At home in Paris: Meal-sharing website connects travelers with amateur chefs around the world

Lunch in a Paris passage

Parisians love to eat. Food is art, whether it be a simple lunch served on the sidewalk terrace of a covered passage, or a display of delicate fruit tarts lined up in glass cases like colored jewels. So when you retire from a 46-year career with Air France and suddenly find yourself with time on your hands, what do you do? You invite strangers into your home for dinner, of course.

Florence serves appetizers 
Meet Florence Otte with whom two friends and I dined recently after signing on with, a website that follows the Airbnb model of connecting travelers with locals worldwide - not with a room but with a shared meal in their home. As with Airbnb, no money changes hands. Hosts post their menus online, along with their prices. You pay on the website with a credit card at the time of booking, and agree to cancellation terms set by the hosts.

Like Florence, who charged a modest $34 per person, most hosts are amateur chefs who sign up with Eatwith mostly for the experience of meeting travelers. Florence, 67, retired two years ago from a busy job. Now she has time to exercise, travel (vintage Air France travel posters line the walls of her apartment) and cook homemade meals for visitors to Paris. The income helps pay the rent on a spacious flat in the 19th arrondissement where she raised her two grown children.

Various hosts offer different types of experiences. I enjoyed a dinner last year in Paris hosted by Thomas Obrador, a French news reporter. There were nine guests for a meal that began with lively chatter in his living room over wine and appetizers, and didn't end until almost 1 a.m. 

Florence's style was more low-key. She limits her guest list to four or five. Two others were expected to join us the night we booked, but cancelled at the last minute, leaving our group at three plus Florence who joined us at the table for wine and relaxed conversation. 

She advertised her meal as a "seasonal, homemade French dinner" of four courses, prepared with organic ingredients purchased from local markets. Her instructions included what Metro lines to use to take to reach her fourth-floor apartment in the Buttes Chaumont neighborhood, an area outside of the center of Paris most tourists would likely not discover.

The evening began at 7:30 p.m. with a Kir, a cocktail made with white wine and cassis, a sweet, dark red liqueur made from blackcurrants. We chatted in her living room while snacking on pate and an eggplant spread on toasts and cherry tomatoes filled with a green olive tapenade. 

Our dinner with Florence 
When we moved to the table, she presented a salad of fresh beets and greens, followed by rabbit served with potatoes and a sauce of mustard and thyme grown on her balcony. Then came three types of cheeses, all labeled, with a small piece cut and placed on top or on the side to show how each should be sliced.

Three cheeses

Fig tart
Dessert was a homemade fresh fig tart. We chatted about our travels, toured her little apartment, and were on our way back on the Metro to our hotel by 10 p.m. 

Florence hosts both lunches and dinners, and will cook a meal even for one person.  This year, with her children planning to spend the holidays elsewhere, she'll host a special feast to be shared with a group of travelers she'll meet for the first time when they knock on her door on Christmas Eve. 

Silver Falls Shimmers in Rural Oregon

South Falls

Hike behind rushing waterfalls hidden in a forest canyon. Spend the night in a Victorian mansion that doubles as a mini space museum. Munch on baked potatoes served from a converted school bus while sipping Northwest brews at a German-inspired tap room.

If scenic coastline, snow-covered mountains and vineyards producing award-winning wines come to mind when you think of Oregon, think again.

Surrounded by Christmas tree, hazelnut and grass seed farms 20 miles southeast of the capital of Salem are rural towns, peaceful monasteries, and the state's largest park, a gem so hidden it's remains a secret to many natives.

The chance to follow the "Trail of Ten Falls" at Silver Falls State Park led my husband and I to detour off the main highway on our way home to Seattle after visiting friends in Eugene.

Stayton's Gardner House Cafe and bed and breakfast

Just northeast of Stayton, a historical Willamette valley farming town known for its covered bridge, Silver Falls counts as its chief attraction a seven-mile loop trail passing a series of waterfalls, five more than 100 feet high. 

Silver Falls was a center for logging and homestead farming in the late 1800s. When the depression struck in 1929, Oregon's timber industry tanked. The private owner of South Falls charged admission to let people watch as he floated derelict cars over the falls. In 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt bought the land, and employed men in the Civilian Conservation Corps to develop park facilities. Still standing is a rustic day lodge that houses a cafe and rest area near the start of the South Falls trailhead.

Silver Falls Lodge

We took a recommended short cut that trims the hike to a 5.1 mlle loop. The trail starts at an overlook to the 177-foot South Falls. From here, a paved trail leads into the canyon where hikers can walk behind rushing walls of water.  The trail descends to a winding creek at the forest floor for an overall elevation change of 800 feet. It's not a hard hike, but it takes time due to the ups and downs and rocks to watch out for along the paths.

Behind the falls

The falls spill over 15-million-year-old Columbia River basalt. At that time the Columbia River flowed through this area to the sea at what is now Newport. Lava poured down the river channel from vents in Eastern Oregon, gradually pushing the river northward. As the lava slowly cooled, it fractured to form the honeycomb of columns visible on cliff edges. Circular indentations in the ceilings of the caverns behind the falls are tree wells, formed when the lava flows hardened around burning trees. 

The park offers year-round camping and heated cabins, but we were intrigued by the idea of staying at the 1898 Gardner House, a combination cafe, bed and breakfast and museum dedicated to early U.S. manned space missions.

James and Loni with her  award-winning chocolate cake

Loni Loftus, a former travel agent who always dreamed of owning a bed and breakfast, fills one of the cafe's wooden pastry cases with her ribbon-winning chocolate cake and lemon-lavender scones while her husband, James, fills another with memorabilia from the Mercury and Apollo space missions, part of the Joseph Philip Loftus Jr. Mobile Museum he created to honor the 47-year NASA career of his father.

The elder Loftus went through the astronaut training program "but was too tall to go to the moon," his son says. He worked on Project Mercury, the first U.S. manned space flight program, and the Apollo lunar missions. Among the items on display around the cafe is a Apollo spacecraft altitude control rocket engine, lunar fragments, a space shuttle tile and the skeletons of two monkeys sent into space.  

As part of the museum's mission, Loftus sponsors space-related educational programs for local schools.  His plans call for taking the museum on the road (thus the "mobile" in its name). Until the couple finds a buyer for the cafe and bed and breakfast, they plan to continue offering overnight accommodations, light meals and high tea in the house originally built by the owner of the town's flour mill. 

Covered bridge

Local attractions include Pioneer Park with the Stayton–Jordan Bridge, a covered bridge that is a copy of the Jordan Bridge that was moved to the park in 1988. Destroyed by fire in 1994, it was rebuilt and painted white. 

Yarnell's nursery and garden shop
Locals own most of the businesses in town, including Yarnell's nursery housed in a historic red barn where honey and eggs are for sale along with plants and garden supplies.

The Spud Bus

Small farming towns are not where you'd expect to find a good selection of Northwest microbrews. We gave the local Chinese and Mexican places a pass when we spotted the sign for Wolfgang's Thirst Parlor and Tap House, and the "Spud Bus" parked outside. Soon  we were sipping Oregon porters while helping Ken Carey, a former transportation director for the local school district, fulfill his dream of selling loaded baked potatoes from the window of a  retired school bus. 

If you go:

From Interstate 5 exit 253 in Salem, drive 10 miles east on North Santiam Highway 22, turn left at a sign for Silver Falls Park, and follow Highway 214 for 16 miles to the park entrance sign at South Falls. 

The surrounding area includes several other interesting attractions worth a stop. They include the 80-acre botanical Oregon Garden in Silverton; Mount Angel Abbey where the Benedictine monks brew beer and sell it from a tap room open to the public; and the Frank Lloyd Wright Gordon House Museum.

Rediscover Tacoma on a day-trip by leaving the car at home

A surrey ride along the Point Rustin Waterwalk

Sip tea or sample Indian curry inside a historic freighthouse. Ride free on light rail to museums. Stop for a beer in an old-time saloon, then hop on an electric scooter for a waterfront ride before making like a kid again, and zipping down a slide in a real-life game of Chutes and Ladders. 

Using four modes of public transportation plus some walking, my husband and I discovered there's more to Tacoma than the Dome on a recent car-free day trip. 

Instead of hassling with traffic and parking, we sat back taking in views of Mount Rainier from the top deck of a near-empty Sound Transit Sounder train on its reverse commute, leaving Seattle's King Street station at 7:55 a.m., and arriving in Tacoma just before nine. 

Our plan was to spend the next eight hours exploring on foot, by bus and light rail, falling back on Uber or Lyft if we ran out of time to catch the last train back at 5:15 p.m..
Three destinations, all in different parts of the city, were on our agenda for a sunny September weekday: 

* Museum Row, the downtown hub that houses three of Tacoma's major museums.

* Old Town Tacoma, a historic neighborhood fronting on the scenic Ruston Way waterfront walking and biking bath.

* The Dune Peninsula Park, opened in July on the former Asarco copper smelter Superfund site, along with the "Chutes and Ladders" staircase and slides linking Point Defiance Park with a waterfront marina.

Ride free on Tacoma Link light rail

Stepping off the Sounder, we took a quick look around  Freighthouse Square, a collection of vintage shops, art galleries and ethnic restaurants next to the Tacoma Dome station. The Olive Branch Cafe and Tea Room, decorated with antique furniture and crystal chandeliers, looked inviting, but didn't open until 11 a.m., so we made a mental note to return later, then crossed the street and stepped aboard the free Tacoma Link light rail for a five-minute ride downtown.

Tea at the Olive Branch next to the Tacoma Dome station

Museum Row

Within a short walk of the Union Station light rail stop on Pacific Avenue are the Tacoma Art Museum, the Washington State History Museum and the Museum of Glass.

Finding breakfast wasn't a problem. Open early is Anthem Coffee and Tea, next to the History Museum, with coffee, pastries and an outdoor patio. Across the street is Savor Creperie where we lingered over plump breakfast crepes filled with eggs and avocado until the museums opened at 10 a.m.

Unless you plan to spend the day museum-hopping and shopping downtown (a perfectly doable option), best advice is to pick one museum, spend an hour or two exploring, then move on, with the aim of getting back to the station by late afternoon. (No worries If you want to stay longer, or go on a weekend when the Sounder isn't running. Sound Transit also operates an express bus with frequent service between Seattle and Tacoma).   

We chose the Tacoma Art Museum, known for its collection of art glass, much of it donated by Tacoma-native Dale Chihuly, co-founder of the Pilchuck Glass School

The Simpsons at TAM
Open since January is the new Rebecca and Jack Benaroya wing, housing works from the Seattle couple's extensive collection of works by glass artists around the world. On display through Dec. 31 is “Bart at TAM: Animating America’s Favorite Family,” featuring more than 100 hand-drawn scenes, scripts and other drawings related to the the Simpsons television family’s first 13 seasons.

What's old and what's new

Tucked between Museum Row and Point Defiance Park is Old Town Tacoma, a historical neighborhood across from Commencement Bay  where Tacoma’s founder, Civil War veteran Job Carr, arrived in 1864.

Carr staked a claim on land he hoped would be the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad, and became mayor of what then was called Tacoma City. But Carr missed the mark slightly, and the rail line ended two miles east in what became “New Tacoma.”

Reminiscent of days gone by is the Spar,  a friendly tavern and coffeehouse in a red brick building at 2121 N. 30th St. on the site of the Old Tacoma Saloon, opened in 1884. Getting there took about 20 minutes on Bus No. 13 which we caught on Dock Street by walking across the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, an art-filled pedestrian bridge leading from the History Museum to the Museum of Glass. 

The Spar in Old Town Tacoma 

Over espresso shakes a turkey sandwiches in the Spar's back room we could see Commencement Bay and the start of the long, paved Ruston Way shoreline trail, popular with walkers, bikers and rollerbladers.

One option was to take the No. 11 bus that would get us within a short walk of our final destination near Point Ruston, a residential, shopping and dining development built on the site of the former Asarco smelter, once one of the country's most polluted Superfund sites.

The sun was out, so we decided to walk the almost three miles instead, that is until we spotted two Lime e-scooters parked next to a fishing pier. 

Commencement Bay

Most of the waterfront path, as it turns out, is a designated  "low speed zone,"  meaning our scooters were programmed to go no more than 5 miles an hour. The ride was safer and more relaxing at this speed, but also  expensive, costing us about $11.50 each.

We ditched the scooters at the start of the mile-long Waterwalk at Point Ruston, a pedestrian and biking trail along the bay that connects to the new 11-acre Dune Peninsula Park

Named after a science fiction novel authored by the late Tacoma native Frank Herbert, the park opened this summer following years of work by Metro Parks Tacoma to convert the peninsula, created by toxic slag from the smelter, into a safe waterfront attraction. 

Also opened in July is the new Wilson Way pedestrian bridge, linking Point Defiance Park to the Ruston waterfront. Next to the bridge is what locals call the “Chutes and Ladders” experience, a series of six slides next to sets of stairs leading to the Port Defiance Marina below. 

Chutes and Ladders slide

"On weekends, this place is packed with kids," a woman said as she slithered down one of the slides. Today, it was mostly adults like us, alternating between sliding and walking until we reached the marina and the bus stop for the No. 11 back to town. 

If you go: 

Sounder trains run between Seattle and Tacoma Monday through Friday during peak hours, and sometimes on weekends for special events. Travel time between Seattle's King Street station and the Tacoma Dome station is one hour. Adult fares are $5.25 each way ($2.50 for seniors). .

Sound Transit also operates the 590/594 express bus between Seattle and the Tacoma Dome station on weekdays and weekends at times when the Sounder isn't running. The trip also takes an hour.  Adults fares are $3.75 ($1 for seniors).

Tacoma Link light rail serves downtown Tacoma, with six stops including the Tacoma Dome, South 25th Street, Union Station, the Convention Center, South 11th Street and the Theater District. The service is free. Details at 

Click here for Tacoma bus information. 

All the trains and buses accept the ORCA transit cards.

Bikes and four-wheeled surreys can be rented from Wheel Fun Rentals on the Waterwalk at Point Ruston. 

Click here for a map and information on the new Dune park, Wilson Way bridge and "Chutes and Ladder'' slides.

Go here for Tacoma and Pierce County tourism information.

This story appeared in the Seattle Times on Sept. 25, 2019

Summer escape: Plan a day trip to historic Port Townsend on Washington's Olympic Peninsula

Historic Port Townsend on Washington's Olympic Peninsula

Start the day with a ferry ride across the Puget Sound and a stop at a Parisian-style bakery. Finish with a glass of wine at an outdoor tasting room, or line-dancing and wood-fired pizza at a rural cidery.

The best day trips begin and end with the journey, making historic Port Townsend on Washington's Olympic Peninsula an outing worth the nearly two hours of travel time from Seattle.

Stately bed and breakfasts in Victorian mansions built by wealthy businessmen in the 1800s beckon overnight travelers, but by rising early on a Saturday to beat the summer crowds, you'll get a taste of why this historical seafaring town draws so many repeat visitors.

Once poised to become a major Northwest shipping port before Seattle and Tacoma took its place, Port Townsend has evolved into a destination known for its food, art, music and picturesque waterside setting. 

Here's the plan:

7:55 a.m.
Ferry and coffee

Catch an early ferry to either Winslow on Bainbridge Island or Kingston (your choice depending on where in the Seattle area you live). Crossing time is 30 minutes. Coffee is available on the ferries, but I recommend waiting until you get to the other side.

Exiting the ferry terminal in Kingston, find Aviator Coffee in a wooden shed called the Hanger. The Bainbridge Island roaster keeps mini-donuts sizzling in a pan near a walk-up window.

Coquette Bake Shop

Driving off the ferry in Winslow, detour at the second stop light onto Winslow Way East, and find the pocket-size Coquette Bake Shop. Filling a glass cases in a walk-up kiosk are Parisian-style pastries and breakfast sandwiches baked upstairs in the Winslow Mall. My current favorite is the "Zest for Life," a buttery morning bun spiked with orange zest and cardamom, best eaten at one of the outdoor tables along with a cup of Stumptown coffee.

10 a.m.
Farmers Market 

Port Townsend’s Uptown (hillside) and downtown (waterside) historic districts are compact and walkable. A high bluff separates the two neighborhoods, and although they’re close together, only a set of steps and two streets connect them.

Most visitors head directly downtown to Water Street, the location of most shops, art galleries and cafes, with views of the boat and ferry traffic on Port Townsend Bay. Parking is limited to two hours in most locations, but it's easy to find all-day spots in  Uptown, and that’s just one reason to make it your first stop.

Young musicians at the Saturday Farmers Market

Jefferson County is a rich agricultural area. More than 70 vendors, many young farmers and craftspeople, show up at the Saturday Farmers Market at Lawrence and Tyler Streets. Bring a cooler to take home small-batch cheeses or homemade kimchi. Samples teas infused with mushroom extracts or snack on vegan ice cream while listening to music supplied by local musicians such as a slide guitarist and fiddle band formed by a group of home-schooled girls.

11:00 a.m.

Leave the car parked, and check out a few of the vintage shops in Uptown, good sources for costume jewelry and Hawaiian shirts, then continue on foot downtown via the Fountain Steps at Taylor and Jefferson to the Haller Fountain and Washington Street.

The Haller Fountain and steps linking Uptown and Downtown

Here you'll find Bergstrom’s Antique & Classic Autos, 809 Washington St., inside a 1917 garage. For sale on the "showroom" floor is a 1955 blue Volkswagen Beetle and a 1929 bright yellow Ford Model A coupe. More affordable dozens of plastic model kits and vintage car and driver magazines.

Wandering Water Street 

Art and architecture define Water Street, downtown's main drag lined with historical buildings housing cafes, restaurants, antique shops and galleries. 

Art galleries and vintage shops line Water Street

Stop for tea at Pippa's Real Tea inside an 1886 home where the Australian owner stocks more than 100 teas and offers light lunches, served by a cozy fireplace, or in a dog-friendly courtyard garden.

For historical perspective, visit the Jefferson Museum of Art and History  inside the 1892 former city hall. The former medical examiner's room houses a display dedicated to some of the town's former madams and brothels. On display through August 25 in the old jail is an exhibit by artist Paula Stokes,CQ commemorating the 19th century Irish famine with 1,845 handblown glass potatoes. The Northwind Arts Center at 701 Water St. features a monthly rotating exhibit by a local artist in the front gallery, and the juried works of a selection of other artists in the back. 

2 p.m.
Walking the Chetzemoka Trail 

A newly-installed 26-foot Jamestown S'Klallam Tribe totem pole in front of the Northwest Maritime Center, 431 Water St., marks the start of the Chetzemoka CQ Trail, an interpretive trail winding through Port Townsend that commemorates the life of Chief Chetzemoka, CQ the tribal leader who befriended early European settlers.

26-foot Totem pole

Pick up a brochure, and follow either a three, six or 12-mile loop, passing through downtown historical sites, the Kah Tai Lagoon, a nature park and birding area; and Fort Worden, CQ a former U.S. Army installation on Admiralty Inlet, now a historical state park. 

The maritime center will host the annual Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival Sept. 6-8. CQ In the meantime, visitors can see the town from the water on 30-minute tours Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays through Labor Day aboard the Martha J, a 1984 motor launch. Tours are first-come, first-served, by donation.

4 p.m.
Local libations  

Rural backroads on the way out of town lead to family-owned cideries, wineries and breweries. Water views are best from the new Port Townsend Vineyards Vintage Wine Bar and Plaza on Water Street, but just a few miles out of town, the winery itself is worth a stop. Cornhole games and bocce ball courts invite lingering along with tables and chairs scattered around a rustic tasting room. 

Port Townsend Vineyard's waterside wine bar

Popular with cyclists is Discovery Bay Brewing, tucked into a business park a few miles from downtown. Board games and a a shady outdoor garden make this a family-friendly taproom, with local beers brewed on site; Kombucha; cider; and live music in the late afternoons.  Bike here on Sundays and get $1 off your pint. 

A final detour worth a stop on the way back to Seattle is Chimacum where you'll find a well-stocked farm store and the  Finnriver Farm & Cidery, 124 Center Road open year-round for tastings of European-style ciders made from organic cider apples grown on a former dairy farm up the road.

Family fun at Finn River cidery

Families flock to the outdoor cider garden for wood-fired pizzas, local Hama Hama oysters and Brittany-style crepes. They young owners keep on thinking of new ways to keep visitors coming back. There are yoga classes,  lectures on climate change,  lots of live music, and depending on the day, even the chance to learn line-dancing or the Lindy Hop.

If you go:

Port Townsend sits on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula at the entrance to the Puget Sound. From the Seattle area, take a ferry from the Seattle waterfront to Winslow on Bainbridge Island or to Kingston from Edmonds.   Cross the Hood Canal Bridge, and follow Highway 19 north. Travel time is around two  hours. 

Tourist information:

See or stop at the visitor information center at 2409 Jefferson St. in Port Townsend.

This story appeared in The Seattle Times on Sept. 1, 2019

Sipping Vashon: Wine, cider and more just 20 minutes by ferry from Seattle

Garden tasting area at Palouse Winery

No time for a getaway to California wine country this spring?  How about spending a day of sipping in the sunshine on an island just 20 minutes by ferry from Seattle?

Locals call Vashon Island the "Heart of the Sound" for its location midway between Seattle and Tacoma. Once known for its strawberry and blueberry farms, it's now home to a cluster of boutique wineries, cideries and breweries, with picnic areas and  views that invite lingering on lazy weekend afternoons.

Fuel up with breakfast in town at the Snapdragon Bakery and Cafe, loved by locals for its  plate-sized pastries, or pick up lunch- to-go at the Saturday farmers market. Then map out a route using the suggestions at  

If you're up for biking up the long hill into town from the ferry dock, leave the car at home. Otherwise, appoint a designated driver, or sip sparingly and stagger tastings with visits to the islands many art studios, nurseries and farm stands.

Depending on your timing, you could begin or end the day at Palouse Winery,  closest to the ferry dock. Cars lined the street and filled a small parking on the Saturday afternoon my husband and I stopped by. 

A sunny patio with high tables crafted from barrels leads to a small tasting room stocked with wine casks. Visitors are invited to sample refreshing whites and bold reds, sold only here, through the winery's wine club or at island restaurants. 

Palouse Winery tasting room 

Owners George and Linda Kirkish source their grapes from vineyards east of the Cascade mountains in the Rattlesnake Hills, Columbia Valley and Horse Heaven Hills AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) to produce 1,500 cases per year of mostly single vineyard, single varietal wines. 

We wandered into a back garden overlooking the Puget Sound  to relax over a glass of Dog Day Chardonnay, a crisp white dedicated to the winery's dogs, with a portion of profits benefiting the Vashon Island Pet Protectors.  CQ 

Nearby is Vashon Winery  where owner Ron Irvine,  a founding partner of the Pike and Western Wine shop in Seattle's Pike Place Market, directs tastings in what he calls a "garagiste" winery, a moniker used in Bordeaux, France to describe garage-size wineries that make wines without owning their own vineyards.  

Ron Irvine
Look for the landmark red barn where Irvine produces just 600 cases of wine, much of it made with "cool climate" grapes he buys from vineyards on Vashon, and others around the Puget Sound. Four wines and a vintage cider made from European cider apples are usually available.  

Vashon Winery

Devoted to hard ciders made from apples and perry, an alcoholic beverage made with fermented pears, are Dragon's Head Cider and Nashi Orchards

Nashi (named for a type of pear cultivated in Japan) plans to move its tasting room in mid-June to a new location closer to the center of  town (marked on the map), but until then, visitors can try its ciders and perry at its location off Wax Orchard Road at the south end of the island. Here, owners Jim Gerlach and Cheryl Lubert grow Asian and European pears and heirloom apples on 27 acres they purchased 15 years ago that happened to come with 300 Asian pear trees. 

Cheryl Lubert in the Nashi orchard

Using what they grow locally as well as purchase from other orchards, they produce 10 varieties of cider and eight types of perry including an aged heirloom draft cider available in growlers, and a delicate Flora Perry, a blend of Asian pears, Jonathan apples and quince.  
Laura and Wes Cherry, owners of Dragon's Head Cider, turned their hobby into a business when they moved to Vashon from Queen Anne in 2010 with the goal of making a lifestyle change for their family, and a dream of  starting a cidery. 

The former tech industry workers began planting English and French cider apples on 30 acres of former strawberry fields. Today they grow about 35 percent of the fruit used to make the ciders and perry they sell at the farmers market and at their orchard tasting room.  

Karen Jensen pours perry at Dragon's Head Cider

Bring a picnic (blankets provided) or linger while lounging on a hammock next to a shady pond. Dogs and kids are welcome (they just can't taste). There's usually something on offer at the orchard that's not available elsewhere. The day we visited, it was a dry, champagne-style sparkling perry made with seedling pears likely harvested from trees planted by the island's early homesteders.   

In the center of town, two family-friendly breweries, both with patios and indoor tap rooms, offer alternatives for beer geeks. Both serve food, making either convenient for a late afternoon stop before heading back to Seattle.

The newest is Camp Colvos Brewing  with a dog and kid-friendly tap room in a former 1955 Shell gas station. The brewery was four years in the making for Vashon resident Matt Lawrence and his team who named their venture after Colvos Passage, the tidal strait running between Vashon and the Kitsap Peninsula, and then threw in the word "camp" just for fun.

On tap are several IPAs, a Belgian pale ale, and my favorite, the Up Town Porter. Most beers are available to go in "crowlers," 32-ounce sealed aluminum cans, the equivalent of a half-growler. Camp Colvos also serves beef, ham and cheese and curried vegetable savory pies made by Island Queen across the street.

A five-minute walk from Colvos is the Vashon Brewing Community Pub. Cliff Goodman left his daily ferry commute and accounting career to start Vashon Brewing in 2011. He opened the pub last year as a family-friendly community gathering space with live music, trivia and open mic nights. 

Goodman uses locally-sourced barley, seasonal fruits and other ingredients, adding a fermentation enzyme to reduce the gluten. Current brews include a Hibiscus Sour, made with a wild lactobacillus culture created at the brewery, and a Summer Perle Kölsch brewed with Pilsen, Pale and Vienna malts from Skagit Valley Malting.

If you go:

Just 13 miles long and eight miles wide, Vashon Island has 45 miles of shoreline. Get there via a 20-minute ferry ride from West Seattle aboard the Washington State Fauntleroy/Vashon ferry.  A walk-on water taxi operates on weekdays.  

Best times to visit are Saturdays and Sundays when tasting rooms are open in the afternoons. Call ahead for appointments on other days. See for a map showing locations and hours.

Dragon's Head ciders at the Farmers Market

Vashon is home to dozens of small family farms and nurseries. Find local products, crafts and plants at the Vashon Island Farmers Market, 17519 Vashon Hwy SW, Saturdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Vashon Village Green. Many farm stands around the island are open during the growing season.

For visitor information, contact the Vashon Maury Island  Chamber of Commerce 

This story appeared in the Seattle Times on Sunday, June 9.

Travel to Cuba: Yes, You can still go

One of Havana's vintage taxis

Once again, average Americans are the ones who will suffer by the Trump Administration's efforts to beat foreign governments into submission with erratic changes in economic policies.

This time, it's not tariffs, but travel restrictions putting a halt to popular cruises and people-to-people group tours in Cuba, after years of surging demand.

The reason, according to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, "is to hold the regime accountable for its repression of the Cuban people and its support of the Maduro regime in Venezuela." 

Yeah, sure. 

Given the fact that Orange One seems to have no problem cozying up to world leaders with human rights records far worse than Cuba (North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Hungary, Turkey, the UAE, Egypt etc.), we can only surmise this is a political move designed to win Florida in 2020. 

The good news is that new restrictions, announced by the U.S. Treasury Department this  week, will make it harder for Americans to legally travel to Cuba, but not impossible. While cruises and people-to-people group tours made travel to the island easy and hassle-free, there's a chance that better and less expensive opportunities await for those with the patience to delve a little deeper. 

Americans still can go to Cuba for family visits, official U.S. government business, journalistic activities, professional research and meetings; educational activities (such as those from U.S. academic institutions and secondary schools); religious activities; humanitarian projects, and perhaps most important for average travelers: trips organized around support for the Cuban people. 

Trips that fall into that category require travelers to take more responsibility if they decide to travel to Cuba, such as having evidence of staying at privately-owned bed and breakfasts, eating at privately-owned restaurants, shopping in privately-owned stores, visiting art galleries and interacting with locals on a meaningful level,  Sarah Arizaga, of Cuban Adventures, told USA Today. The company’s tours are already compliant with the condition about support for the Cuban people, she said. 

The U.S. government can ask for documentation of such activities for up to five years, but there are no requirements that travelers apply for a special visa or give any notification to the government in advance.

For independent travelers interested in making their own arrangements, companies such as can help plan a trip for $30-$40 per day.

Keep in mind that "The Support for the Cuban People" category requires that you adhere to a full-time schedule of activities that support the Cuban people. It means avoiding staying in big hotels banned by the US State Department because of the fees the government and military collect.

The truth is that this has always been the best way to travel in Cuba, and it's the way most Europeans and South Americans visit. 

Some of the U.S.-based people-to-people tours were costing as much as $500 a day, with much of the money going to the Cuban government for licensing fees and government-approved guides and buses. 

Cruise companies also paid big fees while doing little to help ordinary Cuban people since passengers mostly eat and sleep aboard the ships.

In that respect, the Trump Administration is right to say that curtailing these types of group trips will deny the government and military badly needed foreign currency. On the other hand, it may mean that the U.S travelers who decide to go to Cuba under the new rules could end up having a more authentic experience.

Local transportation
I visited Cuba a few years ago, partly on an organized tour and partly on my own, and found through my reporting that most of the commercial tours involved a relatively closed circle of architects, performers, economists and performers who cycle through American tour groups. Traveling on my own, staying in people's homes, hiring local guides, and eating in locally-owned restaurants was far more rewarding. I was surprised to find, for instance, that most of the people I knew who went on tours never made it to La Coppelia, an outdoor Disneyland of ice cream who Cubans line up for hours just to get in and indulge in five or ten dishes in one sitting. 

La Coppelia, a Havana landmark

Getting to Cuba is still relatively easy. The U.S. government so far is continuing to allow commercial flights, eliminating the need for expensive charters. Alternatively, Air Canada and Cubana Air offer daily commercial flights into Havana (Air Canada from Canadian cities, Cubana from Cancun and Mexico City) that can be booked and paid for online or through travel agents. 

TripAdvisor offers hundreds of reviews for Cuban hotels and bed and breakfasts (called cases paticulares), offering what may be the best way to interact with Cuban people. Cuba Junky, a long-time and reliable online agency for Cuban travel, provides booking services. Some casa owners even have Facebook profiles. Airbnb lists more than 800 casas on its website. It charges a booking fee which may be worth of the convenience of booking online and paying for the reservation with a credit card.  

Our homestay in Vinales
On our visit to Cuba, my husband and I took a bus three hours from Havana to the rural community of Vinales, a UNESCO site known for its national park, limestone cliffs and traditional farms harvesting tobacco and corn. Scenic hikes and cave explorations await, but the best reason we could find to come to Vinales was to stay in a casa particular.

I looked over reviews on TripAdvisor, then made an online booking at Casa Papo y Niulvys. They requested no deposit, only asked that I call the day before to reconfirm. 

Papo met us at the bus stop on his bike, and we walked to the peach-colored house the couple built few years ago on what was a vegetable garden next door to his parents. Niulvys was a gracious and talkative hostess, and a great cook. 

We paid $20 per night for the bright, spacious room below, with windows overlooking the garden, AC and a private bathroom. A breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, toast, juice, coffee and cereal was an extra $4 each. Dinners (lobster one night, chicken the next) were another $8. Add a couple of Papo's pre-dinner Mojitos spiked with fresh mint from the garden, and we paid around $50 a night for the room, breakfast, drinks and dinner.

I do feel for the thousands of cruise ship passengers who had trips scheduled. The cruise lines usually reserve the right to change itineraries for any reason, so chances are they will do this. It's really to early to know what the full impact will be.

In the meantime, if you were thinking about a trip to Cuba, don't give up hope. Consider going under the "Support the Cuban People" license. There are options out there already, and I wouldn't be surprised if some of the major people-to-people group tour organizers don't quickly reconfigure their itineraries to comply.