B.C.'s Galliano Island: Settle in for scenic wonders and serendipity

A Canadian ferry travels through Active Pass 

Quiet beach walks. Check

Hikes through old-growth forests. Check

Whales and wild deer: Check

Mix the usual island pleasures with a dose of serendipity - as in who knew we'd find ourselves on a bus filled with passengers shaking maracas and singing Beatles' tunes - and it's easy to fill a weekend exploring British Columbia's tiny Galiano Island. 

One of the least-developed of the Canadian Southern Gulf Islands between Vancouver Island and the lower mainland,  Galiano is just 17 miles long and 3.7 miles wide at its widest point. 

"We're about people wanting to be quiet," says glass artist Marcia DeVicque, one of the island's 1,000 or so residents. "If I get more than three cars in my drive, I call it Galiano Gridlock."

Just an hour's ferry ride from Vancouver, Galiano could be an easy day-trip, but my husband, Tom, and I found plenty of reasons to settle in, starting with the peach and raspberry scones from the Sturdies Bay Bakery and Cafe, down the hill from our Airbnb, a three-room cottage close to the ferry dock. 

Our host, Alexandra, pointed out the location of a Saturday farmers' market at the end of her street, and several hikes and walks we could take from her front door.
 With half the island used as a tree farm by the lumber industry until the early 1990s, almost one-fifth is protected land, most of it open for public use. 

 "It's acceptable to hitch-hike," Alexandra told us. "The locals will pick you up." Perhaps, but much better to bring a car, we concluded, given the mountainous geography and abundance of forest trails. 

Using a Galiano Parks and Recreation Commission map we picked up at a kiosk next to the ferry dock, we followed dozens of numbered access points to well-maintained beach and bluff trails, with time outs for visits with artists, farmers and the world's most entertaining bus driver.

Here are some suggestions on where to walk and stop along the way:

Retreat Cove and Tapovan Peace Park

Most visitors find their way mid-island to Bodega Ridge Provincial Park, known for its cliffside trails and views over the Gulf islands and the Olympic Mountains. 
Nearby, off Porlier Pass Road, are two lessor-known sites and the studios of two well-known artists.

Reachable on foot are a small sandstone caves at Retreat Cove (No. 31 on the map). We parked, and followed a path to the water, heeding a sign that said "Access to caves at your own risk." It also noted we were on private property, not unusual on Galiano where trails often border or go through private, residential land.

Trails lead to sandstone caves

Easy to miss is the small sign off Porlier Pass for Tapovan Peace Park, 200 acres of forested land dedicated to the life of Sri Chinmoy,  an Indian spiritual leader dedicated to world peace. 

A  Tapovan is a forest or wilderness for spiritual practice, according to a Galiano Trails Society map we found at the entrance. A steep, half-hour walk up a series of stone steps lead us to a bluff overlooking Trincomali Channel and a statue of Sri Chinmoy.
Hidden in a grove of cedar trees just north of the park are the galleries of potter Sandra Dolph and glass artist Marcia DeVicque

Glass artist Marcia DeVicque

Dolph draws inspiration from her daily walks with her dog along Pebble Beach, incorporating shells and leaves in some of the pieces she displays in her open-air Cedar Grove Gallery.  Devicque shows off her colorful mobiles and bird feeders in a garden populated with hummingbirds and hundreds of tiny frogs.

Cedar Grove Gallery

Montague Harbour/Gray Peninsula 

Sheltered Montague Harbour is the gateway to Montague Harbour Marine Provincial Park, and Gray Peninsula, home to First Nations peoples before the arrival of Spanish explorer Dionisio Galiano in 1792. A loop trail is an easy hour's walk through the forest and white shell beaches. Locals say it's one of the best places to watch the sunset. 

A few miles away is the Hummingbird Pub, an island institution popular with families. We could have easily driven, but instead we parked the car at the marina, and waited for with Tom Tompkins  (aka Tommy Transit) to show up behind the wheel of the free Hummingbird Pub Bus. 

The Humming Bird pub bus

Suddenly we're all back in high school as Tompkins, 71, hands out maracas and tambourines, cranks up the music, and bangs on symbols and a cow bell mounted above the dashboard. 

"If you're not shakin' it,  you're not makin' it," he yells as we  rock and roll to the Beatles' "Help."

"Tommy Transit"

Burgers and beer aside, it's possible to find Indonesian, German (served from the same food truck) and Thai food on Galiano. The award for most creative use of local ingredients goes to Pilgrimme where chef Jesse McCleery composes dishes from food mostly foraged, grown or produced on the island. 

Dinner on the deck at Pilgrimme

Relaxing on the deck of his wooded cottage one evening, we sampled our way through four or five shared plates including a bowl of marinated olives tossed with chopped pine needles, herbs and chiles and a salad of roasted peaches, local greens and blue cheese. 

Active Pass/Bluffs Park

Close to the ferry terminal on the south end of the island, is Bluffs Park, Galiano's oldest wilderness park, overlooking Active Pass. Galiano is one of the main feeding routes for ORCA whales, and the best viewing spots are near here. A detour through the Galiano Cemetery took us along a path marked "Whale Trail," and down a flight of concrete steps (No. 17 on the map) to a sand beach with a long view up the pass.

We didn't spot any whales day we were there, but we weren't disappointed. 
Serendipity kicked in once more when we noticed a flier advertising the Galiano Conservancy Association's "Musical Walkalong for Learning," an annual, three-hour guided walk through the forest, accompanied by musicians playing flute, cello, horns and more. 

Musical "Walkalong"

Whales, I've seen before, but never have I hiked through the woods, and come upon a bass player standing in a clearing, or harpist perched on a bluff above a crystal blue bay. 

If you go:

Tourist season on Galiano winds down after Canadian Thanksgiving (Oct. 9 this year). Some businesses close or keep seasonal hours. Best to call ahead if you have a specific restaurant or art gallery in mind for a visit. Year-round activities include golf, kayaking, biking and hiking.

Getting there: See www.bcferries.com or call 1-888-223-3779 for schedules and prices from the ferry terminal in Tsawwassen, near Vancouver.  Travel time is 55 minutes. Reservations recommended.

Getting around: With no regular public transportation, Galiano is best explored with a car, or if you don't mind hills and narrow roads, by bike.  

Galiano Adventures rents mopeds May-September. The free Hummingbird Pub bus runs from Montague Harbour Marina and the park campground to the pub and back from the end of May through the last Saturday in September. 

Where to stay: Cabins, bed and breakfasts, Airbnbs and campsites are available in various price ranges. We paid $108 (U.S. dollars) per night for our Airbnb, a small cottage with a kitchen and private bath on the south end of the island near the ferry dock. 

Looking for a splurge? Within walking distance of the ferry dock is the Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa. Fall rates on oceanfront spa and villa suites range from $199-$299 Canadian dolllars ($161-$241 U.S. based on the current exchange rate). The hotel provides Smart Cars for guests. 

Upcoming events:

Find local artists and farmers at the Saturday Market, from late May through October 7,  10 a.m.-2 p.m. The island's annual Blackberry Festival is Oct. 7.  

Galiano's annual Literary Festival takes place next February 23 - 25, hosted by the Galiano Island Bookstore

Continuing through May is the Galiano Concert Society's 2017-2018 "Baroque and Beyond" series. 

Tourism info: Pick up maps at the Galiano Island Chamber of Commerce information booth on Sturdies Bay Road, near ferry dock. More trail information on the Galiano Trail Society's website.

A night at the movies in Washington State's historic Port Townsend

Kombucha on tap at the Rose Theatre in Port Townsend

It's Friday night at the movies in Port Townsend, a historic maritime community on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula. Friends and I arrive 45 minutes before show time at the Rose Theatre's Starlight room on the third floor of a former Elks club hall. Upholstered chairs and comfy couches face tall windows with views of Puget Sound's Admiralty Inlet. One of three cinemas in a vintage multiplex that began as a vaudeville house in 1907, the room has just 46 seats, and often sells out.

"Everyone has their special chair," says Port Townsend resident Jane Kilburn,  seated in the front row next to an antique end table. Someone calls out "Lauren Bacall," Kilburn's signal to take a small back and white photo of the film star to the bar, and retrieve her order of house-made hummus, olives and peppers.

The Starlight Room

We find spots several rows back, and wait for someone to shout "Paul Newman." Raspberry mojitos and microbrews appear along with lentil sliders and salads. Until the screen comes down and the chandeliers dim, it's easy to forget we're here to see a film. But mood lighting and gourmet snacks aside, the main course at the Rose is a rotating buffet of on-screen entertainment well worth a weekend visit.

"It's always been my goal to show both commercial and art house films," says Rocky Friedman,  who along with partner Phil Johnson,  went door-to-door with rose-patterned carpet samples to find community investors willing to finance restoration of the theater in 1992. Twenty-five years, 15 tons of popcorn and 3,176 movies later, the Rose thrives by offering a mix of entertainment designed to appeal to this community of well-educated population of retirees along with tourists and younger locals.

Gourmet snacks and drinks in the Starlight Room 

Friedman might rotate as many as a half-dozen selections within a given week, giving visitors a chance to create their own mini-film festival.  Showing recently on three screens (158 seats in the original Rose Theatre, 79 next door in the smaller Rosebud Cinema and 46 in the Starlight Room upstairs in an adjoining building) were Wonder Woman, Paris Can Wait, Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf, the Wedding Plan, Restless Creature, a documentary about New York City ballet star Wendy Whelan; and Baby Driver.

In addition to films, Friedman streams performances by New York's Metropolitan Opera. London's National Theatre and Moscow's Bolshoi Ballet. He staged a dance film festival last May, traveling to New York to preview 42 movies before selecting 23 to show over four days. To celebrate the Rose's 25th anniversary on July 11, there was a free screening of The Godfather and free popcorn.

With 34 investors involved, the Rose is more than a labor of love, says Friedman, 64, a filmmaker and screenwriter. It's a viable business, managing to turn a profit even as theaters such as the Seven Gables and Guild 45th in Seattle, have closed.

For an independent theater to succeed,  "You've got to create reasons for people to set down the remote and come out and go to the movies," he says. "The intent has always been to personalize the whole experience."

Popcorn with real butter

A grand staircase with 55 steps leads to the Starlight Room, opened in 2013 in partnership with Port Townsend's Silverwater Cafe on the ground floor. A former photographer's studio with floor-to-ceiling black-out curtains, the room was ready-made for a theater. Seattle interior designer Michele Bayle combed local thrift stores, estate sales and auction houses for vintage furniture and fixtures. Silverwater created a menu of small plates and drinks. Vintage movie posters and black-and-white photos of film stars decorate a bar area stocked with a popcorn machine and bowls of chocolates and gummy bears.

Just as regulars have their favorite chairs in the Starlight Room, they also come early to sit in a cozy, nine-seat balcony in the Rose Cinema where the popcorn comes with real butter and patrons can order local Finnriver cider and Kombucha on tap

Friedman no longer personally introduces each film as he once did, but the tradition continues with his theater managers providing a bit of background on the movie or the director before each screening.

His goal from the beginning was to create a business that allowed him to do what he loved.

"For me, it's all about the work. "I feel grateful for being able to do what I love for 25 years."

If you go:

Chances are you'll be taking in a film at the Rose Theatre in the late afternoon or evening, which means you'll be looking for things to do earlier in the day. Some suggestions:

Farmers Market

Don't miss the Jefferson County Farmers Market Saturday, 9 a.m.- 2 p.m. in Port Townsend's historic Uptown District. Organic farmers, artisan food producers and arts and crafts vendors are celebrating the market's 25th anniversary this year. Bring a cooler or a picnic basket, and stock up on small-batch cheeses, pastries, soaps, ciders, and seasonal produce. New this year is Fiddlehead Creamery selling vegan ice cream in flavors such as sesame tahini and raspberry Thai basil.

Saturday market

Northwest Maritime Center

Port Townsend's maritime legacy lives on at the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St., host to the annual Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival (Sept. 8-10). There's a marine thrift store, library and boat rental center on site.

Fort Worden and the Port Townsend Marine Science Center

Visit Fort Worden State Park, a former U.S. Army installation about 1.5 miles from downtown. Near Point Wilson, where the Puget Sound meets the Strait of Juan De Fuca, the park is home to the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, an interactive natural history museum with a hands-on aquarium.

Finnriver Orchard and Cider Garden

What began as a small cidery on a family-run apple orchard and blueberry farm has grown into a destination with food, music, a bocce ball court and a new tasting room at 124 Center Road in Chimacum. Stop on your way in or out of Port Townsend for samples of Finnriver ciders and fruit wines. Food vendors sell wood-fired pizzas, crêpes and bratwurst.

Finnriver tasting room

Getting there: Port Townsend is at the northeast tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula. From the Seattle area, take a ferry to either Kingston or Bainbridge Island,  cross the Hood Canal Bridge, and follow WA-19N. Travel time is a little more than two hours. See http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries

Where to stay: Port Townsend is known for its bed and breakfasts in historic Victorian-style homes.
Choose from an inn on the beach to a room in a house built in the 1800s.  See listings at www.enjoypt.com along with information on hotel/motels, vacation rentals and RV/camping spots.

Rose Theatre reservations: Movies in the Starlight Room (21 and over)  sometimes sell out. Order advance tickets online at http://rosetheatre.com Prices are $10 for adults; $9 for seniors and students and $8 for children 12 and under. Matinees are $1 less.

Tourism info: See www.enjoypt.com, or stop in the visitor information center at 2409 Jefferson St. Suite B.

And the losers are...Trump's new Cuba policy penalizes Americantravelers, Cuban entrepreneurs

Should it really cost $500 a day or more to visit Cuba, one of the world's poorest countries?

I asked that question last year when the Obama administration eased travel restrictions for American tourists. Up until that time, the only way most Americans could legally visit Cuba was on an expensive "People to People" group tour sponsored by an operator licensed by the U.S. government.  

That changed with new rules allowing travelers to put together their own independent educational trips for the purpose of learning about Cuban people and their culture.
Among the beneficiaries were the Cuban people who run bed and breakfasts in their homes (many now part of the Airbnb system), private restaurants and small businesses catering to independent travelers.

It's beyond me whom the Trump administration thinks will be hurt or helped by reversing this policy. 

Somehow someone (Little Marco, perhaps) came up with the idea that a crack-down on independent travel would cause the Castro government to suffer to the point that it would meet U.S. demands for political reforms.

But as the Washington Post pointed out recently, the new rules will have just the opposite effect. Herding Americans back to the types of prepackaged, predictable group tourism that the Cuban government actually prefers will not only help further its political agenda, it will increase the amount it earns in tourism revenue by taking business away from Cuban entrepreneurs who cater to independent travelers.

The latest moves do little more than placate a minority of hard-line Florida Cuban-American conservatives demanding payback for their political backing. If it's media hype they were looking for, it's media hype they got in the form of headlines and front-page news stories. Rather than negotiate a "better deal," Trump fell back on divisive rhetoric aimed at disparaging Obama rather than making any substantive changes that might improve relations or the lives of Cuban people.

Embassies in Washington and Havana will stay open, and cruises and direct flights between the United States and Cuba will be protected. Cuban-Americans are still free to travel to the island and send money to relatives, and travelers can still bring back large quantifies of rum and cigars. According to one White House official, the administration does not intend to “disrupt” existing business deals such as one struck under Obama by Starwood Hotels, which is owned by Marriott International Inc, to manage a historic Havana hotel. 

It's true, the new rules aim to ban or limit Americans from patronizing military-linked businesses, estimated to control more than half of the island’s tourist economy. Travel representatives are hoping to get around this by redirecting their business to hotels run by civilian organizations, although it's unclear what difference that will make since the Cuban government ultimately benefits from almost all business transactions through licensing fees and taxes.  

Bottom line: Yes, you'll still be able to visit Cuba legally - for a price.  An eight-day, seven-night "Classic Cuba'' tour offered by InsightCuba, for example, costs $4,895, or $611 per day, not including air fare. Contrast those costs with a $500 Seattle-Havana air fare on Alaska Airlines and seven nights in a $50- per- night Airbnb in a private Cuban home. Throw in a generous $75- a- day for meals, museums and mojitos, and you're still under $1,500 for an independent trip.

 Cuban B&B hosts will suffer under new restrictions on independent travel   

Most tour operators  work hard to create meaningful itineraries. Nevertheless, they are bound by Cuban and U.S. requirements, licenses and fees that drive up costs.

If you're considering a tour, best advice is to compare various itineraries to find one that fits your interest and budget. Consider trips offered by non-profits, such as Global Exchange, or organizations such as  Road Scholar which offers educational trips for people over 50.

Even on tour, it's possible to find ways to meet ordindary Cubans and experience a bit of real life away from the group.  

A few ideas:

Enter the Cuban economy

 Familiarize yourself with Cuba’s dual currency system. You’ll be exchanging dollars for convertible pesos (CUCs), a “hard currency” worth $1 each, minus a 10 percent exchange tax, a tit-for-tat for the U.S. embargo against Cuba. You can avoid the 10-percent tax by bringing either euros or Canadian dollars.

One of the hardest concepts for outsiders to grasp is that most Cubans are paid a government salary of about $20 per month, earned in the local currency, called pesos Cubanos or CUPs (worth about 4 cents each). Education, housing and health care are free. CUPs buy the basics: cooking oil, cheap meals, coffee cut with pea flour. But much of what the average Cuban wants and needs — drinkable coffee, washing machines, materials to fix up their homes — is only available to those who can pay in hard currency. (Tourism and money sent by relatives in the U.S. are the main sources).

To get a sense of everyday Cuban life, tip in convertibles, but for a truly local experience, change $5 into pesos Cubanos, and enter government-subsidized Cuba. Buy a 4-cent ice-cream cone, or patronize one of the fledgling entrepreneurs selling pizza and pastries for pennies from their kitchen windows. 

Waiting in line at La Coppelia is a Havana tradition

Havana's famous La Coppelia ice cream parlor, a sprawling outdoor complex where Cubans line up by the hundreds, accepts only CUPs, except in a tiny area walled off for tourists. Use your CUPs and join the local fun. 

It's an ideal place for foreigners can mix with Cubans who don't have something to sell or aren't working in the tourist industry. Many tourists miss this real La Coppelia experience, however, because the guards steer foreigners to a separate "hard currency'' area where two scoops served in a glass dish cost around $2.75. 

Explore Habana Centro

Get off-the-beaten path: Tourists see Havana's renovated Habana Vieja (Old Havana), but for a feel for what living here like for most people, walk through a neighborhood like Havana Centro, where kids play ball in the crumbling streets, and people sell snacks through open windows. 

Habana Centro
Calle Obispo, a pedestrian shopping street linking some of the prettiest parts of Habana Vieja with seedier Centro, brings tourists and locals together with its eclectic mix of luxury hotels, art galleries, cafes, hard currency stores displaying frying pans and toothpaste in the windows and "peso'' ice cream shops. 

Follow the bloggers

Learn about Cuba’s changing economy and differing views about life under 
Raul Castro. Follow blogs by Cuban activists on Translating Cuba.

Blogger Reinaldo Escobar made a prediction on the day before Trump's speech announcing his policy changes.

"The magnate will make the announcement into a spectacle like so many he has starred in since he has been at the head of the greatest power on earth," Reinaldo wrote. "He will gesticulate, commit himself to human rights and elicit enthusiastic applause, but then he will return to the White House and the Island will fall off his agenda."

The applause will die down. The headlines will be replaced by new news. Meanwhile, thousands of Europeans, Australians and Asians will continue to travel freely to Cuba. Everyone that is, except us.

For more ideas, photos and snapshots of everyday life in Cuba, I invite you to see my full Cuba blog.

Valencia: Spain's low-key third city


When most of us think of Valencia, we think of the sweet oranges grown in Spain. Indeed orange trees are everywhere in this Mediterranean city. They shade parks, sidewalks and parking strips, reminding visitors of a time when the hope was that fruit might replace the silk trade as an economic driver.

The two days we spent in Valencia recently wasn't long enough to explore all there is to see and do, but it was long enough to make some memories that have nothing to do with oranges. When I think of Valencia from now on, I'll think of diving into a pan of paella at a beach restaurant, biking along a former riverbed transformed  into lush gardens and parks, and wandering through one of Europe's biggest markets, sampling olives, chocolate and slivers of ham. 

Most visitors to Spain make their way to Madrid and Barcelona, both filled with art and historical sites, but also bursting at the seams with tourists. As Spain's "third city," Valencia is more low key, attracting less of an international crowd and more Spanish visitors. Its historic center is filled with wedding cake architecture and cafes tucked into narrow streets with more bicycles than cars. Established by the Romans, occupied by Muslims and re-conquered by the Spanish, it's a city where it's possible to find within a few blocks walk or bike ride, Roman ruins, 10th-century Muslim-built walls, Baroque churches and a Jetson-like science complex surrounded by a pool of water perfect for paddle-boarding. 



Picking a hotel  in or close to the historic center (Barrio del Carmen) and a Metro stop is key for doing as much as possible with limited time. Ours' was the Zalamara B&B in a quirky neighborhood filled with Chinese shops, restaurants and hair salons. There wasn't much of interest in the immediate area, but the location was perfect, a five-minute walk into the old town, the Metro and the north train station.

Some highlights:

Mercado Central: This is a historic, art nouveau-style market built in 1928, and given a facelift a few years ago. Artisan food vendors are generous with samples of cured ham, olives, chocolates and pickled vegetables. We spent an hour and a half here before visiting the 16th-century Gothic-style Llotja de la Seda -former silk market - next door. I bought several small gifts to take home including little cans of smoked paprika (it comes in sweet, mild and hot) for $2.50 each. The mercado is also the place to sample Horchata, a milky-colored drink made with ground tiger nuts and water.



The Valencia Cathedral combines Roman, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance art and architecture on the site of a former mosque. As much art museum as church, the 13th-century cathedral is known for its alter pieces and side chapels filled with religious paintings. Admission includes one of the easiest-to-understand English audio guides I've used in Europe. 


Biking: Valencia is bike-friendly, with dedicated street lanes and paths. Most scenic is the path that skirts the Jardines de Turia, a former riverbed transformed into six-mile green belt, with 14 parks and 19 bridges. The river had always been prone to floods, and in 1957, Valencia decided to divert it course, and use the riverbed to create one of the largest urban parks in Spain. Lots of places rent bikes by the hour or day, but we decided to go on a 25 euro, three-hour organized tour with Valencia Bikes  Not only did we luck out with our guide, Mila Moro, an ancient history professor at the local university, we were the only ones to sign up for the English tour, meaning Mila became our private guide.

Leading us into the old city on a Sunday when there were few cars or pedestrians, she pointed out Roman ruins and ancient walls built by the Moors, then steered us into the 21st century with a loop around the City of Arts and Sciences, a futuristic complex that includes an opera house, science museum and planetarium.


The Beach: A tram ride to the beach, followed by a paella lunch is the classic way to spend a Sunday afternoon in Valencia. You won't be alone. This is a local tradition, especially for families celebrating a baptism, first communion or a birthday. Noisy groups filled most of the best tables at a string of waterfront restaurants when we arrived around 4:30 p.m., late for lunch by Spanish standards. Things quieted down 5:30 when we choose a restaurant for a pan of Paella Valencia (rice, chicken, rabbit and snails), and a platter of boquerones fritos (fried anchovies).



Dinner with a localEatwith.com is the Airbnb of dining. Go to the website, pick a host offering lunch or dinner at a destination (there are many listings for Spain), time and price that suits you, and make a request. Victoria Soriano, 40, a graphic designer who speaks fluent English, loves to cook, responded immediately when I wrote, inquiring about the Mediterranean vegetarian dinner she described on the website. 


A few weeks later, we took the Metro several stops to a residential neighborhood, and rang the bell on her 3rd-floor apartment for an 8:30 p.m. dinner. Like most Europeans, Spaniards are used to living in small spaces. Victoria keeps her bike in the entryway. Bookshelves and racks of CDS line the walls of her living room furnished with a bright red couch and chair.  

Joining us was her friend, Ampa, an English teacher who tutors students 8-9 hours a day. The conversation flowed as we sipped wine, and sampled Victoria's potato omelette; homemade tomato jam with goat cheese; spinach with onion, egg and pine nuts; and a noddle dish with vegetables and saffron. Victoria has been doing the meals for four years, once or twice a month. She's willing to take up to eight guests, but will book a dinner for a few as two. It was past 11 p.m., early by Spanish standards, but late for us when we finished a dessert of strawberry ice. Victoria called us a taxi, and we were back at our hotel before midnight, happy to have discovered a new neighborhood, new foods and new friends. 

Meanwhile, there's always room for another Horchata. We found it, along with a brie and artichoke quesadilla, at Cafecito in the gentrifying Ruzafa district, once shabby barrio, now filled with hip cafes and restaurants. 


In Spain with VaughnTown: Olé!


When I planned our latest trip to Spain, I didn't picture myself spending part of my time doing an inpersonation of Ivanka Trump, or playing the part of a dwarf in a parody skit on Snow White. I didn't expect I'd be dancing the Macarena under a disco ball in a village bar after midnight. Nor would I have guessed these "skills" might prove useful to a group of new Spanish friends working to improve their English conversational skills.

My husband, Tom, and I, just finished up a week with VaughnTown  a cultural exchange program that brings native English speakers and Spanish professionals together in a mountain retreat outside of Madrid for six days of one-on-one conversations, skits, and social activities. When I tried to explain to friends back home what we would be doing, everyone assumed we had to know Spanish. On the contrary. The No. 1 rule at VaughnTown is that NO Spanish be spoken the entire time. Started by Richard Vaughan, a business student from Texas who came to Spain to teach English in the 1970s, the program tosses out the idea of teachers, books and formal lessons in favor of non-stop talking, starting at breakfast, and continuing on well past dinner at 9 p.m.

"Summer camp for adults," is how our director, Carmen Villa, describes the experience. The week is free for the English-speaking volunteers in exchange for our time. Vaughn paid for our lodging, meals, wine etc., but not our airfare to and from Madrid. Our home for five nights is the Palacio del Infante Don Juan Manuel Hotel, a restored 15th-century palace in the village of Belmonte in Castilla-La Mancha where film directors used the historic hilltop castle to make El Cid, starting Charlton Heston and Sophia Lauren, and more recently Don Quixote. 


The "Anglos," as we're called, come from all over the U.S., UK and Australia. Sixteen of us have been selected, based on short online applications that asked about our backgrounds, interests and reasons why we wanted to participate. We first meet at a tapas reception in Madrid on the Saturday, before joining the Spaniards for the start of the program on Sunday. 

The room fills with friendly faces. There's Peter from the UK, who has plans afterwards to walk the Camino de Santiago trail. Chris, a professional actress from Portland, and her husband, John, plan to take a Rick Steves tour in Spain after the program ends; Carolyn is a retired high school librarian from Atlanta, Her traveling partner, Mary, fluent in sight language, had a long career working with the deaf. They and many of the others are VaughnTown repeaters. We're surprised to find that only five of us are doing this for the first time. The oldest member of the group, Judy, 77, from Austin, Texas, estimates she's volunteered nearly 20 times, and has written an excellent Facebook post about her experiences.

The resumes of the 12 Spaniards we meet the next day are impressive. On the bus, I sit next to Edi,  27, an entrepreneur who owns two restaurants and a moble app company. He and three others are in the midst of a five-month intensive English program at Vaughn that calls for 5 hours of classroom work daily followed by five hours of homework. Like most of the others, he is well-traveled, and we share stories about our mutual experiences in Morocco and Sri Lanka. Pilar from Valencia works for the UN in IT support. She's also a ceramicist and knowledgeable about natural medicine. Carmen is a lawyer for a construction company, with an interest in furthering her English by doing a short homestay in the U.S. Carlos, an executive for Mercedes Benz, is a wildlife photographer whose philosophy is "life is a hobby."  The youngest is Martin, 22, a kindergarten teacher who spent two years studying English while living with a host family in Vancouver, B.C.


In the beginning, we're told, it will be the Anglos who do most of the talking. Our job is to help Spaniards build their self-confidence and listening skills. By Wednesday, after warming up with some amusing skits and creative getting-to-know-you exercises, the conversation should be around 50-50. At the heart of the program are 50-minute "one-on-one" conversations that take place as we walk around the village, hike to the stone windmills that dot the hillsides above town, or  relax over coffee on the hotel terrace. What we talk about is up to us, but the conversation flows surprisingly well, even without formal topics.


On a walk through the town, where we stop to snap a picture of a baker who makes house calls in his van, I chat with  Maite, the manager of a computer unit for the Bank of Spain. We discover we both traveled to Myanmar recently. Laura, 27, a veterinarian thinking about switching careers, shares a photo of a street dog she rescued in Panama. Our talk turns to pets, travel, her boyfriend and her mother's volunteer work in third-world countries. On a walk to the castle, Laura introduces Tom and me to Miguelitos, a Spanish pastry filled with chocolate. She buys a box for her boyfriend, but insists on opening it so we can try one. 


Interspersed throughout the days are mock conference calls (I play the role of Ivanka Trump scouting out a location for a casino in Spain while the "mayors" of four cities make their pitches) and telephone sessions on how to order a pizza or deal with lost luggage. One day we take a field trip to a local winery for a tour and tasting. No matter what we do, we look for ways to explain English idioms (You're in the Dog House was a favorite), and the multiple meanings of phrasal verbs (break in, break up, break down etc.). Meanwhle, the Anglos work on adapting to the Spanish lifestyle of eating lunch at. 2 p.m., followed by siesta until 5 p.m. and dinner at 9 p.m. Just abut the time we're thinking about going to bed, the Spanish are ready to party.

Most evenings include an 8 p.m. "entertainment" hour for which Alba Rosa, 28, Vaughn's high-energy "Master of Ceremonies" drafts varioius people for skits involving wigs and other props, One night, Alba persuades several to dress up as witches as she concocts a caldron of Queimada, a "fire" drink made from a distilled spirit, coffee beans and sugar that erupts into blue flames when lighted. Tradition calls for the reading of incantations during preparation so that those drinking it will be conferred with special powers. 




Whatever we do, there's just one goal to keep in mind: The purpose of this program is to help the Spaniards gain confidence in their ability to speak and understand English. The "final exam" is a five-minute presentation the Spaniards must deliver in English on a surprise topic. With some coaching from the Anglos, they spend the day writing, rehearsing and revising. When the time comes to take the stage, they are nervous, but they all do beautifully, speaking on topics ranging from love to skinny-dipping.

Belmonte is a sleepy town with several churches, a city hall, a park, a grocery store and a couple of banks. We rarely see anyone out on our walks around town, so we're surprised when Alba announces she's found a pub open late where we can celebrate our last night together. It's nearly 11:30 p.m. when we set out walking in the dark to find the cozy bar just outside the town's medieval walls, A few beers and gin and tonics later, we're all dancing the Macarena under a disco ball. As they really do say in Spain, Olé!



Local entrepreneurs bring taste of Old Europe to downtown Olympia

Take a building big enough to house a car dealership. Fill it with the smells of french pastries and buckwheat crepes. Add an oyster bar, a gelato maker, a distiller, an epicurean grocer and a bone broth maker, and you've got the recipe for 222 Market, a slice of old Europe in downtown Olympia. 

Open since last November, the market is the latest entry, in the city's evolution as a foodie destination, the outgrowth of an abundance of agricultural land surrounding the state capitol.
When a major tenant moved out of a building that housed a Packard car dealership in the 1940s, owners Gray and Joy Graham teamed up with Olympia restaurant owner and chef Lela Cross to design what they envisioned as a community meeting place as well as an incubator for food-related businesses they felt the city lacked.

Nine vendors occupy niches in an open, indoor space designed for gourmet grazing.
"Their dream," says Fred Moore of Blind Pig Spirits, a distillery which relocated to the market from Centralia,  "was to get local people who actually produce something."

The partners first decided what type of businesses they wanted. High on the list was gelato, Northwest oysters, fresh flowers and a grocer who would stock locally-produced products. 
Next they set about hand-picking vendors, some first-timers who graduated from a training course offered by Enterprise for Equity, a community nonprofit that helps people with limited incomes turn their ideas into small businesses. 

"Part of Olympia growing up is helping the next generation of people finding ways to become business owners," says Cross.

Anchoring the project is long-time tenant André Le Rest, a Frenchman from a small village in Brittany who opened the Bread Peddler bakery and cafe in a corner of the building in 2006. With its cases lined with french pastries and rustic loaves of naturally fermented breads, the Bread Peddler remains the market's biggest draw, generating foot traffic for the newcomers. 

Best advice: Stop in for late breakfast or early lunch, and do a little exploring around town. Then return for cocktails and dinner; a  scoop of gelato; homemade tamales; or container of bone broth before heading home. 

Some suggestions:

Besides the bakery and cafe, Le Rest and his partner, Frances Wolff, run two other sit-down dining spots in market, the Bistro, a Parisian-style  cafe open for dinners and weekend brunch; and the Creperie, specializing in crepes made with buckwheat flour imported from France. 

"In Britany, creperies are like Starbucks," says Le Rest."But there were none in Olympia."
Picture windows face the sidewalk, replacing the frosted glass that hid the payroll offices of a financial services company that once occupied the space. Customers can watch while cooks turn out paper-thin pancakes on pizza-size griddles, then fill them with roasted tomatoes, ham and eggs or poached pears with chocolate hazelnut sauce. The restaurant doubles as a boutique filled with imported French treasurers such as old keys from Paris ($2 each) and woven farmers bags ($7.85).

Sofie's Scoops and the Salt, Fire and Time Broth Bar share a counter with four, bright yellow stools that spin around soda-fountain style. Sophia Landis and Chris Proctor use an Italian gelato machine to make 12 flavors of gelato from scratch daily, using locally-sourced ingredients and milk from the Tunawerth Creamery in Tenino which they pasteurize on site. Flavors include goat cheese and honey; olive oil; and their signature gelato, Oly Fog, made with tea from Olympia's Encore Chocolates and Tea.

On tap at the Broth Bar is house-made Kombucha along with vats of nutritional broths brewed from beef, chicken, lamb, pork, bison and alpaca bones. Sisters Tressa
 and Katie Yelling opened their first broth cafe in Portland last August. The pair source the bones from  Northwest farmers and ranchers, then cook them for three days with cider vinegar to extract trace minerals. Basic broths ($5-$9) can be spiked with extras such as rosemary salt, juiced ginger and scallions; or coconut milk, basil, olive oil and lemon.

Facing the center of the market is the Pantry, a cooking school and artisan grocery where Olympia chef Kevin Gerlich showcases his homemade pates, black bean, yam and quinoa tamales and herbed gnocchi. 

Filling spaces near a back entrance fronting on Olympia Avenue are Fleurae Floral, selling flowers grown by organic farmers in Centralia and Shelton and Blind Pig Spirits, distilling gin, vodka and flavored moonshineon site and serving samples in a cozy tasting room lined with wine barrel tables. Across the hallway is Chelsea Farms Oyster Bar, a 40-seat cafe with a cocktail bar open for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch.

Brother-and-sister team Shina Wysocki  and Kyle Lentz wholesale their family's oysters around the U.S., and ship their geoducks to China. With their farm just five miles away, and the ability to bring in fresh shellfish daily, opening a restaurant in the market was a logical next step.  

Wysocki said they looked several years for a space they thought would appeal to Olympia's diverse population of locals, government office workers and visitors. 

"Here, we have legislators sitting next to farmers," she says. "That's what we wanted to see happen."

If you go: 222 Market is at 222 Capitol Way North in downtown Olympia, 60 miles south of downtown Seattle. Shop and restaurant hours vary, so check the website before visiting.  www.222market.com 

More to see and do around Olympia

Free, guided  50-minute tours of the Washington State Legislative Building are offered daily — weekdays 10 a.m.- 3 p.m. and 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on weekends. Completed in 1928, the Legislative Building has the tallest free standing masonry dome in North America and houses the world's largest Tiffany chandelier. Tours begin at the information desk on the second floor of the Legislative Building inside the main entrance.  

Volunteers offer free, 45-60 minute tours of the Washington State Governor’s Mansion on most Wednesdays.

More than 150 hands-on exhibits on two floors and an outdoor discovery center connecting children with nature. General admission (2-64) $12.95; seniors $10.95. 414 Jefferson St NE.  

Perfect for rainy days because it's undercover is the Olympia Farmers Market, 700 Capitol Way N.,  open Thursday-Sunday 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Vendors bring fresh produce, meats, dairy products and nursery plants from Thurston County farms. Specialty food producers sell homemade pastries, chocolates, salsas, jams and jellies. Crafters include glassmakers, jewelry designers, metal workers and potters. 

Walk off the calories with a hike through the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, 8 miles southeast of Olympia at 100 Brown Farm Road NE. The Refuge was established as a natural habitat for migratory birds. Estimates are that more than 200 species visit through the year.  The Visitor Center, with a nature shop, information desk, a view of the freshwater marsh, and interpretive exhibits, is open Wednesday through Sunday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The daily fee is $3 per four adults. 

Make time to explore all or part of the Thurston Bountiful Byway, a 60-mile agritourism route pointing visitors to craft distillers, winemakers, farmers and family-owned businesses showcasing locally-produced culinary treats. More than 60,000 acres of farmland form the backdrop for a day of exploring, with opportunities to soak up bite-sized chunks of state history, and enjoy hiking trails and bike paths.