bridge over the busy I-705 and railroad tracks, connecting Tacoma's Pacific Avenue to the waterfront and the world famous Glass Art Museum.  We were dumbstruck by the remarkable art here.  Chihuly's Seaform Pavilion, Chrystal Towers and Venetian Wall.  I love the fact that a tourist on a strict budget can actually come here and see such amazing art for free. 

Bravo, Tacoma!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Touring the TAM

Exploring Tacoma, Washington

The doors opened promptly at 10 am and we were the first ones to enter.  I couldn't wait.  I needed my art fix.

Filled with western art, studio glass and thought provoking curated exhibits, the Tacoma Art Museum is a gem.  We spent three hours here, but the art has stayed with me for much longer. 

I adored all the studio glass.  So vibrant and creative, but it was the immigrant artists that caught my attention and I think this is exactly what the museum intended.  The curators want us to think beyond stereotypes.  See beyond the Chinese immigrants as railroad workers.  See beyond Indian chiefs in elaborate feathered head dresses.  What else did they do?  How did they live?  What were they thinking?  How did they help shape America?

This is a trend I've noticed in the art museums here in the Pacific Northwest and it is one that is relevant today as we build walls, close borders and kick people out.  We need to stop, think, and listen.  What are we doing?  And why?

  The above sculpture is one of my favorites.  The cactus is made out of border patrol uniforms.
Cacti lines the border between Mexico and the United States.  Step or run into one, and you will be stabbed with painful spines.  The comparison to the border patrol is obvious.  And yet . . . the olive green fabric is embroidered with colorful flowers.  It is soft to the touch.  Perhaps the artist did not intend this line of thinking, but there is a danger in stereotyping border guards, as well.  They are not all bullies.  They have families themselves.  Friends from Mexico and Central America.  I know because my nephew is one of them.

Art is beautiful.
Art is powerful.

Art museums bring people from all walks of life together.
Under one roof.