Saturday, November 22, 2008


I'm supposed to be at a conference today, but I'm still sick. (Getting better, just not up to a whole day's effort in the world.) Ked did go, though, so since I'm home alone on a Saturday, I decided that this would be a good time to post some pictures from our very recent weekend excursion to the charming little "Bavarian" community of Leavenworth, Washington. We and our friend Su had been wanting to get away for quite a while, and decided to make the most of it, driving five hours from Portland to experience this place that we had heard from others was worth the long trip (and splurging on a very elegant Bed and Breakfast to enhance our stay once we got there). We were not disappointed. Plenty of good conversation on the drive made the journey pass quickly enough, and the beauty of the town, the B&B and the surrounding hills made us very glad to be there once we arrived.

The reason that I put "Bavarian" in quotation marks is that this distinctively European-style town, nestled among towering hills in Chelan County, didn't begin its life as a quaint German village. It was originally a railroad construction camp, living, and almost dying, with the coming and going of the Great Northern Railway Company. Its tracks and lumberyard gave it an initial reason for being in the 1890s, but when the GNRC pulled out in the 1920s, the town struggled to survive, and eventually had to reinvent itself to ensure its own future. Tourism seemed the answer, and so in the 1960s the community gave itself a makeover, transforming what was once a lumber town into an alpine village smack in the middle of Washington State. The townspeople set out to make something old--or at least Old World--by doing something new with their little bit of real estate. They had good raw materials; the countryside is beautiful and offers hiking and skiing aplenty, and the town planners did a good job of turning their vision into reality. Their plan to save their home worked brilliantly (at least judging by the bustle we encountered on our little getaway).

We chose a good time of year to visit, late enough to feel the nip of winter, but early enough that fall colors still clung to the trees. Actually, I doubt there's a bad time of year to see the place. It's just so darned picturesque. However, now that we've seen it in autumn, I'd like to come some other season, and with more than a day to spend, so that we could dive into the local outdoor sports. I would love to experience some of the local skiing and hiking, but coming Friday night, and leaving Sunday afternoon didn't leave us any time to do much more than explore the town itself.

It's kind of like a grown-up Disneyland. Trust me, if Walt had created a Bavarian section next to the French Quarter in D-Land, this would be it. The atmosphere just drips with gingerbread and polka music. The gazillion shops and restaurants all boast the same consistent theme, some more elegantly expressed than others. Most of it was appealing and well-done. Some of it was a little over-the-top. It was fun to wander and browse for a day, although neither Ked nor I have much patience for shopping. We did find some nice galleries, and were happy to note (and enjoy) some of the many wine tasting opportunities to be found along the main avenue. We also discovered (as you will see in the photos to come) a novelty shop or two in which to play. Oh, and there was chocolate. Wonderful dark chocolate. That in itself made the journey complete. All in all it was a lovely stay.

On to some pictures. As usual, click to enlarge...

Here was our home for the weekend: Abendblume Pension. Abendblume means "evening flower" and it was a fitting name for the place. We were all surprised by the profusion of blooms still thriving in the window boxes, considering the chill in the air and the snow on the hills. The beauty of Abendblume wasn't just in the flora, though. This B&B is extremely lovely. Its decor and setting are pretty much perfect, and all done with such attention to comfort that I'm afraid it's spoiled me for more mundane accommodations. Of course, the price tag suited the surroundings, so if that's to become my standard, I'm afraid we're not going to be leaving home very often.

We arrived in the early evening, just as darkness descended, and, although dinner came first, we eventually settled in for a cozy evening in this extremely elegant and comfortable lounge. We sang songs round the piano and oozed into the plush chairs to drink herbal tea, eat apple crisp and think deep thoughts in front of the fire. (More tea and apple crisp than deep thoughts, I'm afraid.)

This alcove off the main living room was especially pretty, and made me wish we had more time to give to every little inviting nook we found.

The hosts at Abendblume pay great attention to detail. I really liked these candlesticks--even though the candles themselves were rather too scented.

After we had dinner, we meandered about town a bit, and found ourselves exploring a very nicely done Christmas shop. Now, generally, I don't see much use in stores that are exclusively dedicated to the year-round commercialization of Christmas. After all, who shops for tree ornaments in April--especially ones that cost $10-$60 apiece? Who really needs a six-foot-tall statue of Saint Nicholas? Does the world really require another recording of Jingle Bell Rock, even if it is a tastefully done jazz recording? I can't fathom that it does. However, it seems that these mercantile extravaganzas must exist for some mysterious cosmic reason, and since we were in Leavenworth to do things which we normally would not, in we went. It wasn't terrible. As far as Christmas stores go, at least this one was quite beautiful, with unique displays and quality merchandise. These giant ornaments, which Su insisted needed a human in the photo (me) to give them scope, might be a tad big for the average evergreen, but they didn't seem so out of place dangling above the main floor of the shop, and they'd be just perfect for giving that holiday touch to a bustling mall. Huh. Come to think of it, that's another place I usually avoid. I'm sensing a pattern here...

Morning dawned to give us our first glimpse of the hills around Abendblume. Shrouded in mist though they were, they were still quite impressive, and rose abruptly to dominate the landscape around our inn--rather like the Gorge back home, but with green fields and goat sheds instead of the swollen Columbia set to the foreground.

Ked started the day with a little reading. Northanger Abbey was his volume of choice. Looks just right to me. Can you think of a more appropriate location for reading Jane Austen?

After a while, I wandered upstairs to call Su down to breakfast. This winding staircase is one more element of charm to add to the total package that is Abendblume.

At the top of the stairs sits another resting nook that's calling out, "Come, take your ease with me. Bring a book and stay a while." I needed about three days to enjoy them all. Alas, we only had one.

Here's Su's room, named Schneewittchen, also known as Snow White. It was just about as cozy as a room gets, with a jetted tub, fireplace and balcony overlooking the hills. That plush feather bed adds to the coze.

When I got up to her room, I saw why she had not come down for breakfast on her own. Su was so inspired by her beautiful surroundings (and our trip to the Christmas store) that she had gone into creative mode and was happily designing stained glass ornaments to make when we got home. (She sells them, by the way. Here's the link.)

Before we left for our day in Bavaria, creative mode struck again, and Su was compelled to explore the artistic possibilities of my camera and that winding staircase.

We timed our exit nicely, as this flock of geese put on a sky-show just as we headed outdoors.

Remember that goat-shed? Well, here are its goats. They were very eager to make friends.

They were happy to make my acquaintance too, especially once I started feeding them apples.

Here's Leavenworth. Was I right about the Disney thing, or what? Just replace those cars with a couple of horse-drawn carriages (which were indeed there, I might add) and you've got yourself a prime Disney locale. All it needs is some singers wandering the streets in dirndls and lederhosen...

I begged Ked to try on this goofy hat. It made me think of Jayne from Firefly. As you can see, he was thrilled with the prospect. Allow me to translate: "The things I do for you, Woman." (Actually, the look on his face is because he was practicing his Russian accent. For some reason, a Russian accent requires a near constant sneer. Maybe it's a cultural thing.) Lest you think I'm being unfair in posting this picture, I make it up to him later on...

We didn't have to beg Su to put on the goofy glasses. She was happy to oblige. We found this fun shop with all sorts of novelty glasses and hats and had a ball being silly. This is where the "making it up to Ked" part comes in. Scroll down to see what I mean...

If this doesn't do it, nothing will.

Just to be on the safe side, though. Here's a little overkill for you. Have I debased myself sufficiently to get myself off the hook, do you think?

Back outside (with Ked back in a hat that he's comfortable wearing), you might start to feel that you're really in some alpine village, what with those mountain looming in the background. They just need a little more snow to do the trick. We talked to friends after we got back who said they went to Leavenworth when there were multiple feet of snow on the ground and it was wonderful. That's a good reason to see this place in winter, although Ked might need to swap back to that Jayne-style, Russian, camo-fur hat if we do.

Well, that's it. I hope you enjoyed our tour of Leavenworth, such as it was. I've had fun whiling away my lonesome afternoon by wandering down (short-term) memory lane. Let me know if you're headed to Leavenworth in winter. We do want to see the place in snow and ski a bit, so time it right and we just might join you! I highly recommend Abendblume, too, if you're up for the splurge. Great breakfast, really nice people and wonderful feather beds. Of course what really might call me back is the chocolate...