Monthly Archives: April 2012

An island, a camel, toilets and Monsieur Gauguin

An island, a camel, toilets and Monsieur Gauguin

“Le Banana Slug”:
Spring break in the Pacific Northwest…

The long awaited Spring Break came and went.

This year, it was [almost] des vacances au balcon (a stay-cation.) 

We spent the first weekend with good friends in the scenic San Juan islands, North of Seattle. Our destination was a favorite cruising spot: Roche Harbor resort and marina. We all drove to Anacortes, WA where we basked in the sun, played on the beach and waited for the early afternoon ferry to San Juan Island. It was a perfect day, after weeks of grey skies and rain. 


Two Fedoras and a little monkey…

There were a lot of cameras on this trip. Kids and grown-ups shot away relentlessly, pointing at the breathtaking scenery; at each other; at the sky… If someone did not have a camera in hand, it was because they were holding the dog’s leash, and we took turns doing that.

Watch out: Paparazzi have descended upon the S. J. Islands!

Cameras were not the only pieces of equipment in our bags. We were a very well connected group and had a ritual before each meal: Behold the “phone stack!” (only one person and the dog were phone-less!)

I am sure you can guess the rules of the game! Most of us demonstrated sheer willpower and resisted the temptation to reach for the little devils, who kept taunting us with sounds and buzzes. 

Once on the island, we moved into our rental home, “Saltwater Taffy,” one of the new properties managed by Roche Harbor resort and marina. If you have never been to Roche, I highly recommend it. Do yourselves a favor and visit off season, as it tends to become a bit of a zoo during the summer months when thousands of vacationers and boaters descend upon the place. We all loved our cute and comfortable “home,” where we cooked delicious meals after full days of exploring and hiking. 

Bon Appétit!
Young Kowe: “Hey, I want to eat at the table, too!”

There is a lot to do in the San Juan islands if you are interested in nature, sunsets and wildlife. We have enjoyed our visits to “the Northwest’s playground” since we have owned our first boat, 15 years ago. We were happy to share one of our favorite destinations with our buddies. 

Lime Kiln State Park: We missed a pod of Orcas by 48 hours! Rats!
“The Gang”

… and don’t think for a minute that Roche Harbor is just “another quaint place,” un endroit pittoresque, as the French say. To tell you the truth, it is pretty darn cute, and a must-see for many visitors. Heck, John Wayne (an avid boater) was a regular for a while, as was President Theodore Roosevelt. Can you blame them? Check out the Hotel de Haro, listed on the National Register of Historical Places, the immaculate grounds, or the Mausoleum Mr Mc. Millin (the original owner of the old company town,) built for his family in the forest nearby.

History, adventure, a sculpture park, and more: On San Juan Island, the show is everywhere in the wilderness around you. We saw deer grazing outside our house. On the last evening, a red fox came to our door and helped us finish our gourmet halibut dinner. And what about this guy, spotted in a field on the way to Friday Harbor, the local town?


It is always difficult to leave such a place, but we made the best of it, and back home, celebrated the end of our mini-vacation with a bonfire and smores…

Spring break was only beginning. Some of us had to go back to work. The Happy Fews still had a few days to relax… The weather was cool, and in typical Seattle [spring] fashion, changed every five minutes, it seemed. We kept busy, at home, or out on the town. Two field trips stood out: First, the Seattle Underground Tour, a local oddity. 

It is almost impossible to describe in a few words the story behind the rise of the “Emerald City.” Located in the old Pioneer Square neighborhood (once in a bad state of disrepair until the Underground Tour made it shine again,) the 90-minute humorous tour delivers a funny and thrilling ride into the “guts” of a buried city – the original Seattle. Built on soggy tide flats; plagued with muddy streets and potholes so deep dogs and children often drowned at high tide; a testing ground for the original indoor Water Closet – aka “the crapper;” home of the least efficient sewage system this side of the Mississippi river (toilets turning into geysers several times a day when the tide came in, anyone?) – the city of Seattle knows it was lucky to get the 1889 “Great Fire.” It destroyed 25 blocks but provided an unexpected opportunity for a fresh start – and more inspired urban planning. It took a few more mishaps (and miscalculations,) but a new city rose up, built on top of the old one. That folks, is what we call creative urban planning!

This door was once at street level…
The street is above our heads now.

Humidity and musty smells: the “old” Seattle…
Look, I see Seattleites above!
“The geyser – crapper,”
a true Seattle original

I could not help but compare this story with the extensive Paris remodel undertaken by Napoleon III and his “wingman,” civic planner Baron Haussmann, between 1853 and 1870. Paris would not be the elegant, modern city the world admires today without them. Meanwhile, in the great Pacific Northwest, hardworking Arthur Denny and generous, free-wheeling “Doc” Maynard, (Seattle’s official founders,) probably wished they had kidnapped Haussmann, their contemporary, or at least hired him as a consultant!

Another visit downtown included a tour of the exclusive Gauguin exhibit at the Seattle Art Museum. Junior and I took the trip, cameras in hand, and had a wonderful time, first having lunch at the elegant Taste Restaurant inside the building; then touring the exhibit and later snapping away at other displays. I must confess I am neither a Gauguin connaisseur or fan, and I was so grateful to the excellent “Educator Resources” section of the S.A.M. website. Junior and I had a very interesting conversation about Monsieur Gauguin‘s rather depressing life on the drive over (Junior never knew I had “crammed” just before we left the house.) 

Some highlights of the eclectic S.A.M. selection:

“What’s Scabbers* doing here?!”
(* Harry Potter reference, y’all!)

What is it with Seattle and toilets?

And Spring Break week went on… Boys riding their bicycle on nearby trails; shooting and editing mini documentaries; snapping pictures. Meanwhile, their moms fought a losing battle against millions of weeds sprouting up all over the yards, taking the occasional wine tasting break at one of the local wineries…

If you look closely, you can see Junior’s “assistant,”
Felix the cat, on the railing…
The Northwest gardener’s best friend…

All in all, it was a great [almost] stay-cation and we were grateful for the few friends who had not abandoned the [Seattle] ship in search of some sun in exotic locales. We could not have done it without you!

Back to reality now. Junior and his schoolmates are camping for a few days and attending an environmental program on the Olympic Peninsula – lucky buggers!

I am back at school too, and winding down my first digital photography class. This experience has kicked my French derrière, and I love it! I have struggled with photo composition, exposure,  and shutter speed, but learning a lot in the process. Some of this student’s recent homework assignments: 


(do you know what this is?)

I realize I have neglected the blog lately, and I apologize. Don’t count me out, though. I will be around, as I promised a few weeks ago. Thank you for stopping by today. You know I always appreciate your visits and comments. 

Here’s to a warm, sunny, fun-packed, and fulfilling spring, wherever you may be.

A bientôt.

Photos by 
American Frog photography and
French Girl in Seattle. 
Please do not use without permission.

42 Responses to An island, a camel, toilets and Monsieur Gauguin

  1. Looks like a marvelous spring break to me! Glad you got to say hi to Mr. Camel on San Juan Island – I always wonder what his story is when we pass on our bikes en route from Friday Harbor to Roche. Your phone game is hilarious and inspiring – and speaking of inspiring, need to get to Gauguin before he goes and get myself to a photo class. I’m so impressed, Veronique! Bravo!

  2. Ta photo mystere m’evoque la peau de certains melons..
    encore un post tres riche! L’ile San Juan parait magnifique, et marcher sur les traces de John Wayne, ça n’a pas de prix! :o)Le sous sol de Seattle m’a fait penser au film de Scorcese à NYC, , où à la fin on voit la ville se batir sur le cimetiere et effacer les traces des generations precedentes.
    J’ai visité le musée Gauguin à Tahiti, il n’y a que des reproductions!
    Jolie brochette de bons moments partagés!

    • Oui, bravo, Liene. The toilet theme is very strong downtown, isn’t it? I have a vivid picture in my mind of the “Geyser toilets” blowing up every time the tide came in. I guess going to the bathroom involved careful planning, way back then! I am happy to report local toilets are now [relatively] safe to use 😉

  3. Wait a minute! Not AGAIN!! I just realized that your posts haven’t been coming up for me–and this already happened once! Blogger, you are a troublemaker!!! So I have a LOT of catching up to do…looking forward to it! 🙂

  4. Oh you had a grand time and the photographs to prove it. I especially love the one of your son sitting on the rock by the water! As for your photography classes, since I know the second one, I’ll keep the secret. 🙂

    • Thank you V. I took that picture, and I am proud of it. I will be bringing it to the last photography class next Monday (that one is “free choice.”) Thank you again for all your support and suggestions over the last few weeks. It was generous of you to share your experience with the newbie photographer.

  5. You’re definitely making progress in photo shooting Veronique. The sunsets are marvelous! And paparazzi are very funny. Looks like you had a wonderful really fun-packed time with friends and every step was multi documented.

    • Life always looks perfect on a blog, Jenny 😉 San Juan island (and the rest of the islands) is one of the best things about the Pacific Northwest. Definitely a must-see if you come to this area. Great job on your post on the great Barbra!

  6. Bonjour Veronique! You live such a full life with your family. It’s always nice to see and learn about your trips. When I lived in Seattle briefly…I kept hearing how wonderful the San Juan Islands are. It sure looks that way from your perspective – a wonderful place. I love that you guys got rid of those cell phone for a moment. We all need to recharge too, n’est-ce pas! =) Oh I loved the paparazzi picture…hilarious! Bon Journey.

    • Merci Sandy. We are pretty busy indeed, and try to make the most of weekends and short breaks. We were away in February during mid-winter break, so it was nice to stay around here this time – even though we could not help taking a “quick trip” as you can see 😉 That’s us, the “Travelin’ Band…”

  7. Woohoo! I’m so happy you’re back Veronique. I’ve so missed you and your stories. But everyone needs a vacation now and then, and it looks as though yours was splendid indeed. Your phone pile is funny. I would have been so tempted to ‘sneak’ mine out and play for awhile! Wow! I never realized Seattle has such a bizarre fascination with the toilet, or ‘porcelain throne..’ 🙂 Interesting, that. Geyser toilets, lol! I wonder, have you ever been to Yellowstone? Geysers galore, but the ones there are spectacular and beautiful. Definitely NOT toilet like.

    Your photos are fantastic! I love the one you’ve titled ‘Blue’. And no, i’m not sure what the other is. Please don’t keep me in suspense too long? 🙂 And when i think of the San Juans, i don’t think ‘camel’… Interesting creature to see in that location though.

    I’m glad you and your family had such a marvelous time. You have a beautiful pup, btw. Is he a Keeshond, by any chance? He has such fabulous coat and adorable face. Glad you’re back ‘on’!


    • Merci beaucoup Mary. The “mystery object” is a cantaloupe… hard to tell, I know. As for the cute pup, Kowe, you guessed the breed right. He is our friend’s dog and just turned one. A furry handful but so lovely!

  8. Looks like you had a lot of fun on your spring break! I live in Anacortes and spend many a day out in the islands! The Pacific Northwest is such a wonderful place to live! 🙂

  9. Oh my goodness. You have been busy, busy, busy! Sounds like the perfect break – a bit of relaxing, a bit of adventure, a bit of knowledge gaining. (Now the world’s authority on the wc history…)

    I was going to guess the mystery object was crochet, but then I read the canteloupe comment. And now I see it too! xx

    • Thank you for your visit! Variety is always a great thing in a vacation, isn’t it? Beach vacations are not pour moi I am afraid… I like to move around and explore. Good thing the rest of the group was similarly minded…

  10. I know I’ve said it previously but you do feature some great photographs, that shot of the lighthouse is particularly beautiful, shame you missed the Orcas.
    The San Juan Islands look like my sort of place, I’m glad you and yours enjoyed them.

    • Merci beaucoup Paul. I am so happy you mentioned the picture of the lighthouse. I actually took that one, not my husband, “l’expert photographe.” — Yeah, there is hope for me as a photographer, after all!

  11. Nice to see you “back”… and then of course you have a lot to tell! You really have some very nice surroundings. I visited once (twice), but too many years ago to tell! 🙂

  12. An EPIC post, one hardly knows where to start, but it looks like you have been having some mighty fine times out rambling around…

    The banana slug at the beginning reminded me of a blog that I was having fun following until it sort of just faded out, though still visible on the web, and the writer was somewhere in the Pacific Northwest I think, maybe Oregon… take a peek at :

    Otherwise, hoping all is well with you V…. will you be coming to France this summer ? Bisoux !

  13. Thanks for another introduction to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest! I will make it out there one of these days. Thanks also for the comment…it’s good to be back! I have lots of fun posts lined up outlining my trip…I can’t wait to share with everyone! The most beautiful part of my trip was the Wicklow Mountains, outside of Dublin, so be on the lookout for that! 😉

  14. Lovely family holiday, I so used to enjoy trips like that when Dave and Aimee were younger. J’adore the image of the lighthouse, the sky is a magnificent backdrop, I can just imagine the Orcas swimming gently past this spot. Also the visit to the ‘underground’ Seattle would have been fascinating indeed! Nice to see you pop in from time to time and really enjoy reading about your adventures. A bientot Veronique.

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